Bolivian Miners Besiege Capital

Today around 500 miners came down from El Alto. Led by Jaime Solares and the secretary general of the Bolivian Mineworkers Federation, Miguel Zuvieta, they again confronted the police just outside downtown La Paz. Meanwhile, the long march led by Evo Morales’ group continues on its path and the indigenous Aymara – both from the city and from the countryside – are preparing for a major offensive that will begin this Friday with a 24-hour civic strike en El Alto. And a few oil companies have already begun to blackmail Bolivia: Petrobrás, of Brazil, has said that it will decrease its investment… but they have so far announced that no company is leaving. Jaime Solares was on the front line. The leader of the Central Obrera Boliviana – the Bolivian Workers’ Federation – and the miners’ leaders came face to face with riot police at midday today, and laid siege to the center of power in Plaza Murillo, though without major consequences. Meanwhile, in parts of the Bolivian “altiplano”, or highlands, new road blockades have appeared, maintained by Aymara farmers. The public school teachers remain on strike, and that strike grows every day. The urban Aymara, in El Alto, continue preparing for the 24-hour shut-down scheduled for Friday, which will be followed by an indefinite general strike next Monday, as we reported here last night.

Carlos Mesa, of course, didn’t show his face much today, nor was there much news from his camp: he sent his ministers to the radio and television stations to explain all the “new features” of his economic and social plan. But a journalist from the station Radio Pio XII in Cochabamba made an interesting calculation this morning:

“The President speaks of a lack of resources… last night, in order to give his speech of more than an hour,” said this colleague, “the presidential communications team bought time on almost all the television and radio stations during the normal newscast hour. Today his speech was printed as a special insert in all the Bolivian newspapers. This all cost the president around $200,000. The president speaks of a lack of resources, and spends that kind of money on presenting his austerity plan for the future…”

It is also worth mentioning some news concerning El Alto: today, whether out of cowardice or sheer ineptitude, Attorney General Pedro Gareca filed new charges in the legal proceedings against former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and his ministers for the massacres of October 2003. The bad news is that in his testimony before the Supreme Court, Gareca did not mention the former president or his minister of defense at the time, the repressive Carlos Sánchez Berzain.

Despite all this, the atmosphere in La Paz has been calm. The city is preparing for the mobilizations and also for the biggest folkloric festival in this part of the world, “Gran Poder,” which will go on as planned on Saturday, May 21. And while the clock starts running again against the Bolivian political class, we will keep reporting from among the people… don’t stray, kind readers.

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