Evo Morales wins new electoral victory
By Gonzalo Villanueva
On August 10, Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, and his vice-president, Alvaro Garcia Linera, secured a resounding victory in an opposition party-initiated recall referendum with a popular vote of 67.4%, an increase of 14 percentage points on the vote that brought Morales to office in December 2005. At least 80% of Bolivia’s 4.1 million registered voters participated in the referendum.
Anti-Morales prefects (governors) in the “half-moon” departments (states) of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija were also ratified with results varying from 56% to 66%. Two opposition prefects, Jose Luis Paredes of La Paz, and Manfred Reyes Villa of Cochabamba, were recalled by voters. In their place, Morales announced that Pablo Ramos for La Paz, and Rafael Puente for Cochabamba, both allies of the government party, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), would be appointed as interim prefects until future elections, at which it is expected that they will be ratified.
The recall referendum law was initially submitted in December 2007 to the opposition-controlled congressional upper house (Chamber of Senators) by the MAS, but rejected. Subsequently, in May 2008 the Chamber of Senators, dominated by the right-wing PODEMOS party approved the referendum law, in an attempt to oust Morales. This, however, was seized on by MAS and viewed as a method to solve the country’s profound socio-political divisions. (PODEMOS itself is facing liquidation, both legally and politically, after the National Electoral Court (CNE) revealed that it had not properly registered itself as a party; and for some time has been losing political support with the anti-Morales forces.)
The “half-moon” prefects have stated that their clear victory is a popular mandate to oppose Morales’ left-wing government. At a departmental level for the “half-moon” region the “yes” vote for Morales ranged from 40.7% (Santa Cruz) to 52.5% (Pando). The CNE announced, however, that in 95 of the country’s 112 provinces the government had triumphed – only 17 said “no”, with most of these provinces being in the far east of the “half-moon” sector.
In an attempt to reconcile the socio-political divisions, on the night of his referendum triumph, Morales extended an invitation to the “half-moon” prefects for negotiations without any preconditions. However, in a case of double-dealing, the “half-moon” opposition has agreed to negotiate under the mediation of the Organisation of American States (OAS), and other countries, on the issue of “departmental” autonomy, among other issues, but has also chosen to take violent action to impose its politics.
Business strikes and ultrarightist violence
In protest against the amount of central government taxation on hydrocarbon resources, principally natural gas, extracted in the “half-moon” departments, the prefects, under the auspices of the opposition “civic committees”, have launched several days of business strikes, blocking the transportation of meat supplies to the western departments. Yet, omitted from their declarations is the US$1.5 billion increase in central government revenues due the nationalisation of the hydrocarbon resources, and the subsequent increase in departmental budgets, which was an initiative of the MAS.
To ensure that the business strikes – which were called for by a minority, the capitalist landowner oligarchy – were enforced, the shock forces of the Civic Committee Pro-Santa Cruz, the ultrarightist Union Juvenil Crucenista (UJC), and its other “half-moon” equivalents, were mobilised to close down businesses still operating on the days of the strikes. In response to the business strikes, Morales ordered troops to secure oil and gas facilities in the east of the country.
The UJC-enforced business strikes have revealed the weakness of the institutions of the central government, including the police forces, in the “half-moon” departments, particularly Santa Cruz. Opposition-organised occupations of airports, for example, have prevented Morales as well as foreign presidents from flying into Bolivia. On August 27, for example, Morales had to return by land from a visit to Brazil. The institutional weakness of the police was also evident on August 15, when the police commander for Santa Cruz was fiercely attacked by UJC thugs. Several days later he resigned. In the past, the transfer of a police officer to Santa Cruz was regarded as a promotion; now it’s a seen as a punishment.
During the recall referendum, the Santa Cruz police stood idly by while the UJC and MAS supporters physically confronted each another. Since then UJC militants have brutally beaten a MAS supporter, leaving him in a coma. The beating took place in the commercial centre of Santa Cruz, under the view of the police.
The current actions of the “half-moon” oligarchy give an indication of what the anti-Morales forces may do in the lead up to the referendum for a new Political Constitution of the State (CPE in Spanish). However, the recent business strikes do not signify the emergence of a unified opposition. At a national level, the opposition lacks a political party that unites the “half-moon” region with other opposition groups. At the regional, “half-moon”, level the opposition lacks a coherent national political objective, and even tactical unity among the “half-moon” prefects — both of which work to the advantage of the Morales government.
For the MAS and the social movements (including the trade unions) allied with it, to counter a right-wing offensive, and to fortify and advance Morales’ “democratic and cultural revolution” — nationalisation of the hydrocarbons and other key industries; expanding public services; the empowerment of the country’s indigenous majority — requires the approval of the draft CPE in the December referendum. The draft CPE was approved by two-thirds of the votes of those present at the Constituent Assembly session of December 9, 2007, held in the department of Oruro. A portion of the opposition bloc abstained from attending.
In the lead up to the recall referendum, Morales emphasised that his ratification would also be a vote for the draft CPE. The opposition, however, declared that any referendum for the proposed CPE would never be allowed to be undertaken in the departments under its control.
On August 28, Morales issued a decree setting December 7 as the date for the CPE referendum and for the election of new prefects for La Paz and Cochabamba and provincial sub-prefects. Morales declared the referendum would “deepen democracy” and “consolidate the process of change.”
Oppositional MPs and the “half-moon” prefects, including the prefect of Chuquisaca, Savina Cuella, immediately denounced the decree, claiming it to be “illegal” and “dictatorial”. They are now preparing to pursue a legal battle against the decree, and have demanded the departmental courts disregard the government’s decree.
In the August edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, Marcela Revollo, a delegate to the Constituent Assembly for La Paz, wrote: “The project of the new Constitution, although having an important pronunciation in the redistribution of wealth and political power, is, after all, a design that motorises the cultural [aspect of the] revolution, and questions, confronts, and strips the discourses, myths, stereotypes and symbols converted in social and political practice that has justified racism and sexism in different periods of the construction of the Bolivian State.”
Revollo argued that through the CPE, Morales and the MAS seek “the construction of a new institutional State able to produce and reproduce equality in plurality; in a manner that two of the supports least questioned in the [current] national State — colonialism and patriarchy — have been banished from the construction of the new State.”
Bolivia is South America’s poorest country, with 60% of the population living below the poverty line, and 38% in extreme poverty. The indigenous population, 60% of the country’s inhabitants, make up the great majority of the poor. In an August 27 article on the Alternet website, Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, observed that “Bolivia’s indigenous majority had previously been excluded from the corridors of power, and the results can be seen in their lower living standards: indigenous Bolivians have less than half the labor income and forty percent less schooling than non-indigenous”. He also observed that despite the opposition of “a wealthy minority”, a majority of Bolivia’s “voters have overwhelmingly decided that they want their government to do something about that. This should be possible, even if it means redistributing some of the country’s most important natural resources.”