Bolivia Spirals Toward Crisis

The autonomy issue is also controversial. Before the election of Evo Morales, there were two important referendums. With the passage of the constitutional referendum, a constitutional assembly to design a new constitution was ensured. The other autonomic referendum agreed that those regions that got a majority yes vote would have departmental autonomy. Four lowland regions had a majority yes vote; the remaining five regions voted no.

In the constitutional assembly the majority MAS constituents did not want to allow the autonomies to be defined on the departmental level. MAS was worried about the power that would be concentrated in the hands of strong opposition governors. The watered-down and conflicting definition of autonomy in the newly proposed constitution includes four different levels of autonomy -- indigenous, municipal, regional, and departmental autonomy. The prefects from the regions where the original autonomic referendum passed have declared this a MAS trick to dilute any serious attempt at having a decentralized system.

AquĆ­ estamos. Instead of making concessions, the Morales government doesn't need to -- it just needs to look like it is for PR purposes. Prior to the armed confrontation where many campesinos died, a MAS minister went to Pando and recruited supporters from other regions to carry out a "peaceful" march. The first death was from the prefect's office and this in turn mobilized the armed supporters of the governor of Pando and they attacked the campesinos. This attack was bloody and brutal but not a surprise for anyone. Cobija, the capital city of Pando, had been having violent protests for days prior to this march. The majority of the population of Cobija is rabidly anti-MAS. The MAS government knew this would happen but they sent in their supporters anyway.

It was a coldly calculated way to kill three birds with one stone. The MAS government arrested Leopoldo Fernandez, declared a state of siege in Pando, and the MAS got the credulous national and international press to condemn all of the prefects and their demands. The UN and many foreign press articles condemned the prefects as rich, white, racist oligarchs who are killing poor, unarmed, peaceful, indigenous farmers. This is also the line that CNN used on a story about the 10,000- to 12,000-strong mob that is surrounding Santa Cruz. Sitting in Bolivia, it just doesn't seem to be so one-sided. The hope is that the ongoing dialogue is real and not just a media event.