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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

"It appears to be the beginning of a global insurgency for change." -- Gary Payne, 24 October 2003.[1]

Background on the October 2003 Indigenous Insurrection in Bolivia

Root causes include the war on drugs and privatization of natural resources, specifically natural gas. But it was also the termination of free school breakfasts, a lack of drinkable water, the absence of basic medical care and child immunizations. It was the impossible requirements imposed on Bolivia by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. It was the general certainty of future injustice in nearly all aspects of their lives that was intolerable for Bolivians. [2]

  • The history of political upheaval in Bolivia is legendary. More than 100 revolutions have taken place since the Spanish conquistador Pizarro arrived in 1532. [3]
  • In Bolivia the vast majority is unbelievably poor, mostly Indian, and struggles for basic survival. The country is run, however, both politically and economically, by a tiny, wealthy elite that seems mostly intent on protecting its privileges. [4]
  • "Over the past decade, Bolivia's presidents have been friendly with the U.S. Former military dictator Hugo Banzer and his appointed successor--Harvard MBA and ex-Texas oilman Jorge Quiroga--proved eager to assist the U.S. in implementing corporate globalization and the drug war. Both used violence to impose these ends, but state repression reached a high point during the last two years under Quiroga." [5]

The Water War

Bolivia's "gas war" bears many similarities to the now-famous sweetheart deal three years ago in which the California-based engineering giant, Bechtel, was given control of the water system of Bolivia's third largest city, Cochabamba. Within weeks of taking control of the city's water, Bechtel hit poor families with huge increases in their water bills, enough to spark a popular rebellion and chase Bechtel out of the country. [6]

In mid-January [2000] a four day "paro civico" (general strike) over the water price hikes left the city at a total standstill - no cars, no buses, no air flights or bus transport in or out of the city. It was the kind of action that can only happen with broad popular support and it culminated in a mass march to the city's central plaza as thousands of angry water users, urban and rural, gathered and chanted just outside the windows of the government offices where protest leaders and officials were negotiating.

... the Bolivian government issued its response, sending more than 1,000 army and police in from outside Cochabamba and declaring the march banned and illegal, an especially loaded act from a President, Hugo Banzer, who in the 1970s had ruled for 7 years as an unelected dictator, Bolivia's companion to Augusto Pinochet.

... the rest of the story at [7] and [8]

