Spilling Ink Instead of Blood: Bolivia Poised to Vote on New Constitution
Dozens of marches and rallies in support of
The new constitution, written in a diverse assembly which first convened in 2006, is expected to pass in the January 25th national referendum. Other governments led by left-leaning leaders in the region have also passed new constitutions in recent years, including Hugo Chavez in
At the Tuesday rally in
A giant blown-up balloon statue of Evo Morales – present in nearly every
During his speech, Morales sounded a bit tired, no doubt from the nearly endless campaigning he's been involved in for the new constitution. After the applause died down, he thanked various groups for arriving and urged people to vote for the new constitution. "Brothers and sisters we believe in you, we believe in the people of
Morales pointed out that in the new constitution, basic services – such as water, sewage, gas and electricity – would be a human right, as would education and healthcare. Morales also reflected on the recent history of
At this point in Morales' speech, one security guard was already starting to yawn. A light rain began to fall, women pulled plastic bags over their bowler hats, and the "Viva La Nueva Constitución" cheers became weaker as people returned to work from their lunch breaks.
History and Division
Bolivian social movements have for decades been demanding that a constituent assembly be organized to rewrite the constitution. According to the book Impasse in Bolivia, by Benjamin Kohl and Linda Farthing, from 1826 to 2004,
Calls for a new constitution as a tool to create a more egalitarian society re-emerged most recently in the 1990s when indigenous groups in the east of
It's this sense of overdue justice that is leading many people to support the new constitution. As university student Leidy Castro told Prensa Latina, "We will be in favor of a Constitution that for the first time includes all Bolivians, no matter how much money people have. In addition, it protects sectors that have been marginalized for a long time."
None the less, right wing opponents to the constitution have been active in recent weeks as well, organizing marches and campaigns across the country parallel to the activities of those supporting the constitution. Recently, when these groups collide, there have been some violent confrontations, or at least some strong words exchanged.
Around noon on Wednesday, January 21st, a march against the constitution went down the central Prado street in
The tension escalated, and the two groups began tossing their ample literature and pamphlets at each other, yelling opposing chants. On one side were the blue flags of the MAS, and the multi-colored wiphala flag, and on the other were the pink flags of the MNR. After some spirited verbal battles, and a few scuffles and pushing matches, the MNR contingent marched back up the street, while the MAS supporters remained in the plaza, giving speeches and firing off roman candles into the evening. At a nearby university, revolutionary folk music blasted throughout the day from a speaker next to Palestinian flags and literature about
Media and Change
There have been numerous street battles throughout the process of re-writing and approving the new constitution. But another battle has been waged in the country's media. Major newspapers in
In response to the media's attacks against the government, Morales has announced the launch of new state newspaper, called "Cambio" (Change), which was released today, January 22. "We are organizing ourselves, we are preparing ourselves with media to broadcast the truth to the Bolivian people," Morales said in a recent speech. "This new newspaper will be launched, that won't humiliate anyone, but will inform and educate us."
Regardless of the extent to which the changes in the new constitution are applied, the document is significant in that it has been a central part of the political battleground for the bulk of Morales' time in office. The constitution is also a kind of mirror held up to Bolivian politics, representing the hopes, contradictions and shortcomings of various sides of the political divide.
There are many valid criticisms of the constitution from the left – that the document won't allow for the break up of existing large land holdings, that it won't legalize abortion, that it doesn't go far enough in combating neoliberalism, that there exists a lot of vague language about how these changes will be implemented, and more. But of the many people who will cast their ballot for the constitution this Sunday, a significant number won't be voting specifically for the new document, or even the MAS government, but against the right wing, and the racism, poverty and conflicts the right has exacerbated in recent years.
In any case, the passage of the constitution will open up a new phase for the Morales government, as well as a new period of electoral campaigning: if the constitution passes, general elections will be held on December 6th of this year. As Alfredo Rada, the Minister of the Government, said in an interview with Telesur, "The government is optimistic and believes that this Sunday we will win a majority triumph with the "Yes" vote, and with this open a new chapter in Bolivian history."
For more analysis on the new constitution and upcoming vote, see this previous article:
¿Sí o No? Bolivians Mobilize for National Vote on New Constitution
By Benjamin Dangl
Benjamin Dangl is currently based in Bolivia, and is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in