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Jeffrey R.

Webber mo re o n Latin America , So cial Mo vements

Jef f ery R. Webber studies and teaches political science at the University of Toronto. He currently lives in Bolivia and is a member of the Canadian New Socialist Group. T he author thanks Juan Arbona, David Camf ield, Linda Farthing, Dianne Feeley, and Susan Spronk f or helpf ul comments. T he Geography of Struggle La Paz, the Bolivian capital, rests in a deep valley in the heart of the Andes. T he geographical terrain of the city is marked clearly with deep class divisions and the racist legacies of Spanish colonial impositions and ongoing internal colonialism, present since the f ounding of the republic in 1825. T he indigenous peoplesover 60 percent of the population according to the 2001 censushave suf f ered at the bottom of a wickedly steep social hierarchy that whitens in accordance with class privilege. Neighboring El Alto rests on the brink of the altiplano, the high-plateau overlooking the valley which cradles La Paz. With seven hundred thousand residents living at f our thousand meters above sea level, El Alto is technically a separate city f rom La Paz, but it acts more as the latters massive shantytown, many workers descending each day to look f or precarious work in La Paz in construction, sales, or services; the two urban areas are deeply if unevenly interlinked economically, socially, and politically. Eighty-two percent of alteos, the residents of El Alto, identif y themselves as indigenous. T he class and racial hierarchies between these cities are visually striking. As one descends the mountainside f rom El Alto, into the downtown of La Paz and through to the southern zone, adobe shacks, indigenous women street vendors, and the absence of basic urban inf rastructure, are gradually replaced with whiter f aces, taller buildings, sidewalks, and, eventually, mansions and Mercedes. El Alto was the epicenter of the Gas War of SeptemberOctober 2003 that rocked the Bolivian political landscape with a f orce not seen since the national revolution of 1952. T he Aymara peasants of the altiplano, the miners of the altiplano community of Huanuni, the poor indigenous residents of El Alto, and eventually the poorer sectors of La Paz threw out hated president Gonzalo Goni Snchez de Lozada. Even some middleclass paceos, as residents of La Paz are called, led hunger strikes in the f inal days of the revolt, expressing their revulsion in the f ace of Gonis massacre of over seventy people.1 Lacking a lef t political project capable of taking state power, however, popular f orces accepted Carlos Mesa Gisbert, then vice president, as Gonis replacement hoping he would make good on his promise to enact the October Agenda, which included nationalizing the production and distribution of natural gas, bringing Goni to trial, and convening a Constituent Assembly to remake the Bolivian state to serve the interests of the poor indigenous majority. Of course, Mesa, the f ormer journalist and historian, has not carried through with the October Agenda. Instead, with a rhetoric steeped in sof t-neoliberalism, he has advanced the neoliberal political and economic project f irst set on course in 1985 under the reign of Vctor Paz Estenssoro. In response to Mesas abject f ailure to f ulf ill the October Agenda, in 2005 popular social f orces have reemerged to conf ront state power, f irst with the El Alto Water War in January and March, and, second, and most importantly, with the Second Gas War of May and June. El AltoLa Paz is once again the center of strikes, marches, exploding dynamite, conf rontations with police, and attempts to take the Plaza Murillo, which contains the Presidential Palace. T hese are met with tear-gas and rubber bullets. We have also witnessed the mobilization of regional right-wing f orces under the banner of autonomy in the department of Santa Cruz, and rumors of coups and military dissent. In order to understand the complexity of the contemporary conf lict, we need f irst to reach back, if only brief ly, to its historical roots. T he Renewal of Popular Forces and the Prolonged Crisis of the Neoliberal State From 1964 until 1982 Bolivia suf f ered through a series of coups and primarily right-wing military dictatorships.

