Todo es posible. Bolivia, with the second-largest reserve of natural gas on the South American continent after Venezuela, has seen growing protests demanding nationalization of the reserves. This morning, Democracy Now! reports:
Bolivian President Carlos Mesa has offered to resign after mass street protests forced him to flee his office. On Monday indigenous groups led a mass protest of some 80,000 Bolivians to call for the nationalization of the country’s gas reserves. The protests overwhelmed the city police and the president had to flee his office after demonstrators threatened to storm the presidential palace.
This story is a lot more complex than it seems. There’s a rightwing movement for autonomy in eastern Bolivia. There’s the U.S. distraction of Iraq. There are the failures of privatization of water and gas. More below on the IMF’s role:
The following are snippets from an in-depth June 3 interview on Democracy Now! with human rights activist Jim Shultz of the Democracy Center. Shultz lives in Cochabamba, Bolivia and is the author of Deadly Consequences. An image of the book’s jacket is in the quote below.
Is it that the United States and the Bush administration are so distracted and overextended by their battle to control the Middle East that they have not been paying attention?
What’s been the particular reasons, in your opinion, why it seems the whole continent, the democratic vote and the whole continent is rapidly turning against U.S. policies?
JIM SHULTZ: It is — again, Juan, I think it’s a very practical rebellion against the effect of these policies. It’s important to note because you know, the new article du jour of the press is to talk about the rise of the left in South America. This is not the second coming of Ché Guevara. This is not even an ideological rebellion. It’s more interesting than that. You know, I live in this country. I have lived here for eight years. These are my neighbors.
By and large, people who live on the margin don’t have the luxury of ideology. What they want is practical solutions to their practical problems like: Can they get water? Can they find a job?
And what’s happening is, people in Bolivia, in particular, and it’s the same trend in Brazil — I was just there not long ago — people are basically saying, “This whole package of economic policies, it isn’t working. It hasn’t delivered the goods.”
If it had, if privatization of water, for example, had delivered water, if privatization of oil and gas had actually increased public revenues and made it possible to lift up people’s lives, I think people here would have embraced it.
hat’s the point to me that’s the most important, is what’s going on is a reaction to these policies that is not rooted in ideology, by and large. It is rooted in the absolute practical failure of those policies to do anything but make the lives of the poor more miserable.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And the current situation now in Bolivia, if President Mesa is forced out of office, given the fact that you have a very strong right-wing autonomy movement in the richest province and that Evo Morales, the popular leader, has been almost sidelined by this indigenous revolt that continues to grow, what do you see as the potential developments that could occur once Mesa steps down, if he does?
I think there will be some sort of settlement in which this issue of gas will be turned over to a constituent assembly, elected at large from the grass roots across the country, and that that’s where the gas issue will be decided. And the side issue to that is to make sure that this call for autonomy doesn’t pre-empt some national decision-making about how to develop the gas. I think we’re headed toward some sort of a negotiated settlement. That is generally what happens here. Usually the Catholic Church, the Human Rights Assembly step in and are able to sort of pull people together. We are at the brink of not being able to do that, but I suspect that’s where this will go. …
More from Shultz in the June 3 interview:
Bolivia did it all, privatization of water, privatization of oil and gas, relaxation of labor standards, all of the deficit reduction coming in from the backs of the poor. All of this has been done at the command of the I.M.F. and the World Bank.
And Bolivia doesn’t have a lot of choice. When the I.M.F. and the World Bank tell Bolivia, “Thou shalt privatize your water” or “Thou shalt privatize your oil and gas,” those are commandments that are very difficult for a poor country like Bolivia to say no to. The fact is it hasn’t worked.
I mean, this is a country that has had two major civic uprisings over water privatization, both of which have kicked big international companies out of the country, and now it’s having this uprising over gas privatization. It just hasn’t worked.
I think this is related to what’s happening all over Latin America. If you think about the last 30 years in Latin America, South America in particular, you know, we went in the period in the 1960s and 1970s of right-wing dictatorships and left-wing insurgencies and then we went through a period of elected governments that were very conservative, very tied to the United States and very dedicated to the policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and what’s happening now is this movement from the left to, you know, take over governments in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela through the political process, and in the streets in Bolivia, it is a practical rebellion against a practical failure of the economic policies imposed on these countries from abroad by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
We just released a report in April called Deadly Consequences, which people can find in its entirety on our website.
It’s a small book. It traces very clearly how the International Monetary Fund’s demands in this country two years ago for tax increases to reduce its deficit to pay its foreign debtors off more quickly, how that descended into 34 people being killed in the country’s capital, a shooting war between the police and the army in front of the national palace, directly, directly the result of I.M.F. economic policy.
So what’s happening in Bolivia is not just the story of Bolivia. It is absolutely the story of Latin America and South America and it is the story of indigenous peoples rising up against a set of economic ideologies imposed on them completely against their will, completely without their consent from institutions abroad. …