May 2023

The Civic Strike in Santa Cruz ended during its fifth week. The protests called by the Interinstitutional Committee of Santa Cruz against the MAS Government — demanding that the Census be carried out in 2023 — reflect a new episode of political conflict, with the state, progressive social movements of Indigenous peoples, peasants, and workers affiliated with the MAS (Movement towards Socialism) on one side, and the conservative opposition from the eastern region of the country on the other side. 

In Bolivian political culture, mobilization and street protests are fundamental tools for making demands or forcing the government to take action; for example, the road blockades against Jeanine Añez in August 2020 demanded immediate general elections. All Bolivian political movements mobilize in terms of historical demands or to make concrete petitions of the government. In this context, the civic strike is a form of protest particular to the Bolivian right-wing, which is very different from social movements’ forms of protest. The civic strike sees the opposition block streets, close businesses, and prohibit public transportation. The most affected are the workers, the popular (informal) economy, and the low-income population in general. In 2019 and 2021, the civic strike functioned as a tool to destabilize the government, and the MAS government was obligated to yield to the pressures of the Bolivian opposition mobilized in the streets. This strike in 2022 ended with the Chamber of Deputies approving a law which guarantees that the census will be held in 2024, a negative result for the opposition considering their initial demand. In addition to this, the right was left politically fragmented and in December, Luis Fernando Camacho was arrested. What went wrong for the right wing this time?

Santa Cruz, the Census and the Civic Strike

Within the opposition, various movements have emerged whose only mutual bond is rejection of the MAS. Opposition environmentalist groups, libertarians, ultraconservatives, nationalists, centrists, evangelicals, etc., all come together under the flag of the opposition and they develop their political activities principally in the department of Santa Cruz, the region which has become the main anti MAS-IPSP bastion in recent years. The opposition’s territorial control of Santa Cruz is not an isolated event, and culminates several years of the consolidation of the civic movement and the political interest of powerful economic groups linked to export agribusiness. It is a situation very similar to that of Brazil, where Bolsonarismo obtained a large amount of votes in in agro-industrial areas such as Rondonia, Mato Grosso, and Mato Grosso do Sul, regions bordering Santa Cruz whose economies depend on the exploitation of the Amazon rainforest for the production and export of soybeans and meat. Presidents like Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Evo Morales supported the agro-industrial economy with great limitations, such as export quotas in Bolivia or environmental licenses in Brazil. This created the political conditions for the agricultural sector to look for politicians more in tune with their interests, politicians with ideas of economic deregulation and neoliberalism. 

Santa Cruz’s economy has been dependent on agriculture and livestock since colonial times, but since the 1990s agribusiness has consolidated itself as the most important private sector activity. As usual in liberal democracies, the new elite participated in politics through its business chambers and agro-industrial associations. These activities date from the beginning of the 21st century and have been complementary to the consolidation of the civic movement against the MAS-IPSP since 2005. Santa Cruz had a special role for the opposition through these groups, but good government management and democratic victories of the popular movement ended up wearing down their capacities. In 2014, the MAS-IPSP won the General Elections for the first and only time in the region, and the business sector began a stage of coexistence with Evo Morales and the politicians of the civic movement lost their political capital considerably. However, this situation did not last long.

The victories of Trump in the United States and Bolsonaro in Brazil, along with the economic crisis in Venezuela and attempt to re-nominate Morales for a fourth term, created the conditions for the civic movement in Santa Cruz to recover its lost support. The fact that Santa Cruz has grown in its economy and well-being thanks to the MAS-IPSP government has not prevented the right from positioning an anti-socialist political subjectivity very similar to that promoted by Trump, Kast, Bolsonaro and Abascal. In ideological terms, a civíco from Santa Cruz has ideas very similar to VOX in regard to claiming Hispanic identity, to the MAGA Republicans on issues of international politics, to Kast in the historical manipulation of the genocidal activities of the dictators of the Condor Plan, and to Bolsonaro in the spread of religious conservatism in the State. In political terms, the opposition receives great financial support from businessmen linked to agribusiness and political lobbyists from the United States, Brazil and Europe through donations and NGOs.

