Mob Attacks Home of Former Vice President -- and Another U.S. Diplomat is Ousted
Lidia Katari, Cardenas' wife, is also a well-known and respected figure in Bolivia, who during her time as Bolivia's 'segundo dama' was known for continuing to wear traditional indigenous clothing.
Los Tiempos on Sunday quoted a campesino leader, Alfredo Huañapaco, as justifying the attack on the basis of Cardenas' 'traitorous' acts against his people and that the hose "served no social function." The mob that took over the house claimed its intention to turn it into a home for the aged.
Critics of the government, including Cardenas, were quick to lay blame for the attack on Morales, including claims that national officials had refused to provide the house with security after the family had received threats. PODEMOS leader and ex-President Jorge Quiroga put the attack in a line-up of "violent acts" by Morales supporters, including the burning of the Cochabamba governor's office in January 2007.
Speaking for the government, Interior Vice-Minister Marcos Farfán told the press that the government had nothing to do with the attack and, in fact, sent security forces to the house and to expel those who had taken it over.
Today, in the wake of the attack, Cardenas announced formally that he will challenge Morales for the Presidency in December. He joins a field that will likely include former President Carlos Mesa, Sanchez de Lozada's other Vice-President (2002-2003) among others. Cardenas declared, "What is real, what is concrete is that the government headed by Evo Morales on Saturday did not provide protection for my house or for the lives of my family."
Regardless of what one thinks of either Cardenas, Morales, or any other political figure, the protection of democratic space is essential, and that includes the open right to dissent. As long-time readers of this Blog know, for more than four years we have practiced that here with a 100% uncensored comments section that allows even the stupidest of things to be said without filtration.
The principle that we believe in for our own work we believe in for the larger public debate as well. All political figures, whether of the left or the right, ought to reaffirm that principle in Bolivia, not just in word but also in deed.
Update Tuesday Morning
The sacking of the home of the former Vice-President and the brutal attacks on his family continue to grab front-page headlines here, as it should.
Yesterday brought a new round of denunciations against Saturday's attack – not only from the Morales government's usually critics but from UN officials, religious leaders and prominent members of MAS as well. Jorge Silva, a MAS member of Congress is quoted in Los Tiempos saying, "there is no justification to violently attack, to invade a home, or to beat people."
While both President Morales and Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera voiced a general condemnation of the violence, both also sought to justify it in public comments. Morales (also quoted in Los Tiempos) said, "The people do not tolerate or forgive traitors."
Garcia Linera declared (according to a Red Erbol report), “We regret this act. Those responsible need to be sought…there is no justification for doing damage, for attacking private property." But he then went on to offer a justification as well, "We reject the provocative declarations of the ex-Vice President. What is it that Victor Hugo Cardenas did such that his own [indigenous] brothers assumed this grave reaction?" Linera went on to suggest that Cardenas' house might be expropriated by the state.
Erbol also reported mixed reaction from Bolivian indigenous leaders to the Saturday attack, which left several members of Cardenas' family still hospitalized as of this writing.
Cruz Chura, leader of the Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu (CONAMAQ), declared, “I have understood that on more than one occasion the community summoned Victor Choquehuanca [Cardenas] to defended, to argue why he denied his [indigenous] family and he never had the dignity to respond to the authorities of this region."
On the other side, Pedro Nuny, Vice-President of the Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas de Bolivia (CIDOB), called on those of the altiplano to calm themselves and said there was no justification for what occurred Saturday. "This act is not justified, because here in the lowlands we have suffered the taking of our offices because we think in a different manner than those violent groups here. Brothers, we do not defend Cardenas, he has to pay for the things that he has done to this country, but now he is the victim."
Personally, I do not find it very hard to see the principle at stake here. Just as this Blog has denounced, over and over again, violence against the innocent at the hands of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and others on one side of Bolivian politics, the same must hold true for the other side of Bolivian politics as well. Political argument should be confronted with political argument, not violence. Political movement should be confronted with political movement, not violence. And people's families should be left out of it entirely.
It is also certain that a real political candidacy has been born out of Saturday's attack. Cardenas, who has been little more than a footnote in Bolivian politics for more than a decade now bears the badge of martyr. Watch him now become the rallying point for a variety of political forces opposed to Morales' reelection later this year, drawing foreign headlines of, "In Bolivia a Battle Between Two Indigenous Candidates."
And One More U.S. Diplomat Sent Home
Not to be lost in the public uproar over the Saturday attack is the declaration yesterday by President Morales that he is sending a second U.S. diplomat home to the U.S., Embassy assistant, Francisco Martinez.
Evo accused Martinez of interfering in Bolivia's domestic affairs, including "ongoing" relations with opposition groups and contact with ex-agents of the police that the government has charged with plotting anti-government activities. The sending home of Martinez follows the ousting, last September, of the U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia, Phillip Goldberg, amidst accusations of his interference in domestic politics. Late last year Morales also expelled the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) from Bolivia, claiming it too was intervening in political affairs. It's longtime Cochabamba headquarters is being converted into an auto showroom.
The U.S. State Department denounced the decision, calling it "“unwarranted and unjustified.” The U.S. Embassy spokeswoman, Denise Urs, told the press, "We can't understand how the president can assure us that he wants better relations with the United States and at the same time continue to make false accusations."
We haven't had the opportunity to look at the actual facts in this case yet. But one thing is certain, this isn't going to help Bolivia's cause to get the country's exports put back in the ATPDEA trade preference program. So far the prospects of a new Bolivia/U.S. relationship don't look too good.