Sunday, January 13, 2008

Dialogue Brings a National Pact of Unity

LA PAZ (digitalwarriormedia) Throughout the previous week, an ongoing dialogue between the Bolivian government and regional prefects has at least temporarily preserved the unity of the country.

There were major developments towards bridging a political chasm that grew between the central government and opposition prefects. Both sides disagree over the new Constitution and the allocation of hydrocarbon revenues.

In the end, bipartisan agreement soothed the political turmoil which threatened to fracture Bolivia since the four regional governors of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni and Pando declared autonomy last month. Governors from Bolivia’s lowland regions declared autonomy on December 15.

The first step in resolving the impasse occurred on Monday during a meeting at the Governmental Palace in La Paz. Most of the 11-hour summit between President Morales and regional prefects was televised live on Televisión Boliviana. After the seventh hour, the media left the discussion as the regional governors requested a more "intimate" meeting.

Morales proposed the creation of several commissions to study the conflicting issues. "The people want to see us stay together,” he said. "Let's work together to resolve our differences.”

Pando’s governor, Leopoldo Fernandez, told Morales that he must revise the constitution to include more input from the opposition if he hopes to ensure democratic stability. He indicated that the President would not be able to govern if the document was approved by only a small majority of the people.

Tarija governor, Mario Cossio, noted that the country faced a “critical institutional moment.”

“We are all going to make an effort to forge a national pact of reconciliation and I hope to find a way to fix the problems that are putting the country at risk," he said.

The negotiations resulted in a unanimous agreement to set up committees that will forge a national unity pact and settle conflicts over the hydrocarbon revenue, demands for autonomy, and the constitution.

Subsequent meetings throughout the week continued the conciliatory momentum.

During meetings held on Wednesday and Thursday with the Ministry of Finance and Planning and departmental representatives, both sides agreed to guarantee the financing of the Dignity Pension.

The five regional governments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, Cochabamba and Tarija have rejected the 30 percent hydrocarbon tax redistribution currently sought by the central government to finance the new social program for elderly Bolivians. Although an understanding was reached, exactly how the hydrocarbon revenues will be redeployed must be a determined at a later date.

The week concluded with President Morales holding meetings on Thursday and Friday to convey the demands of the regional prefects and meet with municipal authorities. Morales expressed a desire to find compatibility between the autonomy statutues of the dissenting regions and the new Constitution – a task the Constituent Assembly is expected to undertake. Silvia Lazarte, President of the Constituent Assembly, indicated that the revisions are possible.

While both sides consider the start of bipartisan talks as a sign of success, the opposition has leveled criticism against the government for continuing its campaign in support of the Constitution. Last week, Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera and Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, each made official trips to increase support.

Garcia Linera was in Santa Cruz on Tuesday. Minister Choquehuanca traveled to Berlin, London, Paris and Brussels where he met with international political and social organizations.

Another meeting between President Morales and the nine regional prefects has been scheduled for Monday, January 14. According to Minister Alfredo Rada, the dialogue will continue to deal with two key issues: the compatibility of the regional autonomy statutes and the redistribution of regional incomes from the Direct Tax on Hydrocarbons.

After a week of amiable discussions, this second meeting may serve as a better indication of whether substantial political progress is truly possible.


Photo: AFP

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