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Bolivia: Failure of the referendum on autonomy

The referendum on autonomy organized by the right wing and the Santa Cruz oligarchy has been clearly defeated, and received the response of mass mobilizations of workers and peasants throughout the country. While this article is being written, the right wing is still celebrating their "victory" in the "Plaza 24 de Setiembre" in Santa Cruz, but their defeat is clear for all to see: even if one accepts as real the provisional results announced by the Departmental Electoral Court and the mass media, the number of votes for Autonomy is significantly lower than the 2006 referendum. However, the real figures are even worse for them.

In Yacapaní and San Julian, peasants and local communities organised the burning of ballot boxes as part of the campaign to boycott this illegal referendum. In Montero, the second largest city in the Santa Cruz Department there were clashes between the workers' and peasants' organizations and the pro-autonomy right wing. Several polling stations could not open and abstention reached 60%. A similar situation developed in Camiri. In the working class neighbourhood of Plan 3000, in the capital Santa Cruz, there were also clashes and ballot boxes were burned. The local communities of this district showed the TV cameras the ballots that these boxes contained and they were all already marked with YES votes, before the polling stations had even opened!
Despite the appeals by government spokespersons to allow this "opinion poll" to go ahead, many trade union and social mobilized and organized an active boycott. The fascist gangs of the Union Juvenil Cruceña (the armed shock troops of the oligarchy) were not present in large numbers in these areas, which makes us think that they concentrated in forcing people who were doubtful to go and vote. According to initial "official" results, abstentions reached 39%, which means that the number of people who participated is significantly lower than those who took part in the 2006 referendum. To this we must add some 14% of NO votes and spoilt ballots. It is clear that in the last two years the basis of support for the oligarchy has shrunk, and it is likely that a majority of the people did not vote for autonomy, even taking into account the electoral fraud that took place.

It could not be otherwise. The oligarchy has tried to fool workers and peasants that this autonomy would benefit them, but they have learnt in practice that this is not the case at all. If we take for instance the key issue of land rights, the proposed Autonomous Statue in its article 13 "recognizes, protects and respects the rights of indigenous peoples from the Autonomous Department of Santa Cruz over their Community Land". But the guaraní people of Camiri who marched to demand these rights in Alto Parapetí, have been attacked, kidnapped and tortured by agents of the landlords and the regional government. When El Deber talks of a victory for the YES in the first polling station where votes have been counted in Camiri, we have no doubt that those who voted are only the landlords.

In the rest of the country there were mass demonstrations against the oligarchy and in defence of national unity. In El Alto a cabildo (mass assembly) of hundreds of thousands of workers, peasants, students and others, voted to demand the resignation of Jose Luis Paredes, the prefect of the La Paz Department, who has also sided with the oligarchy and is attempting to organize a similar process for autonomy. The demonstrators also demanded the expropriation of the businesses of the oligarchy. Some wanted to take over the TV stations which have played an important part in the campaign of the oligarchy, with groups throwing stones at the building of Canal 24, owned by the prefect. Others wanted to march through the police lines towards the presidential palace.

In Cochabamba, more than 100,000 people, factory workers, coca-growing peasants, students, small shopkeepers, marched against the oligarchy and for national unity. In Oruro the 20,000-strong march was led by the COD (Departmental Workers' Union) and ended with a warning from its leader Jaime Solares: miners and students are ready to go to Santa Cruz to smash the oligarchy and its cliques. In Potosí tens of thousands of peasants from all over the Department, including the remote border region of Villazon, have gathered in a cabildo in the "10 de Noviembre" square, reaffirming their struggle for land and social change.

As was to be expected the oligarchy was playing with fire and they have burnt their fingers. In the same way that the vacillations of the government had strengthened them and allowed them to reorganise their forces in the last two years, the offensive of the right wing has awoken once again the will to struggle of the Bolivian working class and peasantry.

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