SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 119 - June 2008

Bolivia’s fraudulent autonomy referendum

THE LEAST you can say about the autonomy referendum held in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, in early May, is that it was unique. It was controlled by a pro-autonomy electoral college, administered by a private company contracted by the ‘autonomists’, supervised by pro-autonomy observers and covered by pro-autonomy media. You do not have to be very shrewd to realise that this amounts to fraud.

But most incredible is that after the pro-autonomy media campaign, intimidation and violent threats from groups like Unión Juventud Cruceñista (Santa Cruz Youth League) – which has fascist characteristics – they did not succeed in their objective. More than 50% voted against autonomy or abstained. Nevertheless, the pro-autonomy forces declared that 85% had voted in favour!

This referendum is the first step in a reactionary plan. Other autonomy referenda are due to take place in the departments of Tarija, Beni and Pando. The idea is to stop the changes the government of Evo Morales is proposing. Santa Cruz and the other three departments represent two-thirds of Bolivian territory, a third of its population and more than 50% of its GDP. Two other departments, Chuquisaca and Cochabamba, want to follow in the footsteps of the separatists.

Even when they do their best to hide it, the divide-and-rule attitude and racism of the promoters of autonomy for Santa Cruz are apparent in the declarations of its most important leaders. Their public spokespeople can hardly hide their hatred and contempt for Evo Morales for being indigenous, as they accuse him of being a centralist, an authoritarian, a radical and a fundamentalist. Their main slogan should be: ‘For a Bolivia without indigenous people’.

The cynicism of these leaders knows no limits. Their objective is to create such tension and controversy that it comes to an open confrontation, which inevitably would have consequences for other countries of the region. The original promoters of the idea of autonomy come from a few hundred families who control more than 25 million hectares of land and who control agriculture, domestic trade, the banks and the big media outlets. Together with politicians who where part of the governments of previous presidents, like Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, Jorge Quiroga or Jaime Paz Zamora, they have become powerful opponents of the Morales government. These people own five times more land than two million peasants and indigenous people.

With the arrival to power of Evo Morales, they were faced with the possibility that his government would redistribute land in favour of indigenous people and the peasants. These families have used their power to generate a political and social movement aimed at dividing the country to stop the new constitution drawn up by the Morales government.

Morales and his administration need to take concrete measures to implement land reform. The land needs to belong to those who work it, and the right of self-determination for indigenous people needs to be guaranteed, without negotiations with the landlords who are occupying the territory.

The run up to the referendum on autonomy should have been the moment for the government to go onto the offensive and take the first steps towards land reform and to explain clearly to the indigenous and poor peasants its aims. It should not have been the signal to start negotiations with the landlords. It is not sufficient for the government to say that the referendum was illegal when the reactionary opposition could not care less for legality, democracy or the constitution. The conspiracy being hatched in Santa Cruz needs to be broken now, before the right-wing opposition is given time to get stronger.

It is clear that the majority of Bolivians, in the cities and the countryside, are against the attempts at division by reactionary sections of society. The majority of the population cannot be held imprisoned by a small minority of oligarchs.

The unity of workers and indigenous people is fundamental to defend the Bolivian process. We cannot accept that the land is concentrated in the hands of a small number of families. We cannot accept that the majority of factories are controlled by a small number of employers. We cannot accept that the media outlets are concentrated in the hands of a few. All of this is unjust and totally undemocratic.

The land needs to belong to those who work it, the factories to the workers who produce. The media needs to be at the service of the whole of the population. It is impossible to advance without marching towards socialism. The workers need a workers’ democracy, a socialist society.

Celso Calfullan, CWI Chile


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