Healing Bolivia

Latin America has suffered fewer inter-state wars and undergone less state creation since the mid-19th century than any other region of the world. But Bolivia, where a provincial referendum in May gave overwhelming approval to an autonomy plan that has boosted secessionist political forces, may be poised to buck the latter trend.

BUENOS AIRES – Since the mid-19th century, Latin America has suffered fewer inter-state wars and undergone less state creation than any other region of the world. The continent has been a relatively quiet periphery because its countries tend neither to fight each other nor to divide from within. Bolivia, however, may be poised to buck the latter trend.

A referendum on autonomy which was approved in May in Bolivia’s eastern province of Santa Cruz has generated fear about the region’s eventual secession. This relatively rich, opposition-controlled, ethnically mixed, and more conservative province, blessed with fertile lowlands and hydrocarbons, voted for autonomy by a wide margin. The most outspoken anti-government forces in Santa Cruz seem to be itching for partition. And recent referendums in the Amazonian provinces of Beni and Pando appeared to have exacerbated this sense of potential national fracturing.

A key ingredient of this simmering conflict is ethnicity, the salience of which became evident even before the election of President Evo Morales in 2005. The combination of highly mobilized and vocal indigenous groups (the Amerindians, mainly located in the western highlands of Bolivia, represent some 55% of the population) and the declining influence of traditional elites at a time of socio-economic deterioration, has created a society in which there are more losers than winners. The referendum marked a critical conjuncture of Bolivia’s social, regional, and political divisions.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

To read this article from our archive, please log in or register now. After entering your email, you'll have access to two free articles from our archive every month. For unlimited access to Project Syndicate, subscribe now.

required

By proceeding, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which describes the personal data we collect and how we use it.

Log in

http://prosyn.org/RMy4YEh;

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.