Protesters Die in Bolivia
After President Calls in Troops
The New York Times
By Larry Rohter
October 13, 2003
LA PAZ, Bolivia,
Oct. 12 — Five people were killed in violent clashes with
the military here on Sunday after President Gonzalo Sánchez
de Lozada accused his opponents of provoking chaos in order to
drive him from office. He ordered troops backed by tanks into
the streets to quell mounting popular discontent and street violence.
A spokesman for the
president, Mauricio Antezana, announced the troop mobilization
at a news conference late Saturday night and said it was meant
to retake control of El Alto, a suburb of the capital that has
been the focal point of a general strike in recent days. The government,
he added, "is no longer willing to tolerate the situation
of violence" in that city, most of whose residents are peasant
migrants of Indian origins. The president stopped short of decreeing
a state of siege, which has sometimes been used to control social
unrest in Bolivia.
protests began in mid-September and have expanded with the support
of labor unions and student and indigenous groups. Mr. Antezana
blamed Evo Morales, leader of the country's coca growers' union
and a former presidential candidate, for the worsening disturbances,
calling him the leader of "a seditious process of a coup
d'état" that includes "military-style attacks
on strategic objectives."
In an interview on
Sunday with a local radio station, Mr. Morales denied the accusations
and said the president was seeking to justify a coup of his own
"so as to be able to shut down Congress." But Mr. Morales,
who finished a close second in the presidential election last
year, as the candidate of the Movement Toward Socialism, also
said coca growers would set up roadblocks intended to cut the
main east-west highway, beginning Monday.
de Lozada, an American ally, took office in August 2002 after
winning only 22.46 percent of the vote. Since then, his government
has been severely hampered by quarrels within a fragile multiparty
coalition, by the unwillingness of opposition groups to support
legislation he favors and by a police rebellion.
The immediate cause
of the unrest is a proposal to export natural gas to the United
States via a pipeline that would run to a port in Chile. Opponents
say Bolivians would benefit more if the gas were used for industrial
development here, but they also strongly object to any role in
the project for Chile, a traditional enemy.
As a result of the
protests, in which at least five people had been killed before
Sunday, highways around the country are being blocked by peasants
and miners armed with sticks of dynamite, and normal commerce
has been all but strangled. Here in the capital, gasoline is becoming
so scarce that many bus and taxi companies have suspended service.
can't get their trout to market, and the farmers are having to
watch their fruits and vegetables rot as they sit at the roadblocks,"
said Mario Vallejos, a long-distance hauler. "These are poor
people, and they are all going broke, so everyone is angry."