Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Nov 11 (EFE).- Tension between supporters and opponents of a general strike backed by the leaders of the Santa Cruz region boiled over Friday here in the regional capital, which is also Bolivia’s largest city and economic hub.
Unions and other groups loyal to President Luis Arce’s Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party organized a march in Santa Cruz city to repudiate the strike – now entering its fourth week – called by rightist regional Gov. Luis Fernando Camacho to force the central government to conduct the national census in 2023 instead of 2024.
In the vanguard of the procession were militants carrying poles that they used to dismantle the barricades erected by strike supporters on roads and sidewalks.
The militants roughed up strike supporters at the barricades and assaulted media covering the protest, damaging cameras and other equipment.
But the march was intercepted en route by a contingent of the UJC, the youth wing of Camacho’s party, and a pitched battle ensued, prompting police to resort to tear gas.
UJC members entered the offices of a MAS-allied peasants union and burned it to the ground.
Camacho visited the regional headquarters of the national police to demand that the commander, Col. Jhonny Chavez, promise to protect “the people” from MAS partisans.
“The police is to defend the people, as the constitution says, and not to defend a political party,” the governor said.
Chavez denied that police were acting as guards for MAS supporters and urged the reporters who accompanied Camacho to work to “lower the tension.”
In comments on social media, Arce’s interior minister, Eduardo del Castillo, described Friday’s march in Santa Cruz as an instance of people acting “to defend their right to work” and demand an end to the “criminal” strike.
“This was the peaceful march of the people who were brutally attacked by paid radical sectors seeking confrontation,” the minister wrote.
Addressing Camacho, Del Castillo said that what “could not be achieved by dialogue will not be achieved by violence.”
The Arce government convened a dialogue on scheduling the census, but Camacho declined to participate. EFE