BOLIVIA: THE OPPOSITION STRIKES BACK

from Weekly News Update on the Americas:

The Bolivian government of President Evo Morales Ayma met on Nov. 25 with right-wing opposition forces to try to resolve a political crisis that came to a head when the rightwing Democratic and Social Power (Podemos) party withdrew its 13 members from the 27-seat Senate on Nov. 22, leaving the body without a quorum to act. The lone senator from the right-wing National Unity party also withdrew. Podemos also pulled its members out of the Chamber of Deputies, but the party's representation there was too small to affect the quorum.

The opposition is upset over three main issues: the voting rules of the Constituent Assembly, which is writing a new constitution for Bolivia; changes to the agrarian law that will allow the redistribution of idle farmland to landless campesinos; and the Morales administration's efforts to exert control over departmental government finances and to retain the power to remove governors who are deemed incompetent or corrupt. The ruling Movement to Socialism (MAS), which has a simple majority in the Constituent Assembly, voted on Nov. 17 to allow approval of new constitutional clauses with a simple majority, instead of a two-thirds vote.

The governors of six of Bolivia's nine departments—Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, Pando and La Paz—broke off relations with the Morales administration on Nov. 18 over the Constituent Assembly voting rules and the departmental control issue. The departmental governors were elected by popular vote for the first time last December; in the past they were appointed by the president.

Morales, before setting off on a working trip to the Netherlands, urged the right-wing sectors to dialogue "without conditions and impositions." "We are from a culture of dialogue, and we'll always be open to it, but there can't be dialogue to constitutionalize the country's latifundio," said Morales, referring to wealthy people who own large tracts of land.

Some 100 members of National Unity, the party headed by cement magnate Samuel Doria Medina, have been holding hunger strike pickets against the government since Nov. 16. The pickets began in Sucre, where the Constituent Assembly is meeting, and spread to La Paz, Santa Cruz, Cochabamba and Potosi. They were joined on Nov. 24 by 15 women from the Santa Cruz Civic Committee and 30 members of the Departmental Workers Central labor federation. On Nov. 24, students in Santa Cruz threw rocks at Morales' vehicle. (La Jornada, Mexico, Nov. 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26; Adital, Nov. 23; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Nov. 20, 21, 22 from AP, Nov. 25 from EFE)

The Agricultural Chamber of the East (CAO), which represents powerful farmers in Santa Cruz, mobilized its forces in a 28-kilometer march from Warnes to the city of Santa Cruz on Nov. 21 to oppose the Morales government's land reform. La Jornada reported that about 5,000 people marched. According to AP, private television networks covering the march from helicopters calculated the turnout at 15,000, while the CAO estimated it was 100,000. (LJ, Nov. 22; ENH, Nov. 22 from AP)

Meanwhile, thousands of indigenous, campesino and settler groups are marching to La Paz in defense of the government's agrarian reform plan. Some 1,500 people started the march in Santa Cruz on Oct. 31; by Nov. 17 there were three columns of marchers from around the country, including campesinos from the north of La Paz department and indigenous people from Chuquisaca and Potosi. A fourth column joined the march on Nov. 21; the marchers now number some 3,000, according to La Jornada. The marchers are demanding that the Senate approve the new agrarian law, which was approved by the Chamber of Deputies on Nov. 15 and is now pending in the Senate. (La Epoca, Bolivia, Nov. 17; LJ, Nov. 17, 22; Adital, Nov. 23)

The first three columns of the march, due to reach the capital on Nov. 27, plan to push the issue there despite the Senate blockade: "If the senators don't want to work, we're going to demand their immediate resignation," they insist. (LJ, Nov. 26) "We have no choice; we're going to shut the Parliament," warned Anselmo Martinez, who is leading one of the columns of indigenous marchers from the Andean region. (ENH, Nov. 23 from AP) On Nov. 21, the Six Federations of the Chapare, a union alliance representing campesino growers in Cochabamba department, met with Morales and declared a "state of emergency" in their sector to defend his agrarian reform program against the opposition. (LJ, Nov. 22)

Senator Walter Guiteras of the Podemos party said negotiations with Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera over the agrarian reform law can only work if the issue is resolved quickly. Once the marchers reach La Paz, "the decisions will no longer be in the hands of the representatives of the political parties or in the groups that are marching, but rather in the regions, in the civic committees and the departments," Guiteras warned. (LJ, Nov. 26) Morales blasted opposition politicians for defending their own large landholdings, pointing out that Guiteras' family owns 49,051 hectares of land in Beni department, of which 2,911 hectares belong to Guiteras personally. (LJ, Nov. 24)

Oil contracts renegotiated

On Nov. 23, the Chamber of Deputies approved 44 contracts which the government signed last October with 10 transnational oil companies. The contracts were renegotiated following the May 1 nationalization of Bolivia's oil resources. The Chamber of Deputies sent the contracts to the Senate, where their review is now being held up by the Podemos boycott. (ENH, Nov. 23 from AP; LJ, Nov. 23, 24)

One of the 44 renegotiated contracts is with the Spanish-Argentine oil company YPF, which has finally settled a dispute with the Guarani indigenous tribe in Tarija department. In an agreement due to be signed on Dec. 12, the company pledged $13.5 million over the next 20 years for public works favoring the 4,000 Guarani people on whose land the company has been exploiting major gas reserves. The company will fund agricultural and livestock projects designed and implemented by the indigenous people, as well as programs to combat high dropout rates among indigenous students.

Guarani council member Teofilo Murillo told AP that the $13.5 million "doesn't compensate for the enormous damage to the environment" in the region surrounding the Margarita gasfield. "We were never consulted," said Murillo. "The company snuck in quietly, carried out the work and left enormous environmental and social damages." The Guarani people say the region's water sources have been polluted; they were seeking $25 million in compensation. The company claims that in the 10 years it has been operating in Tarija's Itika Guasu region, it has carried out a number of public works—but it declined to give specifics.

On Nov. 11, nearly a thousand Guarani people camped out in protest at the edge of the Margarita gasfield, and threatened to seize the company's facilities if Repsol didn't meet their demands. (ENH, Nov. 23 from AP)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 26

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Weekly News Update on the Americas
http://home.earthlink.net/~nicadlw/wnuhome.html

See also:

"Bolivia: Whither Nationalization?"
by Gretchen Gordon, Upside Down World
WW4 RPEORT #127, November 2006
http://ww4report.com/node/2712

WW4 REPORT #125, September 2006
http://ww4report.com/node/2419

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Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Dec. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution