Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bolivia: ‘We are going through the most radical experience of social transformation in the continent’ — Interview with Álvaro García Linera

In the following interview, the Vice-President of Bolivia explains his interpretation of the changes that were made in the draft Constitution, originally drafted in December 2007 by the country’s Constituent Assembly, as a result of the recent negotiations involving the parties represented in Bolivia’s National Congress. A popular referendum to adopt the new draft Constitution is to be held on January 25, 2009. Álvaro García Linera also discusses his view of the role of constitutional change in the social transformation of Bolivia that is now under way.

García Linera was interviewed by Alejandro Parellada on October 27, 2008. This translation follows the text — it is really an extended commentary by the Vice-President — published on the web site of Servindi, a working group identified with the interests of Indigenous peoples and communities in Latin America. A video of the interview may be viewed at Subheads by Servindi. Notes by the translator.

Synthesis of the constituent process

The demand for a Constituent Assembly emerged at the very point when the majority of the country, the Indigenous sectors, were moving or beginning to move from being a demographic majority to a political majority — the awakening of an Indigenous, campesino and popular movement that for centuries had been excluded from the power structures of the State. It was the Indigenous sectors who at that point invoked once again their right to participate in the definition of what is common to all Bolivians — common institutions, common resources, common rights.

This movement emerged, declared its presence initially in 1990 with an Indigenous march in support of the right to participate in the construction of the common good and the collective institutions of the society. Until then the Indigenous movement had felt they were outside the institutional and legal structures, that their rights were marginalized by what Indianismo[1] and Katarismo[2] denounced as second-class citizenship.

So the Indigenous movement proposed that they become first-class citizens, with the same rights and obligations as others. And that meant modifying the entire institutional structure of the state, doing away with the segregationist and racist state, and bringing about a type of inclusive, participatory state bearing the imprint, the scent, the language, the appearance and the habits of the Indigenous world, the majority in Bolivia.

The agenda of a new Constitution that was present in the Indigenous movement first appeared in 1990, and it was in 2000 that the political awakening of the Indigenous movement became a political force of mobilization and pressure, paralyzing the state.

In the water war of 2000, when coca producers, campesinos, regantes [irrigation farmers], the middle classes, workers and former trade-unionists joined together, they not only paralyzed the state but modified the legal structure governing water use and that was when they said: All right, if we continue in the way we have been we will be in conflict with each other. The only way to stop that confrontation between Bolivians or regression (philosophically speaking) to the Hobbesian state, is to reach an agreement, but an agreement that is sealed with the status of a Constituent Assembly.

So it was that in 2000 an Indigenous political demand became a fundamental topic of debate. It occupied the political arena and from that time on further mobilizations took place, resulting in debates, meetings, and in turn proposals in the Constituent Assembly. The proposal for a Constituent Assembly was put on the agenda — as Sánchez de Losada was fleeing — for the new President, Carlos Meza, but at that point it was too much for the man, too complex for a person too closely linked with the old regime of exclusion.

It was President Evo [Morales]’s turn to campaign around and later to place on his government’s agenda this popular program, this Indigenous program, which basically is the demand to participate in building the institutions, to participate in the common good and in the use of that common good, which is nothing but the political definition of a state.

But obviously this conflicted with an entire experience, with an entire conduct, with an entire way of doing things of the ruling classes, the racist elites of the country, for whom the Constitution was like a kind of personal and family heritage.

The constitutions had always been made in that way, they had always been put together among 20, or 40 or 60 friends, relatives and associates; and amendments had always been made to suit the related rulers in their management of government. And when it was the plebeian, the marginalized sectors, who asked to participate, these people had to agree reluctantly at first and, when they could, to conspire against the new Constitution.

And that is the sad, tragic, complex history of the Constituent Assembly. Called in March-April, elected in June, installed in August 2006. From 2006 until a week ago the history of the Constituent Assembly was the history of a majority will of a people that seeks to build its institutions collectively confronted by the obstacle of an opposing dominant racist elite prepared to convert its political minority into a right of veto in order to forestall the adoption of the constitutional draft.

The majority in the Constituent Assembly developed proposals, laid down bridges to include the distinct sectors. But from September-October 2006 on, I would say, within two months from the installation of the Assembly, there was set in motion an entire conspiratorial machinery in the assembly and in the constitutional draft, on various pretexts. First there was the debate on the famous two-thirds majority to approve the constitutional text, then the debate on the location of the capital, a discussion between regions of the country on where the seat of government and the seat of the Congress should be located, and later, despite the efforts of the Assembly members to work out agreements between majorities and minorities, the paralysis of the Constituent Assembly through threats, harassment, assaults on the members that ended with the burning down of the homes of some members, the expulsion of the members from the city of Sucre by fascist groups organized in opposition to the very existence of this Constituent Assembly.

The office of the Vice-President and later President Evo repeatedly sought to counter this, proposing agreements, some consensus, that would allow the completion of a constitutional text. These attempts were all unsuccessful, because there was a distinct attitude that we should not have a new Constitution, that possible agreements should be avoided at all costs and that it didn’t matter how much was conceded by the majority force in the Assembly, it didn’t matter how many concessions were made in the proposed text of the constitution.

The slogan was: No Constituent Assembly, and this conspiracy lasted, I said until a week ago, while even now in the Congress the political force of the right wing, the right wing majority — a minority in the Congress but a majority in the opposition — is pursuing its demand that there be no constitutional text, that it must be blocked.

So, once the Constituent Assembly met, in August 2006, 2007, August 2008, two years — in August things change. It has been two years of opposition, blockade, threats, blackmail, that have forestalled the approval of a constitutional document that fully reflects the will of the people.

A text was approved in Oruro, but not without difficulties. And it was in August — given that it was Congress’s job to call the referendum to approve the draft of the new Constitution — that Congress got to debating it, but this time in quite different circumstances.

There are various factors that enabled the convening of this session on the new Constitution. The first, and perhaps the most important, was the overwhelming political victory of President Evo in the recall referendum. The referendum was held on August 10, and the President went from 54 percent electoral support [in the 2005 presidential election] to 67 percent, which is without precedent in the political life of Bolivia.

This led to majority voting control over 96 of the 112 municipalities in the entire country. The right wing, territorially entrenched in four departments, lost two of the other five departments, lost municipalities and territories and remains confined to a marginal strip of the country.

This was the decisive point that altered the correlation of territorial forces in Bolivian politics. It meant that imminently, rather sooner than later, the Constitution would be approved. What did the right wing do? They set out to launch a coup d’état. They occupied institutions, destroyed institutions, occupied airports, blocked the legally constituted authorities from being present in the regions, murdered Bolivians, destroyed the country’s gas and oil pipelines in acts of terrorism.

