Wed, May 07, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Bolivian state hails referendum win on greater autonomy

AP , SANTA CRUZ, BOLIVIA

Residents of Bolivia’s wealthiest state on Monday welcomed a landslide vote for greater autonomy as a historic shift, even as the Andean nation’s long-standing political battles remained unresolved.

Sunday’s referendum on greater independence from Bolivia’s central government seemed at times more like a hometown pep rally than a contested ballot. It was organized by Santa Cruz’s pro-autonomy state government, monitored by few international observers and boycotted by supporters of Bolivian President Evo Morales. And what self-rule may eventually look like remains far from clear.

“Obviously, it’s very important on a symbolic level. But that’s the only level where Bolivia’s political fight is currently taking place,” said Fernando Molina, editor of the Bolivian newsweekly Pulso. “To convert [the autonomy declaration] to reality will be a big stretch.”

The referendum’s result — early returns show that more than 80 percent of Santa Cruz voters embraced the autonomy measure — has bolstered Bolivia’s decentralization movement. The nation is bitterly divided between a pro-indigenous central government with a socialist vision and a handful of wealthier states where mixed-race governments back pro-market policies.

Three eastern states neighboring Santa Cruz will hold similar autonomy votes next month, and two others are considering a similar move.

Morales has called for negotiations with the states to save the draft constitution. But pro-autonomy groups refused to recognize its framework.

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