In 2019, the powerful economic groups and the civic movement took advantage of the political conditions and wear and tear of Evo Morales’s power to carry out a coup d’etat consolidated through Jeanine Áñez’s self-proclamation as president of the Plurinational State. It was the golden age for agribusiness and civic interests. They used the state apparatus to support their companies by eliminating existing legal restrictions, agreeing to loans with multilateral organizations such as CAF (Development Bank of Latin America)  or the IMF to subsidize their businesses and even appointing former presidents of the Civic Committee (main right wing civil society organization) and Business Chamber as Ministers of Economy (Oscar Ortiz and Branko Marincovic, respectively). Luis Fernando Camacho himself, the main promoter of the coup, comes from a family with businesses in finance and agriculture. Jeanine Añez was only a puppet of these elites who utilized her government to promote corruption and state terrorism. The victory of the MAS-IPSP in the 2020 General Elections meant a great defeat for these groups. But the international support, the media attention and the funding they receive allow them to remain on the political scene as an "alternative" to the Movement for Socialism.

In October 2021, these opposition groups unified against the Law of Illicit Profits promulgated by Luis Arce. This law’s goal was to guarantee effective public actions against tax evasion, illegal enrichment, money laundering, and other financial crimes. The protests started with a civic strike in Santa Cruz, and escalated until they became a national conflict. Ultimately the government annulled the law in order to evade a conflict similar to the 2019 coup d’etat. From this moment, the political conjuncture was relatively stable. Only the sentencing of Jeanine Añez reduced the number of opposition protesters in the streets. That is how we arrive at this new episode of conflict.

In 2022 it was planned that the National Population and Housing Census would be carried out.[1] By law, the census is conducted every 10 years in Bolivia, and the most recent census was in 2012. It counts all people, all households, and all dwellings found in the national territory of Bolivia. Its results provide statistical information on the demographic aspects of the country: population, poverty, education, housing, access to basic services, situation of indigenous peoples, etc. The census is an important tool for planning public policy at the community, municipal, departmental, and national levels. It also defines the quantity and proportionality of the total public money that is distributed among the regions. According to the projections of the National Institute of Statistics (INE), Santa Cruz’ population has grown more than any other region of Bolivia.[2]This has prompted the Pro Santa Cruz Committee, the Santa Cruz Governor’s office, the Gabriel Rene Moreno Autonomous University, and the municipalities of the region to demand a larger budget and greater political representation in the Plurinational Legislative Assembly. As the Constitution indicates, the organization of the census is the responsibility of the national government. In other scenarios, the census is an administrative activity that is carried out without major setbacks, but on this occasion, the census has become a cause of conflict at a national level.

The mobilizations began in April 2022 with weekly marches of professors, students, and administrators from the Gabriel Rene Moreno Autonomous University (UAGRM). At this time, the Interinstitutional Committee was created as a group of politicians and institutions opposed to the MAS in Santa Cruz, whose sole purpose is to obtain a reliable and fast census. The Interinstitutional Committee is directed by Romulo Calvo (president of the Pro Santa Cruz Committee), Luis Fernando Camacho (Governor of Santa Cruz), and Vicente Cuellar (rector of the UAGRM). Jhonny Fernandez, the mayor of Santa Cruz de la Sierra (capital city of the region), was also part of this group but later withdrew over political differences. It is important to understand the Interinstitutional Committee was created temporarily as an articulating group with the capacity to mobilize against the government with one singular purpose: oppose the delaying of the Census. This exposes some of the characteristics of the Bolivian opposition: temporary alliances against the government and an absolute absence of a comprehensive and defined political program that competes with the communal socialism of the MAS.

