Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Bolivia's eastern regions chafe under socialist rule

In Bolivia, an interesting battle is brewing between the wealthy, more European-blooded residents of the eastern states and the poorer, indigenous-blooded residents of the western part of the country. Bolivia's president is Evo Morales, a dark-skinned socialist who rose to power on the back of anti-capitalist discontent and Hugo Chávez's aggressive push to turn his corner of the world red. The struggle's latest incarnation is a series of referenda for more autonomy for the western states, whose main center is in Santa Cruz:

As presidents from Venezuela to Ecuador and Bolivia vow that they, for the very first time, are governing for the poor, the oppressed, and the indigenous, Latin America is in the midst of a power struggle. Conservative leaders say it is their new responsibility to double up efforts to stem the tide of Mr. Chávez and his leftist coalition – which they claim is not addressing the welfare of those most in need, but attempting to consolidate power and undermine liberties across the region.

"We don't want this to end here," says Carlos Pablo Klinsky, the president of the caucus of legislators in Santa Cruz who helped usher in the autonomy referendum. On Sunday, Bolivians in the Amazonian states of Beni and Pando overwhelmingly voted for more autonomy. With three victories and a fourth vote planned for June 22, Bolivia is emerging as an epicenter of a growing pushback against Latin America's left.

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