Recent developments in Bolivia

Hugh Rodwell m-14970 at
Sat May 11 12:35:03 MDT 1996

Tension is rising in Bolivia, as the following article shows.



Bolivian workers strike against privatisation frenzy

There is a 'gold rush' fever in Bolivia which has attracted over 35 mining
multinationals, a fever matched by the selling off or attempted selling off
of the state controlled industries.

A third fever has arisen of teachers, miners, public sector workers and
peasants who have all clashed with the government in opposition to
privatisation, it is the largest movement for years.

The main battles have been over the capitalisation of state owned
companies, which means selling off 50 per cent to private business. The
government has already sold off the telephones and is attempting to sell
the railways (ENFE) and to privatise pensions. But the main fight is
against the capitalisation of YPFB, the state oil company which is being
resisted by the oil workers.

Even the powerful mining multi-nationals have been held back. Comibol, the
state-owned mining company, used to produce two-thirds of all Bolivian
mineral production but last year it produced under 7 per cent. However the
capitalisation of Comibol's tin and antimony smelters "at Vinto has
suffered considerable delay. Much of this responds to resistance by workers
in the Huanuni and Colquiri mines", Financial Times, 22 April - even though
there are only 970 miners between the two mines.

On 28 March the COB, the national trade union federation, held a march that
was one of the most important in recent times. On 2 April the transport
workers organised strikes and marches all over Bolivia that were massively
supported. In La Paz there was a complete stoppage. There was a march to
the offices of ENFE, windows were smashed and the contents of managers
offices were burnt. In the centre of La Paz the windows of the Chilean
airline were stoned.

On 4 April a general strike was organised against privatisation and for an
increase in wages.

Teachers have been on a national strike for a more than a month. The
peasants blockaded the roads on 15 April. Nearly all universities have
struck, as have the workers in social security.

There have been almost daily demonstrations and strike action on, at least,
one or two days every week. For some time the marches have demanded the end
of the government.

A bourgeois group, CONDEPA (conscience of country), lead by the head of the
radio and television service on 25 March organised a march against the
capitalisation of YPFB of some thousands of marchers.

The president of the Supreme Court (a member of ADN - General Banzer's
party) said a mistake had been made selling off the railway company to a
Chilean business. However that did not prevent the jailing of Dr Morales
Devila, president of the Committee for the Defence Of National Assets, for
more than 30 days for calling President Sanchez de Lozada a traitor to the

The significance of this conflict is the erosion of confidence in the
government and a crisis for the regime in terms of permanent scandal: one
of the strongest is the discovery of the falsification by more than twenty
parliamentarians of documents covering their already inflated expenses.
One banker who is accused of stealing money from his own bank is now
accused of swindling the Ministry of Capitalisation which allowed the money
to be transferred to the MNR political party.

Even the church has been implicated in financial misdemeanour to the tune
of three million dollars (although the church says nothing, claiming it is
covered by the vow of silence.)

Another conflict is with the coca growers. The government has sought to
eradicate the growers, but it has serious problems in controlling the zone
and of expropriating the land of the growers - often small landowners. They
have been opposed physically with blockades and marches. In the last
conflict the women growers went to La Paz. It is a permanent conflict that
could see new barricades at any time.

During Easter the government tried to stop the mobilisations by making a
deal with the oil workers, who accepted partial privatisation of YFPB. But
in exchange granted a general 9% wage increase. It offered 13% to teachers.
But it is also using repression to maintain itself including assassination
and disappearances.

Bolivia is one of poorest countries in Latin America. All the unrest comes
at a time when there is a "gold led recovery", Financial Times 22 April,
with zinc and even tin prices and exports reviving. But most of the new-
found wealth is controlled by the multi-nationals. This is yet another
example of the privatisation plans and economic crises which are shaking
Latin America and provoking political crisis and fierce resistance from the
working class and peasantry.

International Socialist League
PO Box 9, Eccles SO,
Salford M30 7HL

e-mail: socvoice at

(Much the material for this article came from the MST (Socialist Workers
Movement) our sister party in Bolivia.)

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