  • Sep '00: National Uprising Rocks Bolivia
    • protesting the forced eradication of coca crops and the planned construction of three new US-financed "anti-drug" military bases
    • The Coordinating Committee for Water and Life, which organized a protest movement in the city of Cochabamba last spring against the privatization of the municipal drinking water system, is also backing the new protests.
    • The other groups involved in the actions are following the same solidarity policy, insisting that all demands must be resolved before any protests will be lifted.
  • Jan '02: "The removal of Morales from parliament, decided Wednesday by the Chamber of Deputies, "is going to throw the country into chaos."
  • Apr '02: "Bolivia, which has natural gas reserves equivalent to more than four billion barrels of oil, also plans to use the pipeline to export natural gas to the United States. Construction of the pipeline and a liquefaction plant in whichever port is chosen, the expansion of the shipping installations, the creation of a shipping fleet, and the construction of a regasification plant in the United States will require an investment of five billion dollars."
  • Jun '02: Bolivian Presidential Election. "The 11 candidates seeking to succeed President Jorge Quiroga closed their election campaigns Thursday amidst a row triggered by Washington's ambassador in La Paz, Manuel Rocha, who urged Bolivians not to vote for the leader of the coca-farmers, Evo Morales, of the leftist Movement towards Socialism (MAS).
    • Rocha warned that if Morales won, the United States would cut off all economic aid and postpone a six-billion-dollar project to build a pipeline and liquefaction plant to export Bolivian natural gas to the United States from an as-yet unspecified Pacific Ocean port in Peru or Chile."
    • Morales attributed the ambassador's remarks to Washington's fears that its companies will return to the hands of Bolivians, a reference to the nationalisation of the country's tin mines and other industries under the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR), which took power in 1952.
  • Jul '02: No candidate acquired majority; Presidency to be determined by Congress
    • Sánchez de Lozada, who governed Bolivia from 1993 to 1997 and who ran as the candidate of the centrist Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR), won 22.3 percent of the vote
    • Close behind, with 20.9 percent of the vote, was Reyes, the head of the right-wing New Republican Force (NFR), according to the same source. Reyes, who served as mayor of Cochabamba, Bolivia's third-largest city, for three consecutive terms, was the poll favourite.
    • Evo Morales, the leader of the coca farmers and the candidate of the leftist Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), came in third place, with 18.4 percent of the vote.
    • Sunday's elections, the fifth since a string of de facto regimes came to an end in 1982, confirmed the decline of the governing Nationalist Democratic Party (ADN), whose candidate, Ronald MacLean, took a mere 3.5 percent of the vote.
    • Spoiled and blank ballots totalled 7.3 percent of the total.
  • Jul '02: Maybe there was a recount.
    • Morales, of the leftist Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), garnered 20.9 percent of the vote, pushing ahead of retired captain Manfred Reyes Villa, the candidate of the right-wing New Republican Force, by 719 votes.
    • The Pacific LNG consortium, which is taking part in the operation, would prefer Sánchez de Lozada as Bolivia's new president, because the U.S.-educated former president was the driving force behind the privatisation of this country's hydrocarbons sector, and has no links to popular anti- imperialist sentiment.
    • Morales says he would fully nationalise Bolivia's natural gas, and increase taxes on the extraction of hydrocarbons by as much as 50 percent.
    • Meanwhile, Reyes Villa, the front-runner in the polls prior to the elections, is considering the possibility of asking for an audit of the unexpected new election results.
  • Aug '02: Bolivian security forces, trained, funded and equipped by the United States, have committed serious human rights abuses with impunity in the coca-growing Chapare region, says a report released here by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
    • Political analysts said Morales' spectacular rise was due in part to outspoken opposition to his candidacy by the U.S. ambassador in La Paz, Manuel Rocha, who warned the electorate just four days before the vote that Washington would cut aid "if you elect those who want Bolivia to become a major cocaine exporter again".
    • "The strong showing for Morales indicates widespread discontent with U.S. drug policy and its reverberations throughout Bolivian society and the economy," says the report, written by Kathy Ledebur of the Andean Information Network.
  • Jan '03: significant civil unrest
    • The Bolivian Catholic Church has condemned the violence in Chapare, saying the confrontations between peasants and soldiers are "an insult and a slap in the face to God," because they are "losing their respect for life."
    • Cardinal Julio Terrazas, the maximum Catholic authority in Bolivia, on Sunday urged the archdiocese, diocese and parishes to promote "actions so that agreement and dialogue once again prevail among the parties to the conflict."
    • "Nobody wins with violence and we all lose if violence continues to increase. When it is said that this week will be worse, that more radical measures will be taken, we must remain clear that this will not solve anything," stated Terrazas.
  • 23 Jan '03: "Though the government, the media, and some of the movements that have elected not to participate in the blockades exhaust themselves trying to show the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the People as the initiative of one man and one political party, Evo Morales and MAS (Movement Toward Socialism), in reality it represents a first attempt at integration within the movement; a possibility and a beginning that we should work to strengthen."
  • Feb '03: "Of the 14 articulated points for which the campesinos are fighting, the basic demands are the suspension of coca leaf eradication, the re-nationalization of oil and other privatized companies, and the refusal to join FTAA (The Free Trade Area of Americas)."
  • 13 Feb '03: "Dual power has come to Bolivia most suddenly: not, as expected, in the form of a coordinated uprising of coca growers, highland Aymara peasants, and Quechua speaking peasants under the direction of Evo Morales, Felipe Quispe, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the People; instead, high school students and the working class of La Paz and its satellite city, El Alto, rose up spontaneously in the largest urban insurrection since the National Revolution of 1952."
    • On the afternoon of Wednesday, February 12, students from Ayacucho high school attacked the Presidential Palace in the Plaza de Murillo with stones, and after the Military Police shot and killed members of the police's Special Group, crowds burned the headquarters of the major neoliberal political parties (MNR, MIR, ADN) as well as a privately-owned television station, the vice-president's office, the Ministry of Labor, and the Ministry of Sustainable Development, the last of which was created under the first Sánchez de Lozada administration (1993-97). They looted supermarkets, stores, ATMs, the Central Bank, destroyed a café frequented by many of Bolivia's notables, and burned a car that was carrying the son of the leader of MIR. In El Alto, rioters burned and looted the water company, the power company, Banco Sol, the customs office, and the mayor's office, and on the morning of February 13, they took over the Coca Cola and Pepsi bottling plants.
    • What detonated the uprising was the violence that the Military Police unleashed against the police's Special Group, which had marched peacefully on the Presidential Palace to protest proposed tax measures that threaten to further reduce their meager $105/month salaries.
  • 10 Apr '03: U.S. war on terrorism makes an incursion into El Alto, openly planting the evidence. "Commentators agree that it is a crude frame up, and due to the fact that the Bolivian press was notified of events by the U.S. Embassy, many see the case as a clear example of growing U.S. intervention in "domestic" Bolivian politics", a "further ratcheting up of imperial terror in South America". [9]
  • May '03 Jim Schultz: "Bolivia may lead a Latin American rebellion against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)"

