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Indicator: Indigenous Power Swells in Bolivia

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Latin America's growing resistance to corporate globalization exploded again in May and June, when hundreds of thousands of predominately indigenous Bolivians took to the streets, calling for nationalization of the country's natural gas and creation of an indigenous-controlled state.

The centrist president, Carlos Mesa, was forced to resign on June 6 and was replaced by interim president and head of the Supreme Court, Eduardo Rodriguez.

Early presidential and congressional elections will take place in December, and Congress has agreed to a referendum next July to reform the constitution and create an assembly with greater representation of Bolivia's indigenous people, who make up 65 percent of Bolivia's population.

July's election will also include a referendum on regional autonomy for the eastern section of Santa Cruz, which is rich in natural gas deposits and inhabited predominately by wealthier, European-descended and mestizo residents. Many there are afraid that the growing movement for indigenous power and nationalization of resources will frighten off corporate investment.

A key contender for the presidency is Evo Morales of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), an Aymara coca farmer who has fought U.S.-backed eradication of the traditional coca plant and narrowly lost the last presidential election. Other leading candidates are former president Jorge Quiroga and Samuel Doria Medina, a cement magnate and former government minister.

Morales advocates a 50 percent tax on earnings of multinational corporations. More radical solutions are favored by Felipe Quispe, leader of the Pachakutik Indigenous Movement. Quispe calls for complete nationalization of gas resources and the creation of an Andean state controlled by indigenous people and composed of parts of Boliva, Peru, and Argentina.

This spring's protests erupted after Congress agreed to tax corporations profiting from Bolivian natural resources, but stopped short of nationalization.

Waving the multi-colored flag known as the Wiphala, symbolizing continental unity of indigenous people, demonstrators blocked roads, lit sticks of dynamite, swarmed down from the shantytown hills of El Alto into La Paz and converged on cities throughout the country. These demonstrations followed similar actions in October 2003, when protestors brought down president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, and in 2000, when Bechtel corporation was forced by massive popular resistance to abandon its water privatization project, which put the cost of water out of reach of many local residents.


Lisa Gale Garrigues is a YES! contributing editor.

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