June 2005  
Eyewitness La Paz 

Bolivian Capital Shut Down by Mass Protests

La Paz, manifestación, 6 de junio de 2006
Tens of thousands of Bolivian workers, peasants and poor people converge on Plaza San Francisco in
the capital, La Paz, calling to shut down the corrupt parliament and nationalize gas and oil resources.

(Internationalist photo)

FLASH – 10 p.m. – Bolivian President Carlos Mesa just submitted his resignation in the face of mass protests. Who will succeed him is an open question, supposedly to be resolved tomorrow by the Bolivian Congress. Mesa “governed” for 19 months after taking over from the previous president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. That mass murderer was driven out by a workers uprising against the bloody repression he unleashed attempting to crush protests against his deals with a “multinational” gas cartel. Since then the political, social and economic crisis has only escalated. Today a huge march of workers, peasants and slum dwellers occupied the center of the capital, already cut off by road blockades that have shut access to the city. Mesa’s resignation is a demonstration of the incapacity of Bolivia’s ruling class to resolve the basic problems facing this impoverished Andean country. If the rightist head of Congress is named his successor, mass outrage will escalate further. The threat of a military coup is real. The only solution: ¡Obreros al poder – Workers to power!

LA PAZ, JUNE 6 – Al parlamento hay que cerrarlo, a los corruptos hay que colgarlos: “We have to close down parliament and hang those crooks,” Aymara Indians sang in today’s enormous demonstration. Theirs was one of the seemingly endless columns of marchers pouring down from the slums of El Alto into the center of the Bolivian capital. Mesa y Goni, el mismo engaño, leyes malditos han firmado, they continued, to the tune of an Andean huayño: “Mesa and Goni, the same trickery, signing accursed laws.” Carlos Mesa, the current president, is the successor to Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (“Goni”), who unleashed massive repression in a failed attempt to crush the upheaval of October 2003.

The Plaza San Francisco in central La Paz overflowed today with angry workers, peasants and slum dwellers. “Mass marches and dynamite explosions rocked the capital,” reported the radio. Miners and factory workers joined peasants from the altiplano (highlands) and the Yungas below La Paz, teachers, organizations of the unemployed and many tens of thousands of others demanding “Nationalization of gas and oil.”

“No autonomy for the oligarchy of Santa Cruz,” demanded the marchers, enraged at Mesa’s agreeing to the “autonomy” referendum extorted by the elite of that lowland eastern department (province), together with that of other gas-rich regions, as a weapon against the western Indian highlands. A placard denounced the Santa Cruz upper crust as “remnants of Pizarro,” the Spanish conquistador of the Andes who is a fitting symbol of the centuries of pillage that have left the overwhelming majority of the Bolivian population mired in the deepest poverty.

The marchers’ mood was radical and angry. Hundreds of demonstrators carried signs denouncing the ruling class in the most explicit terms: Burgueses, los días son contados – Capitalists, your days are numbered. “Death to the Bolivian bourgeoisie,” “We’ve had it with bourgeois parliamentary maneuvers,” read hand-lettered signs.

Class outrage boiled over, as Indian women yelled at well-dressed passersby to take off their neckties. Armed with sticks, some of them with nails protruding, women in traditional aguayo shawls and pollera petticoats forced shops and street peddlers to close down. In the wealthy neighborhoods of southern La Paz, normally arrogant members of the upper crust literally cower behind their metal gates.

Smoke from burning tires mixed with the teargas fired by riot police against demonstrators who tried once again to take the Plaza Murillo, seat of the national government. The city is running out of fuel as a result of the road blockades by peasant and labor organizations throughout the country.

The Catholic Church is demanding an end to mobilizations as part of the “dialogue” it is frantically seeking. In their attempts to “mediate” an end to the bitter class struggle that has brought this country to a virtual standstill over the recent weeks of protest, Church leaders met today with Evo Morales, leader of the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS). Morales has been a key prop of Mesa’s increasingly isolated government. Today, the MAS leader spread more illusions in the Bolivian Parliament, calling on it to “completely recover” the country’s oil and gas reserves through an amended energy law (see “Bolivia Explodes in Sharp Class Battle,” June 1).

Mineros de Huanuni, 6 de junio de 2005Miners from the historically militant Huanuni tin mine march La Paz June 6.
(Intrernationalist photo)

Yet the contempt for the bourgeois Congress angrily expressed by the marchers who brought La Paz to a halt today reflects widespread disgust not only with Goni’s allies who control parliament, but increasingly with the institution itself. In today’s demonstration, calls for nationalization were much more common than slogans for the “constituent assembly” Morales has demanded and Mesa has agreed to call in new maneuvers aimed at ending the mass mobilizations.

But bourgeois nationalizations are not enough to free the exploited from centuries of poverty. Expropriation of the gas and oil “multinationals,” without compensation, must be brought about by the action of the working class seizing the installations in the fight for a revolution that puts power in the hands of the exploited themselves, a socialist revolution.

Already, protesters have seized two oil wells in Camiri, a city in eastern Bolivia best known of the site of the military trial of associates of Che Guevara’s guerrilla group in 1967. Today, the Transredes oil facility, which ships 150,000 barrels per day, was occupied by protesters. Earlier the refinery in Cochabamba was occupied by workers. Outside La Paz, peasants cut off the river that supplies water to the capital.

Rumors escalate that the president may call out the army for massive repression, or that the armed forces may take matters into their own hands. Sticks of wood, even sticks of dynamite, are far from sufficient to defend the working people against this threat. In the Plaza San Francisco today, a retired miner from Catavi-Siglo XX bought the new El Internacionalista pamphlet on Bolivia and told us, “The working class here used to be armed. The one who put an end to that was General Barrientos,” who led a military coup in 1964 and used populist demagogy, including speeches in Quechua in which he proclaimed a “military-peasant alliance” – against the workers.

The need for self-defense groups, nuclei of workers and peasants militias, is palpable. Together with workers and peasants councils like the soviets of the Russian Revolution, they can win over the plebeian ranks of the army, against the officer corps which has carried out unnumbered massacres against miners, factory workers, peasants and students. Yet leading sectors of the COB (Bolivian Labor Federation), including its general secretary Jaime Solares, continue appealing to nationalist officers.

Today’s mass meeting voted resolutions for nationalization of oil and gas and the seizure of the oil fields and gas wells, and for a “People’s and Indian Government,” a populist formula which very deliberately seeks to appeal to sectors of the bourgeoisie and armed forces. This is a formula for defeat. The League for the Fourth International, in contrast, calls for a workers, peasants and Indians government to carry out socialist revolution to bring down the bloody rule of the bourgeoisie. Immediately posed is the formation of workers, peasants and soldiers councils on which such a revolutionary government would be based.

Only the class power of the proletariat, gathering all the exploited and oppressed around the banner of workers revolution, shows a way out. The absence of a genuinely revolutionary party – the crisis of proletarian leadership – is the only reason the Bolivian bourgeoisie has not been swept away, as thousands of marchers demanded today.

In the Plaza San Francisco, dozens of workers and Indian peasants told us of their anger and their hopes today and listened with passionate interest when we said how revolution in Bolivia could set the region aflame and win support from workers across the borders and across the world. “The burgueses keep us in hunger,” “They have stolen everything all the way back to the days of silver,” “We need to throw them out,” demonstrators said. A party like the Bolsheviks of Lenin and Trotsky must be forged to lead this struggle.

Mobilizations are to continue tomorrow, as the bourgeois Congress is scheduled to convene. n

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com