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Letter to Maxime Bernier
Minister of Foreign Affairs

The Honourable Maxime Bernier
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ottawa ON

May 1, 2008


Dear Mr. Bernier:

We are writing to draw your attention to an imminent threat to democracy in Bolivia.

On May 4, 2008, the departmental government of Santa Cruz (Bolivia) opposed to the democratically elected government of Evo Morales, is holding an illegal referendum on autonomy. This vote has been denounced by the European Union, individual governments in Latin America and regional governmental organizations, like the Andean Pact. There has been significant violence and intimidation surrounding the referendum.

Historical background

In 2005, Evo Morales won a landslide election victory to become Bolivia’s first indigenous President. His election was a direct result of a growing movement among Bolivia’s indigenous majority that called for a redistribution of a natural resources and the recognition of indigenous self-determination and autonomy through a new constitution.

The Morales government renegotiated contracts with energy companies leading to a large increase in income for the Bolivian people, resumed a stalled agrarian reform process begun in 1953, and instituted an assembly to draft a new constitution to be voted on in a national referendum.

Legal interpretation on the right to hold a referendum

Bolivia has a Referendum Framework Law that indicates that the calling of a referendum is in the exclusive purview of the National Congress, not of a departmental governor or of a departmental electoral council. This law establishes in Article 5 that the Executive and the Legislative powers of the national government are solely empowered to call a referendum, with the Legislature requiring a two/thirds majority to obtain approval to hold one.

This legal framework is being openly flouted by the Governor of Santa Cruz in his promotion of a May 4th vote on 'autonomy'. Such a rigged poll, held under conditions of severe and unrestrained violence by secessionist forces, is not only a serious threat to the democratically elected government of Evo Morales, but it also endangers stability and peace throughout Latin America.

A wealthy elite seeks to deny a better life to Bolivia's indigenous majority

The recent constitutional reforms enacted by the National Congress seek to improve the lives of Bolivia’s indigenous poor who live primarily in the Andean region. However these reforms are bitterly opposed by a lowland elite that is fanning the flames of racism and regionalism, determined to split Bolivia rather than allow a just redistribution of resources. This elite includes a handful of large landholders in Bolivia’s lowlands who control millions of acres of under-utilized lands along with other wealthy interests intent on exerting control over lowland gas revenues, which if successful, could result in the further impoverishment of Bolivia’s Andean indigenous regions.

Canada must speak up for an indivisible Bolivia

Last summer, the Canadian government announced a new foreign policy priority on the Americas. Canada should give special consideration to Bolivia, a country located in the heart of South America - a proud nation that has elected its first indigenous-led government and a country that is seeking to overcome a legacy of racism and feudalism.

Bolivia is currently trying to settle some very difficult internal problems. We are asking you to add the respected voice of Canada to those refusing to recognize the legality of the May 4th lowlands referendum, while recognizing the legitimate aspirations of Bolivia's indigenous majority as represented by the duly elected government of Evo Morales.


Rick Arnold – Network Coordinator
Common Frontiers-Canada*
*Common Frontiers is a network of Canadian organizations from different sectors working with others in the Americas to build new trade and development alternatives.

- cced
Bob Rae
Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic

Francine Lalonde
Bloc Québécois Foreign Affairs Critic

Paul Dewar
NDP Foreign Affairs Critic