Sunday, January 18, 2009

Autonomy Demands whether "Yes" or "No"

LA PAZ – Supporters of the referendum for Bolivia’s new constitution walked through the streets of La Paz today. Marchers were accompanied by bands, while holding banners and flying a number of flags - blue and white for the MAS party and the multi-colored indigenous wiphala, but most prominently displayed was Bolivia’s national flag.

With one week to go before the January 25 referendum vote, the stakes are increasingly high and demonstrations for and against the constitution are expected throughout the country.

Speaking in the department of Tarija yesterday, President Morales urged a crowd in the city of Yacuiba to go to the polls and vote “Yes”. There is wide-spread sentiment that the constitution will be approved by the majority of Bolivians. However, Morales warned that his optimism should not deter people from going to vote.

Over the past three years, the Morales administration has steadily moved forward with its economic and social reforms. The passage of the constitution would solidify Morales’ mandate like never before, but a majority of “No” would be a major setback for the ruling MAS party, Bolivia’s various social movements and its indigenous communities.

The cover of Sunday’s El Diario carried a warning from the opposition-led National Democratic Council (CONALDE) that if the constitution passes, Bolivia will be fragmented into thousands of “mini-autonomies”. The opposition group, consisting of departmental governors and civic leaders from Tarija, Beni, Santa Cruz and Chuquisaca are heading up the “No” campaign.

Autonomy is a major issue that has been called for by government supporters and the opposition. And while opposition governors want greater control over their departmental resources, local municipalities and indigenous communities want greater autonomy from departmental leaders that tend to rule in their own self-interests and historically have been corrupt.

The autonomies guaranteed by a new constitution are much more than what the departmental governors asked for when they held autonomy votes in each of their departments last year. Although not sanctioned by the national government or the National Electoral Court, the departments of Tarija, Beni, Santa Cruz and Chuquisaca each carried out these autonomy votes aimed at advancing their agenda against the central government.

The opposition has long criticized the autonomy that the new state constitution will guarantee for Bolivia’s indigenous communities. And while Morales champions autonomy at multiple levels of Bolivian society, the manner in which this will be implemented is still difficult to ascertain.

For the central government’s part, they say that all autonomies - even those at the departmental level will be stalled if the new constitution does not pass.

And even as supporters of the new constitution demand autonomy, their campaign calls for unity, equality and the process of democracy.

It seems as though those who will vote “Yes” next Sunday want to participate in changing their country, while those who are inclined to vote “No” are satisfied with the current status quo.

Morales has repeatedly asserted that he was elected to change Bolivia for all Bolivians.

Whatever may occur next Sunday in Bolivia, it is destined to come from the democratic demands of the people.

Photos: Digital Warrior Media



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