On October 9, a march of over 500 miners descending upon La Paz, under a general strike for the 11th straight day, was met with violence in the locality of Ventilla, only a few kilometers from the capital. A combined force of state military and police met the protesters with grenades and live ammunition. Protesters responded by hurling stones, firing slingshots and in some cases, sticks of dynamite. 2 protesters, including one miner, were killed in the clashes. Dozens of civilians were wounded, and twelve arrested.
The entire country is experiencing a sustained insurrection over the plans of the widely unpopular Gonzalo S√°nchez Lozada‚??otherwise known as ‚??the most intelligent neoliberal‚?? in Latin America. After failing to increase payroll taxes in February of this year‚??in compliance with an IMF-backed ‚??austerity‚?? measure that resulted in wide scale riots and police violence, leaving 32 civilians dead‚??Lozada‚??s most recent plan involves selling off what many consider Bolivia‚??s last valuable, unclaimed resource: natural gas. At the center of this conflict is the multinational corporate giant, Pacific LNG, which plans extract the gas to the coast, via a pipeline through Chile, and sell primarily to the United States. Most Bolivians believe the resource should be preserved and committed to developing industrial infrastructure in their own country.
According to an August 2003 Article IV Consultation report issued by the IMF on ‚??poverty reduction programs‚?? in Bolivia: ‚??[IMF] Directors urged the [Bolivian] authorities to move quickly on large natural gas projects, including by building a public consensus for proceeding with the LNG (liquefied natural gas) export project on economic grounds, which would be important for realizing Bolivia's growth potential.‚??
On October 6, the IMF released $15 million in loans to Bolivian authorities, ratcheting the total IMF debt of the nation to $92 million.
Dozens have been injured by the military or police since the general strike began on September 29. Major thoroughfares across the country have been blockaded, grinding the economy to a near halt. This mobilization consists of a highly diverse cross-section of Bolivian society, including miners, coca farmers, students, workers, teachers and indigenous communities. Lozada has criticized the protesters because, in his words, they want to govern from the streets, not from parliament and within our institutions. Considering that his administration currently enjoys a 9% approval rating, it seems that it is only in the streets that democracy currently exists in Bolivia.
In response to massive state repression, protesters are currently calling for the ‚??head‚?? of Gonzalo S√°nchez Lozada and the resignation of his cabinet.