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Monday, January 3, 2011

Hydrocarbon irony: Bolivia's government reaps what it sowed

  There is a high degree of irony in the fact that the socialist government of Evo Morales in Bolivia has been faced in recent days with the greatest threat to its hold on power as a direct result of attempts to reduce gasoline subsidies. A presidential decree to that effect was rescinded after widespread and violent protests erupted around the country as gas prices rose 80 percent and more in some places to international levels. Morales's government said it could no longer afford to subsidize the fuel prices, reflecting policies that sounded more like the IMF than the Socialist International.
  Unlike many anti-Evo protests in the past, which centered in the south and east of the country where more conservative elements are strongest, these recent protests have been organized and conducted by groups across the nation, including poor and working-class people of the cities and the countryside, Evo's base. 
  It was the hydrocarbon policies of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in 2002-2003 that brought down his government and Morales to power. When Sanchez de Lozada announced the government intended to export natural gas to the United States and Mexico via Chile, Morales and his followers used that as an organizing tool to create protests and blockades that eventually led to violence that forced the then-president to resign. Bolivia's hydrocarbon sector is fully nationalized, and production and export levels, as well as prices, cannot be blamed on foreign interests or corporations. Mismanagement and lack of investment are endemic and home-grown.
  Morales has a firmer grip on power than any president in recent memory in Bolivia. But the recent protests, and his government's dithering over the gasoline-price issue, have weakened the government, undermining its claim that it governs "for the people" and that its policies are superior to those of the capitalist world.

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