The radical political changes in Bolivia taking place since 2000 have invariably been accompanied by conflicts over natural resources. Confrontations have ranged from protests and social movements in Cochabamba against high water prices that ultimately forced the multinational companies to withdraw, to road blockades in El Alto that resulted in deaths, bringing to the fore resentment against water privatisation and divisions about the processing and marketing of Bolivian oil and gas reserves. Last but not least, the inequitable distribution of land is also a cause of conflict.
The nationalisation of oil and gas reserves just a few months after Evo Morales assumed office in 2005 signalled a change in political direction. It appeared that this step would lessen the potential for conflict. But in fact a Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) conflict analysis study on Bolivia surmises that the new legislation could lead to new flashpoints proved correct. On 8 January 2007 there were clashes between supporters of Bolivian President Evo Morales and security forces in the Cochabamba region, which left at least 22 injured. Demonstrators attacked the provincial government building and set it on fire. They were demanding the resignation of Governor Manfred Reyes Villa, who supports autonomy for the four eastern provinces of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija – all of which are rich in mineral resources.
In a national referendum held in early July 2006 the population in these regions voted in favour of greater autonomy. At the national level, however, about 56 percent of voters were against granting more independence to the provinces. They thus backed President Morales, who has categorically rejected any further provincial autonomy. The key issues at stake are the distribution of revenues from mineral resources, border demarcations between the provinces, and the allocation of funds for building up a strong regional structure. According to the FES report the outcome of the conflict will depend largely on the stance adopted by the Morales government. If the government attempts to block the regionalisation process in Congress – and thereby the institutional mechanisms for managing the conflict – tensions are likely to escalate. (by Judith Winterstein)
IPS news provides updated information on the situation in Bolivia: http://ww.ipsnews.org
The Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) report entitled "Studien zur Länderbezogenen Konfliktanalyse Bolivien" (in German) is available at http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/iez/04120.pdf.
Published in: ECC-Newsletter, Februar 2007