Cochabamba, Bolivia’s third largest city, has become the focus of the growing battle between supporters of left wing president Evo Morales and right wing governors who are demanding autonomy for key oil and gas producing regions.
Manfred Reyes-Villa, a right wing governor, last week attempted to call a referendum on autonomy. Protesters went onto the streets of Cochabamba demanding that Reyes-Villa resign.
Coca peasants blocked the roads in and out of the city. Over 5,000 protesters forced Reyes-Villa to flee to the neighbouring region of Santa Cruz.
The demand for autonomy is a ploy to weaken Morales’s plans to nationalise key industries.
As protesters took control of the central city, supporters of the governor barricaded themselves in the wealthy neighbourhoods. On Thursday of last week right wing thugs, backed by riot police, launched a vicious assault on demonstrators. They killed two and injured 150.
Morales sacked the chief of police, but also demanded that Reyes-Villa be allowed back into the city.
Cochabamba was at the centre of mass protests in 2000 that defeated an attempt to privatise water. It was this victory that put the city at the centre of resistance to neoliberalism.
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