Archive for the ‘Capital City’ Category

Crossing the Rubicon

November 26, 2007

President Evo Morales and his MAS party have undertaken their most daring political step in 22 months in the government. Morales 138 constituent assembly followers convened alone, without opposition, in a military academy on Saturday to produce a Constitutional Text whose yes-members approved speedily . Outside, in Sucre´s outskirts, a battle between unarmed civilians and tear gas shooting-police was raging. And it was getting closer to the military academy where they met. At least four dead (including one police) and about two hundred injuries have been counted in two days of riots.

The 138 constituents (136, since two conspicuously did not raise hands) who approved the first draft melted away from Sucre at pre dawn hours Sunday.  It was as if they were not the winners who only hours before had hailed the chart. They were like the real losers who trudged away from a shameful defeat. They ran away as they could. A military bus gave them a ride till about 10 miles off Potosí. And they walked to the city.

All this after they had approved a chart that allegedly, as a year ago was said,  would reshape Bolivia, politically and socially. The chart approved Saturday by MAS alone (over a hundred assembly members did not attend) had a very unusual venue: an army academy. To date, it was the first chart approved, even in principle, within a military academy. The army, and primarily the police, protected the meeting, which had been removed from its original place, the Mariscal de Ayacucho center, in downtown Sucre, where it had been besieged for months by civilian population demanding the Assembly debated the thorny issue of the capital of the nation. The MAS majority refused to tackle the matter under the understanding that doing so would mean losing support from La Paz, the political capital for over a century, where lies the backbone of its political support. It would have been, understandably, a hara-kiri. MAS is aware that as time has gone by, La Paz has been isolating itself from most of the country and an eventual referendum over which city should be Bolivia´s capital could bring embarrassing results for both La Paz and MAS.

As of this hour – midday Monday- the whereabouts of the official assembly members are unknown.  People wonder ¿where are those who represent Chuquisaca from the ranks of MAS and what they will do next. ¿Will they continue supporting a chart that has triggered the worst wave of violence during a government supposed to change things the right way  __peacefully, since President Morales always says he represents “the culture of peace”?

Regarding the fast-track approved constitution, a question still lingering is if a first step has been undertaken, ¿what about the next? Let´s explain.  The approval “ en grande,” that is just in principle and still subject to a thorough review, happened in a dramatic way: the board of the meeting read just the subtitles __no content at all. And the chorus raised hands in approval. (When news was heard that one person had been killed and to adjourn the meeting was necessary, it has been said the reaction from Board Chairwoman Silvia Lazarte was icy cold, “There is one dead. May he enjoy Paradise. We have to continue working.”  Then, because of the heavy environment hanging over the meeting after the news,  she agreed on a 15 minute break.)

That was it. After saying yes, assembly members rushed to pack and run away.  Now the review should come, although Presdident Morales hinted yesterday that step would be dismissed.  Assuming the “headline-only draft” is OK, where the review will take place?      

This constitutional experiment has been always controversial. I shuddered when I was told about the unusually high number of illiterate members in the Assembly. But I used to look at this argument suspiciously, thinking that even illiterate people would do better than many of the rapacious politicians who ruled the country over almost two centuries. But as months went by, I began questioning myself. Drafting a constitutional chart, I said, is like holding the wheel of a bus riding over bumpy paths. In order to succeed one would choose the very best and most experienced drivers. This was not the case with the Bolivian Constitutional Experiment.  ¿Would I put my children in that bus? ¿Would I tell my wife to board that bus? I agonized over this point. 

As this official-only assembly ordered the approval of the first step Evo Morales has crossed the Rubicon. As Julius Caesar. A time of uncertainty lies ahead.        

Irrevocably Revoking

September 17, 2007

It now turns out that “irrevocable” means anything but irrevocable. Governor David Sanchez, of Sucre (Chuquisaca), has revoked his irrevocable resignation and as of now is sititing back in his Prefect (Governor) chair in Sucre. He decided so after meeting with President Evo Morales in La Paz, where two weeks before Mr. Sánchez had desperately -and fruitlessly- tried to talk with Bolivia´s first authority. When de doors of the Government Palace were pratically slammed on his face, he threw in his irrevocable resignation letter. Mr. Morales might have held his head with both hands. Mr. Sánchez´s departure meant calling for new elections in Chuquisaca__ and a distinct possibility of losing the department to an opposition candidate. That would have been too much. Adding a fifth governor (a sixth, with Cochabamba, and a seventh, with Potosi) to the opposition ranks, out of the country´s nine departments, would have placed his government on a tightrope. Dialogue came in. And Mr. Sanchez decided to revoke the irrevocableness of his resignation. But in turn, his decision also revoked what had been proclaimed by Mr. Morales Government as an another irrevocable point: the Constituent Assembly should not discuss Sucre´s demand of getting back the Executive and Legislative branches it lost in a war with La Paz at the turn of the 19th century. It will debate that, ignoring a Cabildo of about 1.5 million Paceños that had sternly warned the Constituent Assembly should not discuss it at all. La Paz´s motto of “The Venue Doesn´t Move” (la sede no se mueve) against Sucre´s get-me-back-the full-capital move, has been irrevocably wounded. The thorny issue will be among the first points to be debated. Or so say executive members of the Assembly board. But it is still possible that La Paz will make the next move move. Meantime, the electrified political environment seems a bit quieter. Maybe it will help the contentious Constituent Assembly resume debates holding back sharpened tongues and stone-tipped whips, so far among its favorite argument tools. Let´s see.

Sucre vs. La Paz

July 23, 2007

The city of Sucre has scheduled for Wednesday, 7/25, its own Cabildo, a public assembly earmarked to reaffirm what its citizens consider the city´s right to get back the state institutions it lost to La Paz in a civil war at the end of the 19th century. That is the executive and legislative branches. La Paz did its own rally last Friday, 7/20. It was the largest public gathering ever in Bolivian history__ more than 1 1/2 million people went to the streets and concentrated mostly on El Alto. The rally reaffirmed the political capital shall remain in La Paz. It also called for national unity, implying that Sucre´s demand and those supporting it were against national integrity. “The (political) venue does not move,” was the battle cry.

The government was impressed. President Evo Morales congratulated organizers and ordered his party, the Movement Toward Socialism, not to support Sucre´s demand at the Constituent Assembly.

Now Sucre is coming up with its own rally. With a population of just 300.000, this central southern city is not expected to match La Paz´s. But the point it brought up has irritated the government as the Constituent Assembly approaches the end of its term August 6 without completing the new Bolivian chart. Sucre´s demand seems to represent the smoking gun proving some flaws in the assembly, including the view that it was “all plenipotentiary and originary,” meaning it was almighty and could deal with anything. It cannot, according to the government. It has put a sort of veto to tackle the capital question. La Paz´s cabildo, with implicit government support, said the assembly ought to remove the debate over the location of Bolivia´s political capital. And it threatened with an indefinite department-wide stoppage if removal is not official by August 6.

Sucre´s move is haunting the government and the assembly itself. The government has lost hold of Sucre, an early regional supporter of Evo. The loss of this support increases opposition against Evo __ at least on his attitude regarding the city where the three estate branches should be located. It means more sympathy toward the so call half-moon, media luna, whose ranks span over four departments (Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni and Pando, or 60% of the national territory.)