Bolivia moves toward new constitution
Date: Sunday, December 16 @ 00:37:07 UTC
Topic: Bolivia - Evo Morales

Saturday, December 15, 2007
By: Gloria La Riva

Amid threats of coup and secession

By the required two-thirds vote, a new Bolivian Constituent Assembly approved a draft constitution on Dec. 9. It passed despite obstacles, including violence, by the right-wing, which tried desperately to derail the process.

As the assembly deputies met in Sucre in lat November, fascist thugs attacked the participants and set public buildings on fire. Several people were killed, and the meeting had to be moved to Oruro in the highlands on Dec. 8. Two days later, it was approved.

The draft's passage is a step forward for the most oppressed of Bolivian society, the people of the 36 Indigenous ethnicities, all peasants and the workers. It would grant greater rights and autonomy to the Indigenous and lay the basis to keep state control of natural resources.

The only article out of 411 not agreed to by the assembly concerns the size limit of landholdings, a sign of the growing class conflict between landless peasants and extremely wealthy landowners, who are behind the secessionist movement.

Before a popular referendum is held on the constitution draft, first the article on the size of landholdings will be placed before the public to approve or reject. If accepted, it would be added to the constitution for a final referendum vote.

Bolivia's tiny minority of racist oligarchs has lorded over the mostly Indigenous population for decades. But now, it is fully aware that the majority of people back Morales and will likely to approve the constitution. No date has been set for the referendum vote. Morales took office in January 2006.

Counting the numbers and seeing the writing on the wall, the oligarchy's main party PODEMOS and its allies are now acting on their threat to break away.

Secession and rumors of coup are the greatest danger to Evo Morales' presidency, his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) and the Bolivian masses.

After the assembly, the prefects (governing officials) in four of Bolivia's five opposition-led departments (similar to states) said they would act on their declared autonomy on Dec. 15. The prefect of the fifth department, Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes Villa, said he would hold a referendum for autonomy. A sixth, Chuquisaca, may do the same.

The other four departments led by the "autonomists" are Santa Cruz, Beni, Tarija and Pando. With 60 percent of Bolivia's territory and 35 percent of the country's population in the lowland plains, it is the richest region with natural resources, fertile land and industrial development. Due to its geographical shape, the area is known as the "Media luna (half moon)."

The western part of Bolivia is highlands, encompassing four departments, where the Indigenous and poorest of the population live. It is the area where leftist president Evo Morales has the most support.

The right-wing prefects have called for widespread acts of disruption throughout the country on the 15th. Neo-fascist groups, led by the Unión Juvenil Cruzeña (from Santa Cruz department), are waging attacks on pro-Morales supporters.

Morales has called for a recall referendum on all the prefects and himself. He is calculating that the majority of the masses in the breakaway departments will oust the right-wing prefects.

Behind the opposition is the hand of the U.S. government. Bolivian Vice President Alvaro García accused Washington of funding right-wing groups to destabilize the government, partly through USAID, notorious for backing counterrevolutionary movements.

The historic violence of the oligarchy and its entrenched rule, have made Morales's attempts at major economic and social change difficult to achieve. The move to nationalize Bolivia's large oil and gas reserves has been stymied.

Decisive in the outcome of Bolivia's struggle will be the organization and intervention of the masses, among the poorest in Latin America, to defend the justice they have set out to win.


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