THREE DAYS of militant protests last week forced the Bolivian government to expel a multinational water company from the country. A general strike shut down the financial capital of Santa Cruz. At the same time Indian residents of the town of El Alto blocked all the roads leading to La Paz, the administrative capital.
The protests began after Bolivian president Carlos Mesa announced diesel fuel and gasoline price rises three weeks ago. In El Alto protesters targeted a water company owned by French multinational Suez Lyonnaise, accusing it of failing to provide running water for 200,000 people—a quarter of the town’s population.
Oscar Olivera, who heads the organization that was at the forefront of an earlier fight against water privatisation in Cochabamba, says, “The people want to participate in the management of all that affects their daily lives”.
An uprising centring on El Alto in October 2003 toppled the then president Lozado. This time there were calls from some business leaders and politicians for President Mesa to use force to drive the protests off the street. But the power of the movement forced him to make concessions.
Protesters are now discussing the next steps needed to force the government to rescind the fuel price rises and getting the electricity company that provides electricity to El Alto to reduce its charges.