Sinclair Thomson is an Associate Professor at New York Universityďż˝s Department of History. He is the author of We Alone Will Rule: Native Andean Politics in the Age of Insurgency (2003) and co-author of Revolutionary Horizons: Past and Present in Bolivian Politics (2007).
To understand the significance of the recently passed referendum in Bolivia, Sharmini Peries speaks to Sinclair Thomson, co-author of Revolutionary Horizons. Thomson says, “one of the interesting things about this document, is that it is a compromised document. It’s the outcome of a struggle between popular social forces and the government on the one hand and right-wing opposition forces based in the lowlands of Bolivia.” He concludes that, “this document represents the interests of both sides.” He continues to say that, “this Constitution is disappointing for indigenous peoples because it doesn’t allow for the redistribution of existing large-scale agricultural estates,” but explains the reform will affect future ones. Another major change introduced with the referendum is a new limit on the presidential reelection term, largely, Thomson says, because of a propaganda campaign the right wing opposition waged against Evo Morales, portraying him as a dictator.
transcriptHistoric referendum passes in Bolivia, Pt.2SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News and to the second segment of our interview with Sinclair Thomson. Welcome back, Sinclair.SINCLAIR THOMSON, CO-AUTHOR OF REVOLUTIONARY HORIZONS: Thank you.PERIES: So we were talking about the Bolivian new constitution, and the key features and segments in it, and what transformations it will bring about to the indigenous population. But there are other, more interesting features as well. So can you elaborate?THOMSON: Yes. I think one of the things about this document is it's a compromise document. It's the outcome of a struggle between popular social forces and the government on the one hand and right-wing opposition forces based in the lowland parts of Bolivia. And this document reflects the interests of both sides. And one of the ways in which you can see the compromises here is in the question of land reform. The Bolivian government was calling for major land reform, and this Constitution is disappointing for indigenous peoples in particular because it does not allow for the redistribution of existing large-scale agricultural estates. The vote on Sunday has set a new limit on the size of agricultural properties.PERIES: Compromise with whom?THOMSON: Well, right-wing forces based in the lowlands were very concerned about any kind of agrarian reform happening as a result of the political process in Bolivia, and they were fighting tooth-and-nail to prevent the redistribution of existing lands in the country. And in the end, in the final negotiations between the government and the right which allowed this whole Constitution to come up as a referendum, in those negotiations, the government made a major concession, and they said that "We will not seize and redistribute large agrarian properties which already exist."PERIES: So this was essentially for a more peaceful transition and to be able to implement some form of land reform?THOMSON: Yeah, I think it was really one of the crucial points of negotiation that the government conceded in order to bring the political opposition into some kind of a consensus that would allow Congress to approve the referendum on this draft of the Constitution.PERIES: So this is a compromise, because the alternative would be what?THOMSON: Well, the MAS would not have been able to put through a new constitution, which had been the popular demands.PERIES: And they were facing a great deal of violent uprising on the part of the opposition.THOMSON: The right wing had been on the warpath in recent years and had seriously challenged governmental authority in the lowland parts of the country. In earlier part of last year, it seemed like the MAS government had virtually lost control and legitimacy in the lowland parts of the region. So I think it made this concession in order to try to reconstitute its legitimacy and authority in the country as a whole and to leave some kind of concrete legacy in the form of the constitution. But this is disappointing. There, in the future, large landed properties over 12,000 hectares will not be allowed. But they had to give in on redistribution of existing large-scale properties, and that is something that the landed elite, ranching interests and agricultural interests, agribusiness interests in Santa Cruz were fighting for.PERIES: So the compromise was done so that there would be more peaceful conditions in the country in order to achieve the larger [inaudible]THOMSON: Yes, to try to achieve some kind of national unity in the framework of the Constitution.PERIES: The term limits on the presidency is also a major issue [inaudible] controversy.THOMSON: There again Evo Morales made a concession, again, late in the game in these last-minute negotiations. The MAS was seeking for Evo Morales to be elected to successive terms. The opposition opposed that on the grounds that the MAS government was totalitarian and Evo Morales was seeking a lifetime presidency, which wasÂ—that was the right-wing propaganda.PERIES: In the previous constitution, what were the term limits?THOMSON: There could be reelection after a term out of office. Okay? Someone could be elected twice, but that would only be after a term out of office.PERIES: So no consecutiveÂ—THOMSON: No consecutiveÂ—.PERIES: Â—terms.THOMSON: That's right.PERIES: I see. And this change would have allowed him to run again?THOMSON: In this constitution, presidents in the future will be allowed to run for office consecutively, two times in a row. But in the case of Evo Morales, the deal that was cut is that he won't be able to run twice in a row after this constitution has been put in place. He'll be able to complete his current term and then run for election one more time. So that was againÂ—.PERIES: So, essentially, a two-term limit on the presidency as a result of this Constitution being passed.THOMSON: Yes. So that's one more case in which the MAS conceded, in the interests of reaching some type of reconciliation politically. PERIES: And this particular issue became so controversial because they were comparing it to Venezuela and President ChĂˇvez's seeking of endless terms for the presidency.THOMSON: Yes, yes. It's remarkable. The right-wing opposition has waged a war against Morales and this government on the grounds that it's a totalitarian or communist government. It's constantly trying to link him to ChĂˇvez. And there are comparisons to Hitler and to Stalin. All this is hugely overblown. I mean, here in New York, Bloomberg has just set things up for himself to be reelected in officeÂ—in other words, to transform the laws about term limits. Right? And yet The New York Times is in support of ending term limits when it comes to Bloomberg.PERIES: And there are many other countries where there's really no term limits on a presidency. France, for example.THOMSON: It's still a question of whether the voters want to approve or not a given politician. So this government has fought and won repeatedly in the electoral arena, and the opposition has tried to tar it as being anti-democratic. But, in fact, there'sÂ—and we can see in this referendum itself, there's been an unprecedented amount of popular national political participation.PERIES: Thank you, Sinclair. We're going to continue this discussion in Part 3. And let's talk about how this is being received in the region and relations with other Latin American countries. Thank you for joining us, and please come back for Sinclair Thomson and our continuation of Bolivia discussion. Thank you.DISCLAIMER:Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.