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Conflict over new Constitution in Bolivia

by source: - 03.02.2008 19:20

Class Struggle:

Constitutional reforms meet opposition from rich Bolivian lowland states

Jan. 2007
Jan. 2007

Conflict over Bolivia's new constitution

Pepe Escobar: Morales constitutional reforms meet opposition from rich Bolivian lowland states (Part 1 of 2)

Thursday December 27th, 2007

Transcript of video:

PAUL JAY: Bolivia is set to approve a new draft constitution, which would, in the words of President Evo Morales, re-found the country and bring the state closer to the people. The new constitution, which would replace one dating from 1967, was recently approved by a constituent assembly and will be put to a vote later this year. It includes provisions allowing for the recall of elected officials, limits on large landholdings, a redistribution of government revenues in order to redress the historically exploited indigenous people, and the nationalization of the country's natural resources. Opponents of the new document, chiefly politicians, agribusiness, and some residents in the country's four wealthy lowland states where the natural gas reserves are located, are saying they want their regions to be autonomous and that they want control of two-thirds of the revenue generated there. The new constitution would allow the federal government to redistribute the wealth to the poor. The Real News talked to Pepe Escobar in Brazil to get his take on the situation in Bolivia. So, Pepe, who's for this constitution and who's against it?

PEPE ESCOBAR: Well, the most schematic way of presenting what's happening in Bolivia is juxtaposing or contraposing the Altiplano with the Media Luna. The Altiplano is in the Andes Mountains. That's where the cocaleros live, the miners, and most of Bolivia's indigenous people. There are at least thirty-five local indigenous groups in Bolivia. There are at least ten different Aymara nations. These are the people who voted for Evo Morales. In the Media Lunas more to the eastern part of the country, near the borders of Brazil, we find the landowning class, Bolivia's industrial complex, and major agribusiness interests. So what we have is basically classic class struggle. It's the rich against the excluded since the beginning of the Spanish colonization in the 16th century. Evo Morales was elected by the cocaleros, which is a traditional industry in Bolivia, by the miners and by the different Aymara and indigenous nations as a whole. He got 54 percent of the votes. His platform, his main promise, was to reform the constitution and promote more social justice. I'm going to quote an article of the constitution. This is article number nine. It says that it's striving for a society based on decolonization without discrimination, no exploitation, with widespread social justice and consolidation, plural national identities. Plural national identities—it's obvious in a country where we have at least thirty-five different indigenous groups. And, obviously, the landowning class, the typical oligarchy in South America, that you find not only in Bolivia but also in Colombia, in Brazil, in Argentina, are absolutely terrified of what this all means. What else? Redistribution. So whenever we talk about wealth redistribution in South America, during the 60s, obviously, these comprador elites were allies of the US so the US could support local military coups and military dictatorships as it happened in Brazil, in Bolivia itself, in Argentina, in Uruguay, or in Chile. Nowadays it's different. It's an emerging multi-polar order. Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales are part of this new emerging order. And while we can criticize Chavez in Venezuela because he's trying to impose a Bolivarian revolution from the way up, in Bolivia it's completely different. It's a grassroots movement. It unites the excluded, it unites the unemployed, it unites the indigenous peoples, it unites workers with very difficult social conditions, unites women, and it unites students as well. It's a broad-based movement. And against it, we have the extremely reactionary oligarchy classes based in Sucre, the former colonial capital, and especially in Santa Cruz de la Sierra. And, obviously, in the middle of all this we have foreign interference. And foreign interference means, basically, in the case of Spain, especially, Spanish interests in South American natural resources. So no wonder if you read Spanish and you go to the Spanish press and the way they cover what's happening in Bolivia, they paint Morales as a diablo, a devil, as bad or even worse as Chavez, because he's defending the right of the excluded.

JAY: In one of the demonstrations in favour of Morales' constitution, we saw demonstrators chanting, “U.S. ambassador out of Bolivia.” What's the American role here? What role are they playing?

