Bolivians Vote for Constitutional Rights for Indigenous Peoples

From the NYTs:

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Bolivian voters embraced a new constitution Sunday that promises more power for the long-suffering indigenous majority and grants leftist President Evo Morales a shot at remaining in office through 2014.

The charter passed easily in a country where many can still recall when Indians were forbidden to vote. But its sometimes vague wording and resistance from Bolivia’s mestizo and European-descended minority foreshadows more political turmoil in an Andean nation polarized by race and class.

Morales, Bolivia’s first Indian president, says the charter will ”decolonize” South America’s poorest country by recovering indigenous values lost under centuries of oppression dating back to the Spanish conquest.

Bolivia’s Aymara, Quechua, Guarani and dozens of other indigenous groups only won the right to vote in 1952, when a revolution broke up the large haciendas on which they had lived as peons for generations.

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Bolivian President Evo Morales Marching for Indigenous Rights

From the NYTs:

President Evo Morales led more than 100,000 supporters on a march into the Bolivian capital, La Paz, to demand that Congress call a nationwide vote on a new constitution empowering the country’s long-oppressed indigenous majority.

Larry Cata Backer on Indigenous Peoples, Democracy, and Bolivian Constitutional Reform

From Larry’s great blog, Law at the End of the Day, an excerpt from “Constitutionalism and Indigenous Peoples in the Bolivian Constitution“:

One of the more important wrinkles in this emerging pattern of relationships between the individual and the state involves the constitution of collectives as persons, with rights similar to those available to natural persons. Collective person hood reworks the dynamics of democracy and the constitution of government in a number of respects. In Latin America especially that reinvestment has been focused on the reconstitution of indigenous peoples with political power–not as individuals all belonging to a particular community–but as members of a political collective with an authority greater than any individual, to participate in the political life of states. In the proposed Bolivian constitution, one sees a great example of the progression of state organization along those lines. Bolivians Approve Draft Charter BBC News, Dec. 9, 2007. It is a harbinger of the future and a taste of the tension that constitutionalism will face–even as a formal matter–between the grounding of power in the individual and its exercise only indirectly through collectives sprung up for the purpose of mediating power between the individual and the state. The result will create a greater role for individuals as the fetishes of democratic organization even as individual power increasingly shifts elsewhere.

The introduction of collective rights into constitutional law is a bit of shake-up from the notion of individualism in the American and many other Western constitutions. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.