BOLIVIA: 'This is a revolution’
Describing the August 3 swearing in of the 255 elected members of Bolivia’s Constituent Assembly, Dan Keane wrote in the Washington Post on August 6: “On one side of the narrow aisle sat the delegates from [Bolivian President Evo] Morales’ leftist party [Movement Towards Socialism (MAS)], many wearing the fluorescent-colored knit caps of the Aymara Indians or the bowlers and white straw hats favored by rural women. One delegate wore a miner’s helmet.
“On the conservative benches, the skin tone was visibly paler, and business suits dominated. At one point the conservatives, many from eastern provinces which want to keep more of their wealth from being consumed by socialist programs, stood up chanting 'Autonomy!’ Morales’ loyalists responded with 'Revolution!’”
It is via the Constituent Assembly, which opened on August 6, that Bolivia’s indigenous majority hope to refound the country. As Morales has explained to his supporters, “In the national elections we only won government: our struggle is for the power of the people and this Constituent Assembly is to win power for the people. Power for the quechua, aymaras and the popular movement.”
MAS won more than 50% of the representatives in the Constituent Assembly, but fell short of the two-thirds necessary to pass the final draft of the constitution before it is put to a referendum. At the opening of the assembly, Morales said that “its powers need to be above parliament, the judiciary, and Evo Morales”, according to Pablo Stefanoni in an August 7 article in Pagina 12.
Stefanoni also reported that according to anonymous sources, if a two-thirds majority is not reached, both a majority and minority text would be put to a referendum to avoid attempts by the right-wing opposition to block radical changes.
Four days before the opening of the Constituent Assembly, Morales had visited the town of Ucurena to promote his “agrarian revolution”. Ucurena was the site of the agrarian reform carried out following the 1952 national revolution. At that time, despite large-scale land distribution, the campesinos (peasants) were not given the necessary training and technology and many were forced to sell their land to survive.
Under the military dictatorship of Hugo Banzer (1971-78), much of the land, particularly in the east, was handed over to the rich elites of Santa Cruz — Banzer’s backers in the coup — as part of their accumulation of economic and political power. They then presided over 20 years of neoliberal rule, which began to fracture with the overthrow of their representative in power, ex-president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, in October 2003. Feeling a loss of control over the central government, by mid-2004 the business elites of Santa Cruz, via the civic committees of the eastern departments, had begun to raise the cry of autonomy in order to regain control over natural resources.
The Andean Information Network reports that an estimated 70% of Bolivia’s land is in the hands of 400 individuals, who are behind calls for autonomy in the east. Another 25% of productive land is held by mid- to large-scale agricultural producers, while only 5% of the land is in the hands of the mostly indigenous rural poor.
Under Morales’s current plan, 3 million hectares will be given to 60 indigenous communities and groups immediately and a further 20 million hectares will be redistributed over the next five years, benefiting 2.5 million rural poor. State-owned land is currently being redistributed, but it is estimated that two-thirds of the total planned redistribution will come from privately owned land that is deemed not to be serving a social function.
Morales has also handed over 560 new Spanish, Venezuelan, Iranian and Chinese tractors as part of his “mechanised agrarian revolution”. The land reform is being carried out hand-in-hand with distribution of technical aid to campesinos, including farming equipment, irrigation projects and credit loans without interest. The land is being given to communities and groups rather than individuals.
Right-wing control of the senate has blocked Morales’s bill of agrarian reform from passing through parliament. In his speech, Morales said: “Some campesinos say that if Congress does not approve the new [agrarian reform] law it needs to be closed, and I am not saying that parliament should be closed, but I am making a call for this law to be passed.”
Along with its calls for autonomy, the opposition has called for the defence of its land and has discussed establishing armed self-defence groups to protect its large landholdings in the east.
What the opposition fears is the growing rebellion — the unfolding national revolution that is sweeping Bolivia. However, unlike the 1952 revolution, this one is being led not by middle class intellectuals or military figures, but by Bolivia’s indigenous peoples.
The July 23 Mercury News reported: “Morales’ anti-corruption, anti-poverty crusade represents a continuation of the 1952 revolution that nationalised Bolivia’s mines and granted the [indigenous peoples] such civil rights as voting and access to government buildings, says veteran political scientist Carlos Toranzo.
“'I saw the ’52 revolution and now I see this’ said Toranzo. 'This is a revolution.’”