The Associated Press published the following article:
Bolivian loses core backers
Fellow Indians are feeling betrayed by President Evo Morales’ policies.
LA PAZ, Bolivia – Bolivia’s long-downtrodden indigenous majority adored President Evo Morales as he championed a new constitution that promised the nation’s 36 ethnicities unprecedented autonomy.
But three years after voters overwhelmingly approved that document, making poor, landlocked Bolivia a “plurinational” republic [under this government, Bolivia ceased to be a Republic], the country’s first indigenous president is under attack for essentially ignoring it.
Lowlands Indians have quit his Movement Toward Socialism over his insistence, without seeking their consent, on building a road across a virgin jungle preserve and for forging ahead with natural-gas projects on their traditional lands.
Neither marathon marches nor weeks-long occupation strikes have swayed Morales, an Aymara Indian who was a rabble-rousing coca growers’ union leader before winning the presidency in December 2005.
Fellow native Bolivians likely now represent the biggest threat to Morales’ goal of winning reelection in 2014 to a third term. Even his allegiance among the Aymara and Quechua who dominate Bolivia’s more populous highlands is flagging.
Lowlands peoples’ anger with Morales was on display at a Jan. 25 banquet in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, where leaders of Bolivia’s main lowlands indigenous federation, known as CIDOB, forged an alliance with business-friendly Santa Cruz Gov. Ruben Costas, Morales’ arch-nemesis.
Three years earlier, federation activists had battled Costas’ confederates in the streets with sticks and rocks, defending Morales’ revolution against a pro-autonomy campaign by the wealthy agribusinessmen Costas represents.
Now the two groups were breaking bread at an exclusive club where Bolivia’s indigenous were more accustomed to waiting tables.
“Traitors are never scarce,” a wounded Morales complained afterward. “I don’t understand how some of our leaders can sign agreements with representatives of big landowners, with the oppressors of the past.”
Morales had, after all, expropriated tens of thousands of acres the government had declared fallow or ill-gotten from major landowners and turned it over to indigenous groups with historic claims.
Nothing formal was signed at the Santa Cruz banquet, but formerly implacable foes entered a marriage of convenience.
The target was Morales.
No longer could the Aymara Indian who knew hunger as a child count on the unwavering support of the more than three in five Bolivians of native origin who reelected him in December 2009 with 63 percent support – a symbol of native empowerment after centuries of suppression.
The new constitution he championed, which voters approved earlier that year, stipulates without specifying how that Bolivia’s indigenous must be consulted in matters affecting their lives and traditional lands.
In practice, Morales ignored a central aspect of the charter, his critics say.
CIDOB calls Morales a hypocrite for insisting on reviving plans to build a 190-mile highway across a virgin jungle preserve where 15,000 indigenous people depend on hunting, fishing, gathering fruit, and subsistence farming. Park inhabitants fear the road would bring an influx of settlers who would destroy their habitat by felling trees and polluting rivers.
Morales had suspended the plan to sever the Amazon jungle with the Brazilian-funded highway after protesters marched on the capital last year. A ham-fisted attempt by security forces to disperse the marchers by force failed, triggering the resignations of several top Morales ministers.
Last week, Morales scheduled a June regional referendum to vote on the highway.
CIDOB has called for a boycott, arguing that migrants and coca growers who are relative newcomers to the 4,600-square-mile Isiboro-Secure Indigenous Territory National Park would outvote its native inhabitants.
CIDOB’s ranks encompass most of Bolivia’s ethnicities, including the Guarani, the country’s third largest.
Its disaffection has prompted five allied congressmen to defect from Morales’ party, stripping it of its two-thirds majority in the lower house, though it still holds that margin in the Senate.
The Guarani inhabit southeastern provinces rich in natural gas, Bolivia’s primary export, yet most live in poverty. They have recently blocked several key energy projects because they were not consulted, demanding compensation for anticipated environmental damage.
“We feel trampled upon. The constitution and the laws require that the indigenous be consulted. But they aren’t heeded,” said Higinio Coca, a Guarani leader.
“We live in a rich region, but there’s not a single quality health clinic. Education is basic. Our kids must walk to other towns after primary school.”