Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bolivia & Issues Within Representative Democracy

SUCRE, BOLIVIA (digitalwarriormedia) On Monday, thousands of government supporters marched to demand the return of the Constituent Assembly. Peasant farmers, coca growers and other MAS supporters peacefully rallied in a soccer stadium for the "Social Summit in Defense of the Constitutional Assembly”. They avoided Sucre's downtown area, preventing potential clashes with anti-government protesters.

The pro-MAS social movements passed a resolution and fifteen social organizations issued a “Manifesto to the Bolivian People” calling on all sectors to defend 18 strategic points in the new Political Constitution of the State. The manifesto addressed corruption, land reform, natural resources, establishment of a plurinational state, and autonomy - among other issues.

Organizers said supporters of the Assembly will camp out in Sucre until the lawmaking body is able to complete its work and have vowed to defend the process of the Constituent Assembly – even with their lives.

As of Friday, the Assembly was suspended for a month with delegates fearing for their physical safety after demands for Sucre to become Bolivia’s sole capital erupted into violence over the past few weeks.

Ongoing protests by university students and other opposition members resulted in clashes with police over the rewriting of Bolivia’s constitution, as government opponents waged street battles with police in the streets of Sucre.

Located in the Chuquisaca department, the violence in Sucre prompted the September 4 resignation of Governor David Sanchez - a MAS member who stated he did not want to be held responsible for the erupting violence.

Days of violent conflict left more than 60 people injured after students attempted to break into the historic theater building where Assembly delegates were meeting on September 5.

Eyewitness accounts recall black smoke and teargas filling as protesters burned tires and marched through the streets, increasingly with batons and sticks in their hands, crying "democracy yes, dictatorship no".

"I call on all our brothers and sisters, in all of civil society, in the country and the city, to reflect in order to find a solution. We constitutional delegates do not want to be victims of the capital issue," stated Constitutional Assembly president Silvia Lazarte as she announced the month-long suspension.

The capital issue revolves around a dispute that has simmered since the country's civil war in 1898, when the nation’s legislative and executive branches of government were moved from the southern city of Sucre to the highlands in La Paz.

In 1899, La Paz was designated the nation’s “administrative capital”. Sucre remained Bolivia’s “judicial capital” - home to the judicial branch of its government including the nation’s highest court.

Since August 2006, Sucre has also hosted the nation’s Constituent Assembly – the body responsible for re-writing Bolivia’s constitution.

Over the past year, the constitutional debates remained precarious. Previously, the Assembly stalled for four months over voting procedures as MAS supporters and opposition parties failed to reach agreement.

The conflict over the capital represents the greatest challenge to the Constituent Assembly to date. The “capital issue” has stirred violent emotions in the streets and within the Assembly itself - where on August 23, delegates broke out into fisticuffs during deliberations over including the capital issue on its agenda. As a result, the Assembly was temporarily suspended.

After missing its August 2007 deadline, the Assembly has until December 14 to present a draft of the new constitution for a national vote. The proposed body of law must be approved by two-thirds of the 255 lawmakers, and then ratified in a nationwide referendum.

President Morales expressed concern that this capital debate could derail the entire process. He asserts that Sucre’s infrastructure can not support all three branches of the nation’s government, but has expressed a willingness to move certain departments in an attempt to reach a compromise.

Government supporters claim wealthy landowners and the rightist opposition - clandestinely funded by U.S. interests - are behind the Sucre movement and are using it to block the work of the Assembly.

Morales supporters have accused the U.S. of channeling funds to Bolivian opposition groups in an effort to try to destabilize the country. A charge publicly leveled last weekend by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, who accused the U.S. government of subverting the constitutional process by funding opposition groups in Sucre. Washington has denied the charges.

For the nation’s historically marginalized indigenous population, the Constituent Assembly represents an opportunity to eliminate discrimination and promises of a better future. But the opposition says Morales' drive to rewrite the constitution is aimed at weakening his opponents and winning more time in office.



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