After blocking the exits at the stadium in Sucre, Bolivia, May 24, thugs beat and verbally abused dozens of Indians in a crowd waiting to greet Bolivian President Evo Morales, a socialist. The local mayor, the university chancellor, and the municipal council president, opponents of the president, looked on, applauding the attacks.

In the streets, meanwhile, women and children were threatened and political officials recognized as backers of the progressive national government, were ambushed.

Expanding political violence in Bolivia is calculated. Once confident in their positions as the “privileged,” old guard leaders are worried. The poor and indigenous are calling for redistribution of wealth, and, worse for the privileged upper classes, with the election of Morales as president in 2005, the once disenfranchised are now contending for power.

At stake for the poor is their very survival. Bolivia’s per-capita income and life expectancy are the lowest in South America while its poverty (63 percent) and infant mortality rates are the highest.

The country is divided between four eastern departments (states), where wealth is concentrated, and inhospitable highlands to the west and north, home to the poor majority of Bolivians. Santa Cruz and Tariji in the east, where the wealthy live, contain 86 percent of Bolivia’s natural gas reserves.

In the east a few thousand control over 70 percent of the productive land. Overall, 90 percent of Bolivian land is owned by the wealthiest 7 percent of the population.

To defend their interests, wealthy leaders there are agitating for departmental autonomy. Local legislation would recoup natural gas revenues and block redistribution of gigantic land holdings to the poor peasants. The rich are especially anxious to maintain a stranglehold on the land, now that the prices of agricultural products grown there, particularly soybeans, are sky-rocketing.

Santa Cruz, Pando, Tariji, and Beni recently carried out autonomy referenda. The results were similar: roughly 80 percent approval, 10 percent rejection, and, critically, 35-45 percent abstention, a tactic encouraged by the Morales government.

Bolivia’s National Electoral Court declared the referenda illegal.

Polls now suggest that in coming elections August 10 President Morales will get more votes than he did when he was first elected and that six of the eight right wing leaders in the eastern states will be defeated. Five of those expected to go down to defeat are Morales opponents.

Right wing separatist leaders are responding by demanding cancelation of the August 10 vote and new national elections without incumbent candidates (including Morales). Morales has turned them down and has dismissed calls for negotiations predicated on acceptance of the illegal votes on autonomy.

With political remedies vanishing, the rightwing opposition is preparing to boycott the August 10 vote, launch an economic boycott against regions supporting Morales, promote food shortages through speculation and hoarding, and remove cash from banks to encourage inflation.

Throughout eastern Bolivia, right-wing thugs have burned police vehicles, chased and abused indigenous peasants, and mounted demonstrations at airports blocking official visits from La Paz. One group took a highway toll booth attendant hostage and others attacked government officials in Pando, and occupied federal, police and oil company offices in Santa Cruz.

In that city police in late June took two young men into custody who were waiting at the airport with long range rifles allegedly to assassinate President Morales, who was arriving. They were released.

The Santa Cruz Youth Union (UJC by its Spanish initials) has been central to the hooliganism spreading in the area. In ceremonies in Sucre on June 29, the UJC became the National Youth Union. The Santa Cruz Civic Committee, a conclave of rich landowners and business interests, has long paid for and supported the UJC as its military arm.

Violent behavior, Nazi-type insignia and racist ideology suggest fascist orientation. Carlos Valverde Barbery, leader of the Bolivian Socialist Falange — a Nazi group, founded the UJC in 1958 to fight the “communist danger.”

Dictator Hugo Banzer welcomed support from both the Falange and Nazi fugitive Klaus Barbie, who, with other Nazis, found refuge and wealth in Bolivia. The UJC thus joins a tradition of right-wing criminality pervading Bolivian politics.

Utilizing the United States Agency for International Development as paymaster, the U.S. government, propelling a counter revolutionary crusade, is “openly supporting the autonomy of certain regions,” according to analyst Eva Golinger.

Peasant groups and municipal officials expelled U.S. Aid projects from Chapare and Cochabamba on June 25.