In 1982, procedural democracy was restored through a valiant popular struggle, and a loose coalition of lef twing f orces took state power under the banner of Democratic Popular Unity (UDP). Inheriting the extraordinary debt accrued during the dictatorship of Hugo Bnzer (19711978), suf f ering f rom innumerable internal divisions, battling extraordinary levels of hyperinf lation, and being paralyzed by right-wing obstructionist ef f orts on a number of f ronts, the UDP government was f orced to call early elections (1985), and a period of neoliberal hegemony (19852000) was installed. Fif teen years of pacted democracya series of governments cobbled together by coalitions of right-wing parties with longstanding rivalrieswas reinf orced by the military, a f riendly international environment of imperialist powers and international f inancial institutions, and an unprecedented unity between the f actions of the Bolivian bourgeoisie. T his context made it possible to ram down the throat of Bolivian society a f ree market capitalism with devastating social consequences. With the depressing legacy of the UDP government haunting their party structures and social movement and union bases, the lef t was in shambles and could project no political, social, or economic alternative to the neoliberal assault. T he f inal nail was driven into the cof f in of the popular f orces in 1985. T hat year, the international price of tin collapsed, destroying the tin miners who had been the vanguard of the Bolivian lef t since the 1952 revolution. T hey represented the backbone of the extraordinarily radical and militantly independent Bolivian Workers Central (COB). When the price of tin bottomed out, neoliberal protagonists in the state took the opportunity to privatize the mines, f orcing nearly thirty thousand miners to relocate and f ind means of survival in the cities (including El Alto) or in the Chapare region growing coca leaves f or export. T he miners continued their protests, but f eebly and without impact. T he vanguard of the lef t moved to the cocaleros, coca growers, who, because of constant harassment and repression f rom the U.S.-led drug war, developed an impressive anti-imperial ideological orientation, imbued with the revolutionary Marxism of the relocated miners and the indigenous resistance politics of Chapares peasants. T he latter aspect of the cocaleros ideological development would be f urther ref ined as years passed, epitomized in the sanctif ied symbol of the coca leaf and the wiphala, the multicolored indigenous f lag. While the cocaleros put up a f ierce localized f ight against imperialism and the neoliberal project, and while they would come to constitute the basis of the strongest reconstituted lef t party in Bolivia, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), during the 1980s and 1990s they nonetheless resembled nothing remotely similar to the historic, f ar-reaching movement of the miners within the Bolivian lef t. T he period of neoliberal hegemony, 19852000, clearly represented a historic def eat of the lef t and seemed to inculcate prof ound sentiments of loss within popular sectors that otherwise may have been able to mount some resistance. Meanwhile, other prominent f igures on the lef t migrated to work with nongovernmental organizations or converted squarely to the neoliberal project. T hings began to change dramatically in FebruaryApril 2000 when the rural-urban and multiclass Cochabamba Water War reversed the privatization of water demanded by the World Bank, and led to the ousting of a multinational consortium led by the American corporation Bechtel. Angry at tarif f increases and the governments water privatization laws, people f rom distinct social groups, including irrigating peasant f armers, water committees of the urban poor, and urban water users coalesced under the umbrella of the Coordinator f or the Def ense of Water and Lif e, f rom which Oscar Olivera emerged as a leader. T his was one of two initial moments in the cycle of rearticulation of lef t-indigenous f orces (20002005), the other being a series of roadblockades and protests in 2000 in Aymara communities in the altiplano. T he Water War signaled the f irst rupture in the f if teen-year-old neoliberal f abric exposing the f ailure of the economic model to produce the wonders promised by a series of governments, and it breathed lif e and organization into existing societal discontent. By rearticulation of lef t-indigenous f orces I am ref erring to historical moments when common elements of class exploitation and racial oppression are consciously recognized by the exploited and oppressed and they

