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|The Globe and Mail, Tuesday, June 28, 2005 12:00 AM Page A12
DESPITE THE CALM, REFORM PRESSURES CHALLENGE
By Shawn Blore | The Globe and Mail
LA PAZ, BOLIVIA– The blockades around Bolivia's
capital have been down for more than a week,
and things have returned to relative calm
after violent protests overturned the government
of Carlos Mesa this month.
But the pressure for reform has not
and the country's Congress and caretaker
president, Eduardo Rodriguez, still
a challenging set of demands.
Principal among them are the nationalization
of Bolivia's oil and gas sector and
of a constituent assembly with the
to rewrite Bolivia's constitution.
Protesters are also demanding a general
which would most likely benefit Evo
an Aymara Indian and the congressman
led the protests that toppled Mr. Mesa,
Mr. Morales, leader of Bolivia's largest
opposition party, the MAS, or Movement
Socialism, rose to prominence as the
of Bolivia's coca-growers association,
came a close second in Bolivia's last
election in 2002.
In a strange turn, Mr. Morales was
"blockaded" yesterday, and
from entering the city of San Julian
Santa Cruz region by people still angry
the MAS blockades, which along with
their political objectives kept essential
supplies from being distributed to
people. The incident ended peacefully.
In his office recently, Mr. Morales,
was flanked by a pair of self-portraits
most of the 4˝ metres between floor
The crisis in Bolivia has raised once
the prospect of a run at the Bolivian
"If the people did choose me,
accept," Mr. Morales said, "not
just to oversee the profound social
that Bolivia wants, that Latin America
but also to take part in the struggle
Fidel Castro and of Hugo Chavez, the
struggle that the government of the
States calls the axis of evil, but
convinced is truly an axis for humanity."
Such anti-U.S. rhetoric plays well
where U.S.-sponsored coca-eradication
have engendered deep hostility among
Bolivians. In the 2002 presidential
Mr. Morales's poll numbers soared only
the U.S. ambassador threatened to cut
aid if Bolivians elected him.
His incendiary rhetorical sizzle is
a smokescreen for his party's more
On Bolivia's energy sector, for example,
many protesters called for "traditional"
nationalization: the seizing of foreign-company
assets, with or without compensation.
The MAS party is demanding only that
with foreign energy companies such
Repsol and Brazil's Petrobras -- most
which give Bolivia an 18-per-cent royalty
on natural-gas exports -- be renegotiated
to give the Bolivian government a larger
Mr. Morales has steered a similarly
course through Bolivia's recent political
crisis. Though a member of Congress,
Morales encouraged the anti-government
and protests that forced the resignation
of Mr. Mesa. Now that the crisis has
Mr. Morales is calling for the people
channel their desire for change back
There are dangers in this double game.
support for the chaos-inducing blockades
has cost it support among Bolivia's
classes. A poll published on June 15
Bolivian newspapers showed Mr. Morales
fallen to fourth place among voters
potential presidential candidates.
Among one of the MAS's core constituencies,
the radicalized poor of La Paz, months
blockades and years of near-constant
crisis -- Bolivia has had three presidents
in the past three years -- have left
for government and for politicians
prove difficult for even a populist
such as the MAS to overcome.
From his office in Congress, Mr. Morales
sees no danger that the people are
faith in politics.
"If they march for hydrocarbons,
nationalization, if they take part
for the constituent assembly, that
action." But in a humble neighbourhood
clinging to the cliff that rings La
Antonia Candia said she has soured
"I took part in the blockades,"
she said. "The only way to make
government listen is to blockade and
She didn't rule out joining future
but she said she doesn't plan to vote
any new elections: "I'm not going
vote for anything. So many times I
Put people in. Never saw anything.
I'm not going to vote. Not for MAS,
Shawn Blore is a Freelance Correspondent
based in Rio de Janeiro