And the government marked time and then made a strong decision, [declared] the state of siege, arrested a prefect, protected the people, jailed persons involved or potentially involved in those assassinations. And, following the electoral defeat, that was the second moment, the military defeat of a portion of the golpistas [those forces attempting a coup]. They were isolated. UNASUR unanimously backed the constitutional government, the North American [U.S.] ambassador was expelled, which meant that the conspiracy was left without a coordinator. Militarily, we took control of one department and in the others that were violently taken by that gang of criminals the people took their distance, turning their backs on those violent acts, so that was a military defeat that once again empowered the government with greater force to take decisions and proceed with the constituent process.

And the third moment, clearly, was the great mobilization, the great mobilization of the social sectors, beginning in Santa Cruz. In a territory that was seemingly the property of the landowners, under the unfettered control of the landowners, the labouring masses rebelled, rose up, encircled the city, and mobilized to defend democracy and the new Constitution.

Later, President Evo led a gigantic, heroic march, the largest march in Bolivia’s history. Bigger than the march of the miners that closed the national revolutionary cycle back in the Eighties. The reception in La Paz was huge, 200,000 persons came to the Congress and demonstrated that there is social support.

So it enabled the constituent process to get back on the rails, led to the approval of a referendum law in this new political context — the new electoral majority from 54 to 67 percent, the new territorial power of the government throughout the country, east and west, north and south, city and countryside, the military defeat of the fascist right and the gigantic social mobilization — which meant that in the Congress the right-wing forces were left isolated in the reactionary fascist sector, the democratic sector was strengthened, and the government — within the limits of certain flexible concessions — was able to ally with the democratic sectors and this ultimately gave us the two thirds, which is what made it possible to adopt a law setting the date and terms for the referendum that has been socially accepted by the entire country.

The country has experienced tensions and risks of a civil confrontation over the Constituent Assembly, of course, because we have had an obstinate right wing that has resisted reaching any agreement that would allow the Indians to be co-participants as well in the development of a foundation text of the state.

Its defeat, its rout, its political errors have meant that the right has split and as a result the government was able to build temporary alliances on the basis of certain agreements and adjustments to the constitutional text that isolated the right and gave us the two thirds that you have seen during the last week.

The post-Oruro process and the 100 changes in the approved text

On this very day, this morning, we had a meeting with the Central Obrera Boliviana,[3] Conalcam,[4] the Confederación Sindical de Campesinos,[5] the Confederación Sindical de Colonizadores,[6] the Federación Bartolina Sisa,[7] the Conamaq,[8] the Cidob[9]… and whatnot. The discussion was very valuable, it lasted throughout the morning and until five o’clock in the afternoon, very productive and very mature.

It is not these social sectors who are complaining. It is some members of the Constituent Assembly, who are saying: “Excuse me, I was elected as a member of the Assembly and now they are changing this or that article of a text that I put together.” Legitimate complaints, which were answered by the government in this way: In the Congress we maintained, we preserved, we defended and we improved the fundamental core of the constitutional text, which is this process of building a state that has, as its structural core — with moral, intellectual leadership, hegemony in the Gramscian sense — the campesino and popular Indigenous movement. That core has not been touched at all.

What we did was to make some clarifications, which in some cases improved the position in regard to Indigenous autonomy, for example, or in regard to the land question, in terms of constitutionally entrenching the procedures for reversion of lands that were not in the draft Constitution.

In other cases we corrected terms to make them express more effectively the essence of the text. For example, the word “República” [Republic]. There was no word “República” but the entire text takes the form of building the Republic: division of powers, rule of law, individual freedoms, etc. The word was lacking. So the word was added, amending eight of the 100 articles that were changed.

The same thing was done with the Consejo de la Adjudicatura [Council of Appointment], which is the professional body for choosing judges. It was changed to Consejo de la Magistratura [Judiciary Council]. That one-word change amended nine articles. We did not change the essence, we changed one word.

Discussion on the autonomy problematic

There were, however, some points, some profound changes on the question of autonomy, of course. There was some confusion of levels between Indigenous autonomy, regional autonomy and departmental autonomy. What was done with the agreements is to establish more clearly the separation, the levels of autonomy, to consolidate the control and role of the State, of the central government, of the material, institutional and objective foundations of national unity, the unity of the country; and to decentralize in the Indigenous sphere, the departmental and municipal sphere, secondary functions, let’s put it that way. So yes, in this case some corrections were made.

In the previous Constitution, there was “legislative-regulatory authority”, which was expressed that way for later dialogue, negotiation and adjustment. Legislative authority followed by regulatory authority. This is an important change because things were separated so that now there is authority to legislate within the exclusive powers of the departments, but also to regulate. Those ambiguities have been overcome.

In the case of the land question, for example, on which there is a whole debate, the referendum or the article that is going to be put to a vote in the referendum dirimitorio [the separate referendum question] in which the people will decide whether the limit on land ownership is to be five or ten thousand hectares,[10] what was done — without affecting the question in the referendum — was to bring it into line with international law, so that whatever the result, five or ten thousand, it will be prospective because the law cannot be retroactive.[11]

What the constitutional text does is simply to add this provision, which any latifundista is going to win in any international court anyway, since the law cannot be retroactive to the disadvantage of the offender. And what the Congress has done is to clarify this fact, that the result, whether five or ten thousand hectares, will run both forward and backwards (if someone has 20 or 30 thousand hectares). If he is fulfilling a social and economic function, it will be respected, if he is not fulfilling an economic and social function, it will revert to the state. It is a procedural question, of normal reversion of lands to the state.

The explanation was very well received by the social organizations. There were no objections. I have noted the protest of some members of the Constituent Assembly, who felt somewhat mistreated because others had altered the constitutional text, but in the organizations I believe there has been a more lucid understanding of the importance of the historical moment, of the importance of achieving a rapprochement with centrist sectors in order to achieve the two-thirds majority, but at the same time of being very careful that the central core of the Constitution not be displaced and, in fact, it has not been displaced: plurinational state, Indigenous autonomies, absolute Indianization of the entire state.

Today the Indigenous are not only a nucleus of resistance in the state. The Indigenous, the popular, the plebeian, the campesino, the worker are present throughout the institutional structures of the state — government, Congress, Supreme Court, National Electoral Court, the public services, universities, education, health, justice….