are able to organize themselves to f ight f or their interests. T hey are always exploited and oppressed, but only occasionally capable of organizing and mobilizing themselves. T he 20002005 period represents a rearticulation of popular f orces in two senses. First, when the miners were crushed in 1985, a certain phase of lef t struggle f or socialism initiated in the revolutionary era of the 1950s was brought to a close. At this point the lef t, by and large, had f ailed to recognize racial oppression as a signif icant component of the Bolivian postcolonial condition. With the new cycle of protest initiated by the Cochabamba Water War, popular f orces rearticulated themselves with a new recognition of racial oppression and with indigenous peasants playing a much more advanced role. So, in one sense, 20002005 is a rearticulation of popular f orces in that there had been no serious popular resistance to neoliberalism of any sort f or f if teen years. In 2000 a new lef t emerged f rom the ashes of the miners struggles. In a second, more historical sense, it is a period of lef t-indigenous rearticulation in that there is at least the beginning of a f ruitf ul exchange between Marxist and indigenist ideologies, something not witnessed in Bolivia since the 1920s. T he Water War politicized the f ailures of Gonis privatization program, euphemistically dubbed capitalization, which was nothing less than the f ire sale of state assets, exacerbating the f inancial crisis of the state. One crucial component of this capitalization was the Hydrocarbons Law of 1996. With this law the hydrocarbons sector (most importantly natural gas) was privatized, eliminating a key source of state revenue. Accordingly, Bolivias borrowing f rom 1997 to 2002 increased dramatically f rom 3.3 to 8.6 percent of its Gross Domestic Product.2 International Monetary Fund (IMF) demands f or regressive changes to the tax structure and reductions in public expenditures to mitigate the budget def icit set the stage f or f urther political crises. T he 2002 general elections marked the second key sign of a rearticulation of lef t-indigenous f orces and the crisis of the neoliberal state. T he era of pacted democracy was seriously eroded as the MAS, led by Evo Morales, won 21 percent of the popular vote, second only to Gonis right-wing National Revolutionary Movements (MNR) 22 percent. Meanwhile, the Pachakuti Indigenous Movement (MIP), led by Aymara radical Felipe Quispe, garnered 6 percent of the popular vote and was able to enter the electoral f ray, with a presence rooted in the altiplano. For the f irst time, lef t-indigenous f orces, with indigenous peasant candidates, established a considerable presence in the electoral arena, despite the f act that Goni came out on top. February 2003 was the next critical conjuncture in the state crisis, both in terms of f inances and the states f raying coercive apparatus. T he f inancial woes of the neoliberal state continued apace, and the pandering of Bolivias neoliberal elite to the whims of international f inancial institutions came f urther to light. T he IMF was a key proponent in the privatization of everything drive in Bolivia, including the devastating pillage of the countrys hydrocarbons. As Jim Schultz points out, By complying with the IMFs demands f or privatization, Bolivia ended up reducing its public revenue and started acquiring higher public def icits. Later the IMF would return to Bolivia and pressure it to reduce those def icits, not at the expense of f oreign corporations but of Bolivias working poor.3 In early 2003, the IMF announced that the receipt of f urther loans was contingent on the government reducing its budget def icit f rom 8.7 to 5.5 percent of its GDP in one year through a combination of budget cuts and tax increases totaling more than $250 million.4 In response, on February 9, 2003, a new tax package, f leecing the working poor, was announced. At the time, the poorly paid police f orces were already engaged in a vicious dispute with the government over unpaid salaries and demands f or salary increases. A complex series of events led to a police revolt centered in the Plaza Murillo, which was soon counterattacked by military f orces loyal to Goni and the neoliberal state. Alongside the police, popular sectors joined in demonstrations, with a major role being played by young student activists. T hirty-f our people were killed in these events.5

