Bolivian bomb update
bolivia | by Miguel Centellas | 31 Mar, 2004 at 01:13 PM | comments (7) | trackback (0)

Here are the next-day details on the explosion in parliament after ex-miner Eustaquio Picachui blew himself up, taking two police officers w/ him & wounding ten others (previous details here, including the names of the dead/injured).

The 47-year-old former employee of COMIBOL, the state-owned mining company, had threatened to blow himself up if he didn't receive a pension for himself, his brother, and common-law wife. After working for 14 years, 11 months at COMIBOL, he wasn't legally entitled to a pension. He entered the parliament building at 12:30, and was prevented from entering the second security checkpoint. Despite the warnings, parliament continued debating until 1:00, attacking the Minister of Economic Development, Xavier Nogales.

At that time, Ramiro Salinas, Viceminister of Pensions, arrived to hear Picachuri's case. The ex-miner was sitting in the vestibule, already surrounded by security officials. He was holding something resembling a detonator. Picachuri was carrying several kilos of dynamite on his person. The explosion temporarily knocked out electrical power along Calle Comercio & nearby.

The explosion occurred at 3:02, just after President Mesa was leaving the Palacio de Gobierno (across the street from the parliament building) to head to the Bolivia-Chile game. He returned to his office; he didn't attend the game. Mesa spoke at a press conference three hours after the explosion, alongside Hormando Vaca Diaz & Oscar Arrien (presidents of the Senate & House of Deputies), and the ministers of Government (Alfonso Ferrufino) & Presidency (José Galindo). Mesa insists the act was isolated, not an attempt to overthrow or destabilize the government.

Security at the three branches of government had been doubled since January, after intelligence reports spoke of rumors of an armed paramilitary group w/ plans to seize parliament. There was an alleged plot to attack the legislative body on 20 January; the director of security forces (the Grupo Puma, w/ 500 members) announced they didn't have the capacity to repel such an attack. All this in the wake of threats from COB leader Jaime Solares to close the legislature by force. This sparked a debate about moving the legislature to Sucre (the official capital), which was abandoned after popular paceño pressure resisted the move.

Picachuri's stepdaughter disputes some of the basic facts of the case. She claims Picachuri was 49 years old and worked 23 years in the mines. To receive a pension, one must be 55 years old and have worked 15 years.

In response to the Picachuri case, the association of un-pentioned ex-mine workers (representing almost 2,500 miners) will march on La Paz to enforce their demands. They're upset w/ the current pension structure. They consider themselves the "generation sandwich" after pension restructuring in the wake of state deregulation. There's an estimated 35,000 members of "generation sandwich" (most unemployed) — of which 30,000 are older than 55. The first week of February, one group seized Pension offices in La Paz; the same occurred in Santa Cruz in March.

Solares has announced that "the [popular] bases" have heard the calling of the COB leadership. Picachuri's death has inspired other miners to take similar action — more than 2,000 are now marching on La Paz, arriving later today. The miners claim that they will "take individual or collective actions of sacrifice."

" comments

I believe you should have translated 'los bases populares' as the 'grassroots' instead of bases....

Other than that, it's a nice article. Bolivia remains an interesting political adventure.

Posted by evan | April 1, 2004 07:43 AM

Actually, we can get into a semantic argument, and you're probably right. But the "organizaciones de base" in Bolivia are slightly different from "grassroots" organizations in the US (or elsewhere). At least for things like the COB. Grassroots implies a bottom-up organizational structure. The COB is top-down. The "organizaciones de base" aren't so much independent groups w/ bottom-up decision-making power as they are subdivisions or organs mobilized by "dirigentes politicos."

Posted by Miguel | April 1, 2004 06:15 PM

Well, i was thinking how the delegates at the Republican and Democratic national conventions in the US are called grassroots activists in organizations which are quite top down.

I guess the difference is between people who grassroots activists "militantes de base" and grassroots organizations "organizaciones de base."

Posted by evan | April 2, 2004 08:24 AM

You're right, of course between "militantes" & "organizaciones" de base. But. Remember that caudillo culture is strongly entrenched in Bolivia. Many of the so-called "organizaciones de base" are managed from the top down. Remember also that the COB is based on a Leninisty-Trotskyite model of organization, meaning that base-level groups answer to a larger sindicato in a vertical, hierarchical level. Essentially, all the complaints leveled against political parties in this regard can be tacked on to most of the larger social movements as well. For example, Jaime Solares, head of the COB wasn't "elected" in any sense — and he was once a member of a pro Garcia Mesa paramilitary group. These are Bolivian realities that clash w/ the idealistic view of "grassroots" organizations many people have in the exterior.

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