An ineffective transit strike
bolivia | by Miguel Centellas | 12 Feb, 2004 at 12:34 PM | comments (10) | trackback (0)

Today was the second day of the 48 hour transit strike against the de-freezing of gasoline prices (though prices haven't yet increased). The measure was labeled a failure by most papers. El Alto residents not only didn't march (as they were called on to do), but they jeered the road bloqueo near COR (Central Obrera Regional) and FEJUVE (Federación de Juntas Vecinales) headquarters.

The military & police provided trucks to serve as transport — surprising people when the service was free. People made it to work, children went to school, even if many went by foot.

By afternoon, city traffic was almost back to normal, as more & more taxis started working. Despite the public whippings by some scabs by dirigentes — while police watched, w/o intervening. By the second day, only micros were absent from the streets.

The strike was suspended by late afternoon. Micros joined the already-circulating taxis & minibuses. The news was that the dirigentes sindicales decided to start dialoguing w/ Mesa's government. Although it seems the government won't rescind the economic measures meant to bridge the daunting fiscal deficit.

Reports from other major cities indicate a similar pattern: Mediocre transit strike in Santa Cruz, w/ only a small bloqueo near the village of Warnes. No transit strike in Tarija. No transit strike in Cobija. There were strikes in Sucre & Cochabamba, but these were jeered by residents; work went ahead as normal.

The aftermath of the failed transit strike is also failure of Solare's attempt to "paralize" the country. Neither the teachers' nor the health syndicates supported the transit strike, as per COB instructions. In interviews, Solares wasn't apologetic, and continued to vent his frustration at an economic plan he calls "criminal assaults on the Bolivian people."

He also warned teachers & health workers that next time there'll be repercussions if they don't strike. Exact words: "The disciplined soldier must obey what a central authority says, and whoever doesn't like it, fine, in time he'll have to learn syndicate discipline." A great democrat, that Solares fellow.

What does the sindicato de trasportistas oppose? They oppose the legalization of "transformer" cars (cars w/ right-side steering wheels switched chopped over to left-side). They demand the price of liquid gas (if Bolivia ever develops it for vehicular use) pegged at 50% normal gasoline. They oppose the de-freezing of the price of gasoline (even though the government will continue its subsidy). Most importantly, they oppose the government's idea of taxing Bolivians who's net worth is more than $50,000.

" comments

those are some of the craziest demands i may have ever seen- what on earth is the advantage of switching the side the steering wheel is on?

and by "liquid gas" i assume you mean deisel/naptha developed via gas-to-liquids (GTL- site not really modem safe...) processes. That's been a pipe dream for Bolivia (amongst others) for a while. Currently GTL cannot create gasoline or deisel in marketable amounts (100% of regular gas price) for a sustained period of time, much less at half the market cost of gasoline.

and what does Solare's failure bode for el Mallku & Morales?

Posted by mike d | February 12, 2004 01:25 PM

Well, I do think the demands are a bit far-fetched myself. I can see their opposition to the increase (if it happens) in gasoline prices (though it's estimated they won't go up more 5%). But people seem willing to pay a parallel increase in prices for public transportation. Even in El Alto, the poorest urban slum in Bolivia.

As to the other issues: The benefit of "transformer" cars is that they're much cheaper. Again, here I don't see why the transportistas oppose, since it would mean cheaper cars available for people. And since Bolivia's NOT a car manufacturer, it doesn't affect negatively in any way. Plus, it gives jobs to people who'd switch the cars over. Essentially, "transformer" cars are cars manufactured for markets where the steering wheel's on the right, then imported to Bolivia and switched over to being on the left.

As to the tax on net worths of more than $50,000 ... well, you see that some of these transportistas aren't so poor, perhaps. Since the average per capita income is (I think) about $3000 per year. Someone w/ $50,000 of net worth (hell, I'm an American and I'd love to have that net worth) here is very wealthy.

Finally, on the issue of liquid gas, yes, it's exactly what you mentioned. Very odd to fight something that's not going to be a reality for years yet. Oh, a parallel demand along w/ the price codification is that the goverment must pay for the conversion of their cars from gasoline to liquid gas.

Posted by Miguel | February 12, 2004 01:39 PM

Essentially, "transformer" cars are cars manufactured for markets where the steering wheel's on the right, then imported to Bolivia and switched over to being on the left.

i'm sorry for purusing this tanget, but this sounds fascinating- how on earth are these cars cheaper? i mean, unless they're making a lot of these cars in Peru for Japan (which would seem absurd) I don't see how -cuz of transport (from where they're fabricated) costs alone- these cars are cheaper than "regular" cars from Brazil or Argentina. And that's even before they spend the money on parts & labor to transform them.

also on "liquid gas"- when they want the government to pay to convert them, do you mean they want to run CNG (compressed natural gas) cars instead of GTL cars? i thought the whole idea of GTL was that you didn't need to mdify the cars to use it...

and gas price hikes have a history in the hemisphere of being very touchy. in addition to the gas shocks which played poorly in Peoria in the 1970s, it was a rise in the cost of trnasport that precipitated the fall of CAP's government in Venezuela in 1992 (Miguel O, please correct/forgive my vague recollection there)

Posted by mike d | February 12, 2004 02:18 PM

I'm not too up on the transformer cars, especially since there are few (if any in La Paz). But there are tons in Santa Cruz, for as long as I can remember. And the reason is that they're cheaper. Mostly, these are low-end Japanese imports (usually produced only for the Japanese domestic market, not sure how they end up in Bolivia). They could be transformed more professionally (expensive) or just sort of chopped (cheap). The government has legalized the cheap version of transformer, but demanding they be transformed in Bolivai -- which would generate jobs.

As non-industrial petrochemist, I'm not too up on the different gas distinctions. Sorry. But the transportistas want the government to pay for conversion, which suggests the fuel requires conversion. Again, not sure why so many protested in favor of this in October (since it would cost money) and now the same groups oppose the government's willingness to put the issue forward.

Posted by miguel | February 12, 2004 02:32 PM

Oh, you also asked about Solares' failure and the impact on Mallku & Morales. Sorry, forgot to answer that.

Well, Mallku has a weird alliance w/ Solares. But Mallku's power base is stronger than Solares' (the COB sort of just piggy-backed on the CSUTCB). And Morales isn't really allied w/ Solares. If anything, I think this strengthens Morales and only slightly hurts Mallku.

Posted by miguel | February 12, 2004 02:34 PM

Transformer cars: IIRc from my visit to Peru some years ago - because of the Fujimori govt in Peru, Peru got lots of 2nd hand Japanese vehicles as part of various Japanese aid packages. Said vehicles are then resold to poorer people by the original recipients because they are kind of a pain to use.

Posted by Francis | February 13, 2004 04:16 AM

The "transformers" are imported from Japan, via Chile. Seems that in Japan public transport vehicles can only be a max of 4-5 years old. After that they sell them overseas, at a very low price.

Posted by Erik | February 19, 2004 12:46 PM

Study as though you will not reach, as if you may lose it.

Posted by Samuel Alexandra | May 3, 2004 07:08 AM

Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.

Posted by Petersen Dave | May 20, 2004 08:58 PM

Nothing's far when one wants to get there.

Posted by SeikalyJones Roula Seikaly | June 3, 2004 02:27 PM

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