Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bolivia's Challenge: Heal Divisions ; Leftist Leaders Say They Will Resume Blockades Monday If the New President Doesn't Meet Their Demands

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bolivia's Challenge: Heal Divisions ; Leftist Leaders Say They Will Resume Blockades Monday If the New President Doesn't Meet Their Demands

Article excerpt

With a new president in office and month-long blockades removed from La Paz, calm has returned to the Bolivian capital.

But just hours after Supreme Court Chief Justice Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze assumed the presidency Thursday after Carlos Mesa resigned last week, more-radical opposition leaders were threatening to resume their blockades as early as Monday if Mr. Rodriguez does not begin addressing their demands.

Those demands - nationalization of the country's vast natural- gas reserves and the drafting of a new constitution - don't lend themselves to quick fixes. Bolivia is South America's poorest country, with deep economic, political, and racial divisions. And the leftist protesters, having demonstrated their muscle by driving two presidents from office in less than two years, have been emboldened by this latest show of strength.

"The demands [of the left] are not gone, but a lot will depend on how Rodriguez acts in the next week," says Roberto Laserna, a sociologist and head of the Millennium Institute, a think tank in Cochabamba. "If he concedes or backs down quickly, he'll be done and the next government will be military."

Political turmoil in Bolivia is nothing new. The country has had nearly 200 different governments since independence in 1825. The difference now is the growing strength of the country's left- leaning indigenous majority, which has traditionally held little influence in Bolivia's political and economic affairs.

The left's best-known leader is Evo Morales, head of the Movement Toward Socialism party and the runner-up in the 2002 presidential election.

But Mr. Morales is hardly alone in trying to represent indigenous interests. In fact, the recent crisis here offered more- radical leaders a chance to eclipse the influence of Morales.

These leaders include Abel Mamani, head of the neighborhood association of El Alto - the city overlooking La Paz - and Jaime Solares, president of the country's main labor union. They have been less willing to compromise in recent weeks than leaders like Morales, who still has presidential aspirations.

"There are leftist leaders in Bolivia now like Mamani and Solares who are outside the formal political system and who look at Congress and the presidency as 'bourgeoisie democracy,' " says Eduardo Gamarra, head of Latin America studies at Florida International University. …

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