Independence struggle dates back to Incas, says separatist group

 

TOM HENNIGANwrites from Santa Cruz on a meeting of Nación Camba, one of Bolivia’s most radical groups

AT FIRST glance the gathering in the elegant, colonnaded courtyard of the Museum of Regional History looks like just another one of the many cultural offerings in this intellectually vibrant city.

But this crowd of about 100 mostly middle-class cruceños is not listening to a lecture on art history or a discussion on the latest findings by the region’s archaeologists. Instead, it is a talk on how an independent Camba state would very quickly become strategically vital in South American geopolitics.

The speaker sketches out his vision under green and black banners draped over the upper balustrades, while members in paramilitary-style kaki shirts and black trousers hand out literature at the door.

This is the fortnightly meeting of Nación Camba, the largest and most prominent of Santa Cruz’s radical separatist movements.

A young cruceño wearing a kaki top explains that the region’s struggle for independence from Bolivia’s central government located in La Paz even predates the arrival of the Europeans.

“The people on the Altiplano highlands in the Andes always organised themselves along imperial lines. There was always El Inca who controlled everything. In this part of the Amazon basin the Indians did not have this maximum leader and the Inca invaders were resisted by the people here. So our struggle with the Altiplano is one that goes way back,” says Juan Manuel Paravicini.

In Bolivia, a camba is someone from the tropical lowlands in the eastern two-thirds of the country. Many of these mainly mestizo cambas say they identify little with the Andean Bolivia to the west, which is much poorer and has an overwhelming indigenous majority.

A majority of cambas support a civic movement for greater regional autonomy. But Nación Camba’s ideology goes further, insisting cambas form a separate distinct nation, and that the joining of their region with the Andean west into one country at independence from Spain was a disaster.

Its followers say they are proud defenders of their region’s identity against what they see as the aggression of the central government. To opponents, it is a racist and proto-fascist organisation trying to pull Bolivia apart.

The group’s symbols were found on the blog of Eduardo Rózsa Flores, the supposed leader of the group of men whose hotel rooms were raided by elite Bolivian police last week. Rózsa Flores died in the raid alongside Irishman Michael Dwyer and Hungarian Arpad Magyarosi. Another Hungarian and a Bolivian holding a Croat passport were arrested at the scene. A Nación Camba flag was also found in what police say was an arms cache belonging to Rózsa Flores’s group.

The Bolivian government claims the five men were right-wing extremists linked with local separatists and planning to assassinate President Evo Morales in an attempt to divide Bolivia.

In a video Rózsa Flores recorded in Hungary before heading to South America, he said he had been invited back to his homeland “to organise the defence of Santa Cruz, because indigenous militias and pro-government elements are causing trouble there”. He said if necessary he was ready to fight for an independent Santa Cruz.

The Bolivian government has used the video to accuse the opposition in the region of being linked to terrorism and says it will shortly summon local leaders in for questioning. The Irish Government has raised questions about the raid amid evidence that Dwyer and the two others were summarily executed.

Nación Camba leaders say they now expect to be called in soon by the government, but deny any link with the Rózsa Flores group.

“The events in the hotel were a surprise to us when we heard about them. They were here for some time but they never got in touch with us. Our symbols are on Flores’s blog, but maybe he just felt a romantic connection with our ideas,” says Nación Camba founder and chief ideologue Sergio Antelo.

Antelo questions the notion that the group was planning to undertake some sort of covert or paramilitary action.

“Someone brought them here. Someone gave them money, sustained them. But they did not practise the minimum basics of security that terrorists use. Some of the arms found in this supposed arms cache date from the Chaco War against Paraguay in the 1930s. And at no time did an armed group announce itself.”

Antelo also rejected the notion that the heightened tensions between Santa Cruz and the government in La Paz that preceded Rózsa Flores’s arrival in Bolivia could lead to open armed confrontation between the two.

“In Santa Cruz there is always talk of a possible confrontation with the central government, but it is always just talk. Some time ago we concluded that in South America today there do not exist any of the conditions for any separatist movement. Anyone who aspires to develop a separatist movement in Santa Cruz is condemned to failure.”