THE OPPENHEIMER REPORT - Will vote in Bolivia spur separatism moves abroad?
May 08, 2008
The 84 percent victory of pro-autonomy forces in Sunday's referendum called by Bolivia's wealthy eastern province of Santa Cruz in open defiance of that country's central government has triggered fears of a chain reaction of separatist movements throughout Latin America.
The leftist governments of Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba lashed out against the Santa Cruz autonomy vote, claiming it represents the beginning of a U.S. effort to dismember politically independent Latin American countries and create new pro-American states in the region.
The State Department says such charges are ridiculous, and that ``we support Bolivia's unity and territorial integrity.''
A U.S. PLOT?
Venezuela's narcissistLeninist President Hugo Chávez claims the alleged U.S. plot is directed against him and his Latin America-wide ``Bolivarian revolution.''
According to Chávez, the U.S. ''empire'' is hoping that wealthy elites in Bolivia, as well as in Venezuela's oil-rich state of Zulia and Ecuador's wealthy Guayas province, will soon rise up and try to create independent pro-U.S. states.
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa said in his weekend radio address that ''separatist oligarchic groups'' backed by foreign powers are trying to destabilize the region and ``create a Balkanization process in Latin America.''
As I listened to Chávez and his followers, I couldn't help thinking of the 2005 book The Untied States of America by Juan Enriquez. The book reminds us that there have been no new borders on the American continent since 1910 ''but this stability may be coming to an end'' as increasingly more rich provinces around the world are rebelling against inefficient or despotic central governments.
The number of countries in the world has soared from 50 United Nations' members in 1950 to almost 195 members today. From 1900 to 1950, an average of 1.2 new countries were created a year. From 1950 to 1990, the average rose to 2.2 per year, and during the 1990s it went up to 3.1 new sovereignties a year.
''Flags can appear and disappear very quickly,'' Enriquez said.
A FIRM DENIAL
But Bolivia's pro-autonomy leaders categorically deny that they are seeking independence.
They say that Chávez and his followers are trying to discredit them by branding them as separatists.
Santa Cruz Gov. Ruben Costas, whose state accounts for a third of Bolivia's total economy, told me last week that he is only seeking greater rights for his state, much like those enjoyed by Spain's autonomous regions, or U.S. states.
In coming weeks, Bolivia's states of Beni, Pando and Tarija will hold similar pro-autonomy referendums, which polls show are likely to pass by wide margins.
And the states of Cochabamba and Chuquisaca are expected to follow suit. All of them say they are not contemplating secession, but want greater rights to defend themselves against an increasingly authoritarian central government.
A NATURAL REACTION
My opinion: The 84 percent support for autonomy rights in Santa Cruz, a 2.5 million population state, and the polls showing wide support for autonomy in neighboring states, make it difficult to believe that this is a movement of oligarchs.
Rather than that, or a sinister plot by the evil U.S. empire, it is a natural reaction by Bolivian states that want to retain some economic sanity and democratic freedoms in the face of Bolivian President Evo Morales' plan to ''re-found'' the nation and create a Venezuelan-backed socialist state, assume all-out powers, and reelect himself for life.
As Cochabamba Gov. Manfred Reyes Villa told me this week, it is Morales who is splitting Bolivia and threatening the nation's unity. Morales is pushing for a new constitution -- approved by his loyalists in a controversial session that opposition members say they were barred from participating in -- that would create 36 ethnic-based ''nationalities,'' and shift power
Said Reyes Villa, ``They want to pulverize the country to consolidate their political control.''
I agree. The rest of the world should oppose any potential pro-independence move by Santa Cruz and other disgruntled Bolivian states, but at the same time reject Morales' current effort to forcefully impose a new constitution that would create a totalitarian state.
The two sides should reach a compromise that guarantees both Bolivia's unity and states' rights before this ends in a civil war.