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Bolivia Votes to End Colonial State

Published: January 27, 2009 (Issue # 1443)



  • Bolivian President Evo Morales (c) at an event marking the result of a constitutional referendum in La Paz on Sunday.
    Photo: Reuters

LA PAZ, Bolivia Bolivians easily approved a new constitution granting more power to the indigenous majority, but its weak support in the opposition-controlled lowland east leaves the racially torn country divided as ever.

The constitution also gives its prime backer, leftist President Evo Morales, the opportunity to run for re-election and remain in power until 2014.

Bolivias first Indian president hailed the charters passage in Sundays peaceful referendum as the end of the colonial state in South Americas poorest country.

Here begins the new Bolivia. Here we begin to reach true equality, Morales told crowds packing the plaza in front of the presidential palace after an unofficial quick count of the vote showed the charter passing 59 percent to 41 percent.

The victory was historic in a nation where the oldest voters could still recall a time when Indians were forbidden to vote. But its rejection by the mestizo and European-descended minority foreshadows a political battle over vague clauses that seem to outline overlapping autonomous regions for both indigenous groups and eastern states.

Morales says the charter will decolonize Bolivia by championing indigenous values lost since the Spanish conquest. It also has clauses on land restribution and sets aside seats in Congress for minority indigenous groups.

Bolivias Aymara, Quechua, Guarani and dozens of other indigenous groups only won the right to vote in 1952, when a revolution broke up the large haciendas on which they had lived as peons for generations.

But even as Morales supporters joyously cheered the constitutions passage, opposition leaders celebrated as well.

Although a majority of voters backed the charter nationwide, drawing high margins in the pro-Morales highlands, the no vote won greater support in five of Bolivias nine states.

They say Morales focus on indigenous communitarism ignores the freewheeling capitalism that drives the eastern flats huge cattle ranches and powerful soy industry.

In five states, were rejecting the constitution. In five states we have another vision of the country, said Moises Shiriqui, the cowboy-hatted mayor of the eastern provincial capital Trinidad.

An unofficial tally by the Bolivian television network ATB showed the constitution winning with 59 percent of the vote. The quick count had a three-percentage point margin of error. The result was mirrored by two private exit polls. An official vote count will be announced Feb. 4.

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