On Sunday, Bolivian voters embraced a new constitution that promises greater rights and benefits for the long-suffering Indian majority. The new constitution also grants leftist President Evo Morales, the country’s first Indian president, a chance to remain in office through 2014. Morales promises the charter will “decolonize” South America’s poorest country by recovering indigenous values lost under oppression dating back to the Spanish conquest.
Government supporters gathered at the plaza outside the presidential palace in La Paz to celebrate the result. “Here we begin, brothers and sisters, truly, to arrive at equality for all Bolivians,” Morales said from the palace balcony.
Opponents of the new constitution argue that middle-class people, of mixed race are not being taken into account. Several regions in eastern Bolivia – an area with more people of European or mixed heritage than the mountainous west — held their own referendums last year to give themselves more autonomy from Morales’s leftist government. Four of the country’s nine regions, including Santa Cruz, voted against the proposed constitution.
The country’s approval of the new constitution was a close call. Roughly 56 percent of voters approved the new constitution and 43 percent of voters were against it.
Morales follows his socialist allies, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, in pushing through major constitutional reforms. He will now be able to run for re-election in December and is a clear favorite to win.