What can we say aboutMesa's much touted victoryin the July 18 referendum,in which the official proposalobtained a sweeping 80 percentof the "yes" votes? It is true thatafter summing the negative, blankand spoiled ballots, that 80 percentplummets to 30 percent ofthose registered to vote. What ismore, the above figures should becleansed of the effects of rigging."There was no control or verifyingof the results, left to the whim anddecision of the monitors (headmonitors at each polling place) (...)the cross-tallying of the votes (differentnumber of votes on each oneof the answers) and the word ‘nationalization'were not recorded;many of the spoilt ballots werecounted as yes votes" (La Jornada,7-19). It should be admitted,though, that boycott actions calledfor by the COB, Felipe Quispe'speasant organization and the ElAlto Community Juntas vanishedinto thin air. Some of the leadingfigures, like the El Alto COBleader Roberto de la Cruz, went tovote.
This referendum crowned acolossal operation aimed at holdingback and shackling the popularuprising and general strikewhich ended in the ousting of formerpresident Sanchez de Losadain 2003. This was the task undertakenby the then vice-PresidentMesa, who was hastily appointedPresident with the support of Imperialismand the direct interventionof the Argentinean and Braziliangovernments. Mesa clearly explainedto Santa Cruz oil producersthe meaning of the key referendumquestion, which deals withthe need to "recover" national oil"control": "It is out of place to considernationalization as the expropriationor seizure of private companies;a "yes" to the first questionby no means leads to any nationalization.There is not a shadow ofa doubt on this point." (Econoticias,7/9).
A huge political coalition,ranging from Evo Morales's MASto the US State Department, supportedthis "legitimizing" referendum.La Paz, Cochabamba andSanta Cruz big business associationsencouraged the people tovote. So did the Catholic Church,most mass media, and, to be sure,all the official parties. The leadingrole, though, was played bythe neighboring governments. AtBush's express request (or at therequest of oil companies Repsoland Techint, according to LaNación), Kirchner arranged thepurchase of Bolivian gas, whichwas eventually to be by-passed toChile. This purchase was reportedby Bolivian press to be Mesa's"life-saver."
Lula's efforts for the "success"of the referendum included a waiverof 52 million dollars, credits inthe amount of 600 million dollarsand a trip to the border, seeking topromote a future "petrochemicalcenter", to be owned not only byPetrobras, but also by several privatecompanies. Lula did not stopshort of supporting the referendumduring that rally. After Repsol,Petrobras is a major beneficiaryof Bolivian gas and oil looting.It controls one sixth of all gasand oil reserves and was leasedthe exploitation of mega-gasfieldslike San Alberto and others with a32 percent tax cut.
The July 18 ballots reflectedthe political problems affecting thecamp of opposition organizationswhich proclaimed the boycott.Their limitations were made manifestby the Cochabamba "Declarationof the Social Movements Forum"of May 28, according to whichthe referendum was "a civic demandand a social conquest of theOctober 2002 social movements"(Econoticias, 5/30). The Forum demanded"nationalization", meaning"the nullity, challenging or conversionof all the agreements heldbetween the state and privatecompanies" (op. cit.). It thereby admittedto the celebration of newagreements even before challengingthe existing ones. Part of theopposition sought a compromisewith the government, including a"change in the questions", andsimply turned boycott into a defeatistfigure of speech.
The COB did neither put forwardthe boycott on the practicallevel, or as part of a working classprogram against Mesa's government.The comrades of the Boliviansection of the CoordinatingCommittee for the Refoundation ofthe Fourth International reportthat the COB broadened themeaning of boycott so as to includeany form of opposition to the referendum,be it abstention, spoiltvote or blank vote (in the samemanner as the Lora-ist POR).Days before the referendum, COBunion locals were shut, and theirleaders were nowhere to be seen.Solares himself, their main leader,was out on holiday leave.
On the whole, Mesa managedto avoid a collapse. His authorityto completely overcome the crisiswill be put to the test by upcomingevents. As the media are alreadyforeseeing, Mesa's attempt to turnthe referendum into an actual lawwill give rise to serious clashes inParliament. The victory of thebosses' front itself will bring aboutnew disagreements among oil companies,the government, and theheterogeneous elements supportingsuch front. But, most importantly,to proceed with its stoopingand submissive policy, Mesa willhave to fight against the exploited.The consequences of the Octoberworking class and peasant rebellionopen up a new stage in theclass struggle which has not beenended.