Bolivians protest fuel price increases

(CNN) — Teachers protested for a second day Tuesday and bus drivers staged a partial strike as the general Bolivian population expressed indignation at a sharp spike in gasoline and diesel prices.

Over the weekend, the government announced the end to gas subsidies that kept the price at Bolivian pumps artificially low. The end of the subsidies resulted in an increase of up to 73% for gas and more than 80% for diesel.

Regular gas, which cost the equivalent of $1.97 per gallon, now costs $3.42 per gallon. Diesel prices rose from about $1.90 per gallon to $3.61 per gallon.

The government said the move would save the country $380 million and was necessary to make pump prices comparable to neighboring countries, thus putting an end to fuel smuggling out of the country.

“That money belonging to Bolivians that was exiting abroad without benefiting the country, that’s why the government has decided to use those resources to implement social development programs that truly help the development of the nation,” said Ivan Canales, a government spokesman.

Canales accused right-wing interests of trying to foment unrest to get the subsidies reinstated, but the negative reaction came from all socio-economic levels.

“I wish I could go to the market with one of the government ministers so that they could see how much we can buy with the money we make,” said Mary Ortuno.

Another La Paz resident, Nestor Yujra, said, “This is completely sad. Now, we don’t know how we are going to handle the situation.”

The local media have dubbed the new policy as the “Gasolinazo,” or “The Big Gasoline Hit.”

In some instances, protesters clashed with police in riot gear, though there were no reports of major injuries.

A strike by bus and other public transportation drivers went as planned, though some remained on the job. Those who remained, however, raised their prices, too.

“We regret that some drivers have increased their (prices) by as much as 100%,” Canales said.

The government will not back down from its decision, he said.

“We subsidize the rich, and we subsidize the poor. We subsidize those who don’t need it, and we subsidize those who do. That is not right,” Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera said.

The subsidy made for bad economics, he said.

Bolivia’s confederation of drivers was to meet Tuesday to discuss new strategies to protest the price increase, as well as how they would handle how much they will charge for tickets.

President Evo Morales, who was out of the country on an official visit to Venezuela when the end of the subsidies was announced, has been in communication with various sectors of Bolivian society and will address the nation on the issue Wednesday, the state-run ABI news agency reported.

The increase was the largest for gas prices in 30 years.

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