December 15, 2007


Bolivians Now Hear Ominous Tones in the Calls to Arms (SIMON ROMERO, 12/15/07, NY Times)

Those tensions may reach a crest on Saturday. That is when leaders of Santa Cruz province and three other provinces — Tarija, Beni and Pando — are expected to declare their autonomy before tens of thousands of antigovernment protesters. Santa Cruz’s assembly has already taken a step in that direction, passing a resolution on Thursday giving the province a bigger share of tax and petroleum revenues and allowing it to constitute its own police forces and create its own television network. [...]

Leaders here have long chafed at the influence of the capital, La Paz, but recent moves by Mr. Morales, who has received substantial financial and political support from President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, have added to concerns over power consolidation.

The sudden moves this week to seek greater autonomy came after the president’s supporters rushed last weekend to approve a new Constitution, despite an opposition boycott of their assembly. They had abruptly switched the vote to the city of Oruro, a Morales stronghold, from Sucre, which had been racked by street protests.

Even Mr. Morales’s critics acknowledge that the new charter, which must be approved in a public referendum, has positive aspects — it would, for example, abolish child labor. But they are also alarmed by efforts to increase indigenous power, like items to guarantee representation of Indians in Congress or to allow Indians to mete out justice outside the judicial system. Another measure would allow Mr. Morales to run for re-election to a second five-year term.

The way the constitutional changes were approved did little to burnish the president’s democratic credentials.

“Evo, in trying to empower the indigenous, has made the same mistake Chávez did in trying to empower the poor,” said Jim Shultz, a political analyst in Cochabamba. “Evo also erred in trying to mix that agenda with trying to empower his political movement.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 15, 2007 6:44 AM
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