Bolivia: From water war to gas war

Big business sabotage industry

In recent weeks, there have been problems with the gas supply in Bolivia. In cities like Cochabamba, Oruro, El Alto, and La Paz, people stood in long lines waiting for hours until gas arrives and often it simply never does. As always, when something goes wrong, there are many justifications from the authorities. Government authorities say, “That there is not a shortage of gas and that supplies are normal in every city of the country.” But working people who need gas this explanation makes no sense.

There are other reasons for the gas shortages. These include heavy rains, which obstructed transportation routes for gas trucks; gas being sold illegally to Peru, where gas is much more expensive; the excessive use of small tanks of gas to fill public transportation vehicles; and speculation and hoarding by unscrupulous businesspeople.

All of the above are reasons for the gas supply problems, but they do not get to the root of the problem, which has to do with destabilization attempts by right wing opposition forces against Evo Morales government. The opposition consists of Bolivian big business and transnational corporations, who continue to control the production and distribution of gas in the country. These people oppose Bolivia’s Morales government and want to continue with the unfettered plundering of Bolivia’s resources, which was permitted by former governments.

For complete nationalization of the hydrocarbon industry

Despite all the talk about the nationalization of the hydrocarbons in Bolivia, the transnational oil companies continue to have a monopoly over the industry, including the exploration and exploitation of oil fields.

Practically the entire productive chain continues to be held in foreign hands; Repsol in Spain and Petrobras in Brazil, in particular. There is little progress towards ensuring the Bolivia state hydrocarbons company, YPFB, controls 51% of the petroleum sector (as was guaranteed by Morales’ 1 May “nationalization” policy outlined last year). Given this situation, despite some cosmetic changes concerning the gas industry, the plundering of Bolivia continues.

Big business aims to destabilize

With these policies of sabotage, the right-wing opposition and big business are trying to throw blame on the Morales government for not ‘managing’, for “bad government”, saying that this is what happens when worn-out ideologies (such as socialism) govern. These government policies, the opposition claims, “disturb public peace and order” and “somebody” needs to put an end to the situation and to restore public peace. How many times have we heard or read arguments like this? The pro-capitalist press is full of this argument – which incites a military coup.

Working people’s frustration with the situation – having to get up earlier everyday to stand in long lines to get a carafe of gas- is inevitable and caused has protests and blockades of main streets. Strategic points in each city are blockaded. The protesters demand the delivery of gas, which in some cases ends in confrontations with the police.

The ‘manual’ for sabotage and destabilization used by imperialism and its lackeys is always the same and put into practice each time a government appears which dares to threaten their interests, however minimally.

Although Evo Morales’ government is not directly responsible for the situation, it bears a certain amount of the responsibility for not putting an end to the actions of the speculators and reactionaries who provoke this type of situation.

As long as the same elites and corporations manage and control Bolivia’s hydrocarbons, they will continue to have in their hands the necessary tools to sabotage the economy and situations like this will continue to occur.

Supposedly, on 20 March, the refinery, Gualberto Villaroel, began operating again. This followed its “maintenance”, which was another principle cause for the gas shortage and which caused businesses to push for higher gas prices.

The price of gas in Bolivia is set at 22.50 bolivianos (approx. US $3.00) per carafe of gas and the gas companies want to charge international prices, which are much higher, to domestic consumers.

The Bolivian right-wing opposition clearly wants people to believe the gas shortage is a result of the “nationalization” of the gas industry. Pro-capitalist economists claim to end the gas scarcity means eliminating price controls. The rise in prices, which would inevitably occur as a result, would reduce demand to a level which corresponds to the supply. In other words, the poorest sections of the population would no longer be able to buy gas and the problem would be ‘solved’!

We cannot accept the people of a country which produces and exports gas do not have access to this vital resource because a small minority wants to continue lining their pockets at the expense of the poor.

What is the Alternative?

What this artificial gas crisis makes clear is that it is necessary to put an end to the transnationals’ control of the hydrocarbon industry (completely, 100%).

It is necessary to get rid of all the transnational executives as saboteurs or at the very least, completely incompetent. It is necessary to guarantee the production and functioning of all necessary plants and the only ones who can do this are workers and communities.

Workers and communities need to take control of the gas industry in Bolivia, as the only guarantee that the artificial shortages will not occur again.

Translated from Spanish by Adam Ziemkowski and Johannes Ullrich

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