Bolivia's vice-president:‘We are consolidating our process of change’

Alvaro Garcia Linera with Bolivia's President Evo Morales

Interview with Bolivia's vice-president Alvaro Garcia Linera conducted by Pablo Stefanoni from Argentina's Clarin newspaper. Introduction and translation by Green Left Weekly's Federico Fuentes.

January 31, 2009 -- The people of Bolivia on January 25 voted overwhelming to approve a new constitution, a demand first raised by the indigenous movements in the early 1990s. It was also a key promise of the successful 2005 election campaign of the country’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales.

The new constitutional text will dramatically increase the rights of the indigenous majority within a “plurinational” state. This includes official recognition of the languages of Bolivia’s 36 indigenous peoples and the right to “self government and the exercising of self-determination”, allowing for greater indigenous control over local development and natural resources.

Along with indigenous autonomy, the new constitution also establishes autonomy at the departmental, provincial and municipal level, but within the framework of defending national integrity.

The state will also now have greater control over natural resources, in line with the Morales government’s push to nationalise strategic parts of the economy. The most recent move was announced two days before the referendum, when the government bought out a British Petroleum subsidiary.

Public services are now enshrined as basic rights and the state is obliged to ensure access to such things as water, food, education, health care, housing, retirement, electricity and telecommunications.

A separate question was asked of voters on whether the new constitution should limit private land holdings to 5000 or 10,000 hectares. The first option received 80.73% of the vote.

Following the vote, the right-wing opposition called for a new national pact to ``heal'' political divisions in Bolivia, pointing to the fact that the four eastern states, controlled by opposition prefects, voted against the new constitution.

In this interview conducted by Pablo Stefanoni, Bolivia's vice-president Alvaro Garcia Linera explains why the government rejects the “delusional” proposal of the right, arguing that any pact has to begin with an acceptance of the new constitution and the process of change underway in Bolivia. It was translated by Federico Fuentes.

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Is it possible to submit the constitution to a national pact as the opposition is asking for?

This is a delusional proposal. The response of the government has been clear: there is a clear path forward. As the president has already pointed out, the pact can only be understood within a framework of applying and developing the new constitution.

The request for a new pact is based on the idea of a “catastrophic deadlock”, which was a concept disseminated by you a few years ago. Why do you think this is no longer pertinent?

First, in statistical terms, a 60%-40% victory cannot be seen as a deadlock.

And second, in these elections, Bolivians did not turn up for a confrontation between two national projects, which is when the idea of “catastrophic deadlock” becomes valid.

We are in the presence of a national project that is encountering regionalised resistance based on a number of fears. The “No” to the new constitution was based on the dissemination of fear; fear in relation to religion, to the family, to property rights.

Fear is not a political project.

So in your opinion, there are no longer two Bolivias?

My hypothesis is that the deadlock was resolved when the popular project subsumed the autonomy project and the right was left without banners.

As we saw in the referendum, the conservative sectors have a potential base but they do not have a propositional line. That is why we are consolidating a single matrix of state, economy and society as expressed in the new constitution.

But the government lost votes in relation to the August 10 recall referendum, while the pro-autonomy forces [right-wing forces in the east] once again begin to appear.

One thing is Evo and what he symbolises in terms of honesty and the recuperation of strategic natural resources and another thing is a proposed constitutional text that brings with it a series of tensions.

But, I want to insist on the fact that there is a solid core of 60%.

And this in the context of a confrontation with a grand coalition of the right, where only Donald Duck was missing, and which sought to activate the most sensible fibres of society.

Absolutely all of them were there, semi-disappeared political parties, conservative sectors of the church, fascist civic forces, opposition mass media, hard business sectors, all cohered around rejection and not the construction of an alternative.

[This interview was first published in the Argentine newspaper Clarin and is republished with permission of the author. Translation and introduction by Federico Fuentes for Green Left Weekly issue #781, February 4, 2009. See also]