BOLIVIA: PRESIDENT RESIGNS AMID GROWING UNREST

by Weekly News Update on the Americas

EDITOR'S NOTE: As we go to press March 7, Bolivia's President Carlos Mesa has handed in his resignation to the country's congress, citing ongoing anti-government protests. Mesa was caught between leftist protesters demanding greater state control over oil and gas companies and a free-market-oriented separatist movement in Santa Cruz department, where much of the oil and gas reserves are located. Left opposition lawmaker Evo Morales had announced a nationwide road blockade unless congress passes legislation increasing taxes on foreign oil companies from 15 to 50% of their sales. Mesa refused to support this, saying "the international community rejects such a law." In February, he had reshuffled his cabinet and deployed the military to maintain control of oil and gas fields. But protests continued, and Mesa, submitting his resignation, said, "I can't continue to govern under these circumstances.'' Congress could vote to keep Mr. Mesa in office, but if his request to step down is accepted, the leader of the Senate, Hormando Vaca Diez, will take power. (UK Guardian, VOA, UPI, March 7)—WW4 REPORT

MESA BACKS DOWN ON AUTONOMY

On Jan. 28, bowing to demands for regional autonomy from the powerful civic committee of Santa Cruz department, Bolivian president Carlos Mesa Gisbert agreed to let the country's nine departments seek greater autonomy and elect their own governors. Mesa's Supreme Decree 27988, signed Jan. 28, sets elections for governors in all departments for June 12 to finish out the current 2002-2007 terms. Until now, the governors have always been chosen by the president. Mesa also agreed to allow departments to hold referendums on autonomy, starting with a referendum in Santa Cruz in June.

Santa Cruz governor Carlos Hugo Molina resigned on Jan. 27, and an assembly of 200 legislators, council members and indigenous delegates gathered in the city of Santa Cruz, the departmental capital, on Jan. 28. In response to Mesa's concessions, the assembly stopped short of defying the government with an autonomy declaration, instead approving the creation of a "provisional autonomous assembly" charged with directing the autonomy process and negotiating with the government. Mesa praised the assembly, calling it legal and consitutional. Santa Cruz residents held a victory rally on Jan. 28, and by the evening of Jan. 29, protesters had ended occupations at seven of the eight public buildings in Santa Cruz which they had taken over to demand autonomy. (A group of 53 university students were still holding the governor's office.)

As part of the Jan. 28 agreement with the Santa Cruz Civic Committee, Mesa also ordered a tiny reduction in the price of diesel fuel, from 3.74 to 3.72 bolivianos per liter (3.72 bolivianos is about $0.46). Workers in Santa Cruz said they would stage new protests if Mesa didn't completely scrap the fuel price hike he decreed on Dec. 30. (Los Tiempos de Cochabamba, NYT, Miami Herald, Jan. 29; La Jornada, Mexico, Jan. 30)

In the rest of Bolivia, and even among many Santa Cruz residents, feelings about the Santa Cruz "victory" were mixed. On Jan. 28, at least 100 indigenous people from the Altiplano came to Santa Cruz to block a main road there in protest against the Santa Cruz Civic Committee. The protesters said they support autonomy, but only through a constitutional assembly. Civic Committee members confronted the indigenous protesters and a clash ensued; several people were arrested. Marches were also held Jan. 28 in La Paz, Oruro and Potosi to protest the Santa Cruz Civic Committee's autonomy pressures. (Los Tiempos, Jan. 29)

Also on Jan. 28, the Assembly of the Guarani People (APG) issued a 12-point public statement demanding the creation of a 10th department, called El Chaco. The indigenous Guaranies want to form the new autonomous department out of five provinces: Cordillera (now in Santa Cruz department), Hernando Siles and Luis Calvo (now in Chuquisaca department) and Gran Chaco and O'Connor (now in Tarija department). APG president Nelly Romero said the Guaranies can't allow the regional oligarchy to continue speaking in their name and profiting from their oil-rich territory. (Los Tiempos, Jan. 29)

Evo Morales, cocalero leader and legislative deputy for the Movement to Socialism (MAS), criticized Mesa "for having ceded much to the Bolivian oligarchy organized in the Santa Cruz Civic Committee." Morales said the calling of an election for departmental governors "violates the Constitution and resolves the issue of autonomy outside of what will be the Constitutional Assembly," currently planned for the second half of 2005. Morales said campesinos and cocaleros would demonstrate against the new decree. (La Jornada, Jan. 30)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 30


