Cochabamba: Our Next Few Days

Bolivia, frankly, is batty. Is it any wonder I love it so?

Yesterday’s election was a curious affair. The day was quite and calm. The evening, though, was a race of numbers in the news. Jim Shultz, a political blogger (strong left bias) based here in Cochabamba, has a good run-down of the election numbers released by the media last night.

I’ve not found out how these numbers that were released were formed. I’m assuming exit polls; but while those are more or less reliable in the States, I see far less credibility for them here. The polling location near us is a government civil registration office a block down the street (one block west of Plaza Cala Cala). The entrance was guarded by approximately 25 armed (by Bolivian standards – the ammo doesn’t always match the weapon) police in a 50 foot radius. More trucks and cars with police were at the near intersections. Directly in front of the doors throughout the voter registration period during the week, but not during the actual vote-taking yesterday, campesinos held a sit-in/sleep-in. The environment was not dangerous, but I would not think it conducive to an honest exit-poll environment which would not share the anonymity of the official ballot.

Regardless of how the estimates were generated and how accurate they are, the world heard that Evo had an overwhelming majority (between 60-68% depending on the paper/blog) and that three governors, La Paz, Oruro, and Cochabamba, were deposed. Cochabamba’s governor is the only one of the three who is refusing to acknowledge the validity of the election.

As of 10:00am this morning according to Los Tiempos, a local newspaper, only 23% of the nation’s votes and 12% of Cochabamba’s votes have been officially calculated. With those calculations, Evo, the president has 52% sanction to remain in office, and Manfred, the governor of Cochabamba, has 55% sanction to remain in office. We’ll see how those numbers stand when all is said and done.

For Cochabamba this week, however, the real numbers may not matter too much.  Everyone heard last night that a) Manfred lost, and b) Manfred is ignoring it. The pro-Evo contingent sees this as an opportunity to champion democracy. The moderates will advocate political action. The more enthusiastic… well…

At the moment, large numbers of cocaleros are marching from the Chapare into Cochabamba and are scheduled to arrive today. We’ve no idea where the goal is. If a direct and possibly violent protest is intended, then the plan will probably be to head for the government offices at Plaza Principal as happened in January 2007. If a strictly peaceful protest is intended, then I’d bet on a repeat of the May 2008 march down Blanco Galindo (the equivalent to a freeway).

If Evo is wise, he’ll try to maintain the flashy international support that a Yes Stay In Office election result provides, and choose the peaceful protest. Evo is consistently not wise, however. Mind you, Manfred shares this particular lack of political wisdom.

So. Peace or Violence? Bolivia is batty, after all, so it’s anyone’s guess.

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