Bolivia penned in by bloqueos

By Published On: March 10, 2005Categories: Politics2 Comments on Bolivia penned in by bloqueos

No way forward, no way back.

I was intending this week to head to Cochabamba, but the main road was blocked by protestors so I took a back-route through the hills where Che Guevara famously spent his last days. But I found out today that this road has also been blocked.  So I am stuck.

My personal predicament mirrors what is happening in Bolivia at large.

After over a week of bloqueos (road blockages) and protests, President Mesa threatened to resign only to back down after the majority of Congress supported him and some citizens in La Paz came out to demonstrate calling for him to stay.

Buoyed by the apparent support, Mesa called for demonstrations against the bloqueos and refused to compromise on protestor’s and road-blockers’ demands. These are centred on a ‘hydrocarbons’ law demanding that international energy companies pay 50% of their royalties to the Bolivian government. There are also demands for the immediate transfer of the water system in El Alto in La Paz from the private consortium, Aguas del Illimani, to the municipal utility, explored in more detail on Znet.

Mesa has said this would lead to an end to foreign investment and bring about legal action by the multinationals against the Bolivian government.

But his refusal to back down has been met by increased resistance by the main opposition party in Bolivia (MAS) and indeed has led to greater unity between MAS and various social movements They have vowed to continue their struggle for a new hydrocarbons law.

Their key demand for 50% royalties is not even that radical as this used to be what the government received before the IMF and World Bank forced them to privatise the oil/gas industry in 1990.  So it is not surprising that MAS and various social movements have upped the ante before a new law is signed which would only grant 18% of royalties to the Bolivian government.

The result is a political stalemate, which is reflected in the paralysing of the country as road blockages stop all movement.

For me, being stuck is a slight inconvenience. I of course have the luxury of savings from a salary beyond the imaginings of most Bolivians. So I can stay put in the hills.

But for some Bolivians the bloqueos cause real hardship. I heard yesterday that there were big fights at the bloqueo between here and Cochabamba as frustrations came to a head. Agricultural exports in the last month fell by 40% and from the limited conversations I have heard, I share Democracy’s Center’s excellent analysis of the crisis that people largely agree with the demands but not the tactics.

Sadly the real bloqueos that need to be opened up are not here in Bolivia, but are ones written in agreements in IMF offices in Washington, muttered darkly in La Paz’s foreign embassies, or threatened by companies in faxes to Bolivian minstries.

I am sure Mesa is right when he says that the opposition’s demands will lead to isolation by the international donor community on which Bolivia is highly dependent. He is also right that the bloqueos are harming the country. But the opposition are equally right that justice demands that Bolivia benefits fully from its gas reserves.

Anyone up for dismantling the international bloqueos?



  1. helen March 12, 2005 at 2:57 am - Reply

    Hey Nick,
    Am up for it, but would love to know what the people you meet think about the international bloqueos – what’s the feeling about their role in what is going on? Are protests picking up on this, or mainly aimed at national politics?
    Really loving the blog – please keep writing it!
    Helen x

  2. Nick March 12, 2005 at 4:41 pm - Reply

    Helen, It’s something I don’t really know yet. Those Bolivians I have talked to so far whilst travelling don’t seem very aware of the role of international players in framing what is happening. But these are early days…
    Those who are leading the bloqueos talk about international players (companies and govts) exploiting Bolivia, but as far as I can see don’t have a clear strategy for tackling the international bloqueos. Their focus is very much a national one of confronting the government.
    There is an interesting account of the meeting between government and the social movements/opposition which has just been translated at
    When it is raised that the government will be sued by the multinationals if royalties are increased, the leader of the Bolivian Workers’ Federation (COB) says: “Well if they are going to sue us anyway for the royalties, then let’s go for full nationalization.”

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