Between a sword and a wall

By Published On: May 11, 2005Categories: Gas & Oil0 Comments on Between a sword and a wall

When the TV announced that the President would make an address to the nation, I had images of Churchill announcing war.

Thankfully Bolivia is not about to go to war, but there is a foreboding sense that a serious conflict is approaching.

At my language institute where I am studying, teachers are stocking up on extra food at supermarkets, rumours abound of attacks on Parliament and government buildings, people are bringing forward travel plans to race across the country before it’s too late.

There is a feeling perhaps reminiscent to the phony war that existed in the UK in the first months after war was announced.

The reason? The country-wide debate on gas which finally has reached a critical point after months of debate, demonstrations and road blocks.

On Friday, the Congress passed a law on gas/oil which has been condemned by energy companies as "confiscatory" and as an "act of treachery" by opposition parties and various social movements.

It was left to the President to decide whether to promote a law (which he has previously criticised saying it will end foreign investment), or choose to veto or make amendments to it earning the wrath of nearly all the parties in Congress. In the words of most commentators, he was caught "between a sword and a wall."

Most of my friends predicted he would say nothing because after 10 days the law would automatically pass and the wrath from both sides would then fall on Congress and not on the President.

For five days, President Mesa said nothing. To ratchet up the tension further, the Civic Committee in the Eastern province of Santa Cruz announced that it would go ahead with their own referendum for autonomy if the Congress failed to organise an official referendum.

Autonomy is related to the gas issue, as the two regions keen to have autonomy are the same regions with the largest gas reserves. Autonomy is seen by many as another tactic for depriving the State of control of its natural resources.

Then suddenly last night, it was announced that the President would make an address to the nation. I don’t ever remember seeing an address to the nation, so tuned in with interest to see what President Mesa had to say. Would he agree to promote the law? Would he veto it? Would he agree to the demands of Santa Cruz? Would he threaten to resign for perhaps the fourth time in a month?

Of course, like all good politicians, he avoided all the options by calling instead for a national meeting of all parties to come to a consensus to prevent the "disintegration of our country."

But the tactic seemed to backfire. Evo Morales, leader of the opposition party MAS, stated that they wouldn’t attend because various social movements had not been invited. Announcements of marches and demonstrations have been publicised for Monday.

We are back in a situation where the Government and opposition are on the verge of a major fight that will have serious consequences for the country. Meanwhile the multinational companies and Western Governments who pull the strings in this tragic play will face little pressure and remain largely out of the international spotlight.


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