Mutiny of the police
Updated: May 14, 2020
I was sitting in the office and Isabel was in the bedroom, when all of a sudden she went flying into the living room to turn on the news. I figured something was up and sure enough, news was coming in of what was happening in Cochabamba.
Twenty police officers had gone up onto the roof of the main detachment and, while waving Bolivian flags, started singing the national anthem. Very quickly, other officers joined them and they declared their allegiance with the people. Word went out on social media, calling for everyone to rally around police stations across the country, to encourage the officers to follow the example of Cochabamba. Not long after, the police in Sucre, then in Tarija and Potosi and eventually Santa Cruz and La Paz, all declared solidarity with the people of Bolivia.
This was significant for a couple of reasons. First of all, police in Bolivia function more like a para-military group and not simply keepers of the peace. Secondly, they have never been seen as neutral. They are forced to swear allegiance to President Evo, and the fear has always been that they would be deployed against the people. Tonight, all of that changed. Many of the commanders are still around (and mostly ardent supporters of Evo), but the rank and file are no longer following them.
Now that the police have been taken out of the equation, a strong chess piece for Evo has been removed. He still has the military, but I imagine the fear is that, if the military is deployed against Bolivian citizens, something similar will happen. Either they would refuse to get involved or, more dangerously, the military could splinter and then both sides would then be armed.
It’s been a long and difficult couple of weeks, with many highs and lows. There has been serious fighting in Cochabamba and La Paz and some of the other smaller capitals. A university student was killed yesterday. The government has called for violence and encouraged their people to fight. President Evo himself spoke at a rally and told the people to siege the cities and bring them to their knees.
And yet here in Santa Cruz, the resistance has been peaceful. There have been moments when we were unsure what has happening and rumors of attacks and fighting were everywhere on social media. Yet, for the most part, people remained calm. Families are out walking...there are people biking everywhere…neighbours are sitting on lawnchairs on the streets, sharing food and playing cards. There are blockades everywhere…cars parked across roads, wire and ropes and rocks and whatever else people could find. But people are laughing and spending time together.
It hasn’t all been this calm however. In the southern parts of the city, which are generally more poor, there has been fighting as MAS (Evo’s political party) tried to tear down barricades. Isabel and I had a couple of tense moments when stories of MAS people attacking condominiums in our area, as well as reports that they were planning to tear down the barricades by our building, circulated. We were at a prayer/worship time at one of the barricades on the edge of the city one night, when the warning firecrackers went off. Everything stopped for a moment and then families rushed their children off the streets and people headed out to protect the barricades from attack. In the end, it was just truckloads of young guys returning from the town to the north of us, which was MAS territory and more volatile (two civil authority men were shot and one died there). People shouted and clapped to welcome these “fighters” home and then everything went back to normal. It was a bit of a strange moment.
So now we wait and see what happens tomorrow. It’s become dangerous for the police to be out and about in many parts of the country, so they won’t be moving around. It’s likely the military will be deployed to protect and keep the peace. The civil authorities have instructed everyone not to engage them, but to be respectful. If that’s what happens, then we’ve taken a strong step towards resolving this crisis.
However, if Evo decides to use the military to fight back and try to tear down the barricades and fight the people, then everything will get significantly worse. That’s the question we face and I suppose tomorrow we’ll see the answer. Evo has sent out a Twitter condemning the police action and blaming it on any number of influences. There were reports that he’d fled the country, but I’m not sure I see that happening. He’s too proud and arrogant.
Thanks for following along and for thinking of us and praying. We’re safe and everything is peaceful where we are. Life continues on…