If it had been in a country of the old Eastern Bloc, the newspapers would
have celebrated it as "the multicoloured revolution" and we would have been
treated to interviews with learned
right-wing academics talking about a new liberty, people power and similar
tired clichés. But his was an uprising of a different stamp. For four and a
half weeks, an alliance of trade unions, farmers associations, neighbourhood
committees and indigenous peoples' organisations paralysed Bolivia with
strikes, demonstrations and blockades and finally drove the President from
The reason, of course, that the western media
have tried to ignore the situation is that the main demand of the
demonstrators is for the nationalisation of the county's gas reserves with
no compensation and they fear that this demand could become popular with the
people of other poor countries that are equally rich in natural resources
but who have been systematically robbed by multinational countries from
Europe and the United States.
For, while Bolivia is the poorest country in
South America, it has the second largest reserves of oil and gas in the
continent after Venezuela, however, it is still suffering from
"restructuring" imposed on it by the World Bank and the IMF which forced the
privatisation of many of the country's basic services. In 2000, the people
of Cochabamba, the third largest city, rose up against the privatisation of
their water supply and forced it to be taken back into public ownership.
This inspired others, and when the question of the gas reserves came to a
head in 2003, the example of Cochabamba was followed by the poor people of
El Alto who, drove the then President, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, from
office in protest at his slavish following of neo-liberal policies, albeit
at the cost of 80 dead and 400 wounded.
The new president, Carlos Mesa, promised a new
law on hydrocarbons and a constituent assembly to rewrite the countries
constitution in a manner that would empower the Bolivia's majority
indigenous population, currently largely excluded from the political
He was a disappointment, and when he tried to
veto a fairly moderate law that would merely have taxed the gas in the hands
of the multinationals rather than renationalising it, the uprising began.
The social movements that formed the alliance represent the overwhelming
majority of the people of Bolivia and, through their determined blockade of
La Paz, the seat of government, they forced Mesa to resign, prevented the
conservative businessman who should have succeeded him from even being
considered and eventually allowed the head of the supreme court to be sworn
in as interim president to oversee elections within 150 days.
The protesters accepted this and dismantled their
blockades and suspended the general strike that now gripped the country
declaring a truce. But this will only be a truce, rather than a settlement,
the question of who owns the gas is still not resolved, the constitution has
not been rewritten, the Free Trade Area of the Americas lies like a shadow
over the country and the land distribution is still manifestly unfair.
The Bolivian people have set us an example of
resistance and determination that we cannot ignore, the Bolivia Solidarity
Campaign exists to campaign for support for the rights of the Bolivian
people and to bring that example of resistance to Europe, please get in
touch with us for a speaker so that we can spread the word of this important
struggle and overcome the media blackout.