LA PAZ, Bolivia ( Associated Press) — The Bolivian cities of La Paz and Santa Cruz experienced heavy street clashes during anti-government protests on Monday, in which several were injured, according to police.
In Santa Cruz, eastern Bolivia, opposing sides collided along the way when they tried to unblock roads taken by protesters.
Meanwhile, in the La Paz neighborhood, hundreds of anti-government coca producers clashed with police demanding the closure of a parallel market allegedly run by a pro-government union. A farmer was seriously injured in the explosion of a dynamite charge thrown at the police.
Santa Cruz, the most prosperous province and the bastion of Bolivia’s political opposition, launched a strike on Monday against a decision by President Luis Arce’s government to postpone a two-year census that would give the region more state funds and seats in legislation.
The city was almost paralyzed and with road blockages with little transport, while police and government supporters – led by Public Works Minister Edgar Montano – removed rubble and tires to restore traffic. Schools in that city of 1.7 million residents suspended classes and reduced work activity, according to images from television stations and local media.
Arce and some of his ministers pointed out that the two-day strike had “political motives” and accused Governor Luis Fernando Camacho, one of the opposition leaders, of encouraging anti-government demonstrations.
On his Twitter account, Camacho on Monday called on city residents to “show on the streets that Santa Cruz fights for a timely, fair and transparent census.”
Camacho led the 2019 protests that forced the resignation of then-President Evo Morales following presidential elections that the Organization of American States (OAS) described as fraud, triggering a social outbreak in which 37 people died. Morales was seeking a fourth consecutive term.
The country’s largest province and agro-industrial engine, Santa Cruz is the region with the highest population growth due to internal migration. State resources and legislative representation are distributed according to population. The census was to be held in November this year but it was postponed till 2024.
The Coca struggle in La Paz has nothing to do with the protests in Santa Cruz, but is also active by anti-government groups and has been going on for several months.
The country is experiencing open polarization following the 2019 political crisis, accentuated by the trials and sentences of opposition leaders including former interim president Jeanine ez (2019-2020), who was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Opponents accused the government of manipulating justice to fuel political persecution.