Bolivia: Social Polarization Deepens

by Gerry Foley  /  April 2005 issue of Socialist Action


The precariously balanced bourgeois president of Bolivia, Carlos Mesa, squeaked through another crisis on March 8 when he won a vote of confidence in the parliament after threatening to resign. Mesa had argued that the street and road blockades organized in protest of the sellout of the countries resources to foreign corporations were making the country unmanageable.


In a March 8 feature article on the Bolivian situation, the Christian Science Monitor had predicted that if Mesa won his wager with the congress it would

be only a tactical victory: “Regardless of how Congress votes, the forces that led to Mesa’s dramatic decision are making the country increasingly difficult

to govern by any single individual or political party.


Bolivia is cleaving between the poorer, indigenous-dominated highlands near La Paz and the more business-oriented eastern lowlands centered in

the city of Santa Cruz.”


The racial divide was stressed by the British Independent (March 8): “Rival protests yesterday in La Paz and El Alto, an Indian-dominated city on the

outskirts of the capital, provided a snapshot of the divisions between the urban middle class, mainly of European descent, and indigenous Indians, who make up 70 percent of the population and for the most part live in abject poverty. In El Alto, predominantly Aymara Indians blocked the road to the capital; while

in La Paz hundreds gathered to show their support for Mr. Mesa and urge him to stay on.”


The racist discourse of Mesa’s supporters was noted by correspondent Hector Tobar in the March 13 Los Angeles Times: “’They’re like children [the indigenous people],’ says Ernesto Rocabado, a 41-year-old psychologist at a school in Calacoto, one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods. ‘They only

understand discipline. It hurts me to say this, but it’s like in the colonial times. What you really need to do is bring out the whip.’”


The crowds that hailed Mesa as he spoke from his balcony chanted, “Una mano dura!” (“An iron hand!”) against the protesters. So far Mesa has not tried to use force, because the attempts of his predecessor, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, in the fall of 2003 to suppress the protest movement by violence touched off a mass explosion that reached the point of a general insurrection. The army was beginning to break under the pressure of the masses.


Despite all his protestations that he cannot bear the thought of blood, there is no doubt that Mesa will use whatever force he thinks is necessary when he thinks he can. And the deepening polarization in the country means that a decisive confrontation is on the way. The situation of unresolved conflict in the country is infuriating the president’s middle-class supporters and demoralizing the desperately poor majority of the country.


Mesa’s main advantage remains what it was when Sanchez de Lozada fell; no leadership of the mass movement has yet emerged that proposes an alternative to the bourgeois parliament for running the country. The largest opposition party, the Movimiento al Socialismo (sic) of Evo Morales is even calling on Mesa to stay in office.


A March 26 Reuters dispatch reported: “’We want him to stay,’ said Evo Morales, a lower house deputy and head of the main opposition party, Movement Toward Socialism. ‘We and other parties think the proposal

for early elections is unconstitutional.’”


There are neighborhood organizations in El Alto that have a revolutionary democratic character. They are organized by a new vanguard that arose in the mass movement that toppled Sanchez de Lozada. That movement also revived the leading role of the trade-union federation, the COB, in which revolutionary Marxist traditions created by an influential Trotskyist movement in the past remain important. There are also radical indigenous nationalist movements.


Thus, the material is there for a revolution that can inspire a revival of the movement toward socialism in the entire southern part of Latin America.

Revolutionary currents in Argentina and Brazil have been looking to Bolivia since the mass movement of 2003.


But time is obviously running out. The longer there is no alternative to parliamentary rule, the more the role of bourgeois politicians like Mesa will be

strengthened. And the pendulum threatens to swing back toward a brutal right-wing regime that will suppress the mass protests in order to be able sell out the country’s natural resources to big imperialist companies.

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