Bolivia: the rising of the people

Issue: 108

Mike Gonzalez

6 June 2005: Bolivian president Carlos Mesa submits his resignation in an attempt to end weeks of crippling protests demanding nationalisation of the country’s natural gas reserves.

7 June: Mass demonstrations continue to paralyse La Paz, cut it off from the rest of the country and surround the Congress.

8 June: Meeting in El Alto, heartland of the great rebellion, the Popular Assembly of the First Nations forms a People’s General Staff on which all the mass organisations are represented (though in the end not all of them attend).La Paz daily La Razon editorialises, ‘[The situation is] a profound crisis for Bolivia…[Mesa] could have been a great president, but luck had it that the necessary political conditions were against him, and it fell to him to have to face a ferocious and irrational ideological onslaught.’ Santa Cruz’s El Deber writes of ‘one of the worst crises in Bolivia’s republican history’.

9 June, morning: Congress moves to Sucre in an attempt to avoid demonstrations in the capital. There are moves to give the presidency to a hard rightwing figure, Vaca Diez, who would try to impose military rule. The Congress building is surrounded by members of the mass organisations. The major highways are blocked for the third day running—119 today. The Santa Cruz gas fields are taken over by their workers. Pipeline valves are shut down in Cochabamba and La Paz. Airline workers shut down all the country’s airports. In El Alto, the Popular Assembly issues a six-point declaration that begins by declaring that El Alto is now ‘the general headquarters of the Bolivian Revolution of the 21st century’. It announces the formation of aunified leadership. Its central demand is the nationalisation of hydrocarbons(oil and natural gas). It agrees to form people’s assemblies in every department,and rejects electoral solutions and constitutional successions.

9 June, evening: Evo Morales, leader of MAS, the biggest left party inCongress, agrees to a compromise formula, with the presidency going tothe head of the Supreme Court, Eduardo Rodriguez, until an electiontowards the end of the year. Strikes end, roadblocks are lifted and theprotests come to an end.Oscar Olivera, leader of protests in Cochabamba, declares:In this mobilisation we have seen two things. On one hand we, the varioussocial movements, are capable of paralysing the entire country, and of counteringthe manoeuvres of the businessmen and bad politicians. On the other hand, we have not been capable of imposing our own decisions and objectives…Based on these two considerations, we have opened a wide debate in all the neighbourhoods and communities of Cochabamba and the country about the need to build, little by little, our own capacity for self-government, to push for that in the next mobilisation. Our immense strength should correspond to a great and creative capacity to carry out our own decisions beyond the official institutions and traditional political parties, which always drive us to the edge of the precipice. On this occasion, this has begun to happen with the occupation of hydrocarbon wells, gas plants and refineries, and on the next occasion we must be capable of operating them ourselves for our own good.1

Three Bolivias

It is often said that Bolivia is not a single country but three, linked by historical circumstance and colonial convenience. The differences between them are economic and political, but they are also ethnic and historical. The altiplano, the heart of Bolivia’s ancient Aymara culture, was and remains primarily indigenous—it was the native Bolivians who were driven into the mines to work them, or who sustained the high altitude agriculture sometimes only made bearable by the coca leaf. It is also the site of Bolivia’s major cities—La Paz, Potosí, Sucre, and the newest city of them all, El Alto, 1,000 feet above La Paz, and home to over a million indigenous people. Cochabamba, in the lower valleys, was more hospitable but distant culturally and geographically from the world of the high Andes. Santa Cruz, to the east, was inaccessible from the mountains until very recently, when the twin commodities of oil and coca forced the region open to the wider world.

Since 1999 all three have become elements in a social confrontation that has placed in doubt the relentless campaign of global capital to absorb and control Latin America, along with the rest of the world. The traditions of workers’ organisation and indigenous resistance in the high Andes have combined in a struggle that has expanded into the valleys around Cochabamba and the streets of El Alto before erupting into the streets of Bolivia’s capital, La Paz. The demand was for control of the key resources of the country—first water, and more recently oil and gas. The landowners and entrepreneurs of Santa Cruz, the private beneficiaries of that wealth, have threatened to declare themselves independent from the rest of the country, and to keep the income from oil, gas and coca for themselves.

Bolivia is the region’s poorest country after Haiti. Yet throughout history it has produced enormous riches for a very few. The altiplano, the high plateau of the Andes, was for centuries the source of Bolivia’s extraordinary wealth. In the mid-16th century the city of Potosí was larger than London was at the time, and produced some two thirds of the world’s silver. Three centuries later tin hacked from great volcanic slabs buried deep in the mountains made fortunes for a tiny group of local and foreign mine-owners.

The region around the city of Cochabamba is a fertile plain. Its climate is temperate and spring-like, and its markets full of the colourful products of local agriculture. Big landowners and small farmers share the region. But for small producers especially, water has always played a key role. Despite appearances, the area suffers from a chronic shortage of water exacerbated by the growth of urban areas, especially the city of Cochabamba itself, and a rising graph of water consumption.

Santa Cruz, in the eastern lowlands, is an area of open plains fringed by rainforest. During the first half of the 20th century it was sparsely populated and controlled by landlords who owned vast expanses of land. It was also the scene of perhaps the most brutal episode of Bolivian history—a three-year war with Paraguay (1932-35) in the Chaco region for control of the region’s oil reserves. In the mid-1950s, however, agriculture expanded—mainly cotton, sugar and cattle—and foreign corporations like Gulf began to drill for oil and gas. In the 1970s and 1980s more and more land was given over to the cultivation of coca, from which cocaine is manufactured, as the drugs trade proved to be by far the most profitable.

The neo-liberal assault

On 6 June 2005, for the second time in two years, a mass movement brought down a government. President Carlos Mesa finally yielded to the pressure of the community organisations, anti-gas campaigns, trade unions and indigenous groups, and resigned. He had failed to convince the Bolivian masses that his proposed law on the control of oil and gas production was anything other than an attempt to evade the clear and insistent demand of all sections of the movement—nationalisation of Bolivia’s hydrocarbons. Mesa should have known better. Until October 2003 he had been the country’s vice-president, with a reputation for independent thought. His predecessor, Gonzalo Sánchez de Losada (‘Goni’), however, could make no such claim.

Losada headed a government dedicated to the objectives set out for him by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The discovery of huge reserves of natural gas, calculated in 2001 at 47 trillion cubic feet, placed Bolivia second only to Venezuela in the level of its reserves. This appeared to provide an opportunity for the Bolivian state to generate considerable income, as well as respond to domestic demand for cheap and accessible fuel after years of impoverishment, and deepening social and economic inequality. But Losada was a creature of neo-liberalism, his role to hasten Bolivia’s integration into the world market. So his response was to enter negotiations with a consortium of Repsol (the Spanish oil company), BP-Amoco and British Gas to channel the reserves to the United States.2

The idea was to channel a pipeline through Chile, and from there up the western seaboard to California. Bolivia itself has no access to the sea, having lost its two major coastal cities to Chile and Peru in punishing late19th century wars. It has been suggested that the first popular reaction to the plan arose out of nationalist resentments towards Chile, always a topic of the speeches of the populist right. But this cannot in any way explain the breadth and intensity of the reaction to Lozada’s plan—a plan that would eventually lead to the death of over 60 demonstrators and Losada’s hurried flight to the United States.

