Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 1 February 2007

Cochabamba, Bolivia

Mass protests demand right-wing Prefect's resignation

...but opposition forces are a growing threat

TWO WEEKS of intense mobilisations, protests, and street blockades calling for the resignation of right-wing departmental prefect (elected head of the regional administration), Manfred Reyes Villa, culminated in a popular assembly on 16 January in which representatives of Cochabamba's social movements, workers and poor peasants (campesinos), elected a new "Revolutionary Departmental Government". ADAM ZIEMKOWSKI, writing from Cochabamba in Bolivia, explains this significant development.

THE POPULAR assembly was originally called by leaders of Cochabamba's unions and peasant organisations in order to ratify a plan to oust Reyes Villa through "legal" channels. However, the vast majority of the thousands of people present were adamantly opposed to their proposal, calling instead for the immediate election of a new prefect and possession of the building of the prefecture.

As a result, the original leaders of the popular assembly withdrew their proposal and relinquished control of the assembly to representatives of the social movements from each of Cochabamba's 16 provinces.

These representatives then met to elect Tiburcio Herrada, former guerrilla and longtime activist, as the new "popular prefect". The popular assembly ended with the symbolic taking of power on the doorstep to the building of the prefecture followed by a euphoric circling of the plaza with Herrada in front, hoisted upon the shoulders of his supporters.

Within hours, however, severe opposition from President Evo Morales' left-centre Movement towards Socialism (MAS) government as well as divisions and lack of organisation within the social movements themselves called the viability of the new "Revolutionary Departmental Government" into question.

Representatives of the MAS government immediately rejected the popular assembly calling it illegal and saying that: "these radical organisations don't represent the social movements of Cochabamba because they intend to remove an elected prefect by force."

In addition, Severo Huanca, leader of the Six Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba - the powerful peasant federation whose members constituted the largest and most energetic force in the mobilisations - also rejected the election saying: "We do not agree with this approach. We cannot risk taking the prefecture. We all know it's illegal."

Herrada responded by saying these leaders "ran like rats" in the face of the revolutionary demands of the masses and asking the question: "If it's unconstitutional, why call a popular assembly in the first place?"

Power vacuum

For the moment at least, it appears as though the Revolutionary Departmental Government will be unable to assert its authority and assume control of Cochabamba. All mobilisations ceased the day after the popular assembly and Herrada, himself, while insisting that the people are united in support of the decisions of popular assembly, seems uncertain about how to proceed in the face of such strong opposition from union and peasant leaders.

Although there is relative calm right now, tensions could easily reignite at any moment. Right now there is a power vacuum in Cochabamba. The Revolutionary Departmental Government has been unable to assume control, but Reyes Villa has also not returned, blaming Morales for the fact that his safety "cannot be guaranteed" and giving control to departmental secretary general, Johnny Ferrel, for at least two weeks.

Reyes Villa hopes that tensions will ease during this time but there are strong indications that this is just wishful thinking. Political tensions have been mounting for months now and Reyes Villa has firmly placed himself in support of the right-wing opposition in Bolivia.

Mobilisations against Reyes Villa began on 4 January because of his plans to call for a departmental referendum on autonomy (although Cochabamba had soundly rejected departmental autonomy in a referendum just six months earlier) to show support for right-wing popular assemblies which were held in the four eastern departments of Bolivia on 15 December.

During these assemblies, the department prefects and 'civic committee' leaders (large landowners and business representatives) -with the support of Bolivia's major neo-liberal parties and the US ambassador - declared de facto autonomy, stating they would not respect any new constitution unless it was approved by a two-thirds majority, and announced the first steps towards the drawing up of their own constitution.

These assemblies were huge -government workers were given half a days holiday to attend and many others were paid to do so. Such a move was correctly viewed by the social movements as a direct attack on Bolivian democracy and a blatant attempt by the right to protect their interests and prevent change at all costs.

The decision to declare autonomy is seen by sections of the working class and poor peasantry as a first step to splitting away these resource rich regions of the country and declaring independence. If further moves like this are made then there is a possibility of wider clashes leading to a civil war in Bolivia.

In the eyes of the Cochabamba social movements and wider sections of workers, young people and campesinos, Reyes Villa's unflinching support for the right-wing opposition meant that he was no longer fit to serve as Cochabamba's prefect.

MAS reformism

The mass mobilisations culminating in the election of the Revolutionary Departmental Government in Cochabamba are extremely important. They show that as Morales' MAS government retreats further from its base in the social movements, instead of demobilising and submitting to MAS's demands for step by step, 'legal' reforms, the social movements are growing increasingly independent.

The MAS government organised no demonstrations to confront the right-wing popular assemblies in December and was against the movement to oust Reyes Villa from the beginning.

Yet thousands of workers, peasants, and indigenous supporters of Morales and MAS also actively took part in the formation of the Revolutionary Departmental Government in spite of the government's opposition.

At the same time, the fact that initially the Revolutionary Departmental Government appeared unable to fill the power vacuum in the face of opposition from MAS, union and peasant leaders, indicates that weaknesses still exist.


