January 26, 2009 [LINK / comment]

New constitution for Bolivia

Based on early returns, it appears that almost three-fifths of the people of Bolivia voted to approve a revised constitution that would greatly enhance the powers of the president. (Note that this is exactly what happened in Ecuador last September.) President Evo Morales announced his historic triumph in a speech from the palace balcony, proclaiming a new era of "equality for all Bolivians." It was by no means a landslide, however: Between 56 and 60 percent of voters approved the new basic charter, and this support was concentrated in the highlands of western and central Bolivia. The eastern lowlands, where the country's petroleum and gas are centered, voted against Morales. This includes the departments of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni and Pando. Morales compromised on some of the provisions in response to violent protests against his government last year. New elections for the executive and legislative branches will be held in December. See BBC and the Washington Post.

Morales thus follows Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Rafael Correa of Ecuador in radically restructuring government power, putting more power in the hands of the people. (In Bolivia's case, this means Native American Indian people.) Whether this populistic majoritarian model of democracy can survive for very long in a country with a history of instability such as Bolivia is an open question. The opponents of Morales are very likely to push harder for regional autonomy, and an open civil war of secession is entirely possible.

Web page updates

I have updated the Latin America Introduction page and the Latin America Current situation page.