His ejection was the most dramatic step thus far in a battle that had begun four years earlier in Cochabamba.

By then, Bolivia was already 14 years into a strategy of aggressive integration into the world market—a policy euphemistically described as ‘structural adjustment’. In some ways, Bolivia was to be a model of how the project would be managed elsewhere in Latin America, for although it was among the poorest nations in the region, it was also one whose recent history (the 1952 revolution and its aftermath3) had placed the organisations of the working class at the heart of politics, and had seen at least apparent attempts to implement nationalisations and agrarian reform. By the early1980s, however, the economic foundation of working class organisation—the mining industry—was in steep decline, and the body of producers whose long history of heroic resistance had written so many chapters of Bolivia’s history was dispersed and demobilised.

The presidency of Paz Estenssoro set in train a series of measures which would lead to the privatisation of much of the economy, including the privatising of education, the result of which was a dramatic rise in the levels of illiteracy.4 Sánchez de Lozada’s first spell as president followed(1993-97), and he initiated the so called Plan for All (Plan de Todos) that enabled him to sell off all Bolivia’s publicly-owned utility companies—electricity, telephones, railways and, most significantly of all, the Bolivian national oil company YPFB.

This consolidated the end of an economy based on mining, and a definitive shift towards an economy based, on the one hand, on drugs and export agriculture, and on the other on the growth of small-scale industry, especially in and around the capital. Privatisation drew in the external loans, but it also reflected the increasing integration of a new Bolivian oligarchy partly based in the expanding economy of Santa Cruz and the institutions of global capitalism.

As elsewhere in Latin America, neo-liberalism brought windfall fortunes to those who represented its interests and sold off the state’s assets at preferential prices. The economy was sluggish. Bolivian exports at the beginning of the 1980s were worth $1,300 million—in 2003 the figure was$1,600 million, a minimal improvement. Meanwhile the average per capita income in 1980, $940, rose by only $20 in the same period.5

Yet Jeffrey Sachs, the ubiquitous guru of neo-liberalism, described Lozada as one of the most creative politicians of the age. It was likely that Sachs was moved to such eulogy not only by Lozada’s obedience to IMF dictates, but also by the fact that there was relatively little popular resistance to these measures. There are several possible explanations for this. Coca cultivation guaranteed a higher income to small farmers than any other cash crop—and the world trade was booming. The traditional organisations of struggle which stood in the leadership of every struggle in the decades since1952, the miners’ union and the national trade union federation (COB) which it dominated, were undermined and disarmed by the dismantling of the mining industry and the migration of its social base. The economic crisis of the 1980s had exhausted the Bolivian working class, and its national profile gave way in those years to more local and sectoral forms of resistance.

Lozada was succeeded in power by Hugo Banzer, a military oligarch whose previous presidency (1971-77) had been marked by widespread and monumental corruption, and sustained and savage repression. It was widely known that Banzer and his cabinet were deeply embroiled in the growing drugs trade of the times, and there was little attempt to conceal the fact that military aeroplanes regularly transported coca out of the country. So it was particularly ironic that Banzer’s return to power, in 1997, should coincide with the US government’s much-vaunted ‘war on drugs’, whose first public manifestations were directed against the coca growers of the Chapare.

Miners who had migrated after the shutting of the mines did not lose their collective memory of decades of struggle, and US-backed attacks on coca cultivation met fierce rejection. Meanwhile in the communities of highland peasant farmers a different tradition of struggle developed. A new peasant federation (the CSUTCB) had been formed in 1978 under the powerful influence of the Tupac Katari Revolutionary Movement6 (MRTK) led by Genaro Flores Santos. This new movement was driven by a conception of Aymara nationalism and traditions of ethnic resistance very different to those of highland peasant organisations that had once functioned under the leadership of the COB, with its traditions of revolutionary workers’ organisation. Issues of ethnicity prevailed in the battles and confrontations of the late 1980s and 1990s, although the movement was far from unified—indeed, one of the best known Katarista leaders, Victor Hugo Cardenas, became a vice-president in the first Lozada government.

Cochabamba on the march

In 1999 President Banzer announced the sale of Cochabamba’s public water enterprise to a new company, Aguas del Tunari, a subsidiary of the giant US corporation Bechtel:

Privatising Cochabamba’s water was a major item in the World Bank’s June1999 country report for Bolivia, which specifically called for ‘no public subsidies’ to hold down water price hikes. In a process with just one bidder, local press reports calculated that investors put up less than $20,000 of upfront capital for a water system worth millions.7

There was an explosion of popular rage when it became clear the immediate result would be a rise in prices. In December 1999 the Coordinadora del Agua was formed under the leadership of a machinist in his mid-forties, Oscar Olivera,8 after a series of actions through the previous month in which small farmers blocked highways into the city.

The demonstrations in Cochabamba began in January, with the demand for the withdrawal of the price increases. The Coordinadora gathered its forces for a major demonstration on 4 February paralysing the city. While popular protests have always characterised Bolivian history, this was a different and new movement. What was most impressive about it was that it gathered into a single stream a whole range of the currents of resistance that had grown up, mainly around local issues, in the preceding years. Here indigenous and community organisations marched with market traders, coca farmers (the cocaleros), organised workers, students and civil servants. On 4 February and subsequent days they took on armed police, and breathed in the teargas thrown at them.

‘Everyone took a role,’ says Oscar Olivera. ‘Youth were on the frontlines, the elderly made roadblocks.’ When protest leaders called on the radio for a citywide transportation stoppage in response to the police downtown crackdown, little old women with bent spines were out in the streets within minutes, building blockades with branches and rocks.9

There was no direct connection with the events that had occurred three months earlier at Seattle, but it was not inaccurate to describe the atmosphere in Cochabamba as redolent of the ‘spirit of Seattle’. At opposite ends of the hemisphere the strategies of neo-liberalism, and the multinational corporations that were its instruments and beneficiaries, were meeting a new kind of unified resistance.

And it won. Within seven days the Banzer government withdrew the contract from Bechtel and introduced a new system for the distribution of water, controlled by the mayor and a committee of elected representatives.10

The Cochabamba action was in every sense a triumph. It was also a detonator. Protests proliferated across the country. In La Paz a militant police strike erupted over levels of taxation, rural communities resisted a new law that removed local control of water, and the state of the roads brought other communities out onto the highways with their own barricades. In El Alto, water privatisation also brought the largely indigenous population of the city into direct confrontation with another multinational water company, Suez.

