Bolivia: opposition calls civil strike in wake of recall vote

Five opposition governors are declaring a strike next week in Bolivia, vowing to “radicalize” tactics after talks with President Evo Morales broke down. The governors are asking Morales to refund state shares of oil and natural gas income that his government has used to give stipends to elderly citizens. Hours after the Aug. 10 recall referendum, Morales called for regional governors (prefects) that were ratified in their posts to negotiate. Department leaders from Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, Tarija and Chuquisaca first announced they wouldn’t attend the talks at the presidential palace. On Aug. 12, holding their own meeting at Santa Cruz, the prefects capitulated and agreed to meet with the president. But talks broke down over demands for the repeal of the Direct Tax on Hydrocarbons. (AP, Prensa Latina, Aug. 15; AP, Aug. 13)

In the recall referendum, Morales was confirmed as president by more than 60% of the votes. Five of eight prefects—Mario Virreina of Potosí, Rubén Costas of Santa Cruz, Ernesto Suárez of Beni, Mario Cossio of Tarija and Leopoldo Fernandez of Pando—were also confirmed in their posts. Manfred Reyes of Cochabamba, José Luis Paredes of La Paz and Alberto Luis Aguilar of Oruro will have to step down. (Prensa Latina, Aug. 10) Savina Cuellar, recently elected governor of central Chuquisaca, was exempt from the referendum. Vice President Álvaro Garcia Linera also survived the recall vote. (MineWeb, Aug. 11; AP, Aug. 10)

But after the vote, Manfred Reyes said the referendum itself was unconstitutional. “I go on being prefect of Cochabamba,” he said. In the days leading up the vote, protesters blockaded airport runways and prevented Morales from traveling to several regional capitals. “No to the big foreign monkeys!” Rubén Costas shouted in a televised speech the night of the vote, revealing what the New York Times called “the racist language used to refer to Venezuela.” Under the rules of the referendum, Morales can appoint the successors to the defeated prefects. (NYT, Aug. 11)

Costas said the fact that a majority of voters in the east and in Chuquisaca in the south came out against the president reflected their rejection of “the dictatorship and the draft constitution that is leading to confrontation between brothers and sisters.” In the central square of Santa Cruz the night of the vote, followers of Costas chanted “Independence! Independence!,” while the governor proclaimed a local victory against “evismo chavista.” Costas interpreted the 66% support that he won as clear backing for the autonomy process that he is leading along with the governors of Beni, Pando and Tarija. Costas announced the creation of a regional security body parallel to the national police, a regional tax collection agency, and an office to coordinate the oversee natural gas revenues in the place of the national Finance Ministry.

Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, was elected in December 2005 with 53.7% of the vote. The supporters of the governing Movement to Socialism (MAS) who packed the central square in La Paz the night of the vote, and broke out in wild cheers when Morales closed his victory speech with the phrase “the fatherland or death!” The crowd responded “venceremos!” (we will win). The only Morales ally who lost his post in the vote was Oruro’s governor Alberto Aguilar, who was rejected by 54% of voters. Morales ally Mario Virreina, governor of Potosí, was surprised by his own 75% victory. (IPS, Aug. 11)

On the morning of Aug. 12, Manfred Reyes Villa resigned as governor of Cochabamba, despite earlier statements that he would not accept the results of the referendum. Reyes Villa named Johnny Ferrel, his general secretary, as interim prefect until new elections are held. It is likely President Morales will not recognize Ferrel. (Upside Down World, Aug. 13)

See our last post on Bolivia.