Chaos in Bolivia as Congress attempts to pick new leader
Chaos in Bolivia as Congress attempts to pick new
Battles clog streets -- lawmakers aren't sure where to
Hector Tobar, Oscar Ordonez, Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, June 8, 2005
La Paz, Bolivia -- A day after his second try at
quitting as this Andean nation's president, Carlos
Mesa remained in office Tuesday as opposing camps
failed to agree on where they should meet to choose
Street battles raged on the streets of this capital
city, and commerce ground to a halt. Hormando Vaca
Diez, president of the Senate, said the siege of La
Paz by mostly Indian and poor farmers would make it
difficult for Congress to meet here.
Demonstrators have cut off the city's road links as
they demand that the government nationalize Bolivia's
oil and gas reserves and convene a constituent
assembly to rewrite the Constitution to grant more
power to the Indian majority.
Vaca Diez, who is next in line to succeed the
president, said congressional leaders could decide as
early as today where the legislature will meet.
Congress might convene in Sucre, Bolivia's ceremonial
seat of government, which is 400 miles southeast of La
Mesa tendered his resignation in a speech late Monday,
conceding that he was no longer able to govern in the
face of the protest movements. He also submitted his
resignation in March, but stayed in office then when
Congress rejected it.
Now, however, it remains clear that Mesa's political
support has evaporated.
According to news reports, Vaca Diez is trying to
build support among the legislators for a plan that
would have him assume the presidency for 90 days until
new presidential elections can be held.
Vaca Diez represents Santa Cruz, the relatively
affluent eastern province where regional leaders have
said they will hold a referendum to decide whether
Santa Cruz should enjoy greater autonomy from the
The eastern leaders want Bolivia's highly centralized
government to be reconstituted with weaker federal
powers. They also are seeking more local control over
the petroleum reserves in their districts.
Indian and trade union leaders said Tuesday they would
fiercely oppose a Vaca Diez presidency, saying he
represents the nation's "eastern oligarchy."
If Vaca Diez becomes president "it would be a
declaration of war on western Bolivia," said Cesar
Rojas Rios, a political scientist in Bolivia. "Vaca
Diez would put regional autonomy before the
constituent assembly, sharpening the conflict."
It has become clear that the leaders of the social
movement based in the La Paz suburb of El Alto and the
western Altiplano want dramatic changes in Bolivia's
political institutions and the distribution of its
Roberto de la Cruz, an Aymara leader in El Alto, said
that if Vaca Diez assumes the presidency, tens of
thousands of protesters in La Paz might cease to
recognize the central government and form their own
"We will form a popular government of indigenous
people, peasants, workers and middle-class
professionals," he said in an interview Tuesday.
"Article Two of the Constitution gives us the right to
Vaca Diez issued a vague pronouncement early Tuesday,
calling for respect of Bolivia's Constitution and
asking the protesters in La Paz to give guarantees
that they would allow the Congress to meet.
One solution to the crisis would have Eduardo
Rodriguez, the president of the Supreme Court, assume
the presidency. Rodriguez would then call early
elections to pick a new president and a new Congress.
But reaching that agreement is impossible as long as
Congress fails to convene a special session.
Evo Morales of the Movement to Socialism, a leading
candidate to be the next president, insisted Tuesday
that the special session of Congress be held in La
On Tuesday, protesters clashed with riot police just
blocks from the Plaza Murillo, the site of Congress
and the presidential palace. Protesters set off small
chunks of dynamite and the police responded with tear gas.