06 December 2007

President Proposes National Recall Vote As Bolivia Slides Further Into Chaos

(Dec. 6, 2007) Violent protests continue to rock Bolivia as politicians refuse to compromise on a new national constitution. President Evo Morales has proposed a national recall vote for himself and the country's nine prefects to help end protests that began after his political party Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) railroaded a new draft constitution through the National Assembly on Nov. 24. Opposition leaders dismissed the recall proposal as a smoke screen and asked the president to return the nation to the rule of law.

Speaking out against the president, Leopoldo Fernández, the Prefect of Prando said, "The issue does not depend on whether or not [President Morales] submits to a recall vote, but that he returns the nation to the rule of law and stops abusing his powers."

The conflict's roots lie in the 500 years of tense relations between Bolivia's highland indigenous populations, predominantly ethnic Quechua and Aymara, and the descendants of European immigrants, the traditional political elite, mostly located in the resource rich eastern lowlands. After the last two presidents were forced from office in 2003 and 2005, the nation elected its first ever indigenous president, Evo Morales, a 58 year old Aymaran who has promised to lead an indigenous revolution and retake control of Bolivia.

The most recent straw to break the nation's back was the imposition of a draft constitution by the president's political party in a special session without the presence of opposition legislators two weeks ago. The meeting was held in a high school outside the capital Sucre because protesters had already taken over the city in an attempt to block the meeting.


One of the consequences of this political standoff has been the erosion of political legitimacy at all levels of government, resulting in widespread crime and violence. In a telling display of rage and frustration with the current social conditions in Bolivia, residents of El Alto, a poor neighborhood outside of La Paz, beat four would-be car thieves to death and then set them on fire after they attempted to rob a local taxi driver on Wednesday.

In Cochabamba four more people were killed and over 200 wounded on Nov. 30th in street fights between opposing political groups and 80 opposition members of the national assembly have said they will join civil resistance groups if the government does not back down. Neither side appears to be willing to budge.

The Organization of American States is expected to send a human rights commission after four department governors traveled to its Washington headquarters this week to ask Secretary General José Miguel Insulza to intervene in the dispute. Morales initially rejected the proposal as Washington intervention but has now changed his mind and made a formal request for help resolving the current crisis.

However, the Assembly's directing committee threw more fuel on the fire Thursday when it announced that all future Assembly sessions would be held in Chapare, the political stronghold of Morales and his MAS party. It remains to be seen what effect this announcement will have on the country, but it seems certain to increase criticism of President Morales' administration as undemocratic.

While it is possible that the move will temporarily decrease the number of conflicts between opposition groups, it is hard to see how it will help resolve the crisis in the long run. If the Assembly approves a constitution without the support of a large portion of the country it will only further social divisions and fortify the opposition by giving them the moral high ground.

The Assembly plans to finish final revisions to the new constitution in seven days in order to meet the previously established deadline of December 14. The procedures originally allowed 120 days for discussion.

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By Nathan Gill - Southern Affairs
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In second photo, two of the four men lynched in the El Alto outburst.
Source: Los Tiempos.com