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Mr. Bolivian President – Resign!

Council On Hemispheric Affairs
Monitoring Political, Economic and Diplomatic Issues Affecting the Western Hemisphere
Memorandum to the Press 03.65

Friday, October 17, 2003

Mr. Bolivian President – Resign!

President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada is under no obligation to resign from office, but he would be performing an act of great service to the welfare of his fellow Bolivians should he be wise enough to do so. First and foremost, the prospect of an unconstitutional coup d’etat in Bolivia is intolerable and would represent a dangerous blow to democracy in Latin America. The immutable principle of non-extra-constitutional change of presidency was first entrenched in Latin America several years ago in the Declaration of Santiago, and has been reaffirmed several times since by the inter-American community, most recently in April, 2002, at the time of the failed coup against President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. The tranquility of the region would be in dire jeopardy if the overthrow of democratically elected governments – which Washington at times fomented, or at least encouraged – once again became commonplace. Any reversion to such an era would erode the barrier of constitutional legality that has protected Latin Americafrom such occurrence in recent years.

            However, the situation in Bolivia represents a special set of circumstances,and with the death toll rapidly approaching 100 – mainly casualties inflicted by the military – along with the country’s already hardscrabble economy worsening daily, some remedy must be sought. President Sánchezde Lozada was elected with only 22 percent of the vote, narrowly beating out his closest rival, cocaleroleader Evo Morales. Once in office, Sánchez de Lozada did nothing to widen his small popularity base, but instead subscribed to a series of neoliberal reforms that only sharpened the grim economic fate of his people and cost the president what little backing he had. By failing to cultivate a broad support base, lobbying for a controversial natural gas pipeline deal involving a number of foreign multinational corporations, and calling on the military to deal with the thousands of protestors throughout the country, the Bolivian president’s continuation in office places a grave burden on his country. He could do Bolivia an immeasurable service by resigning immediately and turning over effective power to his vice president, Carlos Mesa.

The situation in Bolivia is reminiscent of the crisis that faced Argentina’s former President Fernando de la Rúain late 2001. Facing economic disaster and widespread social unrest, de la Rúa recognized his failure as president and at least had the decency to resign his position after losing his credibility. This eventually allowed for the election of current President NéstorKirchner, who has represented a perfect fix for that embattled country. Bolivia is in perilous straits, standing on the brink of chaos, and is in need of a leader willing to address the concerns of his people. Sánchez de Lozada is the wrong man for the job, and should, for the first time, display a sense of character by resigning immediately from his charge. To induce his enraged citizenry into forcing his ouster would set back Bolivia’s prospects for recovery by threatening its constitutional institutions, which would be a blow for the entire region. Therefore, there is only one solution: Sánchez de Lozada must resign.

****************

This analysis was prepared by Larry Birns, Director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Issued 17 October 2003

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being “one of the nation’s most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers.” For more information, please see our web page at www.coha.org; or contact our Washington offices by phone (202) 216-9261, fax (202) 223-6035, or email coha@coha.org.

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