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Among the different social and political organizations that were formed as a reaction against the revolution of 1952, one of the more consequential and enduring was the Youth Union for Santa Cruz, based in the heart of urban Santa Cruz. The union, founded in October 1957, has served as both an ideological training ground and a social club for generations of young elites from Santa Cruz who have gone on to play important roles in departmental and national politics and in the development of the regional economy.

The rules of the organization and its methods are in some ways modeled along paramilitary lines. Its members see themselves as being engaged in a perpetual struggle both for Camba culture and against efforts by the central government in La Paz to exert control over the region’s political, economic, and cultural interests. The Youth Union trains its members in marching, close-unit operational tactics, and organizational discipline within the compound of its parent organization, the Pro–Santa Cruz Committee, to which Youth Union members graduate on reaching the age of thirty-five. Youth Union members are expected to protect the interests of Santa Cruz and the broader eastern lowland region with vigor and, if necessary, violence. The activities of the Youth Union increased dramatically with the reconstitution of the regional autonomy movement in the early 2000s and with the fierce regionalist battle against Evo Morales’s government after 2006. In the following excerpts from the Youth Union’s governing statute (as amended in 2004), the organization describes and justifies its internal structure, ideological orientation, and “systems of struggle.” The statute emphasizes the beneficial aspects of membership for young people, while making clear that the “moral and material enhancement of Santa Cruz” is its foremost mission. A stress on combat is evident in the very language of the document—young cruceños are encouraged to “guard” and “defend” the region and to “struggle” on its behalf.

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