Contextual Content

Conflict over Bolivia’s new constitution

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY: Bolivia is set to approve a new draft constitution, which would, in the words of President Evo Morales, re-found the country and bring the state closer to the people. The new constitution, which would replace one dating from 1967, was recently approved by a constituent assembly and will be put to a vote later this year. It includes provisions allowing for the recall of elected officials, limits on large landholdings, a redistribution of government revenues in order to redress the historically exploited indigenous people, and the nationalization of the country’s natural resources. Opponents of the new document, chiefly politicians, agribusiness, and some residents in the country’s four wealthy lowland states where the natural gas reserves are located, are saying they want their regions to be autonomous and that they want control of two-thirds of the revenue generated there. The new constitution would allow the federal government to redistribute the wealth to the poor. The Real News talked to Pepe Escobar in Brazil to get his take on the situation in Bolivia. So, Pepe, who’s for this constitution and who’s against it?

PEPE ESCOBAR: Well, the most schematic way of presenting what’s happening in Bolivia is juxtaposing or contraposing the Altiplano with the Media Luna. The Altiplano is in the Andes Mountains. That’s where the cocaleros live, the miners, and most of Bolivia’s indigenous people. There are at least thirty-five local indigenous groups in Bolivia. There are at least ten different Aymara nations. These are the people who voted for Evo Morales. In the Media Lunas more to the eastern part of the country, near the borders of Brazil, we find the landowning class, Bolivia’s industrial complex, and major agribusiness interests. So what we have is basically classic class struggle. It’s the rich against the excluded since the beginning of the Spanish colonization in the 16th century. Evo Morales was elected by the cocaleros, which is a traditional industry in Bolivia, by the miners and by the different Aymara and indigenous nations as a whole. He got 54 percent of the votes. His platform, his main promise, was to reform the constitution and promote more social justice. I’m going to quote an article of the constitution. This is article number nine. It says that it’s striving for a society based on decolonization without discrimination, no exploitation, with widespread social justice and consolidation, plural national identities. Plural national identities—it’s obvious in a country where we have at least thirty-five different indigenous groups. And, obviously, the landowning class, the typical oligarchy in South America, that you find not only in Bolivia but also in Colombia, in Brazil, in Argentina, are absolutely terrified of what this all means. What else? Redistribution. So whenever we talk about wealth redistribution in South America, during the 60s, obviously, these comprador elites were allies of the US so the US could support local military coups and military dictatorships as it happened in Brazil, in Bolivia itself, in Argentina, in Uruguay, or in Chile. Nowadays it’s different. It’s an emerging multi-polar order. Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales are part of this new emerging order. And while we can criticize Chavez in Venezuela because he’s trying to impose a Bolivarian revolution from the way up, in Bolivia it’s completely different. It’s a grassroots movement. It unites the excluded, it unites the unemployed, it unites the indigenous peoples, it unites workers with very difficult social conditions, unites women, and it unites students as well. It’s a broad-based movement. And against it, we have the extremely reactionary oligarchy classes based in Sucre, the former colonial capital, and especially in Santa Cruz de la Sierra. And, obviously, in the middle of all this we have foreign interference. And foreign interference means, basically, in the case of Spain, especially, Spanish interests in South American natural resources. So no wonder if you read Spanish and you go to the Spanish press and the way they cover what’s happening in Bolivia, they paint Morales as a diablo, a devil, as bad or even worse as Chavez, because he’s defending the right of the excluded.

JAY: In one of the demonstrations in favour of Morales’ constitution, we saw demonstrators chanting, “U.S. ambassador out of Bolivia.” What’s the American role here? What role are they playing?

ESCOBAR: The American role is basically interested in Bolivian natural resources, not only oil and gas but special mineral resources. That would be exactly the same interest of Brazil as well. Brazil is the powerful Bolivian neighbor to the right. Brazil has Petrobras, one of the largest oil companies in the world. When Bolivia and Evo Morales nationalized Bolivian oil and gas last year, 1 May 2006, it was amazing. When you were reading the Brazilian press, you thought that you were reading the American press defending the interests of Chevron or Exxon Mobil. It was the same approach in Brazil of the Brazilian elites defending Petrobras, because Petrobras was usurped of its riches in Bolivia by Evo.

JAY: This must be difficult for the self-declared socialist Lula to take on this kind of position.

ESCOBAR: It was, because the thing– it’s very funny. A friend of mine met with Evo a few weeks ago, and he said that maybe the Brazilian voters should elect the president of Petrobras instead of the president of Brazil, because the president of Petrobras is much more important. But jokes aside, the fact is Petrobras had to recognize that Bolivia was defending its own interests. And no wonder in the past few days Petrobras reverted its, I would say, belligerent stance, and now they are reinvesting in Bolivia. Brazil imports a lot of gas from Bolivia, actually. Brazil needs Bolivian gas. So Petrobras is now investing $750 million and perhaps $1 billion in the next few years to upgrade Bolivian installations. So that was a good deal for Petrobras, for Brazil, and also for Bolivia, because they need foreign investment.

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