January 27, 2009

Bolivia: Divided We Stand

MABB © ®

One only needs to take a look at this graph to see the result of last Sunday's referendum on the Oruro Constitution (approved in December 2007 in Oruro). While the result at the national level was 61.6% approval against 38.3% rejection, it became even more evident that the country is geographically divided between the YES and NO votes. The denominated media luna (the green/NO part) region voted, at times overwhelmingly, to reject the new constitution and the other Bolivia (in blue/SI) readily accepted it.

Actually, if we guide ourselves by the map, it looks as though the constitution should have been rejected. The green area is bigger than the blue. The favorable result for the SI vote was determined by the number of voters in the cities of La Paz and El Alto. For the number of voters in these two cities see my post last week. The fact that there is such a large region of the country that voted NO points to a very serious problem which the government is bound to feel, and which will be the reason why the country will continue on this path of political turmoil. In the media luna region, there is the general feeling that the Oruro Constitution was not approved, even though they recognize its success at the national level. Moreover, based on the per province referendum results, the approval of the constitution is not obvious. What is obvious is that this new social contract has been clearly rejected by these regions. Therefore, the opposition leaders demand a national "dialogue" to duscuss in which ways the government is to implements the new social contract. In the words of Santa Cruz Prefect, Ruben Costas, "...the government should not delay the implementation of autonomies, should compromise positions in the negotiations, should work towards a national accord, and [above all] not impose the new constitution". Should the government not do this, the opposition has warned, they will not to follow the new constitutional rules and continue ahead with its autonomic path.

The opposition is skeptical because the executive has repeatedly played the confusion card where it agrees to one thing and does the opposite. In addition Morales himself has shown its intention to march ahead with the implementation of the new constitution, regardless what the opposition does or says. He is preparing a set of new laws to start the process. The government's first steps will be to pass the new laws regulating the electoral process, the hydrocarbons sector, taxes, civil and penal codes, land redistribution, how to reorganize the Executive and how to implement autonomy.

For the moment, it seems the opposition has chosen to make a distinction between what the constitution actually says and how will it be interpreted and, in the end, implemented. That is one reason why the opposition, once the constitution has already become the supreme law of the land, still asks the government for consensus. They want a say in drafting all the new rules of the game. For its part, the government has expressed its intention only to negotiate one issue with the opposition, namely how to adapt the province constitutions or statutes to the new constitutional framework. This is of course too little for the opposition.

There are two fundamental questions that come to mind as a result of this outcome. Why is Bolivia so divided? and What happens now? In what follows, I intend to list, and by no exhaustive means, the issues dividing Bolivia. Also, I will attempt to recount what will be the next steps in this most interesting process.

What are the divisions?

At the general level, it can be argued that Bolivia is divided because, at the moment, there is a fierce power struggle between new vs. traditional political elites, in which the new elites are about the displace the traditional ones. This power struggle has heavy socio-economic and ethnic components. At the same time, these two groups are divided in their conception of what the country should look like. On the one hand, the traditional side sees no reason why the current legal framework, partly based on the current democratic model, as well as trade, private property, private investment, etc., should be changed. On the other side, the new elites prefer to give the state a pivotal role in all social, economic and political aspects in the country. They also want to highlight the socio-ethnic aspect. This is, more or less, a short picture at the most general level. At the more specific level there are several issues to be considered. For example:

How to implement autonomy - If the government tries to force its point of view, without, at the same time, making some concessions to the opposition, the divisions are bound to widen even more. So far, the government used a confronting rhetoric with the opposition. It repeatedly pointed out that Morales has the support of the majority. It can back that claim by citing last year's recall referendum and now the approval of its constitution. However, that is not enough for the opposition, since Morales does not enjoy overwhelming support in the media luna. That is his basic problem. He lacks legitimacy in the region. That is the major reason why the opposition will still attempt to place Morales against the wall and force some kind of agreement at the moment of passing the laws. Otherwise, the radicalization of the attitudes are bound to follow.

The new electoral code - The new rules to elect the representatives will be an important issue. The new code must specify how will the President and Vice President be elected. Who will get elected and with which margins. Most important will be the distribution of seats in Congress. This will most likely set the balance of power. The opposition want to make sure the weight is not tilted towards Morales.

