Bolivia: battleground against imperialism

FRFI 177 February / March 2004

Millionaire Carlos Mesa has been President of Bolivia for three months, during which time he has broken every promise that he made in his first few days of office following the huge popular uprising in September/October that overthrew the Sanchez de Lozada administration. Mesa swiftly abandoned his declaration that he would call elections rapidly and he has since vowed to stay in post until 2007. The mass movements of Bolivia’s poor and disenfranchised, the majority of the population, did not take long to recognise Mesa’s administration as a continuation of the preceding neoliberal governments they fought so long and hard. A split has occurred, however, in the movement concerning how to eradicate and reverse the neoliberal policies that have afflicted and impoverished most Bolivians since 1985.

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Bolivia: Working class prepares for indefinite strike

FRFI 178 April / May 2004

Five months into Carlos Mesa’s presidency the patience of Bolivia’s poor majority is wearing thin. Mesa’s slight reforms to address the demands of the different social sectors that overthrew the administration of Sánchez de Lozada last October have failed. Since February there have been several strikes: of transport workers, medical professionals, teachers and students, with support from the national workers’ union, the Bolivian Labour Central (COB). The COB mobilised thousands to march through La Paz on 17 and 25 March demanding increased salaries, the renationalisation of gas and oil, compliance with the promises given in October and rejection of the neo-liberal economic model. The COB will hold a broad ‘emergency’ meeting in the radical mining town of Huanuni on 7 April to prepare for an indefinite national strike if Mesa fails to initiate a dialogue between his cabinet ministers and the COB. The Coordination for the Defence of Gas is calling a national meeting in Cochabamba on 2 April to propose plans for popular action.

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Bolivia: Leaders of the mass movement falter / FRFI 179 June / July 2004

FRFI 179 June / July 2004

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

Bolivians declare ‘nationalisation or death’

On 18 July, the Bolivia people were obliged under threat of fines or imprisonment to vote in a referendum on the sale and export of their country’s valuable hydrocarbon resources, worth more than $100 billion. It took place nine months after Bolivia’s ‘Gas War’ of October 2003, a massive popular uprising, forced millionaire president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada to flee the country. However, his unelected successor, Carlos Mesa, made sure that the popular demand for the nationalisation of these resources was not included amongst the five questions in the referendum. Despite the heavily government-funded media campaign, 60% of the 5.1 million eligible to vote in South America’s poorest country defied their government once again in a boycott of what they termed the ‘tramparendum’ (trampa means ‘trap’).

The national unions of the workers and peasants (COB and CSUTCB) led by Jaime Solares and Felipe Quispe respectively, and supported by the Co-ordination for the Defence of Gas and the Neighbourhood Association of El Alto (FEJUVE) campaigned for a boycott of the referendum. There were protests all over the country; signatures were collected for the Popular Referendum demanding the nationalisation of the gas; and placards hung near voting tables declaring ‘nationalisation or death’. In the end,

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Bolivian people on the march

The struggle of the impoverished Bolivian people for control of their lives and resources continues.

On 23 September, tens of thousands commemorated the first eight men, women and children murdered by heavily armed state forces in the Gas War last September/October. The mass uprising was so named because nationalisation of Bolivia’s natural gas, its most lucrative and sizable resource, was central to the people’s demands. No one responsible for the murder of 63 civilians during the three weeks’ uprising has been brought to justice. Ousted millionaire president Sánchez de Lozada resides alongside other Latin American terrorists in the safety of Miami. Other demands of the uprising included

  • An end to neoliberal policies, especially cuts in state welfare and privatisations
  • No free trade agreements with the US
  • An end to forced coca eradication
  • Land reform

Following the Referendum on Gas in July which 60% of the voting population boycotted, President Carlos Mesa has been drawing up a new Law of Hydrocarbons. Repsol, the Spanish oil company that owns 23% of Bolivia’s natural gas reserves, was confident that the new law would not affect its interests. However, as a precaution, it threatened Bolivia’s Congress with sanctions if it did not toe the line. The company also joined Petrobras (Brazilian), British Petroleum, TotalFinaElf, Enron-Shell and British Gas in ensuring the law did not change their existing contracts or increase their taxation. Congress’s Mixed Commission of Economic Development warned that Mesa’s proposed new law will lose the Bolivian state $US 130 million per year.

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