November 09, 2008

On the January 2009 Referendum - The Ballot

MABB © ®

This is the ballot to be used in the January 2009 referendum, when Bolivians are supposed to decide over the text article number 398 is supposed to have and approve or reject the newly negotiated constitution (click on the image to see a larger version).

The first part asks voters to decide whether article 398 should read, in its final sentence, 10,000 (24 710 acres) or 5,000 hectares (12 355 acres). The article pretends to regulate the private property of large pieces of "productive" land. Productive here, is defined as land that has a social function. Please, don't ask me what social function is, because it is not defined.

The second part asks voters to approve or disapprove the new constitution, which was written by the Constituent Assembly, agreed upon with the Prefects and amended by the Special Committee on Concertation in Congress.

This referendum is the next milestone Bolivia, Bolivians, the government and the political leadership have to go through in order to bring Bolivia away from the current crisis.

The bloodiest constitution writing process

While most constitution writing processes are prone to social unrest, political polemic, long and heated debates and full of accusations and even insults, the latest Bolivian attempt to write a new constitution was one of the bloodiest in recent history.

According to a report in La Razon, there were 25 deaths product of the intolerance and intransigence the opposition and the government negotiated the document.

The process started on August 6, 2006, as Evo Morales sought to drive his political agenda ahead.
Six months later, and after serious delays on the constitutional assembly process, the first 3 victims fell. On January 11, 2007 government followers and supporters of the then Cochabamba Prefect, Manfred Reyes, clashed without control and without the presence of the police. Reyes had announced he would push through autonomy for Cochabamba.

Eight months later, on September 24 - 26, 2007, police forces and protesters clashed on the streets of the city of Sucre (a.k.a. Chuquisaca), with 3 more people dead. The civic organizations had called supporters to action to force the Constituent Assembly to include the moving of the capital to Sucre in the debate.

But September 11 - 12, 2008 were the bloodiest of days of all. In one of the most violent confrontations between government supporters and opposition forces, 18 died in the small town of Porvernir, in Pando department. The conflict grew out of protests from the opposition departments (Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija) in response to the government's efforts to impose its constitution and the reduction of the department's intake from natural gas exports (IDH). In the same month, September 17, one young opposition supporter, member of the UCJ (in Spanish Union Juvenil Crucenista) died beaten by government supporters.

The calculations on how much money was spent in this process are still being made. However, no matter how expensive it was, the loss of one life was too much.


Anonymous said...

So what is Social Function?

mabb said...

Well, I can tell you what I think they mean. I don't think there is a definition for it.

What I think they mean by social function is that land has to be used to benefit society in general. That would mean to produce food for people, to raise animals for the meat and also to produce exportable products.

One could also look at it this way. In Bolivia, there are a lot of families who have incredible amounts of land, just sitting there doing nothing. I think the government's goal is to redistribute these among the people who don't have any land. That way the people who benefit from the land redistribution can live better (in the words of the government).

We have to understand, also, that Bolivia is being defined as one huge community now. What is good for the whole is good for the individual. I see it as communitarian thinking in large scale.

mcentellas said...

Actually, I think the concept of land rights based on "social function" is a well established Latin American constitutional principle, going back more than a century (and perhaps even to Iberian principles of legal "fueros"). Similarly, most Latin legal systems specifically demarcate mineral wealth *below the ground* as belonging to the state (I can own surface land, and may have the right to work that land, but the mineral wealth found below belongs to the state, though I may have the right to use it). Again, I'm not sure what "radical" steps are actually found in the new MAS draft, when compared to earlier Bolivian constitutions.

dv said...

I imagine that those big soybean farms run by Argentinians and Brazilians may find the changes significant. Depending on how "social function" is defined.

mabb said...

I think it is important to keep in mind that the government is talking about the social function of land as opposed to the legal term, land rights, which in turn encompasses ownership and use rights.

I am not sure here the government is using the term in the sense you are pointing out. It is my reading that what they mean is more related to the function land is supposed to have in a "communal" society.

With the term "function" I think they mean that he who owns land will do so if he generates employment and agricultural products (Art. 315). Meant is also the sustainable use of land by the indigenous peoples (Art. 397).

Chapter 9 of the new constitution talks about land and territory. It basically says land belongs to the indigenous peoples and it should be managed by the government. No one can speculate with it or monopolize land. Foreigners cannot buy land.

PS. Miguel, I saw your article in the Latinamericanist, congratulations. :-)

jd said...

Off-topic: Can anyone give a good explanation of why the government won't lift the state of siege in Pando when it threatens the legality of the CPE referendum? "We will lift it when we are sure the area is safe" seems to be the standard response but that doesn't seem sufficient as an explanation for handing a potentially powerful legal cudgel to the opposition.

mabb said...

Well, the government will lift the state of siege in the coming week. At least that is what Morales has said.

Koya Loco said...

If this is indeed the ballot to be used, w know the outcome of the referendo. THE CAMPESINOS CANNOT READ and they are 60% of Bolivia's population! I guess it is worth to waste all that money to make things look LEGAL. all this NEW CONSTITUTION IS BULL S#IT

mcentellas said...

A few things:

1) A constitutional "social function" is not unique to Bolivia or even Latin America. In the US, it's referred to as "eminent domain" (I would refer you to Kelo v. City of New London)

2) The argument that campesinos can't read is somewhat inaccurate. Many (most, actually) can. But even educated people in industrial democracies have trouble understanding legalese, so point taken. But there will be media campaigns on all sides. Personally, as a proponent of *representative* and *deliberate* democracy, I'm not a fan of referendums (I would refer you to California's recent Proposition 8).

3) @MABB: My article cam out already? I thought it was out in February?! Cool.