Monday, January 26, 2009

The state of Bolivia before the referendum

Below is the english translation of an article a friend wrote on the situation in Bolivia before the referendum. The official results are not yet out but it is obvious that the constitution will change and Evo Morales claimed victory last night.

Here is the translation (original is here):

On Sunday 25.1.2009 Bolivia votes over the adoption of a new constitution. The reigning president Evo Morales wants to give Indians more rights and nationalize many of the countries industries. The public opinion is divided and the richer departments (provinces) in the west of the country are strongly opposed to the new constitution. This article contains personal impressions and makes no claim to completeness, since the local information is very poor!

Bolivia is the poorest and one of the most unstable countries in South America due to a long history of corrupt governments. Hardly any have managed to stay in power for the planned five years. Two-thirds of the around 11 million inhabitants live in poverty. Approximately 72% of the population are indigenous peoples, i.e. not of spanish descent, however the indigenous poeoples have been a historically repressed and economically depressed group.

On 18 December 2005 Evo Morales , a former coca farmer, was elected president, he is the first indigenous president of Bolivia. His party, Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) received 54% of the votes. In Bolivia, it is very rare that a party receives an absolute majority. In May 2006, Morales fulfilled his election promise and nationalized the gas industry. Bolivia is the second biggest producer of natural gas in South America, after Venuzuela. The move prompted fierce international protest, however Morales stood firm in his descision . In the same year, MAS announced its intentions to create a new constitution.

The main points of the new constitution include the nationalization of minerals, industry and railways.The defintion of the countries resources of the country as being considered property the state, and hence theoretically the population, clearly stated that the previous neo-liberal economic order was felt to be contrary to the interests of Bolivia. In addition the constitution recognises the indigenous population as an important part of society, it ensures their right to speak their own languages and educate their children in a language of thier choosing. Altogether there are 36 different indigenous peoples, each with their own language. The constitution also gives many more rights to women and children.

The motion by MAS faces massive opposition, especially in the richer west of the country. The four richest departaments, Santa Cruz, Chuquisaca, Tarija and Beni are against change and at first refused any negotiation on the constitution. It is in these areas that the major part of the Bolivian industry and resources are found. Furthermore, the close contact between Morales and Venuzuelan President Hugo Chávez is very controversial. Many people are afraid of Bolvia becoming an authoritarian regime, as in their opinion Venuzuela has. The last two years were also marked by violent confrontations between opposition and pro-goverment supporters. The peak was a sad case of paramilitary forces attacking a MAS-demonstration near Cobija in September last year. There were at least 18 deaths and 70 people are still missing. After an official investigation the Prefect of the department, Fernández, confessed to participating in the planning of the attack.

After many protests by the opposition many parts of the proposed new constitution were changed, especially around issues of private land ownership. For example, private land ownership will be limited to at most 10,000 hectares, previously amounts aove that would be confiscated, however now they will simply be taxed at a higher rate with the revenues going towards social projects. In addition, Morales has waived his option for a second re-election. These were the key demands of the opposition.

The situation in Bolivia is very unclear at the moment. Every area in the country has choosen a positon and almost every wall and every stone with is plastered with slogans (Evo sì / no, Sì al Socialismo, etc.). There are daily demonstrations and it is difficult to say how the situation will develop. Many people with whom I have talked feel strongly that there will be further confrontations, whether the new constitution is adopted or not. Evo Morales expects a clear victory, but he needs a two-thirds majority.

The whole conflict is difficult to assess. On the one hand, to the great mass of poor indigenous the new constitution offers great hope, on the other hand a very populist president making massive constitutional changes leads to bad consequences.

I will continue to report on the situation ...
Substantive additions are welcome!

Mano Negra

Well thats it. What a crazy day the 25th was, more on it later.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bolivian Referendum Goes Online with Facebook Ads

All you web 2.0 types will love this. Bolivia, where I currently am, is about to have a referendum on accepting a new and very controversial referendum. All around the country every wall is plastered with "Vota Si" or "Vota No" posters or Grafiti. But one place I saw an add that really suprised me is on facebook when I logged in from an internet cafe in Sucre (Which is a "Vota No" strong hold).
Now I think that´s pretty impressive for a country where it took me 10 hours to travel 220km. I´ll be in La Paz for the aftermath of the referendum, so it should be a very interesting time.

P.S. A travel companion of mine has posted an article that gives some background on the referendum on, it is in German right now but there should be an English translation by tomorrow afternoon. You can access it here in German. In the mean time you can either learn German or use Google translate. The Google translation is readable but stumbles on the more complicated parts, I suggest you wait for the translation which I will post a link to as soon as it is up.