Sunday, December 16, 2007

What next in Bolivia?

The central government and departments in Bolivia are espousing positions that are mutually exclusive. Four departments have declared autonomy, a move--the details of which are vague--the government labels illegal. Evo Morales, meanwhile, is celebrating the draft of a new constitution, passed by his supporters and labeled illegal by the opposition.

Nonetheless, even the government is saying the issue of autonomy is part of the constitutional debate and therefore can serve to initiate dialogue. Hopefully, the declarations of autonomy are part of an elaborate public negotiation. The OAS sent an envoy, and José Miguel Insulza will be arriving soon, which can provide cover for both sides to come to the bargaining table.

I haven’t seen anything more about the timing of the recall vote, which presumably will take place in early 2008.


Tambopaxi 2:48 AM  

For Greg and the Miguels (Buitrago y Centellas): What is (or are) the central issues at stake when the media luna talks about autonomy?

Without going into the who-struck-John recountings of a botched CA, etc.,

1. what are the principal things that the media luna wants to do in terms of governance, day-to-day conduct, policy, etc., that La Paz/Morales doesn't want them to do, and;

2. Vice versa, what are the principal things that La Paz/Morales want to do that the media luna doesn't want them to do?

I know, I know, we've got 500 years of history (racism, cultural divides, etc.) fueling all of this, and I don't mean to be dismissive of all of that, but I'd like the to understand the proximate causes of the "tearing of the sheets", as they say. These guys (the western and eastern parts of the country, to generalize) seem to be headed toward some sort of divorce, if not civil war, so why?

Greg Weeks 7:18 AM  

Bolivianists can chime in if they like for more specifics, but the age old issues of race, class and control of lucrative natural resources, which in turn correlate to political power, remain key.

Miguel Centellas 10:55 AM  

Beyond being a "Bolivianist" I also grew up on boths ides of the Andes-lowlands divide (my family is originally from Oruro/La Paz but my generation grew up in Santa Cruz). Also, autonomy doesn't mean secesson; few people think that (though enough of them do to be worrysome). That said:

I would say it's not so much racial as cultural. People from Santa Cruz frequently use the term kolla to mean someone from the Andes. Let me stress: that term is used *both* for indigenous peoples *and* for upper class paceños (who are often also called jailones). In many ways, the greatest anymosity towards kollas is often extended towards the upper class variety, not the others. Those are most frequently called indios, instead.

Cruceños are also primarily a mestizo people, and they know it. Hence the term camba (which is a specific mestizo type mixing Spanish & lowland indigenous peoples). There are some recent European (and Japanese) immigrants, of course, but the cultural identity of the region is camba. That identity has not "played well" w/ the more "Andean" identity of the country. Surprisingly, the immigrants to Santa Cruz (like my family) adopted "camba" attitudes & cultural values. It's a cliche that the most ardently regionalistic cambas are actually "camba-kollas" (cambas w/ kolla parents, that is, recent immigrants). A wave of immigrantion began into the lowlands in the 1950s after the MNR revolution as people sought to make their fortuntes out east (a place of land & opportunity).

Historically, Santa Cruz has resisted the central state. The region was forced into the republic in 1826, despite its declaration of independence. Some "federalist" civil wars were crushed in 1876, 1881, and 1899. Other movements of lower intensity followed. The city was headquarters for the 1949 MNR uprising and held out against central state forces for three months. That history is in monuments throughout the city and ingrained in public education, etc. Hence, residents (recent immigrants included) adopt it as "their" history.

W/ that history in tow, the issue of economic autonomy (which is really what the autonomistas want) makes its appearance. Santa Cruz (and the eastern lowlands more generally) are richer, have more resources, and are growing economically faster than the Andean regions. In the 1890s, when the shift from Sucre-Potosi (silver) to Oruro-La Paz (tin) came, there was a political struggle and the capital was moved to La Paz. Many see this as a repeat of that. The axis of economic power has shifted, now so is political power.

The struggle, of course, is over economic resources. Santa Cruz wants for the benefits of natural gas (and other resources) to stay in the department, rather than go to La Paz. In the 1930s, an uprising (know as the "levantamiento del once porciento") won the right for 11% of the department's wealth to remain there (the other 81% went to La Paz). Things have improved since then, of course. But the Tarija statute of autonomy wants to make it 75% for the depatment and only 25% for La Paz. That's what the struggle is about. Does the money go to the capital? Or the departments? Keeping in mind, of course, that the poorest departments are Oruro and Potosi, as well as rural La Paz.

Tambopaxi 8:37 PM  


Thanks very much. This is exactly the kind of perspective/context I was seeking.

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