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Bolivia’s Congress ratified President Evo Morales’ draft constitution on Tuesday, beginning a new phase to the president’s quest of empowering Bolivia’s long oppressed indigenous majority. Congress approved holding another referendum scheduled for January 25. Despite this development, Journalist and Author Forrest Hylton believes “the fight is not over by any means but [Bolivia] has entered a new phase.”

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Bolivia approves draft constitution
Producer: Zaa Nkweta

ZAA NKWETA, TRNN: Bolivia’s Congress ratified President Evo Morales’ draft constitution on Tuesday, beginning a new phase to the president’s quest of empowering Bolivia’s long-oppressed indigenous majority.

EVO MORALES, BOLIVIAN PRESIDENT (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): If regional governors reject all of these modifications, these civil committees will turn into the enemies of regional autonomy. If there shall be any civil authority or governor who rejects this document, they would be an enemy of the country because they would be rejecting the nationalization of our natural resources.

NKWETA: Bolivia’s Congress also approved holding a referendum on the new constitution, scheduled for January 25. The Real News spoke to author and historian Forrest Hylton.


NKWETA: So welcome to The Real News, Forrest.


NKWETA: So Bolivia has ratified the draft constitution. What do you make of this?

HYLTON: It’s a major victory for Evo Morales as president of Bolivia, for MAS as the governing party of Bolivia. And La Paz is currently filled with tens of thousands, perhaps more than 100,000 people of indigenous background, workers and peasants and miners, celebrating what they understand to be their Constitution. And there’s a lot in the fine print, in fact, that reflects negotiations between Morales and the right-wing opposition prefects, and particularly the political parties that represent them. But people aren’t worried about the fine print right now. They feel that this is a big victory in terms of moving the country forward politically and at least establishing a framework that’s agreed on by all sides for government and, hopefully, the rule of law.

NKWETA: What do you think were some of the critical turning points that got us to this point?

HYLTON: The international intervention from UNASUR, the discussions of this issue in the General Assembly at the United Nations by President Fernández de Kirchner, and the way that Brazil intervened very decisively in favor of the democratically elected government of Evo Morales, the extent to which the United States has become entirely isolated from the rest of the hemisphere. And Evo Morales is at the same time very strong right now; and after the referendum in August, which saw a 13 percent gain for him, he was able to translate that into international legitimacy, and that international legitimacy eventually forced the right to make concessions that it really never wanted to make. It never wanted to see Evo Morales and his government get the credit for passing the new constitution, and a new constitution and a constitutional assembly was a key part of the agenda of October, which is basically what set the framework for Evo Morales’s government. It’s what brought Evo Morales to power. And it refers to October 2003, when right-wing President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada was overthrown through a mass popular insurrection. So this really represents in some ways a closure of that process that was initiated when people began to demand a new constitution and a new constitutional assembly through mass direct action in the streets, which was capable of overthrowing two presidents.

NKWETA: Do you believe that the grassroots organizations that the opposition used to push Morales, do you believe that these have been abated?

HYLTON: Well, I mean, it’s unlikely, I think, that we’ve seen the last of them altogether, but the increasingly central protagonism that they have taken on in the last, you know, couple of years or so, particularly in the last year, I think, is something that has now come to a close; I think it’ll really fade into the background. And they might be mobilized as necessary, but I think the kind of constant mobilization that we’ve been seeing that has led to the deaths and ultimately to the massacre in Pando in September, I think [inaudible] with the forging of this kind of new consensus. And the key concession that MAS and Evo Morales had to make was on land, the idea that none of the expropriation of unproductive land would be retroactive, so the people who have legal title to their land, if they’re using it productively, are not in danger of using any of it. This is the key issue for these folks down in the eastern lowlands, because their representatives in the prefectures and the civic committees are huge landowners, and they belong to kind of a caste of landowning families. And so the Constitution doesn’t explicitly take them on, and up until now that was a point that MAS was really unwilling to negotiate on, and it was perhaps the key grievance of the folks in the lowlands. A lot of the debate took place over hydrocarbons and the distribution of gas resources between the nation and the different regions within it. But in fact this question of land has been fundamental at every point, and it was really the tensest point of friction between the government and the opposition. Now that’s really been taken care of, and I think there will be much more live-and-let-live.

NKWETA: Is the fight over?

HYLTON: I wouldn’t say it’s over by any means, but I think we’ve really probably entered a new phase, and I think things are likely to be quite a bit calmer in Bolivia in the next year than they have in the past.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Forrest Hylton teaches history at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia-Medellín. He is the author of Evil Hour in Colombia (Verso, 2006), and with Sinclair Thomson, co-author of Revolutionary Horizons: Past and Present in Bolivian Politics (Verso, 2007). He has contributed to New Left Review, NACLA Report on the Americas, and CounterPunch, and his short fiction and translations have appeared in the Brooklyn Rail. Also, he authored the novel Vanishing Acts: A Tragedy (City Works Press, 2010).