Armed thugs go after protesters in Bolivia

Since late July, a mass protest movement has gripped Bolivia, including massive demonstrations blocking roads across the country, with people taking to the streets over the country’s repeated election delays. However, many protesters have been harassed and beaten up by motorcycle gangs armed with homemade bazookas. Some call them paramilitary groups.

On July 23, Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal announced that the general elections, set for September 6, would be pushed back to October 18 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there have been 95,071 recorded cases of Covid-19 in Bolivia since March and 3,827 deaths.

The announcement that voters would have to wait to choose the president, vice president, representatives and senators sparked massive protests across the country. People called for a general strike on August 3. Protesters also set up a number of roadblocks.

A barricaded road.

Protestors use a fallen tree to block the road.

 

What’s the source of the anger?

People are angry because the election has already been pushed back several times. Originally, it was set for May 3. Then, because of the pandemic, it was pushed back to August 2. Then, September 6. And, now, October 18.

But many Bolivians want to cast their votes as soon as possible because the country is currently run by a transitional government put in place after former president Evo Morales resigned in November 2019. Morales was re-elected in October 2019, but the opposition argued that there were election irregularities, a claim seconded by the regional body the Organisation of American States. After weeks of protests, Morales accepted calls to organise another election. Ultimately, however, he resigned after he lost the support of the police and the army. His vice president also resigned, as did the next in line, the president and vice president of the Senate. Jeanine Áñez, who was serving as the second vice president of the Senate, was named interim president. However, there was a quorum in Parliament.

The current protesters believe that the current government is pushing back the elections to unfairly prolong Añez’s tenure, even though the candidate from the Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism Party (MAS) is leading in the polls.

While tensions mount across the country, some protesters shared recent posts about violent civilian groups who have been harassing and intimidating them. There are different groups in different towns. In Cochabamba, they are called “Resistencia Juvenil Cochala” while, in La Paz, the group is known as “Resistencia Km 0”. The group operating in Santa Cruz is called “Unión Juvenil Cruceñista”.

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