Morales allies torch foe’s palace in Bolivia
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.
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.