Law by force

 

This is a weird congressional season. Lawmakers are convening since 10/18 in the Legislative Palace under a threatening march of thousands of peasants who want, by their own or by subrogate will, Congress giving green light to a law calling for a referendum on a constitution draft issued a year ago after violent street riots in Sucre, Bolivia’s capital, that left three people dead and, by unofficial figures, more than 300 injured.

Lawmakers are supposed to convene free of pressure, especially if they are to discuss calling for a plebiscite on a new constitution mainly drafted by the government that opposition, almost unanimously, considers illegal. President Evo Morales, whose alleged Indian condition is blatantly disputed by his mix-race lastname Morales, has told marchers and lawmakers: “Pass the law (to call for a referendum on the official draft) or else.”

What the meaning of that ‘else’ partly would be has been shown by the sticks and stone-tipped whips flaunted –and often used- by leaders of the march to keep order among peasants. On Sunday he said those opposing his new chart project would be considered “traitors to the country.”  The march is expected to end Monday, after walking over 80 miles on a paved road between La Paz and Oruro.

“They may overwhelm us or they may not. We are all ready to fight this battle to the end”, told me Javier Limpias, a former Constituent Assembly member and dissident from Podemos, the main opposition party.

The problems with the government chart starts from its inception. It was approved by the government-dominated Constitutent Assembly, which functioned for 16 months dismissing some basic democratic rules. Most assembly legislators, especially those from the government party Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) were not prepared to write a new fundamental set of laws. Many had not completed primary or secondary school and their knowledge of law was zero, or almost. The first draft was approved in a military academy building in Sucre’s outskirts, where the assembly reconvened almost in hiding while riots flared in the city and areas surrounding the army academy. After the first draft was approved, the MAS assembly members moved subrepticiously out of Sucre, fleeing from mobs infuriated by the casualties and police violence to repress protesters. They reappeared in Oruro, 200 miles away, in order to get approval of the text “in detail”, as the Bolivian norms dictate. There was no clear verification of the quorum (legislators’ turnout) required to vote (two thirds of the 255 assembly members). And the approval “in detail” was more symbolic than real. Because of the nervous hurry to put an end to the process, even out of its loegal venue, Sucre, only the text’s index was read. Legislators were simply asked to say yes by raising hands. In case that was not enough, or there were not enough hands up to sanction the draft, government leaders told them when they should raise hands because many voters appeared not to have a hint of what they were voting about.

Besides, opposition cried they were not called to the meeting within the legal notice (two or three days), and the text to be approved was not distributed in advance among attends, as rules dictate. In reality, not even all the official assembly members had a copy of it. Some claimed the draft had actually been written long before and far from the assembly. An opposition assembly member quoted some time ago a sister of President Evo Morales, Esther Morales, as having said in a private meeting that while the Constituent Assembly was still convening, there was already a written Constitution. Many thought the draft came from abroad, but without pointing at any specific place. It has vaguely mentioned Venezuela and European NGOs.    

Bolivian National Lawyers College has called the draft ilegal and called for a new constitutional asssembly as the only way for the nation’s reconciliation. “A referendum on a project born out of violence and imposition shall not take place,” it said in a statement this week.

A widespread criticism lies on the mention of 36 indigenous tribes in Bolivia, all considered as individual nations, without any scientific evidence of the existence of some of them, particularly the tiny ones. Some of them hardly represent more than a few tens. I myself wrote a story 30 years ago about the apparently irreversible extinction of one of them. Back then, there were only seven tribe members, as counted by the Summer Linguistic Institute. All surviving men were beyond reproductive age. But a recent census said there were more than 30 Pacahuara people. A conclusion seems pretty clear: either the Pacahuara tribe did not disappear and found the way for the surviving women to meet with men of other tribes,  or we are talking of different tribe. In any case, it is no longer the original group.

It is disquieting, anyway, to think that these small tribes have been counted without the necessary precautions to protect them. Who conducted this census and under whose authorization?  

Anthropologists would be eager to know.

The fact is that all these tribes might win the rights over their “ancestors” lands. Since a lot of them are nomads, I doubt it would be easy to measure the extension and bounds of their original land.

All this confusion explain, at least partially, the controversy surrounding the Constitution the government wants to be approved.  

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