Bolivia: The letter of the law and the law of power

By Guillermo Almeyra, La Jornada, Mexico

May 18, 2008 -- The letter of the law is one thing, and quite another is the power that imposes it and makes it real. For this reason, it is absurd to fall for the fetish of the written legal text while forgetting the balance of power which gives it validity and allows its application. For if said balance is unfavourable, the legal or constitutional text is nothing more than a dead letter.

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales declared a recall referendum for the offices of president, vice president and departmental governors in all of Bolivia. Since this referendum was approved in the Senate due to the jealousy of right-wing PODEMOS leader Tuto Quiroga (faced with the increasing leadership of the right by the Santa Cruz oligarchy) and since its expected result threatens various governors and thus divides the right-wing alliance, and since Evo Morales and vice-president Alvaro Garcia Linera are sure to be ratified in their posts, there are some who see this measure as a skilful move, but the truth is somewhat different.

In the first place, between now and August much water may pass under the bridge. The right will present many fait accompli, while the government adheres strictly to the text of the constitution (which the right rejects and whose modification it demands) whilst trying to generate the maximum number of votes for the future referendum. The right, by contrast, will be taking economic, judicial, social and military measures to consolidate its illegal power.

To top it all off, if Evo Morales again wins the referendum (as he surely will) and the handful ofracist oligarchs in Santa Cruz, busy building their parallel state, are also ratified, the catastrophic stand-off will continue, but at a more intense and more serious level, since this time there will be no peaceful means to resolve it. As the government fights its legal fight, Santa Cruz organises its paramilitaries, creates its own system of tax collectors and blackmail of the big multinationals – as well as its own anti-national judicial system – organises the region’s de facto external trade, tries to incorporate local indigenous peoples (who have old scores to settle with La Paz) into their illegitimate legislature, provides social services for everyone, all together with a minimum salary double that of the rest of the country, to see if it can buy any misguided individuals.

Moreover, Quiroga accepted the idea of the recall referendum, but he did it so that the government would not carry out a referendum on the maximum size of rural properties, which would have delivered a powerful blow to the Half Moon [Bolivia’s secessionist eastern provinces -- trans.] and would have been an important instrument for peasant mobilisation and organisation by imposing a huge redistribution of agricultural land. Although his rule may be questioned, Evo Morales appears in La Paz, discussing power in and of La Paz (when everybody effectively knows he won’t be recalled), whilst his enemies build a Camba (white, bourgeois) state against the Colla (indigenous) state and rapidly construct a nucleus of power that is undoubtedly supported by the multinationals and all other reactionary forces, together with the United States. While Evo Morales organises an election, the right instead organises his illegal and violent overthrow, and will reject the results of the referendum if it so pleases, the same way it has rejected the constitution.

Antonio Peredo’s proposal to try the cruceño leaders for sedition in a court of law has a firm legal basis and would make it clear, if they were found guilty, that this is not a question of autonomy, nor is it a mere dispute over the interpretation of the law or the Magna Carta, but an attempted coup d’etat, usurpation of legal power and a secessionism promoted by delinquent outlaws for racist and classist reasons.

But this would require the government’s use of force in applying its judicial ruling. That is, a turning not only to the police and the armed forces which don’t want the country to be divided, but also to the organised capacity of the campesinos, cruceños throughout the country, and the social organisations which the government would only be prepared to mobilise in extremis when it is in danger of losing everything. Now, the government’s timid and inadequate reactions communicate hesitation, confusion and defeat to the millions of workers and poor marginalised people who support it, while in the opposing camp, the arrogance and initiative of the cruceño racists inspire the national and international right with confidence.

Has nobody in La Paz read the history of the Spanish revolution. The Republicans lost, among other reasons, because they didn’t liberate the colonies and thereby deprive Franco of the Muslims, and because they carried out no agrarian reform (thus delivering to Franco the Galician and Navarran peasants), and because they held back the revolution in order to ``save the Republic’’, thereby losing both in the process.

Does nobody remember Danton, who said that in a revolution you need audacity, audacity and always audacity?

What is certain is that if Evo Morales does not immediately adopt urgent agrarian measures and mobilise his mass support to squarely face a situation national emergency, it is doubtful that he will be able to neutralise the influence of the right over vast sectors of the urban middle classes who have, above all, nationalist motivations – nationalisation of hydrocarbons, the destruction of the traditional oligarchic circle and social improvements in all the key areas.

[Argentinean-born academic Guillermo Almeyra is professor of social relations at UAM-XochimilcoUniversity and professor of contemporary politics at UNAMUniversity, as well as editorial writer at La Jornada (Mexico). He is a member of the editorial council of Sin Permiso. Translation by David Montoute. Original: ``La Ley y La Fuerza’’,]