From staff and wire reports
LA PAZ, Bolivia -- The Bolivian Congress on Thursday voted along party
and upheld an emergency decree that allows the government to suspend its
Constitution -- even though protests over water costs that led to as many as six
deaths and sparked the decree had subsided.
The decree remains in force for 90 days. It can be ended by the government
extended by congressional authorization.
Under the decree declared by President Hugo Banzer, police can detain people
without a warrant, restrict travel and political activity and impose curfews.
The Democratic Action Party, which holds a majority in both the Chamber
Deputies and the Senate, was the only party to vote in favor of the decree after a
10-hour heated debate.
"This state of emergency is a whim," said Deputy Carlos Sanchez Berzain
opposition National Revolutionary Movement. "It does not defend any economic
plan, because the government does not have a plan."
The Banzer administration maintains the decree was implemented chiefly
protect the country's economic programs.
Banzer, Bolivia's dictator in the 1970s, is the fourth consecutive democratically
elected president to declare a state of emergency.
Water protests sparked demonstrations
The president declared the decree on Saturday in the wake of protests that
began April 3 in Cochabamba, some 350 miles east of La Paz, over a 35
percent increase in the price of drinking water because of a planned $200
million water and power project. The protests, fueled by the country's
economic crisis, spread to rural regions.
Roadblocks were set up across the nation by farmers opposed to the
proposed water rate hike.
Some routes were still cut off as those controlling them were considering
negotiations with the government on agricultural reform.
"The economic crisis Bolivia and the region has been going through no doubt
contributed to the problems here," Information Minister Ronald MacLean told
The Associated Press. "When a crisis hits us, we do not have a cushion to
absorb its impact."
Protests subside after water project canceled
The consortium of investors that had planned to build the plant backed
out of the
deal on Monday.
Businesses and schools reopened Thursday in Cochabamba, and La Paz was
calm after several hundred students clashed with police on Wednesday. A
planned strike across the country did not occur.
However, the clashes took their toll on the nation's economy, causing
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.