Bolivians vote on a Constitutional Referendum today
After weeks of poitical turmoil at separatist provinces and the expulsion of both USAID and the American Ambassador to La Paz, Bolivians ready to vote a draft Constitution on a Referendum today. If approved, the new Constitution would provide better political representation to the local Ameridian communities and allow incumbent President Evo Morales to run for a secon term in office. The opposition continues to reject the changes.
Bolivians are preparing to vote on changes to the constitution that would increase the power of the country's indigenous majority and allow the president to run for a second consecutive term.
Evo Morales, the country's first indigenous president, said that voters should back the new constitution on Sunday as it would "decolonise" Bolivia, undoing the influence of its Spanish colonial rulers. "This new constitution of the Bolivian state wants to give everybody the same opportunities, the same rights and the same duties. And there shouldn't be exclusion anymore," he said in the capital La Paz on Saturday. The changes are widely expected to pass as Morales enjoys the support of the majority of the country's six million indigineous Amerindians. Morales won 67 per cent of the vote in a recall referendum in August 2008. "Evo Morales will win, because he is a good president and he is helping children and old people. So we will vote 'yes'," Norita Manami, a Morales supporter, said. State control: The proposals include a larger state role in the economy, grants of self-rule to 36 distinct indigenous "nations" and a December general election, in which Morales could run for another five-year term. Voters will also decide whether future land ownership should be capped at 5,000 or 10,000 hectares. The state could seize land that does not perform a "social function" or was fraudulently obtained. But despite strong support for Morales, the vote could prove divisive with the country split along geographic, racial and class lines. The opposition, led by state governors in the more prosperous east, has objected to the proposed changes. Many critics have accused Morales of harming the economy through the nationalisation of a number of businesses. "This is a false referendum, it does not have the participation nor the support of half of the Bolivian people. We people from the east [the lowlands of Bolivia] don't expect anything good from it," Percy Ruiz, an opponent of Morales, said. However, it allowed the referendum to go ahead after Morales agreed to stand for only one additional term and grant greater autonomy to the regions. Nearly four million Bolivians are registered to vote in a referendum which is to be monitored by international observers.
...analysts warn that passage of the new constitution also could worsen Bolivia's polarization, throw its legal system into chaos, and discourage investment in the natural resources that are its main ticket to prosperity. Morales, a onetime coca farmer and Bolivia's first Indian president, is following his regional allies, leftist Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, in seeking a new constitution to lengthen his time in office and increase his powers. Morales enjoys the support of more than 60% of Bolivia's population of 9.2 million, including solid backing from indigenous people. Many in the middle class and intelligentsia who are fed up with a history of ineffective government also back him. "This would be a very significant victory for Evo," said Eduardo Gamarra, political scientist at Florida International University. "It basically gives him carte blanche to do what he feels like." Today's vote follows a year of tension in Bolivia, the poorest nation in South America. In 2008, four of the country's nine states defied Morales and passed measures seeking more autonomy. Morales easily survived a recall vote, but violence in September in northern Pando state left more than a dozen dead. The conflict pits the largely indigenous population of the western highlands against cattlemen and soy farmers in the eastern states, which are rich in natural resources....The vote comes as relations between Bolivia and the United States are fraying. The top U.S. diplomat in La Paz, Krishna Urs, walked out of Morales' state of the union speech Thursday after he alleged that the United States was interfering in Bolivian affairs. Urs has been in charge of the embassy since Morales expelled Ambassador Philip Goldberg in September, alleging that a plot was in the works to overthrow him.
Morales has also ordered the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to get out by the end of this month, as international counter-narcotics officials say coca cultivation, cocaine production and illicit exports are on the rise. The coca plant is recognized in the new constitution as part of Bolivia's "cultural patrimony."
The Bush administration retaliated last year by expelling Bolivia's ambassador and ending trade preferences offered to Andean nations for fighting the drug trade. That has cost Bolivian textile manufacturers millions of dollars. The Peace Corps last year removed 130 volunteers from Bolivia, and the embassy reduced nonessential staff. Political scientist Gamarra sees little prospect in the short term for improvement of relations under President Obama, noting that Morales spent part of his speech Thursday repeating his accusations against the former ambassador. "There is no real sentiment in the new Congress or the State Department that's favorable of renewal of relations with Bolivia," Gamarra said. Even some Morales supporters are ambivalent about the financial support he receives from Chavez. Morales redistributes Venezuelan cash to local mayors and makes his foreign trips on Venezuelan military aircraft. Chavez has offered to send troops to defend Morales in the event of a coup attempt. The new constitution would codify national rights over mineral and energy deposits, and more foreign-owned energy, mining and telecommunications companies probably would be nationalized, former President Carlos Mesa said in an interview. On Friday, Morales nationalized Chaco Petroleum Co., a subsidiary of British-owned BP. Parts of the proposed constitution were toned down in negotiations with the opposition in congress, including a clause that would have allowed Morales and future presidents two additional five-year terms; the limit was reduced to one. Luis Eduardo Siles, a political science professor and former congressman, said the new constitution would advance redistribution of land to the poor, although the mechanics are ill-defined. "The constitution will permit the ownership of up to 25,000 acres by a single landowner as long as the land is 'economically and socially productive,' " Siles said. "The problem at this point is in measuring that productivity."... The opposition to Morales and this constitution are by no means gone, and the clamor of dissenting voices has grown louder in recent weeks. Marches and protests championing the "no" vote have attracted thousands. The Catholic church has joined the fray over concerns such as the text's failure to declare life as beginning "from conception," which it fears might allow for the legalization of abortion. The proposed draft also does not declare Catholicism the national religion, as the current constitution does. But polls suggest that the opposition will have trouble mustering votes to stop the constitution. And Morales, who greeted screaming supporters Thursday night from a stage in front of the presidential palace in La Paz, seems nothing if not confident. "Patriots, we are not visiting the palace, we are here to stay for life," he said. "Sunday's vote is not for the government; it is for the Bolivian people."
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