Social Issues

Week-long strike demanding census paralyzes key Bolivian region

Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Oct 28 (EFE).- Marches, garbage piles on the streets, fuel shortage, blockades and anti-blockades marked the seventh day of the ongoing citizen’s strike in Bolivia’s Santa Cruz region – the largest in the country and the driving force of the economy – demanding that the national census be held in 2023 instead of 2024.

The capital region woke up on Friday with tiny mountains of trash on the streets as access to the city’s landfills has been blocked for three days by groups close to the ruling Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party, who are opposing the strike.

Roadblocks on city roads have increased, and on Friday bus drivers from the urban public transport service also held an anti-strike protest, parking their buses across roads and demanding that they be allowed to work.

Their leader Segundo Ricaldi told EFE that the transporters were suffering after going seven days without work, as the sector was not permitted to function at all due to the strike, while others have been allowed to work for a few hours.

“What will we do without money? The situation that we are in, our family is in dire straits, we don’t know how to get money to pay the bills,” Ricaldi said.

The shortage of fuel in the city has become increasingly severe, with some people resorting to selling petrol in bottles.

Local resident Alfredo Jalil told EFE that he bought a two-liter bottle of gasoline for an amount equivalent to $2.5, while the state-subsidized price of fuel at filling stations is 50 cents per liter.

“It is almost three-times, but what can one do, you have to travel,” Jalil said.

The city has also been cut off with blockades on the four highways that connect it with the rest of the country, a measure enforced by pro-government sections blocking the passage of food, vehicles and people to pressurize the urban population into lifting the strike.

On Friday, students, teachers and administrative staff of the state-owned Gabriel Rene Moreno University marched to the historic city center of the capital to demand that the census be carried out in 2023.

“As university students and teachers, we demand the state government to carry out the census as soon as possible to make a just distribution of economic resources as required by the university and in general the people of Santa Cruz and Bolivia,” professor Ezequiel Paniagua told EFE.

Paniagua said that the state funding currently received by the university is based on the results of the 2012 census, and that the region’s population had grown in the 10 years since then, necessitating more funds for health and education.

Santa Cruz region has been leading the census protests, which have been dubbed by authorities as attempts to destabilize the government of President Luis Arce.

Groups backing the central government have tried to break up the strike in Santa Cruz with violence, apart from holding counter-protests in regions such as La Paz and Tarija.

The president of the Pro-Santa Cruz civic committee, Rómulo Calvo, denounced state “pressure” in the form of cutting gas and fuel supply to the region through blockades, apart from pro-government powers threatening to seize private firms and basic services cooperatives.

Calvo urged the pro-strike protesters to be patient and wait for what comes out of negotiations that are being held in the neighboring Cochabamba region, although warning that the Santa Cruz population “would no longer be intimidated.” EFE


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