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Bolivia's President swears in new cabinet
( 2003-10-20 11:06) (Agencies)

Days after deadly riots over a gas export plan forced Bolivia's president to flee, his successor swore in a new Cabinet on Sunday, largely fulfilling a promise to name ministers independent of the political establishment.

Some of the new ministers once were politicians with the leftist party called Free Bolivia Movement, but most of the 15 ministers named by Carlos Mesa are little-known economists and intellectuals.

Bolivian President Carlos Mesa Gisbert, speaks during a ceremony to honor the new Bolivian President by the armed forces in La Paz, Bolivia on Sunday Oct. 19, 2003. Carlos Mesa was thrust into the presidency by the resignation of his predecessor Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada after weeks of violent anti-government protests that left 65 people dead. [AP]
Mesa created a new ministry, called Ethnic Affairs, to address the problems facing Bolivia's majority indigenous population. It will be led by an Indian from eastern Bolivia.

Mesa still must name a 16th minister for mining.

Mesa, who took office Friday night after former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada fled to the United States, urged the new Cabinet ministers to watch every step.

"The abyss is still close at hand, and any mistake, any lack of perspective, any stinginess can push us over that abyss," he said.

Sanchez de Lozada was forced out after 65 people died in rioting sparked by his unpopular plan to export natural gas abroad. Labor leaders and Indian groups used the clashes to express their frustrations that the government has failed to improve living conditions.

After decades of rule by elite politicians far removed from the reality of their indigenous constituents, Bolivians hoped Mesa's ministers would address their concerns.

But analysts feared the new Cabinet may not be able to counter the opposition.

"Mesa already faces a lot of difficulty because he is an independent, and has no constituency," said Frank Boyd, a Latin American expert at Illinois Wesleyan University. "I don't know how naming independents to his Cabinet helps him. It's a strategy that's fraught with danger."

The appointment of Juan Ignacio Siles as foreign minister may prove to be Mesa's most controversial. Siles is the nephew of Jaime del Valle, the last foreign minister to serve under former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Meanwhile, piles of rocks, shattered highway toll booths and other debris from days of rioting remained visible in the capital, La Paz. But many of the makeshift street barricades were taken down and life began returning to normal.

Vendors flooded the streets, restaurants reopened and children prepared to return to school Monday.

Earlier in the day, Mesa attended a military ceremony recognizing his rise to the presidency. He called for justice for the families of the riot victims, and urged Bolivians to act "without hate or vengeance, but also without forgetting."

Foes of Sanchez de Lozada want him back in Bolivia to face trial. Evo Morales, the opposition congressman who has championed the cause of Bolivian coca leaf farmers, accused the former government of "economic genocide" and said Sanchez de Lozada should be jailed.

Morales supported Mesa, but indigenous leader Felipe Quispe warned of new protests within 90 days if Mesa does not institute policies meant to help Bolivia's native, peasant population.

"There will be more blood, more fighting, more rebellions," Quispe, also a congressman, told Radio Panamericana.

Sanchez de Lozada hoped to tap the country's expansive natural gas reserves and export the gas to Mexico and the United States via Chile to boost economic growth.

But many Bolivians distrust Chile, which won a 19th century war and cut Bolivia off from the Pacific Ocean. Siles, a career diplomat, said he would support Bolivians' fight to regain access to the sea.

Mesa, a 50-year-old journalist and historian, must reunite South America's poorest country, where the divide between rich and poor widened under the free-market economic policies his predecessor. Unemployment is at 12 percent and many Bolivians earn about $2 a day.

"What we want is for him to listen to the needs of all the workers, of all the organized groups," said Juan Quispe, 50, a city construction worker putting cement blocks back into roads torn up in the protests.

Mesa, who was vice president under Sanchez de Lozada, withdrew his support for the former president when the government responded to protesters with tear gas and bullets.

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