Bolivia: Bombing at Venezuelan consulate

October 26, 2007

The Venezuelan consulate and the residency of a Cuban doctor were attacked with explosives in the opposition-controlled state of Santa Cruz in the early hours of Monday October 22.

At approximately 3am explosives thrown at the residency of the Venezuelan consulate blew a hole in the roof of a room where children were sleeping, then at around 4am dynamite was thrown from a moving car at the house of a Cuban doctor also in Santa Cruz, causing minor damage. Alex Contreras, a spokesperson for the Bolivian government, said no one was injured and that there would be a thorough investigation into the incident.

The Cuban ambassador to Bolivia, Rafael Dausa, told local radio, "A month and a half ago there was a similar attack with a tear gas grenade thrown against another house where Cuban doctors live".

Bolivia's interior minister, Alfredo Rada said the attacks were incited by the racist comments by Santa Cruz governor Ruben Costas against the Bolivian government led by indigenous President Evo Morales and its allies Cuba and Venezuela on October 18. Costas criticised Venezuelan aid programs to Bolivia, referred to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez a "monkey" and declared Chavez "persona non grata" in Santa Cruz.

"There are people that find in these words the incentive to carry out criminal and violent attacks, transferring the verbal violence into physical violence", Rada said.

Speaking on Venezuelan state TV on October 23, Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolas Maduro accused the "racist Bolivian oligarchy" of being responsible for the explosions. "We have seen in the last 48 hours the moral decomposition of this oligarchy, how they have unleashed fury and hate", he said.

Recalling Chavez's recent comments that "Venezuela will not remain with our arms crossed" in the face of any opposition attempts to overthrow or assassinate Morales, Maduro affirmed that Venezuela would increase "the moral, political and material support that we are giving to the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales and the people of that country".

"They can count on the support of the Bolivarian government, of the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez Frias, and all the Venezuelan people", he added.

The attacks come in the context of clashes between the governorship of Santa Cruz and the national government over the control of the Viru Viru airport, Bolivia's most important international airport, in Santa Cruz last week.

On October 18, in the midst of widespread reports of corruption by local authorities, and, according to an article by Rainer Uphoff, reports by several international airlines of encounters "with armed groups demanding $2000 cash payments as landing fees", national authorities ordered the Bolivian Armed Forces to secure Viru Viru.

Falsely claiming the involvement of Venezuelan military personal in the operation, Costas then led an opposition demonstration of up to 20,000 people in "retaking" the airport on October 19, demanding that taxes collected at the airport should go into the coffers of the local government of Santa Cruz.

Costas, in a challenge the Armed Forces and the national government, said that "the only commander of this town ... is me". The Bolivian Armed Forces responded and indicated that they have "sufficient capacity" to "guarantee the stability of the legally constituted government" of Morales.

Perpetuating the false claims of Venezuelan military involvement, opposition governors from Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, Pando and Cochabamba launched a media campaign demanding the withdrawal of "foreign military forces that are intervening in the internal affairs of the country".

However, Bolivian defence minister Walker San Miguel said on TV channel Cadena A on October 23 that there were no foreign troops in the country and that the opposition claims were a political posture. "There are no foreign military troops. We see not only a confusion in the terminology that they use, but clearly political and media aims", San Miguel told the ABI news service.

San Miguel affirmed that around 100 military and civilian personnel from Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela arrived in the country to provide humanitarian support during the floods in Beni and Santa Cruz in January, and said that today only three Venezuelan officials remain and are working with machinery donated by Venezuela on the construction of a retaining wall to prevent further inundations in the city of Trinidad. "The prefect of Beni, Ernesto Suarez ... knows that thanks to the Venezuelan helicopters we saved many lives", San Miguel added.

Despite the good relations between Venezuela and Bolivia, San Miguel asked Chavez to "tone down" his statements on Bolivia, which he said are "sometimes very controversial".

In addition to humanitarian aid provided during the floods in Beni, the Venezuelan government provides funding for health clinics, radio stations, helicopters and literacy programs. Additionally, approximately 2000 Cuban doctors and paramedics work in various medical programs to provide free health care services, such as eye surgery and programs to build new hospitals.

While Bolivia's elite US-backed opposition, centred in the resource-rich eastern states of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, and Pando, see Venezuelan and Cuban support to Latin America's poorest nation as "interference", many from Bolivia's poor and indigenous majority take a different view.

Leonilda Zurita, a cocolera (coca-grower) leader from the Chapare region near Cochabamba said the health and literacy programs were extremely significant for Bolivia's indigenous majority, who had previously been excluded from such services.

Similarly, Domitila Barrios de Chungara, a famous activist from the 1970s in Bolivia's notoriously exploitative tin mines, told, "I was very emotional when I heard President Chavez's comments, [in support of Morales] because Bolivia has been struggling [against US imperialism] alone for so long.

"Now I know now that Bolivia is not alone."

[Reprinted from]

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