09 April 2009

A Presidential Hunger Strike

Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, has thought up an unorthodox strategy for overriding his country's constitutional system of checks and balances. He does not control a majority in the Bolivian Senate. The opposition is thus able to block legislation that creates new political entities within existing provinces or states in areas where indigenous people form a majority of the population. Opponents predictably claim that the bill is a move by Morales, indigenous himself and allegedly impatient with a federal system that allows some parts of the country to defy him, to change the balance of power in his favor. Lacking the votes to push the bill through, Morales has decided to apply satyagraha, Mohandas Gandhi's strategy of non-violent moral intimidation. He has put himself on a hunger strike and has vowed to maintain it until the senate capitulates and empowers the indigenous people.

I have never heard of a ruler going on a hunger strike before. Usually the idea never occurs to ruling classes, but Morales rose from the bottom of Bolivian society, and is able to think outside the conventional box. Of course, I have to wonder whether he'd really put his life on the line for this bill. I'm sure the opposition will demand some independent monitoring of his condition to prevent any fakery. In any event, my hunch is that Morales hopes that the idea of his possible sacrifice will galvanize his own followers to put fresh and increased pressure on the opposition . What form that pressure might take is a mystery to me, but if that isn't the case, and Morales actually thinks that he can sway an entrenched "neoliberal" opposition by risking his health, then the naivete of simple origins is showing itself. If the opposition are the sort of oligarchs or entrepreneurs who end up opposing populist leaders like Morales, I expect that they'd be perfectly happy to watch him starve. The real question is whether the Bolivian majority will let it happen. I'll keep you posted.

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