Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Indigenous Peoples Re-Take Bolivia - Officially

Aymara Indian women vote to ratify new pro-indigenous Constitution in Bolivia

On Sunday, voters in Bolivia backed a new constitution recognising indigenous peoples' rights and expanding public control over natural resources.The proposed Bolivian constitution grants rights to children, the disabled, migrants, and universally extends the rights to water, food, health and education.

The country's indigenous majority did not receive voting or property rights until the 1950s, and still have less than half the labour income and 40 per cent less schooling than the country's "white" population, often a mix of European and native descent. Some indigenous people live in slave-like conditions.

Key elements of the new Bolivian constitution :

RE-ELECTION — Presidents can serve two consecutive five-year terms. Current constitution permits two terms, but not consecutive. Morales could thus remain in office through 2014.

INDIGENOUS RIGHTS — Recognizes self-determination of 36 distinct Indian nations. Sets aside seats in Congress for minority indigenous groups but not for the Aymara and Quechua, who together represent the majority in Bolivia's western highlands.

LAND — Voters decide in the referendum whether future land ownership should be capped at 12,000 or 24,000 acres (5,000 or 10,000 hectares). Current holdings are grandfathered in. The state can seize land that doesn't perform a "social function" or was fraudulently obtained.

JUSTICE — Judges on Bolivia's highest court are elected rather than appointed by the president as current law provides. The state recognizes indigenous groups' practice of "community justice" based on traditional customs.

LOCAL AUTONOMY — Eastern lowland provinces are allowed to create state assemblies that control local issues, but not land reform or natural gas revenues. Indigenous groups are granted self-rule on traditional lands inside existing states. All autonomies have "equal rank."

NATURAL RESOURCES — The state controls all mineral and oil and gas reserves. Indigenous groups get control of all renewable resources on their land. Water is a fundamental human right that may not be controlled by private companies.

RELIGION — Both the Christian God and Pachamama, the Andean earth deity, are honored. Church and state are separate. Freedom of religion is guaranteed, and no mention is made of The Roman Catholic Church, a departure from the current constitution.

PRESS FREEDOM — Is guaranteed, though news media must "respect the principles of truth and responsibility."

HOMOSEXUALITY — Prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation but refers to marriage as "between a man and a woman."


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