Shawn Blore
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Shawn Blore
Tel:(55) 21-8102-4706

Shawn Blore
Tel:(55) 21-8102-4706

The Globe and Mail, Friday, June 10, 2005, Page A13l


By Shawn Blore | The Globe and Mail

SANTA CRUZ, BOLIVIA– Planes were grounded, roads blocked, and bussed paralysed in Bolivia as the congress of this troubled Andean nation began meeting in the former capital city of Sucre to choose a successor to outgoing President Carlos Mesa.

After Mesa´s resignation, the man next in line is the head of the Senate, Hormando Vaca Diez. A rich landowner from the oil-rich Santa Cruz region, Hormando has the support of Bolivia`s two rightist political parties and much of the country´s middle class, but he is despised by the country`s powerful indigenous movement and labour unions.

Roads have been blockaded for weeks by a coalition of campesinos, Indians and labour unions demanding the nationalization of the country´s oil and gas reserves and immediate elections to replace the current congress and outgoing president Carlos Mesa.

Thursday, flights to the capital La Paz were grounded after Bolivia`s armed forces took control of the city´s civilian airport. A strike by Bolvian air traffic controllers put an end to aviation in the remainder of the country.

The chief of the armed forces, Admiral Luis Aranda Granados, appeared at a news conference to explain that security measures including troops on the streets and at the airport were being taken to ensure the stability and continuity of constitutional rule in Bolvia. The military, the Admiral stated, "will respect the will of Congress."

The last airport in the country to close was in Santa Cruz, the capital of Bolivia´s hydrocarbon rich eastern department (or province). Santa Cruz´ demands for regional autonomy are one of the prime causes of the present conflict.

According to the Ernar Cabrora, the duty officer at the military airport in Santa Cruz, the armed forces have received orders to remain on high alert. Carbrora says that the moment the Bolivian congress elects Hormano Vaca Diez president, the military plans to move in force into the streets of La Paz to put down protests and ¨support the constitutional order.¨

The will almost certainly lead to conflict with Bolivia`s Indigenous movements and coca growers union. According to local press reports, a leader of a Bolivian mining union has already been killed in a confrontation at an army roadblock outside the city of Sucre.

Here in the city of Santa Cruz, the situation is very tense. There are blockades of Indians and campesinos on all the highways leading out of the city. According to local television, several bands of vigilantes attempted without success today to break through the blockades to the north of the city.

Wednesday, gas drilling facilities belonging to Repsol YPF of Spain and British Gas,
Were occupied by striking Indians, forcing the companies to shut down production.

People in the city are preparing for the worst. Many are arming themselves. Some are talking of civil war. ¨We expect that the Indians will come down to invade us,¨ said Jairo Sanchez. ¨But have arms. We know how to welcome Indians.¨

Few indigenous people live in the province of Santa Cruz, one of several differences that set this area apart from the rest of the country. Indeed, the contrast between the regions could not be sharper. Santa Cruz is lowland, Amazonian in climate, inhabited by people with no ties to Indaian culture. The other difference, at least according to lowland residents of Santa Cruz, is in the work ethic. ¨This is the other Bolivia,¨said Jairo Sanchez. ¨Eastern Bolivia. Here everything functions. Here people know how to work.¨

In a televised address to the country, outgoing president Carlos Mesa warned his countrymen to back away from the brink of civil war.

Special envoys sent by the Mercosul nations of Brazil and Argentina attempted to reach the capital La Paz today in order to mediate in the crisis instead found themselves stranded in the lowland regional capital of Santa Cruz.

In Ottawa, Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew expressed concern about the volatile situation in Bolivia, and called on all parties in the conflict to respect the democratic norms and princapls of the OAS

Shawn Blore is a Freelance Correspondent based in Rio de Janeir

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