Bolivian Congress nominates new president.
Vice-president Carlos Mesa is Bolivia's new president following the resignation letter of president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. Bolivian Congress in a special night session accepted the resignation letter and voted in Mr. Mesa 84 to 26 votes.
The nomination of president Mesa will hopefully decompress several months of social unrest and political disarray that threatened the institutional stability of landlocked Bolivia, one of South America's poorest countries and with almost 80% Indian population.
Street protests, road blocks, rioting and a strong response from security forces and the Army, mainly in the capital La Paz and surrounding locations, left a toll of over seventy dead and hundreds injured.
In his letter to Congress Mr. Sánchez de Lozada explains that his resignation "should have been sufficient to solve national problems and although I fervently wish this to be so, much I fear the solution will not be that simple".
"Bolivia is undergoing crucial moments", and "its democracy is under siege by corporative, political and trade union groups that do not believe in democracy".
The short letter was interrupted several times by opposition Congressmen who shouted "assassin" in direct reference to Mr. Sanchez de Lozada.
Bolivians turned to the streets when the Sanchez de Lozada administration ignored warnings that a six billion US dollars project to sell Bolivian natural gas and oil to United States with a pipeline crossing Chilean territory would be rejected.
As the situation worsened and the death toll increased political support for the fourteen month ruling coalition began to erode and Mr. Sanchez Lozada became increasingly isolated.
Although the president reiterated during several days he would not quit office he finally made the "patriotic decision" forced by the junior coalition partners and after having met with Argentine and Brazilian special envoys.
The Congressional session apparently was delayed to give time to the resigned president, family and close aides to fly to Santa Cruz de la Sierra, a friendlier city than the rebellious capital La Paz that openly rejected him. From Santa Cruz de la Sierra the party was scheduled to leave for Miami.
Incoming president Mr. Mesa is a historian and former journalist who ran as an independent. However his political skills are still to be tested since he can only rule by building a new coalition from a split Congress.
Besides the opposition headed by Evo Morales, a forceful peasant and Indian leader who was runner up in the last presidential election has emerged as a preponderant political figure. He not only extracted from the fallen administration the promise of a review of all the hydrocarbons legislation, including a referendum, (that could condition the whole gas project), but also defeated the obstinacy of Mr. Sanchez de Lozada, an oil Texas educated engineer who already had previously been president of Bolivia, and was repeatedly supported by the US State Department.
"Rioting will only stop when "Goni" leaves office and is taken to trial for all the killings", was Mr. Morales repeated warning.
Once the political turmoil is sorted out rebuilding the country's economy paralyzed for several months and highly dependent on mineral sales will not be easy and is expected to take years.
However the encouraging side of the crisis is that Bolivia that this year commemorates twenty years of uninterrupted democracy did not search into the past and respected constitutional procedure. Until two decades ago similar situations would have most probably ended in a bloody military coup or the violent imposition of a radical regime, left or right, that had no contemplation for civil liberties and the fundamentals of democracy.
This however is not the first time that "institutional normality" remains unabated with the active participation of Congress. Similar situations can be recalled in Brazil in 1992 with Collor de Mello; Peru with Fujimori; Ecuador; Paraguay; Argentina with the downfall of Mr. De la Rúa that paved the way for President Kirchner and now Bolivia.
Left wing and radical groups are praising the downfall of the US backed president as "a victory of the people in the streets" and clear proof that a new America is awakening with leaders such as Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, Lula in Brazil, Kirchner in Argentina, Gutiérrez in Ecuador, and ¿why not Evo Morales?