Cochabamba was the turning point at which mass struggle at the grassroots became a determinant in resisting neo-liberalism. It provided anew model of struggle. It was not a matter of the combativity of those who took to the streets—the whole history of the country is peppered with examples of heroism and determination in the face of the forces of the state. Rather it was the unity and coordination of different organisations that marked a new stage, as well as its increasing politicisation. The demonstrators, like the anti-capitalist protesters after Seattle, found that every local issue brought them rapidly face to face with the global strategies of capital. Equally significant was the fact that it was a politicisation that took place largely outside the framework of existing political organisations, even those of the left, and the discredited formal structures of the political system. It was a radicalisation whose rhetoric and references addressed several different traditions at once—the history of working class struggle, the historic experience of the left, the complexities of community organisation, and also the strength of a resurgent indigenous nationalism.

Looking to the past: the Bolivian revolution

For many of those involved in activities today, a key point of identifications the revolution of 1952. Its lessons do not apply in a direct way to the contemporary situation, because in some ways the continuity of Bolivia’s political history was broken in the 1980s. But memories are not easily wiped clean, nor the victories of the past, as well as the defeats, so easily forgotten. And for the left, struggling to link the most advanced experiences of class struggle to the debates emerging in the current phase, 1952 is a point of departure on many levels.

While it is probably the least known of Latin America’s revolutionary moments, the events of 1952 are in some ways closest to the pattern held dear by the revolutionary socialist tradition and captured in that most central of defining phrases that the revolution shall be the ‘self-emancipation of the working class’. Its central actor was the most advanced section of the working class, at the heart of a revolutionary national union. It imposed state control over Bolivia’s most important national resource—tin. And at the moment of revolution, organs of direct democracy and workers’ control emerged in the context of an armed people. Yet its outcome—the progress from the overthrow of an old regime to the creation of a new workers’ state—was not that envisaged by those who led the movement, and heroic though the revolution was, it must figure among the list of defeats suffered by the workers’ movement. Though that should not diminish its importance as a rehearsal of workers’ power.

Bolivia in 1952 was even more deeply submerged in poverty than it is today: 72 percent of its population were involved in agriculture on 2percent of the land. Just over 3 percent of the people worked in mining, which represented 25 percent of GDP. The main product of the mines was tin, 80 percent of it owned at that time by three powerful individual Bolivian families—their exports amounted to nearly 20 percent of the world’s tin production. At a time of rearmament and war, tin was a hugely profitable commodity, especially given the inhuman conditions under which its miners lived and worked.11 By the early 1940s the richest of the three, Simon Patiño, boasted a personal fortune of $70 million, placing him among the six richest people on earth.12 Like his fellow tin barons (known collectively as La Rosca), Patino reinvested in Europe and the US. Bolivia derived precious little from its metal.

At this time the mining workforce numbered 53,000, and already had behind it a history of bitter and brutal struggle. When the miners formed their first national union in 1944, at a meeting at Patiño’s Huanunimine, it was at the initiative of the MNR (Revolutionary National Movement). Formed in 1940, the MNR was a nationalist coalition with an anti-imperialist perspective and a populist rhetoric. In 1942, when striking miners and their families were gunned down during a strike, the MNR launched a campaign of support for the workers and publicly attacked the government and the Rosca. At the same time, however, they were working with a small group of nationalist officers—one of whom, Gualberto Villarroel, came to power in a coup in December 1943.13

Within the working class the dominant organisation was the Stalinist PIR (Party of the Revolutionary Left), which was hopelessly compromised by a policy of support for the government on the grounds that the priority was support for the Allies in the Second World War. For Bolivia, that support meant maintaining a low price for tin and discouraging miners from fighting to raise the price of their labour. Thus they opposed a Villarroel government which supported workers and trade union rights. Thus in the two years he was in power, trade union membership and militancy grew—and it was the MNR, represented by the general secretary of the miners, Juan Lechín Oquendo, that filled the ideological vacuum left by the PIR. In the more militant unions, however, the Trotskyist POR (Workers Revolutionary Party), led by Guillermo Lora, was also gaining a significant influence.14

The MNR joined the government in 1944. Its future presidential candidate Víctor Paz Estenssoro became finance minister, and his highly orthodox economic policies directly attacked working class demands. Striking workers were attacked and the regime became increasingly repressive—yet Paz remained a minister. Support for the MNR among workers rapidly waned. An emergency conference of the miners’ union in March1946 broke definitively with Villarroel and adopted a programme of demands drawn up by Lora and the POR—the Pulacayo Theses. James Dunkerley describes the theses as ‘essentially an application of Trotsky’s1938 Transitional Programme to Bolivian conditions’.15 They argued that Bolivia was a backward capitalist country in which the proletariat, as the leading revolutionary class, should seek alliances with the peasantry, artisans and petty bourgeoisie, but warned against the incorporation of workers’ ministers into bourgeois governments. It set out a series of tactical demands including a sliding scale of wages, nationalisation of the mines and the creation of a national trade union confederation.

The Theses won considerable support—a reflection of the respect that members of the POR enjoyed within the working class movement. But this is not the same thing as asserting that the majority of militant miners had been won to a revolutionary perspective, nor that the POR in fact enjoyed a dominant position in the organisations of the working class. The acceptance of a revolutionary programme (albeit undeclared) does not automatically confer political leadership on those who have presented it—a lesson many times repeated then and since. In the situation of Bolivia, the paradox was all the more evident. For it was the leadership of the miners’ union, and Juan Lechín in particular, who would now be called upon to implement the Theses—and Lechín belonged to the MNR. It was a contradiction that would return to haunt the movement after the revolution.

The period between 1946 and 1952 was a time of bitter repression. Villarroel was lynched by a crowd in July 1946—in subsequent elections the POR won a parliamentary seat. But the new government turned once again on the trade unions and, with the collaboration of the Stalinists, pursued and murdered a number of leading activists. Lechín and Lora were arrested in 1949, and an occupation of the Catavi mine ended with the murder of 300 workers. In September that year the MNR launched an armed rising, with the support of the miners. Although it failed within a couple of months, the workers had controlled a number of towns for brief periods of time. In the months that followed there were strikes and armed confrontations across the mining areas in which both the POR and MNR members took a leading role.

The MNR, despite its earlier ambiguities, became increasingly identified with opposition to the military government, and with the militant trade union movement. When the MNR’s candidates, Paz Estenssorro and Siles Suazo, won the presidential elections in 1951 the military refused to recognise the result and sought to impose military control.

On the night of 10 April 1952 workers across the country polished their concealed weapons and set out to confront the military detachments that had been sent out to stop them. In La Paz the army’s lines of retreat were cut off by armed miners from the town of Oruro, which was now under workers’ control after the military commander had turned his guns on the crowds in the town square and murdered 90 people. Conscripts in uniform very quickly remembered their origins, and turned their caps to show they had changed sides. And the armed workers’ militia controlled the streets.

