Mo­rales al­lies torch foe’s palace in Bo­livia

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Martin Arostegui

SANTA CRUZ, Bo­livia — Coca grow­ers and sup­port­ers of left­ist Pres­i­dent Evo Mo­rales set fire to the gov­er­nor’s palace in the city cen­ter of Cochabamba on Jan. 8 in an ef­fort to top­ple Gov. Man­fred Reyes Villa, a key sup­porter of U.S. anti-drug ef­forts and a leader of the con­ser­va­tive op­po­si­tion.

Thou­sands of demon­stra­tors vowed to main­tain road­blocks on key na­tional high­ways into Cochabamba on Jan. 9, a day af­ter po­lice used tear gas in an ef­fort to dis­perse a rock-throw­ing mob, which­hadsur­round­edthe­of­fice­sof the gov­er­nor since Jan. 5.

The siege was lifted, but Mo­rales ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials crit­i­cized the po­lice re­sponse as ex­ces­sive, and In­te­rior Min­is­ter Ali­cia Munoz fired Cochabamba’s new po­lice chief, Wilge Bleas, for “re­press­ing the peo­ple.”

More than 30 peo­ple were in­jured, in­clud­ing 11 po­lice­men and nine jour­nal­ists who were the tar­get­sof­beat­ingsan­drock­sthrownby pro-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tors. One coca grower lost an eye from pel­lets fired by po­lice.

The Cochabamba gov­er­nor es­caped, dis­guised in a po­lice uni­form as pro­test­ers broke down doors to the Span­ish colo­nial-style palace and fire-bombed of­fices.

“I will not re­sign,” said Mr. Reyes Villa from a private res­i­dence where he went into hid­ing. “I will not­be­traythose­who­elect­edme,”he said.

The vi­o­lence shows Bo­livia’s in­creas­ing po­lar­iza­tion un­der Mr. Mo­rales, a for­mer coca grower and unionor­ga­niz­er­who­has­movedthe coun­try sharply to the left since tak­ing of­fice in Jan­uary. Mr. Reyes Villa is a for­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and a fierce critic of the pres­i­dent, the first in­dige­nous In­dian pres­i­dent in the coun­try’s his­tory.

Op­po­si­tion politi­cians claim that Mr. Mo­rales is try­ing to si­lence them as part of an ef­fort to push through rad­i­cal mea­sures to le­gal­ize coca farm­ing, re­dis­tribute land topeas­antsup­port­er­sandim­poseof a new con­sti­tu­tion drafted by his rul­ing Move­ment To­ward So­cial­ism,known­by­it­sS­pan­ishacronym, MAS.

Sev­eral Mo­rales aides ac­cused Mr. Reyes Villa of pro­vok­ing the vi­o­lence by call­ing for a new ref­er­en­dum on lo­cal au­ton­omy in Cochabamba and sup­port­ing in­de­pen­dence for the neigh­bor­ing re­gion of Santa Cruz — a bas­tion of op­po­si­tion to Mr. Mo­rales.

“To call for an­other pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion can be con­sid­ered to be at least a po­lit­i­cal provo­ca­tion,” said Vice Pres­i­dent Al­varo Gar­cia Lin­era, who ac­cused “some gov­er­nors of sup­port­ing the di­vi­sion and con­fronta­tion be­tween Bo­li­vians.”

Mr. Gar­cia Lin­era had called for a cam­paign to “iso­late” and “neu­tral­ize” op­po­si­tion gov­er­nors at a MAS strat­egy ses­sion on the out­skirts of Cochabamba two weeks ago.He­warned­abouta“newright” be­ing formed against the gov­ern­ment by “an al­liance be­tween cer­tain re­gional gov­er­nors and civic lead­ers.”

Al­though Mr. Mo­rales was elected pres­i­dent with 54 per­cent of the vote in the De­cem­ber 2005 vote, op­po­si­tion politi­cians won six of Bo­livia’s nine gov­er­nor­ships.

Santa Cruz Gov. Ruben Costas calledtheJan.8in­ci­dents“anat­tack on­democ­racy,”and­civi­clead­erGer­manAn­teloblamedthe­gov­ern­ment for “any vi­o­lence and bloody con­fronta­tions that may re­sult.”

Ac­cord­ing to re­gional of­fi­cials speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity, the Cochabamba gov­er­nor has be­come a di­rect chan­nel for in­ter­na­tional anti-drug as­sis­tance to sup­port the U.S.-spon­sored Al­ter­na­tive De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram (ADP), which sub­si­dizes farm­ers to plant le­git­i­mate crops.

This ar­ti­cle was based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

Agence France-Presse

A young man throws stones at coca grow­ers Jan. 11 dur­ing clashes in the streets of Cochabamba, Bo­livia be­tween coca farm­ers and mid­dle class youths over plans by the lo­cal gov­er­nor for re­gional au­ton­omy. One per­son was killed and dozens in­jured.

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