Bolivia Declares The Right Of Indigenous People To Govern Themselves

The Bolivian government has begun implementing provisions outlined in the new constitution that give indigenous people the chance to govern themselves.

President Evo Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous leader, enacted a decree setting out the conditions for Indian communities to hold votes on autonomy.

These referendums will take place in December, alongside presidential and parliamentary elections.

The new charter was bitterly opposed by Bolivia's traditional elite.

On Sunday, the provisions allowing for votes on indigenous autonomy were presented in a special event in the eastern region of Santa Cruz.

In Bolivia, about 2.5 million people speak Quechua, 2.1 million speak Aymara, while Guaraní is only spoken by a few hundred thousand people. Also there are 36 recognized cultures and languages in the country. Although there are no official documents written in these languages, Quechua and Aymara were historically only ever oral languages until fragmented modern attempts at transcription and written standardization. Radio and some television in Quechua and Aymara is produced. However, the constitutional reform in 1997 for the first time recognized Bolivia as a multilingual, pluri-ethnic society and introduced education reform. In 2005, for the first time in the country's history, an indigenous descendant Aymara, Evo Morales, was elected as President.

Morales began work on his “indigenous autonomy” policy which he launched in the eastern lowlands department on 3 August 2009, making Bolivia the first country in the history of South America to declare the right of indigenous people to govern themselves. Speaking in Santa Cruz Department, the President called it "a historic day for the peasant and indigenous movement", saying that he might make errors but he would "never betray the fight started by our ancestors and the fight of the Bolivian people". A vote on further autonomy will take place in referendums which are expected to be held in December 2009. The issue has divided the country.

Peasant and indigenous communities will be entitled to vote for more autonomy in referendums next December.

The provisions are contained in a constitution passed earlier this year. The new charter was bitterly opposed by Bolivia's traditional elite.

On Sunday, the provisions allowing for indigenous autonomy were presented in a special event in the eastern region of Santa Cruz.

Morales said it was “a historic day for the peasant and indigenous movement”.