Bolivia votes on greater political power

AP – 12/06/2009 | Jesus de Machaca, Bolivia |
Jesus de Machaca is one of 12 municipalities voting on whether to abandon modern political structures in favor of traditional native governance, with major decisions taken by public assemblies.

Evo_Morales

For voters in a dozen municipalities across Bolivia, they will have more to worry about on Sunday than just the future of President Evo Morales and his appeal for another term in office.

The results could bring big changes for their own political futures too.

With Bolivia’s first indigenous president expected to easily win re-election to a five-year term, the focus in these country towns is on the drive for greater political power by the Indian majority of this poor South American nation.

Jesus de Machaca is one of 12 municipalities voting on Sunday on whether to abandon modern political structures in favor of traditional native governance, with major decisions taken by public assemblies.

“What we want to do now is legalize our autonomy, which we have had for so many years…. before we were colonized,” said Santiago Onofre Aspi, president of the Autonomy Board for Jesus de Machaca.

The prospect has galvanized the Aymara people, the largest of the 36 ethnic groups with rights to self-determination enshrined in a new constitution backed by Morales which Bolivians ratified in January.

With Morales’ help, the Aymara majority has been regaining prominence in the political and social spheres across Bolivia.

Most residents of Jesus de Machaca, a farming community of some 150 families, are expected to vote in favor of the autonomy project.

Those who oppose it, Aspi says, do so because they are misinformed on the benefits it can bring to communities such as theirs.

He believes that many critics are simply afraid of losing the personal power they hold under the present system.

Charagua, Bolivia’s biggest municipality, will also seek indigenous autonomy on Sunday.

The region’s indigenous Guarani majority also hope to gain their first seat ever in Bolivia’s Congress on Sunday as voters elect a new 36-member Senate and 130-member lower house.

Their candidate is Wilson Changaray, president of the Guarani’s People’s Assembly.

The political muscle-flexing of his Guarani allies could help Morales, an ethnic Aymara, extend his influence in the eastern lowlands, which are currently dominated by his pro-capitalist opposition.

Changaray is running for Congress on the ticket of Morales’ governing Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) in Santa Cruz state, the centre of the opposition, against an incumbent backed by Morales’ fiercest foes.

The district includes Charagua.

The Guarani leaders say they don’t want a new state, just more autonomy for Santa Cruz and two neighboring areas.

The area is rich in oil and natural gas but Changaray says claims that he is simply out to control the new wealth are ‘misleading’.

He notes that the central government has a monopoly on subsoil rights, which cannot change under the constitutional proposals.

For him, the fight is about improving education and economic opportunity and restoring Guarani access to land.

Source: AP

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