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Bolivia: Protests Sweep Across the Country

This post is part of our special coverage Indigenous Rights.

A wave of different protests are sweeping across Bolivia, affecting at least six of the largest regions in the country. Although the conflicts are not initially linked to each other, they have generated a climate of political instability, raising challenging questions for the government of left-wing, coca-growing leader, President Evo Morales.

The Andean Information Network has published a calendar with the conflicts and protests that have taken place over the last couple of weeks.

In order to understand this climate of conflict it is important to look at these protests individually.

Transport unions strike

Photo by Mario Duran under CC licence

Photo by Mario Duran under CC licence

A 48-hour transport strike took place in La Paz, Bolivia's seat of government, and El Alto on May 7 and 8, 2012. Transport unions reject the recently passed Municipal Transport Law that attempts to deal with the chaotic transport system and also proposes a network of public buses to be launched in 2013.

Digital journalist Wilfredo Jordan (@wilofm) commented on Twitter [es]:

Buenos días, jornada difícil en La Paz y El Alto por la Ley de Transporte, para seguirlo en twitter ver#parotransporte

Good Morning, tough day in La Paz and El Alto due to the Transport Law, follow it on Twitter under #parotransporte (“transport strike”)

The 48-hour strike deployed thousands of buses and minibuses that blocked the streets of La Paz and El Alto and restricted any transit, even emergency services.

Several citizens criticized the blockades and showed their support for the Mayor's initiative to implement the local Transport Law.

Moreover, in only 48 hours a group on Facebook [es] emerged and gathered over 4,000 members who called for a “pedestrians strike”. They encouraged citizens to share cars, use bicycles or just walk instead of commuting for one day as a protest against the transport strike and the blockades.

Paginasiete uploaded this citizen video of citizens confronting the transport workers during the strike:

Luis Revilla, the Mayor of La Paz who is championing the Law, is a member of Movimiento Sin Miedo (“Movement without Fear” in Spanish) a left-wing party that stands in opposition to Evo Morales’ party MAS (“Movement for Socialism”).

La Paz and El Alto rely on a private bus and minibus system that provides poor and unsafe services with previously set tariffs to almost 2 million inhabitants.

Netizen Fernando Cabezas wrote on the Facebook Page [es] of the Observatory “La Paz Cómo Vamos” (How are we doing La Paz), an independent watchdog for issues in La Paz:

Una de las observaciones de los choferes al Proyecto de Ley Municipal del Transporte es que para renovar el parque automotor, el Estado debería liberar de impuestos y avalar los créditos para la importación de nuevas movilidades. La pregunta es ¿Por qué, los choferes deberían tener estos privilegios si el transporte público se ha convertido en un negocio privado? Los actuales operadores deben brindar un servicio seguro, cómodo y puntual; y evaluar si pueden hacerlo o no.

One of the observations by transport drivers on the Municipal Transport Law is that the state should release and endorse tax credits for importing new vehicles in order to renew existing ones. The question is, why should transport drivers have these privileges if public transport has become a private business? Current operators must provide a safe, comfortable and punctual service; and it must be assessed if they can provide this or not.

Indigenous march against road through TIPNIS

As closely reported on Global Voices, The TIPNIS issue is one of the most challenging ongoing conflicts for Bolivia's government. Indigenous people from the Indigenous Territory National Park Isiboro Sécure are marching for the second time in one year towards La Paz, demanding the cancelling of a road project attempting to cross right through the middle of their National Park, a constitutionally protected area.

Over 600 marchers are in Puerto San Borja, approximately 300 kilometres from La Paz, at the time of writing this post. Fundación Tierra enabled a widget [es] screening the latest news on the indigenous march.

Health sector protests

Unionised Doctors, health workers and medicine students have been protesting and holding a strike for almost six weeks against the Decree 1126 passed by President Evo Morales. The regulation attempted to include all health workers into the General Labour Law, forcing them to complete an 8-hour work day, and not a 6-hour work day as is currently established. The reform also restricts cashing more than one salary from public funds.

Although president Morales “suspended” Decree 1126 on May 4 and called for a “Health Summit” in July, protesters demand a repeal instead of a suspension and reaffirm their claim to be part of the General Labour Law under full payment and benefits for extra hours.

As explained on a blog post by Videourgente [es], Medicine students support the strike, claiming that the government is capping lecturers’ salaries and reducing practice hours.

Blogger Mario Duran, based in El Alto, commented on the Health Sector strike:

Analicemos las demandas y expliquemos las mismas:

8 horas. Sí. Esta medida merece nuestro apoyo, en Bolivia, obreros o profesionales, deberian trabajar ocho (8) horas.

Ley General del Trabajo. Sí. Todas las relaciones laborales deberian establecerse segun la Ley General del Trabajo […]

Nivelación Salarial a la CNS. Si.

Aqui se encuentra el meollo del paro medico, la Caja Nacional de Salud, al ser una entidad autarquica (en los hechos, aunque no en la reglamentación), sucesivamente ha destinado mayores recursos a la partida presupuestaria de sueldos y salarios,[...] hay que tener presente que en Bolivia, el salario mínimo es de 805 Bs.-. En promedio, los sueldos de la CNS superan entre un 20 – 40% al sueldo que se paga en otras instituciones.

Entonces, la movilización del gremio medico, no busca mantener el trabajo de 6 horas, sino exigir la elevación de sueldos y salarios.

Let's analize and explain the demands:

8 hours. Yes. This measure deserves our support, workers or professionals, should work eight (8) hours in Bolivia.

General Labour Law. Yes. All labour relations should be established according to the General Labour Law [...]

Wage leveling for CNS (National Health Fund in Spanish) workers. Yes.

This is what the strike is about, the National Health Fund, being an autonomous entity (in fact, although not in the regulations), has successively increased the budget for salaries and wages, [...] it must be taken into account that in Bolivia, the minimum wage is 130 US dollars. On average, the salaries at the National Health Fund are between 20 – 40% higher to the salary paid in other institutions.

Consequently, the protest by the health sector is not seeking to maintain the workday of 6 hours, but demands raising wages and salaries.

YouTube user davidangelcaballero1 shares the following citizen video of the march:

This post is part of our special coverage Indigenous Rights.

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