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In early 2001, civic leaders and separatists in Santa Cruz published a “memorandum” that established the Autonomous Movement of the Camba Nation, announcing the movement’s strategic objectives and its grievances against the Bolivian state. Its rhetoric and demands harkened back to the memorandum issued by the Santa Cruz Geographical Society in 1904 (see “Integration of the Lowlands” in part V). “Camba” originally referred to people of lowland Indian origin, but commonly refers to all people born in the Santa Cruz region, not least those of European and mestizo descent. Leaders of the Santa Cruz autonomy movement have argued that Camba Nation’s founding was not a simple response to the increasing visibility of firebrand social leaders like Felipe Quispe advocating Indian self-government or Evo Morales promoting trade-union power. In any event, these cruceño leaders came to believe, by 2001, that the crisis in governance and the surge in political power of radical indigenous, labor, and nationalist forces in the highlands and valleys did not bode well for the interests of Santa Cruz, a region with a long history of conservative politics, antagonism toward central government in La Paz, and tensions with Collas (Andean highlanders). The conservative government of Hugo Banzer Suárez, the last cruceño national political leader, had been shaken to its core during the Water War in Cochabamba in 2000. With Banzer’s resignation in August 2001, the prospects for active support for the Santa Cruz region at the national level were coming to an end. As the radical agenda gathered steam in the highlands and valleys, including demands for the nationalization of national resources and land reform, which could have a potentially significant impact on the lowlands, the regionalist position simultaneously hardened, at times to the point of advocating a separate Camba nation-state.

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