Right-wing push against Morales

Federico Fuentes

A growing conspiracy to destabilise the government of Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, appears to be reaching a climax. On September 1 right-wing opposition deputies withdrew from the country’s constituent assembly, returning to their traditional trenches in the east, in order to move from a war of words to one of actions.

The crisis came after Morales’s Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), which has 135 of the 255 assembly’s delegates, pushed for the assembly to make decisions on the basis of a simple majority.

The original law of convocation for the assembly, the result of a pact between MAS and the opposition, spoke of a two-thirds majority, but MAS argues that in order that a minority not be given complete veto rights, only the final draft should be decided by a special majority. If after three attempts a two-thirds majority cannot be reached, the draft will go directly to a referendum.

Shouting “dictators, dictators”, opposition delegates walked out after MAS delegates voted to accept a simple majority for decisions other than adopting the draft and to declare the constituent assembly originario, extending its power beyond rewriting the constitution to actually being the space for the “refoundation” of Bolivia.

Three days later, an emergency meeting was convened involving representatives from the pro-business civic committees of four of the eastern states, along with opposition prefects (governors), mayors, parliamentarians and assembly delegates from PODEMOS and the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR).

The meeting formed the National Alliance and announced a 24-hour strike on September 8 in the states of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija.

None of the delegates from these parties have returned to the assembly, although the delegates from National Unity (UN), a centre-right force led by millionaire businessperson Samuel Doria Medina, returned to the assembly, arguing that its collapse could lead to civil war.

Explaining the strike’s aims, a Santa Cruz PODEMOS delegate was quoted in the September 5 La Razon as saying that they want to demonstrate their “deep rejection of a dictatorship and the coup that the governing party wants to impose” by pushing for decisions to be taken by simple majority.

The National Alliance, following PODEMOS leader Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga’s lead, called on the United Nations and the Organization of American States to send observers to monitor the constituent assembly. MAS and National Unity rejected the call as an attack on the sovereignty of the assembly and Bolivia.

Behind the cries for democracy, at stake here for the representatives of Bolivia’s oligarchies — the civic committees of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija, and the parties of the opposition — is their hold on power.

Carlos Anton noted in an August 29 Argenpress report, “the confrontation within the constituent assembly has pushed aside the out-of-date Bolivia that was ruled by the oligarchies and remained on its knees in front of imperialism; at the same time the other, ancestral, and new Bolivia is beginning to rise up, one which could be revolutionary if it dares to go to the finish line”.

Since mid-2004, following the referendum on the question of gas, Bolivia’s elites have been stoking the flames of “autonomy” for the eastern states, to pressure the national government and mobilise their support base against Bolivia’s popular movements.

Santa Cruz is less indigenous and more wealthy than the Andean west. Racism and fears of “indigenous revenge” have been whipped up to justify calls for autonomy, which would give the state governments greater control over natural resources — including 80% of Bolivia’s gas.

Bolivia’s social polarisation has occurred along class, ethnic and regional lines: the strong indigenous, workers’ and campesino movements dominate in the west and centre, while the elite maintain a social base amongst the white middle classes of the east.

This was reflected in the 2005 elections. The bulk of Morales’s 54% vote was from the west — particularly areas like the militant city of El Alto, where it was over 80%, and the coca-growing regions of the Chapare — while the opposition won six of the nine prefect positions, predominantly in the east and south of the country.

During the constituent assembly election, a referendum was held on whether the assembly should deal with regional autonomy. The “no” vote won with 55% of the vote, but in the four eastern states the “yes” vote got a majority. However, this time MAS came first in six of the nine departments, including Santa Cruz.

In a September 7 Mercosur Press Agency article, Victor Ego Ducrot reported that a plan to destabilise the government through an “autonomy” push was put in place following the May 1 nationalisation of Bolivia’s gas.

“The general coordination is in the hands of shady functionaries in the US embassies in Bolivia and Argentina. The visible face is the leadership of the politico-business organization civic committee of Santa Cruz, lead by German Antelo. The petroleum companies, Petrobras and Repsol, are supplying a large part of the funds being utilised by these coup plotters.”

Nationalisation was a central plank of Morales’s election campaign and a key demand that led Bolivia’s powerful social movements to topple one government after another and bring Morales to power. The nationalisation has over 80% approval among Bolivians.

The nationalisation was quickly followed by Morales’s push for an “agrarian revolution” in order to redistribute land to those indigenous peoples without any. At the same time, Bolivia has deepened its relationship with Venezuela and Cuba.

All these moves have seen reactions by the opposition, which has called for armed “self defence groups” to be formed to defend property, campaigned against the presence of Cuban doctors and “intervention” by Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez, and attempted to revoke the nationalisation decree.

Some have criticised Morales for not going “far enough” in these steps forward, but it is clear that these are more than just cosmetic changes and they have the elites worried.

The talk of dividing the country has grown in the corporate media, with Camba Nation, representing the more reactionary elements of the opposition, rearing its head. Camba Nation talks of Santa Cruz as “a nation without a state” and has demanded independence within the framework of a “free association with Bolivia”.

Daniel Castro, spokesperson for the civic committee, said, “if the national government violates the constitution and a scenario is created where they stand above the law, then we could decide to separate”.

Responding to the situation, Bolivia’s social movements, from east to west, have rejected the “strike”. The Chaco region, which is predominately indigenous and located in the east, right on top of the two biggest gas fields, declared it would not be part of the strike. Leaders from the MAS-aligned campesino federation CSUTCB signalled that they would not be responsible for the eventual response from their members against the opposition.

General secretary of the Federation of Campesinos of Los Yungas (COFECAY) Fabio Perez went further, declaring that “history has demonstrated to us that sometimes arms are needed”.

At a September 4 emergency meeting COFECAY decided to defend the constituent assembly by mobilising to Sucre. In response, Alex Contreras, spokesperson for the presidential palace, said: “This type of threat no matter were it comes from, be it from our comrade coca growers and militants of MAS, has no veracity and, even less so, the support of the government.” He called for there to be no mobilisations from either side in order to avoid major conflicts.

Lino Villca, a MAS senator from La Paz, stated at a press conference with COFECAY that he supported the Los Yungas cocaleros.

Vice-president Alvaro Garcia Linera declared, “What is necessary in this definitive battle is mobilisations. We came to government through mobilisation and we will govern with mobilisations.”

The September 6 edition of El Diario quoted Morales calling for “the people to defend democracy and fundamentally the unity, national territorial integrity. We are calling on the Armed Forces to defend the sovereignty and the national territory ... we hope that the people can respond to this level.”

From Green Left Weekly, September 13, 2006.

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