On Sunday 26 December Bolivia’s government abruptly ended a six-year freeze on fuel prices, raising the price of gasoline by 73% and diesel by 83%. Vice president Alvaro Garcia said this change in policy was necessary because the subsidy cost US$380 million a year- 2% of Bolivia’s gross domestic national product and US$150 million of the gasoline was smuggled into other countries and sold at higher prices. The cost of the subsidies was projected to increase to over US$1 billion in 2011.
Bolivia’s transition to a democratic government began in 1978 when then military dictator Hugo Banzer Suarez stepped down after international and internal pressure for Bolivia to hold democratic elections. While the Democratic Popular Union (Unidad Democratica y Popular, UDP), led by Hernan Siles Zuazo, won the 1978 elections, Juan Pereda Asbum, Banzer’s chosen successor, launched a military coup and declared the elections invalid.
Throughout the 90s, Bolivia came under increasing pressure from the World Bank to privatize public goods in order to fulfill loan conditionality. In September 1999, in response to this pressure, the Bolivian government auctioned off the municipal water system ‘SEMAPA’ of Cochabamba, a city of 800,000 residents. When the auction drew only one bidder, the government signed water resources over in a 40-year concession to Aguas del Tunari, a foreign-led consortium of private investors dominated by the Bechtel Corporation.
The 1977-1978 economic justice and human rights campaign in Bolivia stemmed from tensions that began with the 1952 Bolivian Revolution, which left the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement in power. This group implemented a nationalization of the tin mines, agrarian reforms, and universal franchises. These policies and reforms lasted until 1964, when a military coup led to the regime of General Barrientos. This regime clashed with miners and broke down worker power and cultivated the peasantry.