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BOLIVIA
Fragil truce
Latinamerica Press
6/17/2005
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New leader cannot turn a blind eye to population’s momentous demands.

Eduardo Rodríguez, the head of the Supreme Court, was named president of Bolivia on June 10 after Congress accepted Carlos Mesa’s resignation, making him the nation’s third leader in 20 months. Mesa came to power in the wake of the so-called "gas wars" which led to the removal of former President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (1993-1997, 2003-2004).

Rodríguez was third in line as Mesa’s successor. Both Senate President Hormando Vaca Díez and Mario Cossío, Chamber of Deputies leader, declined to assume the post. The announcement was made hours after protesters staged street demonstrations and blockaded highways demanding Mesa’s exit, the closing of Congress, a constituent assembly, the nationalization of hydrocarbons, and the autonomy for the country’s eastern resulting in the death of protester Carlos Corro, a miner.

Immediately after he was sworn in, Rodríguez pledged to hold elections before the end of the year. The Constitution states that if the head of the Supreme Court assumes the presidency he is obligated to hold elections as quickly as possible, while if either Congressional president does so, he or she must serve the remainder of the president’s term.

"One of my capacities is to convene an electoral process that would transform and renew citizen representation so this Congress can continue to contribute to a more just and equitable democracy," Rodríguez said.

Regarding the population’s main demands, after his appointment Rodríguez said in a press conference that "we will urgently call a constituent assembly" and as the "the hydrocarbon nationalization is a constitutional principle, this should be analyzed by the Congress and executive branch will implement the laws that the legislature approves."

Evo Morales, a deputy and leader of the Movement to Socialism (MAS) announced a truce with the new leader.

"It is necessary to understand that he is a new president and that he has the will to listen to our demands," Morales said. "His election will lower tensions and we will accept a truce."

More radicalized sectors, particularly in the city of El Alto — one of the country’s poorest towns with a mostly indigenous population — initially refused to unblock roads unless Rodríguez traveled there to hear their demands.

However, on June 10, the same day that Rodríguez assumed the presidency, El Alto leaders temporarily lifted the roadblocks. Two days later, Rodríguez visited the town. "The demands of the population should be addressed by the next president," Rodríguez said afterward.

According to a Latin American diplomat who requested that his name not be used, Rodríguez’s appointment only constitutes a truce in Bolivia’s social and political context, but "the demands of the radicalized groups, as much in the west as in the east, continue to look for a solution."

The new leader will have to take the appropriate decisions to achieve a consensus that will restore the nation’s stability.

"It is not only necessary to work rationally in terms of what is appropriate for national interest. It is also necessary to act with timliness because people are so sensative these days that if a moment in which agreements are favorable is gone, it will never come back," said political analyst, Alfonso Alem Rojo.

The new leader faces a difficult task because although he has an image of honesty, he does not have Congress’ support, according to the diplomat. This can complicate things for the new president who has to make concrete decisions. So it is difficult to say how long this social truce will last.

As long as the current power structure continues to deny the indigenous people access to decision-making processes related to issues that are of their highest concerns, the problem will have no real solution.


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