Last night I went over to my friends’ house, and saw TV for the first time in months. She had heard about blocados up in El Alto so was tuned to the news to work out if the rumours were true. But all we saw was reports on Santa Cruz. For the last few months I have been repeating what everyone in La Paz knows – things are calm and peaceful in the highlands because all the violence this year is in the South. But for the first time I actually saw what this looks like.

Each channel we switched to was showing the same thing. Crowds of young men dressed in shorts and t-shirts, some with surgical mask on their faces but many with nothing covering their wide grins, attaching buildings with sticks and stones. The sound of glass breaking and clouds of curling black smoke above, a tear gas canister being kicked down the street by a teenager who gives it one last aim at a small huddled group of riot police. The rocking camera follows the shouting young men into the building, into an office. It picks out groups pulling stacks of paper out of filing cabinets, yanking computer screens off desks, ripping even the chairs and the telephones out and carrying everything into the street. The beam of the camera rests on two young men, perhaps in their late teens but certainly no older than 21, as they lean over an opened computer on the desk, pulling out wires at random. Their backpacks bounce on their backs as they run out to join their friends, and somewhere in my head I wonder whether the bags show they came prepared or just straight from school. Behind them a boy of about 12 is riffling through a cabinet in someone’s desk.

Outside in the street again. Everything is set alight. Desks, screens, telephones and endless stacks of paper make up the bonfire. A shot of the outside of the building, and half its windows are broken. Out of them more paper flutters to the ground through the rising smoke. The crowd is cheering and shouting and suddenly the camera picks out another young man, but this one is in army fatigues. He is curled up on the floor with his hands around his head as a growing crowd takes it in turns to kick him till the blood runs. His uniform is torn, and as he is dragged to his feet and turns to the camera we see a blank expression of fear and utter confusion. His soft brown skin traced with blood stands out in the sea of white faces around him, but like them he is barely out of his teens. The camera cuts to three men marching through the streets, green and white flags held high and one with a gun slung over his shoulder. The crowds part to let them pass through, cheering them on as they hold their heads high and faces stern for the mass of television cameras.

The building being destroyed was a government building responsible for dealing with land reform. In the same day other government buildings were destroyed in the same manner, along with the offices of Entel (a telephone company), and Canal 7 (a television station). Soldiers in Bolivia are conscripts, but the rich can usually buy their way out so they are predominantly young, poor men from the countryside. The young men attacking the building are members of the Santa Cruz Youth Movement, the ‘Autonomy’ movement’s foot soldiers. The green and white flag is the flag of Santa Cruz, in contrast to the red, gold and green of Bolivia.

What other images did we see?

Older men with round white faces standing in the plaza talking fast and furious into the expectant microphones. Morales is a dictator he says. We are men and women standing up for our freedom. We will stay here in the plaza all night holding our peaceful vigil. Another reporter shouts out a question and he turns. We go back to the studio, and then cut to another plaza a long way away. Outside the presidential palace in La Paz another crowd is gathered. Trilby hats and darker faces – the men have come from the highlands to the city to tell Evo he needs to use a strong hand against the right-wingers in the South. At the bottom of the screen they are described as ‘indigenous vigilantes’. The camera pans to the large crowd standing on the steps of the Plaza Murillo, facing the palace and chanting “Strong Hand! Strong Hand!”

We cut back to images of youths in the streets of Santa Cruz. They are kicking a police motor cycle in the street, eventually setting it alight. Then we go to an interview with someone who says that the governor of Santa Cruz has been paying the police not to intervene. Another cut to lines of people queuing in El Alto to buy cooking gas. The department of Santa Cruz contains the gas supplies, and their blocados are finally taking affect. There is not enough gas in the cities for people to cook with. A minister appears who says that his aim is to have gas lines connected directly to people’s houses to avoid this problem in the future. He asks for patience for another year – after all, in the previous 25 years of government no-one even considered this idea. I make a mental note that we only filled our gas canister a week ago, but that the previous one had had a leak and run out far too fast. We need to be more careful. My friend sitting next to me suddenly notices the minister is wearing a Che tie.

I’m watching all this with my two good friends: Anna, who is a liberal and a passionate Obama supporter from the US, and her long time boyfriend, Eduardo, a Bolivian anarchist. Anna is furious. Why aren’t they doing anything? What is Evo doing? Why don’t they send the army down there to arrest those men? How can they get away with doing this so blatantly, so publicly? It’s all there on the camera!

We wait, along with the camera men and the crowds looking up at the lights in the windows of the presidential palace, hoping to catch Evo Morales’ speech in reaction. We wait, and nothing happens. We argue backwards and forwards about what he could do, but eventually Anna is frustrated and asks us to turn the television off. We go out to eat.

Over pizza we discuss the options. The governor of Santa Cruz is paying off the police, so Evo should send the army. If he sends the army then he will be accused of acting like Goni, the last president, who sent the army against the crowds of protesters trying to throw him out of office. People died, and Evo can’t be seen to be comparable. Anna thinks the international community should get involved – if the soldiers are from another country then he won’t face that accusation. Eduardo disagrees. He has to use the army. He is the state, and this is what the state does to enforce it’s will – it uses violence. But Evo is reluctant, because he wanted to do be different, or maybe because he knows he is in an impossible position. Could they dialogue?, Anna asks. They say that the last time Morales and Ruban Costas, the governor of Santa Cruz, met, Costas ripped up a cheque Morales was giving him in an official meeting and threw it in his face. He calls Morales a monkey. They say his personal land ownings are larger than the entire department of La Paz. How can you ‘dialogue’ with that kind of racism, that kind of entrenched interest in maintaining the status quo?

