In December 2005, Evo Morales became Bolivia’s first president of indigenous origin. Many Bolivians, especially the two-thirds who view themselves as indigenous, see his election as the beginning of a new era, says Martín Callisaya, Bolivia’s ambassador to Costa Rica.
Seven months later, citizens in Bolivia’s nine departments voted to elect representatives to a special assembly, convened to rewrite the nation’s constitution. Then they voted on a regional autonomy referendum, which was vaguely worded but primarily related to decentralizing management of Bolivia’s considerable natural gas reserves in the east.
Progress, however, has been frustrated. Severe regional tensions between right-wing political leadership in the lowland departments, called the media luna for their arc along the eastern regions, and the La Pazbased government in the western altiplano stalemated much substantive discussion on constitutional reform. In December, a draft constitution was approved; however, opposition leaders called that vote illegal.
This spring, three of the four media luna departments held their own autonomy referendums, which passed by more than 80 percent in favor of autonomy. However, abstentions and boycotts ran upward of 40 percent.
The fourth department’s referendum is set for this Sunday.
In a move to coalesce support, Morales has put himself and the departmental governors up for a recall vote, which will be held Aug. 10. Each official must win by greater margins than they did in 2005. If they lose, their positions will be put to vote in a new general election.
Callisaya, 45, a university professor and director of development sciences from the altiplano city of El Alto, was appointed ambassador to Costa Rica in November 2006. He sat down with The Tico Times to discuss his country’s current events, as well as Bolivia’s relations with Costa Rica:
TT: How do you think the media luna departments see this moment with the autonomy referendums?
MC: One, the issue of autonomy, from the government’s point of view as well as the people’s, isn’t in question, because on July 2, 2006, we already held a referendum that asked, “Do you agree that we should be autonomous?” (The departments of) Beni, Pando, Santa Cruz, Tarija, said “yes,” they want autonomy. So there’s not a problem there. The government itself is on board with the idea that autonomy should exist here.
So why did Evo ask the people to boycott these recent autonomy referendums?
The problem is these departments aren’t asking for autonomy: they’re trying to approve a statute of autonomy.
What is the difference?
A statute of autonomy doesn’t have a legal basis in the first place. You have to have a mother for the child to exist.Here,we have the child, but not the mother, because if Santa Cruz has such a statute, what (constitution) is it based on? The current Bolivian constitution doesn’t discuss the issue of statutes of autonomy … So, in 2006, they voted for autonomy, but (its implementation) is tied to the approval of the new constitution.
But the current constitution isn’t a legal basis?
No, the current constitution isn’t one … The new constitution will provide the legal basis … So, now the people will hold a referendum and approve the new constitution, or not.
And when will that referendum be held?
They haven’t set a date yet.
Now, what the government’s trying to do is enter into dialogue. The task now is to make the new departmental statutes of autonomy compatible with the new constitution … so that we can find a solution to this crisis … The point is that nobody is exploited so that someone else can live better.
What are some of the issues Bolivia and Costa Rica share in common?
Issues such as bilateral trade agreements, the environment and biological diversity are very important … preservation, too. My country has a huge potential for tourism, with Lake Titicaca and the (sub-tropic) Yungas and Chapare regions, for example. However, there are a lot of challenges on how to take advantage of each space … Each community has to decide how to at once welcome tourists and also preserve their culture, not only materially, but spiritually, through their songs, poetry, stories, legends, etc. … But we always approach tourism with the idea that it strengthens communities.
What are the types of diplomatic relations President Morales looks for?
Supportive, reciprocal, and complementary ones.
What about the criticisms that Evo is too closely tied to Chávez?
Leaders confer with each other. That’s how it works. But Evo makes his own informed decisions. Also, Bolivia is another reality (than Venezuela). Chávez has his style, but Evo’s character is different. Venezuela is powerful with its hegemony. Chávez wants to be established as the regional leader. In Bolivia, our interests are more local. Evo’s not a copy of a model. Evo asks Chávez’s advice on issues like natural gas, because that’s an area in which Venezuela is strong. It’s like with Costa Rica and tourism: Tourism is a strength of Costa Rica’s, and so we’ll learn from this country how to make tourism a strength for Bolivia as well.