Friday, August 08, 2008

Morales Prepares to Win Bolivia’s Sunday Referendum

International community will not accept legality of breakaway eastern part of the country, even if Morales loses An eastern bloc going on its own could open up its jurisdiction to drug trafficking, money laundering, and threats of terrorism Santa Cruz-led bloc presumably under arrogant thesis that mineral deposits found in a certain area of the country fall under the local jurisdiction rather than the entire nation

Bolivian officials began to pick up the pieces in the wake of violent riots that broke out in the gas rich town of Tarija, Bolivia on August 5, causing the cancellation of a meeting between Argentine, Venezuelan and Bolivian heads of state. The riots began early Tuesday between opposition groups and police, forcing officers to tear gas crowds that gathered at the Tarija airport, where leaders were expected to meet. The presidents were expected to discuss several energy agreements, among them a $450m loan from Argentina to Bolivia for the construction of a petrol plant, and the installation of a petro-chemical plant by Venezuelan engineers.

Protests also erupted near Bolivia’s largest tin mine, Huanuni, where more opposition groups in favor of Bolivia’s largest labor union, Central Obrera Boliviana (COB), clashed with police, leaving two dead and at least thirty injured. The protests were aimed at Morales’ push to nationalize major energy sectors, as well as the planned summit conference that could lead to further consolidation of Morales’ power if he wins a third term. As local opposition leader, Reynaldo Bayard, viewed the meeting, “[The presidents] say they are going to sign an energy agreement, but it’s a political show in support of Morales.”

The public protests demonstrate the escalation of opposition demands for regional autonomy from the Morales administration. With a recall vote set to take place on Sunday, which Morales is expected to win, the battle between the President and regional governors appears irreconcilable. With recent polls showing Morales between 54% and 59% support, the dissident states could face criminal charges if they continue to reject Morales’ plans for a more unified Bolivia. As Morales prepares to win Sunday’s recall vote, he confronts the task of settling the conflict with the regional prefects who will most likely refute the referendum and continue boycotts for independence. The prefects’ claim of regional autonomy from the central government would be an empty gesture. The likelihood of being recognized by the international community as a state and granted access to the global economy is incredibly slim. Without the ability to trade, the rogue states’ bid for survival will fail. Additionally, attacks launched from the states, which could fall prey to terrorism, money laundering, and drug trafficking would pose too great a threat to territories still held by Morales.

With the recall vote days away, the protests appear to be part of a larger struggle over Morales’ structural changes within the country such as the proposed constitution that would enhance his power in favor of indigenous rights, oil revenue divisions and land reform. It remains to be seen if Morales’ current push for legitimacy with regionally funded development plans will result in his defeat by the oil-rich regions. On the other hand, the vote could also show the Bolivian people’s approval of Morales and his stride towards a more egalitarian Bolivia. These plans would comprise a blow to the antagonism of regional prefects who maintain the selfish view that rights to the benefits of a national commodity belong more to the locality in which it was cultivated than to the country as a whole.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Maggie Airriess

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