Bolivia: right wing threatens civil war

As Bolivia’s Constituent Assembly, elected on 2 July, faces right-wing sabotage of its deliberations on a new constitution, the ruling class is mobilising opposition to Evo Morales’ government on the streets in the east of the country: class struggle is intensifying. What is at stake is whether or not Bolivia can break from the grip of imperialism that has made it the poorest country in South America. Robert Clough reports.

The Constituent Assembly has been bogged down by procedural wrangling. Evo Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) and smaller allies control about 155 votes, short of the 170, a two-thirds majority, needed to guarantee approval of its proposals. The right wing, led by PODEMOS (Democratic and Social Power), insists that every matter the Assembly votes on requires a two-thirds majority. To break the deadlock MAS delegates proposed that only the final document should require a two-thirds majority and all other decisions should be by simple majority. At the vote on 1 September, 96 right-wing delegates walked out whilst 141 supported the MAS proposal.

Such actions reflect the fears of the ruling class, particularly that section based in the wealthier eastern part of the country, that their power is being undermined. Morales’ reforms challenge imperialism, even if they seem modest. The nationalisation of oil and gas reserves on 1 May was to negotiate more favourable contracts with oil multinationals. Land reform proposals involve either state-owned land, or that handed out illegally by previous governments as bribes. In neither case has expropriation been threatened. However, today’s conditions of imperialist crisis mean that these limited steps have profound significance, particularly since the Morales government is backed by the mass anti-imperialist social movements of Bolivia’s people.

The ruling class is mobilising. Juan Carlos Urenda Diaz, of the separatist Santa Cruz Civic Committee, said, ‘We are coming to the point where we are not going to look any more for legal arguments... if the Constituent Assembly does not respect the law and the popular will of 72% of voters in Santa Cruz, the country is going to split’. (72% of the province’s population had voted for autonomy in July; the majority of the Bolivian people were against). PODEMOS deputy Ruben Cuellar told The Washington Times that the country ‘is divided between two visions. The west wants to take us back a thousand years to a savage primitivism while the east wants to move forward towards the future through a culture of free enterprise’. This racism towards the indigenous people is typical of those who lead the Civic Committee and who dream of a nation in the east where indigenous people are stripped of all rights. Bolivia’s Permanent Assembly for Human Rights reports that eight campesinos have been killed in land occupations this year: the Santa Cruz ruling class fears that land reform will stimulate further land seizures.

On 7 September Mercosur Press Agency reported a plan to destabilise the government through the autonomy movement: the US embassies in Bolivia and Argentina, Petrobras (Brazil) and Repsol (Spain) oil companies are co-ordinating the subversion. On 14 September Petrobras declared that investment in Bolivia was ‘unfeasible’. Meanwhile, the poor mobilise for themselves: Repsol was forced to halt operations at its Vibora fields after some 60 peasant farmers occupied the site in Bolivia’s eastern Ichilo province on the same day, demanding houses, schools and school supplies.

FRFI 193 October / November 2006


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