Weaving the Rebellion: Plan 3000, Center of Resistance in Eastern Bolivia
For Mariel and her whole family, for being part of this quilt of insubordinations. Thank you, sister.
“The oligarchy won’t enter here, they won’t send a Rubén Costas here…vamos, vamos! Go on, comrades, with the shields! Go on…” Between the fireworks and the chants, a roar rose up on the streets of the Plan 3000 neighborhood on September 11, 2008. Hundreds of people – the young, men, women, business owners, and those known as “street kids” – ran and took cover behind home-made shields in order to defend La Rotonda, the symbolic center of resistance in Plan 3000 and the principal target of the attacks by the Santa Cruz Youth Union (UJC), an armed fascist group of the right-wing civic and state-level government. On the radio, a leader announced that “the war in Plan 3000 has begun,” while various people, such as the indigenous leaders being chased in the center of the city, went to take refuge in Plan 3000 and to resist from there. Their defense consisted of stones, sticks, fists and slingshots.
What is being demonstrated by this local self defense? Why did so many people from Plan 3000 go out into the streets while the prefect Ruben Costas, the president of the Comité Cívico Pro Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz Civic Committee) Branko Marinkovic, and other local government officials from the area shouted themselves hoarse over their “media” channels in support of departmental autonomy, calling it a “revolution of peace and love”? In the streets their hired goons kicked campesinos, humiliated indigenous people, and threatened, tortured, spit on, persecuted, intimidated and – just as in Pando – assassinated. While the blood of campesinos, indigenous people, injured women and children, collas (highland indigenous), and Takana (a militant indigenous group) ran in Porvenir, Pando, the outrage and the organization of the popular sectors grew and linked various parts of the country.
The struggle arose in one of the poorest and most dignified neighborhoods, on the very edge of the city of Santa Cruz. There, emerging from the history of our country – which is nothing if not the history of a people in constant battle – voices of the rebellion grew in response to the fascist current that violently manifested itself in September 2008 in four departments of Bolivia. Here, through the prism of the September events, we try to contemplate space, time and a rebellious people – initial pieces of the complex weaving that revealed itself to the Bolivian and Latin American people – in this cruceño neighborhood called Plan 3000.
Memories from a Land that Refuses to Submit
In 1983, the then-mayor of the city of Santa Cruz, Sergio Antelo, founder of La Nación Camba (a federalist movement in Bolivia), ordered the relocation of 3,000 families affected by a terrible flood, to a wasteland far from city center. The city is organized in neighborhoods known as “rings” that are numbered according to their distance from the central plaza: first ring includes the plaza itself, second ring is its border, third ring next and so on to the ninth ring. The very wealthy cruceño families live in the lower-numbered rings.
When those 3,000 families were taken to the outskirts of the central urban area, Plan 3000 was born, says Eduardo Loayza, director of the neighborhood’s radio station, Radio Integración. Could Mr. Antelo have imagined that 25 years later, that same neighborhood whose establishment he had ordered would become the leading force against his separatist and oligarchic politics?
Today, far to the south of those elegant first rings in Santa Cruz, are Ciudadela Andrés Ibáñez, Plan 3000, and neighboring Guarani communities. This combined area hopes to become a new independent municipality to be called Ciudadela Igualitaria Andrés Ibáñez.1 The new city would be autonomous from the current Santa Cruz mayor’s office, and from the departmental (state) government offices. It’s a much needed step, residents say, since there are now nearly 300,000 people living in Plan 3000. This process is in full collective discussion.
Arriving in Plan 3000, the first thing one sees is La Rotonda del Plan 3000, a plaza that is emblematic of the resistance. In the middle of the plaza is a landmark stone that has been inscribed with the slogan “municipal autonomy,” above which flies a Bolivian flag. Across from the plaza, among the labyrinth of businesses, is an office that houses Radio Integración, one of the pillars of the burgeoning movement. This neighborhood – of unpaved streets and avenues lined with storefronts, of noise from hundreds of passing buses – is very similar to the city of El Alto or to certain low-income zones of Cochabamba not just for its physiognomy but also for its high migrant population. A local activist explains to us: “Plan 3000 is to Santa Cruz what El Alto is to La Paz.”