The situation that Siles and Paz faced was extraordinary. Consistent with their strategy of taking power through a military coup supported by amass movement in the streets, they had anticipated that this would be the pattern in April 1952. Instead the army defended the old regime to the last, and it was the armed workers who seized control of the situation. After three days of fighting, which left 600 dead, the working class was effectively in power. On 17 April the first national trade union federation, the COB, was formed. It organised peasants, students, community groups and tenants as well as trade unions and was for a brief period ‘the only centre of power worthy of the name’.16 The workers’ militia controlled the streets—on May Day 40,000 workers marched through the streets of the capital with arms in hand.

The acting MNR president, Siles Suazo, responded astutely to the situation. He appointed three working class leaders to his cabinet—Lechín for the miners, Butron for the factory workers and Angel Cromez of the transport union. For Lora and the POR, the dominant position of the COB guaranteed their continuing control of the situation. Lechín was the COB’s man in government and, given the balance of forces in those first revolutionary days, would follow the dictates of the movement. The POR argued for the COB to take power, but Lechin and the other worker ministers wanted to share power with the MNR. With their customary skill and cunning Lechín and Siles rode the revolutionary tide, adopting the demands for nationalisation of the mines and the redistribution of land to the peasants.

Lechín’s role is central. Lora described him as ‘incarnating the radicalism of the masses’.17 The POR saw him as sympathetic to their positions, and relied on him to carry the politics of workers’ power into the cabinet. In reality Lechín was developing a radical working class politics for the MNR, and conducting an internal political battle using the COB to strengthen his position within that party. The reality of the days and weeks after the revolution was that power lay with the organised working class—briefly, the POR was a powerful political influence within the movement. But it did not use the moment to forge the instrument of political leadership that would enable it to consolidate and organise its alternative strategy for the state. Instead it placed enormous reliance on the very ‘worker ministers’ it had warned against in the Pulacayo Theses.

The reliance on Lechín stemmed from a conviction that the MNR would immediately betray the revolution and drive the working class and the workers’ leaders into the arms of the revolutionary left. But the MNR acquiesced in and supported many of the demands of the working class, crucially the nationalisation of the mines—indeed, they went further and argued for ‘workers’ control’ (control obrero) of the mines. Thus the miners saw the victory as won, and the POR did not argue the need to control the whole of Bolivian society and transform the state—perhaps it also saw the victory as won. The result was to reinforce the insularity of the miningcommunities,18 which, in a contradictory way, was the source of their extraordinary resolution and solidarity.

In effect, the leadership of the COB elected to share power with the MNR, and the MNR skilfully used the situation to establish its control over the working class movement. From 1952 to 1953 power still lay with the working class—the workers’ militia continued to accumulate arms, for example. The gains they made in that period were real and dramatic, symbolised by the nationalisation of the mines. Yet the seeds of defeat were already present at the moment of greatest triumph. On 31 October 1952the mines were nationalised—but compensation was paid to the previous owners. Simon Patiño’s company paid $400 in taxes that year—and received $900 million in compensation. Further, the nationalisation decree was specific and limited. The POR attacked the MNR for this, but by now the POR had lost much of its influence at the national level, and Lechín felt secure enough by early 1953 to break publicly with the POR—they had served his purposes well enough.

To a large extent the influence that the POR had exercised in the months immediately after the April insurrection was shown to have been dependent on Lechín’s goodwill. Once that goodwill was withdrawn, their influence was reduced to its proper proportions.19

The opportunities to build revolutionary organisation in such favourable conditions come rarely and last only a short time. By mid-1953 Lora recognised that the moment had passed. His comrades in the Fourth International, however, disagreed, and insisted that the MNR could still be driven to the left and won to a revolutionary perspective.20 The consequence, of course, was that many of the POR’s leading trade unionists moved into the MNR—the logical consequence of a politics which continued to paint the nationalist leadership with communist colours.

It was no accident that the next COB congress did not occur until 1954. By then the trade unions were largely controlled by bureaucrats newly appointed by Lechín and the MNR. The peasant farmers, who had taken little or no part in the April rising, were nevertheless drawn into the process by the conscious activity of the radical leadership of the COB. By 1954,however, the enactment of a capitalist land reform had created a new class of small rural capitalists who were equally dependent on government. The rebuilding of the army was under way, and the mining industry was beginning to be decapitalised and state development spending turned towards newer, mainly agricultural sectors outside the highlands. Two years later, in 1956, the government of Siles Suazo would introduce a Stabilisation Plan whose purpose was the reintegration of the Bolivian economy into the world market. By now the MNR government felt strong enough to turn on its erstwhile allies and attack the trade unions. The combative response of workers across the country led Siles to turn to his old allies in the army, an army rebuilt by him in anticipation of just such a moment. At the same time, the mining industry would be consigned to a slow death and, with external aid from the end of the 1950s, new areas of private capitalist development would be financed and encouraged.

The second Bolivian Revolution, whenever it came, would arise in a very different Bolivia—but the memory of 1952 would leave an important political legacy for the next generation of resisters.

A curious blend: water, coca and oil

Among those who demonstrated in Cochabamba in February 2000 were the cocaleros, the coca farmers of Chapare. Many of them were ex-miners who had been encouraged to move down to the area around Cochabamba by the grant of small plots of land. Coca, of course, is a legal crop in Bolivia, sold from enormous sacks in the street markets. The tradition of coca chewing is part of the experience of life at high altitude, where food is often scarce and labour hard and unrewarding. El Tío, the protective god of the mine, is offered coca every Friday morning, and the leaves form part of most communal ceremonials.

The huge expansion in heroin and cocaine consumption in the West, and the US in particular, from the early 1970s onwards transformed the economies of Latin America. By the late 1990s cocaine represented 8 percent of global trade. An apparently bottomless demand created the multimillionaires of Colombia, Peru and eastern Bolivia, not to mention the anonymous wealthy entrepreneurs who facilitate the trade north of the Rio Grande. Successive US governments launched and relaunched eradication programmes against drugs through the 1980s and 1990s,attacking the origin of the leaf rather than the social causes of its massive levels of consumption within the US. In 1988 agreement was reached with the Bolivian government to limit levels of cultivation to meet local demand—unlike Colombia, Bolivia did not have to deal with blanket herbicide spraying, but it did have to accept the presence of US Drug Enforcement Agency personnel on its soil.21

Under Banzer (1997-2000)—the same man who had made shadowy fortunes out of the drugs in the 1970s—the campaign against coca production was stepped up. The cocaleros themselves, however, were already on a battle footing, having joined with other peasant organisations in a coalition which in 1999 became the MAS (the Movement Towards Socialism),taking up the name of a previously existing group in order to register for the 2002 elections. Its leader, whose face had become well known in the earlier campaigns against eradication, was Evo Morales, who would become a key figure in the events of the coming years.