Land re-distribution - The way in which the government re-possesses land and re-distributes it is also bounded to create some tensions. Now that the question of how large land in private hands should be is cleared, the pressing issue will be whose land will the government take back. Most likely the owners of these lands will make it difficult for the government to take away their land. In fact, they are already up in arms and, I am guessing, heavily investing in the opposition forces to represent them politically. Most important will be who will be able to claim some of this land from the government. These people, the landless, are also a force to reckon with. Some people from the landless movement MST have already started occupying some government lands.

The new hydrocarbons law - The government has expressed its intention to design a law re-distributing the money coming from the export of natural gas to the Western provinces. Currently, the provinces where the natural gas is recovered receive more that the other provinces. There is a compensatory percentage. The problem will be if the government decides to increase this compensation and the producing provinces feel disadvantaged by the new rules.

The Sucre's claim to be the capital city - A major issue to keep Bolivia divided is the demand Sucre makes to discuss the future of the capital of Bolivia. Originally, as Bolivia was founded, Sucre was the capital of Bolivia. In 1809 the government seat and the legislative branch were moved to La Paz. Since then, Sucre has been periodically trying to recover its status as capital city. During this last Constitutional Assembly process, the opposition encouraged Sucre's demand and thus gained one more allied. Since then, Sucre has been loud in asking a debate over this issue.

TLC with the UE - In commercial terms, the division is more or less orthodox. The government rejects a TLC from principle, and the opposition supports Bolivia's engagement in the globalization process. This is more prone to touch the private industry sector and middle sized export firms.

What is to come?

On February 20, the CNE will present the final report on the January 25 referendum. Congress will approve it and will present it to the President. The President then signs it into law. Once this happens, Congress has 60 days to pass a provisional electoral code. This law will be the legal framework for the general election of December 6, 2009. The President, the Vice President and all members of Congress will be elected on this date. Once the new "National Plurinational Assembly" (that is the name) is convened, it has to sanction several laws taking no longer than 180 days. These laws are: laws regulating the new electoral agency, the Judicial branch, the Constitutional Tribunal, as well as drafting the new electoral code and the framework regulating the decentralization and autonomic processes.

My take is that 2009 will be plagued by electoral campaigns and the fight in Congress to pass those new laws. And of course, more marches, demonstrations and strikes. Why not!


Anonymous said...

That map is deceptive. Provincial level maps and other presentations will show a more complex pattern of support and opposition for the new constitution.

Obviously, a large minority of Bolivians opposed it. But the Media Luna itself has a large minority as well that supports the constitution. So they don't have much of an argument when they argue for refusing to accept elections based on minority rights.

For example, 39% of Bolivian voters voted NO. Many of those No votes were concentrated in the east. In the Department of Santa Cruz, for example, 65% voted No. But 4 of the 15 provinces of Santa Cruz voted for the constitution. Tarija voted 57% overall, but 4 of its 6 provinces voted for the constitution.

You mention Sucre, which voted 66% against the constitution (at least that is true for the province where the city is located--the city probably voted even higher for No), but all 9 of the other provinces of Chuquisaca voted Yes.


Gringo said...

Here is one interpretation of the division. Over the years, there has been steady migration from the highlands to the lowlands, resulting in lesser power of the highlands relative to the lowlands. The dominant foreign exchange earner for the country was once tin mining. No more. How much of the rent from the tin mines reached the lowlands relative to the highlands? Very little , I imagine. The new constitution is an attempt to stem this diminution of population, economic and political power of the highlands relative to the lowlands, by appropriating as much as possible of the gas rent to the highlands.

I see a similarity here with Francophone Canada versus Anglophone Canada. In an attempt to stem the relative loss of population, economic, and political power to Anglophone Canada, in the last generation Quebec instituted a series of laws to make life much more difficult for English speakers in Quebec. It was successful in driving English speakers out of Quebec. In stemming the relative loss of power of Francophone Canada, less so.

mabb said...

John - Yes, you are absolutely right. I am glad you bring it up. When one starts to look at the provincial level results the pattern of support becomes even more complicated. But, that doesn't take away the fact that Bolivia is more divided than ever. In that, the map is a good illustration.

Gringo - I am not sure I understand you. You say that the government, the MAS and the people who wrote the new CPE wanted to stop the internal migration from highland to lowland. Also, they want to redirect some or more of the natural gas earnings to the highlands.

If that is correct, I would agree in one point, namely that there is indeed a redistribution and/or compensation goal here. I am not sure it is related to the migration issue, but the government does want to take the pot and distribute it equally (at least that is my reading).

The counter argument is that the natural gas earnings should not be redistributed in that manner, but to take into account the particular needs in each case. For example, in the case of Sta. Cruz, aside from the need to maintain the status quo, there'll be a need to invest in infrastructure, the companies themselves, etc. If you get what I mean.

