Bolivia on the brink?

Security forces are on alert in Bolivia ahead of rallies planned in four eastern departments to inaugurate declarations of autonomy. Rejecting the draft constitution recently completed by supporters of President Evo Morales, regional assembly members in Santa Cruz Dec. 13 voted up a statute giving the department power to keep two-thirds of its tax revenues. Three other eastern departments—Tarija, Beni and Pando—are planning similar declarations at rallies on Saturday. Once the autonomy charters are declared, they will be put to the local populations for approval. Morales has ordered 400 extra national police troops to Santa Cruz, with the army prepared to protect public buildings.

The same day Santa Cruz voted, Morales called for dialogue—but warned: “The unity of the country is untouchable, it is not up for discussion. There is no referendum to be held on the country’s unity.” (BBC, Dec. 14)

Vice President Alvaro Garcia called upon the people of the eastern departments to reject “desperate actions,” and seek autonomy through the provisions of the new constitution. He said unilaterally declared autonomy would be “de facto,” and accused the pro-autonomy forces of undemocratic tactics. He particularly named Santa Cruz Gov.
Ruben Costas—even questioning the legitimacy of his election, marred by widespread abstentionism. Asked Garcia: “Why didn’t they call the 53 percent of Santa Cruz people who did not vote for Mr. Costas?”

He also criticized proposals to create a Santa Cruz citizenship, which would force Bolivians from other departments to request visas to enter. “Such juridical aberration to control the movement of inhabitants is not established even in long-standing federal societies,” he said. (Prensa Latina, Dec. 14)

Other forces on the ground in the East could be brought into any conflict. Earlier this year, Bolivia’s vice-minister of Citizen Security, Marcos Farfán, announced creation of a new Specialized Force to oversee the agrarian reform policy. Said Farfán: “The recovery of idle lands will be carried out through legal processes based on the Political Constitution of the State and the INRA [National Institute of Agrarian Reform] Law, in order to later distribute them to the families in need.” Recognizing the policy could generate resistance among landowners, he added: “We have high hopes that they will obediently comply with and respect the law… In those cases where they respond violently to the application of the law, the public force will act as required.” (Erbol, Sept. 29 via Bolivia Rising) Large land-owners in Santa Cruz had recently announced creation of “committees of resistance” to defend their lands. (Santa Cruz-Bolivia blog, June 23)

See our last post on Bolivia.