An open-ended crisis in Bolivia

The Constituent Assembly in a coma

September 05, 2007

Using its simple majority, on August 15, the MAS [governing party]
parliamentary group approved excluding from the constitutional
discussion the question of moving the capital to Sucre, by keeping its
status as the juridical capital. On Wednesday, August 22, it suspended
4 magistrates of the Constitutional Tribunal for hindering the trial
of ex-President Sánchez de Lozada, thrown out by the masses in
October, 2003. As a reaction, the Bolivian right wing represented in
the civic committees of the so-called "half moon" (Santa Cruz, Beni,
Pando y Tarija) called a general strike, which took place on Tuesday,
August 28, and had its epicenter in the urban zones of the half-moon,
as well as in Cochabamba and Sucre. The strike was a demonstration of
strength to force the government to negotiate under the conditions of
the autonomist right wing and showed weaknesses, expressing itself
fervently in Sucre and more weakly than at other times in the rest of
the towns. The extreme polarization and the excesses of the Santa Cruz
civic committee weakened support even from sectors of the right-wing
press. The cold strike was hardly enthusiastic, which even forced the
right wing to bring out the assault groups to guarantee it, and it
posed again the dialogue between the governing party and the
opposition and permitted the right wing to demand "a dialogue
respecting democracy, consensus and unity" from the government, that
is, that the MAS should agree to [the right wing’s] terms of
negotiation and seek ways to reinstate the Assembly. In the rest of
this article, we develop the subject based on Palabra Obrera 24,
periodical of the Liga Obrera Revolucionaria - Cuarta Internacional
(LOR-CI) [Bolivian Trotskyists], the fraternal group of the PTS in

The right wing and the "civic" elements criticize the method with
which the MAS legislative delegation made its simple majority outweigh
the mechanism of "two thirds" and the other guarantees agreed upon
between the MAS and PODEMOS (Poder Democrático Social) [largest
opposition party, runner-up in the 2005 presidential elections] in
parliament, as a condition for extending the sessions of the Assembly
until December 14. For its part, the Santa Cruz bourgeoisie and the
"half moon" are using the demand by Sucre to improve their positions
in the questions of autonomy of the departments [territorial
divisions] and in negotiating the new distribution of state power and
fiscal incomes, against the resistance of the La Paz elites. This
struggle has again made the political negotiation between government,
parliamentary right wing and regional bourgeoisies, extremely tense.

The Assembly, flat on its back

The first victim, naturally, is the Assembly itself, more and more
watered down and weakened, after having already suffered a loud slap
with the MAS-PODEMOS parliamentary agreement. This means that the big
decisions are made at the top, between the government and the chiefs
of the right wing. The Assembly, which began by proclaiming itself "of
the original peoples" ("originaria") to conceal its illegitimate
origin in the Law Convoking [the Assembly] prepared between García
Linera and the right wing, has to be satisfied with approving what is
decided outside the Assembly. The wind carried off the promises to
"refound the country." Now, once more, a solution will be discussed
outside of the Assembly sessions, even though at the end, they will be
convened to raise their hands and confirm what has been decided.

The cards held by the MAS

The government is hinting that it will suspend the Constituent
Assembly, in which case the autonomy of the departments [territorial
divisions] would lack legality, and the whole political-state order
would be maintained as currently. It is also attacking the
Constitutional Tribunal from the Congress; control of that court would
permit the government to move forward with its policies through
decrees, without fear of the "constitutional protections" of the
opposition. This situation already provoked the reaction of the right
wing with civic strikes and protests in 6 departments of the country
on August 28. The MAS is not willing to question the consensus, but is
trying to establish relations of force in order to negotiate.

