A Decision to Make

Bolivia has a new President. This news comes at the end of a day in which the nation seemed to be heading towards extreme crisis. Under duress from social movements who declared that under no conditions would they accept the Presidency of Senate President Hormando Vaca Diez (first in line after Mesa), Congress had been unable to convene, dismissed itself at 6pm and declared a cuarto intermedio (break) of indeterminate length. The people of Bolivia were inflamed by their government’s continuing inefficacy and it was at approximately 9pm, as movement leaders were coming across the airwaves to talk about the mass mobilizations of tomorrow, that Vaca Diez finally gave in and announced that he would agree to resign. At 10:50pm, Congress convened in Sucre, the city to which the politicians had fled to escape the pressure of La Paz. Within minutes, Parliament approved Carlos Mesa’s resignation and Vaca Diez and the number two in line, Mario Cossio, both renounced their position as the new executive chief. At 11:47pm, Eduardo Rodriguez, President of the Supreme Court, was sworn in as the new President of Bolivia.

The people here now have a decision to make. Rodriguez is constitutionally obligated to call new elections for Presidency, which he has said he will set for the coming months. Over the past two weeks, as Mesa and Congress proved unresponsive to the people’s demands for nationalization and a Constitutional Assembly, protesters had begun demanding a new government. With this victory, the social movements must make a choice of how to proceed in the immediate future: postpone the fights for their main demands or continue the battle right now?

Donde Estamos? (Where Are We?)

After more than three weeks of conflict, Bolivia is in a very serious moment. The harsh repercussions of this movement are affecting everyone, especially those who already suffer the most on a daily basis in this impoverished nation. Food supplies in La Paz and El Alto are dwindling, particularly luxury items such as yogurt and cheese. More important for the average Bolivian, prices are rising on staples such as rice, bread, potatoes, eggs and meat. Some hospitals in the capital have declared a state of crisis, lacking gas for ambulances and other critical supplies for operation. The majority of workers in this region can earn no daily income on which to support their families because of the paros (strikes) and lack of transport. And this morning, Juan Carlos Coro, President of the Mineworkers Cooperative “27 de Marzo” from Potosi was shot and killed in a march that was trying to block Vaca-Diez from boarding his plane to Sucre.

In addition to these daily sacrifices, fear has been building. On Tuesday night, Mesa spoke to the nation and for the first time uttered the words “civil war.” Among people on the streets, this understanding of potential escalated violence has been alive for weeks. There is much talk of Black October – the infamous month in 2003 when poor and indigenous Bolivians rose up to topple the government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. Goni’s government used extreme repression in response, massacring 80 and wounding hundreds of others. Known now as the first phase of the “Gas War,” this period provokes a combination of pride and worry among Bolivians. Everyone wants to be able to feel that same sense of victory as in 2003, but no one wants to have to sacrifice so much blood again.

With each day it seemed Bolivia has been nearing this terrible reality. The drive and determination of the people seemed to be only getting stronger and as such the people angrier. With the death today, protesters’ normal disciplined restraint might not be assured. Mesa has not yet used military force against people marching or in blockades. But there is no guarantee that if faced with a collapsing capital city, he wouldn’t change his mind. Congress had for weeks been avoiding its duty to govern, leaving a vacuum of state power that was opening up a dangerous space in which rumors of a military coup were taking shape. Similarly troubling is that Washington has taken a heightened interest in Bolivian current events. With the memories from the US’s role during the 1980′s in Latin America burned on the minds of people across this continent, the possibility of US intervention here makes everyone very nervous.

A donde vamos? (Where are we headed?)

It is with all of this in their minds and hearts, that each group who has been part of this fight will make a decision about how to proceed. MAS will most likely accept this compromise because nationalization was never their true agenda and because new elections gives them an opportunity to increase their party’s political power. Given the top-down nature of this organization, their constituency will probably follow. The miners may return from Sucre ready to take the streets tomorrow because of the death of their compañero. Leaders in El Alto and the Altiplano will convene with their bases to decide. The decision will surely be difficult and the people most likely divided. These regions have been at the forefront of the fight – El Alto just finished Day 18 of their general strike – and as such, their people have taken the brunt of the pain and sacrifice. Many will not feel satisfied by this partial win and will believe that because of this sacrifice and momentum, the fight must continue uninterrupted. Others will want to postpone the battle for nationalization, needing a rest and feeling relieved to be offered an exit from a potentially violent next few weeks.

Despite which decisions are made about how to proceed in the immediate future, there is one point of clarity and agreement: la lucha continúa (“the struggle continues”). Whether the blockades lift and protests subside for now or La Paz is tomorrow flooded by marches, the people of Bolivia will in their own time maintain their struggle for the reclamation and national ownership of their natural energy resources. This, you can be sure of.

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