from Weekly News Update on the Americas
PROTESTS TOPPLE PREZ–AGAIN
Indigenous and campesino protests that had shaken Bolivia since May 16 continued on June 6 around demands for the nationalization of natural gas resources and the seating of a constitutional assembly. Nearly 100,000 people demonstrated in La Paz, gathering in San Francisco Plaza and spreading out even into wealthy neighborhoods. All the main cities were affected by demonstrations, and protesters set up 78 roadblocks around the country, cutting off transit to Chile and Peru and paralyzing some of the highways to Argentina and Paraguay. Campesinos occupied a branch of an oil pipeline, causing a suspension of pumping to Chile.
During the day President Carlos Mesa Gisbert fled the Palacio Quemado, the presidential residence in La Paz. He returned, but in the evening he announced his resignation. Mesa had offered his resignation on March 6, during previous protests, but Congress had refused it and the move was viewed as a political maneuver. This time there was little question the offer was for real. Elected vice president in 2002, Mesa became president on Oct. 17, 2003, when similar protests forced Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada to resign in what is now known as the “first gas war.”
Congressional leaders arranged to meet on June 9 to accept Mesa’s resignation and choose a replacement. The meeting was to be held in the country’s constitutional capital, Sucre, in order to avoid the protests in La Paz and the nearby, largely indigenous city of El Alto. Under the Constitution, the next in line would be the Senate president, followed by the president of the Chamber of Deputies and then the head of the Supreme Court of Justice. It was clear that Senate President Hormando Vaca Diez, a right-winger who represents business interests in Santa Cruz department, would not be acceptable to the protesters, nor would Chamber of Deputies President Mario Cossio. Deputy Evo Morales, a leader of the coca growers (cocaleros) and of the Movement to Socialism (MAS) party, pushed for Vaca Diez and Cossio to step aside in favor of Supreme Court head Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze, who would be mandated to call early elections. Polls taken before the current protests showed Morales as the leading presidential candidate.
While politicians maneuvered in preparation for Congress’s June 9 meeting in Sucre, the protesters kept up the pressure. In La Paz and El Alto unions and community groups organized a popular assembly on June 8, according to Bolivian Workers Central (COB) leader Jaime Solares, who said there were plans for provisioning committees to deal with shortages caused by the roadblocks, and for self-defense committees, because of “information that there might be a coup from the right at any moment.” A campesino group close to Morales occupied seven oilfields in Santa Cruz department belonging to the Spanish corporation Repsol and the British firm BP; the occupation cut off oil shipments to the Chilean port of Arica. Felipe Quispe, leader of the Aymara indigenous group, told a Peruvian radio program that he would welcome a “civil war” in Bolivia that would finally settle the question of who should rule the country.
The protests followed Congress to the usually quiet city of Sucre on June 9. Contingents of campesinos, students and miners marched through the Plaza 25 de Mayo, setting off sticks of dynamite, while Vaca Diez tried to build support for his presidential bid in meetings near Yotala, a community 30 km from Sucre. In the afternoon a confrontation developed between police agents and the miners. Juan Coro Mayta, president of the March 27 Miners Cooperative, was killed by a bullet to the heart. When he learned of the protester’s death, Vaca Diez fled to the headquarters of the Sucre Battalion in the outlying El Tejar neighborhood and demanded military protection.
Top generals in La Paz spoke to Vaca Diez by cellphone, telling him that their position was “at all costs to avoid a confrontation between brothers,” according to an unidentified high-ranking military officer. “And he was reminded that we’d said the voice of the people had to be listened to, the popular demands.” Vaca Diez then returned to Sucre and agreed to step aside, as did Cossio. Congress met in the evening and named Eduardo Rodriguez president. Rodriguez promised to hold early elections and scheduled meetings with leaders of various social sectors.
As of June 10 supplies were beginning to arrive in La Paz and El Alto as protesters suspended roadblocks. Mercedes Condori, a member of the executive committee of the El Alto Federation of Neighborhood Committees (FEJUVE), said an assembly of neighborhood leaders had decided to give Rodriguez 72 hours to satisfy their demands: gas nationalization, a trial of former president Sanchez de Lozada and the seating of a constitutional assembly.
On June 7, the day after Mesa announced his resignation, US assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs Roger Noriega told reporters at the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Florida: “The role of [Venezuelan] president [Hugo] Chavez in the events in Bolivia is obvious to the whole world. It’s really worrying.” Later in the day the US State Department attempted to back up Noriega’s statement with copies of news articles indicating that Evo Morales had expressed support for Chavez on various occasions. (La Jornada, Mexico, June 7 from AFP, DPA; June 8 from AFP, DPA, Reuters; June 9 from AFP, DPA, Reuters; June 10, 11/05 from correspondent)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 12
GROUPS DEMAND NATIONALIZATION
On June 18, representatives of about 70 neighborhood and community groups, unions, campesino groups and civic associations from the Bolivian departments of La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Oruro and Sucre met in the city of Cochabamba to map out a national strategy around key demands. The groups ended the meeting with an agreement to temporarily suspend street protests and road blockades while they present their demands to Congress and to new president Eduardo Rodriguez, who replaced Carlos Mesa Gisbert on June 9. On July 23 the groups are to meet again to discuss the progress made.
The primary demand of the social organizations is for nationalization of the country’s hydrocarbons (gas and oil) resources. They are demanding that the Bolivian state immediately recover ownership of these resources and that the state oil company, Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales de Bolivia (YPFB), take over all hydrocarbons production, industrialization and sales. They are also demanding that Congress revise the Hydrocarbons Law, taking out clauses that protect Bolivia’s current gas and oil contracts with transnational companies. In addition, they want a commission made up of government and social organization representatives to carry out a legal and technical audit of the transnational companies’ investments, to determine whether either the companies or the state require compensation.
The second main demand is for the immediate convening of a Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution. The groups also agreed to support demands for regional autonomy, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the state’s right to exploit natural resources or lead to the creation of a federal republic. In their final resolution, the organizations propose that a referendum on autonomy be carried out the same day as the election for the constituent assembly. (Resumen Latinoamericano 6/20/05 from La Haine]
Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 26
CONGRESS FAILS TO ACT
On July 1, after three days of debate, Bolivia’s Chamber of Deputies failed to approve a constitutional reform which would have allowed general elections in December. The vote was 50-54 against the reform; 105 votes–two thirds of the Chamber–were needed to approve it. The leftist Movement to Socialism (MAS) and right-wing New Republican Force (NFR) parties blocked the measure, demanding that a constituent assembly be convened before new general elections are set. The Only Union Confederation of Bolivian Campesino Workers (CSUTCB) and the Federation of Neighborhood Committees (FEJUVE) in El Alto have threatened to begin blocking roads on July 4; they are demanding that Congress be shut down and general elections be held. (AP, July 1; La Jornada, Mexico, July 2 from AFP, DPA)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 3
Weekly News Update on the Americas
See also WW4 REPORT #110
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, July 10, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution