Two conflicting processes are at work in Bolivia today that may result in violence and perhaps even civil war. On the one hand, the leftist government of indigenist president Evo Morales is trying to rewrite the Bolivian constitution to give more power to the central government and in particular the president. Morales’ reforms seem modeled mainly on those of his political benefactor, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
On the other hand, some departments (Bolivian equivalents to states) oppose the centralization and have proposed greater autonomy from the federal government. On May 4, the eastern city of Santa Cruz will hold a referendum on autonomy, and according to this article in Cochabamba’s Los Tiempos, groups loyal to Morales met today to discuss ways to disrupt and prevent the referendum from taking place.
Eugenio Rojas, mayor of the altiplano town of Achacachi, whom the paper describes as the head of the radical Aymara group “Ponchos Rojos” said that his group will do what they feel is necessary to stop the referendum:
“According to Rojas, whose followers assure that they have weapons to defend President Morales, the current crisis in Bolivia pits the families with money against the poor majority.”
What is going on here is not new. For many years, the vast tropical plains of the east have been the source of most income for the country: the east is, as the paper puts it, “the richest and most populous region of the country.” The people of the western Andean departments have depended on eastern oil, farming, and natural gas to provide much of the country’s tax revenue and international trade. Morales campaigned on promises to spread the wealth more “evenly” between the rich east and the impoverished west. Not surprisingly, those in the east distrust the indigenist movement and its message of extracting wealth from the east.
It will be interesting, to say the least, to see what happens in the next month when Santa Cruz attempts to take the first step in resisting the central government. The Morales government has money and weapons from Chavez’s Venezuela, but people in the east seem determined to assert more independence. That Morales’ followers brought in a western politician, Rojas, to organize the disruption is quite telling.
As Catholic leaders put it, the ongoing conflict is “getting dangeroulsy worse” and well may “end up in confrontations with unforeseen consequences of pain and death.”
I’m hoping the padres are wrong, but I wouldn’t bet on it.