With significant financial aid and advice from the American embassy, the right and the wealthy it protected developed a strategy to recover their influence. This strategy is similar to that used in
The government of Evo Morales has three important advantages. First, most of the population, in all the departments, want an important change toward greater equality. The new constitution will initiate some of this change. Second, the social movements are strong and mobilized. Third, Morales holds all the resources of the Bolivian state including a network of state television and radio stations and has a strong political movement in his political party MAS.
However the right also has advantages. It controls almost all the radio and TV stations and the written press both nationally and in each department. The elected prefects, who administer the departments (similar to provinces), in
It is important to examine the American aid. Eva Golinger, an American researcher claims that the
However not all grants are intended for the opposition. Unemployed youth in El Alto were the main figures in the revolt against president Gonzalo de Sánchez. USAID subsequently provided funding for a leadership program which worked to separate young leaders in El Alto from the unions and other social movements and to then integrate them into the civil service. The result was to demobilize what had been a significant social movement. At about the same time the NED recruited young right wing university students and sent them for training in the
The strategy of the right wing is the following:
1. First they used all the possibilities to slow down any movement to a new constitution. Therefore they were content to negotiate with the government for 9 months over the process to create the new constitution. Did it need a two thirds vote which would have given the right wing a veto or did it just require a majority vote. This gave them time to develop a strategy that would increase its influence.
2. Once the constitutional process began, the right wing media ignored the content of the new constitution and instead focused on criticizing the process. The media constantly stated that the process was corrupt and that it would be antidemocratic to hold the referendum. However they deliberately provided no information about the text of the new constitution which would have been very popular.
3. There was a deliberate strategy to divide the population. The media suggested frequently that only natives gained from the changes in the new constitution. There was nothing, they said, for workers, union members, for street workers or the middle class. Again this was said with no analysis of the new clauses in the text of the constitution.
4. The right worked to create a movement for autonomy in the departments where they controlled the Prefect and where they had a significant influence. In order to do this they worked to increase resentment in the population regarding previous central governments which had failed in the past to resolve local problems. For example in
5. As the traditional political parties of the right had become discredited through many years of inaction on social issues, the right created Civic Committees in each department where their influence was strong. These committees were not elected but set up by the local elite and promoted by their newspapers. Where the right controlled the prefect, the prefects supported the formation of the committee and worked with the committee. The Civic Committees then united to form the Democratic Assembly (Junta) of
7. The right created a violent racist student movement with students from the elite universities and high schools. This is similar to the right wing student movement in
The right wing student movement in
8. The right built a campaign to deform the proposed new constitution. In
This is similar to the strategy used in
9. The right has used its control of the media to try to discredit the National Election Organization (The Corte Nacional Electoral CNE). This helps the movement for autonomy to claim that their referendum is legal despite the ruling of the CNE.
The May 4 Referendum on autonomy in
On May 4
What is going to happen? The national government has taken no action to prevent the referendum. Instead it has allocated more police to ensure that there is no confrontation. It fears a Kosovo type of outcome. They believe that the
It is clear that
Undoubtedly there will be massive lineups in the areas where they have support. The department election organizers will ensure that there are a limited number of polling stations in these areas and that voting takes a long time. A significant number will not take part in the vote, especially in the country and among the social movements, despite the fear generated by the repression of pro-autonomy mobs. Abstentions will be discounted by the national press and television which have been cheerleading for the autonomy movement. What we will see on our televisions will be the long lineups and commentary by American journalists impressed by these lines.
What about the national referendum on the proposed new constitution which had also been scheduled for May 4? The CNE ruled that there was not enough time to organize the national referendum in two months. As a result the national government postponed the referendum and called for negotiations. However there is not much to negotiate.
What will the Evo Morales national government do? It is clear that once there is a break with the national government, Morales will have to assert his authority. Otherwise with time the federation of the dissident departments will develop defacto recognition. However until there is open defiance there is no justification for radical action by the national government. After all the national government has claimed that the referendum is just a public opinion poll.
How can Morales exert his authority? A first step will be to hold the national referendum on the proposed new constitution. This will give him further moral authority for his action. Moreover it will precipitate a resolution to the conflict. Delay plays into the hands of the autonomy movement.
In the long run there may be no alternative to the eventual use of military force. However, a military invasion would be used by the autonomy movement to claim international protection from massive bloodshed. The
An alternative for the national government would be to mobilize the social movements throughout the country to march on
The military option raises the question of the response of the Bolivian army. Will it remain loyal to the national government? Its commander-in-chief has declared the army’s loyalty. However does he speak for all the officer corps. Often in the past the army has served as the military arm of the oligarchy. They have intervened to repress popular mobilization. Moreover in other situations of potential civil war, the army has split. In such a case it is unclear what would happen.
However, if Morales rejects the military option and negotiates a deal acceptable to the oligarchy which is ultimately behind the autonomy movement, it is unlikely that Morales will survive as President. The indigenous population in the area of LaPaz has overthrown other governments and would be unlikely to accept a shelving of the first effort to deal with hundreds of years of racism and inequality. So Evo Morales and his government are between a rock and a hard place.
As you can see the situation in
This is an important time for international solidarity. We must not let our newspapers spread lies about the autonomy movements in
Fred Jones is part of the North-South Program at