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Four Bolivian regions declare autonomy from government

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/americas/12/15/bolivia.unrest/index.html Sat December 15, 2007 Four Bolivian regions declare autonomy from government * Story
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 16, 2007

      Sat December 15, 2007

      Four Bolivian regions declare autonomy from government

      * Story Highlights
      * The natural-gas-rich districts seek to distance
      themselves from Bolivia's constitution
      * Constitution calls for heavier taxes on the
      regions to help finance social programs
      * AP: "We won't permit Bolivia to be divided,"
      President Evo Morales warns
      * Pro-Morales groups: Richer regions want to
      control Bolivia's natural resources

      (CNN) -- Tensions were rising in Bolivia on Saturday
      as members of the country's four highest natural
      gas-producing regions declared autonomy from the
      central government.

      Thousands waved the Santa Cruz region's
      green-and-white flags in the streets as council
      members of the Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni and Pando
      districts made the public announcement.

      The officials displayed a green-bound document
      containing a set of statutes paving the way to a
      permanent separation from the Bolivian government.

      Council representatives vowed to legitimize the
      so-called autonomy statutes through a referendum that
      would legally separate the natural-gas rich districts
      from President Evo Morales' government.

      The move also aims to separate the states from
      Bolivia's new constitution, which calls for, among
      other things, a heavier taxation on the four regions
      to help finance more social programs.

      "The statutes will be ratified," said Oscar Ortiz,
      Santa Cruz senator. "With a public referendum, the
      people of our region will legitimize their will."

      About 35 percent of Bolivia's 9.5 million people live
      in the four states, according to The Associated Press.

      In the meantime, Bolivian network ATV showed what
      appeared to be armed, pro-government protesters
      creating blockades around the town of Yapacani, on the
      outskirts of Santa Cruz.

      Some indigenous pro-Morales groups claim Bolivia's
      richer, white-ruled Eastern regions want to control
      the country's natural resources. Bolivia has South
      America's second-largest natural gas reserves, behind
      Venezuela. Most of it is produced in the Eastern
      regions.Video Watch Bolivian leader speak out ยป

      In the capital city La Paz on Saturday, Morales
      addressed thousands of flag-waving supporters in the
      Plaza Murillo, defending the new constitution and
      lashing out against what he called the racist policies
      of Bolivia's elite.

      "They must give back the money they took from us," he
      told a cheering crowd, which included members of the
      Quechua and Aymara tribes. "We will retroactively
      investigate all the big fortunes, and the corrupt are
      now trembling with fear."

      Morales also cautioned those who he said want a "a
      division, a coup d'etat," the AP reported.

      "We won't permit Bolivia to be divided," he warned.

      Morales -- who belongs to the Aymara indigenous group
      -- nationalized the country's oil and natural gas
      reserves when he took power in 2006, creating what
      became known as the "gas wars."

      Running on a platform of redistribution of wealth
      among Bolivia's poor, Morales has defied countries
      such as Brazil and the United States for the
      exploration of Bolivia's natural reserves.

      He has also protested the country's racial divide.

      "Bolivia is a nation among nations," he said Saturday,
      referring to the diversity of Indian nations whose
      traditions date back centuries.

      "We are not a country of blue-eyed, green-eyed folks
      only. It's a plurinational country made of
      dark-skinned and white-skinned. This new constitution
      will unite us."
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