Morales' boost

Bolivia has voted decisively for its president's socialist programme, but a shadow of reactionary opposition in the would-be separatist eastern regions remains

Richard Gott, August 11

The spectacular victory of Evo Morales in Sunday's re-call referendum in Bolivia suggests that the president will now move at full steam to secure his political programme, including the ratification of a new constitution and the nationalisation of key industries.

Securing more than 60% of the popular vote, a significant mid-term advance on the 53% that he won in the presidential elections of December 2005, Morales is well set to challenge the ultra right-wing opposition entrenched in the country's eastern provinces. One of his most robust critics, Ruben Costas, the prefect of Santa Cruz, was also re-elected, but another hardliner (and would-be presidential candidate), Manfred Reyes Villa, prefect of Cochabamba, lost his post. Although most of the other opposition prefects will remain (in the provinces of Taríja, Beni and Pando), leaving the country divided, as before, between east and west and between white settlers and Indians, Morales' gamble in holding the re-call referendum appears to have paid off. He has reinforced his democratic credentials and can claim a popular mandate for his revolutionary socialist reforms.

The opposition groups, some of them overtly fascist and white-racist in their ideology, will have some difficulty in pursuing their aim of autonomy for their eastern provinces, the geographic location of the country's wealth-creating oil and gas industries.

Unlike other would-be separatist regions of the world (South Ossetia to name but one topical example), the separatist provinces of Santa Cruz, Beni, and Taríja have no friendly regime across the frontier. The neighbouring states of Brazil and Argentina, ruled by President Lula and President Fernández de Kirchner, are firm allies of Morales in the economic grouping known as Mercosur (and they will be joined after his inauguration on Friday by President Fernando Lugo, the radical former bishop, in Paraguay, another of Bolivia's eastern neighbours). Their support, plus that of President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who, from a distance, already provides Morales with advisers and financial assistance, ensures that there will be little outside backing for the separatists, apart from the verbal encouragement that will come from the United States.

Yet the threat of disaffection and subversion still remains, one that affects not just Bolivia but the other countries in Latin America that are experiencing the current great historic rebellion of the indigenous peoples against white settler rule. The white settlers have been in power for so long, and have been so accustomed to their political and cultural domination, that, although a minority, they will not abandon the scene without a struggle. The Indians, too, tasting power for the first time in 500 years, have shown at the ballot box that they recognise the historic opportunity available to them.

Republished from The Guardian

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