Parting from this assumption, there cannot be an "equal" redistribution because each case (or province, in this case) is different.

Just to touch one point!

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind that the gas fields lie in provincias where there was support for the constitution. Gran Chaco, in Tarija, voted 47% Si, so it lost narrowly there. But the gas regions in Chuquisaca and Santa Cruz voted 58%, 60%, 61%, and 69% Si. (I could easily be missing some important gas provinces, but these figures are for O'Connor, Luis Calvo, MM Caballero, and Ichilo provinces.)

I spotted another use of that map you've used here, on a Camba Nation poster. See http://www.ahorabolivia.com/2009/01/26/repercusiones-en-santa-cruz-por-el-triunfo-del-si-a-nivel-nacional/

Maybe Camba Nation should remove Chuquisaca from its propaganda maps, although I guess Tarija might look a little lonely.


Gringo said...

Miguel: that over the decades, the highlands have been losing their national dominance vis -a-vis the lowlands, via loss of the tin mining rent, migration, economic growth etc. 60 years ago SRZ was a backwater, an afterthought.

The highlanders are attempting to stem the loss of political power implicit in this trend by appropriating as much as possible of the natural gas rent. It isn’t that they are trying to stop the migration to the lowlands, but rather to neutralize the effect of the migration: less political power and less rent.They figure they can do it while they still have a majority. And if some migration is stemmed in the process, so much the better, but the emphasis is to get the $.

From 1950 to 2001, Santa Cruz Department went from 9 to 25 percent of the population.
Adding in Tarija, Beni, and Pando, the increase was from 16 to 34: almost all of the increase in Santa Cruz Department.

Also note that Morales won big in the rural areas, which from 1950 to 2001 have gone from 73% to 37% of the population. IOW, the areas where Morales won, rural versus urban, highland versus lowland, are areas that have been losing power and influence for the last 60 years. In this sense, MAS is a reactionary movement, an attempt to turn back the clock.
(Yes, Morales won big in La Paz, a city, but here the perspective is a highland city that sees it is losing power to the lowlands. )

1950 (Departments)
La Paz 854,079
Potosí 509,087
Santa Cruz 244,658

La Paz 2,350,466
Potosí 709,013
Santa Cruz 2,029,471


mabb said...

John - Yes, there is still an important difference between the urban vs. the non-urban vote. Bolivian cities have tended to vote NO (especially the media luna). As you point it out, the non-urban or rural vote (as they call it in Bolivia) has tended to, in general, align with the government. Now, there are differences between provinces, but in this issue the sum of the parts is what's relevant. Votes are added and it's either thumbs up or down.

And yes, the situation in Sucre is "special" to say the least. The city has overwhelmingly voted NO, but the provinces are solid YES.

Gringo - I disagree with that interpretation. While the tin era you are referring to was dominated by, as you put it, highland cities (namely La Paz and Sucre and perhaps Oruro), the political power rested on a small group of people (the elite). The phenomenon we are observing today, since 2000, is a replacement of this "old" elite by a new kind of elite emerging from the so called social movements. This latter elite did not share any power, up until recently.

So in that sense it is not an attempt to turn back the clock. I see it rather as a sort of revolution where power is changing hands, and not necessarily to the indigenous peoples, as Morales might like to fantasize.

Hiawatha said...

All who have traveled this road have passed over some rough patches. A glance at http://triadblog.info/blog may help with some perspective.

Anonymous said...

Do you have the provincial level votation? can you put up the map? thanks

mabb said...

Sorry, I don't have those results. But, if I find the map I'll put it up.

Anonymous said...

Here are some provincial level results, for eastern 5 departments only:

Bolivia 2009 Referendum Constituyente results--
% yes (in favor of new constitution) in provinces of eastern departments

Pando (41% department total)
30, 39(includes Cobija, department capital), 42, 49, 51

Beni (33% department total)
20, 23, 27, 28(includes Trinidad, department capital),
30, 47, 53, 55

Santa Cruz (35% department total)
20, 23, 24, 27,
30(includes city of Santa Cruz),
31, 32, 34, 40, 47, 48
55, 61, 67, 69

Chuquisaca (52% department total)
34(includes Sucre, the capital),
60, 62, 73, 74
80, 82, 83, 90, 90

Tarija (43% department total)
34(includes city of Tarija, department capital),
47, 55, 58, 58, 59