We have here a Constitution that had a core of plurinationality in the sense of the Indigenous as citizens and participants in building the unity of the state. This core has not been altered. The core of the economy, the strong presence of the state as a director of the economy, responsibility of the private economy but also of the community economy, the campesino economy, the urban micro-enterprise economy. It’s all there, guaranteeing ownership of natural resources by the state, constitutionally entrenching the nationalization of natural resources.

In terms of human rights, this is an extremely advanced Constitution. We have corrected and relaxed some matters that have a lot more to do with political management.

For example, if we elect members of Congress solely by territorial unit: uninominal (single-member representation), or members of Congress by presidential list: plurinominal members.[12]

Uninominality favors majorities, we have known that since Sartori, who educated us on the matter.[13] Uniplurinominality to elect members of Congress favors the territorial majority, but also allows regional and local minorities to be expressed, which is good for a democratic society.

That is what we have done. We have combined half unis, and half pluris. Does this have anything to do with the Indigenous movement? In truth, no. On the contrary, it does help to forge alliances. For example, in the north of Potosí. If it is only a uninominal election, conceivably the cooperativistas[14] will elect the deputy for the region. Fine, but the communities will remain on the margin. If we combine uni and pluri we can have a mining cooperativista as the uni deputy and a community deputy from the north of Potosí as the pluri representative.

It allows us to form those wifala webs[15] in the social alliances and the compañeros understand it perfectly. There was no concession whatsoever on this, on the contrary the text was improved in order to allow mutual alliances of the social sectors with the social organizations in future. Guaruni, miners and campesinos. If it were only a uni system the miners would be elected and nothing more, but via a pluri system it is the miner and it is the campesino that can go in the same electoral formula. That type of correction improved the constitutional text.

On the matter of how to amend the Constitution, the major contribution of the members of the Constituent Assembly in Ororu was to say that any alteration that is made to the Constitution must necessarily be put to a referendum. That is the central idea. In Oruro the changes were made by simple majority while here in La Paz the changes were made by two-thirds, but in both cases it is the people in the end that will vote in a referendum to accept or reject this change in the Constitution.[16]

In this spirit, the discrepancy between majority and two-thirds was corrected, and here the Indigenous campesino and worker comrades were very lucid. They said, fine, today, right now, we have a majority in the Congress. This could last five or ten or fifteen years. But what if later we are temporarily an electoral minority and the right wing regains control of the state? The right could, with a simple majority, change what is a major historical achievement. This had better not happen, better that we guarantee that changes to the Constitution be made with two thirds of the Congress, but still it will have to be the people who, with their vote, will say whether this amendment is correct or incorrect.

If you look closely at the corrections you will see that what has been done is to adjust the text to improve it, to overcome some ambiguities and in doing so define the concepts more clearly, which has enabled us to win support from centrist sectors in the Congress that gave us the two thirds, and now that means this Constitution has suddenly been converted into everyone’s Constitution.

There is no difference with the Constitution adopted in Oruro in structure or in essence. It is the same thing, with the addition of some precisions, partial modifications, corrections of words or some further details that enrich the Constitution of Oruro, but its core remains intact.

How the right wing adopted the autonomist discourse

In the case of Bolivia, the question of autonomy has been raised in two ways, historically. The most enduring is the Indigenous aspect. You must know that 109 years ago an Indigenous leader, Zárate Vilca, in that dispute between mestizo elites around the issue of where the seat of government should be located — Sucre or La Paz — mobilized the Indigenous and demanded a type of federalism in which the Indigenous would be recognized within the state, with their own ways and customs.

That is, the idea of cultures and peoples living together under a form of federalism is an approach that emerges from the Indigenous movement and in fact modern democracy has demonstrated that it is a very interesting form of balanced coexistence between different peoples and cultures. This Indigenous federalist aspect over the years, eighty years later, was to give rise to a debate within the Indigenous movement over Indigenous autonomies, territorial systems of self-government in which ways and customs, forms of territorial organization, of local government of the peoples and Indigenous nations are respected.

But the other variant of autonomy has arisen in the abandoned regions of the country. In Bolivia, as in many parts of Latin America, the wealth, power and property have been concentrated in small centres that have lived on the basis of extraction from other regions. And this is very pronounced in Bolivia. There are regions, more accurately zones, populations, that have generated a regional sentiment and that have felt mistreated by the central government, which does not build roads, which collects taxes, but which does not promote local development, does not provide potable water, provides no services — zones that attract little attention from the state while paying taxes or generating wealth from rubber, mining or agriculture.

This regional sentiment has also existed in the country since the mid-1950s at least, although it goes back 150 years. In the last 50 years this sentiment has deepened. Now, what has happened is that the Marxist left of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies never took the Indian Indigenous question into account nor did it take into account the regional issue. The Indigenous question was developed by the Indianista Indigenous movement, the Kataristas and later the MAS. But the regional question was not taken up by the left, it was taken up by the right and it is the right that began to build regional and local hegemony around this popular subject matter.

So there are two agendas: The egalitarian agenda of the Indigenous peoples, of a first-class citizenship for everyone that includes autonomy of the peoples, came to be paralleled and sometimes confronted by the agenda of regional autonomy of the peoples but under the leadership of their oligarchies and economic elites.

Since 2003 these agendas have been in conflict with each other, unnecessarily. What the government has done is to take another look at the entire problem, separate the wheat from the chaff, separate the imposter elites from a profound sentiment of the people for autonomy, and take hold of this sentiment and this demand, incorporate it into its strategic plan for power and isolate the imposter business elites, who were simply manipulating the autonomy issue for their own interests: land, resources of the state, etc.

This surgery is what you have seen in the recent weeks. The surgery of separating out the popular movement for autonomy and a legitimate demand for enhanced democracy, enhanced territorial decentralization of authority, improved distribution of resources, greater efficiency of the state, a popular demand, from its manipulation by the oligarchy. What happened in the Congress was the culmination of this surreptitious political operation which has lasted for several months.

And yes it was hard, it was hard to understand that autonomy was not an act of the oligarchy, that autonomy was a democratic act. But, autonomy was being confused with those who were abandoning it. And sometimes we would like to throw out the baby with the bathwater, when the key thing is to remove the baby, throw out the dirty water and replace it with clean water. What I am summarizing in a little phrase is a political fact that was hard for us, that took a lot of internal debates, rapprochements, agreements, in short, understandings, and internal self-criticisms. But in the end, the part of the autonomy demand of the regions that is legitimate, democratic, necessary and left-wing, got back on track, as a proposal for state power of the people, and this banner was taken away from the right, who were manipulating it, who had usurped it for some time, a banner that was never unique to the right but that paradoxically, during the last 20 years, had appeared as a banner of the right wing.

