Doctors and Dynamite: Protest in Santa Cruz, Bolivia
09 May 2012. Santa Cruz, Bolivia. A small group of doctors and other medical professionals formed a circle around the iconic "Cristo" statue in Santa Cruz, stopping traffic on the city's busiest intersection during the busiest time of day, 12 noon. They, along with doctors in every major city of Bolivia, have been on strike for nearly two weeks. While protests have been peaceful in Santa Cruz, they have resulted in violence in some cities, and no health care services, other than limited emergency services, have been available to the public during this time at public hospitals, clinics and medical centers.
Medical professionals are demanding the government abrogate Decree No. 1126, which establishes a new 8-hour workday for the medical professions (the current workday is 6 hours).
At 1:20 p.m. PAT television reporters were reporting that medical students in La Paz had attempted to circle Plaza Murillo (where the presidential palace is located) and showed images in which military police repressed students using teargas. Breathless amidst a cloud of teargas, the reporter then began to yell into the microphone "dynamite! dynamite!" after which a loud explosion occurred. Police then ran several hundred students out of the area.
Elsewhere, protesters have blocked streets and highways in major cities and throughout Bolivia including in smaller towns such as Camiri, effectively shutting down the national transportation system.
Yesterday, Vice President Alvaro García Linera called upon the public and members of government-supporting organizations to counter-protest. Today, hundreds of coca growers marched upon Cochabamba stating they will defend the government. Yesterday government supporters clashed with bus drivers who were striking in La Paz.
It is common for protesters to shoot large fireworks into the air from long tubes, with the exception of miners in Western Bolivia, who typically use sticks of dynamite during their protests. Dynamite is readily available to miners, who use it every day during their work. However, over the past year the use of dynamite by other groups has been increasing, much to the annoyance and consternation of the public. The "booms" caused by the explosions are much louder, causing windows to rattle and startling those who live and work nearby. Most worrisome, however, is that dynamite is an extremely dangerous and volatile element and, apparently, can now be purchased readily by any member of the public.
Doctors have, in the past, criticized the use of dynamite in protests. They also regularly warn the public about the safe use of fireworks during holidays, such as Carnaval. Doctors, more than anyone, know how dangerous fireworks can be. News stories are published each year on injuries that have occurred due to their unregulated sale and use. Why, then, have doctors now chosen to use dynamite in their own protests?