- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 7, 2005

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Tens of thousands of protesters marched through the capital yesterday, saying they will not give up their cause even though President Carlos Mesa has offered his resignation.

Demonstrators clogged the Plaza de los Heroes and surrounding streets in downtown La Paz for the second day since Mr. Mesa said he could no longer lead the impoverished nation.

“It is my responsibility to say that this is as far as it can go,” Mr. Mesa said Monday night. “I have taken the decision to present my resignation from the presidency.”

For weeks, Bolivia has been paralyzed by demonstrations that blocked highways and caused food and fuel shortages.

The political opposition and indigenous groups are calling for the nationalization of all gas companies and demanding a constitutional assembly to give Indians more representation in the government.

They are also opposing a demand for greater autonomy by some gas-rich provinces in Bolivia’s east.

Last month, Mr. Mesa — hoping to quell the protests and violence — approved a controversial bill that drastically increased taxes on foreign-owned oil and gas companies, even though he had repeatedly spoken out against such a move.

Protest leaders said the measure was insufficient and that total nationalization of the industry was in the best interest of the Bolivian people.

Then, last week, Mr. Mesa announced that the constitution would be rewritten by an assembly scheduled to be elected this October, and that the autonomy request by the eastern provinces would be put to a referendum.

Still the effort proved too little.

“To us, he’s a traitor,” said David Gisbert, 35 and unemployed. “The only thing we want is to nationalize Bolivia’s gas industry.”

Patricia, 44, who declined to give her full name, said the protests simply pitted “the ones who have more against the ones who have less.”

Mr. Mesa’s resignation cannot take effect until it is accepted by the Congress, which has not yet acted. Though lawmakers rejected an earlier offer to quit in March, it is expected that this time they will accept the resignation in hopes of ending the protests.

Mr. Mesa came to power in October 2003, in part a result of his predecessors’ difficulties in dealing with the question of who should profit from the country’s natural resources.

Violence erupted when then-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada proposed opening the Bolivian gas market to the United States and Mexico by piping the fuel through neighboring Chile. About 80 people were killed in subsequent clashes with police and the military, prompting Mr. Lozada to resign.

The crisis is just the latest example of political instability in the region.

In Ecuador, lawmakers fired then-President Lucio Gutierrez in April on corruption charges, which led to protests and prompted the ex-president to flee to Brazil. Peru’s President Alejandro Toledo is also struggling amid widespread demands for his resignation.


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