Departmental autonomy which enhances the presence and democratic participation of the region in its authorities, its necessities; Indigenous autonomy which allows the revaluation of the forms of regional self-government of the Indigenous peoples, all of this within a plurinational state in which the Indigenous, campesinos and workers are the constructive nucleus. The major difference between this state structure and the neoliberal one is that in the latter the organizing nucleus was the foreign companies and their local intermediaries.

In the epoch of revolutionary nationalism its constructive nucleus was the urban petty-bourgeoisie. Now the hegemonic and expanding constructive nucleus is the world of the Indigenous, campesino and popular forces. Three forms of state that Bolivia has gone through in 100 years and for the first time a form of state in which those who lead and with whom the other social classes identity and recognize themselves are the popular sectors of the country, including on the issue of autonomy of course.

Relevance of the Bolivian process for Latin America

In all humility, I believe it is the most radical experience of social transformation in the continent. At the state level, because the majority of the peoples deprived of the right to build the state and control its resources are now participating. That fact alone signifies the most important revolution in Bolivia in its 183 years of existence.

A racist and anti-Indigenous state that is now Indianizing internally and spreading out to and working together with the non-Indigenous, mestizos, business people, students and youth. This is a transformation in the colonialism of the country. We are smashing a colonial existence, a colonial state and clearing the way for a state of extensive participation and social representation. This is something that we have not managed to do in this continent up to now.

Secondly, this latent contradiction between the state as a monopoly and the state as a government of the social movements. The government of President Evo, with its difficulties, is a government of the social movements, which seems contradictory because the state is a concentration of decision-making while the social movements are the democratization of decisions.

This tension is experienced all the time, in every decree, in every meeting, in every decision of the government and the most obvious expression of this extreme tension of a social movement state is what you have experienced in the Plaza Morillo,[17] where what ultimately triumphed, what ultimately defined the agenda was the social movements, with a President who kept watch alongside the social movements and a Congress that deliberated but which at times was observed by the social sectors and in the end had to opt for what their social sectors had identified as the agenda.

Less dramatic and less tension-filled things we experience all the time in terms of laws, decrees, resolutions, actions and initiatives of the state. Nowhere else in Latin America is there another government of social movements. I have had the sense of a radical experience of organized participation of the plebeian, popular, Indigenous society within the state itself.

And the third element is this process of redistribution of wealth, via the processes of nationalization of gas, oil, telecommunications, energy and those that are to come, which give it the material base for this form of democratic construction of the state.

So those are the three levels that allow me to talk modestly, but also with pride at times, of the more radical experience of democratization of power, the more radical experience of distribution of power, and if, in some way this is of use to other peoples and other governments, they are welcome to it. It is possible to distribute wealth, it is possible to democratize power, it is not inconceivable that decision-making can have many levels of social deliberation and participation, that this is not the exclusive job of the Congress. We can live this way, we can govern this way.

The excluded ones, the campesinos, workers, market women in the informal economy, domestic workers, labourers, can be ministers, deputy ministers, foreign secretaries, members of Congress or the Constituent Assembly and achieve enviable economic results in comparison with what has been done by the Harvard graduates, an [annual] growth rate of 6.5 percent compared with the 3.2 percent average of the Harvard and Chicago specialists. It is possible to have a budget surplus, for the first time in history, as opposed to the recurrent budget deficit we had before. It is possible to industrialize, it is possible to distribute wealth and all this through the actions of people who were not educated to govern, but who now feel that it is their right to be able to govern… a farmer and shepherd like our President.

As an historic experience, we think this enriches the potentialities and possibilities for collective action and the will for power of other campesinos, other workers, other housewives, other youth, other shepherds, other dispossessed, who are no longer willing to live for all time as dispossessed, shepherds or campesinos, but who can be President one day or campesinos the next; workers today, Congress people tomorrow; once a truck driver, later a foreign secretary. It is a wonderful way of understanding the state.

Translated by Richard Fidler

[1] Historically, Indianismo was a literary current, prominent in the Andean nations in the 1920s and 1930s, that attempted to rediscover and revalorize their “Indian” sources and traditions. Indianismo promoted the assimilation of Indigenous elements into the dominant national Creole and mestizo culture inherited from the colonial epoch. However, its representations of the Indigenous tended to be stereotypical. In Seven Interpretative Essays on Peruvian Reality, the Marxist José Carlos Mariátegui wrote:

“Indigenist literature cannot give us a strictly authentic version of the Indian, for it must idealize and stylize him. Nor can it give us his soul. It is still a mestizo literature and as such is called indigenist rather than indigenous. If an indigenous literature finally appears, it will be when the Indians themselves are able to produce it.” (p. 274)

[2] Katarismo is a critical political current that blends peasant class consciousness with Aymara ethnic consciousness in an Indigenous national, anticolonial and anti-imperialist discourse. It takes its name from the Aymara peasant commander in La Paz, Túpaj Katari, who in 1781 strangled Spanish forces holding out in the city in the course of a siege that lasted five months.

[3] COB – Bolivian Worker Central, the largest labour federation in the country.

[4] Coordinadora Nacional para el Cambio [National Coalition for Change], which organized the October 2008 march of the social organizations for the Refoundation of Bolivia.

[5] Full name Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia [CSUTCB – Single Confederation of Rural Labourers of Bolivia], formed in 1979 through a merger of several peasant unions.

[6] Literally, the Trade Union Confederation of Colonizers, the latter word referring misleadingly to the reconstituted native peoples of Bolivia, the original nations of Kollasuyo and the Amazon:

[7] Federación Nacional de Mujeres Campesinas Indígenas Originarias de Bolivia "Bartolina Sisa" [National Federation of Indigenous Native Women Campesinas of Bolivia].

[8] Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu [National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu], an Aymara and Quechua organization. Ayllus were the basic political units of pre-Inca and Inca life: The markas are generally composed of 4 ayllus.

[9] Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas de Bolivia [Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia].

[10] In a separate question to be put in the January 25 referendum, voters will be asked to select one of two versions (Options A or B) of article 398 of the draft Constitution. The language of both options is identical except for the last sentence, which in Option A limits the maximum size of a landholding to 10,000 hectares, and in Option B limits it to 5,000 hectares. The article, without the last sentence, reads:

398. Latifundios and dual ownership are prohibited as being contrary to the collective interest and the development of the country.

“Latifundio” refers to unproductive possession of the land; land that is not fulfilling a social economic function; operation of the land using a system of servitude, semi-slavery or slavery in labour relations or property that exceeds the maximum zoning area established by law.

