Archive for the ‘Sucre’ Category

A growing fast

December 8, 2007

People staging a hunger strike since Monday evening across four out of nine departments (states) in Bolivia have said they may now be counted by the hundreds, making their movement the biggest political fast in Bolivia´s 25 years of democratic rule. Close to 400 are fasting in Santa Cruz alone, according to Branko Marinkovic, presidentof Santa Cruz´s Civic Committe and one of the movement´s leaders.

The movement is a struggle “for democracy and full respect to the rule of law”, told me Cynthia Nallar Antelo as she and three other women lay on mattresses in a tent right within the city´s main plaza. “Reason, she said, must be reinstated in Bolivia”.

Reason seems in a very short supply in this country nowadays. Three weeks ago, the official party MAS approved a constitutional chart draft all alone. It was just one-sided project of 405 articles. 

But one of the weirdest episodes took place when  the government party assembly members convened in a militiary school.  Four miles away, around  their official venue the population of Sucre, where the assembly was being held, was enraged protesting the government decision to withdraw from the draft chart Sucre´s demand to became a fully vested capital (today it is just “legal” capital; the Executive and Legislative branches are in La Paz). 

Then, since time was getting short and the protest was growing, (there were hundres of injuries and, as later was known, three people had died) they chose to approve whatever was left for approval by just reading the subtitles. When an assembly member asked why, Vicepresident Roberto Aguilar told him: “Don´t worry. That (reading and discussing each article) is a mere formality.” 

After approving the draft,  the 138 members (out of a total of 255) vanished. They run away from Sucre. Now it is said they will reconvene this coming week in Oruro, a windy, cold mining western city to give the final approval to the document.  But a small town in Chapare, the coca plantations area, was originally considered as the right place. It fitted the draft chart which upgrades coca leave, the raw material for cocaine, to the condition of Bolivia´s “cultural patrimony.”

On Wednesday President Evo Morales declared he would accept a plebiscite to decide whether he remains in power. But the next day a close aide said if the verdict turns against the president, he would abide by it only if disapproval is higher than the vote he won in December 2005, when he was elected by 1,544.37 votes, or 53.7 percent. It was the highest percentage since Bolivia returned to democracy in the early 1980s, but the new rule made many people raise the eyebrows asaking: Populational data has changed since. More people were born, more have entered voting age.  

That formula, one concedes, was entirley new for a plebisicite.

Morales said Wednesday evening he was ready to submit his presidency to the approval or rejection of the people. “If the people says, ´Evo should leave´, I have no problem. I am a democratic person”, he said on a TV address. His announcement was expected to clear up the thick environment hanging over the country with growing opposition against the Aymara Indian leader in Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando,Tarija, Chuquisaca and Cochabamba. The fast is held in the first four departments.

He said “in the next few hours” he would send for Congressional approval a bill to instate the referendum. All nine governors said they accepted the challenge.

But by Friday the proposal had not been publicly disclosed. It was thightly shrouded in mistery. 

Presidential spokesman Alex Contreras said that for the president to leave the vote against him should be higher than the total he got two years ago.

“That is preposterous,” said Nallar Antelo. “He always plays tricks. But we don´t believe him anymore. He lies all the time. The go-away plebiscite should have no conditions attached. There are many population variables since 2005 election. Santa Cruz alone may have 110,000 more votes since. He is just trying to show to the world that he is a democrat, which is not true.  Now his real face is emerging.”

All nine governors who accepted the challenge were also waiting for the proposed law for the referendum.

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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.