Bolivian workers on the move

Submitted by Anon on 27 April, 2004 - 9:25

Bolivia is on the cusp of more social struggle, as the government presses ahead with plans to export gas - the spark for an uprising in October 2003.

The main trade union federation, the COB, is threatening an indefinite general strike next month in a renewed bid to halt the government's plan to export natural gas. Last week it gave President Carlos Mesa until 1 May to change his policy on the gas export plan or face more action.

Protests over the proposals brought down Mesa's predecessor, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, last October. The union wants the government to nationalise the country's gas reserves - the second largest in Latin America - because they fear that proceeds from the gas will simply enrich foreign companies investing in the project.

Mesa has announced a referendum on the export plan to be held in July in an effort to defuse the controversy.

Earlier plans to export the gas through Chilean ports on the Pacific coast angered nationalists, because the ports belonged to Bolivia before the 1879 war with Chile. The government has now said it favours using Peruvian ports instead. However, unions oppose the possible sale of Bolivian gas to Argentina, fearing that it might be re-exported to Chile.

In the latest demonstrations against the export plan, thousands of workers marched through the streets of the capital La Paz and other major cities on Thursday, shouting, "The gas is not for sale".

According to the Andean Information Network, the government is also discredited for failing to deal with issues left over from last year's protests. In February a military tribunal acquitted four soldiers alleged to have shot at unarmed civilians during public protests a year ago in La Paz. Also, military personnel have refused to testify in civilian investigations of the October violence and the former president has still not faced a prosecution for the deaths in October.

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