“Social economic function” is defined in article 397 as “the sustainable use of the land in the development of productive activities consistent with its capacity for greater use to the benefit of the society, the collective interest and its owner.”

[11] In the Congress negotiations a new article was added, now numbered 399, which provides that the new limits on ownership of agricultural land will apply only to properties that have been acquired after the coming into force of the new Constitution. However, a second paragraph provides that surplus lands (lands in excess of either the 5 or 10 thousand hectares limit, depending on which is ratified) that are fulfilling a Social Economic Function will be expropriated.

The “grandfathering” of existing properties in excess of the limit on land ownership is clearly a retreat from the draft Constitution adopted by the Constituent Assembly. The Vice-President’s explanation is not compelling. The prohibition on retroactivity as a principle of law, including international law, pertains primarily to the criminal law; one cannot be convicted of an offence that did not exist at the time of one’s action. But international law allows sovereign immunity for expropriation of property, while usually calling for compensation and the application of due process. In fact, it is hard to imagine a serious land reform that does not provide for expropriation of large estates. And that seems to be the point of the second paragraph in article 399.

[12] The new Plurinational Legislative Assembly is to be bicameral. Half of the 130 members of the House of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados) will be directly elected, the other half will be chosen from party lists headed by candidates for President, Vice-President and Senators in proportion to the votes obtained by each party, “group of citizens or indigenous people”, as determined by subsequent legislation. Men and women will be equally represented. There will be 36 Senators, four from each department (two of the four elected on the basis of proportional representation). See articles 146.1 to 148.

[13] See Giovanni Sartori, Ingeniería Constitucional Comparada: Una investigación de estructuras, incentivos y resultados (Fondo de Cultura Económica: Mexico City, 1994).

[14] A reference to miners who are members of cooperatives, as distinct from those employed by the state mining corporation.

[15] Wifala (or wiphala) symbolizes the national and cultural unity of the Amazon Andes, dating back to the Inca homeland. The seven colours of the Wiphala flag are displayed in various patterns according to the different nationalities, but it is primarily associated today with the Aymara-speaking peoples.

[16] The provisions of the original draft text were approved by simple majority in the Constituent Assembly in Oruro, while the new text adopted in the negotiations with the Congress in La Paz was adopted by a two-thirds majority.

[17] The site of the Parliament and presidential palace, where indigenous and peasant organisations had gathered on October 21 following their week-long march on La Paz in support of the government and the new Constitution. See Hervé do Alto, “Bolivia: Compromise agreement allows progress”,

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Afghan resistance is ‘terrorist’ under Canadian law, Khawaja trial judge rules

