Bolivia: Rescuing the New Constitution and Democratic Stability
Latin America Briefing N°18
19 Jun 2008
President Evo Morales’s efforts to consolidate sweeping reforms on the basis of a controversial new constitution have steered Bolivia into a cul-de-sac. On 8 December 2007, his supporters in the Constituent Assembly (CA) provisionally passed the text by running roughshod over procedures and virtually excluding opposition delegates. Weak attempts to bridge the deepening divide have failed, increasing potential for a violent confrontation both sides still seem to wish to avoid. Openly defying Morales in May 2008, however, Santa Cruz massively approved the department’s autonomy statutes by referendum. Two other eastern lowland departments followed suit, with the fourth expected to do so on 22 June. Morales is pushing for final adoption of the constitution by referendum and a popular vote of confidence. The Organization of American States (OAS), the European Union (EU) and several European countries, and the Group of Friends (Argentina, Brazil and Colombia) should provide good offices to help the government and opposition reach urgent agreement on a revised constitution that can keep the country together.
Bolivia needs both democratic stability and socio-economic progress, but the two camps are currently pursuing zero-sum strategies, and the Constitutional Court is inoperative, unable to serve as an impartial arbiter. It is essential to move away from “duelling referendums” aimed at subduing the other side. Basic consensus is needed regarding the compatibility between departmental autonomy and the several further layers of regional and indigenous autonomies contained in the new constitution and perceived by the eastern lowlands as undermining their economic foundations and administrative competencies; use and distribution among the nine departments and between them and the central government of revenues from the Direct Hydrocarbon Tax (IDH); and the status of the city of Sucre as the constitutional capital but not seat of government.
The government should provisionally stop taking IDH money away from the departments to finance its new pension fund (Renta Dignidad), and discussions about Sucre’s status should be postponed to a later stage. The autonomy question is top priority and must be tackled immediately, including by:
holding off final adoption of the new constitution and the referendum on recall of elected public officials;
establishing a robust forum for renewed political dialogue between the government and President Morales’s ruling Movement toward Socialism (MAS) party on one side and the opposition on the other, by calling on the OAS, the EU and key European countries, and the Group of Friends to provide good offices and financial support;
focusing within a mutually agreed timeframe on resolving the differences over, and achieving compatibility between departmental, regional and indigenous autonomy;
finding agreement on an appropriate legal, technical and political framework to amend the draft constitution; and
tackling the use and distribution of IDH revenues and the capital status of Sucre once the above agreements have been reached and the constitution has been amended accordingly.
Bogotá/Brussels, 19 June 2008