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Bolivia in Political Crisis

At least 36 have already died in what has been named as the "gas war"
All of them were protesters killed in clashes with the police. Conservative President Sanchez de Losada says he would not resign, but his vice-president is no longer supporting him. Workers, farmers and the indigenous population (75 percent of the total) have called for his resignation.

The year old conservative government is on the verge of collapse after President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada shelved Monday plans to export natural gas to the United States and Mexico through Chilean ports. Weekend protests turned violent after Sanchez de Lozada ordered the military to quell demonstrations that block roads in the country's capital La Paz. Clashes left 26 protesters killed rising death toll to over 50 since the "gas war" sparked a massive popular rebellion.

On Monday, a public transportation strike paralyzed La Paz, as protestors harassed Sanchez de Lozada: National Economy Minister, Jorge Torres, resigned amid the scandal and the Vice-President Carlos Mesa said he no longer supported the President, but he "won't resign". The government declared martial law in the La Paz after a weekend violence and sent soldiers with automatic weapons to patrol the streets and "to protect citizens and public and private properties".

Sanchez de Lozada, a businessman who grew up in the United States and became wealthy through mining, says the opposition, trade unions, social movements, tribal leaders and farmers, are provoking violence to drive him out of office. In a TV address said he would not quit the job he attained after being elected with 23 percent of the votes in 2002. Sanchez de Lozada said he would prefer a Peruvian port, but admitted that one in Chile would be more convenient and economical for the now-idled project, which would involve an expected $6 billion investment by an international consortium

Soon, the now opposition leader, Evo Morales, head of the "Movement towards Socialism" and coca farmer leader, replied to President's address: Morales denied Sanchez de Lozada's accusations in a radio interview and said the president was justifying his own coup "to be able to shut down Congress". In declarations to Radio Cooperativa of Chile, Evo Morales said the president's decision to shelve the gas plan "is not enough for the Bolivian people". "What the Bolivian people want is that the gas remains in Bolivia, for the benefit of Bolivians". Gas production and exportation in Bolivia is controlled by foreign companies as British Gas, Repsol-YPF (Spain and Argentina) and Pan American Energy (USA).

On the surface, protesters ask for the overturn of a decision adopted by the government to export huge natural gas reserves (the country's main production) to the United States and Mexico through Chile's ports. The opposition says that firstly, authorities should secure internal gas supplying and allow farmers to grow coca to survive. The government desires to eradicate coca leave production, as says its main destiny is drug trafficking. However, farmers (mostly of them are indigenous), say this is their only means to generate income.   

A deeper analysis shows that crisis has a structural root: Bolivia is South America's poorest country. Over 70% of the people live under poverty line, almost the same than in the times it was a Spanish colony.

Bolivia has a long tradition of foreign exploitation, beginning with Spanish colonizers in the 17th century sending home the riches of the Potosi silver mines, which were completely exhausted. Bolivian antagonism toward Chile is historic after losing access to the coastline during the "Pacific War".