August 13, 2010

The First Serious Test for Morales?

MABB © ®

Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia, has had a relatively peaceful first term in office (2006 - 2010). Eight months into his second term, which for him is just his first term because of the new constitution, he has his first serious challenge in his hands. Civic organizations in the department of Potosi are into their 16th day of hunger strike, street blockades and general strike. These actions have stranded many international tourists, to the point that some had to be taken out due to health reasons, and the citizens are starting to suffer shortages of food.

The Comité Civico Potosinista (Comcipo - Potosi Civic Committee), an umbrella organization comprising of 28 other organizations and six provinces in Potosi, has been leading the actions. These organization are demanding the government meet their demands for:

  1. - a satisfactory solution to the border problem between Oruro and Potosi. Both dispute a piece of territory named Coroma (northern Potosi).
  2. - the construction of a cement factory in Coroma.
  3. - the construction of an international airport.
  4. - the opening of Karachipampa plant.
  5. - the preservation of the Cerro Rico de Potosi.
  6. - the construction of roads.
The strikes are into their 16th day and, according to the Comcipo, there are no plans to give up. In fact, the discussions are shifting towards taking even more radical actions, such as taking over public offices or buildings, marching to La Paz and other undefined by the leaders.

The government has been challenged to negotiations in Potosi. It has responded by demanding the measures be stopped before any negotiation can take place. For its part, the Comcipo relaxed its demands by asking Evo Morales to the table in Sucre. The Comcipo considers Morales the only person whom they can talk because they elected him. In the process there has been several attempts to create a negotiating table by some ministers, but without success.

The problem for the government can become even larger due to the unwillingness of Evo Morales to sit and negotiate. Also, the longer it takes for the two parties to sit and talk, the worst the conditions will get in Potosi and the support for Morales will dwindle even more. Another problem for Morales is that the once pillar of MAS, the mining workers, are involved in this problem supporting the Comcipo. The Cooperativistas or independent miners, who have been critical of the government, are already criticizing the government again. The mine workers of companies operating in Potosi have also hinted their disapproval at Morales' unwillingness to talk directly with the Comcipo representatives. This situation could turn even more problematic for the government because some miners are asking the nationalization of some private mines. For example, the miners in San Cristobal, a mine operated by the Japanese Sumitomo, have asked the government for the nationalization of this company.

So the question remains, will the Morales government be able to deflate this latest conflict with the Potosi region? or will new extreme situations arise?