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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 June, 2005, 06:44 GMT 07:44 UK
Profile: Carlos Mesa
Bolivian President Carlos Mesa
Carlos Mesa's rule has been marked by protest and paralysis
In 1983 the historian Carlos Mesa wrote a book: Bolivian presidents: Between the ballot box and the gun.

More than two decades later, Mr Mesa can claim first-hand experience at the helm of the turbulent nation.

Mr Mesa came to power in October 2003, after weeks of deadly protests saw his predecessor Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada out of office and into exile.

In his acceptance speech, he accepted that Bolivia was not yet "a country of equals" and that the country's handling of the controversy over its huge natural gas resources would be "a decisive factor in our domestic development and our relations with the world".

Little did Mr Mesa know almost every day of his tenure would be marked by protest, and that the fate of the gas would plunge his country - and his leadership - into paralysis.

Media man

Carlos Mesa Gisbert was born in Bolivia's main city, La Paz, on 12 August 1953, to art-historian parents.

He studied literature in Madrid and La Paz before becoming a historian of Bolivian cinema.

Later, he turned to journalism, first as a news commentator on the radio and later as a television presenter.

In the following years, he set up a television news production company, PAT, which he transformed into a national network.

He became one of the country's best-known TV personalities, making millions in the process.

Mr Mesa, now married with two children, entered politics as an independent candidate in 2002, winning the vice-presidency as Mr Sanchez de Lozada took the presidency.

It was not long before protests against the government began, sparked in February 2003 when it proposed imposing an income tax.

Rise to power

Then in September, government proposals to export the country's natural gas to the US through Chile - Bolivia's enemy since it won Bolivian territory in a war more than a century before - triggered more violent protests.

Up to 80 people are believed to have died, mainly in the impoverished town of El Alto, as the government suppressed the protests.

But Mr Mesa became increasingly unhappy with the government's handling of the unrest. He withdrew his support from the leadership, and once Mr Sanchez de Lozada had resigned and fled to the US, Mr Mesa took his place.

One of his first acts was to respond to indigenous demands for greater representation. He created a new cabinet position, that of minister for indigenous and ethnic people, and appointed an Indian from eastern Bolivia to the post.

Given his political inexperience, few commentators thought Mr Mesa would survive - and at first he proved them wrong.

In June 2004, he won overwhelming backing in a referendum on the future of the country's huge gas resources, which sought to steer a path between popular demands for a greater share of the gas profits and foreign companies' terms for their help extracting the gas.

'My limit'

But it was not long before radical leaders were taking to the streets again, many unsatisfied with the terms of the new "hydrocarbons" law.

Amid waves of protest, in March 2003 an exasperated Mr Mesa for the first time announced his resignation, saying protests had left the country ungovernable and he had "reached a limit".

But Mr Mesa still recorded a significant level of support. His announcement prompted demonstrations of support and a day later Congress rejected his resignation.

His first resignation was initially seen as a successful gambit to rally the populace behind his leadership, but within days the protesters were back, demanding nationalisation of the gas - something Mr Mesa has said would be unworkable.

On 6 June, Mr Mesa again submitted his resignation - though there was no clear successor to the man who at one time, remarkably, commanded the simultaneous support of Washington and the Movement to Socialism party led by coca farmer Evo Morales.

Despite all his efforts, there seems little way out of Bolivia's deadlock. Mr Mesa's chapter in history has yet to be written, but a working title might be: Bolivian President: Between a rock and a hard place.

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Country profile: Bolivia
18 Oct 03 |  Country profiles


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