The Gas War

"In a country whose economic identity has been strongly shaped by U.S. pressure in the war on drugs and IMF structural adjustments, The Gas War is the most recent case where the Bolivian public has vehemently protested against foreign interests taking priority over the country's economic well being." [10]

"Historically, Bolivia has been rich in natural resources such as gold, tin and coal, all of which were exported out of the country by foreign companies that made enormous profits while Bolivia struggled on. In the recent Gas War, many Bolivians are trying to make sure that history does not repeat itself." [11]

The debate regarding what to do with Bolivia's natural gas reserves, which are the largest in Latin America, came to a head approximately a year and half ago when Bolivian president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, or Goni, proposed that the gas be exported through Chile, instead of the more costly option of exporting it through Peru.

In Bolivia, there is a profound contempt towards Chile which originated with the Pacific war of 1879 when Chile took over Bolivia's only access to the sea. This event has fueled much of the tension regarding the plan to sell the gas through Chile. Rather than having their desperate government sell the gas to foreign investors, many Bolivians want it to be industrialized nationally for much needed employment and income.

From its start, The Gas War included demands for clarity in coca laws, the release of jailed political leaders and justice regarding the atrocities that took place in La Paz last February.

  • Aug '03: "The Pacific LNG consortium, made up of the transnational corporations Repsol from Spain, British Gas, and the U.S. corporation Panamerican Gas, would pump and transport the gas, and Sempra Energy would build a regasification plant in northern Mexico and sell it to both Mexico and the U.S. state of California."
  • 20 Aug '03: Forrest Hylton, who writes frequently on South American politics and peoples movements, observes: "Though the right may have re-taken the political initiative in South America for now, it remains to be seen whether its narrow and unimaginative vision can be imposed on Bolivia, much less the rest of a continent whose peoples have proven most resistant to the long night of the neoliberal reich."
  • Since mid-September [2003], a wave of protest has spread across the country demanding government action on a variety of issues - the main one suspension of a proposed mega-deal to sell Bolivian natural gas to California. [12]

The Reclaiming of National Sovereignty

"This was a month-long protest. The coca growers blocked the road, largely in protest of US-funded construction of three US-style military bases in the region, in spite of an already-high military presence in the region. They blocked the road totally for a whole month. A security force in the Chapare and - others shipped in from other regions - maintained recurring daily conflicts with the coca growers.

"Human-rights monitors were trying very hard to cover this, to send out updates. Many growers were shot and taken to the hospital. Members of the security forces also disappeared during that conflict. It was something that escalated very quickly and was a demonstration of all of the negative things that Plan Dignidad had produced for everyone involved." [13]

