Bolivia: Emergency declared on May day

On the occasion of the May day, Bolivian president Evo Morales announced the nationalization of the Spanish-owned Transportadora de Electricidad (TDE). A déjà vu; similar to the declaration of nationalizing Bolivia’s oil and gas reserves in 2006 to celebrate the international day of workers. If in that occasion banners called Morales the Bolivian ‘liberator’, this year people burned effigies of their leader claiming that they “have nothing to celebrate”.

 

 

Bolivia has the second largest natural gas reserves of Latin America and more than 50 percent of the world’s lithium is hidden like a treasure under its soil. Economic seers believe that if we turn to electric vehicles, by 2050 Bolivia will feed the world’s energy sector with its natural resources. Despite the enormous potential of the country, Morales’ last mandate is marked by missteps, social conflicts, and a rising reluctance on the part of foreigner investors resulting from the nationalization of the energy industry.

Groundhog Day: Morales nationalizes on the 1st of May.

“We want partners, not patrons” is the oft-repeated slogan of president Morales who on the occasion of the international day of workers set - almost as a tradition - the announcement of nationalization process across various sectors. In 2006 during his first year in office he chose oil and gas, in 2008 Bolivia’s leading telecommunications company Entel, and finally in 2012 the electricity sector emancipating it from the former coloniser. The move comes two weeks after the expropriation of Spain’s oil company Rapsol in Argentina, conclusion which alarmed investors. Commenting on the decision, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said that Argentina “shot itself in the foot”.

Discontent in Bolivia is widespread as Morales and his party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), have begun to pave the way to secure a third term from 2014. The president is under the spotlight accused of ‘economic protectionism’ by foreign investors, and of lacking concrete regional and municipal policies by his people. The decision of nationalizing the energy sector seems far away from the priorities of Bolivians who must cope with their everyday life and are asking for an increase in the minimum wage; many above the poverty line evidently struggling to make ends meet.

Social Conflicts in Bolivia when, what and why?

Morales, a former coca farmer, and the first indigenous president in Bolivia, started to loose consensus in 2010 when thousands of Bolivians colonized the streets protesting against government’s plan to raise the price of fuel. In 2011 Morales – previously considered a protector of what he calls Pachamama, “Mother Earth” - planned to build a major road through the Amazonian rainforest. Morales to the gallows, trapped between social needs and respect for nature. The TIPNIS (National Park and Indigenous Territory Isiboro Sécure) set off destination La Paz , which means ‘Peace’, protesting against the proposed project but civilians were violently stopped by armed forces halfway along their route.

Around 300 people, including representatives of the indigenous movements CIDOB and CONAMAQ, left the Amazonian town of Trinidad on the 27 April for a second anti-road protest. Following the violent repression that took place during the first anti-road protest in September 2011, Amnesty International has asked local authorities to “ensure the free exercise of the right of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and free movement of persons”.

Bolivians hit the streets to be heard by that same president that in 2011 set to pass the ‘Law of Mother Earth’ to grant nature the same rights and protections as humans, and who promised development to one of the world’s poorest -but promising- countries. Thousands of people are expected to reach La Paz, joining the workers who gathered in Plaza San Francisco on Mayday roaring for social change and an increase in the minimum wage enabling them to cover basic expenses.

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