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Last Updated: Monday, 6 August 2007, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Pressure for Bolivian 'people's president'
By Lola Almudevar
Sucre, Bolivia

One year ago, Evo Morales stood before his people holding their dreams in his hands. Twelve months on, Bolivia is facing a stark wake-up call.

Bolivian President Evo Morales in Sucre 5 August
A warm welcome for Evo Morales in Sucre but he faces big challenges

It was on 6 August last year, Independence Day, when President Morales swore in the constituent assembly in Sucre.

The assembly was set up to write Bolivia's new constitution - an onerous task but one that social movements for decades had been fighting for.

But instead of uniting the country, the assembly has become the focus of division and discord.

This year the mood is tense and Mr Morales was to mark the anniversary of his country's founding by pleading for unity.

Less than an hour after landing in Sucre, Bolivia's first indigenous president told crowds gathered in the late afternoon dust: "It is important that our regions and our social movements unite and avoid a confrontation. Here, we are all Bolivians and we are all working for a better Bolivia."

The assembly was due to present the new constitution this week. Unable to deliver on time, it has been granted an extension until December, but that might not be long enough.

Conamaq demonstrator Nicolasa Francisco
We thought he was our brother but he has betrayed us...He has sold the indigenous community to the rich elite
Nicolasa Francisco
Indigenous protester
The members of the assembly face pressure from all sectors of society to resolve long-standing disputes that have brought down previous governments.

Their refusal to deal with these issues has provoked unrelenting criticism which is, by its very nature, an attack on Evo Morales's government.

"Death to the constituent assembly, death to the government, death to the president," was the cry from indigenous leaders as they marched on Sucre last Saturday.

They were from Conamaq, a group representing thousands of people from Bolivia's highlands who say their demands for greater autonomy and representation have been ignored.

"We thought he was our brother but he has betrayed us," shouted one woman angrily. "The president has lied. He has sold the indigenous community to the rich elite."

Capital cities

Conamaq's protest took place just hours after members of Sucre's middle-class took to the streets.

The Sucre protesters want their city, which is the judicial seat of government, to gain control of the executive and legislative branches, currently held by La Paz, so making it the sole capital of Bolivia.

La Paz's response has been mass demonstrations and threats by its representatives to withdraw from the constituent assembly if the issue is not resolved.

Left-leaning analysts say the Sucre campaign is a ploy to unravel the assembly. The right have also been accused of manipulating tensions in Bolivia's eastern and southern regions, where the wealthy and conservative ruling classes have stepped up their campaigns for autonomy.

An indigenous woman at a meeting in Sucre to show support for Mr Morales
Many of Bolivia's poorest see their future tied to Mr Morales

While the east wrestles for its share of the cake, Bolivia's poor, often from farming communities in the west, are getting angry.

The vast majority see Mr Morales and the constituent assembly as their ticket to inclusion in Bolivia's future.

"The right want to divide our country, they want to cause confrontation but we won't let them," said Nacariez Ramirez, a leader in the huge El Alto township that overlooks La Paz.

"We will defend the assembly, we will defend our natural resources and we will defend our president," Mr Ramirez told the BBC at a mass rally last week.

Financial warning

But Evo Morales's problems are not just political. In July, inflation rose from 0.65% to 2.68%. Some analysts say it could reach double figures by the end of the year and that is not their only concern.

"Bolivia is running the risk of alienating itself from the principal world markets and capital. If the errors that are currently being committed continue, we could be headed for commercial and financial suicide," said Gary Rodriguez, director of the Bolivian Institute for Foreign Trade.

There have been successes, notably in negotiations over natural resources, with Argentina, Brazil and most recently India.

But the president's opponents argue he is failing Bolivia because he is continuing his political campaign, rather than governing the country.

We are not going to deceive or disappoint, neither Bolivia nor the world at large
David Choquehuanca
Bolivian Foreign Minister
Perhaps that is the point. Bolivia has a long tradition of weak government and strong civil society. When the people elected Evo Morales, they elected one of their own grass-roots crusaders, not a politician.

His party, the Movement towards Socialism or MAS, is unique because it is made up of a number of social resistance factions.

So, for them, it makes sense for political battles to be fought on the streets, rather than in the chamber, where opposition parties are almost redundant.

To the outsider it may look like crisis, but in Bolivia a new kind of politics is being played out. Whether there are any winners remains to be seen, but Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca told the BBC that the world should take note."

"Evo Morales doesn't just represent change for Bolivia, he represents change for the world," he said.

"People have put a lot of faith in him. There are those who want this process to fail, and for that reason they want the assembly to fail. But we are not going to deceive or disappoint, neither Bolivia nor the world at large."


SEE ALSO
Huge rally over Bolivian capital
20 Jul 07 |  Americas
On tour with Bolivia's president
29 May 07 |  Americas
Bolivia reclaims oil refineries
27 Jun 07 |  Americas
Morales reshapes Bolivia cabinet
24 Jan 07 |  Americas
Bolivia leader vows more reform
23 Jan 07 |  Americas
Struggle for land in Bolivia
14 Sep 06 |  Americas

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