In the first major prosecution under Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act, Mohammad Momin Khawaja, a 29-year-old Ottawa-area software developer arrested almost five years ago, was convicted October 29 on five charges of participating in a “terrorist group” and helping to build an explosive device “likely to cause serious bodily harm or death to persons or serious damage to property”.
However, the prosecution was unsuccessful on its two major charges, which alleged that Khawaja had been part of a plot to commit deadly bombings in London, England — for which five individuals, all Muslims like Khawaja, were sentenced to life imprisonment in England in April 2007.
The verdict was not surprising. A lengthy non-jury trial that began in June produced no evidence to link Khawaja directly to the alleged London bomb plot, although there was extensive police evidence that Khawaja knew at least some of the London group. On the other hand Khawaja, through his lawyer Lawrence Greenspon, admitted building an explosive device, a remote detonator that he termed a “hi-fi digimonster”, at their behest.
A striking aspect of the verdict, however, although it was given little attention in the media coverage, was the rationale given by Justice Douglas Rutherford for rejecting Khawaja’s defence. That defence was that Khawaja thought the detonator was for use in fighting the NATO occupation of Afghanistan — for example in triggering the improvised explosive devices commonly used by the Afghan resistance. This activity, the defence argued, fell outside the definition of “terrorist activity” in the legislation, which excepts “an act or omission that is committed during an armed conflict. . . in accordance with customary international law or conventional international law applicable to the conflict.”
Judge endorses Canada’s war in Afghanistan
The Ontario Superior Court judge acknowledged “an abundance of evidence that Momin Khawaja’s central objective was to play a role in the fighting in Afghanistan….” But in ruling that any such role would be “terrorist activity”, he explicitly underwrote the excuse given by successive Liberal and Conservative governments for Canada’s Afghan war.
The judge adopted the justification given for the initial imperialist attack on Afghanistan: “In response to the attack on the twin towers in New York on 9/11, the U.S.A. and the U.K. sent troops and equipment into Afghanistan with the objective of capturing Bin Laden, destroying al Qa’eda and removing the Taliban regime.” (paragraph 114 of the judgment) Then, citing a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions subsequently endorsing the assault on Afghanistan and authorizing continued occupation and fighting by the NATO-led International Assistance Security Force [ISAF], the judge declared that he took “judicial notice as well, that Canada, along with other North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries, has contributed personnel and resources to the ISAF and that to date some 100 of Canada’s armed forces personnel have been killed in fighting with insurgent forces opposing the initial American and British and subsequent United Nations intervention in support of a reconstructed and democratic Afghanistan.” (paragraph 124)
(By “judicial notice”, the Judge was referring to the legal doctrine that courts, without hearing evidence on the matter, are entitled, as the Judge says, to “resort to certain notorious facts . . . which I think are beyond dispute among reasonable people.”)
And he concluded:
“. . . it seems to me beyond debate that, subject to the applicability of the exclusionary ‘armed conflict’ clause, those who support and participate in the insurgent armed hostilities against the civilian population, the government, and government and coalition forces attempting to reconstruct and maintain peace, order and security in Afghanistan, are, by definition, engaging in terrorist activity. Seen through the lens of a court of Canada, a Member State of the United Nations, I do not think it can be viewed otherwise. News reports of insurgent attacks in Afghanistan are characterized daily in the news as ‘terrorist’ and not surprisingly since, subject to the armed conflict clause, they meet the definition of terrorist activity in the Criminal Code. It seems self-evident that the armed insurgency in Afghanistan is
- intended in whole or in part to intimidate the population or that segment of it that supports the legitimate government and those assisting it in its reconstruction and establishing of peace and order with regard to their security, and intended to compel the population, the government, NATO, the United Nations and all those agencies supporting the reconstruction and democratization efforts to refrain and desist, and
- that consequential death and destruction is caused and reported throughout the world on a daily basis.” (paragraph 125)
Largely on that basis, the judge held that the “armed conflict” exception in the Anti-Terrorism Act had no application to the case. He quoted his ruling in a motion on the defence argument during the trial:
“The exception shields those who do acts while engaged in an armed conflict that would otherwise fit the definition of terrorist activity from prosecution as terrorists as long as the acts are within the internationally recognized principles governing warfare. Momin Khawaja was not so engaged.”
In other words, Canadian troops could not be convicted of “terrorist activity” while fighting in Afghanistan. But Afghan insurgents fighting in self-defence and to expel occupying armies — or those assisting the insurgents — could be so charged and convicted.
Pattern of anti-Muslim repression
The defence adduced no evidence on the nature of the war in Afghanistan, nor did it attempt to rebut the ideological rationale of the UN Security Council, dominated by the major imperialist powers. The defence strategy did not seek to expose Canada’s Afghan intervention and its effect on young Muslims like Khawaja who, outraged by this war of conquest, sympathize with the armed resistance in Afghanistan.
Momin Khawaja is due to be sentenced on November 18. Under the Anti-Terrorism Act, he faces possible life imprisonment for committing an offence “for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with a terrorist group”. The Act is draconian legislation rushed through Parliament in 2001 in the wake of the September 9 attacks on the twin towers and Pentagon.
The Act, which amended the Criminal Code, is a virtual license for courts to override long-standing principles of due process in the application of criminal law. For example, in the only other trial to date under the Act, an under-age youth was convicted recently in Brampton, Ontario, of being an “eager acolyte” to and participating in a “terrorist group” — the “terrorist group” in question being comprised, as the judge found, of other co-accused who were not before him and have not yet been tried. In effect, the co-accused have already been convicted in absentia of “terrorism”. The group in question, originally 17 but now reduced to 11 as a result of acquittals and dropping of charges, is comprised mainly of young Muslims, many under-age, who were arrested in a “sting” entrapment operation. (See The Toronto ‘Anti-Terror’ Arrests: An Attack on Muslims and Antiwar Opinion.)
Meanwhile, Canada still has five Muslim men who have been jailed— or, after years of incarceration, subjected to heavily monitored house arrest in the forced custody of family members — all without being charged with any specific offence, simply on the basis of being certified by two government Ministers that they were somehow engaging in terrorism, subversion or espionage. As non-citizens albeit permanent residents, they have been jailed under Canada’s immigration legislation. One is still being held in Kingston, Ontario, at Canada’s “Guantanamo North”. They can be held indefinitely without charge or trial once a judge determines, on the basis of a secret hearing without the presence of the accused or his counsel, that they are somehow a threat to national security. (See the Report of the People’s Commission on Security Measures:
All of the “security certificate” victims are under threat of expulsion from Canada to repressive regimes in North Africa or Asia, with probable torture and possible death as a result of being labelled terrorists by the Canadian government. Their potential fate has been underscored by the horrendous case of Maher Arar, the Canadian tortured for more than a year in Syria on the basis of Canadian police reports falsely linking him with “terrorists”, and, more recently, the case of three Muslim Canadians — Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin — whom retired Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci has confirmed were tortured in Syria and Egypt, again, on the basis of Canadian police reports falsely linking them with terrorist activities.
Political overtones
The judge’s reasoning in the Khawaja case is a fresh reminder of the close connection between Canada’s “war on terrorism” and its war in Afghanistan. The political overtones were evident throughout the trial. Summing up the case for the Crown, the prosecutor told the court that “It was his [Khawaja’s] intention to bring death and destruction to the West.” This was the theme repeated over and over in the lurid media coverage. It is, of course, an underlying theme in the constant propaganda against Muslims in the media.
This was an important trial for the government, as it was the only case so far in which the Canadian police had managed to come up with substantial evidence of a plot by some Muslims to engage in violent acts that could somehow fit within the definition of “terrorism” in Canadian law. (The lack of such evidence is clearly the reason why none of the security certificate victims has been accused of any specific crime.) Yet even in Khawaja’s trial, it was impossible to ignore the political context. It was dramatically illustrated when prosecution witness Zeba Khan, Khawaja’s ex-fiancée, testifying by video link from her home in Dubai, explained that his references to “jihad” in his numerous emails to her, which the police had seized as evidence, had nothing to do with terrorism.
“Jihad and terrorism are different things,” she told the court. “You will not meet a young Muslim man in the world who is not angry about something. Anyone who watches the news, if he wasn’t mad then (a) there’s something wrong with him or (b) he’s ignorant.” Not surprisingly, the prosecution limited its examination-in-chief of this witness to less than 10 minutes! In her July 2004 statement to police, Khan had said fighting troops in Muslim lands “is not an act of terrorism”. As reported by the Ottawa Citizen, she and Khawaja had “shared a belief in jihad — struggle — that fell far short of terrorism”.
Further evidence of what motivated Mohammad Khawaja was revealed in an Ottawa Citizen profile last June that began:
“Four days after the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, a gang of white males in Orléans (an Ottawa suburb) pulled a 15-year-old Muslim boy off his bicycle and beat him unconscious. … Buried in the Citizen story of the boy’s beating was a quote by a 22-year-old man named Mohammad Khawaja.
“‘I didn’t think something like that would happen in Orléans,’ he told a Citizen reporter during a random interview at the Orléans mosque. ‘It’s shocking.’”
On a pre-trial motion, Khawaja’s lawyer Lawrence Greenspon got Justice Rutherford to strike down on constitutional grounds the Anti-Terrorism Act’s requirement that a “terrorist act” be one committed “for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause”. The decision raised eyebrows in the legal defence community as it seemed to widen the potential for terrorism charges to be laid in connection with activities that had no such motivation, such as a strike by workers on wage issues. Greenspon defended his motion, however:
“It gave the right for police to investigate people on the basis of their religious, ideological or political beliefs, which we knew would be Muslim males aged 22 to 45,” he told the Ottawa Citizen.
“We’ve been down that road before in the name of security,” he adds. “Let’s target a particular group of people and put them in a camp — the Italians, the Japanese Canadians — or the FLQ and its sympathizers in the jails of Montreal. What we have now is a definition of terrorism that is a lot closer to the definitions in other western countries”.
Ominous precedent?
In any event, the judge held in his verdict that “there is an abundance of evidence that what was being done by Khawaja . . . and his associates was clearly motivated ‘in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause.’ Whether that is an essential ingredient of these offences or not, it has been abundantly proven.” No doubt this finding will play some role in the probable appeal.
The Khawaja verdict makes clear that the “terrorist” label can be slapped on any armed resistance to Canadian and NATO troops in Afghanistan or elsewhere. It ominously echoes the reasoning of the Bush Administration in another case involving a young Canadian Muslim — Omar Khadr, the Canadian child soldier who has been imprisoned and tortured by the U.S. military in Guantánamo since 2001, and is now charged with killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan during a U.S. attack on his family’s residence that killed his father. There is now eyewitness evidence that Khadr did not shoot the soldier in question. And there is a mounting movement in Canada demanding the return to this country of this last remaining citizen of a Western power being held in Guantánamo.
However, even if Khadr is returned to Canada what is his likely fate? He may not be prosecuted for murder. But following the judge’s reasoning in Khawaja’s case, is it excluded that Khadr, as a non-military “enemy combatant” in Afghanistan, could be considered a “terrorist” in Canadian law and subject to the extreme penalties in the Anti-Terrorism Act?

