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ZNet Commentary - December 19, 2005

Change Or Intervention In Bolivia

By America Vera-Zavala

If you look down from the visitors' balcony in the national parliament in La Paz, you see a divided parliament. On the right hand side you have all the members of parliament from the right wing parties; all white, well dressed in suits and ties, coming from well known political and business families in the country. On the other side, the left side MAS, Movimiento al Socialismo takes up most of the seats. Their members of parliament are from the indigenous population. Many of them are dressed in their traditional colourful ponchos and hats and the women wear wide skirts.

During the colonisation the indigenous were slaves, after liberation they became serfs, only after 1952 they won a limited right to vote and constituted the proletariat. With MAS gaining political space they entered the parliament in great numbers for the first time ever in the beginning of the 21st century. The indigenous population have always been the vast majority in the country, and in the elections 18th December they can become majority in parliament as well.

Bolivia is probably the most intervened country in Latin America. It is literally being torn apart by the US, the national bourgeoisie, the IMF, the World Bank, NGO:s and Aid Agencies. As a consequence it is one of the most militant countries in the continent.

Bolivia is the first country in the world to throw out a transnational corporation. In 2000 Bechtel was chased out from Cochabamba after the by now famous water war. In the fall 2003 people from El Alto and surroundings started the gas war. The demands were to nationalise gas and oil and call for a constituent assembly. To obtain this the people from El Alto closed down La Paz, the airport couldn?t function, and there was no communication in and out from the city.

With the pretext of saving stranded tourists and giving rich people food the massacre of November 2003 was carried out in El Alto and surrounding villages. Nobody knows how many people were killed, between 80 and 100 is said. The first one was an eight year old girl. Protests intensified and the neoliberal president Goni, had to flee (to Washington were he is currently living). Carlos Mesa the incoming president promised a referendum about nationalising gas and oil and to make those responsible for the massacre stand trial. None of this happened and in June 2005 he had to resign after intense protests.

"We did not want this election", says Beatriz, an aymara intellectual and activist from El Alto. "We wanted change and not elections. After the gas war we celebrated, although people had been killed and hurt, after the June uprising we cried," she says.

All the opinion polls, even those that everyone knows are fraudulent show a victory for Evo Morales, the presidential candidate of MAS. Morales needs more than 50 percent to become president, otherwise he has to make pacts and agreements with other forces he doesn?t want to govern with. The president of Bolivia is not directly elected. Instead of a second round, the parliament chooses president. This means that Morales can win the elections but with less than 50 percent all other parties can join forces and vote for a right wing candidate. "We will win", says Morales, "50 plus one" but it is impossible to tell if he believes that or if he is echoing a slogan.

"We are ready to fight over and over again, and we know how to do it". Julio Pabon is a member of the FEJUVE board, the federation of neighbourhood councils in El Alto. They are the ones that have initiated and resisted in all the important struggles the last five years. But he doesn't have much hope that things will get better. "The US can invade us or more probable they can split the country in two pieces, make a civil war and finance their side, in Santa Cruz"

Santa Cruz is the rich region in the south east. The oil and gas is there, big business and huge latifundios. Serfs still exist there and nobody dares to free them. If Santa Cruz became an independent state all the transnational corporations would be safe. Both the US and Chile, the Latin-American country with most coast that stole the only coastline Bolivia had in a war hundreds years ago, are pouring money into the Santa Cruz civic committee and separatist movements and parties, making separatism a method for intervention.

The situation is all but clear, when the neoliberal candidate Jorge Quiroga, called Tuto will close him campaign in Santa Cruz where he for sure will be the winner. Tuto along with the other candidates have said that Morales as president will mean: authoritarian chaos, all private property will be confiscated, imposition of a magic religion, and that they will grow coca in the entire country.

In Cochabamba, Claudia Lopez from the Coordinadora del Agua wants to win in the elections, not to make Morales president or so that MAS can form government but for them to call for a constituent assembly.""Then the real change can become true, but many things can happen on the way - bad things."

Evo Morales campaigns on the constituent assembly and it is MAS first priority he affirms. Apart from that he is quite vague on what a MAS government will do. "We will govern with three principles: amasua, not steal, amayuya, not lie, amakella, not be lazy. That is how our ancestors reigned in the time of the Inca." Indigenous romanticism or a new way to govern?

Many people that put their hope in the future constitution have a vision about a country governed in a different way, in a more participatory way. When we look for a new word for democracy we should look for it in aymara or kechua; the two biggest indigenous languages.. When it comes to resistance, struggle and persistence Bolivia stand out. A new constitution based on the majority in the country could mean that a parliament not only would be won but also changed. Indigenous tradition mixed with contemporary activism has given the world rich examples of how to handle corporations or get rid of populist presidents. Hopefully it could also become an example of a modern transformation of the state. The constituent process is needed to go from resistance to governance.

The indigenous issue can also cause conflicts and division. The only candidate more radical than Morales is the aymara leader Felipe Quispe, a 63 years old experienced indigenous leader that has lead peasant trade unions, armed groups and served time in jail. Even though he is candidate for president he likes neither the elections nor the campaign. Quispes discourse is entirely based on the indigenous issue; he wants a society governed by ayllus and does not like the present parliamentary system.

The ayllu, community, was the smallest entity in the Inca Empire. He campaigns as a way to reach more indigenous communities and he tells me: he has not yet decided whether they, MIP Movimiento Indigena Pachakutic, will vote in favour of Morales or abstain in congress.

This Sunday is the day when the future of Bolivia will be at a crossroads. The country will either continue to be governed by the owning minority or be taken over by the majority. Next time someone looks down from the visitors? balcony in the parliament maybe all benches will be full of colours, ponchos and women.

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