Cochabamba: Prefect Resists 'No' Vote

Gonzalo Villanueva, Cochabamba, Bolivia.

In Bolivia, the president, Evo Morales Ayma, and the denominated 'half-moon', regional opposition - Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, and Tarija - were ratified in the August 10 referendum. In Cochabamba, the mandate of the prefect (state-governor), Manfred Reyes Villa, an ally of the 'half-moon' prefects, was rescinded by a popular vote of 61%. However, Manfred is resisting stepping down, questioning the legality of the law, and claiming it is unconstitutional.

On a warm Sunday evening, the night of the referendum, once the results were being announced, and the travel restrictions were being eased, a multitude of people began gathering outside the prefecture in Cochabamba. Some people were chanting “Evo, Yes! Manfred, No!” Amongst the throng of people, someone exclaimed: “Manfred, let go of the baby's bottle!” People had come to witness a historic moment.

Manfred had summoned a press conference in a hotel far away from the hoard. Manfred pronounced that he did not recognise this electoral defeat, saying that he would be at work on Monday. He stated: “I am still the prefect of Cochabamba and I want to see how the president Evo Morales, in a rollback of democracy, will pick out another prefect”.

At Plaza Busch, where the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) have their headquarters, a celebration was underway. Julio Salazar, the director of MAS for Cochabamba, proclaimed the triumph of Evo, the government and the people. “For the first time in history the people of Bolivia have taken the decision to revoke or ratify the authorities… it is a great advancement that the people are starting to take decisions…to recuperate power”, said Salazar.

On Monday morning, arriving earlier than usual, Manfred Reyes Villa was seated in the prefecture. During the morning's press conference, Manfred stated: “I had manifested from the beginning that I would not submit myself to this referendum. I have not campaigned, nor have I cast my vote, because this is an unconstitutional process”. Manfred plans to continue his “legal battle” concerning the constitutionality of the referendum.

In an interview with Julio Salazar he explained: “At this moment, Manfred Reyes Villa is legally and legitimately revoked. In democracy the people and the laws are respected… It is not necessary to ask for his opinion. Now he is the ex-prefect.”

In regards to the reluctant prefect and the referendum, Salazar clarified that it is the function of the institutions to ensure the laws are complied with. “It does not worry us. We are not going to enter into a fight to take [the prefecture] or intervene…for that the people have taken the decisions [to revoke the prefect]”, he added.

Evo Morales was ratified by 63%. In December 2005 he was elected by 53.74%, a historic vote. In the opposition, eastern 'half-moon' departments the vote for Morales varied between 40-45%, where as in the west, a bastion of support for MAS, the government received between 70-80%.

“For us this is a triumph, [both] ideological and political…because at the end the people have arisen, the poor have arisen…it has been a political triumph because the vote for the president has increased in the eight departments”, stated Salazar.

Furthermore: “the [half-moon prefects] have won as authorities, but [it should be recognised] that 40-45% [of the department] do not agree with those prefects. Meanwhile, the president has support on a national level”.

Manfred, however, views things from a different perspective: “Today, Evo Morales is not the president of the entire country…as of yesterday the country has continued to fracture. All of the east [half-moon] voted no to the president. They have said 'if the 'no' vote wins here, he [Morales] will only enter as a citizen, not as president'”.

Manfred considers Morales as a “pseudo-indigenous”, a former “coca cruncher”, one who “dresses up as an indigenous” to dupe people, and is a “new millionaire”. His derisive comments are not only a reaction to a former cocalero (coca worker) come president who has triumphed at his expense, but are perhaps the last gases escaping from a political corpse. Aware of his unpopularity Manfred was always adamant about a referendum, the 'half-moon' prefects long ago decided to abandon him and accept the decision for a plebiscite. On Sunday, there was no doubt in the election results: the people have decided to bury him.

For Julio Salazar, and MAS, “if there was a general election, I know that our president would win with 70% at a national level. The parliament, I am sure, [would] consolidate: senators, congressmen [would be] consolidated… an absolute majority to continue perpetuating this process of change”.

Gonzalo Villanueva is a correspondant for the Australian socialist monthly magazine, Direct Action

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