Many people speak Quechua and live not far from the plaza in the Barrio Minero (Miners’ Neighborhood), which in September provoked fear in the well-off groups of the first cruceño rings. Further away are the Guarani communities of Pueblo Nuevo. This diversity displays itself in the accents, in the faces. Eduardo Loayza tells us:
Plan 3000 is born in 1983; in ’85 the relocation happens and people from the mining sector begin to arrive. They bring money because they have been given their severance pay and so they install themselves as shopkeepers. This partially explains why we are able to organize on various levels…. Plan 3000 continues to grow in population, in its commercial sector, and people continue to arrive from all over Bolivia. The area has stretched its limits – every day new neighborhoods are established, ones that aren’t in the city’s zoning or design.
The most numerous group is the union of street vendors or storekeepers, large and small. Eduardo says:
These organizations arose from the increase in economic activity via markets and street vendors. Then came the transportation unions and there will be more emerging. For example, right now there are 18 associations of street vendors in Plan 3000 in the area around La Rotonda alone. There are many more markets and organizations, but the street vendors are the most significant.
The other axis of mobilization was the residents, who joined together via the Unión de Juntas Vecinales (Union of Neighborhood Committees), which also became a neighborhood watch group. Additionally, diverse sectors of youth groups were created to resist the aggressions of the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista or UJC (a violent right-wing youth group). La Juventud Igualitaria Andrés Ibáñez, the Juventud Integrada del Plan 3000, cultural groups, and women’s organizations (such as the group María Ayma) were the spaces where the rhythm of the resistance was determined.
Up until a few years ago, Santa Cruz’s racism manifested itself in a veiled manner as part of the country’s colonial inheritance. The dominant culture in Santa Cruz was constructed around the white myth, the shape and color of the rich, white elite cruceños (Santa Cruz residents) as the valued group, and the de-valorization of “the other” – in this instance the highland Andean or colla, the lowland indigenous, the countryside residents eastern and the poor. Colla became an epithet to insult people who had indigenous or non-white features. Because of this prejudiced vision, Santa Cruz was a place of shiny runway fashion, a modern and booming city, full of European immigrants. The distorted self-image of the ruling class (and even of some below) disintegrated when it became clear that behind that the “mestizo” discourse lay painful discrimination. By 2005, the macabre racist repression was set loose without any euphemism.
A compañero who lives in Santa Cruz tells us that when the civic committees and departmental government offices, along with the UJC, developed their racist discourse and actions against indigenous people and campesinos, violence was daily but, of course, was not publicly discussed in the media because attacking or insulting an indigenous person was not news. Activist leaders were brutally beaten; people accused of being MAS-istas (supporters of Evo Morales’s MAS party) were nearly killed in the street. A compañero from the Juventud Unida del Plan 3000 (Plan 3000 United Youth) describes it like this:
Before the start of these conflicts, I worked in a food company and I had a minimum-wage salary. I was already discriminated against. My co-workers branded me “colla,” “shitty MAS-ista,” and told me “you are nothing but garbage.” But I never let them get away with it, and I tell everyone that they should never let anyone push them around, that they should defend their beliefs.
Now the racism is everywhere; out in the open: the sinister caravans of UJCs armed with baseball bats chasing social movement leaders; two campesinos shot to death in the city of Cochabamba in 2007; community radio stations set on fire; campesino and indigenous homes burned down; hearing racist insults while walking down the street; punches, kicks, violence and a newscaster in the department of Beni who announces – on air – his hate for the “damned race.” The worst thing that can happen to a society is acceptance of this violence as a normal fact. This is a phenomenon of fascism. The fear instilled by the confrontational groups strengthens this “silence.”
But despite this fear, in Plan 3000, just as in Santa Cruz’s nearby rural outskirts, it was finally decided to put an end to the attacks. The idea of “equality” as the antagonist of racism took hold. The movement began.