The cocaleros were central actors in the Cochabamba events of 2000.The impact of the neo-liberal reforms launched after 1985 on the land was to restructure production around export crops and open the country to imports of cheaper food. For small farmers, the threat could be allayed to some extent by turning their land over to growing coca. The eradication programme, however, was a direct attack on their livelihood, and water privatisation would sound a death knell as production in the Chapare fell significantly. There has been a flow of aid from the US and the European Union into projects designed to promote alternative crops, but these have rarely been able to offer an income comparable to the earnings from growing coca. More importantly, perhaps, US aid has often been conditional on abandoning the established forms of communal organisation and replacing them with individual land titles—and that in its turn has provoked resistance on cultural and ideological grounds.

Many of those who had moved away from the mining areas of the highlands had gone to Chapare. Others moved towards the city of El Alto, an indigenous satellite city high above the capital, La Paz. They brought with them the Aymara language (or its variants, like Aymara-Quechua),and the traditions of communal organisation reinforced by the Katarista traditionand, after 1996, by the impact of the movement led by Felipe Quispe el Mallku. They were also the bearers of a collective memory of extraordinary workers’ struggles in the relentlessly harsh environs of the high Andes.

There were other important sectors of Bolivian society which had suffered the direct impact of neo-liberalism. There were the civil servants, teachers and other state employees who were the victims of a 50 percent cut in state employment (the police, after all, launched their own strike in2000). The growth of the private sector in the areas they might once have worked in did not replace their jobs—by definition the multinationals were centrally administered outside the country, and were in any case invariably capital intensive.22 There were the students of the deteriorating state university sector, and especially the University of El Alto, whose prospects of finding work were minimal. And there were the pensioners whose state pensions after the mine closures often went unpaid because the state pension fund was shrinking as a new neo-liberal pension scheme directed money into private pension funds.23

All of these sectors had come under attack in one way or another as a result of the neo-liberal strategies imposed by all the post-1985 governments, but particularly by Lozada and his successor, Banzer. In the five years after the Cochabamba rising each of these social groups drew both inspiration and confidence from their participation in the movement against privatisation of water. From February 2000 onwards there is a pattern in Bolivia of highway blockades, marches, protests, strikes and collective resistance which evolves and develops towards new levels of intensity and new forms of organisation—culminating in the demand for a Revolutionary Popular Assembly in the aftermath of the 2005 actions. Their immediateimpulse, without any question, comes from the Cochabamba victory. Events elsewhere in Latin America also have their impact. And yet the expressions of this developing mass struggle often have as their reference points a long history of resistance.

In 2002 presidential elections were to be held. Evo Morales, leader of the cocaleros and candidate of the MAS, presented his candidacy and won 22 percent of the national vote. This has to be set in the context of a political environment in which most political parties were essentially machines for government and/or apparatuses to advance the careers of power hungry politicians. The mass movements that had developed through the1990s were linked by their common distrust of party politicians—or indeed politics of any kind. Oscar Olivera, leader of the Cochabamba movement, expressed that caution in a seminar in La Paz in June of 2000:

For the true nation not to be supplanted by the market or the state, the working class, both urban and rural, and the marginalised and economically insecure of the nation—in other words, the overwhelming majority of society—must assume control over the wealth embodied in hydrocarbons. And they must do so through assembly-style forms of self-organisation at the neighbourhood, regional and national levels. The nation must enact a self-presentation—it must self-govern through autonomous structures of participation that socialise responsibility for public life.24

Olivera’s description of the movement closely corresponds to what did emerge in the subsequent four years. But his words are imbued with a notion of mass organisation and resistance in isolation from the political life of the state—including involvement with the institutions of representative democracy. Morales’s candidacy in 2002 exposed a tension at the heart of the movement. On the one hand, his support clearly came from those who regarded him as a representative of the movement, rather than of the party in whose name he stood—MAS—because Bolivian electoral law required that he stand on behalf of an officially registered political organisation. On the other hand, his entry into the electoral arena proposed an alternative dynamic, a different kind of resolution, to the kind of power enacted from below that Olivera was proposing. But what remained unclear, and still does, is what the political expression of such a movement would be—and how it would address the continuing power of the state. The experience of 1952 had left little doubt as to the consequences of such an omission.

For the moment, however, Bolivia’s political future was not being played out in the Congress but in the streets—and in particular in the streets of El Alto:

Traffic moves constantly over the black mud that covers roads and pavements; the sound of car horns mingles with Andean music, played on pan pipes or electric guitars, and the shouts of people buying-selling-complaining-bargaining. Hundreds of lorries prepare to dive into the bowl of La Paz or to haul themselves up the interminable mountain roads. This is El Alto, 4,100 metres above sea level, where the freezing air blows down from the snow-capped Cordillera. Its population is around 800,000; 81 percent describe themselves as indigenous people. The majority are poor, 20 percent have no access to drinking water or sewerage, 75 percent have no health cover and around 40 percent are illiterate.25

Yet this is a highly organised population, gathered in a series of local and communal organisations which alone can guarantee their survival in such hostile and unforgiving conditions. Zibechi describes them in detail:

There are mothers’ circles, youth and cultural associations, centres for immigrants from different regions, associations of migrant workers, family organisations that specialise in organising education, and COR, the Regional Workers’ Organisation of El Alto which brought together groupings of small traders, artisans and sectoral workers. Since its creation in 1988 it has worked closely with Fejuve, the powerful federation of community organisations. It was their joint agitation, for example, which led to the creation of the public University of El Alto in 2001.

The 40,000 market stalls along the main highway through El Alto, for example, are not individually owned but are collective property allocated by the appropriate organisation. The provision of public services is decided for each area in public meetings and assemblies, while educational provision is the remit of the family organisations. Furthermore, the leaders of the organisations have to fulfil a series of conditions in order to be eligible—they cannot be speculators, nor traders, nor belong to any political party. According to Pablo Mamani, head of sociology at El Alto University, these organisations share features with the Andean communities in their structure,their control of territory and their forms of organisation. And it was precisely these organisations, and their horizontal networks, which were mobilised during the insurrectionary actions of 2003.

In February that year there were major protests in El Alto and elsewhere against a government attempt to impose an additional 9 percent tax on income. The police joined the protest, and a number of public buildings were razed to the ground. On the altiplano, the movement led by Mallku blocked principal highways in protest at a number of unresolved demands regarding land. The government responded with repression, and four peasant farmers were killed. Then, on 19 September in La Paz, a massive 500,000-strongdemonstration assembled to demand the return of Bolivia’s gas reserves to public ownership. They also raised the call for a constituent assembly. When Lozada refused to responded, the organisations of El Alto combined to organise an indefinite paro cívico, a general civic strike. In Chapare the cocaleros barricaded highways, and other roadblocks began to appear around La Paz. As food began to run short, Lozada sent troops into El Alto—in the confrontations that followed 70 died, and many more were wounded.

