Time to negotiate

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LA PAZ, Bolivia – The immediate political future of Bolivia has been decided, partially.

That country’s national referendum vote was a win for the indigenous president as well as for some of his opponents, giving both sides more time to continue with their competing agendas. Still, the special election is being hailed as a victory for the entire country, in that there was very little violence and almost total compliance with election laws, according to outside observers, who are also urging dialogue between the winning partisans.

Bolivians gave President Evo Morales a mandate to continue Aug. 10, with 67 percent of the total electorate voting for him (he needed at least 53.7), but voters in four of the opposition “half-moon regions” elected to keep their respective governors and voted against the president. It was a mixed victory for the half-moon group in yet another sense, as two opposition governors lost their elections.

According to the vote tallies as of Aug. 13, Morales won overwhelming support in the regions of Potosi (81 percent) and Oruro (83 percent), which are both controlled by Morales allies, and got strong backing in La Paz (79 percent), Cochabamba (72 percent) and Pando (53 percent), which are controlled by the opposition. Support also came from Chuquisaca (53 percent), which is governed by Savina Cuellar, an indigenous leader who had been a Morales ally previously but then shifted her alliance to the right-wing ACI party and ran successfully for governor this July.

The regions that voted against the president included Santa Cruz (70 percent), Beni (78 percent) and Tarija (62 percent), which along with Pando constitute the half-moon region.

For the opposition, there were four clear winners: Ruben Costas, the outspoken governor of Santa Cruz, won 71 percent of the vote to retain his job; Ernesto Suarez of Beni received 68 percent; Mario Cossio won with 65 percent in Tarija; and voters in Pando elected to keep Leopoldo Fernandez with 59 percent, although they also voted to keep Morales (only in Pando did an opposition governor and the president receive majority percentages).

At the regional level, the president’s allies in the MAS Party kept the governorship of Oruro, where Gov. Alberto Aguilar received 51 percent of the vote, along with the MAS-supported Mario Virreira, who won in Potosi with 76 percent. The anti-MAS governor of La Paz, Jose Luis Paredes, lost his seat by earning only 40 percent of the vote, along with the anti-MAS leader of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes Villa, who garnered 35 percent.

The final official counts will be issued in late August, but the tally as of press time has Morales as president (with majority support in six of nine regions), five opposition leaders as governors, two pro-MAS governors in place and two regional positions vacant. Of the two remaining posts, the president’s party has strong support in both regions, but observers are not yet publicizing their predictions.

While campaign watchers are staying quiet for the moment, partisans on all sides are making many speeches. Each side has claimed victory, restated their respective positions and, in at least a few cases, expressed interest in dialogue and negotiation.

Morales, who had received notes of congratulations from leaders in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile and elsewhere, gave a quick speech to many thousands of supporters gathered outside of the governmental palace in La Paz. Morales revisited a few of the same initiatives that have angered the opposition and earned him great support in other communities.

“We are here to continue moving forward in the recuperation of our natural resources and our state enterprises,” he stated. “And also, sisters and brothers, this mandate from the people will be respected and applied in the different levels, sectors and regions of the country, so that in this way Bolivia may change and have dignity.

“We are convinced,” Morales continued, “that it is important to unite all Bolivians and the participation of the people is for uniting all sectors of the countryside, the city, the east and the west, through a new constitution, respecting existing rules and applicable laws, what has happened today is something important not only for Bolivians but for Latin Americans; from here we mark the re-vindication of the struggle of all revolutionary peoples – it is the triumph of the social and cultural revolution of Bolivia; it is an example for revolutionaries in other countries of the world.”

Comments from the president’s most vocal critic, the also-victorious Gov. Ruben Costas of Santa Cruz, reflected a very different interpretation of the election results.

“We have just defeated the biggest fraud mounted by centralism,” Costas said to a large cheering crowd Aug. 10. “Liberty has defeated totalitarianism, this victory fills us with optimism and hope, and it gives us the wisdom to understand that the officialists [Morales and the MAS Party] will not renounce the exclusivist and racist totalitarianism of the MAS, which only wants to impose its political hegemony instead of taking care of the country.”

Costas also made reference to the government’s direct hydrocarbon tax, IDH in Spanish, which took a larger percentage of oil and gas profits from businesses in Santa Cruz and other half-moon region enterprises. Along with other points of severe disagreement, he and the other leaders of the half-moon region have been demanding the return of these funds; and some supporters, along with Costas, have gone on fasts to protest the tax. Part of his speech also addressed new measures to be implemented in their autonomous region.

“The new government will implement an agency protecting our security to guarantee the indispensable liberty for all society … and it will include the creation of a Departmental Tribute Agency which will defend our resources in an efficient and transparent way. … The implementation of this entity will allow the execution of a solidarity fund which will have a support function for our brother regions. The imposition of the MASist neo-fascism is not negotiable,” Costas warned.

While he rejected any immediate meeting with the Morales administration, members of the Costas-allied party, Podemos, urged renewed dialogue, as did Morales and some of his allies. But neither side was willing to budge regarding their respective positions on policies involving the IDH and others. Bolivian voters, however, want both sides to come to the negotiating table.

The United Nations, along with the Organization of American States and other independent agencies, were among the international observers placed in voting centers across the country. The U.N. also conducted a national survey regarding dialogue between the two sides. According to the final results of the survey, 68 percent of all voters agreed with the following phrase: “it does not matter by how much the government of the opposition governors win, both must equally seek accords.” Only 22 percent of respondents agreed with the other choice of “the plan of the winner should be imposed.”