Anna is frustrated because to her it makes no sense that there can be no reaction. But for me, and I think for Eduardo, there is something more complicated going on. We all have reached a point of stalemate – Evo can’t react with force against the violence without replicating the reaction of Goni and being accused of being the same.

The images I saw on television were familiar. Riot porn. We on a particular part of the left have seen similar images before and have viewed them as resistance and rebellion. Indeed, in 2003 and 2005, when it was campesinos and miners marching through the streets of La Paz and overthrowing Goni, we cheered it as a great victory of the people over the oligarchs. I still believe it was, but the absolutely crucial problem now is that the oligarchs are using the identical tactics to achieve the opposite politics.

Where does this put us on the left, those of us who have supported Evo? I would never have though I would find myself in the position where I would be distressed by the burning of the government, sympathising with the riot police, and advocating sending in the army. This is a very weird position to find myself in.

The paradox of Bolivia, Eduardo argues, is that we have seen it as a revolution when it is not. I also am beginning to see it as this. Evo took power through the ballot box, and although he is indeed a different type of politician, he sought power through the existing system and became the state. The power of the state comes through the use of violence, and the legitimation of elections. While 68% of the country support Evo, there is still a minority, and if they don’t accept the rule of law then the state has no means to enforce it other than through violence. We believed in Evo as if he were something different, and by his reluctance to send in the army perhaps he is proving he, too, still sees himself as different. He still thinks he is not the state. But he is, and ultimately he will only be able to keep hold of his power by using the weapons of the state.

There is one last piece of pizza, and I let Eduardo and Anna split it. Anna thinks that they should let Santa Cruz burn. If they want to destroy their infrastructure, let them! The international community will not support them, and Bolivia relies on Brazil and Argentina to buy its gas. Isolated and without infrastructure, cut off from their customers, they will soon give in. Eduardo dismisses the idea. They would build new institutions. It would serve as an accusation that Evo was trying to starve the people. Evo wanted to be head of state and he is – now he must act like one and crush his opposition. This is not a revolution – whether on the left or the right, he still has to act like an overseeing power that imposes its will on the minority who don’t agree. Anna gets angry. Anarchism is not a viable solution, she says. You really think that is the answer?

And here is where Eduardo and I are stuck. We believe in anarchism, but support “realistic” alternatives in the belief that it is unlikely that we are going to be able to bring about the kind of world we would rather see. So we supported and still do support Evo. But now the opposition are using the same means of resistance to the imposition of state power that the left used 3 years ago, and we have a problem. Evo is the state – he sought and gained power through the existing systems of electoral politics backed up with the legitimate use of violence. The fact that he gained power through acts of violence that directly challenged the state’s monopoly on violence only complicates the matter further, in that now he is trying to be a state at a time when the legitimacy of the state remains in question.

The cracks are beginning to show. We have supported compromise in order to be realistic, but the compromise is not viable. We have looked to Bolivia as an alternative, as a place where radical and positive change can really come about through the ballot box. We have swallowed all our objections and criticisms to this form of politics in the hope that it would work. Now when that support involves us advocating sending in the army to crush the resistance, when the only way we can convince those who oppose us is through violence, it causes prickles of unease. That unease is only going to grow. Can we – must we – go back to believing another world is possible?

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Wandering around La Paz this morning, before the weird temporary blindness incident, it seems there have been a lot of changes in the last year. Buildings are being renovated, a huge new pedestrian bridge has been built over one of the busiest and most dangerous intersections in the centre of town, and new flower beds have cropped up in the centre of the main street downtown. These may seem like small things, but to my eyes they seem monumental – the city feels like someone is starting to take care of it and invest in its infrastructure in some way. Its still chaotic, noisy and polluted, but there are little signs here and there that there is some investment in making it a more pleasant place to live.

One of the things I always notice here in Bolivia is the graffiti. There is a healthy sense of public politics and the expression of popular sentiment though the ubiquitous graffiti and slogans written on every vertical space all over the city. Being the north of Bolivia, most of it is pro-Evo, and recently I’ve noticed that these seem to be expressing an awareness of the change in the infrastructure as well. “Thank you brother Evo for the telephone lines” and “Health used to be for the few, now health is for everyone” being two that caught my eye this morning. As we get closer to the vote in August, though, there had been a proliferation of graffiti referring to the separation movement coming from the South. Little maps of Bolivia coloured in the green, yellow and red of the national flag pop up everywhere with the words “United Bolivia” above. More direct is the one I have put a photograph of here though – “Sucre, the capital of Racism”.

Otherwise, its hard as a visitor to really feel the changes and the politics that are going on, though I wonder how much any ‘normal’ person living day to day would feel it anyway. I see the day to day lives of the people I live with, and mostly they don’t involve intense speculation about political events or revolution. They involve discussion of things like the local gossip, or the coming San Pedro fiesta, their family or the weather. On one side, I know what is happening in Bolivia at the moment is hugely significant, but on the other I’m beginning to realise that revolutions can only really be seen from a certain perspective. In the price of bread perhaps, but more commonly only in the newspapers or the ‘big’ events of history. Take for instance last Monday – we had been told by the family whose house we live in that Monday would be a bad day to come back to Tiwanaku from La Paz, because there was probably going to be a blockade. Various speculative rumours suggested the blockade was about the contraband issue I talked about last week, but the ‘meaning’ of the blockade for us and for our friends was that we would plan to come back on Sunday night rather than Monday, and that we ought to make sure we were stocked up in food just in case it lasted longer than expected. Only yesterday, when we got back to La Paz again and read on Jim’s blog that the blockade was about the failure to extradite Sánchez Berzaín did it take on any other significance. I find myself wondering about revolutions… how do you know when one is happening? What does it look like? What does it feel like to have the world watching you and waiting for you to do something spectacular, when all you’re really thinking about is what to make for dinner that night or whether you ought to marry the boy next door.