It was too much for Lozada. Unable to drive through the Hydrocarbons Law which would effectively have ceded control of Bolivian gas to the foreign multinationals, he resigned and fled the country on 17October. His successor, Carlos Mesa, promised a referendum on the issue of gas. But he had no intention of nationalising—he would not break existing agreements with foreign multinationals, he announced. And the ballot paper contained no mention of nationalisation. Then, in March2004, the Bolivian Congress passed a new law which added 32 percent taxes to the 18 percent royalties those companies paid. It was still far from what the movement demanded—but it was too much for Mesa, who tried to veto the law. Yet the Supreme Court, headed by Eduardo Rodriguez, declared all previous contracts null and void.

The political tensions which already existed within the movement itself were exacerbated by the confusion deliberately sown by Mesa. Morales’s electoral success in 2002 appeared to open up a possibility of answering the demands of the Gas Coalition without challenging the state. It was an illusion carefully fostered by Morales and sustained by many outside Bolivia—a promise of reform that flew in the face of the whole of Bolivia’s recent history. But for Morales and the MAS the experience of1952 was not the key reference point—in late 2003 his perspective could be legitimated by setting Bolivia within a Latin American framework. Here Lula had just been elected to the Brazilian presidency as the candidate of the Workers Party, Lucio Gutiérrez still presented himself as the candidate of the Ecuadorean popular movement, Kirchner in Argentina claimed to speak with the voice of the Argentinazo, and in Venezuela Hugo Chávez had survived two attempts to bring him down.

In fact, Morales had thrown his weight behind Mesa as Lozada’s replacement. But his growing moderation seemed not to impress the rank and file movement—in the 2004 municipal elections his voted was halved to 11 percent nationwide. Indeed, by May 2005 the mass movement had grown weary of Mesa’s wheeling and dealing and the prevarications of Morales. The protest movement was renewed with a clear and simple demand—nationalisation. On 16 May a symbolic encirclement of La Paz announced a new phase of struggle. The COR called for another parocívico—a civic strike—which was launched in El Alto on 23 May. The following day indigenous Aymara protesters from Felipe Quispe’s movement came within yards of the Congress, before they were driven back.

El Alto was again at the heart of a national movement. But there were important differences from 2003. First, the level of participation was higher and the degree of coordination across the country was significantly greater. There were occupations in Cochabamba and Oruro, and actions in Santa Cruz province. In El Alto itself the indefinite strike caused serious problems of supply, particularly of petrol, for the capital. Most significantly, perhaps, the indigenist movement had now moved into El Alto, which it began to describe as the headquarters of the Aymara rebellion. Thus organisations of workers in the mainly small workplaces in and around La Paz, the teachers’ unions, Fejuve and the community groups, housing cooperatives and student groups were at the heart of a broad movement which had a single, unified demand—nationalisation of oil and gas.

The deepening crisis of the ruling class was becoming obvious. Mesa’s compromises and corruptions had failed to hold the movement back. His resignation had become inevitable—and the internal battle for the succession centred on the Senate leader, Vaca Díez, who represented the business interests of Santa Cruz which were now demanding regional autonomy and a right to secession for Bolivia’s wealthiest province. His bid also failed, and the interim replacement for Mesa, Supreme Court head Rodríguez, represented little more than a holding operation.

Here the role of Evo Morales becomes both more central and more sinister. On 26 May a brief truce opened a space for the Catholic church to intervene with a proposal that linked issues of human rights, regional autonomy and the demand for a constituent assembly. This was clearly an attempt to reinforce, or perhaps more accurately to create, a middle ground of compromise that could pull back the movement from its revolutionary objectives. And in this the support of Evo Morales was critical. Announcing his electoral running mate, García Linera, a supporter of Quispe and an ex guerrilla of the Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army, Morales and the MAS set out to embrace and recruit to their project of compromise and reform the increasingly militant indigenous movement.

But events were accelerating away, though it has to be acknowledged that the intervention of MAS and the church produced a kind of hiatus and a confusion deliberately sown. On the face of it the demand for a constituent assembly may have seemed to differ very little from the call for a National Popular and Indigenous Assembly. In fact, the constituent assembly was a body whose elected delegates would function as a bourgeois parliament until and unless the bourgeoisie—reeling now under the impact of the mass popular rising—could find ways to reimpose their institutional order which, for the moment, was irredeemably corrupt and incapable of functioning.

It became obvious in June, by contrast, that the model already being constructed at a local level was for a very different kind of assembly, a form of mass democracy recalling the great popular decision-making gatherings of the 19th century called ‘cabildos abiertos’—open local governments. These assemblies enshrine the project for the future that can carry through not only the nationalisation of oil and gas, the immediate demand, but also establish the existence of a new kind of power—democratic, accountable, and controlled by the producers.

Mesa’s resignation on 6 June was a victory for the mass insurrectionary movement. He had threatened to resign twice before in the face of protests over price rises—but, in the absence of any alternative, the bourgeoisie had kept him in power for a further three months. For Evo Morales, his departure opened a space he could clearly see himself as filling—and he rushed to present himself as the saviour of the Bolivian state. It may well be that he will be the successful candidate at the elections of 2007—but his role will be to restore and legitimise a state that has been brought to the edge of collapse by a determined mass movement from below. And what of the future? The speed of events is illustrated in the shifts of position within the MAS. The sociologist and one-time guerrilla leader Alvaro García Linera is a key supporter of Morales—and will probably be his electoral running mate. Ina fascinating interview,26 Linera is explicit—the MAS project is for the creation of a strong Bolivian capitalism.

Linera: Socialism is not a viable project in Bolivia, because it can only be built by a strong working class base. The socialist utopia emerges from the extreme maturity of capitalism. In Bolivia there is no capitalism; 70 percent of urban workers are in small family businesses. You can’t build socialism out of small business, but on the basis of advanced industries, and we don’t have that in Bolivia. You can’t build socialism where 95 percent of the rural population live in traditional communal economies.

Interviewer: So what kind of society is MAS trying to build?

Linera: A version of Andean capitalism.

Linera goes on to discuss the problems MAS is having in its negotiations with other organisations—with Felipe Quispe the Aymara leader, with Jaime Solares of the COB, and with the leadership of the coordinating organisation of community groups, Fejuve. It is hard, he argues, because everyone wants to be part of the electoral slate.

Yet the promise that Evo Morales represents echoes the rhetoric of Lula in Brazil and Lucio Gutiérrez in Ecuador. Linera is quite clear that MAS’s hope lies in an alliance with Lula, Chavez and the other new populist regimes in Uruguay and Argentina. Leaving aside the discredit into which the Lula government is falling, the programme for a revitalised and strengthened alliance of capitals does not challenge the neo-liberal project. On the contrary, it merely offers the prospect of a government that will mediate between global capital and the mass movements that had carried each to power. A future Morales government will function to restore a Bolivian state vying for a place at the banqueting tables of Davos and the WTO. Yet the fundamental irony of all this is that global capital, and the US government, will only tolerate such regimes because of the strength of the mass movement—and until that strength is sapped, or the movement weakened or diverted.

