Bolivia Vs. Bolivia

The big gambles going on in Bolivia's governance.

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Bolivia's opposition governors are continuing talks with President Evo Morales in an attempt to resolve the country's political deadlock, but this is pageantry. The governors aren't fooled. Morales has made it clear he hopes to centralize political and economic authority under radical socialist rule, and key to that plan is acquiring the power and wealth of Bolivia's eastern prefects.

Talks aside, things can only get worse before they get better—and that's in good measure what Morales's foes are hoping for.

To stave off a referendum on a new socialist constitution this year (Bolivian law permits only one referendum a year), the opposition was forced to compromise with Morales on a different one, asking voters if they approve of both Morales and their governors. The results were as one might expect in a sharply divided country: Outside of the restive prefects, the president won resoundingly; in the opposition prefects, the governors mostly won (two lost the popular vote and will be replaced with a Morales-friendly stooge).

The sharply divided results should make clear that now's not the time for a new constitution, but then social warfare—and not social cohesion—has always been Morales' goal. Come next year, Bolivians will no doubt be asked to approve a new constitution conferring sweeping powers to Morales.

Opposition leaders are hoping that political pressure coupled with rising food prices and a deteriorating economy will turn Bolivians against Morales. It's a big gamble: The economy may not worsen enough, and, as his own rise has shown, Morales is adept at turning the have-nots against the haves. Lastly, of course, the oil-rich Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has shown he can be generous propping up friends in his bid to become South America's new Castro.

Things could get extremely ugly in Bolivia soon.