Bolivia's Mesa to announce new cabinet of non-politicians
New Bolivian President Carlos Mesa Gisbert is to announce on Sunday his cabinet which is to be composed of non-politicians who he feels are the only ones able to put an end to the crisis which cost the job of his predecessor.
Mesa, who took the post after President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada resigned on Friday, has admitted it would be hard to find potential ministers who will have to wrestle with the country's deep economic and social problems.
"This is a very risky chance we're taking, but it's the only possible way. After what has happened, the country cannot accept a cabinet made up of politicians from the various parties," Mesa said.
Sanchez de Lozada stepped down and flew into self-imposed exile in the United States after more than four weeks of unrest triggered by popular anger against a plan to export natural gas to the United States and Mexico through a Chilean port. Around 70 people were killed in clashes between anti-government demonstrators and the security forces as strikers blockaded highways around the country, froze most economic activity and demanded that the president quit. But popular discontent with the government's free market economic policies, its embrace of foreign investment and its inability to lift Bolivia out of its place as South America's poorest nation had long been festering.
Bolivia's people, most of whom are of Indian descent, have also long distrusted political parties and the economic elite dominated by the minority whites of European extraction and who ignored their aspirations and concerns.
Mesa said he hopes the new cabinet will also revitalize the political establishment. "Hopefully, the political parties will have learned a lesson because to me there is something basic in all of this: we can't conceive of a democracy without political parties which represent currents of opinion," he told reporters at a press conference.
Mesa, 50, himself had never been a professional politician until he joined Sanchez de Lozada's ticket as his running mate in the 2002 elections. The new administration faces the challenge of bringing peace to the country after the disturbances and of conducting negotiations with Indian leader and congressional deputy Felipe Quispe who has already announced his supporters will not lift their roadblocks until the government meets some of their demands.
Bolivia needs to sell its natural gas, new president says "My responsibility as president is total awareness that gas sales are indispensable to Bolivia. Bolivia cannot afford not to sell its gas," Mesa said in an interview on Bogota's Radio Caracol.
The solution to Bolivia's problems, Mesa said, "must be examined from the vantage point of an old collection of unresolved social issues and the pressure of different demands within a situation of economic stagnation carried forward from the previous administration."
The new president said he would work to convince Bolivia that "we have sufficient gas to sell" and still "provide Bolivians with gas for home and automotive use, and make them see that we are not just selling gas, but benefiting the country as well." On the referendum both he and his predecessor promised to hold on the gas exports, Mesa explained that "the fundamental issue is, first, whether Bolivia wants to sell the gas or not. The second question is which way it should be shipped if the sale is approved."
Though Sanchez de Lozada's government had not decided whether to ship the gas through Chile or Peru, Mesa said, "outside opinion and some groups assumed that the president's plan was to sell the gas through Chile, and that assumption is what generated the protests."