Bolivia sets new global high mark for indigenous rights
A new constitution approved handily Sunday also risks dividing the nation.
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The Zapatista movement in Mexico, which emerged in 1994, gave rise to a transnational movement, and presidential candidates Ollanta Humala in Peru and Rigoberta Menchu in Guatemala have also given the movement a boost.Skip to next paragraph
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Around the globe, countries such as Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have also gone a long way toward recognizing the "cultural rights" of native peoples. But Albro says that Bolivia's new constitution sets a precedent because of its degree of detail to guarantee the political, cultural, and economic rights of the majority indigenous population by a president of indigenous descent. "Usually such constitutional reforms have been carried out to better 'recognize' indigenous peoples but by largely nonindigenous governments," he says.
It was a goal that teetered on the brink of failure.
At one point, Bolivian opposition groups boycotted the process and protests turned deadly. In the end, a final draft constitution was only made possible via a series of negotiations and concessions made on the part of Morales and his political party (MAS). Of more than 400 articles, more than a quarter of them were modified.
Morales remains widely popular despite a strong opposition. He won 67 percent of support in a recall referendum in August, higher than the passage of the constitution. But the new constitution allows him to run for another consecutive term, which would end in 2014.
Some worry that the changes are simply a tool to hold onto power. Critics compare Morales to Mr. Chávez in Venezuela, who is holding a referendum next month to allow indefinite reelection for heads of state. "This is a clear victory for the poor," says Hugo Campos, a retired businessman in El Paz. "But this is too much like Chávez. They are just trying to dominate, and create divisions between [Bolivian] society and even with the US so they can dominate more."
Opposition forces say that the new constitution is further dividing Bolivian society. "This creates two types of citizens, one that is of [indigenous] origin and one that is not," says Luis Eduardo Siles, a former congressman and fierce Morales critic. "There was not this hatred in our society before."
And he says battles are bound to continue. For starters, it is unclear how the constitution, which leaves vast space for more protest and wrangling, will be implemented. "This doesn't solve any of the real problems. It will just create more fights," says Mr. Siles.
Indeed, to impliment the reforms outlined by the new constitution will require the passage of dozens of new laws. To get those through Congress, Morales will have to work with the oppostion.
Miguel Centellas, an assistant political science professor at Mount St. Mary's University in Maryland who writes a blog on Bolivian politics, says that not only will the sides dig in their heels, but new factions have arisen out of the process.
The opposition parties have splintered over negotiations over the constitution.
Some Morales supporters are angered by the concessions.
"I see this as yet another crisis in a series of crises," Mr. Centellas says. "I don't think the referendum will solve anything. … The country will remain just as polarized."