As Cochabamba prepares for the Second Summit of the Community of South American Nations on December 8 and 9, the debate over the how to draft the Bolivia’s new constitution has become increasingly polarized and dramatic. Whether the assembly will approve the text of the constitution using a two-thirds or simple majority vote has led to heightened regional and political tensions and escalating violence from both sides. Protestors have attacked hunger strikers, human rights workers, television stations and government officials. The Movement Towards Socialism, the majority party, wants the Assembly to proceed, while the opposition parties demand that each article of the new constitution be approved by a two thirds vote. Ironically, opposition parties and MAS passed the law convoking the Assembly without clarifying specific voting procedures. This issue has become the rallying cry for mounting protests, which have their roots in a myriad of political, regional and economic differences.
Although some U.S. officials have expressed concern that the Morales government has "demonstrated inclinations to consolidate executive power and promote potentially anti-democratic reforms through the Constituent Assembly and other means," [i] the structure and organization of the assembly has consistently followed the stipulations of Bolivian law and the organizing precepts of Bolivian representative democracy. Since 2004 Bolivian presidents and legislatures have approved a legal framework and timeline for the assembly, in compliance with the stipulations of the country’s existing constitution. The law convoking the assembly, approved by the Bolivian legislature in March 2006, bases the election of delegates on the established democratic electoral system, allowing political parties, established citizens’ and indigenous groups to run.
In June 2005, two weeks of massive street protests and widespread blockades in Bolivia culminated in the resignation of President Carlos Mesa and a subsequent power vacuum in the country. U.S. officials suggested that Bolivian coca leader and Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party head, Evo Morales, manipulated popular protests within the country. Washington has also asserted that the governments of Cuba and Venezuela provoked and funded the social unrest. Accusations put forth by Bush administration officials represent both a misreading of the complex Bolivian political crisis and the latest incarnation of an unsuccessful long-term strategy to prevent a Morales presidency, which U.S. officials claim would be a destabilizing force in the region. As public statements once again failed to impede popular support for Morales, the U.S. has likely resorted to behind the scenes attempts to affect Bolivian politics, or to influence the viability of a Morales presidency if elected. In the context of a potentially volatile political climate, U.S. attempts to thwart a Morales presidency threaten to produce exactly the prolonged political instability they purportedly are seeking to avoid.
The road to Bolivian elections, scheduled for December fourth, is becoming increasingly fraught with obstacles. With Carlos Mesa’s resignation and the inauguration of Supreme Court head, Eduardo Rodriguez, as interim president last June, a hard fought political agreement was reached to move up national elections, originally to take place in 2007. That journey, however, recently hit a large roadblock as a new Bolivian Constitutional Court ruling threatens to delay elections. Rodriguez has warned he will resign if elections do not take place as planned, stating that his sole mandate is to insure a democratic electoral transition. A resignation only four months after his inauguration, and the resulting uncertainty would inevitably pitch the nation once again into political chaos.
President Mesa Resigns:
Bolivia’s Future Uncertain, Chaos Continues
Prepared by the Andean Information Network
June 6, 2005
Over three weeks of grueling social conflict in La Paz, the extension of road blockades and strikes throughout the nation provoked increasing criticism of the executive’s incapacity to meet growing, and at times conflicting demands from diverse sectors. In response, President Mesa resigned on June 6 during a speech to the nation. Mesa said that he had done his best and asked for forgiveness if he shared responsibility for the profound political crisis that grips the nation. He begged the Bolivian public to engage in dialogue to resolve the conflict. According to the Bolivian constitution, the nation’s congress must meet and accept the resignation. Although the Evo Morales’s MAS party and other social sectors had asked that Mesa step down, resignation was not a key demand of any group. As a result, it provides no solution to the profound political and institutional crisis that grips South America’s poorest nation. With no clear successor with sufficient popular support to legitimately enact policy, Bolivia’s future has become increasing uncertain.
