Bolivia Sets Vote on New Constitution
By DAN KEANE – 16 hours ago
LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) -- A bitterly divided Bolivian Congress on Thursday approved a national vote on President Evo Morales' proposed constitution, which would grant greater political power to Bolivia's long-oppressed indigenous groups.
(left) Supporters of Bolivia's President Evo Morales wait outside Bolivia's National Congress in La Paz, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2008, while lawmakers from Morales' party hold a session to decide a referendum that will approve or not the new country's Constitution proposed by Morales' government. The lawmakers finally passed the referendum Thursday night, closing two months of failed negotiations with opposition groups that refuse to recognize the new framework.(AP Photo/ Juan Karita)
Lawmakers from Morales' Movement Toward Socialism party passed the referendum in a raucous session, thwarting opposition groups that last year walked out on the constitutional assembly and now refuse to recognize the framework.
Most opposition lawmakers were blocked from attending Thursday's session by a crowd of flag-waving Morales supporters and miners in hardhats who seized the plaza outside the congressional building.
(left) Supporters of Bolivia's President Evo Morales celebrate in front of Bolivia's National Congress in La Paz, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2008. Bolivian lawmakers from Morales' party passed the referendum Thursday night in a raucous session, effectively closing two months of failed negotiations with opposition groups that refuse to recognize the new framework.(AP Photo/ Juan Karita)
If approved by voters, Morales' constitution would outline a detailed bill of rights and considerable autonomy for the country's 36 indigenous groups, long shut out of power by the country's white elite.
Opposition leaders say the charter places Indians over the rest of the population and fails to address demands for autonomy from four eastern states, which are fighting Morales' land redistribution plan and want to keep more of the region's gas revenues.
Morales has called for a May 4 referendum -- the same day the eastern state of Santa Cruz, home to his fiercest opposition, will hold a vote on a proposal to declare autonomy. Three other opposition-controlled eastern states are expected to follow suit later in the year.
Congress also called for a national vote on whether a clause in the proposed constitution should cap land ownership at 12,350 acres or 24,700 acres. Bolivia currently has no limit on land ownership, but Morales' ambitious agrarian reform seeks to seize idle or fraudulently obtained property and redistribute it to the poor.