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GUIA DE ESTUDOS PARA O CONCURSO DE ADMISSÃO À CARREIRA DE DIPLOMATA

Oil was nationalised in Bolivia first in 1937, a year before the Mexican wells were expropriated, and again in 1970. The shell of the state company, YPFB, still exists, and most Bolivians remain implacably ____________ to foreign ownership, but private oil companies have kept coming back. When immense reserves of natural gas were discovered in the 1990s, some 50 trillion cubic feet at the last estimate, Bolivia became ever more attractive to external predators, its reserves second ___________ to those of Venezuela.

The government and the companies (British Gas and Spain’s Repsol among them) were keen to get the gas out of the ground and down to the coast, to be shipped off to California. Others, notably the spokesmen for the Indian majority, thought that the gas might be better used to fuel Bolivia's own industrial development. The government's attempts to secure the export of the gas through Chile, Bolivia’s traditional enemy, ended in October 2003 when violent protests in El Alto led to the overthrow of President Sánchez de Losada, Bolivia’s last elected president. This week's events have been an almost exact replay, with the resignation of the stop-gap president, Carlos Mesa, after prolonged Indian demonstrations and roadblocks had made the country ungovernable by his regime. Something new was required.

The chief emerging protagonist in the next stage of Bolivia’s drama is Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian from the high plateau who became the organiser of the coca growers in the Chapare, in the headwaters of the Amazon. From this base of desperate landless peasants and politicised former tin miners, he has become a national figure, allying the socialist rhetoric of the traditional Bolivian left with the fresh language of the indigenous population, now mobilised and angry.

Morales leads the Movement Towards Socialism, and is an outspoken supporter of Castro’s Cuba. He is also a favourite son of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, whose wider ambition has been to replicate the revolution of Simón Bolívar, whose name is immortalised in that of Bolivia. The Americans have accused Chávez of providing Morales with assistance at the presidential election in 2002 (in which he came second), and this would hardly be unusual since all parties in Bolivia depend on external patrons, whether from Europe or the US. Morales has certainly taken a leaf from Chávez’s book in demanding the holding of a constitutional assembly to draft a new constitution. This was Chávez’s triumph in 1999, modernising and radicalising the country with a single blow before the forces of opposition could mobilise to prevent him.

The crisis came to a head as the Congress met to accept President Mesa’s resignation in the old colonial capital of Sucre (away from the protesters in La Paz). According to the Constitution, the presidency would then fall to Hormando Vaca Díaz, the president of the Senate and a wealthy white landowner from the lowland eastern region, centred on the city of Santa Cruz. The area around Santa Cruz is the principal wealth-producer of the country, with the soya fields of agribusiness on the surface, and oil and gas underground. This is the land of more recent white settlers who have been opposed to the political emergence of the Indian majority in the western high lands, and to the Indian resistance that has emerged to challenge them in the lowlands. Elite white groups have been asking for autonomy – some even argue for independence – and have unilaterally called for a referendum on this issue in August.

Vaca Díaz had the support of the largest parties in Congress but was unacceptable to the Indians and, under pressure from the leaders of the armed forces and the Catholic Church, he declined the task. So too did Mario Cossio, the second constitutional choice. It fell to the third in line, Eduardo Rodríguez, president of the Supreme Court and a man without political affiliation, to take up the challenge. Fresh elections will be held before the end of the year, and Morales’s demand for a constituent assembly is on the agenda.

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