Monday, January 26, 2009

Bolivian Constitution Passes

Bolivian voters ratified the new constitution yesterday with 56% of the vote, the latest step in Evo Morales' democratic revolution. The indigenous majority again flexed their political muscle, taking control of the nation from the eastern whites who had oppressed them for the last 450 years. One can certainly quibble with the expanded executive authority the constitution gives Morales, including the ability to dissolve Congress. It's far from perfect, as is Morales. But one cannot question the democratic nature of these changes. The document is designed to give the indigenous people actual power for the first time in the nation's history, including autonomous judicial systems and mineral rights, as well as limiting individual land ownership. Whether Morales will actually be able to go into the eastern ranches and take people's farms away is a whole other question. Personally, I doubt it and believe that this is more symbolic than real. As it stands, the law is not retroactive, but I have trouble seeing people in eastern Bolivia even thinking about adhering to this law, particularly given their lack of respect for the government's legitimacy.

What I find amusing is how the eastern white economic elite is whining about the undemocratic nature of the Morales government. First, they did not care one whit for democracy while they were in power. The indigenous people simply did not matter to them except as a source of cheap labor. Second, Morales is democratic. One might question the appropriateness of democracy when the people decide to give almost all the power to one individual, but nonetheless, welcome to a democratic world. But most annoyingly, the economic elite has learned nothing from this episode. Once they return to power, which someday they no doubt will, is there any question that they will again pursue policies that line their own pockets at the expense of the nation's people?

John Crabtree has more.