Bolivian leader quits

By Published On: March 7, 2005Categories: Politics0 Comments on Bolivian leader quits

I was expecting to see some lively politics in Bolivia, but didn’t think I would arrive in a country plunged into a deep political crisis. In fact as I crossed the border unnoticed even by border guards, the rest of Bolivia was being paralysed by a series of bloqueos (blocking of roads) by protests organised by the one of the opposition parties and other civic groups across the country. The protests called for constitutional change and legislation to increase the royalties international companies pay the government for extracting oil.

This came to a head on Sunday when President Carlos Mesa offered his resignation saying it was no longer possible to govern the country. Some people are speculating that it is just a political ploy to increase his power and stop the protests. Others have already come out to demonstrate in his support.

One of the areas that seems relatively unaffected by protests is Santa Cruz, where I have just arrived. Yet it is a city that is being blamed as one of the factors behind his resignation.

Santa Cruz is a city that contrasts strongly with my first impressions of poverty in the East of Bolivia.  Its streets are full of electronics shops and Internet cafes, sleek 4 by 4s, and there is a general air of comfortable wealth emanating from its air-conditioned icecream parlours. 

From what I have been told, a great deal of its wealth comes from exporting wood, and also oil that is being extracted in the region.

Noticeably, people are much lighter-skinned than those I met further East, whilst the people begging in the streets resemble people from the Altiplano.

Recently, there have been growing demands here for greater autonomy – most vocally by wealthy Crucenos (citizens of Santa Cruz) who feel that their wealth is subsidising the poorer regions of Bolivia including La Paz. The demands have noticeably grown louder as new contracts to extract oil are being discussed in Bolivia´s congress.

Bolivia may overall be much poorer than other regions of Latin America, but it doesn´t seem to have escaped the curse of grotesque inequality that afflicts this continent. 


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