Monday, June 6, 2005

Bolivian Protests Continue

As mentioned here, your lowly and nearly frozen blogger has been keeping a close eye on the news from Bolivia. Here's the latest from the BBC:

Bolivian protesters reject offer
Protests have continued in Bolivia despite promises made by President Carlos Mesa aimed at easing the crisis.

He had announced plans on Thursday for an assembly to rewrite the constitution and for a referendum on more autonomy for resource-rich provinces.

However, neither protest leaders nor the provinces appear to have been placated by President Mesa's proposals.

Mass demonstrations paralysed the city of La Paz for another day, blocking roads and halting public transport.

The past few weeks have seen Bolivia brought to the brink of paralysis by violent protests by left-wing and indigenous groups who are calling for the country's natural gas assets to be nationalised.

They say a law which increases taxes on foreign gas investors does not exert enough control over the country's resources.

They are also fiercely opposed to demands for greater autonomy from energy-rich Bolivian provinces.

There's more here, of course, such as the feature article Why is Bolivia in turmoil? which mentions a few reasons, including:
Bolivia is still the poorest country in South America, with around 30% of the population living on incomes of less than $1 a day.

It is also a very unequal society, with poverty concentrated amongst the 62% of the population of indigenous descent.
There is probably no other country in Latin America where natural resources arouse such strong passions.

It is not hard to see why.

Bolivia is landlocked, much of it high up in the Andean mountains, so transport costs are high.

The only products that Bolivia has been able to export successfully are commodities with a very high value per unit weight.

Throughout its history it has been an exporter of silver, then gold, then rubber, then tin, then hydrocarbons, and more recently coca and cocaine.

But Bolivia has remained locked in poverty.

Many Bolivians blame the "saqueo" or plunder of their resources by foreigners, so it is not surprising that a common theme of many recent protest movements has been against foreign companies and in particular their control of water supplies in Cochabamba and El Alto.

See also Thursday's Bolivian city gripped by protests
Bolivia's political capital, La Paz, has been gripped by demonstrations as protesters demand the nationalisation of the country's energy industry.

Mainly indigenous Bolivians blockaded roads into the highland city and threatened to march on Congress.

A planned session of Congress was postponed for a second day due to disagreements among lawmakers.

President Carlos Mesa has accused protest leaders behind weeks of political unrest of planning a coup.
The BBC's South America correspondent, Elliott Gotkine, says the demonstrators - who include farmers, teachers and students - are tired of having their demands ignored and now appear to be broadening their offensive.

Major roads into the country's administrative capital were blockaded with stones.

While most demonstrations were peaceful, in some areas of the city a group of around 1,000 people smashed windows, attacked shopkeepers and vandalised cars.
I'll keep an eye on Bolivia for you, as things continue to heat up.