Autonomy push sparks racial strife in Bolivia
One protester on each side has died, as citizens await a new constitution addressing the divisive issue.
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But opponents say the autonomy movement has intensified as a reaction to the Constituent Assembly, whose goal is to give more power to the poor, who make up two-thirds of the country. Adolfo Chávez, the leader of the Indigenous Confederation of Bolivia in Santa Cruz, says autonomy is a shield for the traditional ruling classes from the transformation under way in the rest of the country.Skip to next paragraph
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"Autonomy signifies the powerful maintaining their power," Mr. Chávez says. "Their bubble has burst.... They always had preference ... and now that is going away."
Another vote on autonomy?
In the July 2006 referendum, Cochabamba voted against autonomy – largely because of pro-Morales agricultural workers. Yet a few months later Governor Manfred Reyes Villa hinted he might call for another referendum on the issue – angering farmers in the province.
The ensuing battles on the streets of Cochabamba, and the two killings, show that the issue has moved beyond legal structures. "Both incidents were racial ... which is something that had really been absent in Bolivian politics," says Eduardo Gamarra, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University. "The racial debate exacerbates the autonomy question."
Race is the central issue
Both families of the deceased see racial tension as the central issue.
Ms. Anguela and her brother-in-law, Octavio Ticacolque, say they have little faith their side of the story will be told.
"My brother was assassinated," says Mr. Ticacolque. "There is justice for the racists, and not the poor."
For Christian's family, the protest in Cochabamba, widely seen as supported by the political party of Morales, shows that the government cares first for the indigenous people. After the last time Ms. Ferrel saw her son, she took refuge in a house and heard screams: "There's a Camba," a reference Santa Cruz residents that she says has come to define anyone who is not indigenous. "We have to kill the Cambas."
"I didn't realize it was my own son," she says. "We have always lived peacefully with the campesinos. But now, after what happened, the people are mad and feel hate towards them."
Mr. Gamarra says that both the central government and the groups leading the autonomy movement must help steer political rhetoric away from racial issues. Otherwise, he fears, events in Cochabamba might repeat themselves, especially as the deadline nears for the Constituent Assembly to write the constitution.
Spray painted on a wall in the center of Cochabamba are the words "Bolivia = the majority + the minority." But it seems it won't be easy for those two halves to come together just yet.
"We are divided," says Ticacolque. "It's the racists' fault."
"We have never been so divided," says Nelson Urresti. "It's the government's fault."