Tuesday, September 05, 2006
WILL BOLIVIA FRAGMENT?
- Probably not but get ready for confusion & uncertainty-
CRISIS IN CONSTITUTIONAL ASSEMBLY!
4 STATES (nearly half the country) DECLARE GENERAL STRIKE THIS FRIDAY!
GOVERNMENT ISSUES STERN WARNING!
Bolivia, like a boxer in trouble, is clinging on to the ropes! And here's why:
The constitutional assembly seems to be going nowhere! They've not been able to agree on the rules of debate! The assembly is a body of elected representatives; their task is to put together a new constitution which reflects the indigenous component in Bolivia and address deep seated injustices .
In the past, indigenous Indians were marginalized; they normally got what they needed as they hung onto the coat tails of the traditional political parties. All that changed when Evo Morales was elected as the first indigenous president of Bolivia. After taking office he tried to nationalize the petroleum industry and proposed far reaching changes in the educational system; teaching indigenous religious beliefs and languages were some of the ideas. The Christian community viewed this as an imposition and reacted; the president later backed down. A 30 page document which purportedly outlined the ruling party's proposals for the new constitution was leaked, it was based on the Cuban model of Soviet style central planning. Many, especially in Eastern Bolivia (that's where I serve by the way) are appalled by what they percieve as the ruling party's intentions to influence the Constitutional Assembly with fundamentalist socialist ideas. President Evo's close association with Fidel Castro has only served to confirm people's worst fears. The other political parties are therefore not sparing any effort to block the ruling party's proposals in the Assembly.
The opposition and the ruling party are bickering over voting procedures in the new assembly. The former want every proposed article in the new constitution to be approved by a 2/3 majority in the assembly; they appear to have the law on their side. "A simple majority is enough to approve all the articles", say the the ruling party. The proposed new constitution will need to be approved by a 2/3 majority at a nation wide referendum . An absolute majority at the referendum will NOT be enough to put into effect a new constitution put together by the constitutional assembly.
What Does All This Mean?
Firstly, the ruling party is percieved as wanting to effect deep seated fundamental changes that will make Bolivia into a socialist indigenous state not unlike Cuba. They believe that they will never have a similar opportunity like the one they have now. They form the majority in the congress and in the constitutional assembly. Their majorities however are not enough to bring about the revolution they seek; hence, the need to make alliances and build a consensus with other political parties. This will not be easy because the radical wing in the ruling party show no signs of compromising with anyone.
Secondly, Bolivia has severe fault lines between the East and the West. People in the West are different from the people in the East when it comes to food, music, skin color, accent, political ideology. The voting patterns almost always reveal the cleavage between the East and West. The majority in the East will NEVER accept dominance from anything resembling a socialist indigenous state resembling Cuba. The present controversy has brought to surface the old talk of secession and the creation of a new political entity in the East.
Thirdly, the ruling party appears to be supporting the illegal migration of settlers from the West to the East; they squat on fertile land belonging to landowners of the East; this has only made matters worse. Almost everyone knows that a just land reform is inevitable where landowners will have to give up parcels of unused land but the presence of these illegal settlements in the East could very well provide the flash point that sends Bolivia into the black hole of violence and secession.
There are also indicators, thankfully, which do not suggest Bolivia's fragmentation. Bolivia, unlike Sri Lanka and Colombia, has never had to face armed insurrection from within; we have not seen this sort of internecine violence; people in the East also don’t have a secessionist leader ready to lead a revolt.
Although the overall situation is patchy, unpleasant and fragile we are prayerfully hopeful that a constitution respectful of everyone's rights (indigenous, property owners, foreign investors) will emerge from the constitutional assembly.
Pray that the elected members of the Constitutional Assembly will not seek division but consensus. Pray for justice to prevail as competing needs for indigenous rights and socio-economic cohesion slug it out! Pray for president Evo Morales and his cabinet to be driven by national interests and not sectarian ones. Pray against the work of the Evil one as he spreads seeds of violence and extremism. And most importantly pray for many to come to Christ through the present crisis.