Bolivia in crisis

You know things in Bolivia are bad when even my Nanny who lives in San Antonio, Texas, has heard the news.

Bolivia’s president, Carlos Mesa, has offered his resignation to the Bolivian congress. In a television address to the nation, he said that Bolivia could not go on “with this dynamic of madness, of the tribe, of the region. We cannot continue with this irrational logic.”

The “dynamic of madness” he is referring to is the unending cycle of protests and blockades sponsored by various political factions. These protests continually cripple the country economically. Mesa refuses to use force to stop them, though. His predecessor, Sanchez de Lozada, took the military tack, and 67 protestors ended up dead. The people rose against Lozada, forcing him to flee the country. Now Bolivians want Lozada tried for “genocide.”

A country of protests

Mesa is in a tough spot. He has no political party, making him independent and fairly popular around the country with individual people. But he has little political support from any of the political parties. They want their own parties to be in power, and have no incentive to support him.

And he refuses to use force to stop the blockades. Instead, he ends up capitulating to each group that protests, whether it’s poor people from El Alto demanding that a foreign water company be eject or whether it’s the rich elite of Santa Cruz demanding more autonomy for their region. Obviously, this capitulation only encourages more protests from all sides, exacerbating the problem.

I have never been able to understand the thinking of people like Evo Morales who are behind these strangling blockades. They essentially cut cities off from each other. Does it hurt the government? Sure! But it hurts more the poor people in each city who struggle to make it from day to day… From the women near the bus stations in each city who cook breakfasts and lunch, to farmers whose crops spoil in trucks stranded outside the cities, to ranchers whose animals die because they are also stuck in trucks with nothing to eat or drink, to the many people working in the tourist industry. I saw this first hand when I was in Bolivia, listening to complaints of workers who had no customers.

Equally, I can’t understand why the poor people turn out for these blockades thinking it will improve their lives. They are destroying their own economy and strangling themselves. I know that many of them are pushed into doing it. One of Yoli’s relatives is a person in such a position. She is expected to turn out for marches in support of her workplace, whether she agrees with it or not. Still, I wish more Bolivians would stop following the collision course their factional leaders have set for them, and instead rally around the president.

Who can lead?

I have heard numerous people I know personally say that what Bolivia really needs is a “benevolent dictator.” The logic behind this statement is that Bolivia can really only be governed by someone with a strong hand who can enforce the law. Strong, honest, democratic government has never really seemed to grow there. The present government is corrupt at practically every level and in every region.

That’s not really an acceptable option, but it is certainly a possibility. Something I haven’t seen discussed in any of the recent news coverage is the possibility of the military intervening in this situation. Bolivia’s history is replete with such incidents… The military routinely steps in when things are crazy and installs a dictator. I hope it doesn’t happen, but I would not at all be surprised if things continued spiraling and it did.

If Congress accepts Mesa’s resignation, the next man in line to be president would probably cause a split in the country because he is so pro-Santa Cruz. that would be disastrous. Indeed, many are saying that Mesa tendered his resignation as a way of forcing the Congress to support him. If parties like MAS accept his resignation, they will be paving the way for a new president who opposes everything they support.

The irony of this entire thing is that many members of Congress are not in La Paz and may not be able to return because of the blockades cutting off all routes in and out of the city. So how will be able to vote and resolve this situation?

I don’t have any answers. I doubt anyone does. Bolivia is a crazy place. Because it is close to my heart, I continue to hope and pray for peace and prosperity there. But those seem like distant dreams….