Bolivia: landslide for a new constitution

On Sunday 25 January the people of Bolivia voted by 61.5% to 38.5% for a new constitution that gives greater rights to the indigenous people who make up nearly two-thirds of the population. In a simultaneous vote, they agreed by 79% to 21% to limit landholdings to a maximum of 5,000 hectares, the lower of two options. This will not apply retrospectively however unless the land is left fallow – a significant concession made to the agribusiness sector in the east of the country where there are numerous estates of 100,000 hectares or greater. The constitution also disestablishes the Catholic church in recognition of its colonial character, although it does not legalise abortion. It prohibits the creation of US military bases in the country. Health and education, and basic services, such as water, sewage, gas and electricity, are deemed to be human rights. Indi­genous communities will have their languages and their local forms of community justice recognised, and will also have access to reserved seats in the Senate.

The vote followed an attempt by the wealthy based in the eastern province of Santa Cruz to destabilise the country and even threaten secession. Ruling class violence failed however to deter the mass of the people. Of the nine provinces, six voted in favour of the constitution, including two in the east: Tarija, where most of Bolivia’s gas reserves are located, and Pando, where an opposition death squad killed 20 peasants marching to a pro-Morales rally last summer.
Two days before the referendum President Evo Morales announced the nationalisation of the Chaco oil company, owned by BP. And in the days following, he was also able to announce that the last of the US Drug Enforce­ment Agency (DEA) officials had left Bolivia. DEA staff had been a crucial arm in the US’s attempts to suppress coca production in the country and their expulsion was symbolic of the change in relations between Bolivia and US imperialism. With Bolivia being able at the same time to declare itself the third Latin American country to be illiteracy-free after Cuba and Venezuela, the forces of reaction remain on the back foot.

Robert Clough

FRFI 207 February / March 2009

 

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