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The Civic Fight of a Woman for the Interests of Her People: 24 Hour Strike in Tarija!

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Patricia Galarza, regional leader, civic activist in the front line of opposition to Evo Morales’ Government, is a passionate defender of the interests of her land and people; with the support of many other civic organizations such as the The Labor Union Central, local municipal organizations and Transportation Union, has called on a 24 hour stoppage and strike on July 16th, in the city of Tarija, southern part of Bolivia, in South America, to defend the local gas distribution company, which delivers one of the most important energy supplies for each household: natural gas.

The Civic Committee is a social organization which has been founded to defend the interests of the department of Tarija. There is one of such organizations in each of the nine departments of Bolivia and they act as the keepers of the people’s right to defend their interests on their land and public services.

Patricia Galarza has been part of the board of directors for over four years now. When acting as vice president of the civic house she and the former civic president, Mr. Bayard, defended the right of the department to dispose of the hydrocarbons taxes that by law pertain to this region in September and October 2008, with a stoppage and strike that lasted around 15 days. In that occasion the national government had sent its followers to break the stoppage barriers in the city and force deaths that could be used as flags to finally overthrow the department’s government. Tarija’s people are very, very non-violent and did not yield into temptation. The government media were locally arousing the feelings of anger of the government’s followers by repeating that ‘people here are killing our Indian brothers’ over and over all day. But local people in the barricades decided not to fight back, and the violence stopped. The government could not overthrow the local state authorities and turned its forces to go against Pando, another region of Bolivia that voted for autonomy and whose governor was in opposition to the Morales' regime, and overthrew the local state government there, with 11 dead people and an impressive high level of violence caused by the government followers, who this time did not encounter a group of pacifists, but instead got what it needed: people who fought back causing casualties that were used as the main reason to overthrow a local state government that had been elected by the people, but were in opposition.

Bayard, the former president of the civic house, was put in jail in La Paz and when his presidential time was over, the vice president, Patricia Galarza, run for office and was elected to perform what she describes as a very hard task. She has been harassed all the time, she receives threatening phone calls, cell messages and has an arrest order pending over her, but she says she will continue fighting for what she believes is the greater good for her land.

‘The rage that one keeps in her heart because human rights are not respected, the citizens right to decide how to use their resources, their right to elect their leaders, their constitutional rights, their democracy is stepped into and erased, this is what maintains my spirit high in the fight. I am not afraid. I will continue in the civic house, and will stand for the right of the people to full democracy and autonomy. I assure you that there will not be a response from the government, and the fight will continue. If for fighting for democracy and autonomy I have to be in jail, then I will happily go to jail. I respect my country and love it, but I will not allow anyone to steamroll the rights of my people. I am not afraid to go to jail because of denouncing the outrage against us, and if this is the cause of my detention, then so be it” , is her declaration at our interview in the civic house headquarters.

She is a strong woman who spoke to us yesterday about what this stoppage and strike mean and why it is being carried out. She explained that the main reason for stopping is the abuse of the national government who intends to take over the administration of a strategic regional state owned company: EMTAGAS (Tarija’s Municipal Gas Company – Empresa Municipal Tarijeña del Gas). The local state government owns 96%, with only 4% left to the ones that now pretend to make this company be a part of the national YPFB (Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos – Bolivian State Petroleum Company), a firm that has changed presidents 5 times in two years due to corruption scandals, the latest of which involved the killing of the head of a company who was shot at the YPFB President’s brother in law’s doorstep to rob him 700,000 USD he had just withdrawn from a local bank; the crime shed light into millions of dollars being awarded by companies to the president and the board of directors, and led to the destitution of Santos Ramirez (YPFB's president at the time), a close friend of Evo Morales and former President of the Senator’s Chamber of the Bolivian Congress. The rest of the board of the directors were also sued.

All the corruption in the nationalized YPFB makes the company unviable and, according to Galarza, Tarija will not admit the abuse of the government who is trying to convert a fine working company into a corrupt one by making it part of a bigger corrupt scheme and turning it into one more of its campaign houses for the coming December elections in which Evo Morales is said to be the most likely to succeed. The local gas company has built 36,000 connections in homes of Tarija, gives gas to industries and now it is giving GNV (Vehicle Natural Gas) to automobiles in the region. It yields revenues that are reinvested in the home connections. These facts make it desirable for the national government.

The government has already stated its will to take over the administration of all strategic enterprises, such as the electricity, water and gas companies, by wrongly utilizing the new Constitution and forcing them to hand in all their assets to the national government.

The stoppage and strike in Tarija have paralyzed about 90% of the activities and is seen as a the only way to exert pressure and make the government think twice about the measures it intends to take as the people and their civic house are in a defense position that will only grow in the following months. The coming December national elections are blurring the horizon of the department’s strategic companies as they have become part of the electoral campaign that President Morales and his ministers are leading in every department.
Each minister has been given a territory where they are now the chiefs of campaign for the President, and they are using the newly founded near 50 community radio stations, the public TV channel and the new public newspaper as a platform for their campaign. They are utilizing government funding to include the presidential campaign in all public ads, which mean around 50% of all ads in private media. This is a lot of money, paid by Bolivian taxpayers.

Galarza states that people in Tarija are mad at the government also because it is not allowing a vital road that unites Tarija with the rest of the country to be finally asphalted. The national government has postponed the construction works for ten years and now it is giving out Tarija’s money to fund the maintenance of part of the road that passes through another department (Potosí), but has paralyzed all works from Potosí to Tarija.

“This town has been born autonomous, and our ancestors have decided to belong to Bolivia. We feel we are Bolivian, and intend to be treated like we are part of this beautiful country, we ask the government to see us as part of this family, or otherwise we will have to review what our ancestors have decided and autonomously decide our own future”, said Galarza.

When asked about a message to the world from Bolivian women and how she would like them to be seen by the world, she said it is her honor to be a part of Bolivian women, who are the axis that articulates and defends the principles of democracy.

“I admire Bolivian women because they have shown their integrity, whatever their race or social class, they are stronger than men, more wholesome, and incorruptible. I only wish that the international community can see that Bolivian women are not only the faces of the high plateau that mass media shows globally, but also the faces of the valleys and the lowlands, which indeed are two thirds of the country.” These is the final quote from this notable woman who knows about the pressures of holding a controversial position like hers, an who is definitely an advocate of the regional right to decide its own future and who stands up for her beliefs proudly and with a clear vision of how big the task is.

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