Bolivian gas referendum, 2004
Bolivia held a referendum on the future of its natural gas reserves on Sunday, 18 July 2004. The referendum was one of the first promises made by President Carlos Mesa upon assuming the presidency in the aftermath of the Bolivian Gas War of October 2003 that saw his predecessor, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, forced to resign and to flee the country.
The referendum was largely intended to quell the political unrest seen during the Gas War in 2003. Some have pointed out that the complete nationalization of gas resources – the main demand of the protesters and, indeed, of the majority of the Bolivian population – was not a potential outcome of the referendum. Fears of an uprising led the Bolivian government to take measures essentially forcing the population to vote (announcing fines and penalties for those who refused or boycotted) and warned that protesters against the referendum would be imprisoned.
Bolivia's natural gas resources have been a flashpoint issue since the late 1990s. International corporate interests, seeking to supply US, Mexican and European demand, have for years been lobbying for the cheap sale of what is thought may well be the landlocked country's last profitable natural resource. While leaders have been pressured to accept a quick solution, the public has been keenly aware of the issue and its importance; most Bolivians believe that previous offers have been unacceptable, and see their struggle as justified against what they perceive as a hostile takeover, directed by "US-based profiteers".
The five questions on the referendum were:
Do you agree that the Hydrocarbons Law (No. 1689), enacted by Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, should be repealed?
Do you agree that the Bolivian State should recover ownership over all hydrocarbons at the wellhead?
Do you agree that Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos [the state-owned oil company privatized under Sanchez de Lozada] should be re-established, reclaiming state ownership of the Bolivian people's stakes in the part-privatized oil companies, so that it can take part in all stages of the hydrocarbon production chain?
Do you agree with President Carlos Mesa's policy of using gas as a strategic recourse to achieve a sovereign and viable route of access to the Pacific Ocean?
Do you or do you not agree that Bolivia should export gas as part of a national policy framework that ensures the gas needs of Bolivians; encourages the industrialization of gas in the nation's territory; levies taxes and/or royalties of up to 50% of the production value of oil and gas on oil companies, for the nation's benefit; and earmarks revenues from the export and industrialization of gas mainly for education, health, roads, and jobs?
Thus, following extensive debate on the wording of the questions in the months prior to the vote, the referendum ignored the important question of outright nationalization.
The majority response to all five questions was "yes". The overall abstention rate was around 40% (10% higher than normal for Bolivian elections). Of those who voted, between 20% and 28% for each question handed in either blank votes or spoilt ballot papers, so questions 4 and 5 received support from less than half of the total votes.
1. As a percentage of the total votes.2. As a percentage of the valid votes.Source: IFES
Bolivia Watch from Znet
Bolivia's Gas Referendum: Znet – Forest Hylton
Bolivia's Referendum: The Economist
Turning Gas into Development in Bolivia from Dollars & Sense magazine
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