Sunday, August 10, 2008

Referendum Day; All Is Calm in Central La Paz

Central La Paz is quiet and relaxed today. Families are strolling along the Prado, which is devoid of its usual congested traffic. There are no buses or combis, barely a taxi cab or private car cruises down the streets. Families and couples walk on cobblestones down steep hills, past shuttered businesses to the gate of the school where the polling station is in Sopocachi. An ice-cream vendor has parked his cart just outside, hoping to take advantage of the referendum crowd.

It's finally voting day in Bolivia. Evo Morales' immediate fate hangs on the results, along with those of eight of the nine state governors. Morales is expected to hold on. The fate of some of the governors is unclear, with one, Cochabamba Governor Manfred Reyes Villa, vowing to defy the results if his term is revoked.

Plaza Murillio, where the National Palace sits, is one of the few pockets of activity in the city, albeit the traditional Sunday-afternoon kind: families in the plaza eating helados, feeding pigeons, basking in the sun.

The Prado, which runs through the center of the city, is a wide pedestrian boulevard today, with only an occasional National Police car or a line of police motorcycles zipping by, their drivers in crowd-control armor and a helmeted soldier riding on back and flexing a tear-gas gun. But aside from a small contingent of disabled-persons-rights protesters huddled in the sun near the Witches' Market on the upper Prado, there's no discontent or demonstrations in sight.

On the lower Prado, approximately 50 police officers in fatigues huddle
outside of the Electoral Department Court. TV crews hang around in front and Curious onlookers (many of them gringos) sit in the park outside, snapping photos and wondering if anything is going to happen. There's a air of expectation in the air, but nothing, for now, is happening. Time to go shopping; I think there will be a lock-down tonight.

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