Report on the Political Situation in Bolivia

From: Laurel Dutcher, Program Officer, Latin America (September 15, 2008)

Dear Colleagues,

As many of you know, the Bolivian people are facing the enormous challenge of forging themselves as a multicultural democracy. Among the highly controversial issues are

  • Drafting a new constitution which will ensure rights of all citizens: the indigenous majority as well as those of European and mixed descent,
  • Establishing ways for all citizens to benefit equitably from the country's primary economic asset: natural resources (oil, natural gas, other minerals, and land).

The issues are complex, the stakes are high, and opposing views have become polarized. There has been renewed and sharply escalating violence since the August 10 referendum vote which confirmed President Evo Morales with more than 67 percent of the vote, and also confirmed the Governors of the states (called "Media Luna" or "Half Moon"), who are most vehemently opposed to the changes this administration is attempting to implement, particularly regarding distribution of income and land.

We, of course, have been in regular communication with our colleagues at ACLO. In spite of the disruptions caused by this political situation and the droughts and flooding resulting from an unusually extreme Nino cycle, our partners at ACLO have successfully met their program objectives in the first half of 2008. These include: ongoing training and support of the "people's reporters," specialized trainings for a cadre of leaders of development in indigenous communities, a new "radio soap opera" whose central character is a young woman taking on leadership in her rural community, and organizing disaster response and preparedness groups in communities hardest hit by the flooding.

At the same time, ACLO has been a strong public voice defending the rights of indigenous people, working to empower indigenous communities and their leaders to be knowledgeable, articulate, responsible and effective participants in the political process. An article by ACLO Director Rafael Garcia Mora gives background details of the situation. Our colleagues in ACLO write:

Consistent with our principles, we stand with the peasants and indigenous sectors, taking as our own the commitment to the constitutional process, we generate timely information and proposals to overcome the climate of polarization, particularly in the departments of South and municipalities in which they operate institutional teams.

The teams of ACLO Foundation, in Chuquisaca, Potosi and Tarija, are working with enthusiasm and responsibility, consolidating initiatives that are underway, promoting new initiatives and creating conditions for expanding the coverage of Radio ACLO toward the popular sectors of the cities (up to now, Radio ACLO has focused on only rural areas) of Potosi, Sucre and Tarija, beginning in July.

At the current stage of political polarization, the work of ACLO is not easy. People working in the institution are facing more risks. Radio ACLO received threats at its Tarija facilities, because it has a line information-oriented farming sector, indigenous and popular and, in Sucre, radical groups opposed to change assaulted a journalist who covered the information on May 24.

The Hunger Project Global Office has begun participating with the Bolivia Working Group (BWG), a Washington, DC-based coalition of organizations working to increase public awareness and understanding and influence policy makers on US-Bolivian issues. BWG membership includes Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA), Institute for Policy Studies and Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.

Chirapaq, our Peruvian partner, is actively supporting strategies for a peaceful democratic process in Bolivia through their networks of indigenous organizations in South America.