The search for an "agreement of the center"

Thus, between shouts, threats, and pressures, the government and the
majority of the opposition continue to search for a big agreement, in
the name of "national unity": a "social and political agreement" that
would allow the reorganization of the state and the reconstruction of
the political regime, while simultaneously putting a limit on the
demands of the masses of the people and blocking any danger of "new
Octobers," that is, new revolutionary mobilizations. Its political
tone is "of the center," and this leaves out some dissatisfied people
who "mess up the field" to get themselves noticed, like, on the right,
small minority groups for obstinate neo-liberalism and extreme
autonomists, like the ranchers. And also among the MAS and its allies,
as shown by the complaints of the leaderships that make up the "unity
agreement," on seeing the indigenous rhetoric of the MAS being watered

Time to deactivate the "short circuit"

A political crisis like the present one has its own dynamic and
threatens to disturb everything they were laboriously assembling in
recent months. In addition, as voices from government and the
opposition recall, is the warning of the January uprising in
Cochabamba, that almost cost the Prefect Reyes Villa his job. The
political radicalization in Sucre is leading the campesinos of
Chuquisaca, the coca growers of Chapare, the "red ponchos" Aymara
people, to threaten to mobilize. For this reason, the slogan that the
government and opposition agree on seems to be "postpone in order to
make an agreement," as has happened for some months. Thus they agreed
to extend the Assembly until December, and now they are discussing
suspending its sessions for several weeks or more, to negotiate the
key points of a big agreement that will smooth over the differences
and allow the Assembly to meet to discuss details and confirm the
agreement. Since the civic strike, they are again opening channels of
negotiation in the Congress (on the matter of the Constitutional
Court) with the "civic" forces. However, the crisis has still not
ended, and although they may seek negotiation with all their strength,
one cannot rule out the possibility of a bigger political crisis and
even openings through which the mass movement could suddenly burst in
("irrumpir"); until now, the mass movement has been contained by
promises from the MAS and restraint by its leaderships.

The solution is outside of this Assembly

The Assembly will fulfill its objectives only if it leads to the
legitimation and establishment in a new state political constitution
of a state political order and a new regime, viable and satisfactory
for the entire dominant class. For that, it must be more and more
subordinate to the agreements and negotiations between the government
and the political and civic representatives of the businessmen,
landowners and transnational corporations. Otherwise, it is condemned.
Those with nothing to expect are the workers, the campesinos, and the
original peoples, whose democratic expectations and urgent demands
have been sacrificed by the MAS on the altar of agreements with the
bourgeoisie. The only solution is the general mobilization for the
demands of the workers and people, to defeat reaction and open the
road to a fundamental worker-campesino solution.


The leaders look the other way

The prices of bread, vegetables and cereals have risen; products that
are basic necessities, like milk and meat, are the objects of
speculation. The exporters of manufactured products are trying to
harden the wage freeze still further and make working conditions
worse. The MAS government and the city governments are taking
half-hearted measures, but no measure that would mean a real fight
against speculation. Rank and file unions have begun to fight to
defend wages and working conditions. It is necessary to develop,
extend and unify these initiatives in defense of economic conditions
of workers and the people! Those who lead the workers’ and popular
organizations, like the COB (Central Obrera Boliviana), the COR
(Central Obrera Regional) of El Alto, or the Federación de Fabriles de
La Paz ["workers’ federation of La Paz"], in a disgraceful way and
keeping up their collaboration with the government, "look the other
way." The urgent call to an emergency general meeting of the COB is
needed, in which delegates from the rank and file unions could
participate urgently to define a plan of struggle. Some militant
unions from El Alto, like SITRASABSA, DBU-Swissport and others have
begun to raise this demand.

-  We need our own political tool

The Bolivian working class does not now have a political expression to
represent its immediate demands and its historic interests as a class,
an instrument that could raise independent politics to confront the
right wing in a crisis like the present one and assure a workers’
response to big national problems. We must defend and recover the full
political independence of the COB and our union organizations, faced
with the MAS and the bosses’ parties. It is necessary to begin a
debate among the militant unions and the workers in general on how to
move forward in political organizing. We revolutionary socialists of
the LOR-CI [Bolivian Trotskyists] propose a discussion of the bases of
a large workers’ party or instrument based on the unions, with
workers’ democracy, a place to discuss what program is needed to
transform the country according to the needs of the working class, the
poor, and the original peoples.

Translation by Yosef M.