Youth like us in the city of Plan 3000 saw the necessity of creating an organization for self-defense. It hurt us to see that our brothers and sisters of the interior who come to visit our families were kicked, hit, beaten, just covered in blood. We began this initiative to, above all else, address this need for self-defense and to figure out what we as youth can do in the streets. So we first devoted ourselves to this project of organizing ourselves (Interview with the president of Juventud Igualitaria Andrés Ibáñez of Plan 3000).We have people in Plan 3000 who live under the trees, with a roof made of plastic or of palm leaves, without water, without electricity. It’s for the dignity of these people that we are going to fight and become a force to be reckoned with.… We are not like what they say we are: “Everyone in Plan 3000, in Villa Primera de Mayo, La Colorada, and so on – including the president of Bolivia – is half animal and half shit.” That is not what we are; we too are intelligent and free and can live with dignity. I believe that one must have those three things to be human, to have rights, and to be respected; this is why we fight (Testimony from a student in Plan 3000).
May 4, 2008: First Moment of Mass Mobilization
Dissent against the politics of the departmental government and civic sector had already begun to arise in response to the UJC’s first attacks, which began in 2004 and 2005. A former miner, persecuted by the dictatorship and who had lived many years in the city of Santa Cruz, told us that their movement was not new but was born years ago, when they had arrived in the city. May 4 became a crucial moment in establishing this horizon of struggle. It was a day in which the massive power of mobilization was shown, a day on which the Santa Cruz departmental government held an illegal referendum to approve its Statute of Departmental Autonomy. It was the first time that an enormous number of people came out into La Rotonda in Plan 3000. While the perturbed logic of the Right classified the event as a gathering of a handful of government supporters, hundreds of people flooded the streets of Plan 3000 to face the UJC stones, sticks and even guns. They were aware that the struggle was part of a “war” against the political project designed by the Right to protect their region, because the biggest businesses and land-owners are in this area of the country.
Many of the people fighting in Plan 3000 are not MAS-istas, but rather militants of a process of revolutionary change. They have complete faith that this process will achieve social justice and a world with greater equity. Because of this commitment, the people of Plan 3000 fight with greater strength. First off, in Plan 3000 there have always been aggressions by the fascist squads of the [UJC]. They have come, wanting to humiliate the residents of Plan 3000 on more than one occasion. There have been some fights, for example, when there are rallies and large gatherings. Fascists have arrived at such events and the residents have come out to resist them on more than one occasion. May 4 was a turning point. What happened on May 4 evidences, above all, that the residents were ready to resist attacks, that they had the intention to resist. But it is also clear that the youth were organized, structured, and able to carry out coordinated resistance on that day. (Interview with a compañero who is part of the resistance in Plan 3000).
Starting at five in the morning on May 4, Plan 3000 residents went out to guard the streets in face of the invasion threats by the UJC. Some independent journalists who covered the referendum that day were shocked by the look on the faces of the UJCs as they proclaimed “death to the collas” because the hate was so clear. Groups of friends, residents who knew each other, went out into the streets to fight. Whole families were in La Rotonda and in other key locations to keep the UJCs out. They did not have adequate medical attention for injured Plan 3000 residents. As one compañero told us, “solidarity was what we had.” Of this day he remembers:
[In the morning] protest music was playing, like the song “La Patria” by Juan Enrique Jurado. Around 8am, we returned to regroup. At that point we were excited by the resistance that had come together in Yapacaní, San Julián, and other municipalities [outside of Santa Cruz city] and we began to say: “we must resist here, San Julián has already done it and so we also must begin” … In their attempt to occupy the area, the UJCs were more numerous and better armed. They had sticks, stones, 12-round dynamite … and that made the residents even more angry; they began to regroup, the youth too and they grew to be a crowd of more than 500. Well, all in all we were more than 10,000 people, but those of us who went to the frontlines of the battle were 500 or 800, and it grew little by little (Interview with an activist ally who is part of the resistance in Plan 3000).
The residents of Plan 3000 considered the results of that day a victory, since Plan 3000 was, among all autonomy statute voting places, the most visible example of popular struggle against the vote and the racist aggression. Other cities like San Julián, Montero, and Yapacaní resisted as well:
…but the biggest victory is that we have been able to push back this illegal [autonomy] process and the most important thing is that spirit and patriotism have grown a lot in Plan 3000. We were all aware that we were in opposition to an anti-patriotic, separatist movement expressed by the oligarchy. We were all aware that the UJC was an armed wing of a fascist group that came to intimidate, humiliate, and beat humble people and that needed to be stopped. We had reached our limit. This is the most important thing that has come. (Interview with an activist compañero who is part of the resistance in Plan 3000).
