Bolivia: Leaders of the mass movement falter

At the beginning of May, indigenous Guarani people began blockading the gas transport systems of multinational companies in the Chaco region to demand the abolition of the 1996 law that sold off Bolivian gas reserves. While a tiny comprador bourgeoisie have been selling off the national water and gas reserves to imperialist multinationals, the vast mass of the working class and peasantry have been impoverished. Bolivia is South America’s poorest country but it also has the largest natural gas reserves after Venezuela and the masses are determined that they are not going to be robbed by the Bolivian elite and the imperialists.

Mass anger erupted into insurrection last October and forced President Sanchez de Lozada from office, to be replaced by the current President Carlos Mesa who made all manner of promises to the people. However, Bolivian capitalism is in such a deep crisis that it has no reserves to make concessions to the people with and so his promises were worthless. Now the privatisation and sale of the gas and other resources must go ahead in order for the system to survive. Not even the most minimal demands of the poor are now possible within the system; it is either unrestricted neo-liberalism or revolution.

On 21 April Mesa signed an agreement under which Bolivian natural gas will be exported to Argentina at 98 US cents per thousand cubic feet over a period of six months, yielding $170 million to the multinationals and only $25 million to the Bolivian state.

Unfortunately, at this important point the leadership of the mass movements has faltered. On 8 April a National Enlarged Meeting of the Bolivian Workers’ Union took place in the mining town of Huanuni with the support of the peasants’ unions and issued a call for an indefinite general strike beginning on 2 May. On 15 April mass mobilisations were mounted all over the country to prepare for the strike. There followed a student demonstration for increased university funding and a strike by transport workers and small shopkeepers against fuel price increases and new taxes.

At this point the Roman Catholic Church, human rights organisations and the leadership of the Movement Towards Socialism, previously strongly involved in the popular movement, began warning that things were going too far too fast. To frighten the masses they raised the spectre of a military coup if the social movement tried to force Carlos Mesa’s government from power. By the time 2 May came the general strike gathered only limited support.

However objective conditions make a decisive clash between the bourgeoisie and imperialism on one side and the working class and peasantry on the other inevitable. The masses will not forget the lessons that have been learned from more than four years of struggle utilising every tactic from strikes to road blockades.

Ed Scrivens


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