Bolivia: new dangers ahead

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On 2 July, the Bolivian people voted for who would represent them in the Constituent Assembly that will meet on 6 August. The result was a foregone conclusion: President Evo Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism party, MAS, won a majority of the delegates, 137 out of 255, with 54% of the poll. However, constitutional changes require the approval of a two-thirds majority of the Constitutional Assembly, or 170 delegates, and with reactionary organisations such as the neo-liberal Podemos picking up most of the remaining 118, it may well prove to be difficult to make much progress unless there is a strong mobilisation of the anti-imperialist social movements which propelled Morales to power in December last year.

Simultaneously, Bolivians also voted on proposals to implement forms of regional autonomy for each of its nine provinces. Nationally, autonomy was rejected by 54% to 46%. However, in the most affluent provinces of Tarija and Santa Cruz, where most of the country’s oil and gas reserves are located, the vote went the other way: in Santa Cruz, the vote for regional autonomy was 72%, and in Tarija 63%. These majorities reflect the interests of the local ruling class: the Santa Cruz bourgeoisie wants a much larger share of the national cake, and has threatened to secede from Bolivia if it does not get what it wants. Sections are already organising in support of this. On 4 July, the neo-fascist Santa Cruz Youth League attacked a trade union rally, injuring dozens whilst police stood by. When Morales dismissed the police chief, the head of the powerful Santa Cruz Civic Committee declared that ‘Patience can come to an end; we have limits’. The Committee, which represents the local white ruling class, has also threatened to set up militias to oppose Morales’ proposed land reforms which would distribute some state-owned land to the landless, who are overwhelmingly indigenous.

In the meantime, Petrobras, the Brazilian oil company which is the largest investor in Bolivia’s gas industry, has announced that it will not consider meeting the Bolivians’ demand for a world market price for the gas it pipes into Brazil. Currently Petrobras pays $US3.4 per British Thermal Unit (BTU) whilst the world market price stands at $US8.00. Whilst Brazil continues to play a reactionary role in Bolivian politics, Morales can continue to count on Cuban and Venezuelan support. A recent survey showed that 72% of Bolivians support the entry of 800 Cuban doctors to provide health-care services and that 56% believed that a recent visit of Chavez to Bolivia was positive. Cuba’s support means that more than 11,000 Bolivians have received free eye operations and one million will become literate using the Cuban teaching methods.

Robert Clough

FRFI 192 August / September 2006