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A new conflict has erupted in Bolivia over the indigenous flag o you are free, which the country adopted as its second national banner in 2009. On September 24, during the commemorative ceremony for the anniversary of Santa Cruz, a Bolivian region strongly opposed to the left-wing government of Luis Arce, opposition leaders held lowered the you are free that shortly before Vice President David Choquehuanca had hoisted, arguing that he divides. At the same time, the governor of Santa Cruz, Luis Fernando Camacho, did not allow Choquehuanca to speak at the ceremony on behalf of the central government. These events brought Bolivian political polarization to its highest level since the October 2020 elections.

The Arce cabinet has opened criminal proceedings against the perpetrators, considering them to be “a new offense against you are free”. In Bolivia, not respecting national symbols sufficiently is a crime punishable by two years in prison. For his part, the civic leader of Santa Cruz Rómulo Calvo called for the resignation of the two ministers who brought this accusation for their “reckless daring to provoke the people of Santa Cruz”.

“The you are free it is respected because it is the language, it is the history, it is the summary of all the struggle of our indigenous peoples and it will not be erased at the will of a group of people. This fight, this battle of the years of brotherhood, is not erased with an intention, with an old rooster paradita, ”said Luis Arce after the incident. Arce did not attend the event in which his vice president was not allowed to speak because he was abroad. On the other side, Calvo said the you are free “It does not represent the inhabitants of Santa Cruz and many Bolivians, due to the political use that has been given to this symbol used in subjugation, fires, confrontation and violence.”

Camacho was the main leader of the protests which culminated in the fall of President Evo Morales in November 2019. This movement identified with the traditional Bolivian flag and, on several occasions, attacked and destroyed. wiphalas, considered emblems of Morales’s Movement Towards Socialism (MAS). Camacho defended the multicolored indigenous flag in an attempt to prevent indigenous sectors of the country from clashing with the new government resulting from the overthrow of Morales. It was a fleeting gesture. The interim government of Jeanine Añez put aside the you are free of the official ceremony and gave a speech calling for the “Republic of Bolivia”, which had been replaced by the Plurinational State during the Morales period.

Since his election as governor of the eastern region of Santa Cruz in March this year, Camacho has strongly opposed the Arce government, which is based mainly in the west of the country. For this, he fostered the traditional distrust of the inhabitants of the eastern plains towards the mountain people (or “collas”) who constantly migrate to their ancestral territory. There is the pole with the greatest economic dynamism, based on the soybean industry and other natural products. This migration has caused strong pressure on traditional land and the environment. Camacho, the elite of Santa Cruz and the indigenous groups of the place demand that the land be distributed only among the natives of Santa Cruz and the preservation of the original culture against the “invasion” of migrants of Aymara and Quechua origin . It was these indigenous peoples who defined the you are free like theirs and they managed, under the first MAS government, to become the second national flag.

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Throughout the 14 years of Evo Morales’ government, relations with the indigenous peoples of the eastern regions of Bolivia have been complicated and fraught with disagreements. The key conflict was the dispute over the construction of a highway through a national park. Morales, interpreting the needs of Quechua and Aymara peasants, was a strong supporter. The chiefs of the Guarani Indians and other cultures of the jungle opposed it with no less force, in order to prevent the arrival of Western migrants by the highway. As a result, the project came to a halt, but the relationship between the two indigenous sectors was damaged. Currently, the majority of the natives of the East side with the opposition and the regional powers against the MAS. Their approach is to form a “parliament” which expresses their demands and rejects the distribution of land to foreign communities.

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