Food shortages cripple Bolivia, new elections still uncertain
Bolivians languished in long lines on the streets of La Paz on Nov. 17 to secure chicken, eggs and cooking fuel as supporters of ousted President Evo Morales crippled the country's highways, isolating population centers from lowland farms.
Presidency minister Jerjes Justiniano told reporters the government of interim President Jeanine Anez had established an "air bridge" to supply La Paz, using planes to bypass barricades on highways surrounding the highland capital. He said officials hoped to do the same with other cities cut off from supplies.
Bolivia remained in limbo one week after Morales, a charismatic leftist and former coca farmer, resigned over allegations of vote tampering. Lawmakers have yet to agree on a date for new elections.
Morales fled to Mexico on Nov. 12. But his supporters from largely coca-farming regions of the Andean nation have since taken to the streets, sometimes armed with homemade bazookas, handguns and grenades, barricading roads and skirmishing with security forces.
Some Morales supporters have demanded Anez, a former conservative lawmaker, resign. They have given her a deadline of midnight on Nov. 18 to step down, and have called for elections in 90 days.
As roadblocks take their toll, fuel has become scarce and many in the poorer neighborhoods of La Paz have been forced to cook over firewood.
"I hope things calm down," said Josue Pillco, a construction worker from a working-class La Paz neighborhood. "We're not getting any food or gasoline."
Community leaders aligned with Morales in El Alto on Nov. 17 were calling for a general strike on Nov. 18, raising the spectre of further supply shortfalls in the nearby capital.
Anez has agreed to new elections but also moved quickly to implement changes in policy at home and abroad.
On Nov. 15, Bolivia asked Venezuelan officials under the country's leftist leader Nicolas Maduro to leave the country. Anez's government also accused Cuba, once a close ally, of stoking unrest following Morales' resignation.
The Anez administration on Sunday renamed the state newspaper "Bolivia." Morales called it "Change."
Violent protests on Nov. 15 around Cochabamba, a coca-growing region and stronghold of Morales' supporters, left at least nine people dead, officials said.
The local ombudsman in the Cochabamba region said police had used live ammunition against protesters, prompting allegations of human rights abuses by security forces under Anez.
Anez has blamed Morales for stoking violence from abroad, and has said her government wishes to hold elections and meet with the opposition to halt protests.
Morales, in exile in Mexico, has struck a more conciliatory tone in recent days, saying he would sit out the next election in an interview with Reuters on Nov. 15.
U.N. envoy Jean Arnault said a team would hold meetings with politicians and social groups this week to end the violence and push for "free and transparent elections."
The European Union ambassador to Bolivia Leon de la Torre also met with Anez on Nov. 17.
He said the E.U. would provide support during the "transition period" and work to ensure "credible elections...under the most stringent international standards."
The United States, Brazil, Colombia, Britain and Germany have also recognized Anez's interim government.