"The trucks would come from Cochabamba, and they would have to sell their produce right here" at the barricades, said Mamani, the community leader. "They were selling chicken for 4 bolivianos a kilo," or about 25 cents per pound. "They had live pigs and couldn't feed them, so they would sell them too." Little white piglets descended from the barricaded pigs are still being born in the 23rd of March area today, he added.
Several hundred miners from Oruro joined the local barricade too. Locals extended their hospitality by taking over a school to house them.
The activism of El Alto often obeys traditions born in the Indian villages of the high plains and the fading mining towns of the Andes, where men of coffee-colored skin once coaxed a fortune in tin from the mountains.
Migration from both areas transformed the once-sleepy suburb of La Paz into Bolivia's third-largest city. Residents typically toil as vendors, construction workers or low-wage service employees in the capital, and many frequently return to rural areas.
"There are many people who go back and forth from the city to the countryside, for harvest and planting," said Wilson Soria, a former priest and current member of the City Council. Among these residents, rural habits and beliefs are strong.
"Whenever there's a natural disaster, people feel it's for a reason, that some moral failing of theirs has caused it," Soria said. Perhaps they've been drinking too much, or failed to go to church. They pray to the Apostle James, who is believed to offer protection against lightning strikes. Every July 25, El Alto's southern neighborhoods fill with people celebrating a festival in the apostle's honor.
And every week, 560 local neighborhood assemblies meet to discuss the work that needs to be done in their communities. The assemblies are the urban equivalent of traditional Aymara and Quechua communes. All decisions are made by voice vote. The opinions of elders carry additional weight.
In these meetings, "the logic of the agrarian community is brought to the urban world," said Alvaro Garcia Linera, a political scientist who has studied Indian activism.
"They say, 'We have to fix the streets because the water has washed everything away,' " Garcia Linera observed. " 'We have to build a soccer field for the young people.' It's all done with communal work, communal sharing and communal meetings."
El Alto's schools and cafes, and its urban community centers, are where a new ideology of indigenous pride has flourished, thanks in large measure to Aymara writers such as Fausto Reinaga, whose 1970 book "The Indian Revolution" has become to this generation of activists what "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" was to a generation of African Americans.
"I am an Indian. An Indian who thinks, who has ideas," Reinaga wrote. "Once I was alone, now I will be millions.... I will tear to shreds the infamous wall of 'organized silence' that the Bolivia of Indian submission has built around me."
Reinaga, who died in 1994, prophesied that his work would bring a violent revolution to Bolivia. The country would "cry out in pain and bleed thanks to my words," he wrote.
One of those who read Reinaga as a young man was De la Cruz. Last week, he was on Bolivian TV, referring to the community's residents as "our troops."
"When you read 'La Revolucion India,' the impact it has on you is very strong," De la Cruz said in an interview. "You have to put its arguments into practice if you want to liberate your race."
De la Cruz was born in the rural Omasuyos district of La Paz province, an area that is now a hotbed of rural militancy. He came to the capital as a teenage orphan, later joined the army and briefly attended a local college.
In 2003, De la Cruz was arrested and jailed for several months on charges that he had directed a crowd of activists who set fire to El Alto's City Hall. Now he has an office in the same building: He was elected to the City Council this year.
Mayor Jose Luis Paredes, who was targeted in the attack because of a plan to raise taxes, has since moved his office to another building.
"I think it's harder to be mayor of El Alto than it is to be president of the republic," Paredes said.
He listed some problems: One in six El Alto residents doesn't possess a birth certificate. More than a third of the homes are unregistered. And every week seems to bring a new neighborhood protest -- against one family's eviction, perhaps, or in favor of a new school.
A citywide protest this year in El Alto forced the government to take over the French-owned local water utility, Aguas de Illimani, after residents accused the company of failing to keep its promise to expand service.
"Now I'm going to have to learn how to manage a water company," Paredes said wryly.
But the latest protests have focused less on local concerns and more on macroeconomics.