Addendum - August 3, 2013

 As this report indicates, a major issue in the trial concerned the legality of the war in Afghanistan under international law. As I report, the judge held it was legal, “citing a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions subsequently endorsing the assault on Afghanistan and authorizing continued occupation and fighting by the NATO-led International Assistance Security Force (ISAF)….” These resolutions are cited at paragraphs 113-125 of the trial judgment, which rely heavily on a memorandum issued by the UN as a “General Backgrounder.”

The Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the trial judge’s verdict. At paragraph 173 of their judgment the three-judge panel endorsed the judge’s view of “the basic nature of the conflict in Afghanistan.” The “skeletal and obvious facts” cited by the judge, the panel wrote, are “notorious and beyond dispute among reasonable persons. They are recited in numerous United Nations Security Council Resolutions, some of which were referenced both by the Crown and the appellant’s own counsel at trial, the factual accuracy of which is not challenged on appeal.”

The appeal court allowed the Crown’s cross‑appeal and substituted a sentence of life imprisonment on the conviction for building a detonator to cause a deadly explosion, and substituted a total of 24 years of consecutive sentences for the remaining counts, to be served concurrently with the life sentence, and set parole eligibility at 10 years instead of 5.

Khawaja’s further appeal of both his conviction and sentence to the Supreme Court of Canada was dismissed. Speaking for the Court, the Chief Justice stated, in part: “I agree with the courts below that judicial notice could be taken of the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the counter-insurgency acts in that country which, subject to the armed conflict exception, meet the definition of terrorist activity. These facts were beyond contestation, and thus meet the test for judicial notice.” (paragraph 99)

However, the Quebec antiwar organization Échec à la guerre, which has long campaigned for immediate withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan, deconstructs the UN resolutions cited approvingly by the judges, explains the context in which they were adopted, and questions why anyone seeking to uphold international law would rely on them as proof of the war’s legality. The following is an English translation of its argument, which is included in an excellent document addressing 18 questions in relation to the war. These excerpts are taken from the full text of the document, published in the book Afghanistan and Canada: Is there an alternative to war?, edited by Lucia Kowaluk and Steven Staples and published by Black Rose Books, Montréal:

QUESTION: Was the Afghanistan war authorized by the United Nations?

There is no UN Security Council resolution authorizing the United States, whether alone or in coalition with other countries, to attack Afghanistan. Between 11 September and 7 October 2001, when the bombardment of Afghanistan began, the UN Security Council adopted only two resolutions concerning the 9/11 attacks. Resolution 1368 of September 12 “unequivocally condemns in the strongest terms the horrifying terrorist attacks ... and regards such acts, like any act of international terrorism, as a threat to international peace and security.” The preamble to this resolution recognizes “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence in accordance with the Charter.” Though, as we have seen, the terms of the Charter do not apply to the Afghan war, this language in the preamble of the resolution allowed the United States to claim legitimacy for its actions. Then, on 28 September 2001, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1373, which sets forth certain anti-terrorism measures that all states must apply. Neither Resolution 1368 nor Resolution 1373 even mentions the word “Afghanistan.”

In the aftermath of September 11, the United States capitalized on an outpouring of international sympathy to acquire carte blanche for war under the rules of international law. The Security Council, whose official mandate is to prevent war, allowed the United States and its “coalition” to prepare and declare one. The Security Council, of course, is no neutral body. Of its fifteen members, the five permanent ones (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China) have veto power, impairing the Council’s capacity to prevent a war being conducted by any of the five. The ten remaining Council members are chosen from the UN member countries for rotating two-year terms. In practice, these ten rotating members are pressured by the United States to vote in its favour. Since the end of the Cold War, the Security Council has been dominated by the American agenda, even though Russian and Chinese interests have occasionally obstructed it.

In this context, it took more than five weeks after the bombardment of Afghanistan commenced before the Security Council took a position on the war conducted by the United States and its “coalition.” Yet Resolution 1378 (14 November 2001) does not even mention it. Instead, it condemns the Taliban and supports “the efforts of the Afghan people to replace the Taliban regime”! Likewise, Resolution 1383 (6 December 2001) simply ratifies the Bonn Agreement signed the day before, providing for temporary arrangements among the “coalition” countries, the representatives of their Afghan allies (in the country and in exile), and the UN Secretary-General’s special representative. In addition, with Resolution 1386 (20 December 2001) the Security Council authorized, “as envisaged in Annex I to the Bonn Agreement, the establishment for 6 months of an International Security Assistance Force” (ISAF ). The previous day, the United Kingdom had officially offered to take command of ISAF, and Canada assumed this role later.

And if this is not bad enough, not only has the US Operation Enduring Freedom continued to this day, but after nineteen resolutions the Security Council has yet to set any guidelines whatsoever for the military invasion of Afghan territory or to call its authors to account. Meanwhile, the Council repeats ad infinitum its deep attachment to Afghan sovereignty. Two years after the invasion, the words “enduring freedom” finally appeared in Resolution 1510 (13 October 2003). While authorizing the expansion of the ISAF mandate outside of Kabul and its environs, this resolution calls on ISAF “to continue to work in close consultation with the Afghan Transitional Authority and its successors and the Special Representative of the Secretary General as well as with the Operation Enduring Freedom.” This clause appears in each subsequent 12-month renewal of ISAF authorization, effectively giving carte blanche to the US military intervention in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: The UN Security Council has ratified the Afghanistan war — doesn’t that make it legitimate?

The question of after-the-fact legitimacy is more difficult to resolve since it is quite true that the UN Security Council never officially disapproved or denounced the war in Afghanistan (or the war in Iraq, for that matter); quite the contrary. Nevertheless, we believe that the war is neither legitimate nor legal under international law, the only appropriate system of  law for deciding such matters.

The UN Charter clearly states that the primary role of the United Nations is to prevent war, and to propose other means of resolving conflicts between nations. Even if one accepts the idea that the United States was trying to prevent new terrorist attacks by attacking Afghanistan, the Security Council violated its mandate by failing to consider possible non-military solutions once the bombardment began.