From that moment on, collective discussions determined what would happen later in the year. The civic strike on August 19 was also a part of this social learning of resistance. People came to have a clearer idea of the ways in which they could confront what has been called a “civic stick” [as opposed to civic strike, because of the sticks the UJC carried to enforce their strike]:
After that episode of resistance, the next one came on August 19, the day of the Civic Strike, a Tuesday. We began by taking guard on Monday night in La Rotonda. We stayed throughout the whole night and in the morning we got ready quickly. On that day our consciousness had already been developed, and we also had more experience with confrontations, because sometimes confrontations are a question of nothing more than preparation, like a war (Interview with an activist compañero who is part of the resistance in Plan 3000).
The Struggle Spreads: The Eve of September 11
Starting on May 4, there were confrontations. We resisted, we won respect for the invincibility of Plan 3000. We said that Plan 3000 could be seen as a small Bolivia, and if Plan 3000 has not been invaded, it is like saying that Bolivia has won respect. If they had invaded Plan 3000, they would have silenced us and they would have symbolically silenced all of Bolivia (Interview with the President of Juventud Igualitaria Andrés Ibáñez of Plan 3000).
These words reflect Bolivia over recent months. On one side there was the “blockade of the privileged” that sought departmental autonomy, which had been organized for years by violent groups that had exploited racist discourse. On the other side, there was the government that had the impossible task of creating a state presence in several departments through the use of force. Finally, there were the social organizations who were the ones to offer immediate responses to the systematic attacks by powerful groups in places such as Santa Cruz, Beni and Tarija.
Therein lies the importance of Plan 3000, with its identity as a stronghold of resistance to the oligarchy, with its first struggle being recognized on a national level. In the face of racist ruling-class policies, the people’s movements developed – based on their own organizational forces, on their immense capacity for saying enough is enough – to re-create social power in an explosive way. In this sense, September was crucial for beginning to reflect on and collectively piece together what has happened in Bolivia recently.
This process of weaving the rebellion in Santa Cruz, with its strengths and weaknesses, is fundamental for thinking about what happened on September 11, 2008. The recreation of the social fabric, the Plan’s first outpouring on May 4, the shaping of the first neighborhood defense groups, speak to us of the beginnings of a grassroots and urban base in Bolivia. In a territory that generally had been dominated by politics and traditional parties, a response rose up that provoked thinking across the country about the need to unite all these experiences of struggle. Facing the massacre of campesinos in the department of Pando, facing the UJC’s attempts to occupy Plan 3000, facing the widespread attacks against campesino unions and the headquarters of indigenous organizations in at least four departments, people responded – by marching in Santa Cruz, and by coordinated resistance in Plan 3000. It was clear, Plan 3000 would not be silenced, and therefore Bolivia, the people who from all over the country fought in the Water Wars in 2000 and earlier, were not silenced.
The unraveling of the somber events had started long before September, in meetings of the National Democratic Council, known as Conalde, led by the agro-industrial powers of the east. Consistent with its own ambitions, the right wing in Bolivia had been organizing lockouts since the beginning of the year. In March and April, they did so in response to the government’s prohibition against the export of cooking oil and against selling it at an elevated price within the country.2
The attack of the right-wing sectors continued on several flanks: they carried out their illegal autonomy statute referendums in four departments. “Dialogue? What dialogue?” mocked Carlos Dabdoub, Director of Autonomy for the Santa Cruz Prefecture, in March when the government called for negotiations in the face of ever growing violent actions by the landowners and business owners from Santa Cruz.
