For the second time in two years, mass protests in Bolivia reached the brink of revolution. But this time, it was the brink of a socialist revolution, as the vanguard mass organizations—the Central Regional of El Alto, the Federation of Neighborhood Councils of El Alto, the Confederation of Bolivian Workers (COB), and the miners union—called for shutting down the bourgeois parliament and creating a workers government based on people’s assemblies.
At the peak of the mass mobilizations, on June 6, half a million people, the largest demonstration in the history of Bolivia, crowded the central square of La Paz to hear the proclamation of a plan to form a revolutionary government.
The radical website, Econoticias reported: “A tumultuous multitude of more than 400,000 workers, peasants, miners, students, and the inhabitants of all
the neighborhoods of El Alto and the poor slopes of La Paz approved a plan to build their own government, nationalizing the hydrocarbons and expelling the
transnationals and the native bourgeoisie.
“‘This afternoon we are installing the National People’s Assembly,’ said the leader of the Bolivian Workers Confederation (COB), the miner Jaime Solares, to the applause of the excited crowd in the packed Plaza de San Francisco in the besieged city of La Paz.
“‘All the social and peoples organizations are going to proclaim a great people’s assembly and forge a new government that will fill the power vacuum. The oil companies want another clown in the government to defend their interests, but we will form a new government of the people that is arising today out of the People’s Assembly on the line of nationalizing the hydrocarbons,’ proclaimed the president of the Bolivian Federation of Mine workers, Miguel Zubieta.”
Continual mass protests prevented the parliament from meeting in La Paz. The country’s leading right-wing politician, Hormando Vaca Diez, the president of the senate, managed to get a majority of the deputies, 100 out of about 150, to move to Sucre, the other capital, also in the mountains but far from La Paz. But the demonstrators followed the rump parliament to its new base.
A miners’ leader was shot and killed by police while riding on a truck headed into Sucre, reportedly as a result of orders given to the police by Vaca Diez to
fire on demonstrators.
In the face of the mass upsurge, the president, Carlos Mesa, agreed to resign. (He had taken office when the former president, Sanchez de Lozada, was forced to flee to exile in the United States in October 2003 in the face of the previous wave of protests against the sell-off of Bolivian oil to foreign trusts.) Mesa warned that if Vaca Diez or the next in line after him, the president of the chamber of deputies, Mario Cossio, also a right-wing politician, were installed
in power, it would mean civil war.
Vaca Diez is linked to the right-wing landowners who dominate the eastern province of Santa Cruz, where much of the petroleum fields are located. At the same time that La Paz was overwhelmed by revolutionary protests, the Santa Cruz oligarchy sought to separate their territory from the country in the name of
This area is also the heartland of Bolivian fascism, and many of the landowners are descendants of refugees from the fall of Hitler’s empire. However, it is mainly Amazonian Indian tribes that live on top of the oil fields, and they threatened to separate from Santa Cruz, if Santa Cruz separated from Bolivia. Bolivia was obviously on the brink of civil war, and the threat of U.S. military intervention hung over the country.
The U.S. has recently gained authorization to station troops in the neighboring country of Paraguay, and Vaca Diez tried to push through a bill in parliament
that would allow the U.S. to bring troops into Bolivia by granting them impunity from prosecution in the World Court for crimes they might commit in the
country. He failed because of the inability of the parliament to function.
The leader of one of the major opposition forces, Evo Morales of the MAS, a party based on the coca farmers, sought a parliamentary solution and so supported the appointment of an interim, supposedly neutral president, Eduardo Rodriguez, the chief justice of the Supreme Court. The Catholic Church also supported this formula.
Apparently, the Bolivian bourgeoisie, including its Santa Cruz component, decided to try to defuse the popular protests rather than launch a civil war. Both Cossio and Vaca Diez announced their resignations as successors to Mesa, clearing the way for the appointment of Rodriguez on June 9. Vaca Diez
immediately took refuge in a military barracks in Sucre.
The vanguard organizations had no illusions about Rodriguez. The editorial board of Econoticias wrote on June 12:”Eduardo Rodriguez is the new pawn of the ruling class to defend the interests of the foreign oil companies, warned the Bolivian Mine Workers Federation, the revolutionary vanguard of the people, which called on them to continue struggling.
“‘After a real show that cost the life of a miner and several wounded, the parliament opted for electing the chief justice of the Supreme Court as president of the country. The ruling minority of the country has changed its pawn and once against demonstrated that it prefers to shed blood rather than nationalize the hydrocarbons,’ said a communiqué of the Miners Federation.”
The Econoticias editors went on to describe Rodriguez’s “credentials” for his elevation to the post of the country’s chief executive: “Up until now, he has been the chief of the judicial authority, a branch of government rotten with corruption and characterized by its legalization of the plundering of Bolivia’s riches by the transnationals as well as by granting impunity to the top state bureaucracy that is robbing the public coffers. He became chief justice thanks to the support given him by former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who was ousted by a popular insurrection in October 2003.
“According to the Urban Teachers’ Federation of La Paz, Rodriguez was a legal adviser of the U.S. embassy, and a partner in the firm of Carlos Sanchez
Berzain, Sanchez de Lozada’s minister of the interior, who was directly responsible for the massacres from February to October 2003. These were sufficient ‘credentials’ to put him in the presidency with the enthusiastic support of the Church, the businessmen, the media, and the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) of the coca farmers’ deputy Evo Morales.”
However, after three weeks of mass mobilizations, economic paralysis, and growing shortages of food and fuel oil, it proved impossible to maintain large-scale protests. A de facto truce developed.
Nonetheless, the conflict has not been resolved. And although Morales was decisive in defusing the revolutionary situation, he is still apparently not
acceptable to the right in Bolivia and probably not to the U.S. government. He continues to denounce U.S. imperialism in strong terms. And in recent days, he and his representatives have been subjected to the threat of physical attacks by fascist-like groupings in Santa Cruz province.
On the other hand, Morales has been losing some support that he gained as an advocate of the disinherited. He obviously hopes that he can be elected president in the upcoming elections. He narrowly missed the last time around, but the most recent polls now show his popularity declining.
The country remains in a state of latent civil war. The right and its Yankee big brother are certainly going to be preparing for the next confrontation. It
remains to be seen what conclusions the vanguard organizations have drawn from the aborted uprising. Days after the end of the crisis, Econoticias
disappeared from the internet, and little news about the activities and discussions of the vanguard organizations has since gotten out of Bolivia.
There is also insufficient information as yet about the impact of the Bolivian events on the neighboring countries. This, after all, was the first time in our
era when mass organizations in Latin America have raised the slogan of overthrowing the bourgeois parliamentary system and setting up a government based on direct representation of the workers and the poor masses, a soviet-type government.
Both the success and failures of the Bolivian movement are certainly going to be discussed extensively intensively by socialists and by the rising movement
in Latin America that is seeking ways to escape from the suffocating grip of the imperialist offensive called neoliberalism.