April 24, 2007

Autonomy: The Strategic Moves of the Movement

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The above image was taken from Perry Castaneda's map library collection.

The autonomy issue has become 'the' most important issue in Bolivian politics. Up to now, it has dominated the debates in the Constituent Assembly and it was the number one demand heard by the latest assembly tour around Bolivia. There are basically two kinds of autonomies being proposed or, better yet, demanded. One is the autonomy reaching to the local level of government, such as municipalities, but, in it, the most important is the departmental level. The other kind of autonomy demands that autonomy reaches to the indigenous groups level. The difference in autonomic demands emanates from the two geographically differentiated groups in Bolivia. Namely, the Western altiplanic part of Bolivia, including La Paz, Oruro, Cochabamba and up to now Sucre, seek the autonomy version for indigenous groups. The Eastern departments, known as the 'half moon states' (in Spanish, media luna), demand the departmental version of autonomy.

This is a deep division in preferences, rooted in a plethora of reasons difficult to discern. Nonetheless, the parties do not give up their efforts to undermine the other party and gain advantages for their own cause. In that spirit, and highlighting the intricacies of Bolivian politics, the Eastern group, made up by Beni, Pando, Santa Cruz and Tarija, may have scored a small victory. But, before, let me explain a bit why does this group is called half moon. The name comes from looking at the Bolivian map. As you can observe, from North to South, the geographical boundaries of these departments make up a half moon (ok, with a lot of imagination). However, there was a small problem. If you observe more carefully, you'll notice that the Southern point of the moon is broken up by the department of Sucre. For that reason, it was difficult for me to call this group, half moon.

However, and coming back to the politics of it, the group may soon be able to call themselves half moon, proper. The reason is as follows: The Sucre department is, aside from being departmental capital, the judicial capital and the founding place of Bolivia. The founders of Bolivia, after the 1825 revolution of independence, declared the birth of the Republic of Bolivia, in the city's liberty house. By 1988, however, the center of power had moved to the city of La Paz. The same powers decided to move the seat of government from Sucre to La Paz. That is, in short, how Sucre came to take second seat to La Paz.

In the midst of efforts to re-found Bolivia through the Constituent Assembly, and emboldened by the current government, Sucre has re-ignited that long dimmed but never extinguished flame. It has decided to pursue the moving of the Executive and Legislative branches of government back to Sucre. This was one of its loudest demands when in the last weeks the assembly came to Sucre to ask for their opinion. The demand has provoked an equally loud cry from the department of La Paz, saying that the moving of the government was not for negotiation.

Now, the autonomic movement, in an effort to put pressure and gain supporters, has expressed its support for Sucre's demands. Sucre, for its part, has enthusiastically welcomed the support. It remains to be seen if the support for the causes is mutual. At this point in time, it seems as though Sucre will close that gap the half moon had and will close ranks with the autonomic movement of the East.