Miners, farmers, city poor join for general strike
Published May 26, 2005 12:56 AM
The specter of Che Guevara—assassinated
in the Bolivian jungle by the CIA four decades ago—is alive in the streets
of La Paz. Bolivian workers and peasants, more than 60 percent of whom are Indi
genous, are shutting down the country and battling riot police in the capital
hand-to-hand. The protesters are facing down a hail of rubber bullets and clouds
of tear gas to press their demand for the nationalization of the country’s
natural gas and oil industry.
Here’s how a May 23 French Press
Agency report described the action in the streets in the capital of La Paz:
Police fired blasts from a water cannon and canisters of tear gas to break up
the demonstrations. Cops clashed with miners who detonated a tool of their
trade—dynamite blasting caps—near the Plaza des Armas, where the
Presidential Palace and Congress are located. Protesting street vendors tried to
muscle their way past police lines and into the same main square before cops
forcibly turned them back.
Then three huge protest marches—all
calling for the nationalization of the valuable natural resources of natural
gas—set off to march from different parts of the capital, heading for the
plaza. Protesters in the rally, which began in El Alto, a suburb of La Paz that
is home to the poor, demanded nationalization without compensation—in
other words, expropriation. A march of shopkeepers closed virtually all the
small stores in the capital.
Evo Morales, a former coca farmer and leader
of the Movement toward Socialism (MAS), led a third large protest, of coca
farmers and other peasants, on a 120-mile march to La Paz to demand that oil
companies pay a 50-percent royalty to the state for the natural gas they
Those pushed out of the plaza—miners, teachers and other
workers, street vendors and representatives of neighborhood
associations—regrouped in nearby San Francisco square and demanded a
Who owns the
“Bolivia has natural gas, water, coca and all kinds
of natural resources,” said Zurita, a 35-year-old parent from the village
of Eterazama. “But the problem is that they keep stealing it from
The April 4 Washington Post, to inform its own wing of the U.S.
capitalist class, assessed the mood of the Bolivian population: “This is
the refrain these days among Bolivians like Zurita, who see life as a struggle
of David vs. many Goliaths: the foreign companies that drill for natural gas;
the U.S. government, which has spear headed programs to eradicate coca fields;
the private companies that have taken over some municipal water
As a result of the corporate takeovers,
Bolivians—living on land rich with natural resources—are the poorest
people in South America.
Bolivia has reserves of 48.7 trillion cubic
meters of natural gas, second only to Venezuela in South America. A plan in 2003
to export fuel through nearby Chile sparked a popular uprising 19 months ago
that forced President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada out of office.
Former presidents Sánchez de Lozada and Jorge Quiroga reportedly
penned 76 contracts that heavily favored 12 transnational giants, including
Enron, Shell and British Petroleum. They allowed the companies to buy natural
gas at prices well below market value and then turn around and sell it back to
the Bolivians at 12 times the price.
Carlos Mesa, who succeeded
Sánchez de Lozada, was driven to the precipice of resignation in March
2005 as protests grew to an average of 40 each day. Now the most impoverished
people are in the streets, vowing to push him out of office.
In March, the
Bolivian Congress was for ced to vote for an energy law that imposes a
32-percent tax on top of the 18-percent royalties that foreign oil giants like
Exxon Mobil, Total, Petrobras, British Gas and Repsol have been paying. That was
less than the 50 percent additional royalties that the majority who cast their
ballots in the June 2004 gas referendum demanded.
corporations use capital to exploit the natural gas and oil wealth. This
legislative concession, which was passed because of mass struggle, made the
corporations howl with outrage and vow to flout the law as
Even before the final legislation was inked, U.S.
Treasury Department Assis tant Secretary of International Affairs Randal Quarles
threatened that the new law would “inhibit foreign
The U.S. is “worried,” Quarles said. Sure,
Wall Street and Big Oil are worried. They have every right to be. They fear
another Bolivarian Revolution in this hemisphere.
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