Wednesday, December 19, 2007

BOLIVIA: AUTONOMY OR SEPARATISM?

Carlos Toranzo - a well respected and very sensible Bolivian political and economic commentator. In this article he criticizes foreign press headlines which make it look like Santa Cruz autonomy is "Separatism". Even some Morales allies, like former energy minister Soliz Rada, agree that the Departments are not asking to separate from Bolivia.

Toranzo points out that Autonomy "simply means political decentralization within a unitary framework." And it is part of "social demands" 150 years in the making, not some simple opposition strategy against Evo. In a country where cities can be 1000km from the capital, it was only till recently that departments could elect their "Prefects" (or governors) by direct vote. What the residents of departments like Tarija and Santa Cruz are asking for is the ability to elect their own 'governors' and for them to have more authority in day to day aspects of government, instead of it being directed from La Paz.

The Spanish left a legacy of centralist rule, and attempts to reform or modify this structure have been a staple of Bolivian political history. Federalism was the excuse for a civil war in 1899 and when subject to a congressional vote lost by a tie-breaker; administrative decentralization was written into the 1930 Constitution but the enabling legislation was vetoed due to the Chaco War. Direct Election of prefects has been argued repeatedly for the past 20 years. Since the return to democracy 25 years ago autonomy for departments has gained momentum, in part spurred on by municipal decentralization and successes in other Latin American countries such as Peru and Venezuela.
As Toranzo points out Evo Morales rise to power was an uncontrolled river, nobody could stop him; departmental autonomies are an equally wide river, it also looks like nobody can stop them. Evo is a "reality" so is Autonomy.

Fue un río incontenible la llegada de Evo Morales al poder, nadie lo pudo detener; un río igual de ancho es el de las autonomías departamentales, tampoco parece que nadie lo podrá parar.



What they say?

If anyone actually bothered to read the statutes, a lot of it is not bad and actually progressive: there is indigenous autonomy (in line with the LPP), free meals for schoolchildren, a percentage split of hydrocarbon revenues, 50 to producing provinces, 40 to non-producing 10 to indigenous peoples.

Problems come up with such things as the ability to create a unique police force - in a country where the state should have the monopoly on the military, any claims of exclusivity on apportioning land ( a huge issue in Santa Cruz), as well as any claim to control of the resources.

That being said the statute on the most part is in line with Bolivia's constitution, laws, and legal thinking. It is much more coherent than the insane MAS-stitution. Powers allocated to the department, are at most "co-equal" with the state. Seems to me that is where the bargaining should be over, what powers are reserved exclusively to the central government, which ones it will delegate to the State. And there might actually be a real Constitutional Assembly, where real issues are discussed.