Friday, September 07, 2007

BOLIVIA: @ A Boiling Point

LA PAZ, Aug 29 (DigitalWarriorMedia) - In a move that has further polarized the country, opponents of President Evo Morales, called a 24-hour business strike in six of Bolivia’s nine departments.

The strike led to clashes that left three people injured and according to the government, $28 million in economic losses.

Organized by conservative opposition parties, the strike was a response to calls from civic leaders, the business community and local authorities in the eastern department of Santa Cruz, as well as the departments of Beni, Chuquisaca, Cochabamba, Pando and Tarija.

The origins of the strike lay in the vast political differences between its organizers and the Morales administration over three major issues: the Constitutional Court, the Constituent Assembly and regional autonomy.

The first involves charges brought by Morales against four members of the Constitutional Court, who he accused of obstruction of justice and overstepping their authority after they dismissed from the Supreme Court four interim magistrates who the president had appointed in late 2006.

The second was the decision by the governing party majority in the Constituent Assembly, which is rewriting the constitution, not to consider the opposition’s demand for the relocation of the seats of the executive and legislative branches from La Paz to the much smaller Sucre, where the country’s courts are located. This move has drawn the ire of residents in Chuquisaca department.

And the third was the opposition’s call for regional autonomy for eastern provinces. The departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, and Tarija have sought greater autonomy from the central government in La Paz, since a nation-wide regional autonomy referendum was held in August 2006. These departments hold the majority of Bolivia's resource wealth and regional governors have formed a quasi-collective, sometimes referred to as the "Media Luna" or Half-Moon Crescent, to counter the national influence of Morales supporters.

The departments that were not affected by the strike were La Paz, Oruro and Potosí in the west.


Violence Erupts

Two people were injured in the central city of Santa Cruz, one of whom was hit by a vehicle driven by members of the opposition Unión Juvenil Cruceñista party - a group that has been accused by Morales supporters of inciting violence and using paramilitary tactics.

The attacks occurred in the Mercado del Abasto where youths armed with sticks, shattered shop windows and destroyed furniture and other objects belonging to the vendors, most of whom are poor indigenous people who support Morales. The police intervened to prevent further clashes.

In the central city of Cochabamba, government supporters cleared streets blocked by pro-business civic committees, and a member of the anti-riot police was injured in incidents that broke out.

John Vargas, a former deputy minister of planning and the main architect of the government’s national development plan, told IPS that "the economic elites are afraid of losing their privileged access to political power and the advantages offered by control of the state."

He said the Morales adminstration is promoting a development model that is transforming the country by breaking with an old model based on commodity exports and a state apparatus that is directed by elites who have had a tight grip on power since colonization.

The new economic model, which is focused on the diversification of production and on expanding the participation and influence of other segments of society, especially the country’s long-marginalised indigenous people, has reduced the power of the regional elites, said Vargas.

Vargas claimed that Tuesday’s strike was aimed at defending the elite’s privileged access to the country’s natural gas and other resources, as well as government loans. He said the strategy of confrontation that the business communities and civic committees of Santa Cruz have followed over the last few months is losing steam while the government is being strengthened by the support of a broad range of social movements and sectors.

The Morales government and its supporters attempted for peacefully reforms adopted by the Constituent Assembly, however it failed to reach solutions to key unresolved issues, and now the political and social forces are taking to the streets, political analyst María Teresa Zegada told IPS. She described the situation as "disturbing."

"The questions of the transfer to Sucre, regional autonomy, and a multinational state" that would recognise different ethnic groups, as demanded by indigenous communities, "should have been resolved by the Constituent Assembly," said Zegada.

After the Constituent Assembly, decided not to debate the relocation of the executive and legislative branches to Sucre, work on the new constitution came to a halt on August 23rd.

"The leaders should find a solution to the collapse of the assembly. There is still time to avoid a scenario of outright confrontation, and to stand by and strengthen our institutions," she said.

The Morales administration is trying to engage civic leaders in Sucre in talks, and has offered to relocate some legislative committees to the city.

The government is prepared to negotiate a solution to the crisis triggered by the demand to transfer the capital to Sucre, and wants to salvage the Constituent Assembly, which failed to produce a draft constitution by the deadline of August 6. It's new deadline has been set for December 14th of this year.

Vice President Álvaro García Linera has called for a march by government supporters in Sucre on Sept. 10, to make sure the Constituent Assembly is allowed to continue working.

Edited from IPS Original Source

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