HUNDREDS OF thousands of workers in Bolivia, from miners to bus drivers, struck on Monday demanding the resignation of the country's president. Union leaders called the protests amid rising anger and protest, fuelled by the deep and worsening poverty in the poorest country in South America. Over two thirds of the 8.3 million people live below the poverty line of $2 a day.
Anger over a government plan to export natural gas to the US and Mexico sparked this latest revolt. Bolivia has the largest gas reserves in Latin America. The government is under pressure from foreign investors expecting huge profits. The International Monetary Fund is keen on the export programme so the country earns foreign currency to service debts. Protesters demand that the gas be used to supply some 250,000 homes in Bolivia with free gas before any is exported.
The gas export plan is a lightning conductor for anger over poverty and a raft of government policies. In rural areas peasants, mostly from the indigenous people who form the majority of the country's population, are angry over the impact of a US-backed plan to eradicate coca growing.
Coca leaves are used in the high altitudes as a mild stimulant. Peasants fear its eradication will plunge them into deeper poverty. Blockades and protest marches have been taking place across the country over the gas export plan.
In Warisata last week troops clashed with protesters, leaving seven people dead. Some of the anger over the plan has taken a nationalistic colouring, focusing on the decision to plan to export the gas via a Chilean port. The port is in an area that used to belong to Bolivia until Chile seized it in a war in 1879. The gas revolt is the second wave of protest to rock Bolivia this year. In February 32 people were killed when huge protests erupted against a plan to increase taxes in line with an IMF austerity plan.