Employer lockouts and blockades
In August, the issue of the “return of the Direct Tax to Hydrocarbons (IDH)” was used as the right wing’s subterfuge. The IDH is national revenue [from the gas sector] that is distributed among the nine departments (states) in the country and from which the government had allotted a portion to pay the Dignity Bonus to seniors older than 60 years. The extravagant televised debates among members of the “civic committees” as to whether they loved the seniors more than the government served as a smokescreen. The underlying issue was a plan elaborated over several years, known as “autonomy,” or regional management of natural resources by departmental authorities. In fact, the Santa Cruz autonomy statute gave departmental authorities control over management and distribution of land. What this is really about is a neo-fascist project, which seeks to destroy all the political impetus and ideas created by community, neighborhood and peasant movements beginning in 2000, such as the defense of water as a common good, the nationalization of hydrocarbons, a popular Constituent Assembly, and a deep questioning of the dominant racism throughout the country. The entire popular “agenda” created from the streets, the barricades and the roads beginning many years ago, was later taken on by the government of MAS who fulfilled – and also filtered – it in the manner and rhythm of the state.
In 2008 the confrontations became much more acute: the most visible were between the government and prefecture and civic members. The non-presence of the national government in regions such as the city of Santa Cruz became evident. The military and police could do little more than attempt to avoid the violent events. The dimensions of this “state crisis” were finally clear for all to see when, on August 15, the Santa Cruz chief of police was beaten severely by members of the rightwing group Santa Cruz Youth Union, or UJC as the news cameras rolled. Beyond the state’s crisis, confrontations were taking place on the grassroots level, in the streets. Increasingly violent clashes were taking place between people from assailant groups and low income neighborhoods in Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, Pando and Chuquisaca. The aggressors’ logic was, and is, not only coarse but crude: “We want independence, we don’t want this damned race in our land,” they screamed in August, as they bloodily beat a colla woman dressed in a traditional Aymara skirt.
By the end of August and towards the beginning of September, employer lockouts and blockades were once again initiated by the Conalde – to supposedly win back their region’s IDH that was now being allocated to the senior citizens. On August 25, in Gran Chaco, located in the department of Tarija, a road blockade began which would later extend eastward. When the government issued a decree calling for a national referendum on the new Constitution (scheduled initially for December 7, 2008), civil and prefectural mobilizations broke out. They were the most violent and serious of events of the last three years…to this point.
Confrontations and takeovers of institutions occurred not only in the cities but also in rural peasant communities. Reports of such actions came from community radio stations across four of the country’s nine departments. State institutions like the National Telecommunications Company (ENTEL), the Revenue Service and others were occupied. Offices were destroyed; people were threatened, persecuted and beaten if they opposed prefectural and civic policies. Firearms were used. Airports were taken over and peasants were murdered. These were not “spontaneous” actions of people who went out to protest peacefully, as the right-wing civic members shamelessly allege. The right-wing groups had carefully coordinated the takeovers, planning how they would violently crush anyone who stood in their way. And it was not only state offices that were occupied. The attacks purposefully targeted worker and peasant organizations.
On September 9, downtown Santa Cruz was on fire: public offices, state TV and radio stations, newspaper headquarters. Whatever was not burned, was stolen. Groups financed by the UJC pillaged whatever they could while shouting “Out with the shitty collas! Autonomy!” By September 10, assault groups for the prefecture and civic committee in Tarija (in southern Bolivia) attacked the market where peasants come to sell their goods. “They are preparing their sticks and clubs for the peasants,” a grassroots leader from that department said. Throughout the day of September 11, it was made clear just how far the right wing was prepared to go: they massacred more than 17 peasants in Pando, with gusts of machine gun fire, with rifles, with weapons of various types of caliber, ferociously shooting a peasant march. Several survivors were later tortured. Hence, the blood of many humble people reached the Tahuamano river that morning.
It was against this planned violence, those weapons, those paid individuals, that political project of the right wing that the peasants of Pando and Beni and the inhabitants of Plan 3000 found themselves and against which they resisted.
War has started in Plan 3000: a self-organized popular struggle3
“Bolivia was not silenced,” were the last words spoken by a neighbor who was thinking about the importance of his struggle. With the collective learning based on their experiences in May while fighting the civic strikes, Plan 3000 residents – the young, the merchants, everyone – took to the streets once again, breaking the silence and the fear, to prevent the armed assault groups from taking over their area. September 10 was a day of great struggle throughout the country. “If they want to come in, they will have to step on our dead bodies,” stated a woman with her small daughter riding on her back, getting ready to defend the peasant market in the peripheral areas of the city of Tarija. All day they resisted the Molotov cocktails, the blows and the stones from university students and groups of people sent by the civic committee and the prefecture.
