Monday, May 05, 2008

Cruceños Hold Autonomy Vote, Unity Threatened

May 4 -(digitalwarriormedia) On Sunday the eastern department of Santa Cruz held its autonomy referendum vote in a move that the Morales administration has deemed illegal and unconstitutional.

Final results will not be available for a few days, but preliminary exit polls released by Bolivian media outlets suggest that 80-86 percent of Santa Cruz’s residents voted in favor of greater autonomy.

President Morales said he will ignore the results, which are a violation of Bolivia’s legislative and electoral laws. In an address from the Governmental Palace in La Paz on Sunday night, Morales called for unity of the country.

Amid scattered incidents of isolated violence, dozens of people were injured in clashes between supporters and critics of the measure, including one march were opposing sides hurled rocks at each other.

The numbers may vary according to sources, but somewhere between 18 and 30 people were hurt, including one demonstrator who was hit by a dynamite blast in the town of Montero. This casualty has not been confirmed by authorities.

In Plan 3000, the mostly indigenous Santa Cruz neighborhood where residents were against the autonomy referendum, ballot boxes were burned in protest of the vote. There were also reports of groups blocking roads in the districts of San Julian and Yapacani.

Meanwhile in Santa Cruz, as the preliminary results were released thousands of autonomy vote supporters rejoiced in the streets of the capital city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

Governmental minister Alfredo Rada offered caution when looking at the numbers. He indicated that of the 930,000 Cruceños who were eligible to vote today, nearly 40 percent failed to show up.

Examining these statistics, Minister Rada says the legitimacy of the vote is called into question.

Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca Cespedes noted that the referendum is not compatible with either Bolivia’s current constitution or the draft constitution still awaiting its own national referendum vote.

However, members of Morales’ Cabinet indicated that he is ready to negotiate on the issues of concern with the opposition, but the Media Luna governors remain unyielding.

Morales and his supporters have always charged that the opposition is only seeking autonomy in an effort to keep the land and resources in the hands of a few.

Morales’ government has been criticized by the opposition for its agrarian land reform and redirection of taxes into social programs.

The eastern lowland state is the wealthiest province in Bolivia - home to vast natural resources, large landowners, agribusinesses and some of the country’s richest families.

The opposition has remained immobile in their political and economic agenda.

On the other hand, even today President Morales asked for a continuation of dialogue with the departmental governors of the “Media Luna” opposition.

President Morales called on the Media Luna to work together with the central government in order to guarantee autonomy for all people, not just the oligarchy.

His administration has not rejected autonomy outright and ministers expressed support for a legitimate sub-state model of autonomy.

Morales accused the United States of supporting the opposition’s moves toward greater autonomy from the central government. US officials have rejected this accusation.

The U.S. government has been noticeably muted in its response to the autonomy demands, while other international organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union have affirmed support for the Bolivian government.

The vote in Santa Cruz is the first of four autonomy referendums being planned by eastern provinces. It is expected that Beni, Pando and Tarija will hold autonomy votes next month.

Sunday’s outcome could play a pivotal role in whether these departments continue with their autonomy plans, according to Hugo Siles Alvarado, Bolivian Ambassador to the United Nations.
Photos: NYT, Reuters, Iran Press TV



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