Venezuela Pledges Strengthened Alliance with Bolivia Following Morales Referendum Victory

James Suggett, August 11th

Mérida, August 11, 2008 ( The Venezuelan government congratulated Bolivian President Evo Morales for a successful national referendum Sunday in which Morales’s presidency was ratified by a record 63.1% of the vote. As a show of support, Venezuela, a close ally of the Morales administration, pledged to finance, along with Iran, a cement construction company to help the Bolivian government build housing and economic infrastructure.

“The President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez Frías, together with the Venezuelan people, celebrates the victory achieved by the valiant Bolivian people today,” declared the Venezuelan Foreign Relations Ministry in a statement Sunday.

President Morales and Bolivia’s state governors were submitted to a referendum on their terms in office Sunday. The referendum was a compromise between the government and a separatist movement in Bolivia's wealthiest, most natural resource-rich eastern provinces to establish once and for all whether the federal government, national constitution, and regional leaders are legitimate.

Morales, Bolivia’s first ever indigenous president who was elected in 2005 with 53.7% of the vote, received more than 63% of the vote in his favor Sunday. He received overwhelming support in the western highlands where the indigenous majority of Bolivia is concentrated.

The rural populations in the separatist eastern provinces also voted overwhelmingly for Morales. In the Santa Cruz province, for example, Morales received 33.8% of the vote in the province’s capital, while in the rural areas of that province he received 58.3%.

Morales told a crowd of supporters Sunday that the ratification of his term “consolidated the process of change,” and said his government would “continue recovering natural resources and the consolidation of nationalization.”

The mandates of the separatist governors of Bolivia’s four eastern provinces, Santa Cruz, Tarija, Pando and Beni, were also ratified Sunday. In the rest of the country, three governors were recalled; two of them opponents of the Morales administration, and a Morales ally was ratified.

The governor of Santa Cruz called his ratification “the people's mandate” and told a crowd of mostly non-indigenous supporters that the autonomy movement would now move forward against the “dictatorship” of President Morales. Opposition governor Manfred Reyes, who was ousted by the people of Cochabamba province Sunday, refused to step down.

President Chávez, whose presidential term was ratified by popular vote in an opposition-initiated recall referendum in 2004, contacted President Morales personally Sunday to express the “firm intention of the Bolivarian Government to continue accompanying the democratic and cultural revolution advanced by our brotherly people of Bolivia.”

Venezuela and Iran agreed Saturday to grant Bolivia $225 million to create a state-run cement enterprise, according to Bolivia’s vice minister of medium and large businesses, Eduardo Peinado.

“The plant will have the capacity to produce 700 tons of cement per year, and this will be destined principally for the construction of roads and houses for Bolivians,” said Peinado. He added that in Bolivia there are several private cement companies that are controlled by the elite opposition to the government, which seeks to sequester strategic resources in order to destabilize the country.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro assured that Morales's victory would help strengthen the economic cooperation between Bolivia and Venezuela in the context of the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA), a fair trade bloc in which Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Dominica participate as an alternative to the free trade agreements pushed by the United States.

“The empire seems to not understand the processes of change that are going on in Latin America, especially South America, which are aimed at a profound transformation away from the economic model toward the social model,” declared Maduro Monday after celebrating the referendum results he deemed to be “a ratification of the democratic, peaceful path.”

The Chávez administration faces a separatist movement in Venezuela’s principal oil-producing state of Zulia, whose governor, Manuel Rosales, was the opposition candidate who Chávez defeated in the 2006 presidential election. According to pro-Chavez Zulia state legislators, separatist leaders have met with the leaders of separatist movements in both Bolivia and Ecuador with consultation from the United States.

In a press conference on Monday, President Chávez called the Morales victory a “victory of our America, a victory against imperialism.”

Republished from Venezuela Analysis

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