What has become incontestably clear in the last five years is that the Bolivian mass movement is anti-capitalist in its spirit and its demands. It is an insurrection that has challenged not simply the conduct of successive governments but their strategy. The privatisation of resources—their transformation into commodities bought and sold on a world market by private capitalists—is the object of their rage and their resistance. It is true that there has been a debate about whether a higher level of taxation of foreigncorporations would be enough—but that demand was first suggested bythe now ejected Mesa, and only later taken up by Morales and the MAS for their own purposes. And while in 2004 that was echoed across the movement, its radicalisation since then has left the argument for 50percent taxation as the demand of the moderates, while the central policy of the combative majority of the movement in 2005 has been for the nationalisation of Bolivia’s gas and oil resources. Used for the general good, they could transform the Bolivian economy—but not in the context of a neo-liberal market.

The alternative is a transformation that fully realises the demand for democratic control over the economy enshrined in a new state. The people’s assemblies that developed in the May/June days were the embryonic expression of a new kind of power—democratic, accountable and transparent. As yet, that experience has not been embodied in an equivalent national organisation, though it has been proposed and argued for in the local gatherings. In part, that is the result of confusion about the demand for a constituent assembly as an electoral forum—in part it is also a consequence of the lack of political coordination and agreement in the movement.

The analysis put forward by the miners’ union (FSTMB) argues that the task is to ‘forge the political instrument of the working class’27—the revolutionary organisation capable of unifying and giving strategic political direction to the many forces that have waged such a heroic and successful struggle against the present state over the last five years. No one on the left would disagree with that as a general and abstract proposition. But the reality is that the COB, which has played that role historically in Bolivia, no longer fills that central role. The definitive crushing of the miners in 1984-85, and the rapid decline of the tin mining industry that followed it, marked the end of the era when mining was Bolivia’s central industry. In fact, of course, it had long ceased to be sufficient to sustain the economy, yet until that moment there was an uninterrupted tradition to refer to in the political debate.

Where is the working class in Bolivia today? It is dispersed across the country. In Santa Cruz it is the oil workers. In the mining areas it is the small cooperatives working to extract metal under terrible working conditions in the now declining and increasingly dangerous mine workings. In El Alto and La Paz the COB’s influence is largely restricted to teachers and health workers. The manufacturing and productive units in the region are for the most part small workshops producing consumer goods—the workplaces rarely employ more than ten people. They are organised by the COR, a regional trade union federation rooted in El Alto. More importantly, these organisations are essentially concerned with developing a militant trade unionism—a syndicalist position which does not pose the question of state power, but is seduced by notions of political spaces autonomous of and separate from the state.

And that working class is also indigenous—81 percent of El Altoconsider themselves to be Indian (Aymara and Quechua), and the same istrue among the cocaleros. It is a mark of the qualitative development of themovement that Quispe’s indigenous peasant movement has become activein the urban environment as well as in the highlands. But it is also evidence of its continuing authority. In the past, in 1952 for example, the demands of indigenous communities were largely marginalised—they were seen as anachronistic and inhibiting the modernising project represented by the working class movement. In the situation of the late 1970s and early 1980s,however, it was these communities that fought the state and developed forms of mass confrontation which have certainly informed and shaped the more recent mobilisations. For nearly 20 years, communal resistance was the centre of the popular movement in Bolivia.

The fact that other sections have now emerged to take on the state isa great leap for the movement, but the ideas of the indigenist movements are still powerful. Community and territorial unity are still central even in the urban struggles. And the suspicion of political organisations among them reflects a real experience of manipulation and opportunism by political leaders in the past. Many of the communal organisations, for example, do not allow members of political parties to stand for leadership positions. In their perception, the left is not exempt from that charge.

Between March and June 2005 the Bolivian mass rising crossed an important frontier. Its confidence and determination grew out of the successful challenge to Loazada, the renewed struggles around gas privatisation that began in February this year, and Mesa’s subsequent bluff in March. The tactic backfired on him, but it both deepened the conviction of the resistance and exposed the rifts within the ruling class itself, particularly between the Santa Cruz oligarchs and the powers centred in La Paz.

The effect was to radicalise the movement even further and to propitiate an emerging unity of the many forces in struggle. On 16 May, while100,000 people besieged the parliament in La Paz, the miners began a march towards El Alto and the teachers’ union launched a strike. Inexorably the movement’s actions moved towards 9 June, the high point of this phase of the ‘Bolivian Revolution of the 21st century’. On that day a powerless government faced a mass popular movement that was resolute, coordinated and proposing alternative forms of power.

Yet within days it seemed that the unity was fracturing and the confidence faltering.

The new president, Rodríguez, was a transitional figure—he immediately proposed presidential elections for December. This opened up the possibility of a solution to the deep crisis the country was facing within the structures of the existing state. And it won the instant approval of the MAS, whose candidate, Evo Morales, would be the likely winner of such a contest. Thus within a matter of two days the political focus was shifted back towards an electoral solution and a restoration of the system, and away from the revolutionary demands for a different kind of power and the suspicions of the electoral process voiced just days earlier by the people’s assembly. The government side was strengthened too by the tantalising promise of a recognition of Aymara national rights in a new constitution.

The situation, of course, is far from over—and the movement far from demobilised. But it is confused as to its next steps and unclear in its direction. Unity in struggle has not translated itself into a strategic political unity. Yet the future outcome of the movement will be critically shaped by its capacity to develop that general strategy for the conquest of the Bolivian state. Bolivian history is eloquent when it comes to illustrating the revenge that awaits movements that do not pursue their independent purposes but seek compromises and negotiations in the corridors of power.

The Bolivian mass insurrection is an extraordinary movement for its absolute determination, its courage in struggle, its insistent collective impulse, its combination of many different demands. In 1952 that most powerful of instruments, the COB, made unity aclass issue, and drew peasant and indigenous struggles behind a working class leadership that could have been capable of challenging the state. Yet indigenous struggles were subordinated to class politics rather than fused with them. The demise of the COB—for both material (the decline of mining) and political (the internal divisions that were in part the consequence of defeat) reasons—has left the movement with no coordinating, centralising force. There are some left groups influential within the COB today who might claim that it does lead the movement. That is simply not true, and nothing is gained from the pretence that a ready-made programme and a self-proclaimed directorate is all that is required to achieve leadership of this complex and varied movement. There is a dominant ideology, which is sectional, nationalist, communal and in many sections syndicalist. All of these currents militate against the forging of a common politics whose purpose is the conquest of power.

