March 9, 2006 [LINK]

Constituent assembly in Bolivia

In Bolivia, new President Evo Morales is following through on his promise to convene a constituent assembly to rewrite the country's constitution. One of the leaders of his "Movement Toward Socialism" (MAS) proposed changing the name of the country to "Tawantinsuyo" (Quechua for "Four Corners," the name of the ancient Inca Empire) or "Kollasuyo." Morales also signed a law authorizing a referendum on regional autonomy. See BBC. It is almost as though he were trying to bring about the breakup of Bolivia. The sharp cultural divides within the mountainous country make this a very real prospect. The flat southeastern region around Santa Cruz, where most of the country's oil and natural gas are produced, tends to resent the highlands. It is too small to become an independent country, however, and the option of joining with neighboring Paraguay is almost unthinkable, because the two countries fought each other in the Chaco War in the 1930s. For a more thorough analysis of this situation, see Miguel Centellas.

Unusually heavy rains caused heavy flooding in La Paz last month. The capital city is located in a canyon that funnels water into a narrow channel leading toward the Amazon Basin.

Strike by Ecuador oil workers

Army troops in Ecuador used tear gas to disperse striking petroleum workers and restore the country's oil output, which had been severely curtailed since the strike began on Monday. One of their main demands is to be employed directly by the state-owned PetroEcuador company, rather than subcontractors. See BBC. Given that national elections are scheduled for October, political agendas are likely as well.