LA PAZ, Bolivia (HPD) — One person was killed Saturday in Bolivia in a clash between protesters on the first day of a strike declared by the eastern province of Santa Cruz against the government of President Luis Arce to demand a census of population next year.
The city of Santa Cruz, the most prosperous in Bolivia and an opposition stronghold, was paralyzed on Saturday, without transportation, with markets and shops closed and with avenues and streets blocked by protesters who reject the government’s decision to postpone the census for 2024 .
A 47-year-old protester apparently died from blows inflicted on him by rival groups when he tried to unblock a road in Puerto Quijarro, a town in Santa Cruz that borders Brazil, prosecutor Freddy Durán reported. “We are investigating, because this is a homicide,” he said.
“We condemn the violence exercised during a civic strike, which caused the loss of a human life. This tragic event must be investigated and those responsible must be punished,” President Arce said on his Twitter account.
The governor of Santa Cruz, Luis Fernando Camacho, an opposition leader, blamed the government for mobilizing “shock groups” to prevent the protest. Other clashes were recorded on a highway that left several bruised.
Meanwhile, authorities from the central government and from Santa Cruz set up a negotiating table on Saturday afternoon to seek an agreement that would allow the protest to be suspended, said Minister of the Presidency María Nela Prada.
Several analysts say the background to the dispute is that a new census would give Santa Cruz greater legislative representation and allow it to have more say in political decisions. The Arce government seeks to delay registration so that the new redistribution of seats does not undermine its political strength in the 2025 presidential elections.
Other regions anticipated that they will join the Santa Cruz protest next week to ask that the census be done in 2023 and not in 2024 as the government intends.
The country has remained strongly polarized since the 2019 political crisis that forced the resignation of then-president Evo Morales after failed elections denounced as fraudulent in which he was seeking a fourth term. The social outbreak of that time left 37 deaths in almost a month of street protests.