Kennedy School Graduate Named President of Bolivia

June 10, 2005

Eduardo Rodriguez, the chief justice of the Bolivian Supreme Court and a former Mason Fellow, was sworn in as President of Bolivia on June 9. Rodriguez is a 1988 graduate of the Kennedy School’s mid-career MPA Program.

“Ever since I’ve known Eduardo Rodriguez, he’s been deeply concerned about the democratization of his country,” said the Kennedy School ’s Merilee Grindle, Edward S. Mason professor of international development and faculty chair of the MPA programs. She feels Rodriguez is an ideal person to lead Bolivia through a difficult period.

Following three weeks of protests that crippled the government and Bolivia ’s capital, La Páz , President Carlos Mesa resigned after serving for only 19 months. Rodriguez was third in line to assume the presidency, behind Bolivia ’s Senate and House leaders. As the head of the Supreme Court moving into the post, Rodriguez must call elections within five months, whereas the Senate and House leaders would have been allowed to serve out Mesa's term, due to end in 2007.

Rodriguez faces a formidable challenge in shepherding Bolivia through a period of turmoil. Protesters are calling for nationalization of Bolivia 's oil and gas resources and a constitution that gives more representation to the country's indigenous population.

"Constitutional duty has brought me here as a judge, who has a mandate to fulfill and who is convinced Bolivians need democracy, union and peace," Reuters quoted Rodriguez as saying as he was sworn in during an emergency session of Congress. "One of my capacities will be to call for an electoral process to transform the representation of the people. I believe Bolivians deserve better, our children deserve better days," he said.

Grindle, who worked with Rodriguez during his year at the Kennedy School as a Mason Fellow, says the two have stayed in touch over the past ten years as the Kennedy School helped the Catholic University of Bolivia develop a Master’s Degree in Public Policy program. Grindle said his training at the Kennedy School – specifically learning about rule of law challenges faced by governments around the world – will help him in serving the people of Bolivia throughout the months leading up to the elections.

“It’s a difficult position. The work he has done and his commitment to the country makes him an ideal person to lead the country to democratic elections in this difficult time,” Grindle said.

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