T he crisis of the state could not have been clearer. Police and soldiersthe two arms of state coercion exchanged gunf ire outside the Presidential Palace, in the midst of ongoing f inancial crises wrought by neoliberal policies, increasing subservience to IMF dictates, and bloodshed in the streets. Together these f actors f anned the f ires of discontent and outrage among the progressive social movements that were regrouping their f orces once again. Both lef t-indigenous rearticulation and the neoliberal state crisis reached their apogee in the September October 2003 Gas War. T he actors in brief include: Aymara peasants f rom the altiplano with a series of demands linked to indigenous autonomy and vindication of their presence and dignity within the racist Bolivian state; miners f rom Huanuni; urban protesters f rom El Alto with strong connections to the struggles of the indigenous Aymara peasants and the relocated f ormer miners; the poorer sectors of La Paz; and middle-class paceos disgusted with the violence of the state under Goni. Eventually, a vast myriad of solidarity marches and other f orms of protest in the cities and the countryside took place throughout the Bolivian state. T he motivations of the revolt were multif aceted and complex, but the essential catalyst was a deal with a multinational consortium to export natural gas through Chile on route to the United States. Gonis killing of indigenous activists in the altiplano, El Alto, and La Paz raised the levels of unity and outrage, and provided a sense of purpose. Goni and his closest cronies f led to exile in the United States on October 17, 2003, allowing Mesa to rise to power through constitutional mechanisms. Out of this wave of mobilization and state repression was born the October Agenda. T he events of October 2003 signaled the prof ound chasm between popular sentiments and neoliberal ideals within the Bolivian state. T hey showed Gonis absolute incapacity to govern through consent and the weakness of the neoliberal state as it turned to extreme coercion, butchering over seventy unarmed protesters. T he capacity of the people of the altiplano and El Alto to mobilize themselves, and the power of the unique ideological union of Aymara-rooted indigenous struggle and older lef t traditions were also revealed. At the same time, Mesas assumption of power ref lected the weak political organization of the popular f orces of October, and the divisions within the lef t-indigenous camp that all too easily predominated except during episodes of severe crisis. Mesas Post-October Regime: A Map of Social Forces Although Mesa visited El Alto immediately af ter assuming power and assured the masses that he would f ollow through with the October Agenda, he quickly demonstrated his true political orientation. Despite the f act that Mesas rhetoric drew sharp distinctions between his politics and Gonis, there was a deep continuity between his economic and social policies and those of his predecessor. On every issuemacroeconomic policy, f iscal policy, hydrocarbon politics, the treatment of the unemployed and poor indigenous peasants, bilateral trade negotiations with the United States, and the establishment of the Free Trade Area of the Americasimportant to the popular sectors who so courageously rose up and allowed him to assume powerMesa acted on behalf of the imperial powers and the sections of the Bolivian bourgeoisie with an international capitalist orientation. His cabinet, logically, was stacked with gonista ministers. Meanwhile MAS, af ter playing virtually no role in the October insurrection, f ailed to respond to the historical opportunities that arose in its af termath. Rather than carrying through with ongoing mobilization and street politics in solidarity with the radical, mobilized popular f orces, it opted f or cooperation with the Mesa regime, accepting Mesas discourse, ignoring his practice, and f ocusing on its incoherent strategy of seducing the urban middle classes in hopes of winning the presidential elections set f or 2007. T he gap between Mesas televised sophistry and the reality of his practical agenda could not endure the passage of time. T he honeymoon ended in January 2005 with the eruption of Bolivias Second Water War, based in El Alto. Alteos organized a seventy-two hour general strike in El Alto through the organizational

structure of the Federation of United Neighbors of El Alto (FEJUVEEl Alto), which had been a key institution, along with El Altos Regional Workers Central (COREl Alto), in the October insurrection of 2003. T he strikers demanded the immediate expulsion of Aguas del Illimani (the private consortium controlled by the French multinational Suez), and its replacement by a new, nonprof it water company under social control. FEJUVE also began to express a politics linking their f rustration on this issue to the f ailure of Mesa to comply with the October Agenda more generally. Wisely, Mesa did not train the guns on the strikers, and instead issued a decree that terminated the contract signed with Aguas del Illimani in 1997. Mesas f ailure to use violence, together with the protesters ef f ective mobilization tactics and their success at placing the issues of nationalizing gas and a Constituent Assembly back into the public sphere, resurrected the social f orces on the extreme right. T hese were based primarily in the department of Santa Cruz, but stretched into