Bolivia: President told: “Resign or die”

"ON FEBRUARY 12th, incredulous but enthralled, Bolivians watched live broadcasts of the army and the police turning their guns on each other. What ensued was perhaps the worst period of civil disorder the country has seen since its ’popular revolution’ of 1952." (The Economist, 22 February)

Supported by the working-class of the capital, La Paz, police and demonstrators marched to the presidential palace to be met with a hail of gunfire from army personnel loyal to the President. A dozen government buildings were then looted and torched,

After 24 hours of mayhem, with rooftop snipers shooting unarmed civilians, 33 people were dead and over 100 injured.

The following day a trade union organised demo of over 5,000 teachers, farmers and workers marched again to the Presidential palace. After hurling abuse outside the US embassy they told the Bolivian president to "resign or die"!

The US-backed President, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, fearing renewed civil upheavals has reshuffled the government’s cabinet, ousting the most despised ministers.

Amidst cheering crowds the police only went back to work after the government conceded a hefty pay rise. The government also agreed to withdraw its budget proposals which included raising income tax – the source of the uprising.

But in order to ’square the circle’ with the International Monetary Fund (the country’s main creditor which is demanding austerity measures to reduce government spending to plug a $240 million deficit), the President has abolished one-third of the country’s ministries!

This measure may buy some time for the beleaguered Sanchez de Lozada but trade unionists and small farmers remain angry at their falling living standards. Unemploy-ment is officially 12% of the workforce and 60% of Bolivians live on or below the poverty line – many existing on only $2 a day.

Many of the country’s small farmers, who for the lack of a viable economic alternative grow coca – used to make cocaine – are fuming at the US attempts to eradicate their crop.

Evo Morales the leader of the coca workers’ union and the country’s Movement to Socialism parliamentary opposition, is campaigning against the Free Trade Area of the Americas and the export of natural gas via Chile to the US.

Bolivia has joined the ever growing list of Latin American countries wrecked by the capitalist policies of privatisation, austerity measures, and ’free market’ economics.

But as the mass movements in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, etc show, working-class opposition to capitalism is growing.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, CWI in England and Wales.

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March 2003