Protests threaten oil pipes
The results were inverted, however, in the eastern provinces, which defied the government by approving “autonomous statutes” with almost 80 percent of the regional vote in local referendums held in June and July.
Militancy in the east is increasingly laced with racist rhetoric against Andean Indians.
Local “youth unions” have brought commerce and transport to a virtual standstill by blocking road connections between the eastern interior and the Andean capital of La Paz.
Supporters of Mr. Morales and his government were beaten and humiliated on the streets, and homes of officials were firebombed in several eastern cities and towns last week as militant youths took over customs and immigration offices at most border crossings with Brazil and Argentina.
Soldiers guarding tax offices in Beni were shot in the legs at close range by an armed group led by a locally born ex-military officer, who gave the garrison commander an “ultimatum” to withdraw his troops.
The national police chief in Santa Cruz, Col. Wilfredo Obleas, was assaulted and beaten by club-wielding youths after he fought attempts to take over his headquarters.
An attempt by national police to land reinforcements in Pando was aborted when local protesters burst into the forces’ C130 airplane, took the commander hostage and forced his men to flee into the surrounding countryside.
Riot gear and weapons were confiscated by the local “civic committee.”
Returning from a weeklong visit to Libya and Iran Friday, Mr. Morales called the violence a “civic coup” and vowed to restore order.
At this point, the standoff between Mr. Morales’ national government resembles a civil insurrection more than a civil war.
Mr. Morales accused the Bolivian army of “genocide” for shooting protesters in 2003 - a charge that helped bring him to national prominence.
As a result, there is reluctance in the army and national government to use excessive force, even when anti-government demonstrations turn violent.
“There are two Bolivias now,” Damian Caguara, a pro-Morales lawmaker recently told the London Guardian. “The Bolivia of the traditional, conservative, right-wing governments and the peasant one, the poor one, the indigenous one that has been in a state of submission for years.
“The latter is the one that is now running the [national] political scene, and this is provoking a harsh reaction from the bosses that cannot stand their servants, the Indians, to be ruling. For them, this is simply humiliating.”
Indian supporters in La Paz and his home constituency of Cochabamba publicly called on Mr. Morales to impose military rule on the east by “declaring a state of siege before things get worse.”