- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2005

LA PAZ, Bolivia — President Carlos Mesa submitted his resignation to Congress yesterday after several days of massive protests against his government, and the lawmakers may decide on his fate as early as today.

Chief of Staff Jose Galindo carried Mr. Mesa’s resignation letter to the congressional building across the street from the presidential palace as hundreds of people took to the streets to express support for the president.

“I cannot continue to govern with threats that strangle the country,” Mr. Mesa wrote in reference to plans announced by opposition leader Evo Morales to stage a nationwide blockade of roads, a traditional form of protest in Bolivia.

Mr. Mesa said he would not send soldiers or police to clear the roads. He warned that the blockades would isolate Bolivia’s largest cities, and officials said shortages of food, fuel and other essential items would be inevitable.

Since taking office, Mr. Mesa has been hounded by a series of protests. They included calls for autonomy by Bolivia’s wealthiest region, and demands for lower fuel prices and for increases in taxes levied on foreign oil companies from 15 percent to 50 percent of their sales.

Mr. Mesa’s announcement came after Mr. Morales, an Indian congressman and leader of the nation’s coca leaf growers, announced a nationwide road blockade unless lawmakers raised the taxes for foreign oil companies — a law that Mr. Mesa says the international community wouldn’t accept.

On Sunday night, Mr. Mesa announced in a surprise, emotional address to the nation that he would offer his resignation to Congress so it could make a decision.

Congress was expected to meet today, but it was not clear whether lawmakers would accept Mr. Mesa’s resignation. As an independent candidate, he lacks the backing of a political party, but he has a fair degree of popular support.

Should Congress accept the resignation, his constitutional successor would be Senate President Hormando Vaca Diez.

Mr. Morales called Mr. Mesa’s announcement “a blackmail by the president” and said his party, the Movement Toward Socialism, would meet shortly to decide on its response.

Mr. Mesa would be the second leader driven from office by popular protests in less than two years in South America’s poorest country. In October 2003, Mr. Mesa succeeded Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who resigned as president in the wake of bloody street protests that left at least 56 persons dead.

The next presidential election is set for June 2007, but some politicians have suggested it may be held earlier.

In February, Mr. Mesa shuffled his Cabinet after massive street protests calling for regional autonomy and objecting to a planned increase in the price of fuel oil.

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