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Social unrest in key Andean countries

05.07.2004
 

Peru and Bolivia governments have been under constant pressure from their impoverished people.
In addition, indigenous peoples' uprisings confront unpopular leaders.

The bordering area between Peru and Bolivia has been the scenario of an increasing social unrest that took the lives of two mayors in the last months. They were killed by the crowds “fed up” with corruption and mistreatment. The situation is out of the control of the authorities that can only see how Indian tribes, majority in the area, call for ethnic insurrections as South America has not seen them in two hundred years.

Tribal leaders are leading an unprecedented uprising that does not recognize borders and could spread across the continent. They block roads to paralyze trade of the Western minorities, and their demands range from the restoration of the ancestral tribal order to the nationalization of power sources (mainly gas).

The 20th century natives combine ancient methods with modern demands to obtain what they want and resist unfair plans imposed by the multinational credit organization. This is something the Westernized national authorities cannot understand, leading to virtual break down of communication between both sides.

It is also something understandable for modern leftist leaders born in the tradition of the revolutionary role of the proletariat and Marxist-Leninist doctrine. Such categories are not relevant to explain the current situation.

On July 18th, the Bolivian people will go to the polls to participate of a referendum asking voters if they are in agreement with five measures. These are:
- The revocation of the current Hydrocarbons Law.
- The recovery of all well-head property rights over hydrocarbons by the Bolivian State.
- The re-establishment of YPFB as a State entity controlling the production of hydrocarbons.
- The use of Bolivia's gas to recover “useful and sovereign” access to the Pacific
- The domestic industrialization of Bolivia's gas for internal development with up to 50% charges to private companies for rights to exploit the gas.

The Central Obrero de Bolivia (COB) the country's main workers union has rejected the questions arguing that they represent an attempt to facilitate the passage of a new Hydrocarbons Law to replace the discredited existing Hydrocarbons Law. Opponents argue that whatever the result in the first two questions, the multinationals will still retain the rights granted by Sanchez de Lozada for 78 concessions lasting up to 36 years representing the country's most important gas reserves.

The anti-monopolist approach of Bolivian working class is a factor that could end with the precarious power of current President, Carlos Mesa, supported by its powerful neighbours: Argentina and Brazil.

In Peru, things are not so much better. To the indigenous rebellion, corruption scandals and the amazingly low presidential popularity (9%, according last researches), local authorities had to add recently the outbreak of violent protests led by striking teachers. In the city of Ayacucho, strikers burned buildings and looted bank teller machines Thursday during clashes with riot police that injured 34 people and led to 15 arrests, police said. Educators belonging to a communist-led teachers union have been on strike in this Andean city since June 21, demanding higher wages and accusing the government of trying to privatize public schools.

Similar riots took place earlier this year against IMF plans meant to secure the payment of public debt obligations thanks to the freezing of salaries and more cuttings in public expenses. This is the same Molotov cocktail that swept presidents across Latin America in the last years.

Hernan Etchaleco








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