Bolivia’s New Constitution: Avoiding Violent Confrontation
Bolivia’s New Constitution: Avoiding Violent Confrontation
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Bolivia’s Landslide Lays to Rest the Fears of Fraud
Bolivia’s Landslide Lays to Rest the Fears of Fraud
Report 23 / Latin America & Caribbean 2 minutes

Bolivia’s New Constitution: Avoiding Violent Confrontation

  • Share
  • Save
  • Print
  • Download PDF Full Report

Executive Summary

Bolivia is moving dangerously toward renewed confrontation and violence as the government of President Evo Morales and his Movement toward Socialism (MAS) party seek to embed sweeping state reforms in a new constitution. Their proposals are being sharply criticised in the Constituent Assembly (CA) by opposition leaders representing the eastern lowlands and the urban middle classes, and the dispute is widening the breach in an already polarised country. The CA’s life has been extended to 14 December 2007 but time is not on delegates’ side. In the next four months, Bolivia’s political leaders need to engage in a wide-ranging dialogue to reach national consensus on fundamental issues.

The issues at stake include the very nature of the state, whether unitary or decentralised with strong federal elements; significant shifts in the balance among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government; and a new territorial order, with emotionally driven, competing demands for regional, indigenous and local autonomies and each side equating victory or defeat with political and economic survival. The MAS and its allied parties and social movements are pushing for a “plurinational, communitarian, unitary state” (Estado unitario plurinacional comunitario) that, in their view, would compensate for centuries of exclusion of the indigenous peoples. The proposal would cut across traditional regional borders and economic redlines and is meeting tough resistance from affected social and political sectors, who assert ethnic political divisions would be the prelude to Bolivia’s Balkanisation.

The CA had a one-year term to resolve these and other issues in a new constitution but the bulk of the time was squandered in zero-sum battles over voting procedures and how to deal with opposition proposals. The fiercest opposition to Morales, including sporadic violence, has come from prefects and civic committees in Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni and Pando departments. Conflicts have also emerged between urban and rural populations.

On 3 August 2007, MAS and the opposition parties brokered an eleventh-hour agreement in Congress that authorized a four-month extension of the CA, until 14 December. That agreement also addressed a series of issues, including respect for minority proposals; implementation of departmental autonomy in the eastern region in accordance with the July 2006 referendum; and creation of a high-level “political commission” outside the CA to help build consensus – a difficult task considering the intransigent stances of government and opposition delegates for twelve months.

Morales’s management of the government also has fuelled opposition charges that political uncertainty is holding back much needed foreign and private investment. Though public revenue has increased thanks to high commodity prices, pro-government elements are fighting each other for control of the oil, gas and mining money. Land tenure policy causes discontent not only among large estate owners and agribusinesses, but also among landless peasants, a core part of Morales’s constituency, who are angered over collective land titles that benefit indigenous peoples exclusively.

If President Morales does not lead the new dialogue in a manner that defuses tensions and achieves consensus, he risks new violence and, ultimately, the failure of his project of near-revolutionary change.

Bogotá/Brussels, 31 August 2007

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.