Bolivia: A Movement Of Insurrectionary Scale

FOR THE second time this year Bolivia’s ruling class is facing a workers’ and peasants’ movement of insurrectionary proportions. President Sanchez de Lozada – who took office last August with only 25% of the popular vote – became increasingly isolated and has now resigned.

Dave Carr

His deployment of the armed forces to quell the protests (which has led to the deaths of over 45 people), has divided his government allies.

Last weekend saw fierce clashes in El Alto the industrial suburb of the capital La Paz between workers and police. The police stopping their attacks only after running out of rubber bullets and tear gas.

The protests by trade unionists, ethnic Indian groups and farmers began five weeks’ ago, ostensibly to oppose the export of natural gas to the US and Mexico. The protesters fear that the export revenues will simply boost the profits of foreign energy companies and are demanding the nationalisation of the industry. Now, in a sign of desperation to placate the strikers, the president has shelved plans to export the gas until 31 December.

But the general strike movement, involving road blocks, has broadened in scope to demand the government scrap its ‘free market’ capitalist policies.

Sanchez’ presidency was in dire straits as the working class, farmers and peasantry refuse to pay for the country’s deep capitalist crisis. Unemployment is officially 12% of the workforce and 60% of Bolivians live on or below the poverty line – many existing on $2 a day.

The government is squeezed between the International Monetary Fund which demands austerity measures to reduce the government’s $240 million deficit and an impoverished but defiant working class. What is required is a mass socialist party to challenge the rule of capitalism and to form a workers’ and peasants’ government.

The Economist described clashes between police and armed forces, followed by a movement of the working class, in February 2003 as: “The worst period of civil disorder the country has seen since its ‘popular revolution’ of 1952”. The current movement could surpass February’s upheavals.