Bolivia recognizes the autonomy of indigenous peoples

The Government’s latest move has been prompted by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples · In some affluent areas of eastern Bolivia there are plans for a referendum on the statutes of departments and calls for complete decentralization.

The Government headed by Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first ever pro-indigenous President, announced last Friday that it intends to officially recognize “indigenous autonomy”, thereby ratifying the law passed on 7 November 2007 which stipulates that “all indigenous peoples have the right to autonomy or self-government regarding internal and local issues, as well as the economic means to finance their autonomous functions”. Vice-President Álvaro García Linera said that the necessary resources would be made available for an “immediate” start to the process.

During a press conference, García Linera sent a clear warning to those departmental governors (prefects) and landowners calling for devolution in four departments in the east of the country. The Government believes that landowners and businessmen in the departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija, which are the richest and have the lowest proportion of indigenous people, want complete decentralization in order to evade Morales’ pro-indigenous policies.

The prefects of the four departments plan to hold a popular consultation to approve the new statutes of autonomy. The Government has declared that such a referendum would be illegal because Bolivia’s constitution does not allow for devolution, and some indigenous groups have said they will boycott the vote.

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