Bolivia Military Warns of Violence
Jun 9, 11:59 AM EDT
Bolivia Military Warns of Violence
By BILL CORMIER
Associated Press Writer
LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) -- The head of Bolivia's armed
forces warned Thursday of violence and suggested the
military could intervene, urging lawmakers poised to
elect a successor to the ousted president to act
"serenely" to end the political crisis.
Navy Adm. Luis Aranda Granados went on national
television to urge the lawmakers to remain within the
bounds of the constitution and hear the "will of the
people" in their work to choose a new leader. But he
rejected an assessment by outgoing President Carlos
Mesa that the country was on the brink of a civil war.
"It's evident that there does exist a risk of
confrontation between Bolivians, but I would say the
term 'civil war' is too extreme," Granados said.
"Confrontation between Bolivians is the greatest
In Bolivia's tightly guarded historic capital of
Sucre, the lawmakers were to open an emergency session
of Congress to name a replacement for the U.S.-backed
Mesa, who resigned Monday after weeks of violent
They were widely expected to name Senate leader
Hormando Vaca Diez, a conservative lawyer and
landowner who is next in line to assume the
presidency. The protesters have vowed to drive Vaca
Diez from office if he assumes the presidency.
"We are going to respect the decisions of Congress
because we are making a serene call for all actors in
this conflict ... to arrive at a real solution,"
Granados said. "As long as there is no break in the
constitutional and democratic system, we will continue
to safeguard this entire process."
Moments after the admiral's comments, Vaca Diez
announced the postponement of the congressional
session so party leaders could meet.
Street protests by indigenous groups, miners,
students, labor activists and farmers have crippled
Bolivia since May 14. The demonstrators, often
numbering in the tens of thousands, have marched
almost daily in the paralyzed capital of La Paz,
demanding more social benefits for the poor and such
steps as nationalizing Bolivia's oil industry.
The protesters are demanding that Vaca Diez and the
next-in-line to succeed Mesa both step down to allow
the Supreme Court chief justice to take power and call
Leftist opposition leader Evo Morales lashed out late
Wednesday at Vaca Diez, saying he was a wealthy
landowner and another discredited member of the "mafia
of the oligarchy" that has ruled Bolivia for decades.
"We will wage a campaign of civil disobedience"
against any Vaca Diez presidency, warned Morales, a
leader of poor coca leaf-farmers and a House deputy
who heads a leftist party, the Movement Toward
Socialism. "The street mobilizations will not halt."
La Paz Mayor Juan Del Granado also stepped up pressure
for early elections by announcing he and 20 other
civic colleagues were beginning a hunger strike,
adding, "Our protest is not about politics, but about
the future of Bolivia."
A farmer and businessman, Vaca Diez, 56, hails from
the eastern region of Santa Cruz and is widely seen as
a conservative and free-market supporter. However, his
MIR party has been mired in past corruption scandals
and is reviled by Indian and labor groups in the
western highlands around La Paz.
Morales and other leaders are trying to persuade Vaca
Diez to immediately resign the presidency, giving it
to second-in-line House leader Mario Cossio. They want
Cossio to resign as well, sending the presidency to
third-in-line Supreme Court Justice Eduardo Rodriguez.
If Rodriguez becomes president, he must call elections
within five months, while either Vaca Diez or Cossio
would be allowed by law to serve out Mesa's term,
which runs until August 2007.
Vaca Diez refused Thursday to say whether he would
allow such a scenario if elected.
"I hope that all goes well and that the peace can be
restored in Bolivia," he said.
Camouflaged army troops with rifles at ready guarded
the whitewashed hall where the leaders were to open
their session in Sucre, the historic capital after
Bolivia gained independence in the 19th century.
Legislative and executive branches of government later
relocated to La Paz, though the Supreme Court is still
headquartered in Sucre.
Chronically unstable Bolivia, landlocked and with much
of the country at high altitudes in the Andes
Mountains, is South America's poorest nation. It is
split between Indian and labor groups from the poor
western highlands, and the ruling class from Santa
Cruz in the east and the oil-rich gas fields to the
The divides created by the U.S.-backed war on drugs
also are at issue: Opposition leader Evo Morales draws
his support from farmers who grow coca leaf, the raw
ingredient for cocaine, while Vaca Diez likely would
ally himself with the U.S. campaign to eradicate coca
Morales demanded congressional leaders call early
elections in which the anti-U.S. leader would likely
be a leading candidate, although he failed in one
earlier bid for Bolivia's presidency.