the departments of Tarija, Beni, and Pando. Public discourse on this matter pits the east (Santa Cruz) against the west (primarily La Paz) of the country. Calls f or autonomy (historically a demand of the Santa Cruz region, contemporarily imbued with f ar-right, populist sentiments) began to emerge more f orcef ully. T he bourgeois ideology of the cruceo discontent is characterized by prominent Bolivian lef t intellectuals, Walter Chvez and lvaro Garca Linera, as that of the f ree market, f oreign investment, racism, etc., which pits the modern, whiter Santa Cruz elite against the short, dark-skinned, backward, and anti-capitalist Aymara and Quechua peoples of the western region of Bolivia, especially within the department of La Paz. For three weeks the cruceo elite resurrected their calls f or autonomy leading a series of popularized rightwing protests against the centralism of La Paz, resulting in hunger strikes, occupations of public buildings, and shutting down the international airport in Santa Cruz. T heir mobilization culminated in a march that brought 300,000 people into the streets. T heir January Agenda was thus pitted against to the lef t-indigenous October Agenda. T he January Agenda sought to protect private property rights, private control over petroleum and natural gas deposits in the eastern and southern parts of the country. For Chvez and Garca Linera, however, the f act that the cruceo elite has opted to regionalize its current struggles in lieu of taking the state at the national level, points to a paradox: Under the banner of regional autonomy, the cruceo elite demonstrated an organizational capacity and strength not seen since the popular advance of the October rebellion; however, during the period of neoliberal hegemony (19852000), the same elite had enjoyed unf ettered access to national state power through key positions in all of the main neoliberal parties engaged in pacted democracy. T hat the elite resorted to calling f or autonomy only in Santa Cruz shows the f ar rights ongoing weakness in the f ace of the popular movements of the altiplano and El Alto.6 Just as the f ervor in Santa Cruz retreated to the background, El Alto began to re-emerge. By the end of February 2005, when a date had yet to be set f or the expulsion of Aguas del Illimani, FEJUVEEl Alto announced a general strike, which began on March 2. Af ter a weak start, the general strike gained momentum, paralyzing El Alto and closing key trade routes between La Paz and the rest of the country. Meanwhile, in numerous departments peasants and others started blocking roads to demand the realization of the October Agenda, and, to a lesser extent, expressing their solidarity with the alteo strikers. With various proposals bef ore Congress f or a new hydrocarbons law, the MAS seemingly started to move away f rom its conciliatory relationship with Mesa, as evidenced by calls made by Evo Morales, in conjunction with Oscar Olivera, f or a hydrocarbons law that came closer to meeting the demand f or nationalization established by the Gas War of 2003. T he country was shutting down, and the f easibility of the neoliberal state was yet again being called into question. Sectors on the right began their calls to f ree-up the roads, to let commerce f low. Decoded f rom their Orwellian cant, this means, smash heads and squash the social movements. Unable, and apparently unwilling, to use lethal f orce against the social movements, Mesa opted instead to

deliver a televised resignation speech to the country on Sunday evening, March 6, 2005. Highlighted in the speech were the innumerable evils of the social movements and the inevitability and desirability of capitulating to global capital and imperialist f orces. He submitted his revocable resignation to Congress the f ollowing morning, which Congress rejected. Mesa, who had counted on this outcome, reconf igured his coalition, burning the bridge to the lef t that had been the MAS. Mesas shif t to the right led to a brief rearticulation of broad lef t unity, including the MAS. Mesa turned around and f aked another political move, calling f or the Congress to move up presidential elections f rom the scheduled date of 2007. Again, this was rejected by Congress, and Mesa vowed to stay in power until the end of his constitutional mandate. He publicly denigrated all popular f orces as undemocratic. He f ailed to note the f act that he was never elected president and that the only reason he assumed the role is because the social movements allowed him to in October 2003. T he sole distinguishing f eature of any import between Goni and Mesa was their dif f ering attitudes toward using lethal f orce against unarmed civilians. Bolivias Second Gas War: MayJune 2005 In the early days of June 2005, Bolivia was locked in what historian and activist, Forrest Hylton, described