Civic Disruption Grows in Bolivia

Kelly Hearn, Washington Times, Feb. 7

BUENOS AIRES—Recent political victories by authorities in Bolivia’s richest state have set precedents that could undermine democratic advance in one of Latin America’s poorest nations, analysts say.

For two weeks last month, protesters angered by government-imposed gas and water rate increases blocked major roadways in two of Bolivia’s largest cities, Santa Cruz and El Alto.

Embattled President Carlos Diego Mesa rescinded the price increases on Jan. 19, bowing to mostly indigenous, anti-capitalist protesters, but angering pro-business, European-descended elites in Santa Cruz, who resent state meddling in industry.

Santa Cruz residents, known as Crucenos, responded with calls for autonomy.

Facing the most severe constitutional challenge to his troubled presidency, Mr. Mesa subsequently agreed to let voters elect the state’s highest officials. He also approved a referendum on autonomy for Santa Cruz.

Mr. Mesa’s decision was cheered in Santa Cruz, where leaders have laid the initial steps for a provisional assembly. But some analysts criticized the increasingly popular forms of disruptive political expression.

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Mr. Burgoa said leaders in Santa Cruz are using whatever means possible to avoid an upcoming constitutional assembly in which a populist-driven land law is up for consideration.

The proposed law would redistribute privately owned, underused land to the state. That, Mr. Burgoa said, would apply to vast swaths of private property in Santa Cruz.

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