The city of Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s economic capital, was the scene of violence on Friday linked to claims on the census, which President Luis Arce rejected.
Controlled by the right-wing opposition, Santa Cruz saw its 20th day of protests with street and interdepartmental road blockades demanding that the left-leaning government carry out an early population census.
The left-wing president Luis Arce refused Friday evening to advance it. “The census will take place on March 23” 2024, he said on public television. He also promised to redistribute the economic funds of the State, in the following six months, to all the regions according to the new demographic results.
The Head of State also called for “the return to calm, peace and normalcy in the department of Santa Cruz”.
Scheduled for 2024, the census is used to recalculate the distribution of seats in Parliament and public resources. However, the region of Santa Cruz, governed by the right-wing opposition, believes that it is disadvantaged by an obsolete census dating from more than 10 years ago. She fears her representation will not be updated in time for the 2025 presidential election.
Santa Cruz plans to hold a town meeting or popular assembly next Sunday to define its position in response to the president’s announcement.
“Attacked by the police”
In the morning, traders and utility drivers marched down an avenue in the city to demand the lifting of road and street blockades.
Clashes with stones, sticks and firecrackers took place with opposition supporters. Riot police intervened by firing tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.
Opposition protesters erected barricades of burning tires and claimed they were beaten by police.
“Today the people of Santa Cruz were attacked by the police,” said Santa Cruz Governor Luis Fernando Camacho.
A few hours later, opponents attacked the offices of the Santa Cruz Peasants’ Federation, linked to the ruling party, which they set fire to and looted, according to footage from a private television channel.
Subsequently, the headquarters of the largest local union, the Central Obrera Departamental (COD), was also looted.
The police did not immediately provide information on the number of injured or arrested demonstrators.
In three weeks of protests in Santa Cruz, four people died and 178 others were injured, according to a government report.