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Bolivian military threatens military intervention after new President is named

Jim Jepps

New Bolivian President RodriguezLate Thursday Bolivia named its new President after two leading political figures turned down the post. The new President, high court chief Eduardo Rodriguez, came to the position when previous President Mesa was forced to resign amidst massive protests (see previous report) Mesa himself had only come to power in 2003 after the previous President had been ousted by mass protests.

Earlier in the day there was massive civil disobedience as peasant farmers, teachers, indigenous women and miners in hard hats clashed with riot police outside government buildings. This week has seen tremendous mobilisations and action on the part of Bolivia's poorest workers and others. The air of La Paz has been thick with tear gas and smoke belching from burning tyres. Demonstrations, looting and road blockades have begun to spread across the country. Several oil field installations have also been occupied.

Bolivian protests are shaking the government to its foundationsMany of these protests had focused on ensuring that Vaca Diez, who was formally next in line for the Presidency did not take up this position. Diaz is aligned with the pro-American business and energy industry elite and, understandalby, very unpopular among the population, polls indicating that only 16% of the country's population could support him. In fact all of the airports closed as employees went on hunger strike against the possibility of Diez taking the Presidency.

The military has again threatened to intervene against protesters, but interestingly the head of the armed forces also called upon the government to "respect the will of the people." Despite this reassuring statement a miners' leader was shot dead on his way to the protests as his truck approached a group of soldiers. Unfortunately, much of the Western press seem to be reporting the death as a response to the 'demonstrations turning violent'.

These actions make a mockery of all the calls that protests should take place peacefully and democratically. It is the state forces that are doing the shooting and cracking of heads, and without their ferocious attempts to defend the crumbling regime there would be no violence and democracy would triumph. As the government looks more and more powerless in Bolivia there appear to be only two sources of power the protesters and the army, in these circumstances it is even more imperative that it is the protesters' call for democracy and redistribution of wealth that win through.

The protesters are calling for a 'caretaker government' to call new elections as soon as possible. CNN reports one protester, Segundo Oviedo, a 45-year-old farmer from Cochabamba wearing a tattered farm cap, who said the poor were fed up after decades of rule by members of the country's elite failed to improve their lot. "What we are demanding is wholesale reform in Bolivia,"

Key opposition demands include the nationalisation of the oil industry and political reform to empower the country's indigenous poor. Evo Morales, one of the leftist indigenous leaders, said the country had been run by the ``mafia of the oligarchy'' for decades and things needed to open up.

Whilst the new President said that ``I'm convinced that one of my tasks will be to begin an electoral process to renew and continue building a democratic system that is more just.'' What is not clear what he means by this. The ruling clique are definitely on the backfoot in Bolivia, as they are in many parts of South America, but this does not make them any the less dangerous or murderous.


June 2005


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