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Homepage > Publication Type > Media Releases > Bolivia: Rescuing the New Constitution and Democratic Stability

Bolivia: Rescuing the New Constitution and Democratic Stability

Bogotá/Brussels  |   19 Jun 2008

The confrontation between the Morales administration and the political and regional opposition centred in the eastern lowlands over Bolivia’s new, still provisional constitution and departmental autonomy is approaching a climax that may well lead to violence unless both sides commit to dialogue and compromise.

On 22 June, Tarija department is expected to join its three neighbours (Santa Cruz, Beni and Pando) in adopting an autonomy statute in a referendum the central government does not recognise. Bolivia: Rescuing the New Constitution and Democratic Stability,* the latest International Crisis Group briefing, analyses the factors that have led to political deadlock and recommends a practical way forward.

President Evo Morales’s efforts to consolidate sweeping reforms on the basis of a controversial new constitution have steered Bolivia into a cul-de-sac. On 8 December 2007, his supporters in the Constituent Assembly provisionally passed the text by running roughshod over procedures and virtually excluding opposition delegates. Feeble attempts to bridge the deepening divide have failed, increasing potential for a violent confrontation all concerned still seem to wish to avoid.

“Bolivia needs both democratic stability and socio-economic progress”, says Frédéric Massé, Crisis Group Senior Analyst. “It is essential to move away from ‘duelling referendums’ and zero-sum strategies aimed at subduing the other side”.

With the Constitutional Court inoperative, unable to serve as an impartial arbiter, government and opposition must resume a meaningful dialogue. Basic consensus is needed regarding: the compatibility between departmental autonomy and the several further layers of autonomy, including for indigenous peoples, contained in the new constitution; use and distribution among the nine departments and between them and the central government of revenues from the Direct Hydrocarbon Tax (IDH); and the city of Sucre’s status as the constitutional capital but not seat of government.

The government should provisionally stop taking IDH money away from the departments for its new pension fund, and discussions about Sucre’s status should be put off to a later stage. But the autonomy question is top priority. It needs to be tackled immediately, and final adoption of the constitution should be postponed until a compromise is found.

“Bolivia’s break-up does not appear imminent”, says Markus Schultze-Kraft, Crisis Group’s Latin America Program Director, “but if mutual intransigence persists, the stand-off between the Morales government and the opposition over departmental autonomy and the new constitution threatens serious further destabilisation”.

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