as the agony of stalemate. T his is the latest chapter of what I argue is the divided but real moment of lef tindigenous f orces that are resurgent but that still lack a political project f or seizing state power. T hey are weakened by their divisions and political incoherence, as they f ace-of f against a neoliberal project in crisis. T he popular f orces behind the October Agenda are theref ore divided and have limited political capacity at the current conjuncture, even as they maintain spectacular levels of continuous and active mobilizations in the streets. T his is what the second Bolivian Gas War has demonstrated since it started rolling on May 16, 2005. On that Monday, May 16, 2005, I participated in a massive march of tens of thousands of protesters f rom El Alto, down the mountainsides of La Paz, and toward the Plaza Murillo f or the f irst in what would be weeks of sporadic and then steady conf rontations between police and activists. Organizations participating in the days actions included the Federation of United Neighbors of El Alto (FEJUVEEl Alto), the Regional Workers Central of El Alto (COREl Alto), the Public University of El Alto, the Departmental Workers Central, the Conf ederation of Original Peoples, the Federation of Peasants of La Paz (Tupaj Katari), the Bolivian Workers Central (COB), the teachers unions of El Alto and La Paz, among many, many others. As we marched the seven-mile, three-hour protest trail f rom El Alto to La Paz, the chants of the mobilized, and a series of conversations and interviews, distilled the key demands of the day in descending order of importance: nationalization of gas, the shutdown of parliament as a show of popular f orce and determination, and the renunciation of Mesa. As the Second Gas War developed over the f ollowing two weeks, the older themes of Octoberthe immediate convocation of a Constituent Assembly, and, less importantly, a trial f or Goni and his criminal band of close allieswould be added to the list of demands of May 16. As one worker marching next to me suggested, the common theme of these demands is the f ollowing popular quest f or dignity: T he governments have been on the side of the transnationals, and the rich. We want a government on the side of the people. Conversations between marchers made it evident they were already speculating about the possibility of another October. At 1 p.m. on May 17, 2005, Mesa provided the f uel necessary to set af lame the competing social f orces within the Bolivian state, in all their regional, class, and ethnic-based complexities. At this hour, it was publicized that the president would neither promulgate nor veto the contentious hydrocarbons law that Congress had approved ten days earlier. Mesas decision, in agreement with the constitution, meant that the president of Congress, Hormando Vaca Dez, was f orced to promulgate the law, which he did immediately. T he new hydrocarbons law provided f or 18 percent wellhead royalties and a 32 percent direct hydrocarbon tax, a distant cry f rom the nationalization demanded by the popular f orces of El Alto and the altiplano. At the FEJUVEEl Alto

assembly that evening, the f ighting spirits were impassioned, and the plans were laid to renew the struggle in a coordinated and dramatic f ashion. Meanwhile, in an expression of the division within radical-popular movements and the role of the MAS in this political conjuncture, another march200 kilometers and f our days longf rom Caracollo to La Paz was being planned under the umbrella of MAS. A whole series of organizations involved in the Pact of Unity, planned to march together with MAS, not f or nationalization, but f or 50 percent royalties in place of the 18 percent specif ied in the new law. T hey also called, more f orcef ully by the day, f or a plan to convene the Constituent Assembly. On May 23, 2005, the MAS-led march arrived in El Alto. T he marchers were met by the organized popular sectors of El Alto calling f or nationalization. Many of the MAS-led marchers called back to the alteos that they agreed with nationalization! Evo Morales, however, would maintain his distance f rom the sentiments of the base. A massive gathering with speeches and cheering convened in the Plaza of Heroes later that af ternoon in the center of La Paz. Divisions within the movements were clear at this stage, most obviously apparent in Evo Morales calling f or a Constituent Assembly above all else and rejecting the f orced closure of parliament, the resignation of Mesa, and the nationalization of natural gas, while Jaime Solares (leader of the COB), among others, called f or the nationalization of gas, the closing of parliament, and the resignation of Mesa. T he latter ref erred to the examples of Venezuela and Cuba to inspire the crowd. T he next day was f ull of increasingly intense conf