A flight from Santa Cruz de la Sierra to La Paz airport – a city adjacent to El Alto, capital of the indigenous communities of Aymara ethnicity and fiefdom of Evo Morales– allows to verify the two political realities of Bolivia four days after resignation of the former indigenous president.
In Santa Cruz, the entire city – apparently from the poorest to the richest – celebrates this week with national flags waving at every street party Morales’ departure. There is unconditional support for the new government appointed by the conservative senator Jeanine Áñez, a former television presenter from the same city and closely related to the ultra-conservative Luis Fernando Camacho, who led the mobilizations against Morales and has managed to place politicians of his trust in the new Bolivian cabinet.
But in El Alto – a city of almost a million inhabitants, 600 meters higher than the capital in the Andean mountain range and accessible by cable car – there is fear and anger. Hundreds of indigenous people yesterday attended rallies spontaneously called in every corner of the city, which twenty years ago was a slum of La Paz and now is a municipality with its own architecture, called cholets –Chales de chola– of rococo architecture designed by their Aymara owners.
“This lady doesn’t love the peasants; all the people in his government have white faces, ”said an Aymara who was attending a rally in downtown El Alto, referring to the 11 ministers that make up the new interim government.
Accusations of racism
“They don’t want the peasants; all the people in his government are white ”, says an Aymara
At noon yesterday, a massive march made up of thousands of Aymara men with t-shirts in support of Morales and women dressed in skirts and hats of pressed alpaca left El Alto. They went down to Plaza Murillo, in the center of the capital, where the presidential palace is located. They denounced a coup and repression at the hands of the police. The marches that are held every afternoon constitute a protest and an attempt to correct the exclusion of this community, so important for Morales’ political coalition, in the current situation and the transition to elections in two months. “Journalists are ignoring our protests and the violence against us in El Alto, they do not give information about what is happening here, while the police have closed the local media,” said another indigenous woman. Everything indicated that the pro-Morales peasant march would face off once again with the riot police in the center.
The police and the government accuse the militants of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) of fomenting violence and looting, but the Aymara denounce that there are criminals who sneak into the ranks of the anti-coup protests. “They are infiltrators, and if you walk through El Alto you will see that the ones who have suffered the most looting are us,” said José Luis Quispe, one of the community leaders identified by his golden walking sticks. “Here the police have set fire to houses,” he added. “They shoot us and gasify us and journalists don’t put it on television,” said another Aymara.
As the people of El Alto descended towards La Paz shouting “Down with the coup plotters!”, Deputies from Morales’ party tried to regain political initiative after his unexpected resignation. The MAS held parallel sessions in Congress to allow Morales to run for election, despite his exile in Mexico.
Yesterday, a deputy from Morales’ party was elected leader of the House of Representatives after confusing scenes in which elected MAS representatives were denied entry into Congress by anti-riot police. Spanish jurist Baltasar Garzón filed an appeal on Tuesday with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS), in order to allow Morales to participate in the next elections.
Division in the country
In Santa Cruz, the entire city celebrates the departure of the indigenous leader in street parties
Áñez rejects the participation of the president who won 45% of the votes in the elections on October 20 (which, according to the OAS, were fraudulent). Áñez bases his rejection of Morales’ candidacy on the constitutional prohibition of a president running twice for reelection. Morales called a referendum to allow his candidacy for the October election and, despite 51% of voters rejecting his re-election, he went ahead with his candidacy.
Áñez insisted yesterday that the government has a “technical profile” and “strictly provisional.” But there is an idea within the new government made up of different parties of the opposition to Morales that it is necessary to rebuild democratic institutions and carry out “a regime change to revoke the conditions that had made us a totalitarian country.” Whatever the truth about the accusations of fraud in the last elections, decisively backed by the OAS, this description of the Morales governments collides with Bolivian political and media reality. The truth is that the media in Bolivia have been visceral opponents of Morales’ agenda.
Despite the radical differences between the socialism of Morales and that of Nicolás Maduro, the identification of Bolivia during the 13 years under the presidency of the indigenous leader with Venezuela is a constant in the discourse of the conservative leaders who have taken power in less than a week.
None of them found it debatable that one of the first measures adopted by the interim president and without a popular mandate was the recognition of Juan Guaidó as president of Venezuela, a measure that will build bridges with Washington for the first time in decades. The technical profile of the ministers is also a debatable term.
José Luis Parada, the new Minister of Economy, is the former economic advisor to the city of Santa Cruz, whose model of real estate growth and expansion is more comparable to Miami than to other Bolivian cities.
Attacks on the wiphala flag
While the fall of Evo Morales is celebrated with the national tricolor flag – red, yellow and green – in Santa Cruz and other cities, in El Alto the flags hanging from the balconies are the wiphala, a multicolored insignia that represents the indigenous peoples – 60% of the population of Bolivia – and symbolizes the plurinationality of the Bolivian state since Morales won his first election in 2006. Then, the indigenous movement, which the former president led, wanted to erase the colonialist and racist icons from the national symbolism. But since the resignation of the indigenous president, there have been several scenes in which the wiphala has been destroyed by representatives of what the indigenous people describe as a coup. Aymara interviewed in El Alto were frightened by the scenes in which Santa Cruz police officers have ripped the wiphala from their uniforms. “It is our flag and they insult it,” said an Aymara woman who was walking in front of stalls on a street in El Alto where fabrics with the colors of the wiphala were sold. Áñez, who in the past had rejected the plurinational state embodied in the Bolivian constitution, appeared yesterday flanked by the two flags.
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