Bolivian unions call strike to demand that president step down

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Fri Sep 26 20:35:30 MDT 2003

The New York Times September 25, 2003

Bolivia Workers to Strike to Demand President Quit

LA PAZ, Bolivia (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of Bolivian workers
from miners to bus drivers plan to go on strike next week to demand
unpopular President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada quit, adding to fears of
more bloodshed as Indian peasants continue to block roads.

Union leaders on Thursday called on workers to protest the deep
poverty in South America's poorest nation, blamed on Sanchez de
Lozada's inability to tackle the country's economic problems including
wages stagnant for two decades.

The president's approval rating is just nine percent, according to a
Mori poll published in August.

``We are calling a general strike by Bolivia's workers along with road
blocks, beginning on Monday, Sept. 29,'' Jaime Solares, head of
Bolivia's main umbrella union, said on local radio.

``(We) demand the president's resignation,'' he added.

Rights officials scrambled to rescue 350 people stranded for over a
week behind roadblocks set up by protesting Indian peasants in the
north, but the government plans to allow the mediation to go ahead
before it makes a decision on what action to take.

Seven people died last week in a similar standoff between peasants and
Bolivian government security forces sent in to retrieve 800 stranded

Roadblock protests by peasants have choked supply routes into La Paz
in recent weeks, with stocks of food in markets running low, prices
soaring and tension mounting.

Thousands of Bolivians, including coca farmers angry at a U.S.-backed
drive to wipe out illegal crops of the raw material used to make
cocaine, marched across this land- locked Andean nation last week as
opposition to an unpopular natural gas exportation project became a
lightning-rod for wider discontent.

Some analysts fear a new rash of civil unrest, mindful of clashes that
left 32 people dead in February amid fury at a government bid to tax
salaries in an International Monetary Fund-backed austerity drive.

Neighboring Argentina on Thursday advised its nationals to avoid
traveling in areas affected by roadblocks after last week's incident,
which included 40 foreigners.

``We are headed for the abyss unless both sides (the government and
its opponents) understand that they have to negotiate and forge
pacts'' to end the country's problems, said political analyst Carlos
Toranzo, head of the Latin American Institute for Social Studies in

Around two-thirds of Bolivia's 8.3 million-strong mostly indigenous
population live in poverty, forced to scrape by on a couple of dollars
a day in a land where wages, productivity and employment have been
stagnant for the past 20 years.

Copyright 2003 Reuters Ltd.

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