This failure by the Security Council is unfortunately not an isolated case. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that the United Nations has been undergoing a severe crisis since the end of the Cold War. The absence of a second superpower to act as a counterweight to the US has created a new situation at the UN — and especially on the Security Council, which is often reduced to ratifying the US empire’s wars, in violation of the UN charter. This happened with:

         the UN Security Council resolution of the fall of 1990 giving advance authorization to the Gulf War;
         the resolutions renewing the genocidal sanctions on Iraq for twelve straight years;
         the resolutions ratifying the fait accompli consisting of the illegal March 2003 “coalition” invasion of Iraq — a June 2004 resolution even welcomed the end of the Iraq occupation!

On several occasions since the end of the Cold War, the UN’S fundamental mission has been derailed. It has become an instrument for approval of the US empire’s wars of expansion. In fact, former US Permanent Representative to the UN John Bolton allowed as much:

There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the United States, when it suits our interest and we can get others to go along ... When the United States leads, the United Nations will follow. When it suits our interest to do so, we will do so. When it does not suit our interests we will not.

 Just as it is possible for governments to pass laws violating their own country’s constitution or bill of rights — laws whose legality and legitimacy can then be challenged with reference to these fundamental legal instruments — the Security Council, under pressure from the United States, is increasingly passing resolutions that violate the spirit and the letter of the UN Charter. In these cases it is our duty to defend international law and denounce such resolutions, not to accept that they grant legitimacy to illegal acts.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Bolivia: Compromise agreement allows progress

In a previous post, I translated an article by Andrés Soliz Rada that criticized a major concession made by the government of Evo Morales in the recent negotiations to break the deadlock with the opposition on the text of the draft Constitution, to enable it to be put to a popular vote for adoption.

The following article provides a wider perspective on the constitutional negotiations, explaining how they need to be viewed in the context of the evolving relationship of class forces in Bolivia. As the author, Hervé Do Alto, states,

"While the constitution has provisionally left some of the demands of the popular movement unsatisfied, perhaps it is Bolivia’s turn to demonstrate in the next few years that radical and efficient public policies can be more decisive in a process of change than a magna carta potentially confined to a piece of paper."

See also the article by Federico Fuentes, Bolivia: Unprecedented Alliance Defeats Right-Wing Assault.

Bolivia: Compromise agreement allows progress

Hervé Do Alto, La Paz, 31 October 2008

There is no doubt that October 21, 2008, will go down as a historic day for the Bolivian people.

Around midday, as parliamentarians were sealing an agreement for a referendum on the new draft constitution — set for January 25 — emotions swept through Plaza Murillo, the site of the parliament and presidential palace, and where indigenous and peasant organisations had gathered following their week-long march on La Paz.

On the platform, various leaders, among them Fidel Surco, president of the National Coalition for Change (CONALCAM), and Pedro Montes, executive secretary of the Bolivian Workers’ Central (COB), hugged Bolivian President Evo Morales, who had participated for all of the previous night in the vigil in front of Congress — together with thousands of gathered peasants.

Far from being triumphalist following Morales’s crushing victory in the August 10 recall referendum with 67.4% of the vote, the governing Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) sought to solve the nation’s political crisis, which had brought the constituent process to a halt, via a political pact with the opposition.

This was not without its costs. Various concessions were necessary over a wide range of issues.

Among them, over departmental autonomy — the banner of the Santa Cruz elites. These departments will now have greater powers, compared to those provided in the original draft of the New Political Constitution of the State (NCPE).

Another conflictive issue was land. A specific referendum has been approved to be held alongside the main constitution vote on January 25 has been approved, and the vote will define whether the maximum legal extension of land in Bolivia will be 5000 or 10,000 hectares, the law will not be retrospective.

In other words, the currently existing large landowners will not be affected, providing they can prove they use the land for a useful “social and economic function”.

Perhaps, however, the biggest concession does not directly have to do with the text as such, but rather the agreement that Morales will not stand for a second term if he wins the scheduled December 2009 elections.

Betrayal? Excessive concessions? Mere realpolitiks?

What’s true is that among the most radical Morales supporters — and his opponents from the left — some feelings of deception have potentially emerged after seeing important modifications introduced to the constitutional text adopted on December 14, 2007 by the elected constituent assembly.

They now see the year-and-a-half long work of this assembly being de-legitimised by a Congress capable of reaching a consensus that was never possible in the constitutional assembly sessions.

Yet, despite the rewriting of more than 140 articles, some key elements, such as state control over natural resources, suffered nearly no changes. With the approval of the text, together with the epic march that accompanied it, a feeling of having won a popular victory permeates the social organisations.

Moreover, the government also achieved something fundamental: the opposition has come out of the last two months of struggle totally worn down.

The tensions that built up over the last few months, between (part of) the parliamentary right inclined towards playing the democratic game and violent autonomist groups bunkered down in the east, has led to a clear fracture.

The parliamentarians of the right-wing Podemos party, who participated in the signing of the agreement, have been declared traitors to the Santa Cruz autonomist cause.

And it is very probable that part of the opposition will now campaign for a text that, only months ago, they had no qualms in denouncing as “a constitution stained in blood”.

Today, more than ever, the MAS faces a divided right, devoid of any project for the country and whose radical factions seemed to be temporarily neutralised.

Within this panorama, the government’s strategy has the appearance of a wager — one surely much more sensible than the wager that the constituent assembly would offer a “government-opposition pact” solution to the crisis back in 2006.

Without rivals, and having won hegemony over the popular camp, the path seems completely open for Morales, whose victory in 2009 appears to all to be self-evident.

Out of next year’s elections, a parliamentary majority could emerge capable of supporting a plan of radical reforms — reforms until now held back by the opposition-controlled Senate.

The history of Latin American constitutions is fundamentally one of ambitious texts whose application was almost always determined by the relationship of forces.

While the constitution has provisionally left some of the demands of the popular movement unsatisfied, perhaps it is Bolivia’s turn to demonstrate in the next few years that radical and efficient public policies can be more decisive in a process of change than a magna carta potentially confined to a piece of paper.

For now, this is the hope of those who continue believing in the capacity of this government to carry out the ambitions of social transformation expressed by the social movements since the Cochabamba “water wars” in 2000 — the first mass resistance by the Bolivian people to the neoliberal order.

Herve Do Alto is a member of the French Revolutionary Communist League (LCR), currently living in Bolivia and studying the MAS.

Republished from Green Left Weekly