Garcia Linera: radical reforms are irreversible “with or without the Assembly”

This is the Right’s last chance for an agreement. He says that with or without the Constituent Assembly, there is no stopping radical changes to alter the country’s structures. The Assembly is withstanding the siege by the conservative, violent forces who are even prepared to promote a coup d’état.

La Paz/OPINIÓN — Vice-president Álvaro García, the host of the political summit beginning today in La Paz in an effort to find formulas that will allow the Constituent Assembly to resume its proceedings, has warned that this is the last chance the Right has to negotiate with the Government, because the radical reforms are irreversible “with or without the Assembly”.

These are the opinions of Vice-president García Linera, in an exclusive interview for OPINIÓN published on September 19.

OPINIÓN (O): Is the Constituent Assembly in danger?

Álvaro García Linera (AGL): The country’s Constituent Assembly has consistently been under attack from conservative forces who do not accept change and hope to maintain their privileges, conquered through decades of force and corruption.

For two years now they have been striving, and I expect in the months to come they will continue to make every effort to obstruct the Constituent Assembly, to attack it, to forestall its advance. So we can say that the Constituent Assembly has always been endangered, but there are honorable social forces in the country that can rise above these setbacks and manage to implement, in its major features, the structural transformation of our homeland.

O: What are the expectations for the meeting that begins today?

AGL: This initiative in bringing together the members of the Constituent Assembly, two or three members and one political leader per party, started with the work we have been doing in the National Congress, where we have made major advances to get closer to the opposition forces and work with the democratic opposition, while isolating the intransigent, radical and violent opposition that is unwilling to engage in any negotiations.

This initiative of the four forces that have a presence in the Congress has aroused great enthusiasm among other forces in the Constituent Assembly and we are adjourning for two days so that 16 political forces represented in the Constituent can attend in order to establish a procedure of a technical and political nature with the perspective of reaching a consensus, and achieving agreements and accords to make the Assembly viable.

O: What are the key items for the success of the Assembly?

AGL: At the bottom of everything is land, wealth, natural resources. The issue of the two-thirds majority last year, which blocked the Constituent Assembly for seven months, or the issue of the location of the capital, which has generated tensions in the city of Sucre, are secondary in comparison with the central issue.

The real issue that is fixating the country’s conservative elites is the issue of ownership of the land, the issue of the ownership of the forests, of the water, of the mineral and hydrocarbon resources.

The capital’s location is an issue of public interest, but it has been overblown nationally, while the issue of land ownership has been obscured. There are sectors who do not accept the elimination of unproductive latifundias, who do not accept that the State should recover lands wrongly acquired through the patronage and political corruption of recent decades.

This is the basic question that separates the Government and a democratic opposition from an intransigent radical opposition that is prepared, moreover, to use violence to defend its privileges. This is the substantive issue and this Wednesday we are going to put the cards on the table, put aside the secondary issues and propose to the Constituent Assembly members that we discuss the substantive issues and look for solutions and points of consensus.

Where no consensus is possible, we will proceed to a referendum and it will be the sovereign people who will decide the matter with their vote.

O: Could the re-election of the president be another controversial issue?

AGL: It is possible that some differences will arise over that issue. If so, there is no problem, it will be the sovereign authority, the people, voting in the referendum, who will say whether they agree with repeal or re-election of the leaders.

Our proposal is to sit down at the table and if there is no agreement proceed to a referendum because, with the law we have approved in the Congress, all the issues that do not obtain the two-thirds majority will go to a referendum in which the people will decide with their vote.

If the issue of ratification of the term of office or repeal does not get a consensus among the Constituent Assembly members, it will be the people who decide with their democratic vote which opinion is to be applied on this issue.

O: Is there a possibility that we will get a comprehensive national agreement?

AGL: I would prefer to be more cautious, let us say there is a political or technical meeting that is seeking to bring the parties closer together, to conduct an examination of the majority and minority proposals in democratic terms, while isolating the violent sectors of the conservative Right. If that strategy is productive, then we can expect any number of results, including a comprehensive agreement.

But we are not fostering too many expectations, because there are still forces that want to destroy the Constituent Assembly, and who still have the force, the media, the resources, so it is better to be cautious, to get the discussions going, and if we get some results we can put the corresponding number on it.

O: What is the significance of the outcome of the Constituent Assembly?

AGL: The Constituent Assembly has been a major popular demand of the most excluded sectors in Bolivia, the majority, for more than 15 years as a way to resolve democratically the differences and disagreements that have divided Bolivians for more than 200 years.

It was a lucid launch for the democratic process to try to bring the distinct sectors together around a new Magna Carta. This democratic proposal has run into the pitfalls that we have encountered and the setbacks in the Constituent Assembly have helped to highlight the just demands of the people and the politically and historically selfish — I would say miserable — attitude on the part of the old ruling elites who are unwilling to yield their ill-gotten privileges and to recognize the rights of the large majorities.

Moreover, it has highlighted the distinct agendas for the country that are at issue: a democratic, plural country with recognition of differences, with a sound and sovereign economy, and a privatizing, foreign-dominated agenda of subordination to outside powers and destruction of the labour force.

Thirdly, notwithstanding the conflicts, I remain quite optimistic. It is not a Constituent Assembly that is drawing up a text among five or ten people in a room. It is a popular plebeian way to bring us together, work through our disputes and reach agreements. It is a positive thing that trade-unionists, peasant leaders, productive sectors, including business people, are deliberating, because we are building in spite of the obstacles the possibility for a Constituent Assembly that is produced collectively, and not by a consulting firm or by four leaders.

I am still hopeful that the Constituent will go ahead, involving all the forces. However, come what may in the Assembly, no one ought to have the least doubt that the processes of change will continue.

Better with the Constituent, where we can reach agreement in the new constitutional document. If the Right wastes this opportunity that we are giving it as the government, as civil society, as social movements, the processes of change, in its radical content of equality and distribution of wealth, will continue. And it will be the Right that will have to come to us asking for agreements and dialogue.

There is a democratic Right with which we are talking, but there is also an undemocratic, subversive and coup-oriented Right. That Right, in its intransigence, is losing the opportunity of getting a hearing for its interests. And if they obstruct the Constituent Assembly the processes of change will continue in spite of that Right, and the distribution of wealth, the recognition of our rights through democratic channels will be steadily strengthened in our country.

Translated from Opinion by Richard Fidler

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