Yesterday, all the talk on the streets was of "civil war" and "military coups". A miner died in protests outside Sucre. Protests on the streets were small but visibly angry. Reports came in that Santa Cruz was more or less occupied by the army. Graham and I decided to head back down to our friend’s house in the south of La Paz, where people openly talked of evacuaton.
Today, the mood is noticeably happier and more relaxed out on the streets. Shops are open, transport is slowly returning to the streets, Graham and I can suddenly start to plan our trek (which we have been planning to do for the entire last week). People are saying the crisis is over.
It’s bizarre. How can things change so much in less than 12 hours.
The reason for the rising tension yesterday was linked to the Congress needing to respond to President Mesa’s resignation. They have taken an extraordinarily long time to respond, citing security issues, but leaving a huge political vacuum. Yesterday morning, it looked like Mesa would be replaced by the President of Congress, Vaca Diez.
Vaca Diez is a far more divisive figure than President Mesa, closely linked with President Goni who fled the country in 2003. He is highly unpopular with social movements. In La Paz, everyone was glued to their radios and television sets waiting for the announcement. Protestors in La Paz looked they were waiting to riot. As demonstrations and tension mounted across the country, Vaca Diez eventually renounced his intention to stand, and Eduardo Rodríguez, head of the supreme court was voted in as the new President.
The new President will be responsible for calling elections within the next 3 months. The various leading social movements haven’t formally announced an end to protests but at first sight, it has certainly reduced the high state of tension and negotiations may well lead to a temporary cessation of blockades and protests.
However the elections are only likely to be a temporary solution. The central demand for nationalisation has not been answered. Moreover the factors that have fuelled this crisis remain live: gross inequality and poverty, a political and economic system that fails the majority, a nation divided culturally and economically, international economic policies that force Bolivia into decisions that benefit multinational companies more than its own people.
A ceasefire may be temporarily won but the conflict is sure to continue.