A Struggle for the Nationalization of Bolivia’s Gas
Social Movements Unite Against the Policies of President Mesa
By Alex Contreras Baspineiro
Narco News South American Bureau Chief
June 4, 2004
COCHABAMBA, Bolivia, June 4, 2004. Representatives of Bolivia’s diverse social movements, together with the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB, the main Bolivian labor federation), met today in a great popular assembly and resolved to reject the referendum questions on gas that President Carlos Mesa has proposed, and to begin mobilizations for the nationalization of the country’s hydrocarbons (natural gas and other mineral resources).
COB executive secretary Jaime Solares said the time had arrived “to make a true rebellion” against what he called the crooked, corrupt, and sold-out political class. The members of that class, said Solares, hope to use the referendum simply to validate the eighty-four contracts they have already signed with transnational corporations to exploit the country’s natural resources.
The referendum, set for July 18, has generated much controversy among the people of this South American nation. They are deeply divided. The referendum has the support of major Bolivian companies, traditional politicians, the commercial media and the transnational corporations with interests here. It has been rejected, however, by the social movements, which are working together to make their voices heard.
Solares said that the nation’s fate must not be in the hands of a racist minority in power only by circumstance, which now obeys only the orders of transnational corporations and the U.S. government.
“The poor people of this country have also agreed to tell the U.S. ambassador not to interfere with out country’s internal affairs. The time has come to realize a revolutionary unity to change the destiny of the nation.”
While the popular sectors prepare for, the government has spent the last two weeks in an intense media campaign to win the population’s support for the referendum. The government’s referendum will have five questions, none of which addresses the nationalization of the country’s hydrocarbons.
National Gas Coordinating Committee spokesman Oscar Olivera said that the time has come to organize mobilizations across the country. He explained that for this new phase of Bolivia’s “gas war” to have real, long-lasting effects, the strength for this effort must come from the grassroots, from below.
Olivera proposed a mobilization with a single message: immediate nationalization of the hydrocarbons. He further proposed a great march, if the government would not listen to them, to the capital La Paz to stop the referendum from happening.
Different groups have recently organized isolated mobilizations. Starting today, they hope to unite their forces.
In today’s assembly, representatives participated from all across the country, including workers, peasant farmers, intellectuals, trade unionists, students, mineworkers, social activists, housewives, and others.
As the event concluded, the representatives signed a declaration that read, in part:
- Meeting today, Friday, June 4, in an assembly of deliberation, we the representatives of different Bolivian social movements, say ¡basta! (“enough!”) to the oil companies’ plundering, and to the deception and pressure from the administration of President Carlos Mesa. The Bolivian people gave a mandate in October 2003, and that must be respected. One cannot gamble with the sovereign will of the Bolivian people over the position and use of our natural resources.
- We see the need to retake the path of struggle, and strengthen our will to reclaim our common patrimony. We the social organizations of Bolivia know that the deaths and suffering of our brothers during the so-called “gas war” have not been in vain. The “October agenda” is simple: to nationalize and industrialize our gas.
- The referendum launched by the current government breaks with the Bolivian people’s primary demand of October 2003. It does not fundamentally change the scheme for the gas’s exploitation by transnational corporations, as it does not annul or modify the eighty-four existing contracts between these corporations and the Bolivian State. Therefore, the social organizations declare:
- The referendum is a demand from civil society, and a conquest begun by the social movements in October 2003. The social organizations are not against a direct popular vote, but are against the content of the government’s proposed referendum, which is unfair and deceptive.
- The content of the present referendum does not reflect the major issues that have been unresolved since October. It does not touch on the problem of immediately reclaiming the property of the hydrocarbons, of not exporting them on a grand scale (especially to Chile) as raw materials, with no added value. The referendum seeks only to legitimize President Mesa’s “hydrocarbons law.”
- We insist also that the first task consists of reclaiming the referendum’s democratic and popular character through the content of the questions. And the fundamental question should say:
Mark yes if you agree with the nationalization of the hydrocarbons, understood as the immediate recovery of the entirety of the hydrocarbon reserves for their exploitation by the Bolivian State, through the annulment, resolution, or modification of all written contracts with companies from the private sector.
- Considering the above, the social organizations will implement the actions they deem most appropriate, according to the region and people they represent. We know perfectly well that the struggle for the nationalization and industrialization of our gas does not depend on a referendum, but on the long march that the social movements have begun. With respect and solidarity, we reject any repressive government action against any organization.
In the final part of the manifesto, the Bolivian people, from the city and from the countryside, are invited to join the campaign, spread the word, debate, and demonstrate their will. “The long march of the social movements has now begun; we must reclaim what is ours as we always have – by fighting for it.”
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