Strikes, road blockades, marches and mass demonstrations have once again swept across Bolivia, sparked off by the government’s controversial hydrocarbons law. The law increases taxes on multinational companies but falls short of the demand agreed in last year’s referendum of 50% royalties on gas and oil extraction. Business-backed president Carlos Mesa has refused to sign the law, obliging the speaker Hormando Vaca Diez, to authorise it.
The latest wave of struggle began on 16 May when 100,000 people from El Alto demonstrated outside parliament demanding Mesa’s resignation. The next day the El Alto Regional Workers’ Union (COR) called an indefinite general strike demanding nationalisation of the oil and gas industries.
The teachers’ union in the capital La Paz also called an indefinite strike. Peasant unions organised road blockades, and thousands of peasants from Cochabamba marched to the capital. The Bolivian Workers’ Union (COB) and students from the El Alto State University hav also joined the movement.
On 23 May the demonstrators called an open mass meeting in La Paz to discuss strategy and demands. One of the moving forces was the Movement towards Socialism (MAS), led by Evo Morales. Morales has continued to raise moderate demands for 50% royalties and for Mesa to call a constituent assembly. But he is being outflanked by demands for nationalisation and to convene Popular Assemblies.
COB leader Jaime Solares, said, “we do not want Hormando, nor Mesa, we want a people’s government”. The El Alto Regional Workers Union COR is calling for a “national united, militant and non-negotiable struggle so that the people take power, expelling the oil transnationals and their traitor government of Carlos Mesa… to organise the People’s Assemblies in order to take power”.
Big demonstrations in the capital continue.
Rumours of a military coup rife. In October 2003 the last government was swept out after a popular uprising against its neo-liberal energy policies. Mesa is likely to suffer the same fate.