John Enders, Chronicle Foreign Service, E-mail: email@example.com
(07-26) 04:00 PDT Sucre, Bolivia -- Savina Cuellar, the nation's only female governor, is one of President Evo Morales' most unlikely critics.
A Quechua Indian who grew up herding sheep and pigs in the highlands, she is chief executive of Chuquisaca Department and a member of the ruling Movement Toward Socialism party, or MAS. She accuses Morales of governing with help from Cuba and Venezuela, and forgetting residents who live outside the capital of La Paz and the highlands region - the president's main areas of support.
"He (Morales) hasn't respected the Constitution. He hasn't respected the laws," she said.
Since taking office three years ago, Bolivia's first indigenous president has been the target of numerous conservative critics in the resource-rich eastern lowlands, home to many Bolivians of European and mixed descent. This includes bankers, ranchers, investors, legislators and media moguls, who are irate over a rewritten Constitution approved by referendum in January that grants more rights to the nation's 5 million indigenous inhabitants, caps private property and gives the government more control over the economy and natural resources.
But critics also come from a most surprising group - other indigenous leaders.
At least four indigenous politicians have announced that they will run against Morales in national elections scheduled for Dec. 6. They include: Rene Joaquino, the Quechua mayor of the city of Potosi; Alejo Velez, a Quechua leader in the city of Cochabamba; Roman Loayza, a MAS co-founder, and former Vice President Victor Hugo Cardenas, an Aymara.
These politicians say Morales has betrayed his rural roots by focusing more on consolidating power and allowing his government to be dominated by urban socialists than creating jobs in rural areas, where 80 percent still live in poverty.
They are also angry that Morales cut back cooperation with the United States on fighting the drug trade, which sparked Washington to end Bolivia's preferential trade status and has deeply hurt indigenous clothing and artisan manufacturers.
"The government is not fulfilling the political goals that brought it to power," said Loayza.
Velez says Morales favors Aymaras over other indigenous groups, and argues the new Constitution is dividing the country's disparate groups. "He wants to return our people to something that existed 600 years ago, but he's trying to relive something idealized that never existed," he said.
Neither Morales nor any of his senior ministers responded to repeated requests for interviews for this story. But MAS legislator Jorge Silva recently told reporters that the government recognizes that the opposition will use "well-known indigenous figures to divide and weaken Morales."
Morales supporters say he remains popular among the majority of indigenous residents for fulfilling several campaign promises, including nationalizing natural resources, integrating the indigenous majority into the power structure for the first time, and doling out payments to poor families and pregnant women to keep their children nourished and in school. Since his opposition remains highly splintered, Morales is expected to win in December.
MAS leaders hope Morales will not only win re-election - the new Constitution allows him to stand for another five-year term - but that the party will capture two-thirds of congressional seats, giving them power to amend the Constitution to allow Morales to run for a third term.
Some analysts say two indigenous politicians could constitute the strongest ticket to oppose Morales in December: Cardenas and Cuellar. To undermine her power base, the federal government recently withheld important revenue-sharing funds for her department, according to news reports and the governor's office.
Cardenas, who was elected vice president in 1993, is the founder of the Revolutionary Liberation Movement Tupac Katari, named for an Aymara rebel who led Indian forces against the Spanish in 1781. Cardenas campaigned against the new Constitution because he believes it does not sufficiently protect private property and individual rights, and he accuses the government of financial mismanagement and failing to clean up Bolivia's electoral registration system.
In April, Jose Luis Exeni, president of the national electoral court, discovered 700,000 suspect voter registrations, including some who were long dead. Electoral Court officials say they will install a computerized registration system by December.
Cardenas also blames Morales for deepening racial, social and economic divisions by his strident condemnation of opponents. "The government does not accept dissident opinion. Today, if you criticize the government you are declared an enemy," he said.
Indigenous women from El Alto have marched through the streets of La Paz, chanting, "Death to the traitor Savina Cuellar." In March, several hundred MAS supporters attacked the Cardenas family home near Lake Titicaca, ransacking and attempting to burn it down. They also called him a traitor for campaigning against the referendum. His wife, Lydia, was hospitalized with light injuries.
Some analysts agree that Cardenas will have a tough time unifying a disparate and often rowdy opposition. He must also overcome accusations that, by serving in the previous white-dominated government of former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, he "sold out."
But others say Cardenas and other indigenous candidates have demonstrated a clear intention to unite the country and govern for the poor and dispossessed.
"The participation of indigenous candidates in the December presidential elections will worry President Morales and the government, because he won't be able to demonize them for being candidates of the oligarchy or neo-liberals," said Jorge Crespo, a former ambassador to the United States.
Some 36 indigenous groups comprise approximately 5 million of Bolivia's nearly 10 million inhabitants.
The two largest groups are the Quechuas, who speak the language of the ancient Incas, and the Aymaras, who have maintained a separate culture for hundreds of years. The third-largest group - the Guarani - live in the southeastern lowland region and are not a political force.
Before the Inca conquest, several Aymara subgroups maintained independently governed areas and revolted against their rulers on a regular basis. Quechuas have been more open to integrating into dominant Spanish society, while Aymaras have been reluctant to mix with outsiders.
President Evo Morales' power base is made up mostly of Aymaras of the highland plains and inhabitants of the coca-growing Chapare region near Cochabamba, where he worked as a union leader.
Nevertheless, when their interests coincide, the Quechuas and Aymaras work together. In 2005, they helped elect Morales, the nation's first indigenous president.