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Cablegate: Bolivia's Constituent Assembly: What's at Stake


DE RUEHLP #1981/01 1991409
P 181409Z JUL 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: LA PAZ 1877


1. (U) On July 13, twenty of the Constituent Assembly's (CA)
twenty-one commissions issued their reports, most issuing a
majority and minority version. The reports in total contain
708 articles. The majority Movement Towards Socialism (MAS)
and the opposition (led by PODEMOS) only agree on 255. In
contrast, the current constitution consists of 234 articles.
While at present there are 453 articles of disagreement, this
cable looks at the top ten general differences between the
MAS and the opposition. These differences include:

I. Vision for the Country - Plurinational vs. Intercultural
II. Autonomy ) Indigenous vs. Departmental
III. Justice ) Traditional vs. Communitarian
IV. The Economy ) Social Communitarian vs. Traditional
V. Resource Rights ) Indigenous vs. State Control
VI. The Presidency ) One vs. Unlimited Terms
VII. The Legislature ) One Chamber vs. Two
VIII. The Branches of Government ) Four vs. Three
IX. The Capital ) La Paz vs. Sucre
X. Security ) The Police vs. the Armed Forces

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All these areas of disagreement need to be ironed out, in
theory, by August 6. Within the CA the MAS and opposition
have agreed to extend their mandate until December, but
Congress has yet to approve the extension. End Summary.

--------------------------------------------- --------------
I. Vision for the Country - Plurinational vs. Intercultural
--------------------------------------------- --------------

2. (U) One of the most fundamental disagreements between the
MAS and PODEMOS is their different "vision for the country."
The MAS proposes creating a "plurinational" state, whereas
the opposition argues for an "intercultural" state. The
opposition states that recognizing and promoting the
country's diversity, its interculturalism, should serve as
the basis for unifying and integrating Bolivia. The MAS
generally describes plurinationalism as the recognition and
self-determination of Bolivia's 36 indigenous groups
(including Bolivians of African descent). Jubenal Quispe, a
lawyer and MAS-sympathetic academic, describes the
plurinational model as the only viable option to replace the
failed "single nation society theory" since, in his opinion,
in Bolivia multiple nations coexist within the same space.
Quispe and the MAS frequently link plurinationalism to the
"decolonization" of Bolivia. According to the MAS, efforts
to "integrate" the indigenous -- via western education,
military service, and other reforms -- failed because the
"criollo and mestizo elites" could never (and will never)
overcome the indigenous peoples' resistance. Proponents of
plurinationalism claim their theory is the only one that can
unify a country like Bolivia. The opposition decries
plurinationalism, stating it will "Balkanize" rather than
unite the country.

II. Autonomy ) Indigenous vs. Departmental

3. (U) Autonomy, or the decentralization of state power, is
perhaps the most polemical and core issue facing the CA. On
July 16, "indigenous" CA members from the MAS and affiliated
parties threatened to pull out of the CA if the plurinational
model and indigenous autonomy are not incorporated in the new
constitution. The opposition is primarily interested in
codifying the concept of departmental autonomy (reftel).
Meanwhile, the MAS wants to grant Bolivia's 36 indigenous
groups autonomy. The four eastern department (Beni, Pando,
Santa Cruz, and Tarija) prefects and civic committees are the
spearhead of the departmental autonomy movement. Indigenous
groups such as the CIDOB and CONAMAQ are the base (and at
times the shock troops) for the MAS' proposal. The two
visions are difficult to reconcile as the indigenous
territories that the MAS proposes would overlap with the
existing nine departments. Furthermore, the MAS has yet to
clearly define its vision of autonomy. (Note: The eastern
departments only fully articulated their vision on July 2,
reftel. End Note). The MAS has not expressly stated what
government responsibilities indigenous autonomous units would
exercise and in which manner these competencies would be
exclusive or shared with other levels of government within
Bolivia. Recognizing the power of the other's constituency,
both PODEMOS and MAS have offered proposals that recognize on
paper the other's "autonomy" demands. However, neither party
has yielded enough (yet) to satisfy the other's base.

III. Justice ) Traditional vs. Communitarian

4. (U) Linked to indigenous autonomy is the concept of
"communitarian justice," which the MAS supports. The
simplest definition for communitarian justice is that justice
which was practiced by indigenous peoples before the Spanish
conquest. Communitarian justice already exists as an
alternative form of justice for small claims under the
Bolivia Criminal Justice Code. The MAS wants to see
communitarian justice achieve the same status as the formal
justice system and has even proposed that a group of
"indigenous judges" sit on the constitutional tribunal. A
driving factor supporting communitarian justice is the
failure of the formal justice system to reach all areas of
Bolivia, especially rural areas. Proponents of communitarian
justice tout its speed and efficiency. Opponents argue that
these benefits stem from the fact that traditional legal
protections such as habeas corpus, the right to an adequate
defense, the right to appeal, and many others do not exist
under communitarian justice. Opponents also argue that
Bolivia's 36 indigenous groups' lack of a written judicial
code will result in arbitrary justice and will encourage more
lynchings. Lynchings are not infrequent in Bolivia (though
they are said to be prohibited by traditional, communitarian

--------------------------------------------- ---------
IV. The Economy ) Social Communitarian vs. Traditional
--------------------------------------------- ---------

5. (U) The MAS has proposed a vaguely defined "social
communitarian" economic model, while the opposition prefers a
mixed capitalist model where the state has control over
certain limited sectors of the economy (generally
hydrocarbons and mining) but market economics would prevail.
Under the MAS vision, private enterprise would still be
allowed as long it had a "social purpose." However, who
determines "social purpose" remains undefined.

