Magazine article New Internationalist

People Power: Globalization Resistance Brings Down a President

Magazine article New Internationalist

People Power: Globalization Resistance Brings Down a President

Article excerpt

On the night of 17 October, those Bolivians who own TVs were witness to a split-screen image of history unfolding. At the bottom was a Boeing 767 taking off for an overnight flight to Miami, carrying aboard Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who had just resigned the Presidency. At the top was a live broadcast from the national Congress where Vice-President Carlos Mesa Gisbert was being sworn in to replace him. A month-long series of protests, sparked by a proposal to export Bolivian natural gas to California, had ended with the toppling of the Government.

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For the third time in as many years, Bolivia has offered to the world a powerful symbol of popular resistance to globalization imposed from abroad. In 2000 the people of Cochabamba captured world attention when they took back their privatized water from the corporate giant Bechtel. Last February nationwide protests succeeded in blocking an IMF-imposed belt-tightening package, but only after troops killed more than 30 people.

The September-October uprising was a response to plans to export part of Bolivia's mammoth natural-gas reserves through a British-led consortium called Pacific LNG. Under the company's plan the gas would have been shipped from landlocked Bolivia to the Pacific via Chile, then on to Mexico for processing and finally to its lucrative end market in California.

Popular opposition to the plan is strong. Piping the gas through Chile arouses deep historical resentment over that country's seizure of Bolivia's last remaining access to the sea in 1879. But a majority opposes the gas deal via any route. 'The money will all just end up in the pockets of the President, the ministers and other politicians,' says Lourdes Netz, a former Roman Catholic nun. 'Look at all the public companies that have been privatized. Have the people benefited?'

Bolivia's political system is notoriously corrupt. Combine this with transnational corporations bent on maximizing profits and the result is usually a sweet deal that leaves the dealmakers happy and leaves the public the loser. Popular sentiment can be summed up as: before we sell the gas, we need a political system that will actually do it in the people's interests.

To the wealthy Bolivian elite and its allies in institutions like the IMF, the gas deal looks like a cash boon to a country that could sorely use one. To average Bolivians it looks like one more raid from abroad on its natural resources. …

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