Saturday, April 12, 2008

More Talking but Regional Defiance Continues

Apr. 12 - (digitalwarriormedia) The next stage of talks between Bolivia’s central government and regional leadership began last week, but this time with the diplomatic assistance of the Catholic Church.

Meeting in the city of Cochabamba, at a gathering called by the Bolivian Episcopal Conference, the departmental governors of Beni, Cochabamba, Pando, Santa Cruz and Tarija convened in the Church’s first attempt to get the opposition prefects of Bolivia’s eastern regions back to the negotiation table.

Unable to meet a compromise on the demands of regional leadership for greater autonomy and control over regional resources, the central and departmental governments have been at a virtual political impasse since December.

In late March the Church agreed to mediate talks between President Morales and the nation’s departmental governors to stem the ongoing crisis. The Catholic Church wields considerable influence within Bolivian society and has successfully mediated political conflicts in the past.

President Morales, who met with church bishops a few days before the governors, has expressed a willingness to be flexible and negotiate the current situation. However he and his supporters condemn the autonomy referendums, calling them “seditious” and divisive.

Santa Cruz intends to call an autonomy referendum vote on May 4, despite rulings from Bolivia’s legislature and highest electoral court that such actions are unlawful. The other departments are expected to follow Santa Cruz’s example and hold referendum votes at later dates.

In public comments, Interior Minister Alfredo Rada announced that the Morales government intends to file a lawsuit against the authorities directing the autonomous referendums in Santa Cruz.

Minister Rada stated that if the referendum vote was actually held, then legal proceedings would start the following day.

The Church has expressed a commitment to continue the diplomatic talks, which apparently achieved little in concrete terms.

After four hours of talking with the governors: Ernesto Suarez (Beni), Manfred Reyes Villa (Cochabamba), Leopoldo Fernandez (Pando), Ruben Costas (Santa Cruz) and Mario Cossio (Tarija), the five prefects insisted on holding the autonomy votes.

At a post-meeting press conference, Santa Cruz prefect Ruben Costas announced his appreciation for the efforts of the Bolivian Catholic Church, but that the referendum developments will continue.

Meanwhile the opposition governors are expected to meet in Tarija with Dante Caputo, Secretary of Political Affairs to the Organization of American States (OAS) on Monday, April 14.

In December the five governors traveled to Washington D.C. and met with representatives from the OAS, but they failed to successfully secure support for their actions in conflict with the central government.

Officials from the OAS, United Nations and European Union have called for dialogue between both sides. Italian ambassador in Bolivia, Silvio Mignano, said the EU refuses to send observers to Santa Cruz during the referendum vote if it is not held within the legality of Bolivian law.

Photo: APG Monitor



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