Signs of Life :: Bolivia Constitution Reform Likely


Bolivia Constitution Reform Likely

Bolivian President Evo Morales. Photo courtesy La Frontera Dos
Bolivian President Evo Morales leads tens of thousands of his supporters on October 20 into El Alto on their way to La Paz demanding lawmakers approve a referendum on a new constitution.
Photo courtesy La Frontera Dos

Bolivia is poised to pass a new constitution aimed at providing indigenous autonomy, land reform, and popular control of natural resources. The proposed constitution comes out of decades of campaigning by social movements among Bolivia’s impoverished and indigenous people. It has garnered fierce opposition from the nation’s wealthier elites and become one of the most divisive issues in Morales’ presidency.

In August, after winning support from 67 percent of voters in a recall referendum, Morales sought to jump-start a long-stalled national vote on the new constitution, which was drafted by his backers more than a year ago. That move provoked a violent reaction by Morales’ opponents in two of the nation’s eastern states, including the September massacre in Pando of more than 30 peasant supporters of the president, and the torching and sacking of public buildings by Morales adversaries in Santa Cruz.

Amid charges of U.S. interference, the September conflicts led Bolivia to expel Washington’s ambassador. The Bush administration retaliated by expelling Bolivia’s ambassador and moving to eliminate Bolivian participation in an Andean trade pact, which could cost the country 20,000 jobs.

In mid-October, Morales backers returned to the streets, and 100,000 marched to the national capital in La Paz to surround the congress. Under pressure both from protesters and other South American governments, Morales and the opposition reached a compromise allowing a revised constitution to be put to a national vote next January.

After Morales’ August victory, it seems likely the proposed constitution will win the simple majority required for enactment. Once passed, it will set up a new round of presidential elections at the end of 2009, a vote Morales is favored to win.

— Jim Shultz is executive director of the Democracy Center in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and coauthor of Dignity and Defiance: Stories from Bolivia’s Challenge to Globalization.



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