In Santa Cruz, the UJC attempted to occupy the Bimodal Bus Terminal but found themselves up against the Grassroots Youth Union and others opposing the takeover. The inhabitants of Plan 3000 saw how all the state offices in the center of the city were destroyed and how the unionists surrounded and finally took over the terminal, expelling those who were still engaged in resistance inside. The police were unable to do anything about it.
Bullets discharged by the UJC the night before had already wounded four residents of Plan 3000. Long before September, when the well known “civic strikes” took place, several compañeras and compañeros had described how trucks filled with UJC and its allies cruised the streets during the night, in an attempt to force people to strike the following day. They would hit their homemade shields with sticks, as an intimidation tactic. This time, the trucks filled with members of the UJC also passed through the outskirts of Plan 3000.
The 9th, 10th, 11th… the 10th was really bad, we were attacked on all sides. From the side of El Mechero, some 200, 300 people came, more than half of them drug addicts. From El Trillo near San Aurelio another 300 to 400 were hired, also drug addicts most of them. From the side of Avenie Che Guevara, Radial 10, another 300, 400 more or less. We, the youth in la Rotonda, were frantic because of this assault, which the children and the elders could not withstand. We ourselves could not withstand it; in fact they were killing us. The [governmental] representatives were nowhere to be seen, they were not defending us, because they were scared too, having been persecuted themselves (Witness statement of a student from Plan 3000).
The UJC sent half of its stronghold to try to take over Plan 3000. There they encountered a well-organized population which was able to repulse their attack. On the second and third day they came in the evenings. So each night we started a defensive vigil around 5pm because we already knew that at night delinquent types would come in, the paid ones, and that they would arrive starting around 8pm. The second night they advanced all the way to the middle of the market, but fortunately we managed to push them back and out. The third day was even more intense but there was a shift. They didn’t dare enter anymore, the UJC forces were already considerably weakened. (Huáscar, a compañero who is part of the resistance in Plan 3000).
In the face of imminent take over of Plan 3000 by the UJC, people gathered in the street to carry out vigils at the stalls and stores. It was known that if the attackers were able to enter, the first thing they would attack would be kiosks and stalls from which people make a living; the instructions given by the right wing to their people were to take La Rotonda and later on to demolish the Market:
One of the instructions that were given by Andrés Gallardo [deputy for Podemos] to his paramilitary forces was to take over Plan 3000 and anything they pillaged they could keep for themselves. That is why they tried to take over Plan 3000, because they wanted to pillage it. At that point, the merchants were very helpful in the defense, they were in a constant vigil, they offered us their megaphones… (Compañero who is part of the resistance in Plan 3000).
In the midst of the noise of the people protecting the neighborhood, you could hear the powerful voice of a woman, amplified by a megaphone: “The Plan will be respected, damn it!” while the young people clutched sticks and stones to defend themselves from the recurring attacks by the UJC.
Eduardo Loayza explains to us why there were was such a furious attempt to take over Plan 3000:
The idea was for all of them to come in and burn center of the neighborhood which is the symbolic part. Then later Branko [Marinkovic, president of the Civic Committee Pro Santa Cruz] who was waiting in el Trillo was supposed to arrive; he was going to come in and say: “There is nothing here, here we are the majority,” and all the media was prepared to deliver the message: “There is nothing here, here we are the law, here no one can stop us.” It’s a question of politics. They attack the Plan because it is a symbol. Plan 3000 has no industry, no prefecture, no mayor’s office, there is not a lot of money changing hands, it is simply the working people. But the Plan is a symbol, a bastion of the left wing in Santa Cruz. Thus taking over the Plan, taking over La Rotonda, destroying everything was a question of power. And that’s what Branko wanted, based on a suggestion by Goldberg [former US ambassador in Bolivia] – because this neighborhood is the pebble in the shoe in Santa Cruz. There was going to be violence, there was going to be a massacre. On the 11th, there was going to be a massacre.
