Bolivian President Mesa Resigns amidst mass protests
Jim Shultz, Democracy Centre (based in Bolivia and San Fransisco)
Bolivian President Carlos Mesa gave an address to the
nation and announced that he is resigning. The immediate
political future of the country is unknown.
Mesa has threatened resignation twice before in recent
months but those previous threats were generally viewed
as a political ploy, stunts by a former TV newsman to
cast a shadow of drama over events and lure support
behind him. Tonight Bolivia needs no more drama than it
has on the natural. This time, I believe, Mesa’s
resignation is real.
"This is as far as I can go," Mesa told Bolivians. "It
is my decision as president to present my resignation as
President of the Republic."
What does this mean? Here are the three big questions:
1. Will the Bolivian Congress accept the
Mesa remains Bolivia’s President until the national
Congress formally votes to accept his resignation. That
could happen Tuesday, assuming that Congress meets.
Congress has been prevented from meeting for nearly a
week owing to the combination of protesters blocking
their way and members from Santa Cruz refusing to come
to La Paz. Anything is possible. I can imagine a good
portion of Congress, the socialist MAS party included,
refusing the resignation until they are satisfied with
the terms of succession (see below). On the other hand,
Congress may just decide that if they guys wants to go
it is time for him to go.
2. Who succeeds Mesa?
Assuming that Congress formally accepts Mesa’s
resignation, who replaces him? The line of succession
begins with Senate President Hormando Vaca Diez, a Santa
Cruz politician who has called on Mesa several times in
recent months to “start governing”, shorthand here for
sending out the military to deal with protesters. Next
in line is the little-known lower house President Mario
Cossío. Evo Morales of the MAS and other protest leaders
have called on all three political leaders to resign,
which would leave the Presidency temporarily in the
hands of the President of the Supreme Court and
constitutionally trigger new national elections.
3. How will the protest movements react?
The buzz over the weekend here was about a Catholic
Church brokered deal in which the government would
resign en masse and trigger new elections. Some
evidently believed that new elections, in themselves,
would provide enough hope for political change to bring
the current wave of protests over gas export to a close.
That was never a very realistic hope.
The issue in the streets is not who is President; it is
who controls the nation’s oil and gas, along with calls
for rewriting the Constitution through a national
constituent assembly. A snap election in October will be
run through the same political rules that people are in
the streets protesting against. I don’t see how new
elections satisfies anyone.
If the voices in the street spoke to the country’s
national leaders in the language of my homestate of
California, the message might be, “What part of we
want to take back the oil and rewrite the constitution
didn’t you understand?”
There is a saying here in Bolivia, Hasta las ultimas
consequencias! Literally translated it means, until
the final consequences. Politically translated it means,
once the people have mobilized past a certain point
there is no turning back. The people who are in the
streets in La Paz, who are piling up rocks by the
kilometer to block roads in and out of Cochabamba, poor
farmers who took over a Shell/Enron pumping station
earlier today – I don’t see them backing down. Not a
Presidential resignation, not a promise of new
elections, not even a state of martial law will send
them quietly home.
I also don’t want to give readers a false sense of the
story here. This is not October 2003 when the country
was united broadly in the demand that President Gonzalo
Sanchez de Lozada resign. While these protests are
fueled by a real intensity on the part of the people
engaged in them, a good portion of the Bolivians I talk
to are just getting increasingly angry by the
inconvenience of it all and the instability they see
ahead. I hear more and more twenty somethings talking
about leaving. “Bolivia will always be a third world
country.” “I don’t see a future for myself here.”
Bolivia tonight is a deeply divided nation with a
political course ahead that is very difficult to see.