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The Santa Cruz referendum

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

The answer to my last post is “yes”, there was as referendum in Santa Cruz last Sunday.

The results vary depending on which source you read, but it is safe to say that over 80% of those who took part voted for more autonomy in the region.

This overwhelming majority may not come as a surprise to many – there are strong feelings in the region about how the area is treated by the national government. It probably didn’t surprise many people either, that President Morales announced that he would not be recognising the result. In fact, he called the referendum “illegal”. His supporters allegedly burnt ballot papers in some areas and even destroyed one polling station.

At the end of the day, he may have to power to stop the result taking effect at national level, but – although the vote had been announced well in advance – doesn’t seem to have taken action to stop it being held.

Was he relying on his supporters in the region to create enough disruption so as to make polling impossible?

Or did he want to avoid a conflict, knowing he could wipe away the result with one speech later?

I would almost describe it as a “Bolivian solution” – let the people have their say, and then tell them afterwards “it’s good that you think that, but I’ll be ignoring it anyway”.

Other countries would have either banned (and blocked) the vote, by force if necessary. On the other hand, in other countries the fight for local independence has often taken more violent forms.

But perhaps some other countries could be a model for a future Bolivian political solution, and perhaps President Morales should take a look at those countries in order to take a leading role in finding a solution for Santa Cruz.

The Scottish and Welsh assemblies, for example, give those regions of the United Kingdom more independence in running their own affairs, whilst leaving decisions of national importance to the national Government in London. This solution may not be popular with everyone – especially those in Scotland who would prefer to see full independence – but it works for a large majority.

The German “federal” solution would be even more radical: give every area control over their own affairs, but keep national decisions on a national level, and make the areas agree on some of their decisions so that they are more or less uniform across the entire country – just with regional variations.

If President Morales was to go to Santa Cruz and say “let’s talk about it”, the question has to be – would they listen?  Would one of those solutions work?

On the other hand, does anyone except him to go there and say that now?



Will there be a referendum in Santa Cruz?

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

That is the question probably being most asked in Bolivia at the moment.

The area of Santa Cruz wants to hold a referendum on 4th May to decide on whether to become an autonomous region. About 1 million people will be voting, there’s just one problem: President Morales considers the referendum to be illegal.

There are many areas of the world that would like become more independent, but this area around Santa Cruz is not a simple matter of traditional boundaries or a separate culture. In a way, a lot of the problem is down to wealth.

Quite simply: much of the area has, and the rest of the country does not.

Santa Cruz is lower lying than the rest of Bolivia, so things grow there much easier. There are natural resources such as gas underground. And most importantly: there are foreign investments in the local industry, made easier by the good international connections to the relatively modern airport.

If Santa Cruz was to become independent, it would not have to share these resources with the rest of Bolivia, and that rest would suffer as a result.

Without the income that is generated by the area, the rest of Bolivia would probably become poorer – with less exports, less resources and damaged connections to the outside world.

One might almost says “let them get on with it” and create two countries, both with their own level playing fields, but one being much richer than the other. It reminds me of calls within Germany to separate the two halves of the country again, effectively to “rebuild the wall”.

Somehow I don’t think a referendum on that is likely in Germany just yet.  And somehow I’m wondering if President Morales will let the one in Santa Cruz go ahead.

We’ll find out next week…



What effects a fuel crisis can have

Saturday, November 17th, 2007

Bolivian truckers and farmers are facing problems with their businesses as a result of fuel reforms, according to this article on the BBC News website, and they are blaming President Evo Morales and his reforms.

They say that the reforms, which included nationalising refineries last year, have cause shortages at the pumps. Hence a trucker cannot get enough diesel for one day’s work and farmers cannot get enough to run their machines.

One theory is that the fuel is so cheap, that it is being smuggled our of the country. The report claims that armed border guards are not trying to prevent this, whilst fuel is having to be imported from Venezuela to meet demands (or not, as the case my be).

A petrol station in Sucre, July 2000
A petrol station in Sucre – without the queues – in July 2000

In the past, Bolivia has benefited from pipelines exporting resources such as gas to other countries in South America.

What has gone so terribly wrong, that it is now unable to provide enough fuel for it’s own people? The knock-on effects are simple – if a farmer cannot harvest his crops and a trucker cannot deliver the produce then it is only a matter of time before there are shortages throughout the country in the shops and markets. At that point it will be traders and consumers who also start to suffer…



Foreign Office advice on travelling to Santa Cruz

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

The UK Foreign office has removed the warning about travelling to Santa Cruz from their latest advice update.

The full advice for Bolivia can be found at the FCO website here.



 

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