Bolivia: New Constitution Spells Significant Change

by Dan Aspan
Special to iVoryTowerz

On Sunday, Jan. 25, Bolivians lined up at the polls to vote on a new constitution, which passed easily.

While the events at the polls went peacefully, there was no denying the tension formulating between leftist President Evo Morales and his opposition. The new constitution gives Morales a chance to stay in power until 2014. Under the old constitution, Morales would not have been able to immediately run for re-election, because the old constitution's term limits said a president cannot exceed two, five-year, non-consecutive terms. The new constitution also grants more congressional seats for indigenous (Indian) political groups.

Bolivia has an Indian majority population, but the group has faced oppression from white and mestizo minorities. Some of the Indians in Bolivia are old enough to remember a time when they were unable to vote. However, the indigenous have been gradually gaining political power and support.

In 2005, Morales was elected as Bolivia’s first indigenous president. He continued to reverse the trend of inequality and racial oppression, reaching out to the poor and raising the literacy rate. He is an ally of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, but does not enjoy the same economic prosperity that Chavez does; Bolivia is South America’s poorest country.

Although the vote went peacefully, the new constitution will only exacerbate racial tension in Bolivia and could result in a major violent uproar in the near future. Morales believes the new constitution will re-incorporate indigenous values into Bolivian society, something which was lost at the time of Spanish invasion. The document also eliminates the mention of the Roman Catholic Church. Instead, it invokes the name of the Andean earth deity Pachamama.

While Morales views the constitution as an empowerment to the weak and deprived, his opponents view it as discriminatory. Many of Morales’ political enemies are taking it as a sign that they are being left in the dust. It is unclear what this new constitution will bring to a country that has faced great political turmoil and violent clashes. Some ask if civil war lurks in the background. For now, the people of Bolivia are in for an immediate future filled with extreme tension and uncertainty.

(For more background on Bolivian politics, please see: "Bolivia: Evo Morales & the Recall.")

(The photo of President Evo Morales of Bolivia is by Antônio Cruz of Agência Brasil, the Brazilian news agency, which allows use of its photos through a Creative Commons license.)

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kbgressitt said...

Whether it's done in New York or Bolivia, extending one's term of office, while in office, is inevitably perceived as self-serving. Has this ever ended up to the people's advantage?

Suzie Raven said...

I agree. This immediately struck me as Morales just wanting to stay in power longer.

Aspan said...

It is certainly a move by Morales to augment his own personal power, and to extend that power to his allies in the Bolivian government. However, that is not to say it is a disadvantage to the people. It depends on which specific groups of people you are referring to. The majority of Bolivians share Morales' indigenous heritage and view him as a hero for becoming the first indigenous president. For those people, this new constitution is an advantage--it grants more indigenous groups more Congressional seats and gives Morales the ability to rule with their best interests in mind for another 5 years. For the mestizos and whites of Bolivia, it is a huge political disadvantage. It is interesting to consider how U.S. thought views the act of a foreign government as an obvious manipulation of power while the majority of people living in the foreign society have the opinion that it is the best course of action for their country.

Rick Rockwell said...

I have mixed feelings about this move by Morales, but generally I come down on the same side as Dan.

Yes, it is self-serving, but to wipe out decades of entrenched right-wing oligarchy takes time. And sometimes that means more time than a single term can allow. We have to realize that the political context in much of Latin America deals with oligarchic structures that bind the political and economic elite. Taking control of a country’s administration does not solve the problem completely. Building institutions that counter-balance these economic elites takes time.

Certainly, there are concerns that such moves as extending terms and writing new constitutions may be creating a new class of leftist caudillos. But a quick study of Latin American history will show that in a number of countries in the past 150 years caudillos often found ways around term limits: if they couldn’t rule as presidents, they had puppets elected and ruled from behind-the-scenes.

Of course, there are limits to democratic reforms. If Morales starts to get like his neighbor Hugo Chavez, who again is trying to get public support to extend his term, well then we’ll know Morales has gone a bit too far.

Amancay said...

Evo Morales was elected by the majority of Bolivians, who want to change all neoliberal policies implemented by previous regimes. The new constitution isn't Evo Morales idea or iniciative it is the demand of the majority (since 1990). Evo Morales under this new constitution could stand for re-election two times. However in order to calm the rightwing he has agreed to only stand once and this what he is going to do when he stand for reelection on December 2009. Civil war? racial tension? I don't think so. The right wing are so outdated that it is embarrasing to listen to a handful of biggots speak on national tv. The right wing still have to re-invent themselves. The pachamama it is mother earth, which many identify with Virgen Mary, however celebrating, respecting Pachamama it is live and well and practised by all social classes. We have now a non religious state, which is extremely progressive and we are proud of it.
Ama llulla, ama sua, ama kella

Bolivian Constitution said...

Participate in discussions of the articles of the new Bolivian Constitution enacted by President Evo Morales Ayma, in English. Visit http://www.BolivianConstitution.com

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