Bolivian Referendum Reveals Sharp Divisions In Bolivia on Sunday, President Evo Morales faced a recall referendum. It was the most serious challenge since he took office two years ago.
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Bolivian Referendum Reveals Sharp Divisions

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Bolivian Referendum Reveals Sharp Divisions

Bolivian Referendum Reveals Sharp Divisions

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

To Bolivia now where President Evo Morales faced a recall referendum today. It was the most serious challenge since he took office two years ago. Final results aren't in yet. Polls have just closed, but the referendum has exposed sharp divisions in Bolivia between those who support the president's socialist agenda and those who worry he's concentrating too much power in his own hands.

NPR's Juan Forero is in the capital, La Paz. Juan, what do we know about the vote so far?

JUAN FORERO: Well so far the results have not been issued. We're expecting the first exit polls very soon, but Bolivians have been expecting that Morales, who's the first indigenous leader in this mountainous country in the center of South America, would win. And so would most of the prefects. Those are governors whose jobs are also on the line. There's eight of them who Bolivians are voting for.

SEABROOK: So Morales is expected to survive then, yeah?

FORERO: Morales is expected to survive. He's been a very popular president since he first took office in 2006.

SEABROOK: Okay then, what else is at stake?

FORERO: Well the significance of today's vote is that it clearly draws a battle line between the government and its opponents. Morales will likely win, but so will powerful governors who are leading a very strong anti-government movement in the natural-resource-rich south and east of the country.

That's a problem because Morales was hoping this vote would give him a strong mandate and give momentum to his campaign which is designed to transform Bolivia into a socialist state. His opponents, though, are expected to win, as I mentioned. And the polls were showing that they'd win big.

At least some of them in some of those key states. And that means that Morales' influence wanes even more in those states that are stacked up against him already.

SEABROOK: Juan, is there any idea how the government would function if Morales stays in but the governors are all of the other party?

FORERO: Well Morales is right now extremely popular in the high Andean plains, which has very large indigenous communities. And so the concern is that he is going to lose power in those states and that he will not be recognized in those states. In other words, that he will be ruling for half the country. And the other half is in the hands of people who are basically trying to mount a movement against the president.

SEABROOK: So it sounds like race is also, also plays a role in this.

FORERO: Race does play a role. The government is very much allied with indigenous groups here; the Aymara and the Quechua, and other smaller groups. And Morales is himself is from the Aymara community. He argues that the opposition opposes him because of his race and because he speaks for the indigenous poor.

And there's certainly an element of race in all of this. Many of the opposition leaders, though, not all are of European extraction. But I believe that some analysts also say that Morales has been using the race card to sow divisions and paint his foes as racist.

SEABROOK: So Juan, remind us again what it is about Morales that has enraged his opponents so much.

FORERO: Morales hopes to inject the state into the economy, that's basically it. He's already nationalized some industries and he hopes to step those nationalizations up. He wants to implement a very broad land reform. And he's also formed tight links with President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

The opposition sees these as dangerous trends that are concentrating more and more power in Morales' hands. They basically say that he rules for his supporters and not for the rest of the country.

SEABROOK: NPR's Juan Forero in La Paz, Bolivia. Thanks Juan.

FORERO: Thank you.

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