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Medical Supplies Held Hostage Over Election Cancellation Sparks Violent Conflicts

Civilians engage in a bloody clash over the disruption of critical supplies

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Autumn Spredemann
Autumn Spredemann
I´ve traveled the world working as a freelance journalist, blogger, and English teacher. I specialize in remote travel, obscure cultures, and politics.

BOLIVIA. Santa Cruz.  Protesters demanding a presidential election in September erected over 70 roadblocks across the country this week, cutting off the flow of vital medical supplies to cities during the pandemic. This comes as retaliation for the lack of cooperation from the government and the electoral court.

Oxygen in exchange for democracy

Members of the Movimiento al Socialismo party (MAS), in cooperation with the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB), warned people to expect a surge in anti-government measures that would strike a dangerous blow to the country´s collapsing economy and healthcare system. These actions would only be put into effect if the government chose not to reinstate the democratic election that was set for 6 Sept., which was canceled due to coronavirus concerns.

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As of this past Monday, 3 Aug. no negotiations had been reached between the protest organizers and the government. As a result, road blockades went into effect immediately across the country and the flow of critical supplies to major cities came to a grinding halt.

Protesters refuse to let an ambulance pass. Photo credit: Opinion Bolivia

Bolivia´s deepening struggle with the pandemic became a catalyst that caused an aggressive civilian response to the road barricades. Ambulances and important medical supplies like oxygen tanks weren´t allowed to pass the roadblocks earlier this week, despite the pleading of desperate healthcare workers. This ignited outrage among civilians in the department of Santa Cruz, who armed themselves and took to the streets in El Puente. They were determined to dismantle the roadblocks.

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This resulted in an explosive clash between civilians. It quickly became a bloody street fight between those who support the roadblocks and the people who were fighting to restore the broken supply chain to cities.

Street fights are spreading to other areas

Citizens in Cochabamba followed the example set by Santa Cruz and are challenging the siege of their city. On Sunday, 9 Aug. anti-blockade organizers armed themselves in defense and marched out to meet the pro-election protesters. The situation deteriorated into a street fight shortly after the opposing sides met face to face.

Tension escalates at road blocks in Cochabamba. Photo credit: Opinion Bolivia

Stuck between a rock and a hard place

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The government of Jeanine Añez has been fraught with scandal and controversy since the beginning of the pandemic. While safety concerns over having an election during the coronavirus have been expressed by the president of the electoral court, Salvador Romero, they have largely fallen on deaf ears.

Politicians and citizens have criticized the government´s ineffective response to COVID-19 for months, and are now demanding negotiations be made with the MAS and COB protesters.

However, a resolution will be difficult after Sunday´s failed attempt at a meeting between the MAS, COB, key members of government, and the electoral court. There has been discussion within the COB of expanding the nationwide blockades to make the situation worse if their demands are not met.

Spokesman for the Centro Obrera Boliviana threatens extreme protest measures in a live interview. Photo credit. eju.tv

Coverage of the street fights in Santa Cruz can be viewed here.

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