Si o No? Bolivians Mobilize for National Vote on New Constitution
In the morning on Sunday, January 18, after a heavy rain fell on
Eddie Mamani, a resident of
The march, which stretched for some five blocks, was filled with the white, blue and black flags of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), the party of President Evo Morales. The sound of fireworks mixed with honking horns from cars and buses waiting for the march to pass. While posters of Morales bobbed up and down in the crowd, and copies of the new constitution were handed out to onlookers, marchers yelled "Sí, Sí, Sí! Vamos por el Sí," urging voters to cast a "Yes" ballot in the upcoming vote. Polls indicate that the constitution will be approved.
Along with the nationalization of
Among other significant changes, the new constitution allows for a broader involvement of the state in the Bolivian economy, including the state's participation in the gas and oil industry. It establishes the Bolivian state as plurinacional to reflect the diversity of indigenous and Afro-Bolivian groups in the country. It formally promotes the official use of the country's 36 indigenous languages. The new constitution also grants autonomy to indigenous groups across the nation, enabling them to govern their own communities. This autonomy for indigenous communities may undermine the power of right wing prefects in opposition-led departments. The current constitution also expands the number of seats in the recently opposition-controlled Senate, and other seats are reserved specifically for Senators elected from indigenous communities.
Like many of the constitution's critics, Rolando, a thirty something resident of
Another point of contention is the way the constitution deals with religion. The current constitution says, "The State recognizes and upholds the apostolic Roman Catholic religion. [It] guarantees the exercise of every other cult." The new constitution says, "The State respects and guarantees the liberty of religion and spiritual beliefs, in accord with one's cosmovisiones. The State is independent of religion." Many critics, besides fearing the separation of church and state, say this change opens the window for the government to allow gay marriage and legalize abortion. Unfortunately, nothing indicates that pushing for such much-needed policy changes is on the current government's agenda.
Under the new constitution, land deemed productive will not be broken up by the government, but unproductive land will be redistributed, and a cap on new land purchases - set either at 5,000 or 10,000 hectares - will be voted on separately. Land reform is an area of the constitution which has been highly criticized from the Bolivian left. Critics say the constitution should go further in addressing the fact that most of
In what appears to have been another concession to the opposition, the draft constitution was also changed to prevent Morales from running for two additional terms, as an earlier draft of the constitution allowed. If the new constitution is approved, Morales will run for his last consecutive term in general elections in December of 2009.
The coming days will be full of marches across the country for and against the new constitution. Sunday's mobilization was a preview of things to come. Max, a participant in the march waving a MAS flag, and who described himself as "just another Bolivian citizen," said that he is supporting the new constitution because of the many constitutions which
One section of this march ended up in a park with a giant blown-up balloon figure of Evo Morales in the middle of it, and dozens of people handing out pamphlets on the new constitution and MAS calendars for the new year. While one group of people slapped "Sí" bumper stickers on cars in the area, another woman methodically peeled the same stickers off the guard rail of a nearby bridge.
Lourdes Calla, a brown-haired activist in the MAS, wove a wiphala flag and jumped to the rhythm of a nearby chant. "I am voting in support of the constitution for the equality of all Bolivians - there should be no upper and lower economic class, we're all Bolivians," she said. "This new constitution has been created through a historically democratic process, and defends the rights of indigenous and rural communities. Now is the time to put these rights into practice."
Benjamin Dangl is currently based in