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Last Updated: Friday, 10 June, 2005, 21:27 GMT 22:27 UK
Bolivia hopes for better days
By Elliott Gotkine
BBC News, La Paz

So Bolivia has a new president - its third in less than two years.

Bolivian miners celebrate the new president, Eduardo Rodriguez
Miners seem happy with the outcome of their protest
He is the 49-year-old head of the Supreme Court, Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze, an unassuming, bespectacled man untainted and untested by politics.

His rise to high office came after a succession of dramatic developments late on Thursday night.

First, Congress, which had been suspended earlier in the day because of violent protests, unanimously approved President Carlos Mesa's resignation.

Then the heads of both houses of Congress officially renounced their right to succeed him.

This meant that, as head of the Supreme Court, the dubious honour of leading South America's poorest and least stable nation fell to Mr Rodriguez.

"Bolivia deserves better days," he said, shortly after being sworn in Bolivia's picturesque colonial capital Sucre, 600km south of La Paz. But will this unassuming lawyer with an MA degree from Harvard be able to put the country back on its feet?

Presidential elections

Certainly the signs are that following the country's worst civil unrest in more than 20 months, a period of peace could be on the cards.

Indigenous protesters have already begun to leave the gas fields they occupied in the east of the country.

And many of the miners' groups, peasant farmers and labour unions, who have paralysed large swathes of Bolivia for weeks, appear prepared to allow for a truce.

Bolivia's President Eduardo Rodriguez, left, reviews troops
Rodriguez has the difficult task of rebuilding people's trust
But political analyst Carlos Torronzo warns that "no solution in Bolivia ever lasts for long".

Carlos Mesa, of course, also became president after weeks of violent unrest.

Back in October 2003, he too was feted by the protesters, who had forced the US-backed Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada to resign.

The difference this time is that as the third-in-line to succeed Mr Mesa, Mr Rodriguez is constitutionally obliged to call new presidential elections by the end of the year.

This has been a key demand of the protesters in recent days.

Transition

They still want the nationalisation of Bolivia's rich gas reserves, which are worth around $50bn (27.5bn) - or more than six times the size of the country's entire economy.

And they still want constitutional reform. But the chance to elect a new leader should be enough for them to declare victory for now.

New elections also mean that Mr Rodriguez will not be in power for very long.

Evo Morales
Evo Morales might be a candidate for the presidency
So it is unlikely that he will have the time or the inclination to undertake any radical agenda - a referendum on nationalisation, say, or an immediate constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution.

Although this could try the patience of Bolivia's so-called social movements, some protest leaders may have other matters on their mind.

Evo Morales, for example, as well as leading the country's coca growers, is the head of the opposition Movement Towards Socialism. He came second in the presidential elections in 2002.

And it is clear - certainly judging by the life-sized "Evo Presidente" poster in his Congressional office - that his ambitions transcend the street.

No-one expects Eduardo Rodriguez to solve Bolivia's entrenched problems - of widespread poverty, social exclusion, racial discrimination and regional divisions.

That will be a job for the country's next democratically-elected leader.

But for now, at least, there is real hope that the "better days" Bolivia's new president speaks of are finally on their way.


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