The first marches demanded information from the Ministry of Planning (in charge of the INE) about the census schedule and its progress. The question of identity and ethnicity is fundamental in Bolivian politics; for this reason, the opposition requested to include in the census ballot the option of “mestizo” as a category of self-identification and a question asking which religion the respondent professed. The category “mestizo” refers to people who are direct or indirect descendants of both Indigenous people and Spanish colonists or foreigners. In Bolivia, “mestizaje”' has been used as a form of differentiation from the Indigenous people in the form of discrimination, contempt, and racism from urban elites. Mestizaje is a racial ideology that distances itself from its Indigenous heritage and from identifying with Indigenous peoples. These proposals thus generated a wide debate in the country.

In the end, the government rejected the proposal, and this started opposition criticism of the INE’s work. The ministry argued that knowing the quantity of citizens who self-identify as “mestizo” and the religion of all Bolivians is irrelevant and not useful. The government’s position was to prioritize the collection of information about the 36 Indigenous nations of the Plurinational State, such as their economic situation and their population. Regarding the question about professed religion, the government pointed out that the religions citizens follow are not very important when formulating public policies for communities or cities. The opposition rejected this response and began a media campaign to include the category of mestizo in the census and raise awareness of the importance of knowing how many Catholics and Evangelicals live in the Plurinational State. These actions show us other characteristics of the Bolivian opposition: its lack of consideration for some Indigenous peoples and its religious, ultraconservative agenda for the state. Since 2011 and the March in Defense of the TIPNIS (Isiboro Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park, TIPNIS in Spanish), the cruceño (from Santa Cruz) right wing has, in an instrumental fashion, incorporated some political demands coming from Indigenous peoples and environmentalist groups opposed to the MAS government. This usually manifests as right wing sympathy for lowland Indigenous movements and disdain for highland Indigenous movements. Generally, the opposition supports the requests from some Indigenous peoples from the eastern region of the country but rejects the proposals of the social movements made up of campesinos (peasants) and Indigenous peoples which support the MAS. The cruceño right wing is not limited to incorporating political demands in its agenda; it also wants to appropriate autochthonous symbols. The best expression of this dispute over the Indigenous is the opposition’s use of the “Patuju” flag from Indigenous Amazonian people and its rejection and contempt of the “wiphala,” the flag related to the (Andean) social movements.

At the end of July 2022, the government decided to change the date of the census from 2022 to 2024 for technical reasons, such as cartographic updating and training of census administrators. The fury of the opposition was evident. Since that month, marches and protests have been organized all over the country. In October the Civic Committee organized the “Cabildo for the Census”. The cabildo is a constitutional mechanism of direct participatory democracy by which citizens, through public meetings, speak directly on politics and matters of collective interest. The cabildo, as well as the assembly, are recognized as instruments of direct democracy in the Constitution and in the Electoral Regime Law, but the resolutions of a cabildo or an assembly are not mandatory for public authorities. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the right-wing civic movement in Santa Cruz has once again used the cabildo as an instance to make decisions and show off its regional political strength. From 2004 until 2007 they carried out many cabildos wherein the Civic Committee proposed regional autonomies (federalism) as a form of administration and organization of the state. The Political Constitution approved in 2009 incorporated the Indigenous autonomies for the territorial organization of the state and institutionalized the cabildo and the assembly as a means of public decision making not just for the Civic Committee, but also for the social movements and Indigenous peoples. The cabildos were held again in 2018 after Evo Morales’s attempt to run for re-election, and they played a very important role during the 2019 coup d’etat and have been the opposition’s principal instrument of legitimization against the MAS. The 2022 “Cabildo for the Census” set a 21-day deadline for the government to change the census date to 2023. If this was not complied with, they would initiate a civic strike of indefinite duration. The deadline of 21 days is a reference to the 21 days of civic strike that ended with the resignation of Evo Morales in 2019. This year, the government did not change its posture, and at the end of October, the indefinite civic strike began.

