26 November 2007

Bolivian Assembly Approves Constitution In Irregular Session

(Nov. 26, 2007) Last Friday Bolivian President Evo Morales and his MAS party in the National Assembly approved constitutional changes by a simple majority vote in an irregular session without the presence of opposition parties.

According to the former Vice President Victor Hugo Cádenas the meeting took place in a military barracks in Sucre where 136 of the 255 total representatives - all supporters of Morales - met to approve the final draft of the new national constitution, while outside protesters literally took over the city. By the end of the weekend the entire police force of the Sucre, Bolivia's second capital, had retreated, leaving control of the city in citizens' hands.

Morales claims that his MAS party has a popular mandate to reform and that Friday's actions will be vindicated after the reform passes in the referendum vote. However, according to Cádenas this mandate within the Assembly is actually 50.7 to 49.3 percent, or a mandate of 1.4 percent. This narrow margin and the representatives' inability to reach acceptable compromises led to four months of political deadlock that finally ended with Friday's extraordinary session.

At this point President Morales may decide to advance straight to a popular referendum as opposed to following the Assembly's legal guidelines which stipulate that the Assembly must now conduct an article-by-article review of the draft before it is submitted to a national referendum.

Whichever way he goes, his decision will show whether he personally believes that Friday's actions were legal or not. If he decides to move straight to the referendum it can be assumed that he decided that Friday's actions were the legal rupture point, and that he has more chance of winning the referendum now than if he sent it back to the national assembly, where it would almost certainly get bogged down even worse than it previously was.

One important factor in the decision will certainly be the level of violence witnessed in Sucre this weekend, as well as the occupation-counteroccupation-reoccupation of the Santa Cruz airport by citizens of that city in October. In these encounters the government showed that it was reluctant to use force to repress protesters and was willing to withdraw from the contested areas. Given the current state of division between the majority indigenous highlands, and the non-indigenous, energy rich lowlands, the possibility of serious conflict seems to be rising.

Is Morales willing to risk a civil war over his Indigenous Revolution?
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By Nathan Gill - Southern Affairs

Photo By AP