Bolivia: What Is Democracy?

December 13, 2007

Roxana Paniagua, in the name of a group of Bolivian citizens living in Canada, is asking to sign a petition supporting the Constitutional Assembly of Bolivia.
The new Constitution could open the way to more representativeness for the indigenous communities. It would also decrease autonomy for some provinces rich in reserves, and this is the main reason why middle and upper class inhabitants of those regions are opposing the Constitutional change. Bolivia is at the moment caught in a bitter struggle between proponents and opponents of this revision of the Constitution.

 Paniagua writes:

“Although almost unnoticed by Western media, the 2005 election of the first indigenous president in Bolivia, Mr Evo Morales, signified a political change comparable in many respects to the end of the Apartheid in South Africa. Although the vast majority of Bolivians belong to more than 37 aboriginal nations, a white minority has always governed the country
and perpetuated its rule by systematically excluding the majority from civil, cultural and economic life. 
In order to give institutional significance to this major transformation, the government summoned a Constitutional Assembly that would eventually re-design the institutional framework of the Nation in order to make it possible for the heretofore oppressed majority to enjoy full citizenship.
Since the inception of the Assembly, the minority has sabotaged its sessions, sometimes using violence, and is increasingly insisting that the interests of the rich regions where the oil and gas resources of the country lie are incompatible with those of the aboriginal majority. These sectors are multiplying violent actions with a worrying racist tone (protesting against the ³ignorant², ³dirty Indians² or the ³cockroaches²); they have disrupted the sessions of the Assembly and are threatening with secession and a civil war. 
Given the gravity of the situation, we are asking intellectuals worldwide to support the democratic process of constitutional deliberation and to condemn the violence and racism. The intention is to publish a petition in Bolivian newspapers that will show that, despite the silence of the media, the international public opinion has a concerned eye on the situation in
Bolivia and condemns any violent attempt to reverse the changes Bolivians have democratically chosen.

If you are willing to support this campagin with your signature you
can read the petition and add your name at the following address”:


The petition

In December 2005, Bolivians elected Evo Morales by a clear majority as the first president of Bolivia to represent the indigenous majority, which had been excluded from political and social life for the previous 182 years in this country.

President Evo Morales respected his promise to convene a Constituant Assembly with the mandate to fully integrate the indigenous majorities in the political sphere and improve their situation after centuries of social injustice. The Constituant Assembly was to submit the constitutional text for approval by means of a referendum.

While we understand the minority opposition’s right to have its voice heard in the constitutional process, the systematic interruption of the Constituant Assembly’s sittings, as well as the recent violent protests and calls for civil disobedience, are impeding the exercise of democratic deliberations that must take place in the greatest calm and respect.

We are also concerned about the multiplication of racist declarations, that not only impede pacific deliberation, but are also unacceptable in any democratic society.

We express our solidarity with the democratically elected government, and support the constitutional reforms demanded by the majority of Bolivians.

We condemn the calls to violence and secession. These can be interpreted as antidemocratic attempts to deny the oppressed majority of the right to reshape Bolivia on a more equitable basis and in recognition of its First Nations.

 And the BBC coverage for this struggle about the Constitution (unfortunately, one of the few sources of information in English)


 Friday, December 14, Bolivia’s wealthiest region, Santa Cruz, has taken steps to declare autonomy from the central government amid a bitter dispute over constitutional changes.


One comment

  1. The parallel between Bolivia and South Africa is very interesting. It was (and still is in many ways) an apartheid for the majority indigenous populations in Bolivia, and the same goes for Ecuador, Peru, Chiapas in Mexico and many other countries and areas in Latin America.

    But in Bolivia, unlike South Africa, the rise to political power of the disavantaged majority came in tandem with the rise of a huge and very militant social movement. Evo Morales was elected president, because the country would no longer accept a white oligarch as a president: the previous governments fell one ofter the other in the face of huge demonstrations , strikes and street blockades by the indigenous movement. Evo comes from the heart of this movement.

    Just like Nelson Mandela did, but the timing was completely different. The fall of the apartheid in South Africa was a much more prolonged process, and the social movements there were not at their peak when it happened. It was more than a regime constitutional change, than a social transformation process. And that’s why very little has changed for the black majority in this country, other than that very few black people can enjoy the same priviliges and power that only whites were allowed to before.

    Bolivia is very different from that aspect. Evo was actually put to power through a direct process of social struggle, and has to answer directly to the indigenous movement(s), which is still very active and vigilant. The actor of change is not him, but the movement that (critically) supports him.

    So, the constitutional assembly is a very delicate situation. It is not only combated by the white elite, it is being heavily criticized by the indigenous social movements for not being participatory enough. Evo preffered to make it more of an extented parliament, organizing it mostly along party lines, rather than a true social assembly.

    It’s a true balancing act, between a rock (the white elite) and a very hard place (the will of the social movements).

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