On the 25th of January 2009 Bolivia’s controversial constitution was approved by a reported 61% of voters in a referendum.
In response to plans by Bolivian president Evo Morales to redistribute wealth from the more industrialized southern Santa Cruz Department, efforts began in May of 2008 in regions to hold referendums with the intention of becoming autonomous regions in order to escape the administration’s radicalization of the country.
To quell disruptive movements for autonomous regions within Bolivia the Congress, under the leadership of Morales, prevented referendum’s on autonomy statutes by passing a law revoking local power to initiate such referendums. Morales supporters who had been blocking the opposition party from the voting chambers while the vote took place.
By locking out opposition, Morales prevented votes on autonomy for 5 separatist regions, despite the fact that 85.6% of participating voters supported autonomy in those regions.
Some have questioned the ability of the government to effectively implement some of the populist rights enshrined in the new constitution, such as the 36 unique indigenous languages (as well as Spanish) defined as national languages which requires all departmental governments to use an indigenous language as well as Spanish.
Among some of the more controversial aspects of the constitution, including formal recognition of the “Pachamama” (Mother Earth) in a country where 85% of the citizens identify as Catholics, is a provision claiming sovern right to territorial access to the Pacific. This assertion is in obvious violation of the internationally recognized Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1904 between Chile and Bolivia made after the War of the Pacific.