Leaders agree to work urgently to prevent a political collapse in Bolivia, where the government said it would charge a rebellious governor with genocide.
Presidents unite to save Bolivia
SANTIAGO, Chile // South American presidents have agreed to work urgently to prevent a political collapse in Bolivia, where the government said it would charge a rebellious governor with genocide for allegedly ordering the machine-gunning of peasants. Condemning two weeks of unrest in which Bolivia's leftist president, Evo Morales, effectively lost control of half his country, the leaders demanded protesters immediately vacate seized government offices and "halt violence and intimidation." They accepted Mr Morales' claim that a massacre occurred in the breakaway state of Pando, offering to investigate and agreeing as well to create a commission to try to spur dialogue between Bolivia's government and opposition. "UNASUR's (Union of South American Nations) ability to respond very rapidly to the first situation of this sort and to be capable of building an accord should be recognised," said UNASUR and Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet, who hosted the six-hour meeting held behind closed doors. Appearing alone on the presidential palace's patio, she read a nine-point statement and took no questions. The 12-nation Union of South American Nations was only founded in May and the Bolivian crisis, in which anti-Morales protesters have blocked highways, closed border crossings and sabotaged natural gas pipelines, is its first major test. Only the presidents of Peru, Suriname and Guyana did not attend. Most of the leaders departed without comment but Mr Morales, in brief remarks, said he was "surprised by the solidarity" of his colleagues and called it "the first time in history that we South Americans are deciding to solve the problems of South America." The gravest challenge to Morales' presidency - he described it as an attempted coup - is being spurred by governors of Bolivia's four autonomy-seeking lowland provinces, home to the nation's energy deposits and best farmland. The governors want a larger share of the nation's gas profits, and are demanding that Mr Morales cancel a planned referendum on a new constitution that would give Bolivia's long-suppressed indigenous majority more power, let Mr Morales run for a consecutive second term and transfer fallow terrain to landless peasants. Morales has the support of most Bolivians - voters ratified his presidency by an impressive 67 per cent in an Aug 10 recall referendum - a 13 per cent jump over what the native Aymara and former coca-growers union leader won in December 2005 presidential elections. But the same referendum also gave several of the rebellious governors renewed support in their provinces. Bolivia's chief prosecutor, Mario Uribe, said he would press charges of genocide against Governor Leopoldo Fernandez and other top officials in Pando, the jungle province on the Brazilian border where at least 15 people were confirmed killed in political violence last week, for provoking "a bloody massacre." * AP