On May 6, President Carlos Mesa caught Bolivia off-guard. He announced that as a result of continual protests and growing blockades, he was no longer willing to, "govern based on the crazy things different sectors demand," and planned to submit his resignation to Congress the next day. The unexpected announcement generated uncertainty throughout the nation that was paralyzed by 57different road blockades to obtain diverse and sometimes contradictory demands. Ironically, high levels of protest do not reflect inflexibility of the administration. Instead, the greater openness of the Mesa government, compared to its predecessors, heightened disenfranchised group’s hopes that there long-postponed needs might finally be met. At that time, strongest protests had been going on for six days in the Chapare coca-growing region and in El Alto. The resignation announcement represented an impromptu mini- referendum to generate public support for his administration, as well as a reaction to a genuinely untenable situation.
Sustaining that Bolivia is on a course toward "collective suicide," as a result of continued road blockades and a lack of congressional support for the fuel law, Bolivian president Carlos Mesa presented a proposal to the legislature and the nation to hold presidential elections and a Constitutional Assembly on August 28, 2005.
Nine days after President Mesa offered his resignation to the nation’s congress, the country remained blockaded and divided. In spite of an agreement signed by the traditional parties and Mesa, including the rapid approval of a new fuel bill that contains terms proposed by the administration, congress failed to approve the law. Social sectors demanding 50 percent oil royalties for Bolivia blocked the nation’s highways at over sixty different points. Although Mesa had promised the population that district attorneys would arrest blockaders to allow free transit without violent police or military intervention, the attorney general’s office refused to invoke the directive, stating that carrying out blockades and protests were not grounds for detention. In effect, after threatening to leave office in an attempt to forge consensus in the deeply divided Bolivian congress and society, Mesa felt that all sides in the conflict continued to impede his initiatives.
Click here to read the full text. http://ain-bolivia.org/2003popularprotest.pdf
Former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada is the fourth elected president in
Latin America to be forced from office as a result of popular outrage in just four years. His fall
from power in October should serve as a wake-up call to Washington, which has largely ignored
the crisis brewing in its own backyard. Across Latin America, polls show increasing frustration
with continued poverty and unemployment as economic growth, more often than not, has failed
to trickle down to the poor majorities, while privatizations have led to lay-offs and higher
prices. The socio-economic situation in poor countries like Bolivia is further exacerbated by
rigid U.S. drug control policies. U.S. inflexibility on meeting coca eradication targets has left
many rural Bolivian families without income, has generated social conflict and violence, and has
contributed to Sánchez de Lozada’s increasing lack of legitimacy. Ultimately, Sánchez de
Lozada was viewed as “out of touch with a poor and angry country.” His successor, Carlos D.
Mesa, inherits a delicate and potentially explosive situation. The U.S. government should not
repeat the mistakes it made during Sánchez de Lozada’s term.
Bolivia's conflicts regarding the proposal to export the nation's gas to the US through a Chilean port proved to be the spark that fueled a much larger fire of national discontent. Arising from the din of the Gas War were demands for clarity in coca eradication laws, rejection of the ALCA free trade agreement, rejection of harsh national security legislature and demands for better wages. After more than a month of what might have become a fierce civil war, which produced nearly eighty dead and five hundred wounded, the president resigned.
INCOME TAX SETS OFF POLICE REBELLION
On February 11, the Bolivian National Police force threw up its hands in
La Paz and decided to not leave its stations. Although the force had
been a traditional ally of the MNR ruling party, increasing strength of
the armed forces, at the expense of internal law enforcement and the
economic crisis had caused deep-rooted resentment. Police forces in
Cochabamba and Santa Cruz joined the strike on February 12. The “mutiny”
is in response to the Sánchez de Lozada government’s announcement of a new
tax of approximately 12.5% to be deducted from all salaried employees who
received more than four times the minimum wage. The tax is in addition to
a pre-existing “added value” tax of 12.5%, which would be slightly
reduced. The salary deductions (including pension funds) of the average
Bolivian would increase to over 30%. As one citizen lamented, “We would
have to earn a living wage, before we could pay taxes on it.”