Recently, due to food prices almost doubling, the government offered some of its workers a 10% wage increase. Police, military, and some healthcare workers were included, but though the percentage was too small and began asking for 15%. Other government workers like miners, healthcare workers that hadn’t been included and teachers (and probably others I don’t know about) demanded to be included as well. Last week, leaders of the Central Obrero Boliviano (click here for English) met with Evo, but apparently nothing got worked out, so on Monday they started protesting. Tuesday the protests spread around the country. Apparently some have been violent (especially in Tarija and Pando), but things seem peaceful here. I’ve heard the police have been using tear gas (also hearing from an Ecuadorian man that he was in a café and a teargassed miner came in for help. However, I’ve only seen marching and shouting.
I started hearing the dynamite around 10 am yesterday. For some people outside of Bolivia that might sound disconcerning, but in my experience (albeit limited) dynamite’s a pretty common thing in protests here. As I heard a young British man describe it “the guy has a long cardboard tube. And he lights it in the middle and holds it up in the air.” After that it shoots up like a firework until it pops and sparks, leaving a little cloud of smoke behind.
Apparently, some of the protests have been getting a little violent, and police have used tear gas, but everything I’ve seen has been simply marching and shouting. Though I haven’t ventured to Plaza Murillo (near the federal buildings) where it seems the run in with police happens.
Around 2 pm yesterday, it sounded like the protestors were going directly by my door. The dynamite resumed after a 20 minute long pause. I could hear them yelling something along the lines of “Evo, Pasar.” However, I was groggy and feeling a little sick, so I didn’t venture over to a window to try to see.
As I suspected, R doesn’t think it will turn into the Gas War again (food shortages, no flights, etc) but it will continue. R also said people thought the Gasolina problems in February would be the end of Evo, and now they’re talking the same talk again. I read in the paper today statistics about people’s confidence in him from different areas of the country. It certainly seems this could turn into bad politics. But if things eventually work out and people are happy, it could all just be political theater to reinforce his position as the people’s president (is it inappropriate for me to compare Evo to The Rock?). Ah political theater.
Today I left around 11am, without a real destination, but there were already protestors blocking off all the major intersections. And it was clear the road blockades were working because there were really only taxis and public transportation busses on the streets.
i took a picture of some miners standing around with signs. i walked further down the street toward sopocachi where i was staying last time and found a little park i didn't know existed. It was across the street from this kind of annoying restaurant that kept playing music really loudly into the street and after every song would list today’s specials and say “Ven, Passan, Visitamos!”
I was sitting in the grass, and there was a woman watering the plants and grass down at the other end. She was moving closer as this guy who had been napping sat up abruptly and smiled at me. I smiled back but then looked away, kinda weirded out. He then saw someone he knew on the street up above the park (which runs parallel to the mt. slope, so one street is kind of “below” and then there are stairs up to the next street). He shouted to her and she stopped and waited. I was intrigued because he seemed kinda early 20s, disheveled, working class-ish. And the woman looked like she was maybe 40. Dressed in business clothes and carrying an umbrella (for the sun). she stopped and waited looking over the railing, while the guy got up and went over to the woman watering the plants and stuck his hands in the water. He sort of wiped off his face and then stuck his whole head under the spraying water. And then he stepped away, took out a comb, and kinda made this big show of combing his hair. Then he walked up and met the woman…
After this happened, I figured I should probably get going soon, so I stood up and walked to a trash can to throw away some stuff I had in my bag. As I was about to start walking back toward where I was going to meet R, I heard some protestors coming up the street so I sat back down (but a little further from the street below). It seemed like they filled the street for about 3 blocks. And I could see the guys lighting dynamite. It was indeed what appeared to be a cardboard tube that they would light in the middle and then it would take a few seconds to shoot up and spark and pop. I watched them all go by, shouting “Evo, Minero [I think minero, could have been something else], Donde esta el cambio?” Near the end a few of the women and one man ran up to the garden hose (which was no longer held by the woman but was just stuck in the ground on a little leaning thing), and washed their hands, put water in their hats, etc.
As they marched away, the restaurant resumed its announcements but made sure to mention there was no tear gas inside.
la razon is keeping pretty good track of things, for further reading in spanish.