MAS, opposition prepare for recall referendums
With the victory of an unlikely opposition candidate in the June 29 election for prefect (governor) of Chuquisaca, the number of opposition-controlled prefectures increased to seven out of nine.
The result came as the right-wing opposition plots the extension of its regionalised resistance against
Sabina Cuellar — a former peasant leader, indigenous woman, graduate of the government's literacy program and former constituent assembly delegate for the governing party, Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) — will replace evangelical pastor and former MAS prefect David Sanchez.
Sanchez is now living in exile in
Racist attacks against indigenous constituent assembly delegates meeting to draft a new constitution for the country forced the assembly to reconvene, without the presence of opposition delegates, in a military compound where they finally approved the controversial document in December last year. The draft still awaits popular approval at the polls.
Heading an anti-Morales alliance that campaigned in favour of greater regional autonomy, Cuellar won with 55% of the vote; the MAS candidate obtained 41%. Although in the city of
Not long after winning the vote, Cuellar publicly refused to meet with Morales, stating she would push for a vote on autonomy in Chuquisaca. In the 2006 national autonomy referendum, Chuquisaca voted overwhelming against autonomy, with 62% voting "No". However, the pro-autonomy forces hope that the new situation can consolidate Chuquisaca as part of the pro-autonomy bloc of departments.
Cuellar's victory comes as the national MAS government gears up for the August 10 recall referendums on the president, vice-president and remaining eight prefects. Still uncertain is the date for the vote on the new constitution, aimed at institutionalising the government's indigenous and national-popular project. The central plank of this project is the inclusion of
However, strong resistance from the right-wing elites threatens to slow down, if not halt, the progress of MAS's self-proclaimed "democratic and cultural revolution".
Since May 4, the four departments that make up the opposition-controlled "half moon" in the east —
While the opposition have claimed overwhelming victories, with "Yes" votes of 70-85%, the national government has been quick to highlight the abstention rates of 35-45%, in the context of threats and violent attacks against opponents of the autonomy push.
The proposed "autonomy" statutes are aimed at undermining the power of the central state by handing over enormous power to the prefectures — including control over natural resources and distribution of land titles.
The push has been driven by the elites tied to large agribusiness and gas transnationals located in
Retreating to their trenches in the east, where they continue to maintain a strong political, social and cultural hegemony, the elites have been able to mobilise significant sections of the population in the half moon through a discourse that combines railing against "
When the sensitive issue of where
The hope that returning the political capital to
Two economic models
Following Cuellar's victory, the prefects of the half moon, organised through the National Democratic Coordinator (CONALDE), announced they would reverse their June 23 decision to oppose the recall referendums on the president, vice-president and remaining prefects.
The Senate, controlled by the opposition party Podemos, after allowing MAS's law on holding the referendums to gather dust for over four months, approved the law in May. This move surprised the pro-autonomy forces and raised excitement in the presidential palace about the prospects of removing at least two opposition prefects, with a further two in serious jeopardy.
Counting on a solid voting base of some 90% in the Chapare coca region, 70% in El Alto, similar proportions in the countryside, and a base vote of 30% in
However, the vote in Chuquisaca reflects the growing tensions between the MAS government and urban middle-class mestizo sectors, many of whom voted for Morales with the hope of returning stability to the country.
It also reveals the advances made by the right in pushing back MAS's drive for national hegemony.
To counter this, MAS has been working to shore up some fragile alliances built since 2005, particularly with the Movement of those Without Fear (MSM), grouped around
Meanwhile, tensions between the government and Washington have been rising, as more information comes out regarding the funding of opposition groups in
The protests were over the decision to give asylum in the
The Bolivian government has requested the extradition of both men to face trial over their roles in the massacre.
Attacks have also come from transnationals. The government faces legal challenges from Telecom Italia following the May 1 nationalisation of its subsidiary Entel, which controlled 80% of the long-distance market and 70% of the country's mobile telephone services.
The move was the latest in a wave of nationalisations in strategic sectors such as gas, telecommunications and railways.
The nationalisation of
In June, to deal with these conflicts, in June Morales created a new ministerial post to defend the country from attacks against its nationalisation policies.
On July 14, Bolivian gas minister Carlos Villegas announced that
AP reported that "about three-quarters of the Venezuelan money will finance exploration and production at southern Bolivian fields run by Petroandina, a joint enterprise between
At a public rally with Morales in
Earlier in the day, clashes involving police, the opposition and government supporters occurred as Morales arrived in the city. Extremist youth opposition groups have vowed to not allow Morales to campaign in the east over the three weeks leading up to the referendum.