Santa Cruz has 1.5 million people, the largest city in Bolivia. It also has the most money in Bolivia, 30% of the country’s GDP. Where does that money come from? -Natural resources;natural gas.
When Evo was elected president, he had promised to do something about the plundering and exploitation of natural resources by international corportations, which had long taken the resources and made little to no investment in Bolivia to improve quality of life. His strategy has been to push for the nationalization of these resources, which – although popular amongst many social movements – has triggered a very strong and angry reaction from the upper class and business leaders who did manage to benefit in the old system.
Now Santa Cruz has held a referendum, and whether it is legitimate or not, the results show strong signs that the province wants full autonomy. This means the wealth it produces will be kept from the central government, kept from the rest of Bolivia to help pay for the running of the country.
It is a typical conflict of the last 50 years, whether you’re in Bolivia, Central Africa, or right here on the continent of Europe. The have’s want nothing to do with the have not’s, and they will go to great lengths to keep from losing anything to them.
Among the historical comparisons that come to mind, I think of the province of Katanga in Congo, which broke away from Congo at a most critical moment in the nation’s founding. Shored up by Belgian mining companies and the Belgian military, the government of the province would later get custody of legendary political leader and prime minister Patrice Lumumba, who they would torture, murder, and then see to it that each piece of his body would be chopped up and disolved in sulfuric acid, to ensure that no one could ever identify his body.
No comparison, different situation, certainly. But it reminds me of how far these kinds struggles for control of wealth can and do go.