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Class struggle or regional clash?
Martin Garat
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New constitution polarizes the country.

“MAS policies economically benefit the popular sectors, primarily from rural areas, while the opposition is headed by economic groups that seek to protect their interests,” said political analyst César Rojas, referring to the conflict caused by the new charter that was proposed by Bolivian President Evo Morales’ Movement To Socialism party, or MAS.

After several weeks of standstill, the Constitutional Assembly finally managed to meet Nov. 23-24, although this required transferring the representatives to military quarters for safety.

In a tense environment with no opposition present, MAS first approved the general guidelines of the new constitution as police and protesters clashed in the city of Sucre, where the assembly was being held.

Sucre — Bolivia’s political capital — demanded that government headquarters be returned to the city, after they were transferred to La Paz after a civil war over 100 years ago.

But the issue was left out of the draft constitution after MAS vetoed the discussion in the assembly, which unleashed violent protests from Sucre residents that claimed three lives before the police left the city.

On Dec. 9 in the city of Oruro, the assembly — with scant participation of the opposition — approved the new constitution five days before the assembly’s legal term expired. Before going into effect, the new constitution must be approved in a national referendum, though no date has been fixed as of yet.

MAS’s constitutional proposal includes the recognition of Bolivian diversity, argues Rojas.

“The proposal recognizes the indigenous community economy, as well as state and private economies. While it creates departmental autonomy, it also creates regional and indigenous community autonomy. You could say that it is an elaborate constitution, where various very different elements coexist,” he said.

The new text declares Bolivia “a plurinational” state, that the country’s 36 indigenous peoples are considered nations. It also guarantees private property when its use does not endanger collective interests.

On to the referendum
Analyst José Antonio Quiroga warned that the proposal might be rejected by a considerable part of the country.

“In the east they think that MAS is imposing their constitution in an undemocratic way. There is a danger that, subject to plebiscite, the constitutional project will earn approval at a national level, but will lose in various departments. This situation would leave the government with an enormous problem of legitimacy and governance.”

“Bolivia is a very centralist country and MAS is hypercentralist in its concept of the state, which has created strong opposition in several regions. While there are class contradictions in the conflict, the dispute between local and central power is key to understanding what’s happening to Bolivia,” he added.

Both sides of the confrontation show a high level of organization, even though it is not channeled through political parties. Behind the government are the social and indigenous movements, based in the west.

Other important groups are the coca producers and urban marginalized sectors, principally in the city El Alto, which offer strong support to the government. These popular movements see in President Morales a “class brother.”

In turn, the opposition is formed by right-wing governors , citizen groups and civic committees who cohere to businessmen and landowners with great capacity to mobilize.

Factions routinely resort to force — marches, regional strikes and closing highways — in order to impose their demands. On occasion, adversary groups confront each other in the streets or clash with police, as occurred in Sucre.

“The constant mobilization is due to the absence of political mechanisms for mediation. The political parties have been replaced by new actors who only know means of pressure as a way of being heard,” explained Quiroga.

Maintaining stability
Though the country has a governance problem and the government has little presence in opposition departments, the regime’s stability is not in danger, according to Rojas.

“The government has lost credibility due to the strong protests and violence. In the medium term, it may experience a decline in support. The opposition has gotten stronger, but is very fragmented and lacks a public figure to bring it together.

For now, Evo Morales does not have a political rival,” he said.

Rojas and Quiroga agree that neither the government nor the opposition is capable of defeating the other. The mobilizations in the street are a way to measure forces before sitting to negotiate.

Both sides are in need of a new constitution. If the current process fails, the east would still lack autonomy and MAS would have to abandon its ambitions to “refound” Bolivia and end historic injustice.

The MAS proposal includes consecutive presidential reelection. In theory, Morales could be elected to two more terms since his current term would be voided under the new charter.

“It is decisive for the political survival of MAS that the president can be reelected at least once more,” commented Rojas.

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