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Bolivians Topple President

Bolivia's Indigenous Community demonstrates growing power, as Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada is ousted.

Tens of thousands march in La Paz calling for more control of the nation's resources

The people of Bolivia took to the streets in massive numbers in October, calling for more control over their country's oil resources and, finally, toppling President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada.

U.S.-educated Lozada, a millionaire nicknamed “El Gringo” for his North American accent, had signed an unpopular natural gas deal with the multinational corporation Pacific LNG to pipe gas out of Bolivia and export it to California via Chile.

Indigenous coca farmers who blocked roads in the countryside and slumdwellers in the shantytowns overlooking La Paz known as "El Alto" were joined by middle class urban residents on a hunger strike as tens of thousands of people marched throughout the country, waving flags, and shouting for Lozada's removal. At least 70 people were killed during the demonstrations.

"The people rose up because they refused to accept that what had happened with the silver, the saltpeter, the tin, and everything else was going to happen with the gas," said Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano.

Although supporters of the gas deal have argued that it would have provided Bolivia with much needed income, Bolivians like Evo Morales, a leader of the indigenous Aymara, and members of the organization Central Obrera Boliviana demanded the ouster of Lozada and his neoliberal policies, saying that most of the money would have gone to the multinationals and not to the increasingly impoverished Bolivian people.

Seventy percent of Bolivians live in poverty, and much of the local coca-growing economy that Bolivians have depended on in the past has been decimated by U.S.-backed eradication of this crop, from which cocaine is made.

The uprising was also an indication of the growing power and dissatisfaction of Bolivia's indigenous community, people of Aymara, Quechua, and Guarani descent who make up more than half of the Bolivian population. During the Spanish colonization of Bolivia, thousands of indigenous laborers were worked to death in the mines while the profits from the silver and tin extracted went into European pockets.

"The people rose up because they refused to accept that what had happened with the silver, the saltpeter, the tin, and everything else was going to happen with the gas," said Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano.

The uprising was the latest in a series of violent demonstrations that had included the 2000 “war of the water” in which Cochabamba peasants confronting bullets and tear gas wrenched ownership of local water supplies from San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation, and street protests earlier this year that halted IMF demands for a special tax on salaries.

Former Vice President Carlos Mesa, who took office after Lozada fled to Miami, has called for a national referendum on gas policies, as well as more responsiveness to the needs of Bolivia's indigenous people.


Lisa Gale Garrigues is a freelance writer who writes on South America and is a contributing editor for YES!

 

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