Plan 3000 residents had spent the night before on vigil in La Rotonda and in the market. Benedicta and Huáscar recall:
[Benedicta:] The vigils that took place were excellent for us. As union members we cooked food collectively and the people from other parts of the neighborhood came with their own contributions. The vigil was also positive because our children were by our sides. And since we women are the more intelligent group we stayed up all night alongside the men chewing coca, keeping ourselves active here and there. The UJC wanted to attack us from all sides, but they were never able to reach the heart of Plan 3000 which we the women have united.
[Huáscar:] An interesting saying making the rounds was that fascism cannot be fought with laws, or flowers, it is fought on the streets with sticks and weapons. Plan 3000 was able to pick that up well and the vigils lasted throughout the entire day. People bravely came out with their shields, their sticks, and whatever else they could bring; there we would see entire families, there were children with their sticks and other things. An interesting thing is that it was the children who would fight the most; they were going up and throwing themselves against the UJC and others, children who were eight years old with their sticks and their stones, side by side with their parents protecting their market stalls. Children that I believe from now on will continue to keep that idea of class vindication.
The few policemen around Plan 3000 were not able to do much. So the organizational strategy was based on hundreds of families as lines of defense: some went into the streets, to be part of the groups who again and again confronted the UJC body to body. Others came out to help in the vigils, others showed their support by providing food and water. Even within the area itself there were some people who identified with the opposition, but they were vastly outnumbered. The self-organization of the people was well thought out to resist the UJC incursion, which depended on paid footsoldiers:
The last confrontation took place on Thursday of that week. They came in through Che Guevara Avenue led by an opposition party congressman Andrés Gallardo. This man was given 200 bolivianos [$30] per person, plus handing out dynamite sticks, baseball bats and Red Bull. This was given to everyone to drink so they would come in pumped up. Some of them were completely under the influence. This was a difference between them and us. We were fighting through the use of our reason and our consciences; our strength was in our conviction, the dignity, principles, the defense of our homeland, and the elimination of everything that oligarchy represents. But they were a troop of mercenaries who had to be drugged to fight. That is the funniest part of it, but also the saddest thing about them. (Companero who is a part of the resistance in Plan 3000).
The situation in the other departments in the country was serious, like, for example, around the gas plant and pipelines in the Gran Chaco. Members of the military who were patrolling the installations were few and their weapons were taken away from them. The government could do little more than continue to call for dialogue and condemn the violence. In Beni, the calls for help transmitted by some radio stations were heard at night, when the peasant union headquarters was surrounded, invaded and dynamited. In Santa Cruz, the headquarters of the Confederación Indígena del Oriente Boliviano (CIDOB – Indigenous Federation of Eastern Bolivia) and the Confederación de Pueblos Étnicos de Santa Cruz (CPESC – Federation of Ethnic Peoples of Santa Cruz) had been attacked and destroyed and their contents burned. Regrettably, it must be noted that some former indigenous leaders, who in an abject act had become supporters of the prefecture, participated in these incidents. Other indigenous compañeros who were being persecuted went underground and fled to Plan 3000, as it was a place where they felt safe and could join in the community struggle:
In the midst of the battle, Radio Integración played the role of amplifier of calls for resistance. Many people who lived in neighborhoods adjoining Plan 3000 were listening to the broadcasts as well; they heard the calls to come defend the area. From there, at various times, they broadcast nationally to tell what was happening in Santa Cruz. The UJC tried in vain to take over the media outlets.
On the 11th [the UJC] attempted to enter the neighborhood. We egged them on: “Come on, attack the Plan, we will resist.” We were saying [to the residents], if you are attacked and they want to take you to Los Pozos, if they assault you and they want to burn your stall or goods, organize and take over the Palace of Justice; if in the Barriolindo fair they want to burn your things, organize, take over the new terminal again; if they commit violence in el Abasto, organize; they are going to be weak, take over the refineries again. We started with the closest places: we have to take over Saguapac,4 and [the UJC] became fearful; it was like a snowball, it could hit them harder, or it was perhaps more like a boomerang. Then, they lost their will and they went to guard the Saguapac. (Interview with Eduardo Loayza).
