“The Colonial State Ends Here”
On January 25, a new Bolivian constitution was approved by voters that grants more power to the indigenous majority.
“Brothers and sisters, the colonial State ends here…Now Bolivia is being refounded,” declared President Evo Morales to a crowd gathered at the presidential palace.
President Morales, an Aymara, became Bolivia’s first indigenous president in 2005. Though indigenous groups including Quechuas, Aymaras and Guarani constitute the majority of the country, they were only granted the right to vote in 1952.
Key points to the new constitution include an entire chapter dedicated to indigenous rights, equal status between indigenous systems of justice and the state system, and the possibility for President Morales to run for re-election in December 2009. In addition, the constitution gives the state control of key economic sectors such as natural gas, and places new limits on the size of land for private ownership.
Although the constitution passed with 60 percent of the vote, there is a strong opposition held by mostly the wealthier (and whiter) provinces of the country, expressing alarm at Morales’ socialist policies and his alliance with Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez. Such opposition has led to provinces declaring autonomy from Bolivia, as well as a violent outburst in September when 20 Morales supporters were killed.
Benjamin Dangl and April Howard, journalists and editors of online news magazine UpsideDownWorld.org, interviewed a number of citizens on Election Day in the capital city of La Paz. The supporters and opponents of the new constitution revealed deep divisions of class and ethnicity, but it isn’t as clear cut as one may assume…