January 28, 2005

Santa Cruz's Town Hall

MABB is a registered TM.

Calling it a cabildo alegre, Ruben Costas, leader of the Civic Committee of Santa Cruz, declared victory as he was speaking to the, by some counts, 250,000 crucenos gathered at the Santa Cruz town hall.

Costas spoke of the right to Santa Cruz's autonomy. As I heard him speak through the live feed of Radio Activa, I heard him repeat numerous times the people of Santa Cruz wanted to make their own decisions and elect their own government. He also spoke of similar feelings in other regions of Bolivia (mainly Tarija, Pando, Beni). Costas also made it clear, he and the people he represents, do not like the idea that Evo Morales, one day, may become the president of Bolivia. In Costas words, Santa Cruz doesn't want to concentrate in growing coca (in their opinion for illegal purposes), but they want instead to concentrate in the production of goods and services.

But, in the end, he made it clear, as he asked the people gathered at the meeting, Santa Cruz wanted to make its own decisions, from now on. So, the main task of this town hall meeting was to form an Asamblea Provisional Autonomica (Provisional Autonomic Committee). This committee is supposed to continue the negotiations with the government and the coordination of the road to autonomy. Its task are defined as thus:

  • Continue seeking the implementation of the national referendum about autonomies
  • Coordinate the April 10 election of the new Prefect
  • Continue seeking the elimination of the Diesel and Gas decree 27959 denominated "dieselazo", which raised their prices

In the case that the government is not diligent enough implementing these demands, the Provisional Autonomic Committee will seek to implement them disregarding the central government. At least that is what the people answered yes to when Costas asked them the deciding questions.

According to press reports, though, the negotiations are well advanced and the results are favorable for Santa Cruz. The town hall seems to be just a formality and more like a celebration gathering. The government and the civic leadership have decided to go ahead with the national referendum on autonomies (NRA). The Deputy Chamber's Constitutional Committee has already presented a preliminary law convocating to the NRA. The government has already voiced its willingness to support the referendum. If everything goes to plan, Bolivians would be voting for the NRA the same day they would have to vote for the members of the Constitutional Assembly.

The central government also plans to facilitate the road to the election of the Prefect. President Mesa intends to pronounce a new decree legalizing this electoral process. The new Autonomic Committee, would prepare the legal aspects concerning the new powers of the newly elected head of regional government.

Where the path is not so clear is on the demand to abrogate the decree 27959 or diselazo. The government argues that there are a number of agreements with international organizations that make this demand difficult to abrogate. For the time being, the civic leaders got the government to reduce the price of diesel a further 2 cents of Boliviano.

Well, the cabildo having turned into more like a big party, than a political gathering, my take is, all the decisions have been made and Bolivia is on to uncharted waters. One thing is certain, though, Santa Cruz will get its wishes and will be, along with the rest of the departments, an autonomous region with in, what it look more and more as a Bolivian Federation, rather than a republic.