Bolivia: class showdown postponed

Bolivia is in a deep political and social crisis. The mass of the impoverished indigenous people who make up 70% of the population are demanding an end to the old political order and the establishment of their basic rights. They are standing up to a ruling class that allows the plunder of the country’s hydrocarbon reserves; that excludes the mass of the people from any significant political process, and which is completely in hock to imperialism. ROBERT CLOUGH reports.

The challenge has been led by a plethora of social movements: FEJUVE, which organises in the neighbourhoods of El Alto, the poorest city in Bolivia; indigenous organisations such as the CSUTCB led by Felipe Quispe, organisations involved in the campaign against privatisation, and the trade union federation COB. These movements have established a Unity Pact demanding the nationalisation of all hydrocarbon reserves, the establishment of a Constituent Assembly, and the prosecution of former President de Lozada for the deaths of 69 protestors in the October 2003 Gas War.

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Bolivia: on the march against imperialism

The Bolivian people are on the march again: in their hundreds of thousands they have once more taken on imperialism and the oil and gas multinationals which are plundering their natural resources. The showdown with President Mesa that was postponed in mid-March is now imminent, and the Bolivian ruling class is in turmoil. ROBERT CLOUGH reports.

FRFI 184 reported on the nationwide demonstrations and blockades that had taken place throughout January and February in support of the demand for the nationalisation of oil and gas resources. These had been suspended when Evo Morales, leader of the Movement towards Socialism (MAS), forced the Unity Pact (which includes many of the trades unions and indigenous movements) to back down in the face of a threat by President Mesa to resign, and to accept a decision by the Chamber of Deputies to tighten the Hydrocarbon Bill that Mesa had presented it in 2004. The Bill added a 32% tax to the 18% royalty payment that gas and oil companies had had to pay since 1997, and required the re-negotiation of 72 contracts with 12 oil and gas multinationals to ensure the law was respected. However, Morales’ decision was not a popular one, and as the bill approached the end of a tortuous journey through the Bolivian parliament, so the organisations that represent the poorest Bolivians started to plan mobilisations in favour of full nationalisation.

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Bolivian working class on the march

Cochabamba! Water War in Bolivia, Oscar Olivera, South End Press 2004, ISBN 0-89608-702-6, £10.99

Patterns of protest: politics and social movements in Bolivia, John Crabtree, Latin America Bureau 2005, ISBN 1-899365-71-0, £7.99

The key task facing the Bolivian people is the completion of the national-democratic revolution in conditions where the ruling class – a tiny minority – has taken the country’s resources and handed them over to imperialism, and where the political institutions of the state have become the private clubs of these robbers. The questions that follow are: what are the key demands that express their class interests most clearly, and around which they can unite other social strata? And how will the working class and oppressed exercise their leadership in this process?

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Battle for Bolivia

On 6 June, President Mesa was finally obliged to submit his resignation following massive and escalating protests by the Bolivian working class and peasantry. That day, some 400,000 people had participated in a cabildo (open assembly) in the centre of the capital La Paz. Their demands, for nationalisation of the country’s hydrocarbon (gas and oil) reserves and the formation of a transitional government representing workers, peasants and sections of the middle class, were a complete rejection of imperialism and of a local ruling class which had sold their country’s wealth to foreign multinationals. ROBERT CLOUGH reports.

The latest round of mobilisations started in the middle of May (see FRFI 185) when Congress approved a hydrocarbon law which fell far short of nationalisation. From 23 May, FEJUVE, the neighbourhood alliance from El Alto, led a general strike within the city in collaboration with the El Alto Regional Workers’ Confederation (COR), and, along with other working class and peasant organisations, placed the neighbouring La Paz under blockade. Daily demonstrations within La Paz attracted tens of thousands of supporters. Travel to and from neighbouring Peru and Chile was cut off. Elsewhere, demonstrations took place in Cochabamba, whilst the Potosi Departmental Workers’ Confederation called for an indefinite general strike to start on 2 June. In Santa Cruz, centre of the gas and agribusiness cartels, a 48-hour strike of bus workers took place, and a march of indigenous people was attacked by the fascist Cruzista Youth Union. Others, such as Oscar Olivera, leader of the Gas Coalition and Felipe Quispe, leader of the indigenous confederation CSUTCB, supported the El Alto general strike call. On 24 May, MAS leader Evo Morales was shouted down for not supporting the call for nationalisation. A truce took place on Thursday 26 May in observance of the Corpus Christi religious holiday, but Morales’ call for it to be extended to 31 May was ignored. The next day demonstrators were back in force.

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Bolivia: imperialist alarm grows

Bolivia is the poorest country in South America. GDP per capita has fallen over the last 25 years as imperialism has stripped the country of its wealth. Two-thirds of the population live in absolute poverty. Now they are demanding a fundamental change in their conditions, and the new president Evo Morales, elected on a landslide in December 2005, has promised to deliver this. How has he fared in the two months since his inauguration?

Morales’ government reflects the contradictory pressures he faces. On the one hand, it includes a number of representatives from the anti-imperialist movements, such as Santiago Galvez, a trade unionist who is Minister of Labour, Abel Mamani, the FEJUVE leader from El Alto, who is Minister of Water, Casimira Rodriguez, leader of the Union of Women Cleaners, who has become Minister of Justice and Andres Soliz Rada, Minister of Hydrocarbons, who had opposed the earlier MAS policy which fell short of a call for nationalisation. On the other there are Salvador Ric Riera, a last-minute financial contributor to Morales’ campaign and a Santa Cruz businessman who is Minister of Public Services, Defence Minister Walker Rodriguez, a former director of Lloyd Bolivia Airline, who has been accused of covering up the illegal privatisation of the former state airline, and Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, a close collaborator of former President Jaime Paz Zamora who led Bolivia down the neo-liberal path in the 1980s.

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