USAID Field Report Bolivia Jun 2005

Program Description

The USAID Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) Bolivia program promotes peaceful participation and stability in El Alto and other marginalized communities and increases access to balanced information on issues of national importance. OTI also expands economic opportunity by supporting short-term, community-based activities in distressed areas, such as El Alto and the altiplano, which are designed to increase self-reliance. Issues affecting youth and indigenous groups are cross-cutting themes in all of OTI/Bolivia's work. OTI's implementing partner is Casals & Associates. The budget in fiscal year 2004 was $6.3 million and in fiscal year 2005 is $5.5 million.

Country Situation

June was the most tumultuous time in Bolivia since October 2003, when President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada was forced from office. Recent social unrest and accompanying street blockades and strikes again forced the resignation of a president, Carlos Mesa. Following Mesa's resignation, Congress, in an extraordinary session, elevated Supreme Court Justice Eduardo Rodriguez Velte as the interim president. Rodriguez will serve until elections can be held in six months.

Social unrest - The widespread blockades that began in late May continued into June. It is estimated that 80 percent of the country's main highways were blocked; gasoline and cooking oil were in severe shortage in the capital of La Paz and other cities. Demands of the various movements causing the unrest ranged from nationalization of the hydrocarbons industry to the formation of a Constituent Assembly. The National Chamber of Industry and Commerce estimated that the net economic loss following three weeks of upheaval was $100 million for Bolivia's formal economy. The informal economy, employing about 60 percent of the country's workers, also suffered extensive losses.

Mediated dialogue fails - During the blockades, President Mesa made several television appearances exhorting protest leaders to respect other citizens' rights and cease their pressure. The church stepped in to broker a solution, holding separate meetings with social sectors, legislative leaders, President Mesa and others, to no avail.

New president - On June 6, President Mesa resigned. During the two days that Congress took to accept Mesa's resignation and pave the way for succession, protesters took to the streets against the possible ascension to power of either the president of the Senate, Hormando Vaca Diez, or the president of the Congress, Mario Cossio, the next two in constitutional succession. More than 25,000 protesters followed Congress to the country's other capital, Sucre, where it had decided to meet to avoid the protesters in La Paz. The protesters insisted that they would not allow the session to start until Vaca Diez and Cossio stepped aside. Finally, after numerous attempts to meet were impeded by protesters, Vaca Diez called a press conference and in a fiery speech denounced "leftist" protest movements, while declaring that he would not assume the presidency. Cossio made a similar proclamation on June 9, allowing the head of the Supreme Court, Eduardo Rodriguez Velte, to assume the presidency according to the constitutional order of succession. Congressional party leaders announced that they would seek to reform the Constitution to allow for congressional, as well as presidential, elections.

Social peace - When Rodriguez became president, he asserted that his government would only be a transitional one aimed at getting the country to peaceful elections. Thus far, the Rodriguez government has been successful in convincing groups insisting on the immediate resolution of their demands that they should seek a solution through the electoral process. This has resulted in the end of blockades and the declaration of truces from most protesting groups.

Electoral scenarios - By the end of the month, Congress had not been able to agree on an electoral timeline that would allow for general elections, or on how to reconcile demands for a Constituent Assembly, a referendum on autonomy and an election for prefects. Some political parties insisted that the legislature should stay in office until 2007, while others said they would agree to general elections (holding early congressional elections, rather than just elections for president and vice-president, requires constitutional reform) only if a Constituent Assembly and/or referendum on autonomy were organized beforehand.

B. Grants Activity Summary

Despite difficulties in implementation due to social unrest (Casals & Associates' El Alto office was closed for three weeks), OTI approved 10 grants for a total of $317,820 in June. In addition, OTI established coordination mechanisms with the new government and discussed areas for possible collaboration. The new Rodriguez government has expressed its desire for OTI to continue conflict-resolution grants begun under the Mesa administration, because this government likely will face many of the same difficulties. In addition, OTI expressed its willingness to help the government prepare for elections and continue to conduct outreach to El Alto, which borders on La Paz.

OTI continues to develop new grants for information diffusion and civic education for youths to combat misinformation that has played a role in social unrest in Bolivia. Using USAID education funds, OTI will provide civic education to more than 20,000 secondary students in El Alto. OTI is also promoting dialogue and information dissemination in universities in El Alto, which are traditionally radical institutions.

