25 January 2009

Bolivian politics

On the trip down and back to Brussels I read 'Revolutionary Horizons,' a book about Bolivian politics, to better understand the current situation in Bolivia. 
In the 1780s the indigenous peasants of Bolivia revolted against Spain with the support of the Bolivian-born Spaniards and succeeded with one exception: following independence the native Spaniards subjected the indigenous people back to second-class citizenship. Things remained relatively the same until the 1930s when they (the indigenous people who make up 80% of the population) again formed an aliance with the conservative politicians and were again betrayed once the goal was met. Finally in 1950 they managed to get a president in power who was sympathetic to their needs but he was soon off the political scene. In the mid-1980s the cocalero union (a workers union for coca farmers) gained momentum as a counterweight to US-led eradication efforts. The union was led by Evo Morales who later became a politician as a representative. Evo grew up as a migrant laborer's son and searched the roadsides for food thrown from bus windows; his dream as a child was to ride in a bus someday. His Spanish (his third language after Aymara and Quechua) wasn't good enough to succeed in school but he did well as a community organiser and also as a soccer player. In 2000 much of the country protested the privatisation of water which increased the cost of water to 50-100% of wages; the policy was reversed. In 2003 they protested the privatisation of gas, which accounted for a large portion of national earnings, and had the policy reversed. In 2005, Evo Morales and the MAS party were elected into the presidency; he is the first indigenous South American leader. 
Yesterday the Bolivians voted into law the CPE or new constitution. The constitution advocates for greater indigenous rights, land distribution, agrarian reform, and a number of other progresive measures. I have read from some sources that the constitution has its share of inconsistencies as well, but I think that it should be a step forward for Bolivia. Time will tell and it will be interesting to be in Bolivia next year to see how things go. 

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