[Marxism] Report on govt-strikers clash in Bolivian airline strike

Darrel Furlotte 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 
Oscar Olivera
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 
call it.

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 
still, nothing.

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 
the people.

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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