  • 19 Sep '03: tens of thousands protested in cities across Bolivia. These marches proved that there are large numbers of citizens who are willing to take serious action if the plan to sell gas through Chile moves ahead.
  • 20 Sep '03: a military command kills five people in an attempt to "rescue" a group of tourists that had remained stuck behind a roadblock. The violence of the military response detonates an escalation of violence as the government responds to protests with a wave of repression that in less than a month's time would leave more than 80 demonstrators dead and hundreds wounded.
From this date onward, a popular uprising begins to grow at a startling pace.[14]
  • 24 Sep '03 report from Bolivia by Ben Dangl with The Andean Information Network in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
  • 13 Oct '03: "It remains to be seen whether the opposition movements, led by the highland Aymara, will succeed in overthrowing Sánchez de Lozada, implementing a Constituent Assembly, and forging a new Bolivia, or whether rightwing authoritarianism a la Uribe will be imposed with the aid of the US Embassy. The situation is unfolding with such rapidity that predictions are of marginal utility, but one thing is certain: the Aymara working class and peasantry of the western highlands; the coca growers of the eastern lowlands; the Quechua-speaking Indian peasantry of the southern highlands and valleys; the working class of La Paz and Cochabamba; in other words, the people who produce Bolivia's wealth are demanding an end to 511 years of looting, exploitation, and political domination. They insist on becoming the beneficiaries of their labor, on taking the political decisions that affect their lives and exercising sovereignty over natural resources. But not for themselves: as one neighborhood leader in Santa Rosa, El Alto, put it on the evening of October 12, 'Mr. Journalist, we will not move until the gringo is gone. He is no longer president here in El Alto. We run things here. We will not let anyone export our gas, much less to the US via Chile. The gas is ours, and we want it for our children and grandchildren, so they won't have to live like this. Our gas is for their future.'"
  • 15 Oct '03:
    • The U.S. State Department expressed its support for President Sánchez de Lozada when it announced that, "The American people [error!] and their government support Bolivia's democratically elected president, Gonzalo Sánchez De Lozada... The international community and the United States will not tolerate any interruption of constitutional order and will not support any regime that results from undemocratic means." (Richard Boucher, DOS Press Release 10/15/03)
    • U.S. citizens living in Bolivia,have prepared a letter to U.S. Ambassador in Bolivia, David Greenlee, and U.S. Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere, Roger Noriega, calling on the U.S. government to recognize and respect Bolivian's right to determine its own destiny without outside interference.
  • 17 Oct '03: Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada resigned from the Bolivian presidency Friday after allies in his coalition government abandoned him[15] and as many as 70 people died this week in police crackdowns on continued massive protests. Vice-President Carlos Mesa is his likely successor.
    • Parliamentary deputy Evo Morales, the leader of the coca farmers and of the opposition Movement Towards Socialism, and figurehead of the protest movement, said he is willing to support the designation of Mesa as the new president.
    • But he added that his backing would last only as long as Mesa complies with the expectations of the people, referring to demands for constitutional reform and modification of the government's free-market economic policies.
  • 17 Oct '03: Bolivian Vice-President Carlos Mesa was sworn as president late Friday.
  • 25 Oct '03: Protesting sectors, such as those led by Evo Morales, Campesino Leader, Felipe Quispe and Bolivian Workers' Union (COB) leader, Jaime Solares, have agreed to a ninety day truce to allow the new government time to produce results regarding the opposition's demands. If Mesa does not follow through with what the opposition leaders have demanded regarding issues such as the exportation of the gas, rejections of the ALCA Free Trade Agreement and clarity in coca production laws, they have pledged to begin another fierce campaign of blockades, marches and strikes. (La Razón, 10/21/03)

After several postponments, and interferences, Bolivians will challenge, perhaps confront, manifest destiny in their ...

2005 Elections

"Landlocked and poor, for two decades Bolivia has been the unwilling test lab for a set of economic policies known as the "Washington Consensus". Topping the list has been the privatization of the nation's natural resources into the hands of foreign corporations, along with economic belt-tightening that falls heavily on the nation's poor. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have made these policies a key condition of giving Bolivia crucial international aid." [16]

Bolivia is at a crossroads and goes to the polls on Sunday 18 December to choose between a Harvard-educated, American-married, member of the business elite and an indigenous Aymara Indian and radical former coca farmer. ... Bolivia is poised to join Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and possibly even Mexico next year in an extraordinary rebirth of the Latin American left. [17]

"According to the United Nations, as of October 2005, 100 families control over 25 million hectares of land in Bolivia while 2 million campesino (farmer/peasant) families have, combined, access to 5 million hectares of land. In other words, the wealthiest 100 landowners possess five times more land then 2 million small landowners. ... The UN Development Report goes on to state that it is precisely this inequality that is the principal cause of Bolivia’s political and social instability, fuelling constant conflicts between a tiny elite and the general population." [18]

the Morales Presidency

External Resources

Tobacco issues in Bolivia

Republic of Bolivia vs Philip Morris Companies Inc et al] (Copy of 1999 lawsuit brought by Bolivia against Philip Morris Companies Inc., et al for costs to Bolivia of treating sick smokers)

Democracy Manipulation in Bolivia

On July 2, 2008 "International Republican Institute (IRI) board member Jim Kolbe and Vice President for Programs Elizabeth Dugan, traveled to South America to launch IRI’s new political party strengthening program in Peru. Dugan also traveled to Bolivia to see IRI’s work and meet with program participants." [1]

"On June 6 USAID/Bolivia Acting Director Peter Natiello, Office of Democratic Development Director Karen Anderson and Program Manager Alvaro Galvez, along with Minister of Justice Celima Torrico, participated in the inauguration of an Integrated Justice Center (IJC) in the municipality of Yapacaní and a battered women’s shelter (an annex to an existing IJC) in the Plan 3000 neighborhood of the city of Santa Cruz." [2]

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch articles


  1. IRI Board Member and Vice President Launch IRI Program in Peru, International Republican Institute, accessed September 22, 2008.
  2. Inauguration of Justice Center and Women’s Shelter in Santa Cruz, Embassy of the US, accessed September 22, 2008.

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