The Bolivian ruling class and its neo-liberal masters are certainly preparing new instruments of exploitation, new schemes to deliver control of Bolivia’s natural resources to global capital or its surrogates in the IMF or the other international agencies. It is the task of revolutionaries to relentlessly expose the nature of these projects, and to challenge the notion that capitalism’s solutions to its own crises can ever fail to be at the expense of workers and peasants. Evo Morales is already attempting to sow those illusions.28

So the struggles and the resistance will continue. The future, however, will depend on the ability of those who argue for the politics of class struggle to embrace the demands for indigenous rights, education, housing, health, the right to work, the use of resources for the benefit of all, as class demands which will be won through the collective action of workers who may speak several languages, dress in different ways, retain different histories, live in different environments, but whose experience is increasingly that of a single class confronting a hostile and exploitative capital. And because it sits at the heart of a continent, the echoes of its struggles and successes have been and will be heard by all those who are facing the same global enemy.


1: See NarcoNews, 10 June 2005,
2: See J Crabtree, Patterns of Protest: Politics and Social Movements in Bolivia(London,2005), pp98-99. Crabtree’s is an informative and accessible account of the events of the last five years.
3: I’ll come back to this below.
4: See W Queiser Morales, Bolivia: Land of Struggle(Colorado, 1992), p147.
5: W Cháves, ‘¿Por qué son tan combativos los movimientos sociales bolivianos?’, in La Insignia.
6: Túpac Katari led one of two major indigenous insurrections against the Spanish colonists in 1781. His name has regularly reappeared as new insurrections against successive colonial and repressive regimes have claimed that original tradition of resistance. See S Rivera Cusicanqui, ‘Aymara Past, Aymara Future’, NACLA Report on the Americas, vol 25, no 3 (December 1991), pp18-23.
7: Jim Schultz of the Democracy Center at Schultz lives in Cochabamba and wrote a series of eyewitness reports on events there.8: The most thorough account of Cochabamba’s water wars is O Olivera and T Lewis, Cochabamba!: Water Rebellion in Bolivia (South End Press, 2004).
9: J Schultz, as above.
10: Crabtree gives a brief summary of the subsequent developments in the region. The reality is that lack of investment on the one hand, and on the other extreme inequalities in access to water, have left the situation still unresolved. J Crabtree, as above, pp30-31.
11: The Magruder Commission sent by the US government in 1943 to investigate conditions found there to be no rights of collective bargaining, declining wage levels despite a rise in productivity, and levels of nutrition that were ‘dangerously low’. Quoted in James Dunkerley’s important history, Rebellion in the Veins (London,1984).
12: See A Céspedes, El metal del Diablo (Havana, 1965); and G F Geddes, Patiño the Tin King (London, 1972).
13: This model of populism, mass mobilisation, and the creation of secret organisations within the military was also pursued in Peru at the time, encouraged by Haya de la Torre, the extremely influential leader of the Peruvian organisation APRA whose shadow also fell across Bolivian politics.
14: For an excellent account of the Bolivian Revolution see J Newsinger, ‘Revolution in Bolivia’, International Socialism 2:18 (Winter 1983), pp60-86.
15: J Dunkerley, as above, p17.
16: G Lora, A History of the Bolivian Labour Movement (Cambridge, 1977), p283, quoted in J Newsinger, as above, p76.
17: J Newsinger, as above, p80.
18: See J Nash, We Eat the Mines and the Mines Eat Us (New York, 1977), a wonderful study of the history and culture of the mining communities.
19: J Newsinger, as above, p77.
20: For these debates see ‘Bolivia: The Revolution Derailed?’, Revolutionary History, vol 4, no 3 (Summer 1992).
21: It is worth noting that the effect of eradication was to reduce production in the Chapare, the result of which was a rise in the international market price. In Yungas, however, production rose by 18 percent in the same period. J Crabtree, as above, pp40-41.
22: See ‘Bolivia Fights Back’, NACLA Report on the Americas, vol 31, no 3 (November-December 2004), especially the article by Arce and Kruse, ‘The Consequences of Neo-Liberal Reform’.
23: See J Crabtree, as above, chapter 4.
24: Reproduced in T Lewis and O Olivera, as above.
25: R Zibechi, ‘El Alto: un mundo Nuevo desde la diferencia’, 23 August 2005, at
26: Available at (2September 2005).
27: Published on (30 July 2005).
28: Morales has found an enthusiastic ally in Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, who intervened in his support during the June events. Yet Chavez himself declared, in January 2005 at the World Social Forum, that he was an advocate of socialist revolution. Chavez’s dilemma is a reflection of the intense and continuing debate within the movement—a debate in which Evo Morales does not and cannot represent a revolutionary future.

Bolivia: a guide to terms
Carlos Mesa president October 2003 to June 2005
Vaca Diez right wing politician linked to oil interests
Eduardo Rodriguez interim president after June 2005 uprising
Gonzalo Sánchez de Losada (‘Goni’) president 1993-1997 and 2002-2003, overthrown October 2003
Evo Morales leader coca growers and MAS party, second in 2002 elections, presidential candidate in forthcoming elections
Felipe Quispe el Mallku leader Aymara nationalist movement
García Linera former Aymara guerrilla, sociologist, vice-presidential candidate
Guillermo Lora historic leader POR Trotskyist party
Hugo Banzer military dictator 1971-78,elected president 1997-2001
Jaime Solares leader COB union federation since it moved to the left in2003
Juan Lechin leader Bolivian miners’ union during and after 1952 revolution
Jeffrey Sachs Harvard economist, neo-liberal adviser to Bolivian, Polish and Russian governments, now head of UN ‘anti-poverty’ programme
Lucio Gutiérrez army officer, joined Ecuadorian uprising January 2000,president 2002, overthrown April 2005
Oscar Olivera leader Cochabamba water movement
Paz Estenssoro leader MNR party, president 1952-56, 1960–64, 1985–89, imposed neo-liberal ‘reforms’
Siles Suazo bourgeois nationalist, president 1956-60, 1982-85, began neoliberal ‘reforms’ Altiplano high plateau where both La Paz and tin mines are situated
Aymara the biggest group of indigenous peoples
Chapare tropical coca-growing region COB Bolivian Workers’ Confederation Coca plant from which cocaine is manufactured
Cocaleros coca growers
Coordinadora del Agua Cochabamba campaign against water privatisation El Alto working class satellite city to La Paz
MNR bourgeois nationalist party, took part in 1952 revolution, now neo-liberal
COR regional union for El Alto
Fejuve federation of community organisations in El Alto
POR Bolivian Trotskyist Party during and after 1952 revolution
Pulacayo Theses revolutionary programme accepted by Bolivian miners’ union in 1946
Santa Cruz second biggest city, centre of eastern lowland tropical region where oil and gas have been discovered
Tupac Katari Revolutionary Movement (MRTK) Aymara nationalist movement