Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Bolivian Inquisition

(digitalwarriormedia) With only two weeks left before Bolivia holds its January 25 referendum vote on a new constitution, each side is intensifying their campaigns to sway public opinion.

The Bolivian press observed that in urban areas throughout the country, the “No” and “Yes” campaigns are taking to the streets to lobby with stickers, t-shirts, flags and leaflets.

An article in Santa Cruz-based La Razon observed that the opposition was using emails and internet networking sites such as Facebook to make their case.

Meanwhile organized supporters of the constitution are primarily using more traditional campaigning methods like street demonstrations.

What’s God Got to Do with It?

The departmental prefects (governors) of Beni, Pando, Santa Cruz and Chuquisaca have upped the ante in their “No” campaign strategy. On Tuesday, the prefects held a “day of prayer and peace” in Sucre where they met to publicly reject the new constitution. Archbishop Jesús Pérez of Sucre participated in the event which was entitled “Defend Your Faith”.

After failing to attend a meeting called by President Morales on Monday to discuss departmental autonomies, the opposition prefects are drawing criticism for telling voters that if they believe in God – they will vote “No” on the draft constitution.

Congressional representatives Gustavo Torrico (MAS) and Willman Cardozo (PODEMOS) blasted the attitude of the Catholic Church, stating that it should avoid entering the political arena.

In response to the bipartisan criticism, on Wednesday, Bishop Jesus Juarez - secretary general of the Bishops’ Conference of Bolivia – said the archbishop participated, but that he prayed for the unity of all Bolivians and did not make a statement in support or rejection of the new constitution.

The Catholic News Agency indicated that media reports claiming the event was organized or planned by the Catholic Church were incorrect. Articles in Los Tiempos and La Prensa point out that the archbishop and Evangelical Pastor Charles Suarez guided the message of the candlelit vigil.

According to ABI, Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera said the new constitution will grant equal status, respect and protection of the State instead of its present hierarchy. Currently Article 3 of Bolivia’s constitution makes specific mention of the Catholic religion, which has led many sources to state that Catholicism is the nation’s official religion.

Minister Hector Arce, said it was "regrettable that some members of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, are giving into a political game."

The relationship between the Morales administration and the Catholic Church has been contentious at times with disputes over education, land reform and now the upcoming constitutional vote. Recently President Morales said the Church should stay out of politics after Cardinal Julio Terrazas Sandoval of Santa Cruz made public statements in December saying, “Bolivia is becoming a country without God or law.”

Mortal Oppositional Forces

On Friday the National Electoral Court (CNE) reported that 3,891,397 people are eligible to vote in the January 25 referendum. The CNE has printed a million brochures for public distribution to demonstrate differences and similarities between Bolivia’s current constitution and the document that will be voted upon in two weeks.

However the departmental electoral court of Santa Cruz has refused to distribute the CNE’s literature contending that it was incorrect and biased because it originated with the central government in La Paz.

Instead Santa Cruz’s electoral body will compile its own materials for distribution throughout the department. CNE President Jose Luis Exeni challenged the electoral court’s claims. Nonetheless, the CNE will not sanction the actions of the departmental body. “They can develop their own materials,” said Exeni in La Prensa. “We only distribute guidelines and the courts make their materials according to their geographical realities.”

Santa Cruz’s electoral court approved a departmental vote on an autonomy referendum last May that was deemed illegal by the CNE and the central government.

MAS Leads On

Meanwhile, in Oruro this weekend during the Seventh Congress of the Movement towards Socialism (MAS), President Morales addressed more than 5,000 party delegates.

The gathering was held to assess the current situation in the country after three years under MAS leadership and also devise strategies the new constitution is approved. Morales said the smear campaign launched by the opposition will be ineffective because he believes “no one can overthrow… the process of change.”

“Whoever leads it,” said Morales, “it is at a point of irreversible return that will never be able to stop this democratic revolution. You are the real social movements and should not stop this revolution, with or without Evo, it must be guaranteed."

Photos: ABI, La Prensa, Telesur



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