BOLIVIA: Indigenous woman to lead new assembly
Pablo Stefanoni, La Paz

A Quechuan indigenous woman, Silvia Lazarte, will become the president of Bolivia’s new Constituent Assembly after gaining the blessing of Bolivian President Evo Morales and the support of the campesino (peasant) organisations that make up the solid core of the governing Movement Towards Socialism (MAS).

At its national reunion on July 28, MAS representatives also decided to push for a regulation requiring decisions in the Constituent Assembly to be decided upon by simple majority, rather than by the two-thirds set out in the law convoking the assembly. The two-thirds support will only be required for the final approval of the text of the constitution, which will then go to a referendum.

The idea of pushing for a sovereign and originaria Constituent Assembly — that is, with powers to refound from scratch the country’s constitution and laws — was also advocated.

The requirement for two-thirds support to pass any proposal emerged from the agreement between regions and political forces for the convocation of the Constituent Assembly. Conservative groups envisaged the requirement as a block to any “radical” or “revenge” changes pushed for by the indigenous-based left. But, as was the case with the issue of regional autonomy — when Morales called to vote “no to the bourgeoisie’s autonomy” — the government began to shift from this initial pact, leading to threats of political and regional confrontations.

MAS has an absolute majority — 135 of the 255 constituents, plus more than a dozen allies and MAS candidates elected on other tickets — but does not have the 170 representatives necessary to comprise two-thirds of the assembly.

The right-wing opposition, headed by Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga, immediately rejected the government’s initiative, which Quiroga considered “hegemonist”. The two-thirds “needs to be the principal that predominates; we are going with the willingness to achieve consensus”, declared the former president, whose party Podemos garnered only 15% of the votes and 60 representatives in the July 2 Constituent Assembly elections.

The assembly will convene on August 6, and MAS is seeking to win support for its proposals. “Constituent Assembly implicitly means a sovereign and absolute power, that is why the limitations on its refoundational power are a contradiction”, said Raul Prada Alcoreza, who was elected as an assembly member. Another MAS assembly member and campesino leader, Roman Loayza, signalled that “the constituent assembly can close parliament if it attempts to obstruct its work”, something of a paradox, considering that MAS counts on a majority in Congress. Nevertheless, Loayza’s colleague and the former rector of the Universidad Mayor de San Andres, Roberto Aguilar, said that “the assembly members will respect the activities of the parliamentarians” and a section of MAS has pronounced itself in favour of “respect for the constituted powers”.

“Closing the Congress is an attempt against democracy and against the president Evo Morales”, declared the spokesperson of the assembly members of Podemos, Jose Antonio Aruquipa.

The selection of Lazarte as president — which needs to be ratified by the assembly itself — left a wound in the “intellectual middle class” sector, as they are called within MAS, who were supporting Carlos Romero, a researcher and activist in agrarian issues and a resident of Santa Cruz.

Lazarte was born in the Karasa valley, Cochabamba, and also lives in Santa Cruz. Previously she forged herself as a cocalera (coca grower) leader in the cocalero region of the Chapare, birthplace of the trade-union and political career of Evo Morales.

“This woman has been selected for many reasons. The social sectors said that an indigenous woman should conduct the assembly. We evaluated the result of this consultation with the social movements and departmental leaderships”, declared Morales, who advanced the proposal that someone “doubly excluded” be responsible for directing the destiny of the meetings.

From Green Left Weekly, August 9, 2006.

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