Sunday, November 26, 2006


Like Custer At The Little Big Horn, Opponents Of Cuban Style Social Collectivism Make A Stand.

General Custer fought Red Indians in the American west. His most dramatic test was when Sitting Bull, the Sioux warrior-chief swarmed all over him at a place called the Little Big Horn. Custer, hopelessly outnumbered, had no choice but to make a stand. Something similar is taking place in Bolivia's Constitutional Assembly where opposing historical forces, represented by the present government and a very vocal opposition, are locked in a fierce contest. The latter, a huge minority, are now making their stand. It was only a matter of time before the indigenous marginalized indians would confront, on their own terms, the dominating groups in Bolivian society with their claims. These groups, feeling threatened, have reacted against what they percieve as an all out assault on their values and regional interests. We are hopeful that good sense will prevail and that a compromise will be reached at the last minute.

Student activists, civic leaders - both male and female, the influential agricultural lobby and political parties opposed to the ruling party headed by President Evo Morales have put together one of the largest hunger strikes in the history of Santa Cruz. They are protesting against what they percieve as the government's attempts to push forward an agenda that will change drastically the socio-economic fabric of Bolivia. At stake are 2 big issues. The first is a controversial land reform Act which will effectively give away land in Santa Cruz to poor emigrants from the highlands. Secondly the government-backed representatives at the Constitutional Assembly passed a law which will give them the right to pass any article or statute of their choice by a simple majority vote instead of the required 2/3 majority. The government does not have enough representatives in the Constitutional Assembly to claim a 2/3 majority. Hence the push to pass the new articles of the proposed constitution through a simple majority.

Its amazing that the Constitutional Assembly has not passed a single article or statute after nearly 4 months of existence. Neither the ruling party nor the opposition groups have put forward a proposed constitution! Legally the Assembly has up till the middle of 2007 to table a new constitution that will be approved by a nationwide referendum.
Opposition groups within the Constitutional Assembly believe that a 2/3 majority ruling would force the ruling party to seek a consensus with them and rein in extremist elements. The middle class & urban populace are fearful that the present government has the authority now to re-create Bolivia as a socialist country a la Cuba! The massive non-violent protests against the government are attempts at trying to change the government's stance.

The leftist based indigenous movement in the government sees this Constitutional Assembly as a historic opportunity to frame a constitution that will not only satisfy indigenous aspirations but also give a voice to marginalized sectors of society. History has landed them an opportunity to undo past injustices and to ensure a fairer distribution of the nation's wealth. Its difficult to envisage them caving in to the demands and protests from the other side.

The business constituency, large sectors of Eastern Bolivia, local politicians and civic leaders have a different take on the Constitutional Assembly. They view themselves as the future of country and percieve the present government as retrogade and totally out of touch with the times. From their standpoint, the Constitutional Assembly, like Custer's stand at the Little Big Horn, is THE place to stop the unholy alliance of socialist collectivism and radical indigenous politics. Ensuring that proposed articles are passed with a 2/3 majority is the only way to safeguard their interests.

These are the 2 "Bolivias" in Bolivia: The "Bolivia" of the indigenous people and the poor, especially from the west, want a revolutionary new system responsive to their cultural, material and economic needs. On the other end of the spectrum is the "Bolivia" of the thoroughly urbanized, middle and upper middle class, who feel very vulnerable to changes associated with what they percieve as Cuban style social collectivism. Many of them are in the eastern lowlands and attend our churches in Santa Cruz.

Perhaps the Custer analogy, for the folk in the East, is not the most appropriate; He was slaughtered by Sitting Bull's armies!

God willing there will be no violence and a last minute compromise maybe reached.

Pray for Bolivia!!


Anonymous said...

Land reform will be difficult. Look at the philippines!

Anonymous said...

someone told me the other day that land reform will not change the basic nature of man. Those who benefit from this reform will in time act like the big landowners from the past. Hmnn...left to be seen.