2000: The war of water

In 1999, the Bolivian government followed the World Bank recommendations while giving the management of water of Cochabamba to the private company "Aguas del Tunari", subsidiary of the Californian company Bechtel. Right after the privatization, the price of water increased by 50%, which caused the dissatisfaction of the poorest inhabitants in this region. In April 2000, violent demonstrations occurred in Cochabamba during the "guerra del agua" (war of water). Evo Morales was one of the leaders of the movement of peasants' protest. The Bolivian government was forced to break the contract of water exploitation of the Bechtel company. The latter responded claiming financial compensations (25 million dollars). The case is today handled by the International Court of Justice. Bolivian Community structures like Coordinadora continue to defend the water of life against national and international pressures which try to reduce to silence the social movements.

The war of water is a modern example showing the crushing power of multinational companies which take advantage of the poorest countries in the world. It is also the symbol of the fight of people to make water recognized as a public natural resource.


  • During his mandate, Banzer managed to reduce in a drastic way the illegal coca plantations intended for drug confection (in the Chiapare region). But the peasants organized their resistance (demonstrations, blocking of the strategic communication links in the country), and the police and army started to undergo heavy casualties.
  • In January, a large part of Bolivia is devastated after 8 weeks of heavy rain.
  • On August 7, vice president Jorge Fernando Quiroga Ramirez replaced president Banzer who suffered health problems.


  • On February 21, a hail storm devastated the centre of La Paz causing the death of 63 people.
  • On May 5, Banzer died of lung cancer after while he was cured in the USA.
  • On August 6, president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada is elected (for the second time in his career), slightly ahead (by 1% of the votes) before Evo Morales the leader of the peasant confederation.

2003-2005: The war of gas

  • In February 2003, violent demonstrations (causing the death of 36 people among the police and military) obliged Lozada to withdraw his project of law for introducing an income tax.
  • March 31, 2003: A major landslide in the mining community of Chima (Yungas region) caused 69 dead.
  • Another project for exporting Bolivian gas at reduced price towards the USA and Mexico through gas pipelines across Chile caused new riots, where 120 protesters got killed. On October 17, 2003, Lozada resigned and quickly left the country to the USA (which always gave him support). His vice president, the journalist and historian Carlos Mesa replaced him at the head of the country.
  • Mesa established a transition government, without any political label, which tried to solve the various problems of the country through the dialogue: In 2004, Mesa undertook several actions to plead in favor of Bolivia to access the Pacific Ocean (diplomacy with Chile, official speech during the Americas summit, letter to the UN Secretary-General); He had to face the problem related to the nationalization of oil and gas (fight between working trade unions and foreign companies), and of the coca eradication (fight between coca farmers and USA).
  • In June 2005, the country was shaken by a new social crisis, and was at the edge of a civil war. The opposition (mainly the indigenous community which was the most underprivileged) found that the measures announced by the government were insufficient regarding the taxes for foreign oil companies, and requested the total nationalization of oild and gas (capitalized since 1997). Moreover, a few provinces, including the rich eastern provinces owning oil resources (Santa Cruz and Tarija), claimed their independence. President Mesa resigned on June 6 after three weeks of demonstrations (80000 peasants and workers in La Paz) and blockade paralyzing the principal road axes of the country and asphyxiating the capital. The president of the supreme court Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé was named president of the republic by interim until new anticipated elections took place.

The war of gas is in phase with the current alter-mondialist movements which affect all the continents and puts governments in difficult situations (e.g. systematic demonstrations organized during each WTO forums, rejection of the European referendum in France, political crisis in Ecuador...).

  • On December 20, Evo Morales was elected president of Bolivia in the first round (53% of the voices). This was an important political event. Morales was the first American indian accessing the presidency of Bolivia and also the first one in Latin America. The two main topics developed during Morales's campaign related to nationalization of the natural resources and legalization of coca, which of course worried a lot the USA... This new election confirmed the swing to the left of the whole Latin America, and the rise to power of the anti-liberal wave which was spreading over the globe.

2006: The alter-mondialist movement...

  • January: Evo Morales formed his government and started an international diplomatic round to reassure the European countries and Brazil regarding his intentions to nationalize oil and gas companies.
  • May 1: Evo Morales decided the nationalization of oil and gas companies. The army was sent to take control of the exploitation sites. A few days later, the large foreign companies agreed to renegotiate their contract with the Bolivian state.
  • May: Evo Morales was the star of the Europe-Latin America and Caribeans summit in Vienna, Austria
  • June: Evo Morales launched his plan for resdistributing national lands among the poorest Indian populations.
  • June 30: Bolivia elected 255 members of the Constituent Assembly, in charge of re-writing a new constitution which should give to the Indian community rights to control their destiny. The same day, there was a referendum on the regional autonomy of the 9 Bolivian departments.
  • August 6: The Constituent Assembly settled down in Sucre
  • September: The first difficulties started for Evo Morales. A movement of strike organized by the liberal opposition paralyzed several economic regions of the country, to protest against the nationalization of hydrocarbons and the land reform.
  • October: Thousands of miners from cooperatives launched an attack to take the control of Huanuni tin mine (near Oruro) which was held by public company COMIBOL. The confrontations with the local workers were violent (use of dynamite and guns) and made 16 victims. The army intervened to stop the combats.
  • December: The South American leaders met in Bolivia for the South American Community Summit to try to reach a better political and economical unity over the continent. Brazilian president Lula proposed the creation of a Parliament for the Latin American countries.

2007: Division of the country...

  • Floods, droughts and hail storms affected the country during the first three months of the year (year of Niño). The departments of Santa Cruz and Beni had been touched by the worst floods of the last 25 years. One counted 35 dead and 350000 refugees, and serious damage for the cattle, crops and roads. Evo Morales declared the state of natural disaster.
  • The town of Sucre asserted its right to become again the capital of Bolivia, as it used to be until 1899. In this city, partisans of the transfer of capital prevented the Constituent Assembly from sitting for several months. Violent demonstrations occured (3 dead). Evo Morales refused to transfer the Parliament and presidential palace from La Paz to Sucre.
  • On October 14, the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez who was viviting Cuba, announced that Venezuela would not remain inactvie if Bolivian oligarchy tried to reverse or assassinate Evo Morales, and that the fight for the dignity of the Bolivian people could be the Vietnam of the machine-guns.
  • Surprisingly in Sucre, on November 26, the Constituent Assembly managed to meet in a barrack under the protection of the police and the army. The text of the new constitution was approved in the majority of two thirds by the partisans of Evo Morales, taking advantage of the absence of the opposition. The political parties of opposition and five of the nine regions of the country (in particular Santa Cruz, leader of the liberal and conservative opposition) denounced the illegal character of this new constitution.
  • December: The autonomy process which was initiated at the end of the year 2006 by the four richest departments of Bolivia (Santa Cruz, Tarija, Pando and Beni) seemed inevitable. Many demonstrations occurred in the large cities of the country.
  • The political situation of the country was tense, additional police forces were sent to Santa Cruz where demonstrations occurred. The army was placed in emergency state. European diplomats met Evo Morales to let him share their concerns. Several embassies recommende to the tourists not coming to Bolivia and prepared themselves for possible evacuation of their nationals.


  • On May 4, during a referendum organized by the Governor of the Province of Santa Cruz, and deemed illegal by President Morales, nearly 85% of the voters were in favor of regional autonomy (ie the right for a region to manage its own resources and police). This referendum restarted a new political crisis in the country.