Bolivians strongly back Morales in referendum

A bold gamble by President Evo Morales to break a political deadlock and re-energise his leftist revolution paid off as Bolivia's voters resoundingly endorsed him in a recall referendum.

More than 63 per cent of voters in this bitterly divided Andean nation ratified the mandate of Bolivia's first indigenous leader and his vice president, Alvaro Garcia, in yesterday's vote, according to partial unofficial results.

Eight of the country's nine governors were also subject to recall — and two Morales foes were among the three ousted, according to a private tally of votes from 1,000 of the country's 22,700 polling stations.

Morales had sought the referendum to try to topple governors who have frustrated his bid to improve the plight of Bolivia's long-suppressed indigenous majority, which is concentrated in the country's barren western highlands.

His leftist agenda has met with bitter opposition in the landlocked country's unabashedly capitalistic east, where protesters who accuse him of being a lackey of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez blockaded airports last week to keep Morales and his ministers from touching down for campaign visits.

All four governors there easily survived Sunday's plebiscite, as expected.

But Morales did surprisingly well in those states. In one, Pando, he was endorsed by 51 percent of voters, while he won 40 percent approval or better in the other three, according to the vote tally by the Ipsos-Apoyo firm for the ATB television network.

First official returns representing a fifth of the vote and posted on the national electoral court's Web site early Monday showed Morales confirmed in his job with 52 percent. Rural areas where Morales has greater support tend to report more slowly than cities.

"What happened today is important not only for Bolivians but for all Latin Americans," Morales told several thousand cheering supporters Sunday night from the balcony of the presidential palace in La Paz. "I dedicate this victory to all the revolutionaries in the world."

As supporters chanted "firm hand," urging him to get tough with his lowland rivals, Morales instead extended them a hand. He called on all the country's governors to work with him "for the unity of all Bolivians" — especially in fighting extreme poverty.

The 53.7 percent that Morales received in winning office in December 2005 had been the previous best electoral showing for a Bolivian leader.

The Aymara politician has since nationalized the country's natural gas fields and main telephone company, but the opposition has stymied his attempts to seize fallow eastern lands from wealthy estate holders and give them to impoverished Indians.

Morales has also been unable to get a date set for a nationwide vote on a new constitution that would give indigenous groups more power and allow him to be re-elected to a second five-year term. The opposition walked out of the constituent assembly that wrote the document.

On Sunday, Morales gained with the defeat of opposition governors in the highland province of La Paz and in Cochabamba, seat of his coca-growers movement. An allied governor was ousted in the highlands province of Oruro.

Morales can now name interim governors pending provincial elections.

But that doesn't mean Bolivia is entering a new era of reconciliation.

Cochabamba Gov. Manfred Reyes, a conservative three-time presidential candidate, refused to step down, calling the referendum unconstitutional. Bloody street clashes broke out in the province last year when Morales supporters tried to oust Reyes.

And Gov. Ruben Costas of Santa Cruz, the soy-growing lowland center of resistance to Morales, proclaimed Sunday's outcome "a defeat for centralism." He said his province would proceed with creating its own police force and call elections for a provincial legislature.

Santa Cruz was the first of four provinces including Beni, Tarija and Pando to declare themselves autonomous this year in what have so far been largely symbolic moves.

Last week, the mayor of its eponymous capital, Percy Fernandez, last week called on the military to overthrow Morales' "useless government."

The wealthier eastern provinces have resisted Morales' insistence that the central government control energy profits and decide how to distribute them.

Natural gas and precious metals revenues have boomed since Morales nationalized the gas fields in 2006 and renegotiated extraction contracts.

Bolivia now keeps about 85 percent of these profits, and combined with rising global energy and mineral prices, exports have nearly doubled since 2005 to US$4.7 billion last year.

Chavez personally called and congratulated Morales on Sunday night and would "continue to accompany (his) democratic and cultural revolution," Venezuela's foreign minister said in Caracas.

Oil-rich Venezuela has given Bolivia tens of millions of dollars and Morales' government announced Saturday that Venezuela and Iran were providing loans totaling up to US$230 million to help it build two state-owned cement plants in the Andean highlands.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Recruitment Genius: PA

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A PA is required to join a leading provider of...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert