Bolivia Divided

Bolivia seems to be in danger of falling apart. Support for President Evo Morales, who won 53% of the vote in December 2005, represented a demand for democratic coexistence, social change, and national unity. Two years later, the country is marked by regional, social, ethnic, and ideological divisions, and its government is confused and disoriented.

Morales passed a constitutional reform that included changes in the conception and role of the state, private property, and management of natural resources and taxes. His opponents have responded by proclaiming their right to self-determination and threatening to boycott the referendum with which he hopes to legalize the reform. Morales’ sympathizers threaten to erect roadblocks.

Only three of Bolivia’s nine departments support the government, while 60% of the population is concentrated in the six other departments, which account for 70% of the country’s territory and two-thirds of its GDP. The government’s desire to impose its will on the majority of the country is therefore potentially dangerous.

Indeed, Bolivia, one of Latin America’s poorest countries, has become increasingly polarized. The conflict is not, as the government claims, between the people and a few oligarchs. The urban population, already 70% and growing rapidly, has begun withdrawing their support from Morales, except in La Paz, El Alto, and Oruro, and in the most unionized sectors. Rural peasants and Indians still support him, as do senior military officials.