archivos de los protestos globales
archives of global protests

La Paz still in grip of chaos
Monday 06 June 2005 –

More violent protests rock Bolivian capital

La Paz – Labourers, farmers and activists kept Bolivia's capital paralysed yesterday, torching tyres and tree trunks to press for nationalisation of natural gas wealth in South America's poorest nation.

In a wave of violent unrest that has rocked La Paz for more than two weeks, poor protesters and wealthy businessmen alike have ignored President Carlos Mesa's call for a constitutional convention to address access to natural gas wealth and greater regional autonomy.

Late on Thursday Mr Mesa, responding to some protesters' demands, said he would allow a rewrite of the constitution and hold a binding referendum in October on regional autonomy sought in the more prosperous eastern lowlands, where most of Bolivia's gas reserves are located.

But the move did nothing to stem demonstrations and protesters said Mr Mesa had not addressed the central issue of who controls natural gas resources – one of the Andean nation's few resources.

And by late Friday, the Pro Santa Cruz Committee, a federation of business interests, boldly challenged the central government, calling its own referendum on autonomy for Aug 12.

The committee charged that Mr Mesa's decree was "unconstitutional" and that he was "supporting unrest by antidemocratic militants" in La Paz, in the highlands.

Deputy Justice Minister Carlos Alarcon said only Mr Mesa "has the authority to set the dates for elections and constitutional assemblies".

The capital remained near a standstill, with public transport workers striking, demonstrations active and gasoline becoming ever scarcer.

The Roman Catholic Church agreed late on Friday to set up a national dialogue, but only as long as "violence, intransigence and radicalisation of demands are replaced with sincere, constructive dialogue respecting persons and opinions".

Mr Mesa, a popular historian and journalist, took over the term of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who was ousted in similar demonstrations over the same issue in October 2003.

The confrontation with the legislature and the government began on May 17, when Congress approved an energy law giving Bolivia a greater stake in the country's lucrative natural gas industry.

Foreign oil companies operating in Bolivia claim the legislation gives the government far too much control, while the opposition left-wing minority and many protesters say it falls far short of their goal of full nationalisation of the oil and gas industry.

Angry demonstrators have been pushing for nationalisation of natural gas fields and a rewrite of the constitution to balance the interests of the poor Andean highlands around La Paz and the more prosperous tropical eastern plains around Santa Cruz, which is keen to keep as much control as possible over its natural resources.

OAS holds summit in USA

Organisation of American States members gathered yesterday in the United States for the first time in 31 years amid unrest in Bolivia, US concerns over the future of democracy in Venezuela and a US bid to get stalled free trade talks back on track.

President George W. Bush is expected to promote free trade and strengthening democracy when he addresses the 34 OAS foreign ministers tomorrow.

"What the president will focus on is that we cannot take democracy in our hemisphere for granted. Elections and democratic rule is only the beginning," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

"Successful democracies are built on free institutions that guarantee transparency and rule of law and accountability. And I imagine the president will talk about that in his remarks."AFP

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