In general, when the mainstream press refers to Plan 3000 they do so as “MAS-istas [supporters of Evo Morales’s MAS party].” But what Eduardo, Benedicta and others who were in the first line of combat demonstrate is that this was about 300,000 people who took quick action; 100,000 families who resisted the UJC siege however they could, and that they were able to make Radio Integración their own means of communication so that they could report to their own people. Residents, as in El Alto in October 2003, became reporters who would broadcast the available information to their neighbors:
Radio Integración has no established financing, it is self-financed, it does not receive anything from the State, none of that. The neighbors themselves played an important role because they became the eyes of the radio, they would call: “in such and such place they are coming in; it is a such and such colored car, with tinted windows; they have walkie-talkies, they are carrying dynamite, this or that truck is carrying this or that thing.” We had eyes everywhere, even though we were fighting with nothing; the people themselves become the eyes, the gaze, that enabled this whole movement. We had tremendous control, which also frightened the right-wing fascists, because they were afraid, they said: “How can they see me here? Who is looking at me? It’s like I’m being watched from all sides…”(Interview to Eduardo Loayza).
The resistance by the people in the Plan made it impossible for the UJC to take over the area, but the movement’s meaning was greater that this. It was about the creation of a pole of urban resistance, self-organized and mobilized in the very city of Santa Cruz itself – the urban center which, at least in its downtown area, has long been a bastion of the Right. But this time voices opposed to the politics of Conalde were heard with great force. On September 12 and 13, the UJC siege of Plan 3000 had diminished in intensity and opposition party Tarija Prefect (governor) Mario Cossío had decided go to La Paz to “re-initiate the dialogue.”
Evidently, the civic bloc did not win victory. And this was not because of police or military actions impeding their attacks, but rather because of the response of peasant and grassroots organizations. In Tarija, the local civic groups had announced that they would take over the Peasant Marker but the resistance of the women, young people, merchants, neighbors and peasants, prevented them from turning their threats into reality. In Santa Cruz, the center of the city was occupied by the assault groups, but not so in Plan 3000. In Pando, the paid assassins walked through the streets of the capital city of Cobija, armed, and though Martial Law was declared by the government, it was having trouble implementing it. In the department of Beni, right-wing civic groups reinforced their positions in the occupied state institutions. By Monday, September 15, despite the fact that civic groups maintained control in most city centers, Conalde announced that they would start removing road blockades. But a blockade of a different kind had begun and was advancing with great force.
Advance on Santa Cruz: The Grassroots Response
Beginning on September 9, hundreds of indigenous communities and peasant unions announced that they were planning to blockade all the main roads leading into the capital of Santa Cruz. At the same time, hundreds of mining cooperative workers had started to march from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz “to teach the UJC a lesson,” they said. A historic march also started which the mainstream media depicted simply as “another violent MAS march” that terrorized the modern citizens of the very civilized city center of Santa Cruz. The images of peasants bearing machetes and firearms (including some hunting rifles) created a sense of horror that touched the very soul of the right-wing oligarchy: the detestable natives and collas were arriving as a veritable multitude. Indeed, both indignation against the Right and solidarity with Pando’s peasants and with Plan 3000 motivated the more than 20,000 peasant and indigenous communities in the rest of the country to announce their intention to go either to Plan 3000, or straight to the symbolic center of racism and class power of the Bolivian oligarchy: the Central Plaza of the city of Santa Cruz.
This movement of peasants and indigenous communities toward Santa Cruz was as historic as Bolivia’s self-organized worker movements from 1950 to 1980. It reflected the role of the indigenous and peasant movement as the backbone and foundation of the changes in these last eight years – and of the popular movement as a whole. New (and at the same time, old) political horizons became visible as the multitudes marched toward Santa Cruz.
1. It was more than 130 years ago, in 1877, that a popular movement called “Egalitarian,” led by Andrés Ibáñez, arose. It called for an “egalitarian federalism,” based on “municipal autonomies” (Andrey Schelchkov, Andrés Ibáñez: La revolución de la igualdad en Santa Cruz. Le Monde Diplomatique, Bolivia, 2008).
2. At least once a month, throughout 2008, right-wing groups attempted some type of action by means of strikes, blockades, marches, beatings or referendums.
3. Declarations of Portugal Quispe, transmitting live to the country and the world through Radio Integración and Radio Patria Nueva during the resistance of September 11, 2008.
4. Potable water and sanitary sewer company. Cooperativa de Servicios Públicos Santa Cruz.