Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Does this look like a riot to you?


Anti-government demonstrators march toward the capital La Paz, Bolivia on Tuesday, June 7, 2005. A resignation offer by President Carlos Mesa did little to halt a crippling blockade of the capital, as demonstrators marched on La Paz to demand more power for Bolivia's poor Indian majority. (AP Wideworld/Dado Galdieri) From CJR Daily

Several hours ago, the BBC reported that Mesa had sounded what came across as a desperate alarm:

"The country can not continue playing with the possibility of splitting into a thousand pieces. The only solution for Bolivia is an immediate electoral process," Mr Mesa said. "This is coming from a president who is on his way out. It is a call to a country on the brink of civil war," he said.

The picture sure doesn't look like a riot to me. Yes, I've been in a few -- I did after all spend 1965-69 at UC Berkeley, majoring in history and minoring in rioting at I sometimes claim, only partially facetiously.

Now I don't claim to know much of anything about what is going on in Bolivia, beyond a general understanding that country people, mostly indigenous, seem to repeatedly protest what they see as a sell off of the country's assets. And I don't claim there has not been the chaotic violence properly called "riots" somewhere in Bolivia. In fact, there are reports of miners throwing dynamite at police.

But that picture looks like something else. It looks like a very dignified and disciplined procession of people intent on a purpose. And that is no riot, it is something much more powerful: perhaps civil society taking power, a revolution of sorts.

[UPDATE:] Maybe there is a riot planned -- one incited by the US Embassy by manipulating the ordinary sleazy ambitions of ordinary, corrupt Bolivian politicians. See Jim Schultz's invaluable analysis here.

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