Conflict over fundamental change in Bolivia

January 29, 2008

Jean Paul Guevara is Bolivia's Director General of Bilateral Relations. He was interviewed at the Bolivian embassy in Washington.

A video could not be found. Please contact technical support for further assistance.

Jean Paul Guevara is Bolivia's Director General of Bilateral Relations. He was interviewed at the Bolivian embassy in Washington.


Story Transcript

ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: The Bolivian government is proposing fundamental changes to the nation’s constitution, changes that include nationalization of natural resources, wealth redistribution, and a stronger voice for the indigenous people, who make up more than 70 percent of the population. The proposals from President Evo Morales’ Party, Movement Towards Socialism, otherwise known as MAS, are meeting staunch opposition and calls for autonomy from the resource-rich lowland provinces of wealthy-white elites. Paul Jay spoke to Jean-Paul Guevara, the Bolivian director general of bilateral relations, in Washington and asked him about the proposed changes.

JEAN-PAUL GUEVARA AVILA, BOLIVIAN DIRECTOR GENERAL OF BILATERAL RELATIONS (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): I wouldn’t say that it’s only my President nor the party in government now that’s seeking this change. It’s important to point out, to be clear about the historical imperative of change in Bolivia, things could not continue as they were. It was impossible that the levels of discrimination, of inequality could be sustained in time. There was an historical imperative to which the present government and the current president had to respond. That’s what they were elected for. However, this change comes from way back, and goes further ahead and has more depth. President Morales won the election with 54 per cent. Without precedent in the democratic history of Bolivia. The maximum vote before was 36 per cent. (He received) a large number of votes that showed the willingness of society to change; and the fact that an indigenous person was elected shows the desired direction of that change. It is change that respects the democratic institutions. That respect was strategically defined from the beginning of the process. We spoke about a constituent assembly back in 1990, when in South America and in Bolivia there were groups that sought these changes in a violent manner.

VOICE OF PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: In the lowland states, Santa Cruz, the governments, the elites who control most of the gas and important natural resources, the constitutional reforms that your government is proposing is going to wrest some of their control over these resources away. What do you want to do with that wealth?

GUEVARA (ENGLISH): There is a wrong idea, because it’s not in the hands of the elite in the lowlands that they have the power or the use of the natural resources, [“EE-do-CARL-mos”], for example. [SUBTITLED TRANSLATION] That’s not the way it is. The economic elite that is now in Santa Cruz was born of and has grown from the beginning of the Bolivian State. They have used the state to become wealthy; they have used the state and the dictatorial regimes to acquire land. That’s where their economic might comes from, banking, financial. But the natural resources are not in their hands. Now with the law of nationalization of hydrocarbons ownership of natural resources has come back to the state. Before, it had been privatized by the government … by neoliberal governments. But now it has returned to the state.

JAY: The governments of the lowland states clearly don’t want this redistribution of wealth, and they don’t want these constitutional reforms that make it possible. You have a big political struggle ahead of you. This may or may not be peaceful. And that’s really the question. Is it possible for this fundamental struggle to take place within the democratic process? If I understand it correctly, the autonomy the lowland states want in reality is the autonomy not to come under this new constitution.

GUEVARA (ENGLISH): All the changes that the government and Evo Morales have reached are in the frame of the democratic institutions, via assembly constituent. But the problem of the position in Bolivia is that they are not always a democratic opposition. You have to understand that in Bolivia, that the opposition right now are the little groups, the petite elite of the lowlands that had all the privilege with the ancient regime. [SUBTITLED TRANSLATION] It’s an opposition that has lost in the arena of political parties. There are political parties from former regimes that have disappeared for obtaining no votes … or for not reaching a minimum threshold of votes. Now these groups, these families, have sought refuge in the regions so that from there they could keep their privileges. I believe that at some point it has crossed their minds to divide Bolivia … in order to keep their privileges.

JAY: If I understand it correctly, the autonomy the lowland states want is the autonomy not to come under this new constitution.

GUEVARA (ENGLISH): Well, I have the [inaudible] autonomic, ’cause they have wrote they want their own police, their own citizenship, their own taxes, their own judicial power.

JAY: In terms of the police structure, is it subordinate in any way to the central Bolivian government? What are the rights of the Bolivian army within this state, according to the way they have written it? Do they address that issue?

GUEVARA (ENGLISH): They don’t address the issue of the army. They address the issue of the police and the security. And by [“HO-tail-ha-VREED”], they don’t subordinate to the national level of the police, of the alternative to police. They want another country. And that’s not autonomy; that’s just another country. Maybe it’s because they want to negotiate, and they have put the rank very high. But the end, it’s not possible to fit that kind of autonomy inside the unity of a country.


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