by Weekly News Update on the Americas

On Oct. 18, thousands of Bolivian campesinos, miners and indigenous people
from Cochabamba, Potosi, Oruro and La Paz departments converged in the
capital to press for a new Hydrocarbons Law which will return oil and gas
resources to state hands. Abolition of the existing Hydrocarbons Law was
mandated by a July 18 referendum. The marchers were also marking the
anniversary of the ouster of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada on Oct.
17, 2004, and paying homage to the dozens of protesters killed by police
and army troops during the uprising against gas exports which forced his

When the mobilization was called, a key demand was for a trial of Sanchez
and his ousted cabinet ministers. (Los Tiempos de Cochabamba, Oct. 19) But
early on Oct. 14, after hours of debate, Bolivia’s Congress voted 126-13 to
try Sanchez and his 15 cabinet ministers on charges including genocide,
murder, actions against the Constitution and human rights violations. (AP,
Oct. 14)

Some 5,000 campesinos from Los Yungas region of La Paz department, headed
by campesino leader Felipe Quispe Huanca, were among the first to arrive on
Oct. 18 in La Paz city, pushing a 72-point campesino platform and demanding
that the trial of ex-president Sanchez and his cabinet ministers be held
without delay. Another 5,000 campesinos, led by Movement to Socialism (MAS)
deputy and cocalero leader Evo Morales Ayma, arrived after a week-long
march from Caracollo, in Oruro department, to demand the full
nationalization of hydrocarbons, As many as 30,000 miners led by Moises
Torres marched into the center of La Paz from Senkata, near El Alto, where
government forces shot to death a number of protesters in last year’s
uprising. (Los Tiempos, Oct. 19)

The protesters remained in La Paz on Oct. 19, blocking main roads and
interrupting traffic between La Paz and El Alto. On Oct. 20, after police
prevented thousands of people from massing in Plaza Murillo, in front of
Congress, the protesters began vigils along the adjoining streets,
demanding passage of the Hydrocarbons Law proposed by the legislature’s
economic development commission. (Los Tiempos; El Diario, La Paz, Oct. 21)

Later on Oct. 20, the government signed an agreement with Florencio Coca,
leader of the cooperative mine workers, settling a key demand: reactivation
of the country’s mining sector. The miners agreed to end their blockades
after the government transferred $3 million to the Mining Investment Fund
(FOMIN) and pledged another $4 million in machinery and equipment,
supported by financing from Spain. The two sides are to continue
negotiations over pending issues. (Los Tiempos, Oct. 21)

Just after 10 PM on Oct. 20, the Chamber of Deputies provisionally approved
the Hydrocarbons Law by unanimous vote, after deputies from Quispe’s
Pachakuti Indigenous Movement (MIP) and several from the parliamentary bloc
of the oil-rich southern department of Tarija walked out of the session. In
its current form, the bill would require oil and gas companies to
renegotiate existing contracts under new terms more favorable to Bolivia.
After approving the bill, the deputies exited the Congress building and
sang the national anthem with campesino vigilers.

Congress will begin debating each of the bill’s 142 articles during the
week of Oct. 25; the process is expected to take as long as three weeks,
and the bill could be substantially modified. The administration of
President Carlos Mesa Gisbert, which failed to win approval of an earlier,
more investor-friendly version of the bill, refrained from publicly
criticizing the new version, saying only that "now the responsibility is in
the hands of the Parliament." (Los Tiempos, Oct. 22)


On Sept. 30, Bolivian president Carlos Mesa addressed some 1,000 top US and
Latin American government officials, business figures and academics at the
Biltmore Hotel in Miami on the first day of the two-day Americas
Conference, sponsored by the Miami Herald. Mesa apparently spent most of
his 45-minute speech reassuring the elite audience about the meaning of a
July 18 referendum on the ownership and export of Bolivia’s gas resources.
The vote "showed the world Bolivia can do it without violence," said Mesa.
"We [now] have a degree of peace in a society that is permanently
undergoing a convulsion."

The most important thing about the referendum, Mesa told the Miami crowd,
was that it cleared the way for exporting Bolivian gas: "Question number
five [of the referendum] categorically responded yes to the export of
Bolivian gas," he said.

In fact, only 47.4% of voters who participated in the referendum responded
"yes" to question five, compared to 25.2% who voted "no"–even though the
question was carefully phrased to imply that gas exports would bring
increased revenue for social programs. By contrast, 72% of voters approved
question two, which proposed nationalization of the gas, compared to 6.2%
who voted "no." Mesa bragged in Miami that the referendum had one of the
highest voter participation rates in Bolivia’s history. Voting was
mandatory, and overall abstention on the referendum was 40%.

Mesa admitted in Miami that World Bank and International Monetary Fund
(IMF) experts helped him write a proposal for a new hydrocarbons law.
Congress rejected that proposal in August and is now considering a very
different version. (Miami Herald, Sept. 30;, Oct. 1)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 24

See also WW3 REPORT #102


Forwarded by WORLD WAR 3 REPORT, Nov. 6, 2004
Reprinting permissible with attribution