rontations between Aymara peasant and miner activists and the police, as the protesters sought to enter the Plaza Murillo and close down the Presidential Palace. May 30 and 31 were the biggest days of mobilization since October 2003. As the f irst week of June comes to a close, La Paz is virtually devoid of tourists as f oreign embassies advise their citizens to avoid travel to Bolivia, rumors of military coups enter daily conversations, natural gas supplies are running out in La Paz due to the ongoing general strike in El Alto and various road blockades, and a tension-ridden, uncertain stalemate characterizes the political situation of the country. Two military of f icials appeared on television calling f or a lef t-wing civilian-military government to f ulf ill the October Agenda and replace the Mesa regime. T hey apparently have very little support within the military or the social movements, however. Sectors of the police f orces have begun to suggest publicly through telephone calls to popular radio stations that they will ref use to continue to gas women and children in the streets. It is presently unclear how deeply this sentiment runs in the police f orces. Peak business associations in Santa Cruz and La Paz have called f or Mesa to move elections f orward given the ungovernability of the country. T he autonomy movement within Santa Cruz is gaining strength once again. At the same time, a f ascist youth group, which the MAS describes as the military wing of the Civic Committee of Santa Cruz, has violently assaulted indigenous peasant marchers in that department. Mesa continues to avoid the use of lethal f orce, even as the Plaza Murillo is perpetually barricaded with hundreds of military police, and the exchange of dynamite, tear gas, and rubber bullets between police f orces and protesters continues to permeate daily lif e. T he resolution of the current stalemate is f ar f rom clear. What is evident, however, is that the unresolved issues of October 2003 are resurf acing in powerf ul ways, issues unlikely to disappear until the racist internal colonialism and f ierce capitalist and imperialist exploitation that characterize contemporary Bolivia are abolished. In the current conjuncture, unf ortunately, the popular f orces despite their capacity to mobilize themselvesremain divided and without a coherent political project to replace the ancien regime. Postscript During the MayJune mobilizations, roadblocks took place in each of the nine departments of Bolivia. El Alto, led by FEJUVEEl Alto, successf ully launched and sustained a three-week-long general strike throughout the shantytown, blocking access roads to La Paz. Prices of basic f ood stuf f s rose, and gasoline and natural gas

supplies ef f ectively dried up in the capital. For good measure, the Senkata gasoline plant in El Alto was barricaded and kept under vigil by strikers twenty-f our hours a day during the period of mobilization. Indigenous groups in the eastern part of the countryhistorically less radical and independent than those in the altiplanooccupied oil and gas wellhead sites to cut the f low of these resources, an act of solidarity with the struggles that eventually became nationwide. On June 6, 2005, protesters numbered between three and f ive hundred thousand in La Paz, an extraordinary occupation of the city with a decidedly revolutionary spirit in the air. Mesa could no longer ignore the voices of the minorities pestering him and inhibiting his regulation of neoliberal capitalism in Bolivia. T hat evening, he announced his resignation, which according to the constitution would have to be approved by Congress. It was at this stage of partial popular victory that the absence of a strategy f or popular power among lef t-indigenous f orces came to light most f orcef ully. Mesa was gone. What would come next? T he conservative f actions of the party systemthe MNR, the Democratic Action Party (ADN), the Revolutionary Lef t Movement (MIR), and the New Republican Force (NFR)had been scheming f or some time to f ill the vacuum of power that was sure to arise f rom an increasingly weak Mesa government. According to the constitution, af ter Mesa announced his revocable resignation on June 6, Congress could decide to allow the president of the Senate, Hormando Vaca Dez of the MIR, to assume the presidency. If he was not accepted or declined the invitation, next in line would be president of the lower house of Congress, Mario Cosso of the MNR. Finally, if the f irst two were passed by, president of the Supreme Court of Justice, Eduardo Rodrguez, would become president. A special session of Congress was quickly scheduled f or June 9 in Sucre rather than La Paz, in an ef f ort to avoid protesters. A second stage of the drama began. It was obvious to all that the right was uniting around Vaca Dez. T he lef