Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bolivians Ratify New Constitution Giving More Rights to Indigenous Peoples

27 January 2009

Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


With early returns showing that 60 per cent of the people of Bolivia had voted in favour of Sunday's historic referendum, the country's Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations said today that Bolivians had endorsed a new Constitution that gave greater voice to long-marginalized indigenous groups and "expanded, extended and deepened" democracy to everyone in the county.

Speaking to reporters at United Nations Headquarters this morning, Pablo Solón-Romero said that, for the first time in Bolivia's history, a political Constitution had been put before all the people, who had been able to not only vote on the text, but participate in its drafting. That exercise had reversed centuries of exclusion, as there had been very little public participation –- and no input from the country's indigenous majority -- in Bolivia's 18 constitutional processes since 1825.

"The new Constitution expands, extends and deepens the rights of all Bolivians, especially indigenous people and other groups", that had been historically discriminated against, said Mr. Solón-Romero, noting that the new charter drew on the language of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted two years ago by the General Assembly.

Among other things, Bolivia's new Constitution guaranteed ownership of natural resources, as well as ownership of State enterprises by the Bolivian people "to prevent the recurrence of any processes of privatization of State corporations and natural resources that we saw over the past 25 years", he said.

Further, the new Constitution brought together the concept of departmental, municipal and indigenous autonomy with a vision of integration and unity, he continued. The Constitution also placed limits on the extent of land ownership and set up what he called a "pluralistic property regime" that included private, State and communally held property.

Overall, the positive outcome reflected the will of the people to strengthen the rule of law, democracy, unity and justice on an increasingly inclusive basis. "We seek to have the will of the majority recognized and want to move towards the implementation of this new constitutional text in a wide-ranging manner with the participation and initiative of all," he said, stressing that such implementation would be based on respect for Bolivia's traditional legal standards.

He welcomed the participation of the team of international observes who had monitored the vote, and appealed to the international community to continue to work with his Government to strengthen the rule of law and democracy in Bolivia, Latin America and throughout the world.

Responding to questions about criticism of the new Constitution, including that there were provisions which decreed that all people "opposing national unity" were guilty of treason, Mr. Solón-Romero said such accusations were false. Nothing in the Constitution stipulated anything like that. At the same time, the Bolivian State was working to ensure unity, so no actions could be taken that undermined State unity or the spirit of the Constitution.

He also dismissed charges that the Constitution gave President Evo Morales the power to "dissolve Congress at will". The current text maintained the country's political and legislative structure, as well as the methods by which representatives and senators were elected. One key change was that the Constitution now guaranteed indigenous seats in the legislature to ensure the participation of such stakeholders in the country's decision-making processes. "Many lies have been told regarding double participation by indigenous representatives," he said, stressing that each citizen would have one vote.

He said that political interest groups might have been fomenting such accusations, largely because of upcoming elections in the country. Indeed, the political opposition to the new Constitution and the changes it would set in motion remained "ferocious", even though several key concerns -– including departmental autonomy -– had been included in the referendum. The opposition was aiming to destabilize the electoral landscape to gain political clout against the current Bolivian Government ahead of the December 2009 ballot, he said.

To questions about Government officials' comments regarding the behaviour of journalists and press freedom in Bolivia, he said President Morales had expressed his opinion that, often, the actions of the press appeared to be guided more by the interests of the owners of media corporations than the interests of journalism.

"This is a serious problem," he continued, noting that even a quick survey of the past few years would reveal that statements from the opposition were amplified and featured more often by the press corps, so that it appeared to be much greater than the opposition actually seated in Parliament. Bolivia, nevertheless, believed the media played an essential role, but journalists must tell the truth and must be fair and independent.

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For information media • not an official record

Public Domain Material

Native Rights News is making this material from the UN Department of Public Information available in accordance with the Fair Use Doctrine codified at Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information. Distribution of this material is for research and educational purposes that will promote social and economic justice and benefit society.

Posted By Alliance for Indigenous Rights to Native Rights News at 1/28/2009 07:17:00 AM

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