BOLIVIA: President flees



In a humiliating backdown, Bolivia's president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada resigned as president on October 17 and fled to the United States. Lozada resigned as his last remaining supporters in cabinet deserted him in the face of huge and growing country-wide demonstrations.

For several days, Bolivia's armed forces and police had brutally, but unsuccessfully, attempted to prevent columns of protesting workers — some brandishing sticks of dynamite — and peasants from converging on the city. At least 80 people were killed.

A general strike had paralysed the country, while peasants and students across Bolivia had taken control of police stations and occupied universities.

Up to 1 million people throughout the country were in the streets on October 17 to demand Lozada's resignation, with up to 250,000 in La Paz alone. They gathered in the Plaza de San Francisco, near the presidential palace. Bolivian police at the palace were disarmed by the demonstrators; soldiers and police withdrew completely from the city's streets.

Vice-president Carlos Mesa was sworn-in as Bolivia's new president. Mesa promised that his "transitional government" will hold early elections and a referendum on the government's plans for the export of Bolivia's oil and gas. He called for an end to strikes and blockades.

The US State Department reacted to Lozada's fall by commending the former president "for his commitment to democracy and the wellbeing of his country.

From Green Left Weekly, October 22, 2003.
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