Bolivia's Sanchez de Lozada was the fourth South American president ousted in six years for pushing forward IMF's pro-market programs. Ecuador in 1997 and 2000, Peru the same year, Argentina 2001 and Bolivia in 2003 probe the end of the Washington Consensus as a feasible alternative for the region
From Ecuador to Argentina, Bolivia and Peru, the picture is the same: conservative regimes ousted by outraged populations due to increasing poverty and inequality after one decade of free market policies pushed forward from Washington and implemented by its local clients. Across South America, people fill the streets to say no to years and years of austerity measures, privatization of public companies and unemployment.
The series began earlier in Venezuela, where a combination of popular revolts and military coups led by the now president Hugo Chavez Frias ended with the conservative ruling of Carlos Andres Perez in 1994. Then, like a domino, fell the governments of Ecuador's then-heads of State Abdala Bucaram in 1997 and Jamil Mahuad in 2000; Peru's Alberto Fujimori in 2000; Argentina's Fernando de la Rua in 2001 and Bolivia's Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada a few days ago. In Brazil, an historical impeachment had put an end to the scandalous brief ruling of Fernando Collor de Melho in 1992.
All of them left their respective offices amid corruption scandals and people's anger. Bucaram, Sanchez de Lozada and Fujimori exiled abroad and Fernando de la Rua had to spend one year inside his private residency not to be target of insults and physical aggression. Washington supported all of them until the last day despite streets were filled with protesters' dead bodies.
In 2000, today's Ecuadorian president Lucio Gutierrez led a group of disgruntled junior army officers and 5,000 Indian protesters in an uprising that drove the highly unpopular Jamil Mahuad from power. Such action took place in the midst of the country's worst economic crisis in decades. At that time, Ecuador had renounced to its national currency and replaced it with American dollars. In 2003, 70 per cent of the population still lives in poverty and economy does not show signs of recovery.
Fujimori's rule in Peru was a series of scandals. He took office in 1990 as a prominent entrepreneur outsider. Two years later headed a coup to close down the Congress and implement resisted austerity measures inspired in Washington. Fujimori is actually "imprisoned" in Japan as cannot leave the country as Interpol has placed the former president on its most-wanted list. Fujimori's government, marked by corruption scandals, death squad massacres and draconian austerity measures, abruptly finished when he decided to go into exile to avoid local justice and a growing popular dislike. However, Fujimori's successor, Alejandro Toledo, is also seriously embattled by popular opposition, as failed in providing with accurate responses to people demands.
The traditionally wealthy Argentina did not escape to the tragic South American fate. During the nineties, Carlos Menem ruled the country following IMF austerity programs and privatizing as much as he could. Since 1998 Argentina's economy has been in recession, experiencing financial collapse in December 2001. At that time, Fernando de la Rua was in office. A popular rebellion ousted him and the country collapsed: poverty hit 60%, unemployment went up to 21.5%, GDP fell 18% in one year and foreign debt - now under a restructuring plan - went haywire.
Bolivia is the last example of governments that do not listen to people demands. 81 people had to die in clashes with the police to oust the unpopular ruling of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. On the surface, protesters asked for the overturn of a decision adopted by the government to export huge natural gas reserves (country's main production) to the United States and Mexico through Chile's ports. However, a deeper analysis shows that crisis had a more structural root: Bolivia is South America's poorest country. Over 70% of the people live in poverty, almost the same than in the times it was a Spanish colony. As well as in those times (1700's - 1800's), a European elite that reaches 10% of the population controls the country mostly populated by indigenous farmers.