--------------------------------------------- ----
V. Resource Rights ) Indigenous vs. State Control
--------------------------------------------- ----

6. (U) Also, linked closely to the issue of indigenous
autonomy is the issue of land and resource rights. The MAS
favors giving indigenous groups full rights over the natural
resources within their autonomous territories. The opposition
argues for the current model where the state is the final
arbiter of all land and natural resources, although the
opposition favors devolving some of this power to the
departments. MAS CA members argue that indigenous peoples
can and would use the resources in an eco-friendly manner.
The opposition argues that the MAS proposal would negate
current concessions and that there is no guarantee that
indigenous peoples would exploit resources sustainably.

--------------------------------------------- ----
VI. The Presidency ) One Term vs. Unlimited Terms
--------------------------------------------- ----
7. (U) The MAS has proposed that a president may serve an
indefinite number of terms, arguing that the "people" via
elections, not established term limits, should decide the
number of mandates a president may enjoy. The opposition
wants to retain the current system in which a president
cannot serve consecutive terms. The MAS wants President
Morales to enjoy multiple terms in office, while the
opposition fears that Morales will use this new privilege to
consolidate power and gradually eliminate existing democratic
institutions. Both parties have introduced proposals for
removing a president from office.

VII. The Legislature ) One Chamber vs. Two

8. (SBU) The MAS has proposed a directly elected 157 member
unicameral legislature, while the opposition supports the
current bicameral model. Under the MAS model, 27 of the
members would be indigenous representatives, three from each
of Bolivia's nine departments. Comment: The MAS proposal is
a rather transparent attempt to control congress by
abolishing the senate, which it currently does not control,
and replacing the 27 senators with indigenous
representatives, which MAS insiders believe will
overwhelmingly be sympathetic to the party. End Comment.

--------------------------------------------- -------
VIII. The Branches of Government ) Four vs. Three
--------------------------------------------- -------

9. (U) The MAS favors adding a forth branch of government,
sometimes called the "Social Control Branch (Power)", which
would be equal in power to the legislative, executive, and
judicial branch. According to some proposals, this new
branch would control, supervise, and evaluate the management
of the national economy, especially the national treasury and
the central bank. It would also issue reports and would be
the channel for complaints regarding the three other powers.
Members of this fourth power would be leaders from social
sector organizations whose election to the body would be
decided by the "uses and customs" of the organization. The
opposition rejects the creation of this fourth power.

IX. The Capital ) La Paz vs. Sucre

10. (U) The opposition generally supports moving the
executive and legislative branches from La Paz to Sucre.
(Note: The judiciary is already based in Sucre. End Note).
The MAS generally supports keeping the capital in La Paz,
presumably largely because its base is focused in the
highland Altiplano, where in some parts such as El Alto
Morales enjoys ninety percent approval. El Alto residents
often march on congress to support Morales' policies forcing
non-MAS congressional members to think twice before voting
against MAS proposals. The four eastern departments want to
see the capital moved to reduce El Alto's hold over the GOB.
It is worth noting, this issue does not totally follow
ideological lines. Delegates from Sucre regardless of party
tend to support the move while delegates from La Paz
regardless of party tend to oppose it.

X. Security ) The Police vs. the Armed Forces

11. (U) On the issue of security and defense, the MAS and
PODEMOS are not pitted against each other, but the police and
armed forces are. The police and armed forces are historical
rivals in Bolivia; in February 2003 they shot at each other
in La Paz's main square the Plaza Murillo leaving one soldier
dead. Both the police and armed forces have submitted their
own proposals to the CA. Early drafts of the Commission on
Security and Defense report had the military only serving an
external function and losing to the police its function as
guarantor of the constitution. Senior military officials
balked at the proposals, making the commission rethink its
position towards increasing the police's role. The police,
in turn, responded by protesting in front of the commission.
Security Commission delegates (in an apparent attempt to
minimize the potential for conflict between the two
institutions) submitted their report in draft form on July
13, without fully defining the roles of the two institutions.
On July 17, the CA Directive (the committee of party leaders
that manages the CA's affairs) rejected the report,
essentially telling the commission to get back to work.

Comment -- What's Next

12. (U) Many of the CA commissions' reports overlap the work
of other commissions. For example, six of the twenty-one
commissions issued reports touching on the issue of
moving/retaining the capital. Delegates from the different
commissions will soon form "mixed" commissions to eliminate
these redundancies and try to reach consensus on issues where
the MAS and the opposition disagree. If the mixed
commissions cannot iron out all the areas of discord (a
likely outcome), a special "Consensus Commission" will meet
to try to hammer out the remaining problems. All this in
theory must happen by August 6, the deadline for ending the

CA. Within the CA the MAS and opposition have agreed to
extend their mandate until December, but Congress has yet to
approve the extension. End Comment.

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