Bolivians recently passed a referendum on a new constitution which would empower the indigenous population of the country. Bolivian President
Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian and the first indigenous person ever to serve in the highest office of a South American country told crowds that had gathered in front of the presidential palace in La Paz, "The colonial state ends here. Here we begin to reach true equality for all Bolivians."
Support for Morales has been high, especially in the Western Highlands, home to large portions of the indigenous population of Bolivia. But opposition has been strong and vocal, and the land reforms and tighter state control of the economy are guaranteed to further the polarization already evident in the country.
Though the referendums were passed by a 60% approval margin, many Bolivians of European or mixed-race descent rejected the new constitution and the referendum was badly defeated in the opposition strongholds of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni and Pando.
Regardless of opposition, the changes mark a new era of equality for the historically marginalized indigenous community. Only 50 years ago, Aymar and Quechua were not even allowed to walk in the central square of La Paz, and now one of them is president.
"A new era is starting now in which indigenous people will be the
citizens of this country. I think this is the most important part of
this constitution," Elisa Canqui, a representative of one of the Indian
communities in La Paz told the BBC.
Under the new constitution:
- Mr Morales will be able to run for re-election in Dec. 2009
- Indigenous rights will be guaranteed.
- Power will be decentralized, and four levels of autonomy will define the government: departmental, regional, municipal and indigenous
- State control over key economic sectors, such as natural gas fields, will be solidified.
- Indigenous systems of justice will attain the same
status as official justice system.
- There will be a new limit on land ownership more than 10,000 acres.