Chavez influence dominates vote in Bolivia

Por Venezuela Real - 30 de Junio, 2006, 10:19, Categoría: Injerencia de/en Venezuela

Associated Press
Climbing a hilltop to greet the dawn of their new year, the poncho-wearing tribal elders sacrifice two llamas and offer coca leaves, sugar and salt to Mother Earth. Then they come down the slope and back into the debate over their new president's attempt toremake Bolivia.

Being Aymara Indians like Evo Morales, South America's first truly indigenous leader, they might be expected to line up squarely behind him. Yet they, like many Bolivians, have their doubts, fearing they are being led into a dangerous alliance with Cuba and Venezuela.

They worry about Morales' effort to make his "people's revolution" permanent, beginning with elections Sunday for a national assembly to rewrite Bolivia's constitution.

Jaime Perez, a powerful Aymara leader, takes issue with Morales' alignment with "the socialist politics of Cuba" and with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who strengthened his own hold on power six years ago by convening a similar assembly.

Perez calls Morales "our son" but then adds: "Just because he is our son doesn't mean we want things this way. Are we so ignorant, such dogs, that we need to be told what to do?"

The constituent assembly's 255 delegates, who will convene Aug. 6, must write the new magna carta within a year, approve it by a two-thirds majority and put it to a referendum.

The new constitution could bring more transparency to this corruption-ridden, politically volatile nation.

But big questions loom: Whether Morales' supporters will try to abolish the ban on presidents serving consecutive terms; whether to give Bolivia's nine states greater autonomy or keep the balance of power in the central government's favor, and whether to strengthen the traditional justice system of the Indian majority, long the victims of discrimination. The Morales government also wants to distribute more farmland to landless peasants.

And with Morales turning his back on Washington, his critics claim the constitution will be crafted to dismantle Bolivian democracy.

Raul Prada, a candidate for the assembly from Morales' Movement Towards Socialism, or MAS, rejects such notions.

"We want to rid the nation's institutions of vestiges of colonialism and capitalism and give society greater and more direct control over the state,"he said.

Rather than debate such issues, the main opposition party, Podemos, has focused on fears that his chumminess with oil-rich, Cuba-friendly Venezuela threatens Bolivia's independence.

"Hugo Chavez is a soldier. He came to Bolivia to tell us how to run our constituent assembly. He showed a map in which Bolivia will form part of his confederation. Now Chavez is sending soldiers to Bolivia," says a Podemos radio ad.

Podemos calls Venezuela's growing influence in Bolivia a threat to national sovereignty — Venezuelan Air Force helicopters ferry Morales around, and Venezuelan military planes have flown in at least a dozen times. Bolivia's defense ministry says most of those flights delivered relief supplies; Podemos says a number arrived suspiciously in pre-dawn hours.

Having nationalized the gas industry, Morales now wants the constitution to enshrine other objectives such as giving civic movements the power to vet government spending and guaranteeing free health care for all.

How it would pay for all this is unclear — though more than 1,000 Cuban doctors have arrived in Bolivia since Morales' inauguration Jan. 22 to provide free care to the rural poor.

While no polls have been conducted, most analysts think Morales will get a majority in Sunday's vote but probably not a decisive two-thirds. That would likely force his party to cut deals with other parties and end up disappointing MAS' union-based coalition of landless peasants, coca growers and middle-class intellectuals.

Podemos, the main opposition party, wants to gradually switch Bolivia to a parliamentary system, thus weakening the power of the president in a country that has seen 189 coups d'etat since its 1825 independence.

Perhaps the touchiest question is autonomy for the states, which will be a separate question on the referendum ballot.

Santa Cruz, which generates a third of Bolivia's wealth and is populated by a whiter-skinned elite, has led the campaign for autonomy, complaining that its revenue is sucked away to subsidize the poor highlands. It's also the center of opposition to Morales and he's said he'll vote "no."

Popular assemblies to remake constitutions have been common in recent decades in Latin American countries, including Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Brazil. But Eduardo Gamarra, a Bolivian who heads the Latin American Studies program at Florida International University, thinks a constitutional rewrite isn't apt to change much in his country.

"It doesn't matter if you change the constitution 70,000 times, the behavior of the political culture is going to be the same," he says.


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