STALEMATE IN BOLIVIA
Today's referendum on Evo Morales's Presidency is likely to tell us three things: (a) that the majority of Bolivians support him, (b) that a sizeable proportion of wealthy, right-wing governors in the East will do anything to stop his progressive politics in their tracks, and (c) as a result, Bolivia is basically ungovernable.
Anybody who keeps one eye on Bolivian affairs will be aware of these already. None of them is especially surprising. After all, for nearly 200 years Bolivia was governed by a European, capitalist elite which generated profits and maintained power by subjugating Bolivia's indigenous majority. Racism is rife, and for some white Bolivians in the east having a native Andean President is beyond the pale.
Morales has called the referendum midway through his Presidency to regain the initiative. In the last six months, four eastern provinces have voted yes to autonomy from the national government. Autonomy would allow the Media Luna (the "half moon" provinces of the East - Santa Cruz, Beni, Tarija and Trinidad - where gigantic plots of land are owned by a few wealthy families) to evade some of Morales's more radical reforms, especially the nationalisation of oil and the redistribution of its revenues. The autonomy votes have no legal authority, but they are politically important since they add a veneer of legitimacy to the rejection of democracy.
Whether or not Morales and his Vice-President win (polls predict they will), and whether or not the opposition governers in the East get re-elected (as is almost certain), the battle for Bolivia will remain at a stalemate. Morales cannot push forward his constitutional reforms without the agreement of the Senate, and some of Morales's fiercest opponents seem determined to bring the country to a standstill so that they can force Morales out and regain power.
Then again, the opposition cannot achieve much without regional backing. Whoever controls Bolivia's subsoil resources in the Media Luna needs allies in Brazil and Argentina, the continent's two biggest markets. Presidents Lula and Kirchner have developed strong ties to Morales; it would be political suicide for them to change course and start doing deals with the right-wingers.
So Morales's darkest forecast - that he may lose the referendum and return to his coca farm - may yet come true. But his bedrock supporters - the social movements who voted him in in 2004 - will not let the right back into power without a very big fight. The people from the altiplano have been denied a voice for 500 years - it is unlikely they will give it up after less than four years. Whatever the result of today's referendum, the struggle for Bolivia will continue, and for the first time in its history the forces of global capital may have found their match.