The way events unfolded in Cochabamba demonstrates the importance of preparation amongst wider sections of the working class and peasants in Cochabamba and nationally.

Serious preparations need to be made if the social movements, peasants' organisations and workers' organisations are going to develop into a force which is capable of presenting a real viable revolutionary alternative to the right-wing opposition's neo-liberalism and MAS's reformism.

The social movements in Bolivia are in the midst of a struggle against a right-wing opposition that still controls the economy, most of the means of communication, sections of the military hierarchy, and that is closely aligned with the transnationals and US imperialism.

They will use this power to fight against every small reform Morales and the MAS government tries to pass. If they succeed in weakening the social movements, they will use their power to take back the gains that workers have won through struggle.

In order to win the struggle, the Bolivian working class, campesinos, and indigenous population need to be armed with the correct strategy. The same measures which will allow Bolivia's social movements to prevail against the right-wing opposition will also provide the solution to the problems of poverty, hunger, unemployment, homelessness, and lack of access to health care and education which plague millions of Bolivians on a daily basis.

But neither a winning strategy nor a resolution to Bolivia's suffering can be found within the confines of capitalism. For this reason, the Committee for a Workers' International puts forward the following demands:

For the immediate resignation of Cochabamba prefect Manfred Reyes Villa and for control of the department of Cochabamba to be placed under the democratic control of elected worker, peasant, and indigenous representatives of the social movements, unions and peasant committees.

For the democratic organisation of Bolivia's social movements, trade unions and peasant organisations into committees in workplaces, farms, and communities on a local, regional, and national level.

For the development of armed self-defence committees under democratic control so they can defend themselves against the attacks of the right and so these organisations can later provide the basis for a democratic worker, peasant, and indigenous government. For the building of committees amongst the rank and file of the army and police.

lFor the nationalisation of all major Bolivian industries and the seizure of all large landed estates, to be placed under democratic control by workers, peasants, and communities so that the use of Bolivia's resources can be democratically decided upon by the majority instead of by a handful of wealthy Bolivian and foreign elites, and so the opposition will be unable to use their wealth and control of the economy to sabotage a worker, peasant, and indigenous government.

For full cultural, linguistic and land rights for the indigenous peoples of Bolivia.

For the creation of a socialist Bolivia as a first step and guide towards the creation of a socialist confederation of Latin American states.

A socialist Latin America, with an economy based on cooperation and sharing of its immense and diverse natural and human resources, is the only possible path towards economic development and the only way to ensure that the basic needs of all Bolivians and Latin Americans are met. In this way, the poverty which has plagued Latin America for more than 500 years ago can finally be alleviated.

Donate to the Socialist Party

Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our special coronavirus appeal.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation


Your message: 


In The Socialist 1 February 2007:

Private hands off our health service

NHS: Protests must reflect people's anger

NHS union attacked in Brighton

Workplace news

Striking for jobs and services

BA bosses make concessions

Socialist Students

Mass action can defeat fees

Building for the protests

Socialist Party news and analysis

Gay adoption: Christian hierarchy attacks equal rights

Reid's prison disaster

Review: Silent Accomplice

Northern Ireland

Sinn Fein's major U-turn

War and terrorism

Iraq - build for 24 February demo

Lewisham leads the way

International socialist news and analysis

CWI rally: An inspiring international meeting

CWI World Congress: Building the forces of socialism worldwide

Sri Lanka: Defend socialists under attack

Bolivia: Mass protests demand right-wing Prefect's resignation

Workplace news

Power industry: Fight this victimisation

Sacked electricians fight on

BP condemned over safety standards

Support the Unique Care workers

Southampton care workers on strike

National meeting on Single Status


Home   |   The Socialist 1 February 2007   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:


triangleBolivia: Right-wing coup ousts Morales

triangleVenezuela: resist the pro-imperialist coup!

triangle110 years ago: massacre at Santa Maria school in Chile - commemorate 21 December 1907

triangleChe Guevara 50 years on - revolutionary socialist and fighter

triangleIntimate insight into a revolutionary icon





Revolutionary mood in Lebanon following horrific explosion



Cuba: Covid-19 and the 60-year-old embargo


Nuclear weapons

Anniversary of nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki



Iran: Renewed wave of protests and strikes



Israel: Nurses strike and win


Hong Kong

Hong Kong: The fight for democratic rights


South Africa

South Africa: Building jobs and living wage campaign



France: 20,000 rally against Paris's killer gendarmes



Black and white youth rise up against racism - US protester speaks to the Socialist



USA - another cop killing of unarmed black man sparks widespread protests



Outrage spreads globally following US police murder of George Floyd


Hong Kong

Chinese state's imposition of draconian law reignites Hong Kong protests



Economic collapse leads to renewed protests across Lebanon



Trump, coronavirus, capitalism, and the presidential race



India: Fighting the curse of capitalism and coronavirus

triangleMore International articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777


Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 075 4018 9052

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 079 3539 1947

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 077 0671 0041



Alphabetical listing

August 2020

July 2020

June 2020

May 2020

April 2020

March 2020

February 2020

January 2020