Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bolivia faces crisis as Pres. Evo Morales wins referendum


President Evo Morales won a decisive victory in a referendum designed to enhance his own powers and turn the country into a quasi-Socialist state.

The sweeping reforms, approved by a 60 per cent "Yes" vote, will allow Mr Morales to seek re-election in December.

Under the new powers, rich landowners may be targeted for dispossession as the state will allow private ownership of large estates only if that property is put to "social use". If not, the land may be seized.

Critics have predicted farm invasions of the kind seen in Zimbabwe. Decisions on whether the land is "socially useful" will be taken by the central government.

The powers will also extend state control over four key areas of the economy, notably Bolivia's vital reserves of natural gas.

The streets of the capital, La Paz, were quiet during the voting. But the underlying tension was shown by a 48-hour ban on sales of alcohol.

Mr Morales, overcome with emotion, wept as his victory was announced. "Brothers and sisters, the colonial state ends here. Now Bolivia is being refounded," he said on the steps of the presidential palace in La Paz. "Here we begin to reach true equality for all Bolivians."

Support for the president was strongest in the western mountains, where indigenous people form the majority.

"A new era is starting now in which indigenous people will be the citizens of this country," said Elisa Canqui, who represents an Indian community in La Paz.

Over the past year, Bolivia has been polarised between the indigenous Indians – including Mr Morales's own Aymara tribe – and the descendants of European settlers who are concentrated in the east.............

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