Seismic changes occurring in Bolivia

Rick Kearns

It will be a new government for an ancient people.

For the first time in 500 years, indigenous people in Bolivia are facing the very real possibility of regaining significant control over their territories. It also marks the first time that the ruling elites of the country are confronting a very real loss of power, and they are pulling out all the stops to prevent implementation of the new plans.

But despite increasingly vehement threats from the opposition, the vision of President Evo Morales and his allies for a plurinational state took a big step forward in June. Even with the various maneuvers taken to paralyze the Constituent Assembly, this plan has the needed backing; and short of a severe escalation of violence - which was addressed in late June by the army when it promised to protect the Morales administration - it could easily happen within the next year.

Morales, and his movement, proposes a new governmental arrangement, a type of republic but with approximately 36 indigenous autonomous regions in some control of their natural resources and having to pay taxes and follow federal laws among other things.

The announcement of the plan came in the first week of June, right after the Movement toward Socialism (MAS) Party - Morales' allies - won the vote to put forward its Vision for the Country in the Constituent Assembly, soundly defeating the proposals from Podemos, the largest of the big business parties in the country. Coverage of this major initiative has been restricted to Bolivia - with varying degrees of detail and spin - and mentions in leftist press elsewhere in Latin America. (To date, mainstream American publications have not made any effort to describe the plan.) To understand what Bolivia can become, it is necessary to know about this vision statement.

The second article of the MAS Vision also could serve as a preamble: ''Given the pre-colonial existence of the indigenous peoples and originario nations and their ancestral dominion over their territories, this constitution guarantees their self-determination which is expressed in the will to conform, and being part of, a united, plurinational, communitarian state, and in the right to self-government, their culture and reconstitution of their territorial entities within the framework of the constitution.''

Further sections of the proposal provide outlines of the logistics on how they will define the regions and, to a certain degree, how much autonomy they will enjoy.

''[The autonomous regions] are constituted on the basis of the ancestral territories of indigenous peoples, originario nations and campesinos, that have geographical continuity or discontinuity, or parting from the geographical spaces occupied by them ... The decision of transforming an existing territorial entity into an indigenous, originario, campesino territorial entity is made via the procedures and mechanisms of direct consultation according to the constitution and the law ... The indigenous, originario, campesino autonomous territorial entities, by their own will and in conforming with the procedures established by the law can organize themselves into: a) indigenous, originario territories that correspond to a local collective that inhabits ancestral territories, with a cultural identity, government and their own competencies; b) municipalities and: c) regions ... [The entities can] designate government authorities in accordance with their own norms and procedures and define norms and forms of management, administration and control over their territory and budget.''

Although the indigenous and mestizo majority live mostly in the west and center of the country, more than a few indigenous communities live in the more prosperous eastern part of Bolivia, home also to the very rich and increasingly desperate opposition. To put it mildly, the elites are not happy about giving up any control of their prefectures, just as they have fought against the already implemented nationalization of gas profits.

Opposition leaders have led recent violent protests and attacks. Hundreds of right-wing university students marched to Sucre in hopes of disrupting the meeting of the Constituent Assembly. They were met by a much larger group of indigenous and campesino activists who halted their march. Morales helped diffuse the situation by guaranteeing that universities and academia would retain their autonomies in the new plan, as opposed to what the students had been told by agitators. The student marches pale however in comparison with the threat that came to light June 20.

''There are groups who have proclaimed publicly an armed insurrection, division or independence, and they put the integrity of the country in danger,'' said Gen. Wilfredo Vargas, head of the Armed Forces of Bolivia in a radio interview. ''The Armed Forces will not allow that situation.''

''The civic movements,'' he continued, ''if they stay in the democratic path, they can help to reason, to think about and listen to the clamor of the public, but if the civic movements have other ends in mind, of satisfying the ambitions of groups of persons, that requires another treatment,'' the general warned.

And it isn't just the military that is ready to fight. In the confrontation at the Constituent Assembly, indigenous leader Justino Leano put it more bluntly: ''... we are going to defend the indigenous autonomies until the last consequence, because it is our right.''

Western historians are going to remember this season in the year 2007 but Aymaran and Quechuan scholars will recall it as happening in the year 5155. It remains to be seen how these two traditions will develop in the new, ancient Bolivia.

Rick Kearns is a freelance writer of Boricua heritage who focuses on indigenous issues in Latin America.


Reprinted from Indian Country Today

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting developments.. Can I suggest ... fairness and equitability... that each entity or territory enjoy considerable autonomy except in matters affecting other territories or the nation as a whole