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IW 06

Bolivia

What is the Constituent?

 

The gathering of a Constituent Assembly, demanded for a long time by numerous social sectors wishing to see expressed in the structure of the State vindications of indigenous, agrarian or anti-imperialist characteristics, seemed to be the great opportunity for Evo Morales and the MAS to concrete the proposal of “refounding” the nation. The framework of a Constituent called in the short term should serve to make concrete without any further delay the nationalization of hydrocarbons (without expropriation), which distinguishes the position of the government. Although the Assembly would be called within the current legal framework, the plebiscite character of the consecration of Evo Morales in the elections of last December left the possibility open for the Constituent to be effectively sovereign in its capacity for political decisions in regard to the opposition of the oligarchy of Santa Cruz and the international hydrocarbon monopolies. Admitted all its limitations, this Constituent was headed in the direction of becoming an obligatory national forum, at which the stances of the most diverse social classes and parties would be confronted.

The pact that gave birth to the call for next July's Constituent, between the government and the MAS, on one side, and the oligarchy of Santa Cruz and the right wing Podemos, on the other, paves the way for something different: for a conditioned Constituent. The government preferred taking the path of cohabitation in order to overcome the obstacle represented for it by a lack of a sufficient majority in the Congress, when when it held in its hands all the political conditions to impose a Constituent without conditions, if it decided to call for a popular mobilization. The pact with the political right-wing and with the agrarian-oil oligarchy has created a singular circumstance: the Estado Mayor del Pueblo (People's High Command), which in the electoral campaign backed Morales, announced that they will “campaign strongly for a ‘no’ against the autonomies” (Bolpress, March 6). (Miguel Zubieta, leader of the Central Obrera Departmental of Santa Cruz (department-wide trade union confederation), rejected both the referendum and the Constituent because they ignore autonomous representation for workers and indigenous- idem).

For the governing duo (newspapers say that the ‘artifice’ of the deal was García Linera, Evo's vice-president), the agreement with the right is a kind of obligatory compromise between contradictory positions which arises by virtue of the correlation of forces or, in words of García Linera, through a situation of “catastrophic dead heat”. But after both the insurrections of October 2003 and July 2005, and the presidential plebiscite of last December, this characterization distorts reality. It substitutes the relationship of forces in society and in politics with that existing in the Congress, that is, it restores to the right-wing and the oligarchy a strength that they have lost even at the polls, and have lost even more after the electoral defeat of December, which indeed was simply catastrophic.

The pact withdraws from the Constituent and from the Bolivian nation altogether, the attribution of deciding on the departmental autonomies, which will be resolved by an independent referendum within each department, giving an obligatory mandate for all constituent assembly delegates. This is, then, the character of the contradiction that the parties to the pact find utterly tolerable, that the constitutional assembly is to be called within the framework of the current political Constitution of the State, whereas the referendum takes place by violating this political constitution, which has a unitary character, because it concedes constitutional sovereignty to the departments, sovereignty taken from the citizenry as a whole. The demand for autonomy expresses the special interests of the oligarchy of Santa Cruz, as well as the interests of other departments with oil in their subsoil. In this way, it is a demand of the international monopolies. This is literally stated by Salvador Ric Riera, a businessman of Santa Cruz with a net worth of forty million dollars, Evo Morales' minister of Public Works and Services: “the oil companies back the autonomy process, because it seems that it is easer for them to negotiate with regional governments…” (Página/12, Feb 8).

The other deceitful aspect of the pact is that the ‘pre-existing’ departmental referendums on the future national constitution do not have a confrontational character, because the question proposed to the population of the departments is equally backed by Podemos and by the MAS. The conditioning is two-fold: for a binding referendum and for a MAS-Podemos pact on the terms of the referendum. This explains that the convening decree excludes the demand of numerous popular organizations for the right to independent representation at the Assembly. This rejection gives away the complete imposture of all the García Linares, who started their political career as supporters of ‘self-government’ and once made officials find out the advantages of ‘party structure’, especially in Bolivia, where there are no parties but rather bureaucratic agglomerations.

It is true, however, since things could not have been any different, that the regulations or concrete political characteristics of the autonomies will be established by the Constituent. It is here where the political system approved in the pact is at work; a system which does away with the single national district and establishes a mixed system that divides the election of popular representation into 70 districts and nine departments; in the districts are elected three representatives, two for the majority and one for the minority — which eliminates proportional representation and as a result representation for a large part of the citizenry and for those of numerous political tendencies; in the departments, two of five seats are assigned to the majority, with one additional seat for each of the next three minorities. This 'system' assures the right of a minimum representation of 30%, which is to say, it is granted over-representation, which leaves it only three points short of the number of votes necessary (a third) to block reforms it deems inconvenient. According to this, the afore-mentioned attempt at overcoming the 'catastrophic dead heat' has produced a 'refined' permanent dead heat. But, as the saying goes, “there are no oxen without horns”, it is also evident that if the right-wing blocks a reglamentation of autonomy which affects its interests adversely, it will be left without autonomy. At that point the binding referendum will cease having its binding character and the referendees are left de-referended. At this point the extreme of the dead heat of the dead heat will have been achieved, which will have to be dealt with through another compromise or pact, or else through a popular intervention alien to pacts and compromises.

