[Marxism] Report on govt-strikers clash in Bolivian airline strike
darrel.furlotte at gmail.com
Sun Apr 2 22:10:41 MDT 2006
LAB has been Bolivia's national air carrier for eighty years, one of the
oldest commercial institutions in the nation. It employs more than 2,000
people (and according to the pilot's union indirectly sustains more than
9,000 families), also making it one of Bolivia's largest and most important
employers. From a blog at http://www.democracyctr.org/blog/ which
gives some useful information and background to the current struggle.
The article below is written totally from the point of view of those
blockading the airport (I much prefer that to reports from journalists who
are "objective" and "disinterested"), but I suspect they may be taking
actions that Lenin called "ultraleft infantilism". I'm struck by the
numbers; a few hundred workers (how many are LAB workers is not clear) are
(maybe were at this time) blockading all flights at the airport, demanding
that Morales "nationalize" LAB. I suspect that these "ultra"revolutionary
workers haven't learned some of the real lessons of the Venezuelan
revolution: the real workers' revolution began when the PDVSA workers
learned how to take over production (actual workers' control) when the
bosses tried to shut it down. It seems to me that the challenge for
class-conscious, socialist, revolutionary workers in Bolivia isn't to shut
things down (in Bolivia that's easy), but to figure out how to mobilize and
organize a majority to actually take over the production and distribution of
goods and services in the interests of that majority. It's also worth
keeping in mind that Bolivia is a relatively small country with a lot of
personal political power struggles going on, so macho pissing matches about
who is more revolutionary have to be expected. (And then there are all
those who react to the crises in these individual countries as though it
were possible to "build socialism in one country" and demand ultimate
revolutionary action by Castro or Chavez or Morales or ??). We definitely
live in interesting times, but there are no easy answers.
In the First Social Conflict of His Administration, Evo Morales Represses
By Luis Gomez,
Posted on Fri Mar 31st, 2006 at 09:44:50 PM EST
This Thursday at noon, the well-known social leader Oscar Olivera, in
support of the workers of Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano (LAB) in their struggle
against the owner of half of the company, participated in a blockade of the
Jorge Wilsterman Airport in his home city of Cochabamba.
A large group made up of LAB workers, factory workers' leaders, activists
(some of them graduates of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism),
and others took up position on the main runway, blocking the landing or
takeoff of any airplane. The Evo Morales administration ordered their
removal by force (with soldiers and police). Olivera was gassed and
mistreated, and has received word that he could be arrested in the coming
Before continuing with this story, this correspondent must make clear that
he places all responsibility for the safety of our ally and brother Oscar
Olivera on President Morales. Now, yes, let's get on with the tale.
This all began, of course, many years ago, when Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada,
in his first administration, decided to implement the harshest measures of
the neoliberal model: the privatization of state enterprises. This process,
known in Bolivia as "Capitalization," allowed private capital to participate
in sectors such as telecommunications, electric energy production,
hydrocarbon exploitation and various modes of transportation. In particular,
the state airline, the above-mentioned LAB, or "el Lloyd" as the Bolivians
Since then, as Oscar Olivera explained to us last night by telephone, "the
people have been paying the consequences of Capitalization." Especially
because this supposed "capitalization" (a sort of half-privatization that
gives the real control of public companies over to the private sector) has
not brought higher productivity, much less higher employment. To the
contrary, it has produced greater job instability and undeniably higher
prices for the same services (such as in the case of water).
LAB was turned over to Brazilian businessman Wagner Canhedo, owner of
another airline in Brazil (VASP), who nearly dismantled the Bolivian airline
and, on the verge bankruptcy five years ago, sold his shares in the company
to Bolivian investors and literally got out running.
After this, of course, there was a fight among the local business leaders
over ownership of the shares. Especially between the late Raúl Garafulic Sr.
and Ernesto "Tito" Asbún, who serves today as president of the board of LAB.
Garafulic had always accused Asbún of having "stolen" his shares and the
airline's money when, according to Garafulic, Asbún borrowed his name to
enter into the air transportation business.
The story brings us up to this past February, almost ten years since the
capitalization of LAB. Just as the new president was arriving into office
and naming his ministers, the conflict between the private shareholders -
lead by Ernesto Asbún, who now controlled the company - and the pilots and
ground crew workers exploded. Between unjustified firings, phantom
investments with pension funds and other irregularities, it became clear
that LAB could be on the verge of bankruptcy.
