LA PAZ, Bolivia - Bolivian lawmakers unanimously rejected a resignation offer
by President Carlos Mesa, granting crucial support to his government after days
of street protests prompted him to say the country was becoming ungovernable
The vote on Tuesday came a day after Mesa tendered his resignation — in
what appeared to be a political gamble to rally critics around his administration
— amid intensifying protests and road blockades over his economic policies.
Thousands of Mesa's supporters thronged outside Congress in downtown La Paz,
many waving Bolivian flags, cheering the late-night vote that many analysts
said was an attempt by Mesa to win a vote of confidence amid rising political
His arms thrust in the air, Mesa briefly waded into the crowd and later addressed
his supporters from a balcony at the presidential palace.
"You have all been with me with during the most difficult point of my presidency,"
he said. "But today we have managed to bring the country closer together."
The vote was delayed for hours as Mesa sought concessions from lawmakers to
stay in office, including a halt to street protests by indigenous groups that
have paralyzed the country in recent days.
The showdown marked the latest political drama for Mesa, who has kept a shaky
hold on power since taking office in October 2003 after street riots killed
58 people. His predecessor, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, was forced to resign
amid widespread public anger over a plan to export the country's natural gas
Jaime Paz Zamora, a former president and current congressman who leads the Leftist
Revolutionary Movement party, said he had urged fellow lawmakers not to accept
Mesa's resignation and thus avert an institutional crisis.
"Go back to your office and get back to work," Paz Zamora declared
in a public message to the president. Mesa is an independent with no party affiliation,
although he enjoys wide popular support.
Since coming to power, however, Mesa has been plagued by relentless street protests,
including calls for greater autonomy by Santa Cruz, Bolivia's wealthiest province,
demands to lower fuel prices and hike taxes levied on foreign oil companies
from 18 percent to 50 percent of their sales.
The protests have highlighted the faultlines in the nation of 9 million people,
already troubled by tensions between an Indian majority wielding new political
clout in La Paz and a traditional white and mixed-race business elite.
Other recent protests also have demanded an immediate end of operations of the
French-owned water utility that supplies the capital and the neighboring city
of El Alto.
Critics accuse the water company of failing to serve the city's poorer districts,
a highly charged political issue in Bolivia that has echoed throughout South
America, where governments have experimented with privatizing state services
to attract foreign investment.
Mesa's decision to submit his resignation to Congress came after Evo Morales,
an Indian congressman and leader of the nation's coca leaf growers, announced
plans to intensify a nationwide road blockade unless lawmakers pass a law raising
taxes on foreign oil companies.
Mesa countered that the international community would refuse to accept such
In an interview with The Associated Press, Morales insisted he had not been
seeking the president's ouster but instead wanted a modification of the oil
"Who is calling for him to resign? Nobody," Morales said. "But
we want that law changed."
On the street, recent protests appeared to have given way, at least partially,
to shows of support for the president.
"We believe he's doing a good job," said Antonia de Guiterrez, 27,
who marched with several dozen women Tuesday. "Bolivia is being torn in
different directions, but he's holding it together."