Today's referendum on
Across the country, 3.8 million voters went to the polls. While the prefects of eastern departments including
Throughout the day of voting, we walked around to various neighborhoods in the city to interview people about their thoughts on the new constitution. Opinion was mixed in all areas of the city, but divisions of class and ethnicity were clear among the voters we talked to. We found that residents of wealthier central neighborhoods were more likely to be voting 'No' for a variety of reasons, while residents of more peripheral, working class neighborhoods in the city hills were more vocal in their support for the new constitution and the government itself.
What follows is a series of observations and interviews from various polling places in
Maria Sales participated in the electoral process by selling tucumanas, deep fried meat and potato dumplings, outside one polling station in La Paz. Even though her parents are Bolivian and she is of age, she can't vote, as she was born in Argentina and hasn't done the paperwork to get her identity card. "I would vote yes, though," she says. "I like what the government is doing."
Sandra Escobar, a fashionably dressed young woman who works in communication, is outraged about organization of the voting in central
Escobar doesn't support the Constitution because she "can't support such an ignoble thing. [Vice president] Garcia Linera is from the Shining Path, he's a terrorist, and Evo makes people think he's indigenous, but he can't even speak [the indigenous language] Quechua." When asked about who might succeed Morales, she says "They've killed people who were capable. This is the worst kind of dictatorship."
Walter Suarez studies information technology at the University. "I think that what they're [the government] doing is just. I support the new constitution because I think that the old one was antiquated in terms of social and cultural justice, and included a lot of discrimination." Suarez doesn't believe that Morales could win again in elections held this December. "It would be very hard for him to win - people here get tired of leaders quickly, but I don't know who could succeed him."
Inside the walls of the school, youth and adults played soccer and basketball on a field and court while other dawdled on their way out of the polls to enjoy the sunny morning, and vendors took advantage of the heat to hawk soda and ice cream.
Juan Carlos Vega, owner of a private business, blue shirt, sunglasses, went to vote along with his son and dog, and said, "As a Bolivian and a worker, I support the new constitution because, like all Bolivians, I am concerned about the welfare of everyone in the country. We need change for our children. They will see the results of the vote we are casting today."
Roberto Calane, who works at an insurance company in La Paz, said, "I voted for the "No" because the new constitution is very ambiguous. Therefore, whoever is in charge of the government can take advantage of this ambiguity, and manipulate, interpret the constitution to benefit their interests. Another problem is that the leaders of the social organizations have a big role in making the decisions, but the people don't. The process of the constituent assembly was very politicized, and didn't consider the opinions of the Bolivian people. The constitution should have been discussed more, but it was not."
Silvia Machicado, an architect, wearing black sunglasses with thick lenses, a winter coat trimmed with fake black fur, said she voted for the new constitution, but lamented "the lack of awareness among many Bolivians about what is in the new constitution because they haven't taken the time to read it. There is a lack of information, and so people believe the lies in the media. Many people didn't theorize, didn't discuss the contents of the constitution. I, however, support the new constitution, though it's not perfect, and I believe we all need to work hard to make sure the changes in the constitution come to have an impact in society."
Ivan Murillo, still sweating from a recent run, is an engineer, and was wearing a blue shirt and sunglasses before heading in to vote. He said, "There are going to be a lot of people who don't support the constitution, partly because of the process in which it was written. It was written too fast, and without enough preparation. There was also a lot of tension, and opposition from people who didn't want a new constitution, and so the people that wrote it were under too much pressure from the opposition. And when you're under pressure you don't do things that well. There is still a lot of work to be done here in
Oscar Luizaga, a member of the Fearless Movement party wore a neon green (the colors of his party) hat, and armband. He said, "I support the new constitution within this process of change from the traditional political parties that caused many problems for the population, looting our natural resources and centralizing power in just a few hands. But now we are at an important point of departure from this way of governing, and can now transform the country. Of the new constitution, I consider the key changed points to be regarding equality among all people, selling our raw materials for just prices, improving the management of our natural resources, decentralizing the power and improving education, healthcare and government administration." He continued,"it will be hard for the 'Yes' to win here in the center of
Victor Cardenas sells soda and candy in a small hexagonal kiosk on the corner of the Plaza Sucre. Like all Sundays, today the plaza is surrounded by vendors selling grilled meat, fried pork, ice cream and knick knacks. At noon, Cardenas hasn't voted yet, but he plans to vote blank. "They're all the same to me," he says, "all businessmen and politicians." Registered voters who don't vote are fined in
Luz Barrientos, retired teacher, in front of juice stand: "We are also not in agreement with the distance established in the constitution between the Catholic church and the government. They speak of their ancestors, but our ancestors brought Catholicism to
Xiomara Santa Cruz, a student of architecture in a bright pink shirt, said, "For me, the new constitution needs to be revised, it is too long and the vocabulary is too hard to understand, so a lot of people don't understand what it says. Also, not everyone had a chance to participate in the constituent assembly, and those who did, did it only for their own interests. So the constitution is representative of only a few people."
Waldo Valle, an engineer, said, "The constitution was poorly written, incoherent, and simply brought over and copied from another country -
Max Paredes is a bustling market neighborhood in the northern hills above the city center. Mary sells wallets and plastic slips to cover voter IDs outside a Max Paredes precinct. She said people had been voting all day, but that the 'No' would win in the center, but in this neighborhood the 'Yes' would win. We asked why this difference existed, and she said, "Because of our indigenous background, our race, that's why we support this government."
Juan Jose Arce and Manual Huayao Yumani stand in a busy market intersection wearing yellow vests that identify them as purveyors of public cell phones for calls made in the street. They aren't party members of the MAS, but say that they "support change," and feel included in the government. "We are going to win! 100 percent!" jokes Yumani. Juan Jose Arce said, "We support the new constitution and the change it will bring. We are poor people, and we hope the new constitution will be in favor of all poor people. We also think that everyone should have a right to land and a house, and that the government should help all people, not just a few."
Juan Carlos Flore, a shoeshiner with a mask over his face, said, "I support the government and the new constitution because it's not the earlier ones. Now we have change for everyone, not just for the rich."
Lydia Poma, owns her own shop, selling kitchenware, and voted for the new constitution. "I like the new constitution because it allow the indigenous people of this country to rise up. I also like the fact that we are being asked about the new limit to land ownership. I don't like the autonomy that would be given to civic groups in Santa Cruz and other departments, because for them, autonomy means the same old economic and political problems all over again - meaning more wealth for them and not for anyone else."
Stay tuned for more reports and analysis on the new constitution.
April Howard is a instructor of Latin American Studies at SUNY-Plattsburgh University, and an editor of UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America. Email April.M.Howard(at)gmail(dot)com
Benjamin Dangl is currently based in Bolivia, and is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America. Email Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com