October 03, 2007

The Bolivian Constituent Assembly Process

MABB © ®

Update: It was decided, by the Consejo Politico, to keep the CA in recess for two more weeks until October 22. Council members agree that the process needs two more weeks to arrive at an agreement. One failure the council is making is to leave aside the issue of the moving of the capital. And, for all intents and purposes, it is the council that which is writing the new constitution in the end and not the CA.

Update: This is the denominated Consejo Politico (Political Council). They also call it supranational organism. It is mainly a group of politicians from all political forces and the Vicepresidency, who try to negotiate and build consensus.


Once again the Bolivian Constituent Assembly (CA) process is on the verge of collapsing due to the deep divisions concerning the kind of state to create. At present time there are two possibilities, one of which was unacceptable up until three weeks ago. The first possibility would be to solve the outstanding issues and continue with the process. The other possibility would be to close the assembly. This brief post tries make a brief overview of the process until today.

A brief reconsideration of recent events

In August 6, 2007, the CA should have had a draft of a new Constitution, and with that finish its work. That was the intention, at least, of the conclave itself, the government, the political forces and the people. However, it was not possible. The CA arrived at this date with empty hands and much controversy. Among the most controversial topics were the approval of the internal regulations, where the vote threshold of 2/3 to approve articles won and the vision of what kind of country to create (kind of state) divided even more the CA. This last topic proved to be the most problematic.

A second topic, which was raised shortly before the August 6th deadline, to move the seat of government back to Sucre, proved to be the next insurmountable obstacle. But, before tackling this new obstacle, the CA had to extend its existence. It did just that, on August 3, 2007, by passing the piece of legislation extending its life to December 14, 2007.

Hardly was the first week of August gone, the CA was again stuck on trying to deal with the issue the department of Sucre had raised. Sucre argued that since the CA is "foundational", it was appropriate for it to deal with the long standing issue of moving the seat of government back to Sucre. The CA, or rather, the political forces within the CA tried to bring the issue to debate. After several attempts by supporters of Sucre to debate, the presidency of the CA, along with the La Paz faction, MAS faction and others against this idea, forced a vote in the CA to take out altogether the issue at hand. This vote, in August 15, was carried out with a quorum of 234, in which 134 assembly members (most from MAS and La Paz) voted to remove the issue from any debate in the CA. They argued that there was no commission to treat such an issue and that the decision was taken to guard the country's unity. On the other hand, the opposing group decried that the La Paz removal proposal was not included in the agenda 48 hours before the debate, the way the regulations call for, and thus it was illegal.

The result could not have been more contrary. The radicalization of the groups supporting the capital issue followed. In August 16th, Sucre (a.k.a. Chuquisaca, Ciudad Blanca), begins a general hunger strike, which was going to last around 24 days, and demonstrations and marches or protests. Masses of people march to where the CA was meeting and force the closing of the conclave. Several assembly members of La Paz are attacked and clashes between police and demonstrators intensify. In August 22nd, the CA's presidency declares an indefinite recess due to lack of security.

At the same time, several civic committees (Santa Cruz, Tarija, Sucre, Pando and Beni), prefects and other groups, declare themselves supporters of the Sucre demand and start mobilizing to implement general strikes in their respective departments. The general strike is executed on the 28th of August in the departments of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, Pando, Sucre and Cochabamba.

For its part, the government announces a march in Sucre with 100,000 indigenous and military participants. This march, according to the President, is to show its support for the continuation of the CA. Days later, the Sucre Prefect resigns his post alluding to the potential for violence if this march were to take place. On September 8th, the Sucre Supreme Court repeals the CA decision to remove the issue of the capital from the debate. Sucre stops the strikes and the government and its supporters (around 10,000) march in support of the CA.

On September 7, the CA President, Silvia Lazarte and six of her colleagues, met and decided to call for a one month recess. This recess, said the President, should allow for dialogue and resolution of the main problems preventing the CA to come up with a new Constitution.

The state of the CA

As I am writing this post, the CA is in recess. In this month, all the problems preventing the assembly to go forward should be debated and resolved. Four days before the month is over, solutions are hardly discernible.

On September 20th, 14 of the 16 political forces signed an accord to make the CA viable. They agreed to discuss all the problematic issues within the framework of three task forces. One committee would be created, Special Committee for Dialogue and Consensus, to do just that until September 30th. The committee in charge of resolving any differences within the CA is called, Concertation Committee. This committee will provide another space to debate and to come to agreement. The third and last space where differences can be resolved would be the denominated Supraparty organism. This task force stems from the same consensus seeking organism this agreement came out of and is integrated by senators, government officials and politicians.

The most important task for any of these committees was to bring about an agreement between the La Paz and Sucre factions over the capital issue. So far, there have been several dialogues and meetings, but no consensus on the issue. The two parts have irreconcilable positions. La Paz, wants to keep the seat of government and Sucre wants to move it back to Sucre, where it once stood.

As a result, 10 of the 16 political forces taking part in the CA have decided to go on to the next step and seek a political consensus. Those remaining in La Paz to seek a political dialogue include MAS, AYRA, AS, ASP, CN, MBL, MNR, MCSFA, MOP, and UN. They want to try to save the CA. The other group of political forces, including PODEMOS, MNR-A3, APB, AAI, and MIR, have gone back to Sucre. They argue that a political solution is out of the scope of the CA and this would undermine the assembly.

The thing is that the block in La Paz has around 180 votes of the 170 needed to get a super majority. This would mean that this group could potentially approve a new constitution without the input of the major opposition force, PODEMOS. A dangerous game for PODEMOS.

The debate over a suspension of the CA

Over the course of this difficult time, the idea of closing the CA has been gaining support slowly. The last signal was given by the impossibility of reconciling the La Paz - Sucre confrontation. Several prominent assembly members have expressed their sunk optimism if the situation could not be solved. Among these, the head of the MAS faction, Roman Loayza, and MAS assembly members Victor Borda, Marco Carrillo, Mirtha Jimenez. In the opposition, PODEMOS Senators, Carlos Böhrt and Fernando Messmer. And of course, leaders of the two antagonist groups.

Will it close or will it continue?

The desire from everyone involved is to continue with the CA process, at least I hope it is. However the prospects are dim. If the issue of the capital does not get resolved, it would mean the end of the assembly. Simply because people are loosing faith in it. Additionall, the issue of the capital is not the only pending issue. Other potentially conflicting issues are: the distribution of land, the kind of state, autonomy of departments, and natural resources (who controlls them). Tough issues to tackle.

On the other hand, the CA does not have to be closed. It has been extended until December 14th. What would prevent the government and the Bolivian people to agree to extend it one more time. After all, it would be a big loss if the CA is closed without any result. There have been other CA processes that went on longer (an example escapes my mind now).

PS. See Pronto* for more discussion on this topic.
Prior posts on this topic: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.
Article one, two, three, four