OTI continues its work to constructively engage indigenous groups. Two of OTI's June grants will be used to work with indigenous groups in northern Potosi and other parts of the altiplano in western Bolivia to help them become involved in economic development issues that have been a source of conflict in the past. OTI is also supporting a study mission to the United States for indigenous political leaders. The study mission will focus on how minority populations in the U.S. have promoted economic growth opportunities for their communities and found constructive ways to promote their interests as part of the national political agenda.

OTI is supporting grantee Kriterion to develop a three-part national survey on political perceptions, which will help inform the transition government's decision-making. The survey will sample more than 4,000 families in rural and urban areas, and will focus on issues such as nationalization, decentralization, and preferences regarding candidate platforms. The first survey was to begin with focus groups in late June and the following two were to be conducted in monthly intervals after that.

Grants Cleared in June 2005
Estimated Budget For Grants June 2005
Total Grants Cleared Since March 2004
Total Estimated Budget For Cleared Grants Since March 2004
Community Development and Economic Opportunity
$ 83,260
Civic Education for Emerging Leaders
$ 55,100
$ 980,725
Information Diffusion and Dialogue
$ 122,060
School Reconstruction and Education
$ 57,400
$ 880,767

C. Indicators of Success

Projects continue during the blockades - Despite general paralysis in Bolivia due to blockades, strikes and protests, some OTI grantees continued their activities, demonstrating that communities that have support and are invested in their own development are less interested in protesting. In Ingavi, a rural area in the Department of La Paz, four communities continued construction of a school library that OTI financed, pooling community resources to fund supplies for the library. And in District 3 of El Alto, neighborhood associations continued rehabilitation of school bathrooms and kitchens as part of an OTI project to connect these educational institutions to natural gas. Throughout rural municipalities in the Departments of La Paz and Oruro, where OTI is supporting information workshops on autonomy and elections, participants convinced the blockaders to let workshop facilitators into the community to hold events.

Identification for undocumented citizens - Given the forthcoming Bolivian elections, it is all the more critical that Bolivians have the documentation required to exercise their rights. Two OTI projects, one run by the National Electoral Court and the other by a nongovernmental organization, will register 50,000 citizens by the end of August. In June, despite extensive mobilizations that left several of the Electoral Court mobile brigades stranded in the countryside, 15,484 new birth certificates and approximately 6,800 requests for corrections in existing birth certificates were registered in eight La Paz provinces. Brigades frequently worked past midnight, given high demand from registry officers who brought in paperwork from surrounding communities - often 100 to 150 registration requests at a time. Early in the morning, queues at registry offices in more populated communities were three or four blocks long.

In El Alto, OTI grantee Centro de Derechos y Capacitacion (CDC) has used an innovative partnership with the church to reach marginalized populations who would otherwise have no possibility of receiving citizenship papers. CDC is collaborating with Alteno churches to use baptismal certificates as identification for receiving birth certificates. Following baptismal ceremonies that are held every weekend in the city, CDC has worked with these communities, often composed of new immigrants to El Alto, to provide them with legal documentation.

Anti-discrimination message well-received - At a time when strikes, road blockades and permanent mobilizations were leading up to President Mesa's resignation, OTI helped the Ministry of Labor organize a campaign that sought to counter the inflammatory rhetoric and racial tension that had been building for months in Bolivia. The campaign centered on two main messages: "Bolivia is larger than our differences" and "Employment generates wealth while discrimination results in poverty." While the campaign was initially sponsored by the Mesa government, the new administration continued the campaign because of its timely messages and because the Communications Office at the Ministry of Labor received reports of favorable comments on five television stations, two radio stations, and in one newspaper. The campaign consisted of three 30-second messages broadcast nationally on TV and radio and 7,500 copies each of five posters distributed nationwide, all of which were aimed at countering the resurgence of racist overtones in political and regional conflicts.


OTI will work with the new Rodriguez government through recently established coordination mechanisms to help the government with conflict resolution and preparations for the elections. In addition, OTI will continue working to promote self-reliance and constructive engagement in El Alto through income-generation projects, information diffusion and promotion of joint government-social sector initiatives.

For further information, please contact:

In Washington, D.C: Amy Frumin, LAC Program Manager, 202-712-4231,