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2008-08-12

Bolivian President Evo Morales Wins Critical Referendum on His Presidency

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More than 63 percent voted to back Morales’ government — nearly ten points more than the 54 percent that elected him in December 2005. The recall pitted Morales against governors who have pushed for autonomy for their resource-rich provinces. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Bolivian President Evo Morales says he plans to pursue major constitutional changes after winning a critical referendum on the fate of his presidency. More than 63 percent voted to back Morales’s government, nearly ten points more than the 54 percent that elected him in December 2005. The recall pitted Morales against governors who have pushed for autonomy for their resource-rich provinces.

Addressing supporters, Morales said he plans to proceed now with his agenda of nationalizing Bolivia’s energy resources and giving more power to the poor.

    PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] What the Bolivian people have expressed today is the consolidation of change. We’re here to move forward with the recovery of our natural resources, the consolidation of nationalization.

AMY GOODMAN: Morales will continue to face challenges from the wealthy provinces. Four governors vocally opposed to Morales also handily won their states’ recall votes. Two Morales critics lost their states, including the governor of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes. There are fears of violence as Reyes vows to fight any attempt to remove him from office.

Jim Shultz is executive director of the Democracy Center in Cochabamba, Bolivia. He joins us on the phone from Cochabamba.

Jim, welcome to Democracy Now! Explain the significance of Morales winning the vote and Reyes refusing to leave.

JIM SHULTZ: Good morning, Amy. Thanks for having me on the program.

What this vote Sunday was, it was a taking the temperature again of where Morales’s support is in the midst of a year of unbelievable conflict between he and his opponent. And as you just said to your listeners, that temperature says that Evo’s support is not only what it was when he was elected, but much stronger, ten points stronger. And it’s all over the country. I mean, even in Santa Cruz, where the most heated opposition to Morales comes from, his vote went up by seven percent; he got 40 percent of the vote. So, what it says is that, I think, is that, number one, Morales’s support among the poor and in rural communities is almost unanimous and that in these regions where you see heated opposition, it’s really coming from the cities. And frankly, my read is that it’s getting amplified by the control that the elites in these cities have of the media, that it looks — the opposition to Morales looks a lot stronger than I think it actually is in these regions.

In terms of Cochabamba here with Manfred, I mean, this a guy who really knows how to shoot himself in the foot. This revocatory election was his idea to try to get Evo back in January of 2007, and he got creamed. I mean, he lost —- he got less than 40 percent of the vote. And now he’s saying, “Well, these elections weren’t legitimate. They weren’t legal. And I’m not going to leave.” So, the fear is that we could have a repeat here in Cochabamba of the violence in January of 2007, in which three people died in street conflicts over Manfred Reyes Villa and demands for his resignation. But given the power of the vote -—

AMY GOODMAN: But what about who would replace Reyes? I mean, he was recalled, but wouldn’t there have to be an election to vote for a new governor?

JIM SHULTZ: Constitutionally, the President of the Republic, who’s Evo Morales, would be able to appoint a successor. There might be interim elections, or that successor might serve until 2010, in which the next national elections are scheduled.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain who was behind the recall. You say Reyes was one of the governors, but can you talk about the area of Sucre and who is supporting them?

JIM SHULTZ: Well, first of all, the recall really wasn’t — in the end, the recall wasn’t a tool of the opposition. It was basically a poker bet, in which the opposition challenged Evo to a recall, and Evo said, “OK, let’s do it.” And I don’t think they really anticipated he would do that.

So, who’s behind the opposition in places like Sucre? First of all, let’s make a note that Sucre, which is where a lot of this opposition has also come from, split fifty-fifty. So Evo got 50 percent of the vote in Sucre. It comes from an elite that is, you know, as people know, whiter and more wealthy than the majority in this country. But some of this division has also become regional, especially in Sucre, where there’s a very broad public demand that the capital of the country be returned to Sucre, which once was its historical capital, and that regional demand that Evo has resisted has become such a heated point of opposition that if you travel in the city of Sucre, as I did a week ago, I mean, you talk to people who are taxi drivers, who are gum sellers, people who you would think that ethnically and economically would be on Evo’s side, are actually opposed to Evo because of the specific regional issue involved.

AMY GOODMAN: What exactly is the president, is Evo Morales, going to do right now? What is he talking about when he talks about nationalizing resources?

JIM SHULTZ: Well, I mean, nationalization in Bolivia isn’t really nationalization. I mean, if you look at what Evo did on gas back in May of 2006, what he really — nationalization is where you confiscate the property, and you take it over. What Evo has done is essentially raise the taxes and renegotiated the contracts to bring in something on the order of a billion dollars a year of new revenue into Bolivia’s treasury. I think he’ll continue that kind of process.

The real question here is what he does with the constitution. That’s really the battle ahead. There’s this constitution that is basically a MAS — Evo Morales’s political party — MAS-written constitution that opponents vehemently object to. And he now has an option, and I think he’ll probably exercise it, to bring that constitution forward to a public vote in 2009, because if he keeps the same vote he got on Sunday, he could probably win ratification of that. That would make the opposition go absolutely bananas. And the issue I think they object to more than anything else in the constitution is it would allow for the president to be reelected. Under current law, the current constitution, Evo can’t run for reelection in 2010. The new constitution would allow him to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jim Shultz, I want to thank you very much for being with us, executive director of the Democracy Center in Cochabamba, Bolivia. He writes a blog on the situation in Bolivia that can be found at democracyctr.org.

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