The Civic Strike From The Periphery

The strike began at midnight on Saturday, October 22nd. Mobilized groups of people in trucks and motorcycles closed the streets of the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the regional capital,  with “pititas,” wire, and unused tires. The Interinstitutional Committee initiated the protest in Santa Cruz with the objective of expanding its scale to the rest of the country. The Committee’s principal demand is the realization of the census in 2023, as opposed to the government’s decision to carry out the census in 2024. This form of mobilization continues the story promoted by the Pro Santa Cruz Committee during the 2019 mobilizations that ended with a coup, the illegal proclamation of Jeanine Añez as president, and the massacres of Senkata and Sacaba. The “pititas” have returned to the streets to prevent vehicular traffic and paralyze economic activities.

The phrases repeated by the mobilized opposition are no different compared to 2019: “no to electoral fraud,” “the electoral roll is corrupt,” “we need a census so that the dead do not vote.” Despite the fact that the census doesn’t have a legal link to the electoral roll, various conspiracy theories have emerged that point to such an association. The extreme right in Santa Cruz denies the validity of Luis Arce Catacora’s victory in the 2020 elections. In this aspect, there are many similarities with the radical groups mobilized in Brazil after the defeat of Jair Bolsonaro or the assault on the U.S. Capitol by followers of Donald Trump in January 2021. When the right in Latin America is unable to win at the polls, it resorts to the discourse of “electoral fraud” in order to discredit the electoral victories of left wing or social movement candidates. The extreme right has taken advantage of the political conjuncture to continue sowing doubt about the electoral rolls, the voting system, and the credibility of the Supreme Electoral Tribune.

The strike is also being replicated in some rural cities, especially on the border with Brazil and the Chiquitania. These cities are right-wing strongholds due to the deeply rooted Catholic tradition, the absence of the state, and narcotrafficking. The Committee’s propagandistic machinery has tried to convince public opinion that the strike was peaceful, but nothing could be further from reality. The strike is violent and coercive. The streets are blocked with cars and are only open to the strike’s organizers. In many places, illegal toll points are set up to circulate on motorcycles. There is violence for those who don’t abide by the measures: windows are broken or tires are punctured to force vehicles to stop. Many incidents between strikers and ambulances and health personnel vehicles have been reported; in other circumstances, there have been traffic accidents or deaths.[3] Faced with this situation, the Santa Cruz Municipal Emergency Committee (COEM) and the Ministry of Health asked blockaders to be flexible and permit the free circulation of healthcare personnel, ambulances, and firefighters in order to guarantee medical attention in the city, but new incidents and attacks continue to be reported despite this.

The civic strike has three important characteristics. The first characteristic of the civic strike is its inequality, because its effects fall primarily on the working class. The popular economy and public transportation are obligated to stop their activities while big business and export-oriented transportation carry out their operations normally. This may seem inconsistent with what was previously reported, but it makes a lot of sense in Santa Cruz. If you drive a vehicle that transports merchandise for consumption or exportation, you can pass through the blockade without problems by paying an illegal toll on some streets. If you drive to get yourself to work, you can’t, since the blockaders won’t allow it. Public transportation is suspended during the strike due to the Committee’s “negotiation” with the transportation unions to cease service. Not being able to move normally, people use bicycles or motorcycles with many restrictions. The only service that operates “normally” are moto-taxi drivers, but with very high prices compared to average. On a normal day, public transportation can cost between 4 bolivianos ($0.57) and 8 bolivianos ($1.15). During the civic strike, transportation can cost up to 40 bs ($5.75) in moto-taxi, an increase of 1000% over its normal price. The low income segments of the population can’t afford to pay these price increases and are forced to travel long distances walking or on bike. Bolivians are not accustomed to large fluctuations in the price of basic services. In the last few years, Bolivia has had one of the lowest inflation rates of the continent, thanks to state-directed price controls in strategic sectors and fuel subsidies. An increase in something simple like transportation generates loss of income among the poorest and production difficulties for entrepreneurs with small capitals. The second characteristic of the strike is racist lawlessness. The civic blockade points become spaces of impunity for racism and discrimination directed at people who don’t support the strike. Riding a bicycle becomes torture. At each blockade point the blockaders make you get off your bike and walk through steps enabled for circulation. If you resist, the blockers insult you with racist and discriminatory phrases in relation to your ethnicity and origin. They threaten to hit you with baseball bats or powerlines. Conflicts between those who support the strike and those who oppose it are common. In some cases it comes to physical aggression or death threats.[4] There is no freedom to move freely except for the strike organizers, who ride through the city in caravans to display their strength. Collective kidnapping is a phrase that describes this situation very well. The police do not get rid of the restrictions, as the blockaders do not allow their passage. Many complaints of violence against women are not dealt with in a timely manner and justice services are saturated. The blockaders have even tried to close the Casa de la Mujer, the headquarters of a feminist organization that provides legal and psychological assistance to women victims of gender violence. There are laws that guarantee public action against racism, discrimination and violence against women, but they remain little more than ink on paper due to the inability of the institutions to enforce the norm. The civic strike thus becomes a situation of total anarchy. If you want, you can go out into the street and install an illegal collection point for people who circulate. As long as you back up your word with a threat of violence, many will abide by your rules.

