In January Bolivia was gripped by marches and protests. Here is an abridged account by Jim Shultz from the Democracy Center, based in Cochabamba in Bolivia:
President Mesa has announced that he will support a reform allowing each of Bolivia’s departments (essentially the same as states in the US) to directly elect their governors. Right now those governors are appointed by the President. There is no legislative branch at the state level.
A demand for autonomy in Santa Cruz has come from the right, not the left, sparked by business leaders and others hot to cut a gas export deal and angry at the indigenous movements on the Altiplano who have been blocking it. However, there is a really good chance that the winners of many of these new governor elections (scheduled tentatively for June) could be from MAS, the socialist party. If Evo Morales [MAS leader] runs for governor of the state of Cochabamba, I bet he wins. The socialists could even win in Santa Cruz.
The real issue with autonomy isn’t going to be whether the departments elect their governments. The real issue is who will control locally collected taxes, especially those for oil production, and how they will get spent.
Is President Carlos Mesa about to fall? Don’t buy it. When the movements in Santa Cruz, at the start of January, were about protesting Mesa’s gas price hike, they were allied with the left in La Paz and Cochabamba. Then it looked like Mesa could be in trouble. After Mesa partially rolled back the increase and agreed to cancel water privatisation in El Alto, the left-leaning protests basically ended but Santa Cruz changed issues to autonomy. People in the rest of Bolivia know that that is code for, “We want to control the gas deal and the money from it”.
Within days Mesa had declarations of support from the mayors of all of the country’s major cities, except Santa Cruz, and the socialists were essentially backing him as well.
Abridged from www.democracyctr.org/blog