have a habit of asking “Why?” It
is refreshing when one of them asks
AA crisis is growing in the
poorest of South American republics. This summer my wife and I, and two of our
adult children went to
on a work team. We were there
during Independence Day celebrations, but there was obvious tension and
’s political future.
might find itself in a civil war within a couple of months.
But “what if” this war could be prevented non-violently?
The provinces of
and Tarija have huge natural gas reserves to export.
Some people in that region want autonomy or separation from the rest of
region has a large, poor Aymara and Quechua population.
Very few benefits trickle down to them, though they are a majority and do
vote. They include unemployed miners, subsistence farmers who have moved to the
cities looking for work, and even coca leaf producers who have no viable
alternative crop. The middle class
suffers too. This year, 160,000 Bolivians emigrated to
, looking for work and cash to send home.
How revenue from natural gas
and oil exports is distributed is crucial.
all would like a piece of the action, which means pipelines, access to the sea,
and contracts with large companies. Historically
most contracts have invited corruption nationally and internationally.
Oil, gas, ethnic divisions, drug trafficking, control of water resources
and corrupt power brokers make for an explosive mixture.
(Does this sound like
The marginalized population
uses protest tactics of transportation blockades, general strikes and boycotts.
Generally the blockades are non-violent.
Typically the troops are called out and protesters killed or injured.
Often there is escalation to martial law, closure of the universities and
jail for protesters.
The result of the May 2005
protests over the natural gas issue has given time for negotiations!
Breaking with precedent, President Carlos Mesa refused to call out the
troops. The protesters lifted the blockades and peaceful negotiations began.
He resigned when he saw he could not govern.
The respected president of the Supreme Court is now interim president.
An assembly to review the constitution is being formed, with
representation by all sectors, and a new election for the legislature and
presidency is scheduled for December 18! The
issues are still there, but so far no one has been killed at the protests, as
they were in 2000 and 2003, over the issues of water and gas resources.
“What if” a peaceful solution prevails? Could the second poorest nation in
the hemisphere become a model for other countries in crisis?
What if President Carlos Mesa’s courageous refusal to use force
actually brings peace with justice to a beautiful but troubled country?
I hope and pray it will.
Dr. Thompson is a member of
Paths to Peace in
. He and his family lived in
for seven years..