LA PAZ, Bolivia – President Carlos Mesa (search) submitted his resignation Monday to Congress after several days of massive protests against his government, and the lawmakers may decide on his fate as early as Tuesday.
Chief of Staff Jose Galindo carried Mesa's resignation letter to the congressional building across the street from the presidential palace as hundreds of people took to the streets to express support for the president.
"I cannot continue to govern with threats that strangle the country," Mesa wrote, a reference to plans announced by opposition leader Evo Morales (search) to stage a nationwide blockade of roads, a traditional form of protest in Bolivia (search).
Mesa said he would not send soldiers or police to clear the roads.
He warned that the blockades would quickly isolate Bolivia's largest cities, and officials said shortages of food, fuel and other essential items would be inevitable.
Since taking office, Mesa has been hounded by a series of protests. They included calls for autonomy by Bolivia's wealthiest region, protests demanding lower fuel prices and demands for increases in taxes levied on foreign oil companies from 15 percent to 50 percent of their sales.
Mesa's announcement came after Morales, an Indian congressman and leader of the nation's coca leaf growers, announced a nationwide road blockade unless lawmakers raised the taxes for foreign oil companies — a law that Mesa says the international community wouldn't accept.
On Sunday night, Mesa announced in a surprise, emotional address to the nation that he would offer his resignation to Congress so it could make a decision.
Congress was expected to meet Tuesday, but it was unclear whether it will accept Mesa's resignation. As an independent candidate, he lacks the backing of a political party, but he has a fair degree of popular support.
Should Congress accept the resignation, his constitutional successor would be Senate President Hormando Vaca Diez.
Mesa would be the second leader driven from office by popular protests in less than two years in South America's poorest country. In October 2003, Mesa succeeded President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (search), who resigned in the wake of bloody street protests that left at least 56 people dead.
The next presidential election is set for June 2007, but some politicians have suggested it may be held earlier.
Mesa has blamed Morales and social leader Abel Mamani of the neighboring city of El Alto for what he called an atmosphere of instability in the Andean nation.
Mamani has called for a general strike starting Wednesday demanding the government cancel the contract with troubled, French-controlled company Aguas del Illimani, which provides water to La Paz and the nearby city of El Alto.
Morales appeared surprised by Mesa's announcement, which he called "a blackmail by the president." He said his party, the Movement Toward Socialism, was to meet on Monday to make on a decision on Mesa's announcement.
In February, Mesa shuffled his Cabinet after massive street protests calling for regional autonomy and objecting to a planned increase in the price of fuel oil.
An autonomy drive by Santa Cruz, the nation's richest province, had earlier forced Mesa to grant concessions clearing the way for provinces to elect their own governors, who are now appointed by the president.
U.S.-backed eradication of Bolivia's coca leaf, the base ingredient of cocaine, depends on a moderate government like Mesa's. Many of the president's would-be challengers decry meddling by the United States and say the coca crackdown has deprived thousands of poor farmers of their livelihoods.