The Violence of January 11 -- A Month Later
It has been just more than a month since the streets of Cochabamba exploded in violence. Much of the news attention afterwards has focused on the politics of those events. We asked two members of our Democracy Center team, Leny Olivera and Aldo Orellana, to spend some time this past week looking at a too-soon-forgotten side of the story – what has happened to some of the more than 200 wounded January 11th. Below is their report, written with the assistance of Jonas Brown, who wrote our earlier eyewitness account of the events on the street that day.
El Prado, Plaza Colon, and Plaza de las Banderas, sites of mob brutality on January 11th, are back to tranquil gathering spots for families and couples. The bored soldiers with automatic rifles that guarded the bridges have disappeared. Crowds armed with clubs, guns, dynamite and stones have been replaced by pre-Carnaval parades. With its flower-lined streets and slow pace, Cochabamba is particularly good at exuding peace.
But to what extent has the city actually recovered from what has been termed “Black January?” What is on people´s minds one month later?
These questions probably have as many answers as Cochabamba has inhabitants. The mainstream press has focused much of its attention on the two deaths, as evidenced by the feature story in Sunday’s Los Tiempos and the latest issue of Datos. Manfred’s international excursions to complain of human rights abuses and excesses by the Morales´ administration have also been covered -- along with the vitriolic sniping back and forth between Manfred’s camp and MAS officials.
An estimated 216 people were injured on January 11th and 12th (according to public health officials). Clinica Belga and Clinica Copacabana, two of the main private clinics in the city, each reported 8 visits by "civicos" [the name given the people who took to the streets to counter calls for Manfred Reyes Villa's resignation] injured on January 11th. Clinica San Vincente, another private clinic, reported a total of 6 injured civicos from the 11th and 12th. Hospital Viedma and the Federacion de Campesinos del Tropico de Cochabamba treated the majority of the injured. Volunteers at FCTC alone treated 52 injured campesinos.
Many journalists have gone to Viedma in hopes of finding out how many were injured from each side of the conflict. The director of the hospital has a ready answer: “We do not recognize different factions. For us, they are our patients and they deserve all of our respect.”
Only two of the injured remain hospitalized. Luciano Colque, a 36-year-old campesino, had his skull crushed in several places. Doctors told us he is very unlikely to survive. The other, Raul Claros, a 19-year-old, was injured on January 12th during an aggressive protest by students and other youth against the television station UNITEL [which they accused of accepting bribes from Reyes Villa]. Raul’s workplace happened to be nearby. When he got to work, the doors were locked. The police arrived and, fearing harm, he ducked into a nearby market, where he hid behind a counter. Soon, the concentration of tear gas forced him to look for an exit. At that point, his memories blur. Running, he felt something he thought was a stone strike him in the back.
Raul woke in the hospital 13 days later. A bullet, apparently fired by a policeman, had entered through his liver and exited through his lung. He will live but will have to wear an external drip for a year. As with most of the people of Cochabamba, though to a greater extreme, the violence sought him out, not vice versa. “When I leave the hospital,” he said, “I’m going to seek justice because we aren’t dogs and cats. We’re people like them. We’re equal.”
There is a similar outcry for justice by Manfred supporters and civicos, particularly in the case of Christian Urresti, the 17-year-old killed by machete and strangling on January 11th. Both sides want justice. Both want democracy. The familiar, difficult task ahead is coaxing these important but foggy words into focus in a way that is meaningful for vastly different peoples.
Are street protests and highway shutdowns forms of democracy, or anarchy? Should people who have been subjugated by the law for centuries be expected to seek change through exclusively ‘legal’ processes? Is Morales becoming—or has he already become—the wielder of illicit power he once made his name by protesting against? After the mass violence, how does each side find the middle ground between granting impunity and exacting vengeance? These are a few of the questions simmering in Cochabamba, and Bolivia, one month later.
Edwin Claros, an official of the Cochabamba Assembly on Human Rights told us, of the legacy of January 11, "The people want peace, they want those events not to occur again here. Politics brought us to the deaths of two citizens, Cristian Urresti and Juan Tica Colque. We are all in agreement now that what the country needs is peace."
Written by Leny Olivera, Aldo Orellana, and Jonas Brown.