The third characteristic of the strike is its great support in political territories opposed to the MAS and populated by citizens with medium to high income. In these places, the civic strike is enforced without major consequences. The political struggle moves to the peripheral and working class areas such as the Industrial Park, Villa Primero de Mayo, Plan 3000, or rural areas. This does not imply that the strike is carried out within wealthy areas without problems: there are conflicts between neighbors, though these are less frequent than in the periphery. On the first day of the strike, one person died during clashes in Puerto Quijarro — a city on the border with Brazil — between blockaders led by civic citizens and anti-blockaders led by the mayor. In Plan 3000 (a remote neighborhood in the capital), conflicts happened daily between gangs that supported the blockade and trade unionists who rejected the strike. During the first week, public transport drivers clashed with blockaders in the Industrial Park, an industrial zone of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. The drivers, ignoring their unions, organized to demand the right to work and paralyze the activity of the big industry, but the blockaders prevented them from doing so. It seems absurd, but that's how the civic strike works. The blockade is “legitimate” when it is suffered by ordinary citizens, but it is “illegitimate” when it harms business or big industry.

The Governmental Response and the End of the Civic Strike

The social movements declared their rejection of the strike before it began. For them, the organization of the census was a technical matter that should include the suggestions of all actors in the Plurinational State and not only those of Santa Cruz. They warned against responding to the call for the strike by mobilizing their bases and encircling Santa Cruz. This siege aims at harming the exports and transportations of big industry. To the social movements, the civic strike only harms the poorest and doesn’t affect the large business community of Santa Cruz and its companies. So, after five days of the strike, they organized blockades around Santa Cruz to harm business and export activity. They also took over companies that would otherwise operate normally through the strike. All this was done to expose the hypocrisy of the strike measure and generate protest against it. Videos of social outrage regarding the normal operation of large companies during the civic strike went viral on social networks. The business elite of Santa Cruz, organized in the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, went out to protest against the siege in the media. But the action of the social movements organized in the “Eastern Block” did not end there, and they continued to call marches against the civic strike and protests against the Inter-Institutional Committee. In retaliation, the Cruceñista Youth Union burned down the headquarters of the Apiaguaiki Tumpa Peasant Workers Union Federation in Santa Cruz de la Sierra. They also looted the building of the Departmental Workers Center, headquarters of the city’s labor unions. These actions show us the fascism promoted by the Pro Santa Cruz Civic Committee through paramilitary groups that use violence against social movements.

The government permanently called for a technocratic dialogue to find a way out of the conflict. Said dialogue was carried out on three occasions with unsatisfactory results. The government maintained its position of carrying out the census in 2024, indicating that the most important thing is not the census date, but the delivery date of the census results. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Latin American Demographic Center (CELADE) supported the government's position. They hoped to solve the situation by democratic means using technical debate and dialogue tables. The dialogue initially failed, but after several attempts the national government promulgated Supreme Decree 4824 that regulates the performance of the Population and Housing Census on March 23, 2024.

