Bolivia: new dangers ahead

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.

Read more ...

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.

Read more ...

Bolivia: showdown approaches

On 15 November, Bolivia’s House of Representatives approved President Morales’s land reform bill and sent it to the Senate, where opposition party members hold a majority.

The proposal would distribute some 77,000 square miles of underused state and privately-owned property to the landless. Two days later, the Constituent Assembly resolved an issue which had prevented any progress for three months since its establishment in August: whether every decision it made required a two-thirds majority, or if this was required only for the vote on the final constitution. The reactionary parties favoured the former, Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) the latter. On 17 November, Bolivia’s Constitutional Court rejected opposition complaints, allowing the 137 MAS Assembly delegates – a majority – to vote for progress.

Read more ...

Bolivia: Social movements on the march again

On 8 January, tens of thousands of supporters of Bolivia’s social movements fought police on the streets of Cochabamba city as they demanded the resignation of its governor, Manfred Reyes Villa. In December, Reyes Villa had declared his support for opposition ruling class parties which are demanding that every new article that the Constituent Assembly approves must have a two-thirds majority. In addition he called for a re-run of last July’s referendum on departmental autonomy in Cochabamba. Cochabamba had voted by 63% to 37% against greater self-government, along with the majority of the rest of the country. Reyes Villa wants to overturn this result so that Cochabamba joins the four wealthy eastern regions in moving towards a break-up of the country. The ruling class hopes that this Balkanisation strategy will defeat the government of President Evo Morales.

Morales responded by firing the Cochabamba police chief for the decision to fire teargas at protestors. Since then social movements have continued daily demonstrations and fought Reyes Villa’s overwhelmingly middle class supporters in the streets; two people were killed on 11 January and hundreds injured. Reyes Villa has fled Cochabamba and taken up residence in Santa Cruz; the social movements are now discussing the establishment of an alternative administration in Cochabamba – shades of Oaxaca. Reyes Villa, a very wealthy man, is notorious as the former Cochabamba mayor who signed a contract with Bechtel privatising the water supply, precipitating the 2000 ‘water war’.

Read more ...

Bolivia Ruling class aims for destabilisation to overturn progressive government

On 10 August Evo Morales will face a recall referendum on his Bolivian presidency. Should he fail to get the same level of support as when he was elected in December 2005 (54%), he will stand down for fresh elections. The same will apply to the governors of the nine departments of the country. The referendum follows determined resistance by the Bolivian ruling class to the reforms Morales has introduced since he was elected as the first indigenous president of the country. This came to a head with an ‘autonomy referendum’ in Santa Cruz department on 4 May which the ruling class claimed as a victory since 79% of the votes were in favour of autonomy.  However, the poor of Santa Cruz city rioted in protest and burned ballot boxes, and 39% of the people abstained compared to 16% in the 2005 elections. The Bolivian people face a tremendous challenge, the outcome of which could have a profound effect on progressive developments throughout Latin America. As Hugo Chavez has said: ‘to hit Bolivia is to hit South America’s geopolitical heart’. ROBERT CLOUGH reports.

Read more ...