miércoles, 7 de mayo de 2008

Bolivia's Rift

President Evo Morales's attempt to impose Venezuelan-style socialism is literally splitting the country - Tuesday, May 6, 2008 - BOLIVIAN President Evo Morales claims to be ruling his country on behalf of an indigenous majority whose rights have been denied for centuries by an evil "oligarchy." In fact, as a referendum in the country's largest province has demonstrated, Mr. Morales is pursuing a narrow and divisive agenda that, if continued, will split Bolivia along geographic as well as ethnic lines, and possibly trigger a civil war. Though demographers disagree, a common estimate is that 55 percent of Bolivia's 9 million people are Quechua or Aymara Indians. This population is concentrated in the country's three highland provinces; in the six lowland provinces, mestizos, descendants of Europeans and local Indian groups, make up the majority. Ignoring this disparity, Mr. Morales, an Aymara and former coca farmer, is trying to impose a new political system on the country that greatly increases his own power and that privileges his own ethnic group at the expense of the rest of the country. Worse, Mr. Morales is an acolyte of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and has adopted his potted and authoritarian version of socialism -- a sure recipe for economic catastrophe in what is already one of the hemisphere's poorest countries. The referendum last Sunday in Santa Cruz province was nominally about whether the relatively prosperous region of 2.5 million people should acquire powers like those of U.S. states -- an elected legislature, the ability to tax, and management of its own land and police forces. While that would be a logical reform in a diverse country where power is overcentralized, Santa Cruz and as many as five other provinces in eastern Bolivia are mostly fighting to prevent Mr. Morales from imposing his own, far more radical agenda. This is embodied in a new constitution that the president rammed through a constituent assembly and Congress -- in both cases by forcibly excluding the opposition. Though final results have not yet been reported, early returns showed that more than 60 percent of voters in Santa Cruz participated in the referendum and that 84 percent voted for the autonomy plan. Though the legality of the vote is questionable, the exercise demonstrated beyond doubt that opposition to Mr. Morales's program extends far beyond any "oligarchy." At least three more provincial referendums are expected in the coming weeks and are likely to produce similar results. If Bolivia is lucky, Mr. Morales will recognize that most of his country will never accept ethnocentric policies or Venezuelan-style autocracy, and he will begin to negotiate a compromise that allows more rights for provinces as well as for highland indigenous communities. If, goaded by Mr. Chávez, he presses ahead with his constitution, the result is likely to be bloodshed.