As always, those most affected were the workers, the pilots, and of course
LAB's customers. and, since LAB is still technically a public company and
property of the Bolivian people, this was when the brand-new Evo Morales
government appeared on the scene. The administration ordered an intervention
in the airline in order to guarantee continuing service and avoid more
mishaps, and put former Senator Ángel Zabella in charge of the process. At
the moment we still don't know exactly what he did. no one in Bolivia does,
not even the President.
In fact, on March 1, pilots' representative Richard Vaca declared that if
Zaballa and the government would not take action to address the root of the
problem at LAB, the intervention would be "a complete waste of time and a
complete deception by the government." Vaca demanded precise explanations
from Morales and his people.
And, well, the intervention culminated last week: Asbún won a ruling in his
favor from the Supreme Court. This, together with some other mistakes (or
simple idiocy on the part of government attorneys) forced the Executive to
take a step back. Evo Morales said earlier this week that this had all
happened because of Asbún's bribing the courts, which led to a clash between
state powers. but let's not get sidetracked, as there are now at least three
airports blockaded in Bolivia.
The Vice President and His Profession: Numbers, Not People
A few months ago, Richard Vaca and other pilots of Lloyd Áereo Boliviano
came looking for Oscar Olivera at his office. The labor conflict at LAB was
imminent, and a bankruptcy could be seen on the horizon as well, which would
seriously affect the already diminished patrimony of the Bolivian people.
Oscar, always attentive and direct, listened, supported, and worked with the
pilots. "They are middle-class," he once commented to this journalist, "but
they are honest in defense of our patrimony; they are patriots."
During the last eight weeks, Olivera was close to the conflict, even
mediating and winning audiences with politicians who, before winning office,
were once his comrades in struggle during the Water War and other conflicts:
Evo Morales and Alvaro García Linera. "But it seems that power has done them
ill, Luis," Olivera commented during an interview. "Now they see the job
more then the people."
What is certain, kind readers, is the Oscar Olivera did not get an answer to
the demands of his LAB compañeros. At least nothing convincing from Evo's
government. And that is why, for a little over a week, he and several
workers from LAB have been on hunger strike to demand clearer solutions. and
The intervention later ended. "They've turned into a bunch of law-abiders,"
explained Olivera, reminding that in times before, when the law did not
support the people, Morales and García Linbera's posture was clear and with
And it was in this scenario that today in La Paz, Santa Cruz, Tarija and
Cochabamba the people decided to demonstrate using more radical means.
Particularly in Cochabamba, in the heart of Bolivia: in a joint action that
we describe here only partially, Oscar and his compañeros, led by the LAB
workers, walked onto the runways and began a "roadblock" of the skies.
There they were at midday when the soldiers and police mobilized by the
government began to repress and clear them out. All the noon news broadcasts
showed the repression, kind readers, even a Chilean channel.
One La Paz station, Gigavisión, broadcast live across the county a call from
Oscar Olivera after the repression began. Using his cell phone and still on
the airport grounds, Olivera called Vice President Alvaro García for
solutions one more time and demanded that the repression stop.
"Brother, it seems that Alvaro has re-launched his career as a
mathematician. Now he sees only numbers, not people," Oscar said to explain
his anger and frustration. "Evo and he talk about not nationalizing LAB in
order not to nationalize Asbún's corruptions. what Evo has to do is to
banish Capitalization once and for all and return to the Bolivian people
what is rightfully theirs."
Now, Oscar Olivera and his comrades have stopped their hunger strike. They
are mobilized at the airport, where they are keeping watch over their
blockades. Similar actions have taken place in Tarija and in Santa Cruz
(where they have blocked access to the airport). In La Paz there was a clash
between police and LAB workers. the conflict could intensify in the coming
Before we cut this transmission, let's ask Oscar two more things.
Narco News: Did anything clear come out of your call to García Linera?
Oscar Olivera: Nothing, brother. Alvaro now talks just like Sánchez Berzaín*
about repression and negotiation.
Narco News: And can you say anything about your possible arrest?
Oscar Olivera: Only that I have no fear of prison. I mean, it seems like
they have forgotten what it means to be on this side of the trenches.. If
they arrest me, at least that would help us know what side they're on - on
the side of the people, like they say, or on the side of a thief like Asbún.
We will keep following this..
* Carlos Sánchez Berzaín was a minister in both of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada's
administrations and actively participated in repression, massacres and
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