A YEAR AFTER ELECTIONS: WHAT IS NEXT?

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06LAPAZ3401 18 December 2006 Confidencial Embassy La Paz

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 LA PAZ 003401

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/18/2016
TAGS: ECON, PGOV, PREL, BL
SUBJECT: A YEAR AFTER ELECTIONS: WHAT IS NEXT?

REF: LA PAZ 3369

Classified By: Amb. Philip S. Goldberg for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).


SUMMARY


1. (C) December 18 marks the first anniversary of the
presidential elections that brought Evo Morales to power.
The anniversary comes at a time of high political tension,
especially between the western highlands and eastern
lowlands. On December 15 more than one million people, took
to the streets in the departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando,
and Tarija to support departmental autonomy and the
two-thirds vote in the constituent assembly. Some 800,000
protesters marched in Santa Cruz alone. While President
Morales continues to enjoy unprecedented popularity in
strongholds such as El Alto, his aggressive, uncompromising
style continues to alienate large segments of the population,
as demonstrated by the enormous numbers of people who took to
the streets last week. End summary.


PROTEST ASSEMBLIES IN THE EAST


2. (SBU) On December 15 the four departments that make up
the eastern lowlands (half-moon states), Santa Cruz, Tarija,
Beni, and Pando, held large scale outdoor assemblies (cabildo
in Spanish) to support departmental autonomy and the
two-thirds vote in the constituent assembly (CA). Opposition
and government figures estimate that more than one million
people attended, including 800,000 in Santa Cruz. This
figure represents more than ten percent of Bolivia’s nine
million population. The assemblies were peaceful, with the
exception of rioting when assembly supporters outside of
Santa Cruz tried to cross a road blockade and were attacked
by MAS sympathizers.


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ASSEMBLIES AGREE TO REJECT CONSTITUTION, CREATE BOARD


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3. (SBU) All four assemblies were carefully managed by
departmental and civic leaders so as to avoid mention of
independence. The crowds were asked to reject any
constitution that was not approved article by article by a
two-thirds vote or that did not deal with departmental
autonomy as passed by the July 2, 2006 referendum. Attendees
were also asked to ratify the creation of the Bolivian
Autonomous Democratic Board (made up of Santa Cruz, Tarija,
Beni, and Pando) to facilitate and coordinate the
consolidation of autonomy. Prefects and civic leaders from
the four departments were due to hold their first board
meeting in Tarija on December 18. GOB reaction to the
assemblies has been restrained until now, with President
Morales congratulating the prefects for holding peaceful
assemblies and not speaking of independence.


ELECTION ANNIVERSARY


4. (C) December 18 marks the first anniversary of the
presidential elections that brought Evo Morales to power.
President Morales won with an historic —indeed,
unprecedented— fifty-four percent of the popular vote.
Since then, the president has proven masterful at bold public

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relations strokes directed at his voters . The presidential
decree and subsequent "nationalization" of the hydrocarbons
industry, passing of the land reform act, and the Juancito
Pinto bonus which gave every public schoolchild approximately
USD 25 cash at the end of November, were all very popular
measures. President Morales’ message of indigenous inclusion
and promises of a better future for the masses have kept his
approval rating high, sixty-two percent according to a study
released on December 15. On the negotiations side of the
ledger, Morales has been criticized for mishandling the
Huanuni mine incident which resulted in sixty deaths; his
handling of coca-growers in the Carrasco National Park has
also led to clashes.


CHALLENGES FACING MORALES


5. (C) Demands for a two-thirds article-by-article vote of
the new constitution and provincial demands for autonomy are
just two of the challenges facing the Morales administration.
President Morales has said he will nationalize the mining
sector in 2007; his mining minister has assured us that
American investors have nothing to fear. Another challenge
is maintaining the senate presidency, now held by MAS Senator
Santos Ramirez, in the January election. Salary negotiations
in February with government teachers’ and health care
workers’ unions are expected to be difficult due to the
recent large increase given to the miners. In March the GOB
faces the six-month counter-narcotics certification review,
and ATPDEA benefits are set to expire June 30, 2007 unless
the GOB can successfully negotiate a trade agreement with the
U.S.


COMMENT


6 (C) While President Morales enjoys unprecedented
popularity in strongholds such as El Alto, his aggressive,
uncompromising style continues to alienate large segments of
the population, as demonstrated by the enormous numbers of
people who took to the streets last week in the east. Until
now, Morales has been successful in maintaining the support
of his core voters through populist measures. He has been
considerably less successful maintaining support among the
middle classes, who increasingly fear the very populism that
he uses to energize his core of support. So far we have seen
no evidence to suggest that that Morales is willing to
compromise his agenda or his desire to rewrite Bolivia’s
constitution in a way that will preserve his political
position. The growing anger of the eastern provinces
however, may force him to do just that. End comment.

GOLDBERG