Bolivia’s Morales faces biggest test: Political leaders in wealthy regions, long alienated from his Andes power base, are pushing for more autonomy (Patrick J. McDonnell, December 25, 2006, LA Times)
A political insurrection has enveloped four provinces in Bolivia’s east, north and south, a swath of the country known as the half-moon that contains much of the nation’s wealth, including most of its gas reserves. Political leaders there, long alienated from Morales’ power base in the Andes heartland and the coca-growing tropics, are pushing for more autonomy.
Their supporters launched mass demonstrations, civic strikes and legislative action, culminating in huge protests Dec. 15.
“The road to autonomy is something that our society has been working toward for a long time, with mobilizations, protests and votes,” said Germán Antelo, president of the Civic Committee of Santa Cruz, the thriving eastern lowland city that is the heart of the autonomy movement. “We’re not looking to break away from Bolivia. We just want respect for popular will that seeks autonomy.”
What autonomy would mean in practice is unclear, although it probably would include local governments receiving a larger share of taxes and royalties from their natural gas. This is not a small thing at a time when gas revenue is expected to increase by billions of dollars thanks to new contracts negotiated with foreign energy companies under Morales’ nationalization scheme.
The president has signaled that he regards talk of autonomy as the first step toward breaking up the country, South America’s poorest. He derides the autonomy movement as the elite’s response to his leftist reforms.
Base your politics on racial identity and you’ve already ceded the self-determination argument.