World / Social Issues

Food and gasoline shortages reported in Bolivian cities amid protests staged by backers of Morales

AP

Residents in several Bolivian cities are reporting food and gasoline shortages because of protests by supporters of ousted President Evo Morales, who resigned after a disputed election and nationwide unrest.

Bolivia’s interim government said Monday that its efforts to resupply La Paz face challenges because demonstrators have cut off some transport routes. The new leadership is also struggling to open dialogue with opponents, particularly after the shooting deaths of nine pro-Morales coca growers during a confrontation with security forces on Friday.

Furious over the shootings, backers of Morales demand the resignation of Jeanine Anez, Bolivia’s self-proclaimed interim president. She was a Senate vice president thrust into prominence after the resignations of senior leaders in Morales’ administration.

Bolivian church leaders announced plans for talks on Monday afternoon involving U.N. envoy Jean Arnault. They appealed for the participation of Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism party and said topics will include new elections and calls for a new election panel.

The new hydrocarbons minister, Victor Hugo Zamora, told Bolivia’s ATB television that a gasoline supply convoy is having difficulty reaching the city because of roadblocks and ditches dug by protesters.

Many shops in La Paz are closed and the few that are open are charging double the normal price, said resident Guillermina Chura.

“What are we going to give to our families if things continue this way?” Chura said.

Vendor Ana Gonzales said she had packed up her vegetable stand in the street because she had nothing to sell.

“What am I going to live from?” Gonzales said.

She also said Morales, who is in Mexico after seeking asylum there, should take steps to calm the situation. So far, Morales has remained defiant, condemning the interim government and saying he was ousted in a coup.

Blockades around the major city of Santa Cruz have also disrupted commerce. Producers say fruit and vegetables are rotting on trucks that have been unable to reach markets.

Bolivia’s pro-Morales faction has set up the blockades as part of a concerted effort to destabilize the interim government, said Alberto Bonadona, an economic analyst and professor at the Higher University of San Andres.

A total of at least 23 people have been killed in violence that erupted after a disputed election on Oct. 20, according to the public defender’s office.

Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, claimed victory after the vote, but opponents alleged fraud and massive protests began. An international audit concluded there were election irregularities and Morales resigned Nov. 10 after losing the support of the security forces. He left for Mexico shortly afterward.

On Monday, thousands of Morales supporters demonstrated in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires, partly blocking a main thoroughfare as they denounced a “coup d’etat” and demanded that the ousted leader be returned to power.

Buenos Aires has a large Bolivian community, and many came to the protest bearing their country’s national flag, and the wiphala, which represents some indigenous people. Union workers and other left-wing groups also participated.

Bolivia’s crisis has exposed racial, ethnic and geographic divides that some thought had been largely overcome after 14 years of Morales’ rule as well as the introduction of a more inclusive constitution.

Analysts say the movement to oust Morales was an urban middle-class revolt against the former president’s efforts to hang onto power.

But since his departure, racist discourses and regional rivalries have re-emerged in a nation divided between a wealthier, more European-descended lowland east and a more indigenous, poorer, highland west.