The question of autonomy made its debut in Bolivia as a demand of the indigenous population for national autonomy and has ended up as the fundamental demand of the oligarchy. It has a direct connection to property —and in no secondary fashion with agrarian property. A recent description in El Diario (March 5) points to, in reference to Santa Cruz de la Sierra, “the Antelo families, with more than 116,000 hectares; the Gutiérrez family, with almost 100,000 hectares; the Passer Bowles family, with more than 72,000 hectares”. Regarding the department of Beni: “the Sivaut family, with more than 100,000 hectares; the Elsner family, with more than 115,000 hectares, and practically the same family, although with a different surname, Bauer Elsner, with more than 73,000 hectares”. The demand for autonomy, raised by these 'families', can only mean the possibility of exercising 'autonomous' political power to confront the growing movement of landless workers in these regions. Evo Morales has made an as yet unstable compromise, due to many of the reasons explained above, with the parliamentary right-wing and the oligarchy, at the expense of the landless peasant. The political autonomy of the departments could only make for a better popular intervention if it were based on the confiscation of big agrarian property and on the renationalization without compensation of hydrocarbons.

The pact deprives the government of a powerful weapon of pressure with which to oblige the oil companies to submit to the restructuring of the contracts, to partnership with a state majority and investments to industrialize gas in Bolivia. It removes from the scene the possibility of a Constituent with decisive popular majorities and complete powers. In the framework of the pact the government is conditioned to reach an agreement with the oil companies, for it to be placed at the referendum of the assembly. The same goes for the bidding process on the extraordinary iron deposits in Mutún, for which the powerful iron and steel companies Mittal (world leader), the Brazilian EBX y Techint-Siderar are participating. The above-quoted minister of Public Works believes “it is necessary to postpone the opening of the envelopes...; think in terms of a steel and petrochemical pole onsite...; to first modify the Mining Code.” This minister assures that he wishes for “a strong domestic market and productive local bourgeoisie,” which goes to show that the new governing team lacks any sense of the historical times.

The pact leading up to the constitutional convening is the result of enormous social pressures in confrontation. “If this were not the case, the country would once again be in upheaval,” declared Evo Morales, referring to “the importance of respecting the timetable for the constituent elections” (La Razón, La Paz, 23 Feb). The pact with the right-wing was to absorb that popular pressure. It now has to be guaranteed that the Constituent interpret the compromises and pressures without deviations in person. Since the inauguration, the new government has been generous in making statements, especially when they contradict each other, but miserly in taking measures. There are orders for the arrest of Repsol officials for contraband, but Morales receives the president of the company and assures him that the restructuring of the contracts is in progress. Petrobras repeats that the accords with Bolivia face no obstacles, but it has just received an offer from the Chavista PDVSA for gas at a lower price that that demanded by Evo Morales, in order to induce Brazil to support the South-American gas pipeline. What is becoming clearer and clearer is the political blockade, at the hands of Lula, Kirchner and Chávez, against an independent line on the subject of hydrocarbons for Bolivia. The US ambassador, on his side, assures that relations with La Paz “have left the approaches of the past behind us,” but the southern command of the Pentagon unauthorizes military appointments of the Bolivian government and insists on its discrepancies on the cultivation of coca leaves. The pacts, the compromises, the turns abroad and the conversations in the offices of foreign affairs, have not made progress on any of the problems posed —and much less solved any of them. The masses have no breathing space because the government has not complied with the promise of duplicating the minimum wage and, on the other hand, has only authorized wage increases of 7%. Nor has Evo Morales complied with the repeal of decree 21.060, which established casual labor in the 'neo-liberal' decade. A new conflict, but of great weight, emerges on the question of the signing of a free trade treaty with the United States, this once the agreement between Colombia and other Andean countries expels the exporters of Bolivian soy bean from those markets.

As far as we know, a part of the left has decided to once again cast a blank ballot in the hope that the 'reformist' experience of the 'peasant bureaucracy' 'exhausts itself' and the masses 'elevate themselves' to the revolutionary program. What has to be done is just the contrary: orient the social pressures the Constituent will be subject to, whatever its composition and whatever its limitations, but in a revolutionary fashion, forming agrarian committees, factory committees, mining committees, popular assemblies. That is, counter-posing the aspirations of the masses to the designs of the constituent delegates, with a clear program of demands, ranging from the expropriation of the oil companies, big agrarian property and the banks, to a minimum wage equal to the cost of living and workers control. In opposition to the professorial expectation that the masses will 'elevate themselves' to the 'program', politics are necessary to allow for participation in all phases of the struggle and for the development of all the stages through which the consciousness of the masses passes. Naturally, the starting point for any intervention is the denunciation of the pact-based Constituent, the boycott of the referendum on autonomy and the demand for a sovereign Constituent convened by the popular assemblies and the workers committees. The methodical opposition to the Constituent and the referendum, that is, by means of mobilization for demands the the active exhaustion of the illusions it promotes among the masses, is a fundamental step for, on the one hand, exploiting the contradictions of the present political process and developing with it a revolutionary opposition rooted in the masses. In the departments, where possible, it would be important to present opposition candidates who are revolutionary and come out against the pact, and to also support those who have this character. Exploit the possibilities of participating in the elections and of obtaining an eventual representation in the Constituent, however small it might be, is part of the overall proposal to orient the popular pressures on the Constituent in a revolutionary perspective.

By Jorge Altamira