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(en) DA #26 - Solidarity Federation magazine - Bolivia Protests Rock Government

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 18 Apr 2003 17:17:45 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

At least 20 people died in January, during clashes
between protesters and the police that threatened to
destabilise the six-month-old government of President
Sánchez de Lozada. Campesinos, labourers, transportation
workers and pensioners staged protests throughout the
country demanding a better quality of life.
58% of Bolivia's 8 million people live in poverty, and when
the president took office last August, he promised to pull
Bolivia out of the recession that has battered
the economy since 1999. He also pledged to create
thousands and thousands of jobs. After taking office,
however, he called on Bolivians to unite against the
crisis, and announced a program that would put unemployed
Bolivians to work on public construction projects. He also
announced the re-establishment of Bonosol, a monthly
solidarity voucher of US$240 for people over 65, and
universal health coverage for pregnant women and children
under five. Good news? Not quite; in order to fund this move,
he raided state-controlled workers' retirement funds.
The anarcho-syndicalist Bolivian Workers Central (COB),
MAS and NFR appealed the decision to the Constitutional
Tribunal, arguing that the government could not
appropriate people's funds in this way. Despite the case
being in progress, the government went ahead with their
At the same time, a roadblock action was organised by
coca growers to pressure the government to suspend the
forced eradication of coca crops and expand the area for
legal coca cultivation (for traditional, legal uses) from 12,000
to 30,000 hectares.
Meanwhile, about 300,000 bus drivers went on strike
nationwide to protest about vehicle insurance increases. On
the same day, about 7,000 soldiers, hundreds of police,
tanks and helicopters moved into Chapare, while 6,000
pensioners gathered in the village of Patacamaya, 100
kilometres from La Paz, and began a march to the capital to
protest against a law that pegs their pensions to inflation
rather than to the US dollar. A few days later, the 10,000
marchers stopped in Calamarca, a two-day walk from La
Paz, where they blocked the highway and threatened to
launch a hunger strike. The next day, hundreds of coca
producers began protests in Chapare, blocking the main
between the departments of Cochabamba and Santa Cruz.
Two civilians were killed in clashes between protesters and
security forces.
Police then moved in to quell the pensioners' protest in
Calamarca. Hundreds of police and soldiers tied the hands
of several thousand demonstrators and loaded them
onto 50 buses to remove them from the scene of the
protests. Twelve pensioners died when one of the buses
struck another vehicle head-on on the road to Oruro. When
heard that two of the accident victims had been at the
Huanuni mine, workers from the mine decided to march to
Oruro in solidarity. Government officials ordered soldiers
and tanks to the mine, and one worker was killed in a clash
between the soldiers and miners. At least five people were
killed in other confrontations. Within days, the
government agreed to peg pensions to the US dollar - at
least for this year.

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