Bolivia – social movements make their demands

Bolivia – social movements make their demands

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February 15, 2007

Bolivia’s social movements make their demands
By Mark Burton, Feb 13, 2007

For the first time in the last 500 years, the election of President Evo Morales has led to Bolivia’s Indigenous majority gaining a significant voice in the running of their country in a process led by social movements. Despite the opposition from the oligarchy and U.S. imperialism, the Bolivian people have made impressive gains in Morales’ first year.

Much of Bolivian society is organized in groups or associations that are generally referred to as social movements. These social movements are based on neighborhoods, regions, Indigenous groups, and industries and have been the motor force behind the recent changes in Bolivia.

The militancy of the social movements—as evidenced by the water war of 2000 where a regional insurrection chased the Bechtel Corp. out of Bolivia, and the gas war of 2003, when a national uprising unseated the former President Sánchez de Lozada—paved the way for the election of President Morales and his party, Movement to Socialism (MAS).

A National Lawyers Guild (NLG) delegation met with President Morales’ legal advisor, Fernando Pissaro, who explained that MAS was not a traditional party but a coalition of social movements whose goal was to move towards socialism. He highlighted the achievements of the Morales government beginning with the re-nationalization of the country’s oil and gas deposits.

Pissaro said that before the re-nationalization, more than 80 percent of the benefits of the nation’s oil and gas went to transnational corporations. Now the Bolivian government receives over 80 percent and has used this increase to fund education, early childhood heath care and to make sure that all citizens have proper identification. Previously, a large segment of the Indigenous population had no identification and was thus unable to access many government services.

Pissaro said that the government was next planning nationalizations in the mining sector. In February the government announced the nationalization of the tin processing plant Vinto, a Swiss-owned plant that a previous government had illegally sold to the private sector. This act may herald the beginning of more nationalizations in the mining sector.

Activists from the social movement that mobilized the workers and peasants of Cochabamba Province against the privatization of their water spoke of the “water war of 2000,” one of the events that sparked the important social changes now occurring in Bolivia. In 2000 the government privatized all of the water in Cochabamba and gave an exclusive contract for water distribution to a subsidiary of the Bechtel Corp.

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