PROTESTS CONTINUE IN LA PAZ

On Jan. 17, at least 10,000 people demonstrated in La Paz to demand the cancellation of an electricity contract with the Spanish company Electropaz. Following up on their victory in ousting a private water company from La Paz and neighboring El Alto, the protesters were also demanding state control of hydrocarbons resources, and that ex-president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada face trial for the death of protesters in October 2003. Also on Jan. 17, campesino coca producers blocked roads in the Los Yungas region of La Paz department to protest the government's coca eradication policies. (La Jornada, Jan. 18)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 23

EX-MINERS BLOCK ROADS

On Feb. 23, some 500 former miners from around Bolivia set up a roadblock in Caracollo and began a march to La Paz to demand the return of their payments into a government housing fund and to protest the fund's recent payout to a construction company. The liquidator of the defunct National Social Housing Fund (Fonvis), Javier Elias Ayoroa, distributed $2 million to the construction company Cascarena after President Carlos Mesa issued a decree during the week of Feb. 14 releasing nearly $4.8 million. The retired miners are demanding the immediate return of their investments in the fund, which they paid into for over 22 years without ever receiving a land plot or a home, according to miners' leader Serafin Chambi. The ex-miners are also demanding the removal of the Fonvis liquidator, Ayoroa, whom they accuse of corruption. (El Diario, La Paz, Feb. 24)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 6

LAND CLASH IN COCHABAMBA

On Feb. 20, Bolivian police and local area residents attacked a group of 180 families, members of the Landless Movement (MST), who had established a squatter encampment in the zone of El Frutillar, near Tunari park. MST member Luis Quinaya was badly beaten in the confrontation and died on Feb. 21; his health had apparently been previously weakened by weather conditions at the encampment. Carlos Maldonado, local director of natural resources and environment, admitted there was a confrontation, but said the only two people injured in the clash were area residents, not squatters. MST leaders Johnny Tapurata and Hilda Viscarra said the residents who confronted the squatters pretend to be environmentalists interested in reforesting the area, but are actually trying to sell plots of land there. (Los Tiempos de Cochabamba, Feb. 23)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 27

INDIGENOUS LEGAL OFFICE RAIDED IN AMAZON

On Jan. 5, some 30 people led by Arturo Vidal Tobias of the Agroforest Association of Riberalta (ASAGRI) forcibly entered the offices of the Center of Legal Studies and Social Research (CEJIS) in Riberalta, Beni department, which supports indigenous communities in the northern Amazon region of Bolivia. The assailants threatened the CEJIS staff with death, looted and destroyed office equipment and burned documents concerning land disputes. As they left, they told a CEJIS staff member that he must leave Riberalta within 48 hours, and if they saw him there after that they would set him on fire. The same day, deputy mayor Lucio Mendez Camargo of Vaca Diez province urged CEJIS to close its offices until Jan. 13, when a national government commission was to arrive to supposedly resolve a land conflict between the Miraflores indigenous community and the Yarari-Tirina brothers, who are fighting eviction from the territory owned by Miraflores. On Jan. 8, ASAGRI circulated a public statement signed by Arturo Vidal, justifying the raid against CEJIS and accusing organizations which support the Amazon indigenous communities of "pitting them against their campesino and indigenous brothers." (Centro de Estudios Juridicos e Investigacion Social, Jan. 6, via Equipo Nizkor)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 23


EX-PREZ CHARGED WITH GENOCIDE

On Feb. 21, the Bolivian attorney general's office formally charged ex-president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada with genocide. Sanchez de Lozada and his cabinet are facing trial for responsibility in the October 2003 killing of at least 60 people, carried out by military and police forces seeking to crush a popular rebellion against his government in the cities of El Alto and La Paz. Prosecutor Pedro Gareca brought the formal charges against Sanchez de Lozada in the city of Sucre. Also accused of genocide are Sanchez de Lozada's defense minister, Carlos Sanchez Berzain, and interior minister, Yerko Kukoc. Another 13 of Sanchez de Lozada's cabinet ministers are charged with "complicity." The rebellion forced Sanchez de Lozada to resign on Oct. 17, 2003, and flee to the US, where he remains. (AFP, Feb. 21))

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 27

See also WW4 REPORT #93

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Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, March. 7, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution

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