Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Constitution Brings Demonstrations of Unity and Division

LA PAZ (digitalwarriormedia) Thousands of Bolivians filled the Plaza Murillo in the capital city of La Paz on Saturday, celebrating the arrival of a new constitution. Constituent Assembly President Silvia Lazarte spoke for an hour as she placed the document in the hands of President Evo Morales.

Supporters representing social organizations and the 36 indigenous peoples of Bolivia marched around the square for hours as the military guard looked on.

Surrounding the governmental palace, the enthusiastic crowd was filled with young people, the elderly and families, all representing the vast variety of ethnic groups and social classes that make up Bolivian society.

President Morales called the Constituent Assembly delegates heroes and said the new constitution is considered the “best Christmas gift for all Bolivians”. He assured that the document will soon be submitted to popular referendum.

Two referendums must be put to popular vote next year. One referendum will address
Article 398 - determining the amount of land to be held in private hands - and another will determine whether the Bolivian public accepts or rejects the new constitution.

While acknowledging that the new constitution does allow for regional and departmental autonomy as well as that of indigenous groups, President Morales stated that autonomy does not include political territorial divisions. He denounced any attempts to divide the country and stated such actions would not be permitted.

While addressing the rally at Plaza Murillo, Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera announced that the Bolivian government is still fighting for unity and that nine million Bolivians would defeat the oligarchic groups that plotted to tear the country apart.

The Vice President noted that opportunities were sought to meet with the opposition but they refused to participate with ideas that would improve the new constitution. He called on the Bolivian people to defend the nation's integrity against attitudes of hate, violence and racism.

Meanwhile, as government officials announced their support for the months of work produced by the Constituent Assembly, a large demonstration was held in Santa Cruz as opposition leaders rejected the new constitution and demanded regional autonomy.

In the streets of Santa Cruz, thousands waved the region's green-and-white flags and listened as council members from the Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni and Pando departments publicly announced statutes that would create a permanent separation from the Bolivian government.

The council members announced their intent to legitimize the autonomy statutes via a referendum that would be put to the people in their respective regions. The goal is to effectively separate these regions from the central Bolivian government and the administration of President Morales.

These regions, among the wealthiest of Bolivia’s nine departments, hold about 35 percent of Bolivia’s population. Departmental governors are fighting to hold onto a greater share of the oil and gas revenues that are generated in their respective regions. Last Thursday, Santa Cruz, backed a statute under which it would keep two-thirds of its tax revenues.

Autonomy referendums in these regions passed by popular vote in July 2006. And it is still unclear how the new constitution will recognize regional autonomy, so in defiance of the national government, departmental governors are taking matters into their own hands.

*Photos from AFP and La Razon



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