Bolivia: Can civil war be avoided?

There’s just one way out of this domestic crisis, said Jose Ocampo Castrillo in Bolivia’s El Diario: Both sides must acknowledge some blame.

Bolivia is in turmoil, said Conor Foley in Britian’s The Guardian. One of its nine provinces has been placed under martial law, and at least three others are seething with unrest. The crisis began a few weeks ago, when Bolivian President Evo Morales announced his decision to hold a referendum on a new constitution that would mandate a redistribution of wealth from resource-rich provinces to the rest of the country. Those provinces began to protest, and last week, when more than 20 people were killed in Pando, Morales ordered in the troops. The crisis “pits the country’s democratically elected president—who has the strong support of its poor, indigenous majority—against the rich, white descendants of European settlers,” who live in the provinces that control the natural gas industry.

The crisis is already generating international repercussions, said Mexico’s La Jornada in an editorial. Over the past year, Morales has repeatedly accused the U.S. of supporting the provincial governments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, and Tarija in their quest for autonomy. So it was no surprise that after U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg held a meeting in August with Santa Cruz Gov. Ruben Costas, “Morales’ biggest opponent,” Goldberg was summoned to the presidential palace. Yet Goldberg didn’t back off. Just a week later, he visited the governor of Chuquisaca, a region less openly hostile to Morales but seen to be teetering. That was the last straw. Morales kicked the ambassador out of the country, saying, “We do not want separatist, divisive people who conspire against democracy.” Then Venezuela got involved. It kicked out its own U.S. ambassador and warned that if Morales were to be toppled, Venezuela would mount an invasion to restore him to power.

Nobody wants to see Venezuela intervene, said Bolivia’s La Razon. Fortunately, Bolivia’s neighbors support its territorial integrity. At a meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in Chile this week, South American presidents unanimously agreed to support Morales, warning that they would not allow Bolivia to be split in two by a “civilian coup.” UNASUR agreed to set up an impartial investigation into the killings in Pando, which Morales claims were perpetrated by guerrillas from Peru and Brazil, backed by the U.S.

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There’s just one way out of this domestic crisis: Both sides must acknowledge some blame, said Jose Ocampo Castrillo in Bolivia’s El Diario. The governors of the rebellious provinces have acted against the constitution by at least tolerating, if not instigating, sabotage of gas pipelines. Morales has violated the law by declaring that the new draft constitution is ready to be put to referendum, even though it was approved by only a simple majority in the constituent assembly, not the legally mandated two-thirds majority. “Both are on the path of lawlessness and both have acted against the very democracy that they claim to advocate.” Once we concede that all sides are at fault, we can begin “peaceful negotiations.”

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