t responded by demanding that Vaca Dez and Cosso be bypassed and called instead f or Rodrguez to assume the presidency, though he would be expected to call general elections immediately. T housands of popular f orcesmost importantly peasants and minersspontaneously set of f f or Sucre to stop the Vaca Dez grab f or power. Within Congress, the MAS and the MIP were also pitted against the plan of Vaca Dez and were theref ore momentarily united with the popular f orces in the streets and countryside. It nonetheless remained a distinct possibility that Vaca Dez would pull through and take over with the support of the majority of Congress. T his possibility ended abruptly, however, when clashes between miners and police in Yotalaeighteen kilometers outside of Sucrecreated the f irst and only martyr of the days of May and June, miner Carlos Coro. T he entire mood around Sucre was irrevocably altered, and it was clear that the country would be burned to the ground if Vaca Dez took power. On June 9, theref ore, the NFR removed its support f or Vaca Dez in the Congress, making it impossible f or the rights plan to come to f ruition. Rodrguez was inaugurated as president of the republic. T he Current Context Without a doubt, the days of May and June were an impressive display of radical politics f rom below that wiped out the embarrassing spectacle that was the Mesa government, and subsequently stalled the counterrevolutionary project embodied in the Vaca Dez attempt on the presidency. However, the nationalization of gas, the demand around which a wide array of diverse struggles united, has f allen of f the f oreseeable political agenda. T his is a major popular def eat, at least f or the moment. Rodrguez, probably more reactionary than Mesa, is now the president until elections are held on December 4, 2005. T he right is trying to rearticulate itself through electoral politics, most visibly in the f orm of f ormer president Jorge Quiroga and his Alliance f or the Twenty-First Century. Despite the incompetence of the right generally, and the

lack of legitimacy of the old right partiesMNR, ADN, MIRwithin the Bolivian population, the right has much on its side: the entire system of imperial states, the international f inancial systems, and the transnational corporations operating within Bolivia all f avor neoliberal stability. If the lef t doesnt take power, in other words, the right wins almost by def ault. Meanwhile, Evo Morales is committing political suicide and attempting to take the lives of all lef t cadres with him. In the last general reunion of the MAS, on June 17 in Cochabamba, the party bases demanded that the leaders organize a f ront with the mobilized social f orces of the country. Instead of this principled and strategically wise course of action, Evo Morales announcedroughly a week af ter the meeting with the bases that he had reached a preliminary agreement f or a united electoral f ront with the Movement Without Fear (MSM) party, led by the mayor of La Paz, Juan del Granado. T he MSM is a party that came out against the nationalization of gas, reigned as a neoliberal f orce in the municipal politics of La Paz, engaged in hostilities against the movement in El Alto earlier this year to kick out transnational water company Aguas del Illimani and to establish a public water system under social control, and, f inally, allied itself with the Mesa regime. Indeed, Granado has stated publicly that the f ront, which is allegedly against neoliberalism, cannot rule out bringing Mesa back into the political f old as a member of its team. T hus f ar, the social movement lef t has only been able to express its f rustration with Moraless degeneration into a traditional politician. FEJUVEEl Alto has been vaguely discussing the possibility of an autonomous political instrument, as has the Bolivian Workers Central. So f ar, however, the right is betting on a def ault victory in December, and Morales and the MAS are making this more rather than less probable by abandoning ties and direction f rom the radicalized population and their own party bases. Notes 1. Estimates of the dead and injured in the events of SeptemberOctober 2003 vary. Edgar Ramos Andrade argues that 73 were killed and 470 injured in Agona y Rebelin Social (La Paz and Cambridge: Capitulo Boliviano de Derechos Humanos, Democracia y Desarrollo, 2004). 2. Jim Schultz, Deadly Consequences: The International Monetary Fund and Bolivias Black February (Cochabamba: T he Democracy Center, 2005). 3. Schultz, Deadly Consequences, 16. 4. Schultz, Deadly Consequences, 18. 5. Schultz, Deadly Consequences, 18. 6. Walter Chvez & lvaro Garca Linera, Rebelin Camba: Del dieselazo a la lucha por la autonoma, El Juguete Rabioso 23 de enero de 2005. 7. Forrest Hylton, Bolivia: T he Agony of Stalemate, http://www.counterpunch.org, June 2, 2005.