Bolivians Struggle with Proposed Santa Cruz Autonomy

Things have been tense in Bolivia for the past week after Santa Cruz residents voted overwhelmingly to become substantially autonomous of the national government. President Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, has been socializing the nation, just last week seizing the telephone company and a trio of energy companies at the barrel of a gun. The landlocked nation is the poorest in South America. Its wealthy Santa Cruz province comprises the eastern third of the country, and they’re not willing to accept Morales’ plan to seize their assets to redistribute to the west. Morales and his Venezuelan ally, Hugo Chávez, insist that the United States is behind the Santa Cruz uprising.

If all of this sounds familiar, that means you’ve been paying attention. Edmundo Paz Soldán’s “Santa Cruz: Bolivia’s ‘Other Country’” was published on our website in conjunction with the release of our Fall 2006 issue dedicated to the issues of South America:

While the Eastern valley and the Andes are constantly struggling, Santa Cruz has a carnival atmosphere heavily influenced by Brazil’s boundless optimism and exuberance. In the Andean world scarcity is the norm; Santa Cruz is the land of plenty. In a word, Santa Cruz works; the rest of the country doesn’t.

We’ve addressed Bolivia’s economic and geographic divisions before, too. Lloyd Mallan took up the topic in our Spring 1944 issue with “Bolivia: Revolt and Counter-Revolt”:

It is no exaggeration to say that the recent Bolivian revolution is a synthesis of everything that we are fighting for and against in this war. […] Bolivia, with the possible exception of Paraguay, has the doubtful distinction of claiming the most exploited and oppressed working-class in South America.

At the time, Great Britain’s efforts to build a railway to Santa Cruz had fallen a few miles short. It wasn’t for another decade that the connection was made, Paz Soldán explains, and it was decades until its development in isolation allowed it to develop a gravity of its own. It’s those physics that now threaten to pull apart the nation.

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Published: May 9, 2008