Bolivia on coup alert after 34 die in gas export protests
Tuesday 14 October 2003
Bolivia's president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, was forced yesterday to suspend plans by British and Spanish petroleum giants to export natural gas to the United States via Chile as the death toll from a wave of protests approached 40.
Armed forces cleared roadblocks and quelled demonstrations while airlines suspended flights.
The protests, by the poorest people in Latin America's poorest country, have paralysed the capital, La Paz, and the nearby city of El Alto. Twenty-six people died on Sunday when the armed forces opened fire on demonstrators, an action condemned by the Church and human rights organisations as "a massacre".
The crisis deepened when the Vice-President, Carlos Mesa, withdrew his support from Mr Sanchez de Lozada. "I cannot support the government in this action," he said.
Bolivia's main trade union called a strike two weeks ago to oppose the gas plans. Protest leaders criticised the President for his free-market economic policies.
Mr Sanchez de Lozada sets great store by his relationship with President George Bush's government, which has made huge efforts to secure fuel supplies from Latin America. But the opposition says Bolivia will receive little or nothing of the revenues.
The authorities warned that further protests could provoke a military coup. Faced with the prospect of civil war, the President stepped back for the first time yesterday.
But Congressman Evo Morales, a protest leader, said Mr Sanchez de Lozada's resignation would provide "the only political solution to this crisis".
His offer to shelve the plan was not enough. "What the Bolivian people want is that the gas remains in Bolivia for the benefit of Bolivians," Mr Morales said. The Bolivian workers' organisation COB is particularly incensed by plans to export the gas through a Chilean port. Landlocked Bolivia lost its access to the sea after a war with Chile in 1879 and resentment remains strong. Loss of a port contributed to decades of poverty for a country long dependent on the export of tin.
Some of the armed forces are also unhappy because they fear the project undermines Bolivian sovereignty and strengthens Chile.
Twelve lorries, heavily escorted by soldiers in full combat gear, transported petrol into La Paz yesterday after blockades had caused food and fuel shortages in the capital. Long queues of cars waited at petrol stations for the delivery.
Nationalist sentiments fanned by the dispute have galvanised and united impoverished indigenous communities of the Altiplano highlands, coca growers whose livelihoods have been ruined by fierce anti-coca measures in recent years, trade unionists who see the prospect of jobs vanishing as gas wealth is whisked from Bolivian hands and even small businessmen, struggling after five years of economic decline.
Bolivia has huge natural gas reserves, the biggest in the region after Argentina. The Pacific LNG project is the work of the Spanish oil and gas giant Repsol-YPF, British Gas and the Pan American Energy group, which includes BP.Before the President's announcement, Repsol said it would continue with feasibility studies.
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 4 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
General Election 2015: Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind as he casts a line to the disaffected of Grimsby
The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
Indonesia executions: Death row British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford will refuse to wear a blindfold when she faces firing squad
Oxygen-starved 'dead zones' with no marine life up to 100-miles long discovered in the Atlantic Ocean
Russian warships accused of 'chasing away' Swedish vessel to prevent Baltic States from achieving energy independence
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...
£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...
£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...
£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...