Bolivia Racked by Political Divisions on the Eve of a Recall Vote
While the president and vice-president are expected to survive the recall, perhaps even overturning a few opposition governors (seven out of nine governors are in the opposition), the tensions tearing at this divided nation’s social fabric will persist.
On one side of this struggle is the impoverished indigenous majority in the western highlands who, along with
At the opening meeting of a group called International Intellectuals and Artists for the Unity and Sovereignty of Bolivia on July 26, Bolivian President Evo Morales put the division in simple terms. “Two models of government are on the table,” he said. “One is a colonial model where a few families control the nation’s resources. The other, which we defend, is based on the nationalization of natural resources for the benefit of everyone.”
Morales’ government nationalized the nation’s most important source of revenue, natural gas and has used the profits for social programs that fight poverty and inequality. These include free school meals and a cash payment to mothers who keep their children in school. Morales has also raised the minimum wage and expanded the number of eligible elderly people receiving pensions from 489,000 to 676,000, providing them with the equivalent of 27 dollars a month. [Nearly 60 percent of elderly people in
Morales has appealed to progressive governments in the region to help with his program of social transformation.
Turn on the radio or the television these days, however, and you’ll hear a different story. A barrage of opposition ads encourage people to vote against the President in the upcoming recall. They scare people into thinking that Morales is going to take away their private property, like their homes or their cars, and paint him as a “Chavez-style dictator” who has indebted the country to
“I apologize to the journalists here,” Morales said at the scholars’ meeting, “but in
He gave a recent example. He had just come from visiting Camiri, a town in the department of
The recall vote comes on the heels of a series of referendums organized by these powerful elites in the eastern departments calling for autonomy from the national government. They have been able to mobilize significant sectors of the population, including people who once supported Morales but have been disillusioned by what they perceive as government corruption and incompetence.
While the autonomy referendums passed, they were claimed illegal not only by the President, but by the
The next vote is the Aug. 10 recall vote. If Morales and Vice President Alvaro Garcia lose, they have to hold new elections within 90-120 days. If any of the governors lose, Morales gets to select interim governors until the next election.
Polls indicate that the president and vice president will win, thanks in part the government’s massive voter registration drive and the fact that many voters who are critical of Morales will back him so as not to strengthen the right-wing opposition.
A win at the polls is crucial, but it is not likely to stop the growing tensions that have polarized the country, created a crisis between national and local legal institutions, dried up private investment and led to increasingly violent clashes between supporters on both sides.
The following are some of the crises the government will still have to contend with:
* If several opposition governors lose, they and their supporters may refuse to accept the results, which could lead to increased violence and make certain departments ungovernable;
* A new constitution that aims to include
* Even the location of the nation’s capital is in dispute. Sucre, which is in the hands of the opposition, is the historic capital of Bolivia, but all the state powers were shifted to La Paz in the wake of the 1899 Federal War between conservatives in the south and liberals around La Paz. Opposition leaders, however, have been complaining about “
* Tensions with the
Back at the gathering of Intellectuals and Artists, Frei Betto, a well-loved liberation theologist from