During the second week of the strike, the first problems emerged for the Interinstitutional Committee. Due to the siege and the closure of businesses, food prices increased in the markets. Fuel became scarce due to the blockades and the encirclement. Crime and delinquency levels increased. A greater number of attacks against passersby and the press, gang fights, robberies, murders, and other crimes were reported. The situation became chaotic. Spontaneously, the strike began to lose force. To show control, the Committee "decreed" days of supply and purchase, "authorizing" certain days of the week in which you should go to buy basic food at the market, fill your refrigerator and travel with greater flexibility. From the 10th day of the strike, activities returned to normal in disobedience of the Committee's mandates. In the fourth week, the strike turned into a farce. From 5:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., economic activities now took place normally, with the exception of wealthy places where the strike is forcefully complied with, but with more and more voices criticizing the measure.

Supreme Decree 4824 was a harsh government response to the failure of the dialogue tables. From that moment on, the Interinstitutional Committee lost its political direction. One group that belongs to the Committee proposed ending the strike and promoting a law that guarantees the new distribution of resources before 2025. Another group proposed radicalizing measures, seizing public institutions by force or initiating civil disobedience. Faced with this dilemma, the Committee convened a new “cabildo” on November 13, where new ambiguous and poorly defined political objectives were established. The one that drew the most attention was the 72-hour deadline to force the rest of the departments to join the fight for the census. This demonstrates the desperation that the Committee has to demonstrate that the four weeks of strike are not perceived as a failure. The new cabildo also approved the creation of a "Commission of Notables" to review the relationship between the State and Santa Cruz. This can be considered as a proposal for federalism or an attempt at independence and the creation of a new State in South America. The proposals are so ambiguous that they give rise to many interpretations. 

Social movements have expressed their indignation at this final proposal, since it is reminiscent of the attempts at separatism promoted by the "Media Luna" during 2008 against the first government of Evo Morales. The "Media Luna" (half-moon) was the informal political name of an area located in eastern Bolivia (departments of Beni, Pando, Santa Cruz, and Tarija), which had as a common characteristic that its population was not predominantly indigenous and was in opposition to MAS. Over the years, the "Media Luna" disappeared and the opposition concentrated in the urban area of ​​Santa Cruz de la Sierra. During the constitutional debate of 2006-2009, the request of the "Media Luna" was autonomy and territorial decentralization; the 2009 Constitution incorporated autonomies but increased their scope to municipalities and indigenous peoples. 

After a month of the civic strike, the Interinstitutional Committee decided to definitively change its course. The demand for a census in 2023 was replaced by a demand for the census in 2024 with results delivered by 2025, a rhetorical move which implicitly accepts the government’s position. In addition to this discursive change, the Committee demanded that Decree 4824 be “validated” with a new law approved by the Plurinational Legislative Assembly to guarantee compliance. Faced with the civic strike’s violence and recurrent attacks against citizens in Santa Cruz, Luis Arce’s government agreed to the opposition’s request and approved the Law for the Application of the Results of the Population and Housing Census in the Financial and Electoral Areas. This was widely criticized by members of the MAS, his own party, and particularly by legislators allied to Evo Morales who had previously rebelled against Arce related to the assigning of positions in the Presidency of the Chamber of Deputies. It was nevertheless enacted and received with jubilation by the opposition, despite its guaranteeing a 2024 census. Without considering these facts, the 36-day civic strike ended without reaching its initial objectives and represents the first major failure of the mobilized opposition since 2019. So, what went wrong in this strike?

The opposition failed because it could not achieve national support for its protest. Meetings were barely even held in La Paz (Bolivia’s seat of government), Cochabamba, and Trinidad. In cities like Potosí or Tarija, an attempt was made to carry out a strike, but the population organized to prevent the measure. The choice to strike itself is another strategic error of the opposition, as it is a very violent measure and the citizens themselves have questioned whether it is worth protesting the census. The further radicalization of far-right groups in Santa Cruz has been bad for gaining new support and maintaining legitimacy. Some groups of citizens against the strike even openly requested a military intervention to end the measure, but this was rejected by the Government of Luis Arce because it would worsen the political situation and a peaceful solution to the conflict.

