Bolivians say economic shutdown is for socialist government and freedom from resources

Empty streets and abandoned shops and offices stretch as far as the eye can see in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s largest city. The normally congested streets remain empty except for the occasional bicycle or motorcycle.

The reason for the standstill is that since October 22nd, residents have erected roadblocks at dozens of intersections across the city, crippling transportation and daily business transactions.

The civil strike is more than regular protests, it’s a sign of enduring struggle for Santa Cruz residents. Affectionately known as “Crusenos”, the region’s locals have initiated a voluntary sector-wide economic shutdown to force a fair share of resources from the country’s firm socialist government.

It was the late census that sparked the rebellion.

The official census shows that most residents of Western countries are willing to sleep, not to mention money. In Bolivia, a postponed census (originally scheduled for 2020) is at the heart of the political battle. Movement for Socialist (MAS) leader and president, Luis Arce, is in a stalemate between the right-wing local government and protesters in Santa Cruz.

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A line of cars stop at a temporary barricade near the Ventura Mall in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, October 26, 2022. (C. Calani/The Epoch Times)

Opposition parties and strike organizers hope the census will take place in 2023 vs. 2024 and that results will be available before the next presidential election in 2025. The official census gives the State Department more representation in both the Senate and House of Government. Also, due to its rapidly growing population, Arce’s administration is required by law to allocate more money to Santa Cruz.

The Amazon province of Santa Cruz is the economic dynamo of Bolivia. It produces 72% of the country’s food supply and contributes to almost 30% of the country’s gross domestic product.

In addition, the sector is a high performance energy producer. Last year, it broke the domestic fossil fuel production record. Liquid hydrocarbon production he increased to over 14,000 barrels per day, and natural gas he increased to 16 million cubic meters.

Many Kursenos believe the department’s productivity, combined with right-leaning local governments and a capitalist work ethic, is the reason the MAS has not stepped foot in the official census.

Because with more population, more money, and approval from politicians comes more power.

Beyond politics, some Santa Cruz locals say the economic shutdown is actually more liberal than the census.

Ramiro Santiago is a 65-year-old businessman and hobby rancher who moved to Santa Cruz from Cochabamba thanks to the friendly locals. He told The Epoch Times: “The problem is politics. Governments don’t want to give us our fair share of resources.”

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Ramiro Santiago stands in front of the departmental flags of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, October 26, 2022. (C. Calani/The Epoch Times)

Santiago is one of the leaders of the strike, patrolling a barricade near an important transportation highway on San Martin Avenue. He believes that the Arce government’s ‘thirst’ for power is growing, and if Crusenos doesn’t act now, the situation will only get worse.

Santa Cruz is no stranger to fighting the ruling government.

In 2019, he led a nationwide campaign to remove former socialist President Evo Morales from office after a contested general election. At the time, Morales ran for office and won his fourth presidency, possibly unconstitutional. This despite losing a referendum in 2016 that would allow him to retain his fourth term.

Today Arce, former economy minister under Morales, runs the country.

“The main goal of this government is to take away our liberty,” Santiago said firmly.

However, the fight against the Arce regime would come at a great price for Crusenos. After six days of a complete economic shutdown, locals are starting to feel the pinch. Gas stations are running out of fuel. In the hours allotted for food shopping, grocery store shelves are becoming more and more empty.

“It’s a real toll on everyone. You can see that all businesses are closed,” a protester who asked Rodrigo to call told the Epoch Times.

In front of a large shopping mall, there are portable shades with chairs where demonstrators can get some rest from the 95-degree heat. From here Rodrigo keeps an eye out for some improvised barricades made out of broken concrete chunks, police tape and tree branches. On a typical day, he works as a lawyer in the departmental capital.

Epoch Times photo
People climb over obstacles in Santa Cruz, Bolivia on October 26, 2022. (C. Calani/The Epoch Times)

“They are [MAS government] You are violating your own laws. They don’t want to do a census because they have to give more money to the region,” he said.

Some Crusenos feel Arce is ignoring their efforts, but the effects of Santa Cruz’s standstill are being felt nationwide.October 26, Nestor Huanca Production Development The minister announced a suspension of food exports from Bolivia to protect local supply chains until the civil war is over.

Early negotiations between Santa Cruz officials and Arce representatives broke down on October 22 due to inflexible demands from both sides. But Arce said a “definitive solution” to the postponed census would be announced after meeting with representatives of all nine of his departments in Cochabamba on Oct. 28.

Some Santa Cruz residents want a solution, while others say they will get nothing from the meeting.

First, the conflict is in Santa Cruz, not Cochabamba. That meeting should be here if we’re going in the right direction,” Santiago said.

Rodrigo shared his sentiments. He said Arce’s refusal to come to Santa Cruz “mocks us and our efforts.”

The civil strike has already moved beyond the borders of Santa Cruz and is rapidly gaining national support. Protest organizers in the provinces of La Paz, Beni, Tarija, Cochabamba and Chuquizaca organized aid marches and demonstrations ahead of the 2023 census.

Epoch Times photo
A closed shopping center and grocery store in Santa Cruz, Bolivia during the civil war on October 26, 2022 (C. Calani/The Epoch Times)

In the government capital La Paz, a peaceful march in support of the Santa Cruz strike for the 2023 census was met with violent opposition from MAS supporters on October 26. Pro-MAS actors launched stones and fireworks at peaceful protesters. Police eventually arrived and dispersed the attackers with tear gas.

On October 27, local media reported another attack by MAS supporters against 2023 Census demonstrators in the wine region of Tarija.

Police confirm one civilian casualty following violent clashes between 2023 Census supporters and MAS party supporters in the town of Puerto Quijaro on October 22. .

Opponents of the strike in Santa Cruz are mostly supporters of the MAS party, many of whom cannot stand the soaring prices and shortages affecting the country’s poorest.

However, Kursenos vows to stand his ground despite the attack.

“We will continue as long as we can. People want to speak up,” protest organizer Christian Gutierrez told The Epoch Times.

Gutierrez and his group manage a blockade at one end of a bridge over the River Pirai. A herd of motorcycles is off limits there, and men on foot are evaluating whether and which vehicles can pass.

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A biker rides past an obstacle at the end of a bridge in Santa Cruz, Bolivia on October 26, 2022. (Autumn Spredemann/The Epoch Times)

Ambulances, essential workers, and residents with personal emergencies can generally pass without issue.

On the other side of the bridge, civil strike advocate José Miguel moves recycled shipping pallets to allow bikes to pass through barricades. “I’m here every day now. I’m committed to this,” Miguel told the Epoch Times.

“We need peace among Bolivians. We are peaceful people here,” said Rodrigo.

He, like many Crusenos, wants Arce to be reasonable about the census dates.

“we I didn’t vote for him, but he is our president and we need to find a solution. That is the hallmark of democracy. You may not like someone, but if it’s the majority’s choice, you have to stick with it. ”

Autumn Spreedeman


Autumn is a South American-based reporter who primarily covers Latin American issues for The Epoch Times.