To the opposition in Bolivia, as well as to every objective thinking person around the world, it is hard to separate the events going on in Bolivia, and particularly the policies of Evo Morales, from the influence of Hugo Chavez. As I've said before, Chavez holds much sway with Evo. Immediately following Evo's inauguration, for example, Bolivia and Venezuela signed a series of bilateral agreements dealing with trade and energy cooperation. A bit later a military cooperation agreement was signed that provided legal cover for Venezuela to send, and Bolivia to receive, military forces engaged in training and infrastructure development.
Predictably, rumors of Venezuelan military support for purposes of maintaining the Morales government in power began to spread, aided by statements made by Chavez on more than one occasion. Opposition representatives have claimed that Venezuela is, in fact, illegally shipping arms to Bolivia. Today they should get a chance to prove it.
Yesterday, a mob in the city of Riberalta stormed the airport and threw stones at a Venezuelan Air Force C-130 transport plane that they believed to be carrying a shipment of arms. The mob assaulted one Venezuelan who deplaned and the pilots were eventually able to fly out of the airport.
Bolivian government authorities claimed the aircraft was only carrying spare parts and personnel on their way back to Caracas and the stop in Riberalta was not to unload supplies or weapons but simply to refuel.
After taking off from Riberalta the cargo plane tried landing in at least two other nearby airports but was deterred by the presence of more mobs. It finally flew to the Brazilian town of Rio Branco. Today a group of opposition leaders were to fly to the Brazilian town to investigate the cargo the plane was carrying. La Razon has the story here. Reuters has a report in English, here.
This event could be indicative of a shift in the opposition strategy. They are now trying to internationalize their fight.
Exhibit A: Previously they were content to make allegations against Venezuelan interference, maybe go as far as a protest in front of the Venezuelan Embassy, but never before, that I know, had they actually planed, organized, and executed an assault on what they suspected was a Venezuelan arms shipment. This is very symbolic. In effect, they assaulted the Venezuelan military.
Exhibit B: It is likely not a coincidence that this action was taken precisely when opposition leaders from the Media Luna departments where in Washington DC seeking support from the OAS and speaking in think tanks before American audiences.
Exhibit C: It comes at a time when Chavez's influence in the region is in a slight wane, following the King of Spain's public rebuke of him and on the heels of Chavez's first electoral defeat.
Regardless of what the plane holds in its cargo bay (and in this instance I believe the Bolivian Government), it is clear that the opposition means business. This event requires significant organizational capabilities to pull off.