The territorial dimension is also relevant. In the poorest neighborhoods, gangs and groups of Indigenous people living in extreme poverty were in charge of enforcing the strike to collect money from illegal tolls. In other areas, workers in unions, federations, and associations prevented the strike from harming their neighborhoods. This leaves us a great lesson. The power that the right has in Santa Cruz is due to its organization through the Pro Santa Cruz Civic Committee, a right-wing group with class consciousness that defends its privileges at all costs without negotiation. It has its own symbols rescued from the colonial past and its own positions associated with ideologies such as conservatism, libertarianism, fascism, and social democracy. It is a populist and antagonistic right. 

Tensions within the MAS and the Detention of Luis Fernando Camacho by the Bolivian Justice System

The MAS’s power comes from the social movements of peasants, workers, and Indigenous people. Their support for the plurinational project stems from the defense of their own social interests. The MAS as a political party can be divided among its members, but the social movements fulfill the role of generators of unity, organization, and frontal fight against the conservatives and the extreme right. After the experience of the 2019 coup, a large part of the population is more aware of the dangers of having an anti-popular government. Recently, the MAS has entered into a series of internal conflicts with different factions seeking out their own shares of power in the government. Arce's technocratic bias does not convince all party militants and the pressure of Evo Morales against some Ministers has generated discomfort within the party. More experienced leftist militants demand that the MAS once again become a revolutionary party that uses the State to generate changes in the economic organization of the country, promoting a transition from state capitalism to socialism. The road to unity and/or socialist transition is long and may have drawbacks. At this moment, the struggles within the MAS may end up generating a fragmentation of the popular bloc in Bolivian politics. 

As we mentioned earlier, during the civic strike the new presidents of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies (Plurinational Legislative Assembly) were elected, and Senator Andronico Rodriguez was re-elected as President of the Senate without major inconveniences. However, several problems arose in the Chamber of Deputies. The election of Jerges Mercado (deputy from Santa Cruz) generated discomfort among the MAS bench that supported Gualberto Arispe (deputy from Cochabamba). The Board's election procedure was harshly criticized and an accusation arose of a possible pact with the opposition to guarantee the election of Jerges Mercado. From that moment on, the accusations of pacts with the right became more forceful, and even the Law for the Application of the Results of the Population and Housing Census in the Financial and Electoral Areas was harshly criticized for being considered a political deal with the opposition and an unprecedented practice of the MAS that had an absolute majority in both chambers since 2010.

The civic strike’s failure has become a victory for the opposition due to the fights within the MAS over the promulgation of the census law and the technocratic response to the conflict in Santa Cruz. Many analysts have compared this particular moment for the MAS to the historical experiences of other leftist parties in Bolivia’s past. Parties like the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (Revolutionary Nationalist Movement, MNR) or the Movimiento de la Izquierda Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Left Movement, MIR) were symbols of the left in the 20th century and ended up as divided, centrist parties. The MNR carried out the Bolivian Revolution in 1952, a reformist project that promoted the nationalization of the mines, agrarian reform, educational reform, universal voting rights, and further democratization of the state throughout the 1950s. During the 1960s, political struggles within the MNR led to its own division. One sector ended up supporting the military and the dictatorships during the 1960s and 1970s, while another group experienced exile and state terrorism during the Operation Condor era military dictatorship led by Hugo Banzer (1971-1978). In the end, the MNR became a party promoting neoliberalism, privatization, and the economic “shock” reforms typical of the Reagan era since the return of democracy in Bolivia in 1982. The same situation occurred with MIR, a political party promoted by young university students, during the decay of the military dictatorships. MIR played a fundamental role in the return to democracy in 1982 alongside Hernan Siles Suazo (former president and founder of the MNR). As a party, the MIR also suffered the brutality of the military regimes, for example in the Harrington Street Massacre in 1981 where 8 party leaders were assassinated. Like the MNR, the MIR also went through a process of political division and power struggles. In 1989, the MIR made an unprecedented alliance with the Alianza Democratica Nacionalista (Nationalist Democratic Alliance, ADN), the party of former dictator Hugo Banzer, so that the MIR would be able to win the presidency. Like the MNR, the MIR in government limited itself to strengthening neoliberalism as an economic model by privatizing public companies, destroying social security, and strengthening cooperation with the United States on issues such as coca leaf production. In Bolivia’s political history there have been other alternative leftist projects such as the Bolivian Communist Party (PCB), the Socialist Party (PS-1), and Conciencia de Patria (CONDEPA). However, none of these achieved the same success as the MNR or MIR. At the end of the 20th century, those parties’ turns to neoliberalism generated a crisis of representation in the democratic system. In this context, the Movimiento al Socialismo, the Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples, and the Pachacuti Indigenous Movement emerged, among other parties that took over from the centrist left of the MNR and the MIR and proposed a popular alternative to the recipes of neoliberalism.