ESCOBAR: The American role is basically interested in Bolivian natural resources, not only oil and gas but special mineral resources. That would be exactly the same interest of Brazil as well. Brazil is the powerful Bolivian neighbor to the right. Brazil has Petrobras, one of the largest oil companies in the world. When Bolivia and Evo Morales nationalized Bolivian oil and gas last year, 1 May 2006, it was amazing. When you were reading the Brazilian press, you thought that you were reading the American press defending the interests of Chevron or Exxon Mobil. It was the same approach in Brazil of the Brazilian elites defending Petrobras, because Petrobras was usurped of its riches in Bolivia by Evo.

JAY: This must be difficult for the self-declared socialist Lula to take on this kind of position.

ESCOBAR: It was, because the thing-- it's very funny. A friend of mine met with Evo a few weeks ago, and he said that maybe the Brazilian voters should elect the president of Petrobras instead of the president of Brazil, because the president of Petrobras is much more important. But jokes aside, the fact is Petrobras had to recognize that Bolivia was defending its own interests. And no wonder in the past few days Petrobras reverted its, I would say, belligerent stance, and now they are reinvesting in Bolivia. Brazil imports a lot of gas from Bolivia, actually. Brazil needs Bolivian gas. So Petrobras is now investing $750 million and perhaps $1 billion in the next few years to upgrade Bolivian installations. So that was a good deal for Petrobras, for Brazil, and also for Bolivia, because they need foreign investment.

Class struggle in Bolivia

Pepe Escobar: Morales constitutional reforms meet opposition from rich Bolivian lowland states (Part 2 of 2)

Friday December 28th, 2007


PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Pepe, with these constitutional reforms proposed by Morales, he's really taken on the elites in a head-on way. He's threatening their control over the gas revenues. He's threatening their control over the land. It's a really fundamental class struggle being waged in Bolivia. Does he have the strength to do this? The states controlled by the elites are demanding autonomy. There's even talk of a kind of autonomy that winds up being a sort of succession. Can Morales win this struggle?

PEPE ESCOBAR, THE REAL NEWS ANALYST: This is a very complex question. In fact we're going to see it in 2008. In 2008, there are going to be at least eleven different referendums in Bolivia, including a referendum where Morales himself puts his job on the line: people are going to vote if they want him to continue or if they want new presidential elections. Another important referendum is about private property, because once again all over South America it's the same thing: you have a bunch of very wealthy landowners, usually the same families that control land since the 16th or the 17th centuries, and you have masses of people who are totally excluded. In Bolivia, you have an alliance of landless peasants, the cocaleros, who are actually producing individuals. They are involved in a very traditional culture. You have the miners. And you have indigenous populations who survive one way or another. Sometimes subsist. So it depends on the results of these referendums in 2008. What Evo could do is to present a more coherent national development strategy, which his movement, the MAS, Movimiento al Socialismo, Movement for Socialism, still does not have. And why they don't have it? Because the MAS is a sort of coalition of the willing the South American way. You have extreme leftists, you have communists, you have unrepentant Marxists, you have social democrats, and you have representatives of the indigenous peoples, and some of them have a very, I wouldn't say fundamentalist but very localized strategy that applies only to their particular indigenous nation. For instance, one group of Aymaras doesn't want exactly the same thing that another group of Aymaras. So Evo is the only person inside the MAS, the party, that is able to regiment all these different strengths and currents.

JAY: Pepe, if Morales wins the referendums—and he likely has the votes—will the elites accept the results of the referendum? And if they don't, does Morales have an army that can impose a law over these states?

ESCOBAR: Well, what Evo has been saying lately, and the vice president, Alvaro Linera, which is—in fact Linera is the brains behind Evo. People never talk about him outside of South America or even in European press. But the guy who formulates everything behind Evo is Alvaro Garcia Linera, the vice president. He's a former guerrillero. He spent seven years in jail. He's what's called a ["blanco los"], a white man with blue eyes. Very well-educated. He has a doctorate in maths in the United States. He is a Marxist. But he has outlined the whole program. And what Evo has is star power, obviously, even though he speaks in a very low voice, he's very polite, you know, he's almost cozy. It's the complete antithesis of Hugo Chavez's rhetoric and blitzkrieg approach. And Evo is very persuasive. You know, when you talk to him, he's always thinking, he's always elaborating his thoughts. When you see him live it's quite impressive, because he is so unimpressive that he ends up being extremely impressive. So if he managed to convince some sectors of I would say the extreme right that this is an egalitarian process, that they are not going to be stripped of at least most of their privileges, I think he has a shot. But it depends on these eleven referendums in 2008.

