Miners, farmers, city poor join for general strike
By Leslie Feinberg
2, 2005 Issue
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.
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
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.
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 extract.
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 constitutional assembly.
owns the resources?
“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 us.”
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
result of the corporate takeovers, Bolivians—living on land rich with
natural resources—are the poorest people in South America.
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
sparked a popular uprising 19 months ago that forced President Gonzalo
Sánchez de Lozada out of office.
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.
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.
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
transnational 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
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 investment.”
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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© 2004 Bulatlat
■ Alipato Publications
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