Chris Harman


Uprising in Bolivia: stones and clubs defeated the tanks

(25 October 2003)

From Socialist Worker, No.1874, 25 October 2003.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Worker Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

A mass revolt brought down the president of Bolivia, South America’s poorest country, last weekend. It represents one more important upsurge in the new wave of struggle that began sweeping through the continent three years ago, writes Chris Harman

THE UPRISING was the culmination of a month of strikes and demonstrations after troops killed seven demonstrators on 20 September. The protesters were calling for a referendum over the neo-liberal government’s export of natural gas to the United States.

The shootings led to blockades of roads across the country and to calls for a general strike by the country’s COB union federation. But at first it seemed the protests were not going to succeed. A law which allows employers to sack strikers led to many workers reluctantly continuing to work.

Then on 12 October troops carried out another massacre, this time in Los Altos, the huge working class suburb of the capital, La Paz. How many people died in the following days no one knows for sure. Some protesters say 70, some 130. What is clear is that the massacre united the whole of the working class with the mass of the peasantry and the poor people of the cities into a vast movement determined to get rid of the president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozado.

He is a millionaire known as “El Gringo” because of his US upbringing and inability to speak Spanish without a North American accent. By Friday of last week it was clear that the choice facing the whole country was between a military-based repressive regime and a successful uprising. The general strike was effective throughout the country, and convoy after convoy of protesters poured into Al Alto and La Paz.

The situation was reminiscent of that in neighbouring Argentina 20 months ago when people overthrew the president, De La Rua, for implementing a neo-liberal IMF programme that impoverished millions of people. But this time it was not just a spontaneous crowd that took to the streets. At the centre of it were the country’s tin miners armed with the tools of their trade – sticks of dynamite! Alongside them marched the country’s peasant federation and the organisation of cocaleros – coca growers whose only way of getting a livelihood is being destroyed by the US “war on drugs”.

US fully backed the bloody regime

THE BOLIVIAN uprising is a blow against George Bush. The US State Department rushed to defend President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozado the day after the massacre in Los Altos:

“The American people and their government support Bolivia’s democratically elected president. Washington will not tolerate any interruption of the constitutional order in Bolivia, nor will it support a regime that results from undemocratic means.”

The US embassy in La Paz added,

“The government should not be replaced by one based on criminal violence. Sticks and stones are not a form of peaceful protest.”

There were no harsh words for a government which had machine-gunned unarmed demonstrators, including children. The magazine Pulso claimed US officials have played a central role in directing the repression organised by the government.

Last updated on 13 December 2009