JAY: If these states don't want to go along with the results of a referendum, does he have the armed force to impose a national law?

ESCOBAR: What he has been saying these past few, I would say, this past month or so, since some very, very heavy disturbances in Sucre, the former colonial capital, is that the armed forces are with him. And this is true. And another important factor is that the recent Mercosur, the South American common market summit, all the governments, they pledged their allegiance to legality and to Evo Morales' government, and this means, of course, the support of the armed forces. And this includes even associate members of the Mercosur like Chile, which had enormous border problems with Bolivia recently as well.

JAY: So if there's a legal referendum that's won by a popular and fair vote, and if these states don't want to respect the results of this, and if there actually is a need for some kind of armed force, you're saying it's possible that other Latin American states might support Bolivia's army in this?

ESCOBAR: Yes, absolutely. I would say straightaway that Hugo Chavez would support Bolivia and the government and Evo. And Lula, of course, in Brazil would support Evo as well. And the Argentinian government, Cristina Kirchner, would support Evo as well. This is a common Mercosur position. There was not even any debate to reach this position. Everybody supports legality, and everybody knows that what Evo—these are centre or centre-left governments I'm talking about. They know that what Evo is doing is absolutely legal, and it's very democratic because it's not imposing anything. There's a constituents' assembly, and referendums will be offered all over the place so people can really express themselves, just like what happened in Venezuela with the Venezuelan referendum. It was not imposed by anything. Hugo Chavez submitted his sixty-nine proposals to the Venezuelan population as a whole. The problem was that people, most of them, were absent. In Bolivia I doubt it, because it's extremely polarized, and probably there will be an abstention rate of no more than 10 percent. So we'll really know what the majority of the population want. And the majority of the population has already said is indigenous peoples and mestizos, 62 percent. So I would say that most of what Evo and his party's proposing will be approved.

JAY: So this could pit US policy against most of the Latin American governments.

ESCOBAR: The official US policy, I would say, White House, State Department, is that there are good and bad leftists in South America. In the good camp, as we all know, we have Lula, we have Bachelet in Chile, maybe Cristina Kirchner, because she's still under observation because she's new to power. And in the bad camp we have, obviously, Chavez, we have Evo Morales, and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. So I'm not sure the official US policy is going to change. They want to drive a wedge between governments in South America. They don't want South American integration. They want free markets for US multinational corporations. That everyone in South America knows.

JAY: But what I'm getting at is specific. I'm saying if Morales wins the referendum, and the conflict gets even more heated inside Bolivia, and the Latin American governments support Morales, and the US has sided with the elites, it would put the Americans in a very difficult situation, opposed to all the major, elected, legal governments of Latin America.

ESCOBAR: Well, that it will be clear to everyone, not only in Latin America, but to the rest of the world, where the true agenda of the US lies.

Based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Pepe Escobar writes The Roving Eye for Asia Times Online. He has reported from Iraq, Iran, Central Asia, US and China. He is the author of the recently published Red Zone Blues. Pepe is a regular analyst for The Real News Network.

Part I:
Part II:


Conflict over fundamental change in Bolivia
Tuesday January 29th, 2008 02:00:00
Jean-Paul Guevara: Bolivian indigenous people demand a transformation

Bolivia and democracy
Friday February 1st, 2008 01:42:02
Jean-Paul Guevara: President Morales attempts a peaceful and democratic change
Jean Paul Guevara is Bolivia's Director General of Bilateral Relations. He was interviewed at the Bolivian embassy in Washington.
Asamblea Constituyente y Autonomias Indigenas:

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