Bolivia: Autonomy Referendum Raises Questions

Santa Cruz, Bolivia will head to the polls today in a department-wide referendum on a controversial autonomic statute, which would grant more administrative and economic powers to the state government. Not every Cruceño (resident of the department) will participate, however, as many share the opinion of the central government that the referendum is illegal and unconstitutional. The department electoral court is pushing forward with the referendum, without the backing of the national electoral court, and brings into question the legitmacy of the results, even though the referendum is expected to pass.

The leaders of the referendum, primarily comprised of the departmental governor, members of the civic committee, and businessmen, with the support of a large percentage of the population say that the referendum is necessary. It is the response to the government's unwillingness to incorporate autonomy in the new Constitution. An earlier referendum two years ago overwhelmingly passed where Santa Cruz and three other departments voted “yes” on autonomy. However, the results of what that referendum actually meant were vague and open to interpretation and should have theoretically been part of the Constitutent Assembly. The proposed new Constitution does not go far enough with these demands according to civic leaders and opened the door to push forward on their own terms.


Photo of campaign for “yes” vote in the referendum taken by Aka_Lusi and used under a Creative Commons license

Critics claim that the new referendum on autonomy is a way for the rich and powerful to gain increased control and increased revenues from the natural resources. In addition, the statute would help resist further land redistribution, as many of the referendum leaders are large landowners. Others point out that the statute does not recognize or include many indigenous immigrates who have played a large role in the department's development. Finally, others point to words from the departmental governor, Ruben Costas, who said that the referendum will “give birth to a new republic.”

These two contrary positions raises fears that supporters of the national government and backers of the autonomic statute may clash during referendum day. However, bloggers are hoping for peace no matter where they stand on the issue.

Miguel Centellas of Pronto* provides some thoughts on the Referendum, as well as a bit of history on the issue at hand. Carlos Gustavo Machicado of Guccio's [es] prefers not to use the word “autonomy” because it reminds him of university autonomy, which “the only thing that has done is foment inefficiency, bureaucracy and corruption within the public places of higher education.”

However, there are plenty of bloggers who are supporting and openly demonstrating their intention to vote “Yes.” Andres Pucci is in favor of some of the decentralization aspects [es] of the autonomic statute.

Si un sindicato quiere personería jurídica, debe enviar a La Paz todo; si una empresa quiere aprobar su reglamento interno, debe enviar a La Paz todo; si un estudiante quiere defender su tesis, debe enviar a La Paz todo y esperar mas de 6 meses con la tesis aprobada por los revisores; si un profesional quiere sacar su título debe viajar a La Paz, pagar mas de 4 salarios mínimos, esperar 6 meses y volver a viajar para recogerlo.

If a union wants to receive legal representation, they must send everything to La Paz; if a business wants to approve their internal regulations, they must sent everything to La Paz; if a student wants to defend their thesis, they must send everything to La Paz and wait six months for the thesis to be approved by the reviewers; if a professional wants to get their diploma, they must travel to La Paz, pay the equivalent of 4 months of minimum salary, wait 6 months and return to pick it up.

One of the arguments against the autonomic statute is that it will cause a division within the country and that it could cause secession. Sebastian Molina of Plan B [es] categorically denies this argument and points to a recent inteview on CNN with President Evo Morales. Molina points to when “Patricia Janiot (CNN anchor) asked him what proof he had to show that there were separatist intentions in Santa Cruz, the president said that he had them but it would be best not to talk about that. The interview ended there, he had no arguments.”

Even though it is expected that the “Yes” vote will win in Santa Cruz, many bloggers from Santa Cruz are criticizing the process and attitudes of some of the referendum's leaders. Andrea from Lo Digo Yo [es] is not too pleased with the words of the president of the Civic Committee, Branko Marinkovic, who told the mothers from Santa Cruz that they will let the blood flow from their sons in a “responsible manner.” Others see fundamental aspects wrong with the autonomic statute, such as the omission of recognizing Quechua and Aymara indigenous that have migrated to Santa Cruz and who have played a big part in the region's development. Comunidad Espartaco Boliviana [es] writes:

Todas las culturas y los grupos sociales tienen sus símbolos ¿Qué sentido tiene una ley que reconozca unos símbolos y otros no? Quedando de este modo excluidos los pueblos quechua y aymara, que si bien no forman parte de las mismas familias de cruceños e indígenas cruceñizados, vienen trabajando y desarrollando sus actividades desde la inmigración masiva fomentada por la revolución de 1952.

All cultures and social groups have their symbols. What is the point of having a law that recognizes some symbols and not recognizing others? In this manner, the Quechua and Aymara peoples would be excluded, who have formed part of the same Cruceño families and Cruceño indigenous, who have worked and taken part in activities ever since massive immigration fomented by the revolution of 1952.

Few know what will take place on May 4 or even on May 5, the day after the Referendum. Hugo Miranda writes [es]:

Que pasara el 4 de Mayo? Que pasara el 5 de Mayo? Mucha gente se pregunta eso o diría mas bien los hacen preguntarse eso. En este país donde la política, el chisme y la confrontación son los temas de moda y por lo tanto hacen que la productividad de todos disminuya considerablemente, la televisión, los politólogos y hasta intelectuales, llenan miles de hojas en los periódicos y varias horas en los espacios televisivos, preguntándose analizando que sera del dia después.

What will happen on May 4? What will happen on May 5? Many people ask or instead they are asked that. In this country, politics, gossip and confrontation are in fashion, which makes productivity considerably decreased, television, political analysts and even the intellectuals, fill thousands of pages in the newspaper and various hours on television, asking themselves what will happen the day after.

Columba of Guayaramerín Analitica [es] thinks that the expected “yes” vote will allow for other departments, particularly Bení, Pando and Tarija to follow suit with their own referenda.

Finally, the blogger María Escándalo thinks that the day after will be just like any other day for the thousands of people trying to survive.

pues es para decir que después del 4 de Mayo… es decir el 5 ni el 6 o el 7… esos días, al menos para mí, no serán la excepción y por supuesto para los pobres de este pueblo los que andan a pie, los carretilleros de los mercados y los del interior que ilusionados buscan mejores días en estas zonas… seguirán creyendo en lo único que vale la pena creer: Su propio trabajo.

After May 4…meaning the 5th, 6th or 7th…during those days, at least for me, it will not be the execption and surely for the poor of this city that walk, those pushing the carts in the markets, those from the interior of the country that came looking for better days in this area… they will continue to believe in the only thing worth believing in: their own work.


  • The government of Mr.Morales is equal to a school yard fight. He holds this idea of equality that is based upon the revokeation of rights. To bring about his so called “equality” he must play the role of “Robbin Hood” and rob things like property rights and the ability to exercise your ability to run capital, and finally he will give what he has robbed to the pathetic beggers who wallow in their own despair and who refuse to educate themselves.
    Mr. Morales needs to go and study some economic principles. What he is doing will result in the suppresion and increased poverty! I hope Santa Cruz is successful in their endevors because only via agmented wealth, decreased regulation, additional international investments. Morals will only make the previous not happen!
    Dr. John Picannos

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