[Marxism] NarcoNews: A referendum divides Bolivia

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Jul 12 02:51:51 MDT 2004


A Referendum Divides Bolivia

On July 18, the Fate of the Gas Resources in the Heart of the Continent
Will Be Decided

By Alex Contreras Baspineiro
Narco News South American Bureau Chief

July 6, 2004

COCHABAMBA, BOLIVIA: The upcoming referendum in Bolivia has accomplished
what various neoliberal governments, including military dictatorships,
even the United States’ own policy, could not: dividing the popular
movement and challenging its leaders. A great question mark now hangs
over this country’s future.

A recent demonstration against the referendum and for the
nationalization of Bolivia’s gas

A binding referendum will be held on July 18 to decide the fate of the
country’s hydrocarbons – especially its natural gas.

The Coordinating Committee for the Defense of Gas and Autonomous Social
Monuments resolved at a meeting yesterday in Cochabamba to use to all
forms of protest to reject the five ballot questions.

"Those questions," read the committee’s declaration, "are no more than a
consolidation of the privileges awarded to multinational corporations
under (overthrown ex-president Gonzalo) Sanchez de Lozada’s Law 1689."

Textile-workers' leader and movement spokesman Oscar Olivera said that
if the government does not listen to the people's basic demand to
include a question on nationalization in the next few days, the movement
would encourage abstention, an "X" across the entire ballot, or the
writing of the word "nationalization."

The Central Obrera Boliviana (COB, the main Bolivian labor federation)
called for civil disobedience and voter abstention, although due to
conflicts between specific unions, it did not do so with the support of
all its member organizations.

"We must boycott the referendum with marches and roadblocks, also using
null and invalid votes," said COB leader Jaime Solares. "What we demand
is the immediate nationalization of our natural resources."

Felipe Quispe, the executive secretary of the Bolivian Farmworkers'
Federation (CSUTCB in its Spanish initials), said that there would be a
"state of siege" throughout rural Bolivia.

"There are already mobilizations, there will be roadblocks, there will
be an organized boycott," said Quispe. "Many areas will not receive
ballots; the ballots will be burned. In other places, people will not

Other radical minority groups are organizing to close voting centers on
the day of the referendum, although such action would be illegal and

The Split

Meanwhile, the principal political party of the lower classes, the
Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), has decided to actively participate in
the referendum. Coca growers' leader and national congressman Evo
Morales began a massive campaign yesterday to encourage participation.
The campaign will ask voters to answer "yes" to the first three
questions and "no" to the last two.

"Those who boycott and oppose the referendum are defending the policies
of ex-resident Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada," said Morales. "The majority
of the Bolivian people want to strengthen democracy, and that is why
they will participate in the referendum. Now, if the government does not
hear the popular clamor for nationalization, we will take to the streets
and the highways to demand it."
The binding referendum consists of three questions:
     1.     Do you agree with the repeal of Hydrocarbons Law 1698,
passed by Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada?

     2.     Do you agree with the recovery of all hydrocarbon property
from "the mouth of the well" for the Bolivian State?

     3.     Do agree with re-founding Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales
Bolivianos (state oil company), recovering state property held in
Bolivians' stocks in the privatized oil companies, in a way that will
allow it to participate in the entire process of producing hydrocarbons?

     4.     Do you agree with President Carlos Mesa's policy of using
the gas as a strategic resource to gain useful and sovereign access to
the Pacific Ocean?

     5.     Do you agree with Bolivia exporting gas in a way that covers
local consumption, promotes the industrialization of the gas within the
country, charges oil companies taxes and/or usage fees of up to fifty
percent of the value of oil and gas production, and uses these resources
primarily for education, healthcare, roads and jobs?

President Carlos Mesa, in a clear example of extortion of the Bolivian
people, said several days ago: "The referendum is the policy that the
government presents for the country’s consideration. Why this policy and
not another? Because it is the one I believe in, and nobody can or
should do something that he does not believe in. If I lose on a question
that forces me to do something I do not believe in, I see no other
choice but to leave."

The traditional political parties, which represent the oligarchy, the
business class, and sections of the middle class have divided just like
the popular movement. The former allies of Sánchez de Lozada and members
of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR) and the Revolutionary
Nationalist Movement (MNR) are in favor of the referendum, while the New
Republican Force (NFR) is timidly opposed. However, all of these
organizations support the transnational corporations.

The rest of the political parties, as well as the unions and social,
civil and neighborhood organizations are fractured. The Catholic Church,
with a great influence over the Bolivian people, has called simply for
respect for constitutional norms.

The System

While the social and popular movements are divided over the referendum,
the Bolivian government is in a phase of systematic consolidation.

On the 228th anniversary of the United States' independence, ambassador
David Greenlee announced, in a press release, that his country "hopes
for the well-being of the Bolivian people, for their freedom, for
coexistence based on tolerance and equal opportunity."

This brief statement – according to many Bolivian media – reflected a
dramatic change in U.S. policy toward this country. Apparently, the
destruction of the coca leaf and the so-called war on drugs have taken a
back seat since October 2003, when the "gas war" broke out.

The president's chief of staff, José Antonio Galindo, confirmed that
since October, the White House has not touched on the subject of coca as
it had in previous years. "Relations are good," he said.

Although a recent report from the U.S. State Department's Bureau of
International Information Programs labeled Bolivia, together with
Venezuela and Haiti, as a countries in "critical condition," it sees the
division within the social movement as comforting.

Despite the poverty this country faces, the government is spending more
than $800,000 dollars in its campaign for the referendum. Some of these
resources come from a donation from the Andean Promotion Corporation
(CAF), according to Jorge Cortés, presidential delegate for the
promotion of institutional development.

At the same time, recalling the previous authoritarian Bolivian
governments, it was revealed a few days ago that Francesco Zaratti, the
presidential delegate for capitalization revision, receives $5,000
dollars every month from the transnational gas companies. The official
documents demonstrate that the Petrobas and Total companies – through
the Bolivian state oil company – are paying the salary of the official
charged with inspecting those corporations' work.

Responding to calls for a boycott and the rejection of the referendum,
President Mesa announced that the government will use all available
means, including the Army and the National Police to guarantee peoples'
democratic rights.

What is certain is that this referendum, which has managed to divide the
Bolivian social movement, is only one battle in a larger struggle. The
war for hydrocarbon nationalization is coming.

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