Last October, Bolivians ousted Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada from the presidency. Many issues led to his ouster, but perhaps the most important one was the issue of exporting oil to Chile There was also the attempt to privatize the water supply in
The issue of “the exportation of gas” has once again reared its head and could possibly threaten the presidency of Carlos D. Mesa. The threat increases as other issues converge to make the threat real. These are (not necessarily in the order of importance):
1. The exportation of gas, this time to
But more than the issue of exportation is the issue of whether
2. Last week, the Constitutional Tribunal (functional equivalent of your Supreme Court) ruled that military officers involved in the “febrero negro” massacre (Black February) can be tried in civilian courts. Immediately, the military high command opposed this decision and made public their position. ( The military said this decision threatens democratic institutions. Yes, I know this sounds really off the wall but they said it. Last Saturday in the capital
Yesterday, the Constitutional Tribunal reaffirmed its decision.
3. Last week, the Senate also approved a bill granting immunity to US soldiers for whatever offense they may commit in this country. The measure passed the Senate without debate and only took all of 10 minutes.
4. Carlos D. Mesa also signed Decreto Supremo 27457 (I hesitate to translate this as Supreme Decree, it sounds more like Presidential Decree) which would effectively transfer responsibility for education, health and road maintenance to the prefectures.
Generally, decentralization is a fine thing. But according to my interviewee, a leader of the teachers’ union in
5. The land issue. Land reform legislations exist but they are not being implemented, especially in the western part of the country. Not surprisingly the Movimiento Sin Tierra or the Movement of the Landless has been engaging in land occupations, the most recent being in the department of
6. The government’s position on the marketing of coca leaves is that it is legal only in the traditional markets. This makes it legal in just a few places. The cocaleros insist that there are more traditional markets than the government recognizes. De facto, coca leaves are being sold in these unrecognized legal markets.
7. Students want an increase in the education budgets of their universities. As it is the budgets in specific universities are woefully inadequate. Some universities have been closed down by students.
8. Many other issues, about which I do not yet have enough knowledge. Miners, workers, etc.
One would think that the different groups in Bolivian civil society would coalesce and make their demands more forceful. This may yet happen. But as of this writing this is still not the case. But some groups have taken on multiple issues as their cause.
The Central Obrera Boliviana (COB), and its regional ally Central Obrera Regional de El Alto (COR): This is the group that really delivered the knockout punch to Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada last October. El Alto is very near
I was in
During the end of march rally, the spokesperson of COR asked the crowd what should be done with the petroleum industry. The predictable answer was “Nacionalizar.” This question has reference to the coming referendum on the issue of “gas exportation.” Many Bolivians fear that the referendum will not ask this very important question. But merely ask whether they approve of the way Carlos Mesa is managing the “gas issue.” In fact, a sample question made public indicated that this was going to be one of the several questions asked in the July 18 referendum.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions about this coming referendum. There is opposition from parts of the Senate and from some departments (e.g.
A couple of political parties (by definition not part of civil society) have sided with civil society groups on certain issues. Movimiento Izquierda Revolucionario (MIR) which has a couple of representatives in the Senate favors the nationalization of the industry. Surprisingly, Evo Morales who heads the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) has not made public the MAS position though he and four others leaders of the party had a private meeting with the president.
(Political parties here have impressive names but do not live up to the meaning of the names of their parties. Just a lot of empty phrase-mongering like
The different civil society groups employ a variety of tactics which include road blockades (very popular), hunger strikes, demonstrations, marches but still dialogue with the government. Personally, I found the a tactic employed by the teachers called “bloqueo de mil esquinas” (blockade of a thousand corners) truly interesting. It reminded me of the “manifestaciones de tormentas” or the lightning demonstrations of the martial law years in the
The difference here is that the teachers block intersections, air the issues while the traffic is at a standstill, and they don’t melt into the crowd. They move to another intersection and do the whole thing all over again. Imagine, groups of teachers in
Chibu Lagman teaches sociology and Latin American Studies at