Protesters Declare Truce in Bolivia
Protesters Declare Truce in Bolivia
By BILL CORMIER
Associated Press Writer
June 10, 2005, 5:08 PM EDT
LA PAZ, Bolivia -- Protesters who drove Bolivia's
president from office began to leave occupied oil
fields Friday and lifted the first of their 100-odd
roadblocks as the country's new leader moved into the
But demonstrators marched on the capital, La Paz, in a
show of strength to make sure the new caretaker
president respects pledges to call early elections and
consider their demands for an end to widespread
inequality and poverty.
Evo Morales, the congressman who led the protests,
declared a "truce" in a month of demonstrations and
consulted with other opposition leaders on whether to
declare a formal end to the protests after Eduardo
Rodriguez became president.
"One must understand that he is the new president and
he has expressed a commitment to listen to our
demands," said Morales, a former coca farmer with
designs on the presidency. "His election is easing the
tensions and we are going to accept a truce."
But it was clear from his first day in office that
Rodriguez, the Supreme Court justice tapped to end the
escalating crisis, would have no honeymoon.
As Rodriguez stood Friday in La Paz's Government
Palace to receive the presidential sash, firecrackers
boomed and thousands of protesters marched only blocks
The Harvard-trained jurist has a daunting challenge:
to defuse a country on edge whose majority Indians,
coca-leaf farmers and leftist labor and student groups
are clamoring for a greater share of power, for
nationalizing the oil industry and for backing away
from U.S.-style free-market programs they blame for
Rodriguez said he would call presidential elections
within five months to complete the term of Carlos
Mesa, a U.S. ally who resigned after 19 chaotic months
in power because of the enormous street protests.
Congress accepted his resignation late Thursday.
Fearing more protests, the two men in line for the
presidency both deferred to Rodriguez. Under Bolivia's
constitution, Rodriguez must call presidential
elections within 150 days -- about five months.
Morales is expected to be a leading candidate. A
presidency of Morales, an Aymara Indian who calls
himself a follower of Venezuela's anti-American
President Hugo Chavez, would bring to seven the number
of leftist leaders in Latin America.
He could face former President Jorge Quiroga, a
U.S.-trained engineer of Spanish descent who governed
from 2001-2002 with a free-market government. Quiroga
has not yet said whether he would run.
Rodriguez promised to study ways to bring together
Bolivia's society, polarized between haves and
have-nots, between people with more Indian or more
European blood, and between long-established ruling
elites and powerless poor.
"Let's build the peace together and create a great
national unity accord that will let us confront the
great challenges facing our country," said Rodriguez,
Protests clogged La Paz on Friday, but with fewer
people than the tens of thousands who marched in
Sanet Pardo, one of 1,500 teachers and labor activists
on the streets, said the show of strength was a
warning to the new president that the opposition wants
"We are still right here," Pardo said. "We are
demanding the nationalization of the oil industry 100
percent. Until we get an answer we are going to keep
marching, because there are no jobs, lots of hunger
and we still don't have answers -- even with this new
Protesters removed some of the more than 70 roadblocks
across the country, and energy companies said radical
farmers had pulled out of several occupied oil fields.
"Bolivia has avoided the worst," said political
scientist Jorge Lazarte.
But slum dwellers in El Alto, above La Paz, signaled
they weren't ready to lift the blockade keeping trucks
away, and residents who have suffered through a month
of shortages continued to wait.
Yaguar Marquez, who runs a gas station with not a drop
in the pumps, said he had to turn away a motorist on
his way to the hospital with a woman in labor, an
ambulance and a hearse loaded with a casket.
"I guess the bodies were already starting to decompose
at the funeral homes and there was no way to get to
them to the cemeteries," he said. "A hearse pulled up
and the driver said he had to get some gas. I told him
we didn't have any, so I guess someone gave him a