Bolivia: break between Evo, labor federation?

After more than  two weeks of tension, with a general strike by public-sector workers, roadblocks and episodes of violence, the Bolivian Workers’ Central (COB) and the government of Evo Morales reached an accord May 21. Conflict around the strike, which began May 5, left at least 30 injured and more than 100 detained. COB demanded that the government double pensions, which currently range from $21 to $28 a month. COB called for reform of a pension law passed just three years ago, bringing pensions to the same level as monthly salaries, at least in the state mining sector. The government is now offering an 81% hike. The strike mostly affected the state-owned Huanuni tin mine in Oruro department—the country’s largest, accounting for half the country’s tin production—costing the government some $8 million. Mining is Bolivia’s second foreign currency earner after natural gas. Silver is its largest metals export, followed by zinc and tin. (Mining Weekly, May 27; InfoBAE, May 22; APReuters, May 17 May 16) 

Bolivia’s Vice President Alvaro GarcĂ­a Linera was aggressively critical of the strike, accusing it of being instrumented by “Trotskyist leaders” and a “salaried aristocracy” within the COB and affiliated Sindical Federation of Bolivian Mine Workers (FSTMB)—who he further charged were “knocking on the doors of barracks for a coup d’etat” against the government. He called for Bolivians to “defeat the golpistas in the streets.” Ironically, Bolivia’s Trotskyist political formation, the Revolutionary Workers Party (POR), denounces the COB as pro-government traitors to the workers’ struggle. (BolPress, June 3; Telam, May 20)

At the request of the COB, the strike won some solidarity from Bolivia’s indigenous organizations. FĂ©lix Becerra, the jiliri apu mallku (an Aymara honorific) of the National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu (CONAMAQ), declared his support for the strike, and called for a “true porcess of change.” He charged that the Evo Morales government is seeking “a process of change only in name.” (Erbol, May 16)