Since 2005, the social, Indigenous, and labor movements have supported Evo Morales’s MAS-IPSP as an alternative to the neoliberal past. The government’s path has made great progress in expanding rights, but has also seen notable setbacks in political management, especially since 2019. In 2019, the opposition took advantage of the division and power struggles within the MAS to promote its political agenda. Many sectors within the MAS openly questioned Luis Arce for not expediting the legal proceedings against the perpetrators of the Sacaba and Senakata massacres in 2019 and the coup that brought Jeanine Áñez to the presidency. Accusations of pacts with the right have become very common. Faced with this, the justice system surprisingly arrested and imprisoned Luis Fernando Camacho at the end of 2022. Camacho had been the main political actor calling for the resignation of Evo Morales in the 2019 protests. Later it was uncovered that he bribed the military to demand Morales’s resignation and also participated in Áñez’s government, ensuring that trusted people were appointed to key positions. He ran for president in 2020, becoming the third largest national political force and later Governor of Santa Cruz with his CREEMOS (“We Believe”) party. With that political base, he became the most visible opponent of Luis Arce Catacora. But his participation in the fateful events of 2019 has generated responsibilities before the courts that must be resolved. His arrest has sparked a new wave of violent demonstrations in Santa Cruz de La Sierra, the stronghold of the opposition and the city from where I am writing this article. One of these demonstrations ended with the burning of the Public Ministry Building in Santa Cruz. This would be like if a far-right group burned down the Robert F. Kennedy Building in the United States (the headquarters of the Department of Justice). 

The opposition could not achieve its objectives with the civic strike, but this does not imply that they surrendered and accepted the MAS government or a deepening of economic reforms directed towards socialism. On the contrary, the antagonism is more current than ever with the arrest of Luis Fernando Camacho. The civic movement will continue to use deplorable forms of mobilization such as the civic strike or direct violence such as the burning of public buildings, the Single Union Federation of Peasant Workers in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the looting of the Departamental Workers’ Center or the cases of aggressions, racism and discrimination at roundabouts. A great hope for the opposition in Bolivia is a possible split within the MAS-IPSP. Tensions within the Instrument have been used to attack the government of Luis Arce and the leadership of Evo Morales alike. Faced with enemy radicalization, unity and organization are the Party’s fundamental tools to continue building the Plurinational State and resist the counteroffensive of the international right.


  1. The last census in 2012 was carried out without significant delays.
  2. Instituto Nacional de Estadística Bolivia, Obtenido de Proyecciones de Población, Revisión (2020).
  3. A 22-year-old man who was riding a motorcycle died after colliding with an electrical cable placed in the street by blockers who complied with the civic strike. The news can be corroborated in Página Siete and El Deber, media opposed to Luis Arce.
  4. Agencia Boliviana de Información, October 25, 2022.