| LA PAZ
LA PAZ Jan 17 In a sign of growing opposition
to leftist President Evo Morales, senior Bolivian judges said
his proposed new constitution is illegal and told him it must
be redone if he hopes to avoid a deeper political crisis.
The judges' letter, released late on Wednesday, puts
political pressure on a separate court, the constitutional
tribunal, which will have the ultimate say on the proposed
charter. The judges' statement was the latest sign that Morales
lacks broad support and faces growing pressure to negotiate
with the opposition.
Morales, the Andean country's first indigenous leader, says
the draft constitution will help redress centuries of
domination by a European-descended elite. But he has run into
powerful resistance from opposition governors in Bolivia's
eastern lowlands who complain Morales is being one-sided.
"Reestablish and restart the constitutional reform process
... to ensure social peace and the inclusion of all Bolivians,"
said the letter by presidents of provincial superior courts,
the national agrarian court and the supreme court of justice.
Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, has been at
a political impasse since four of the country's nine governors
declared their provinces autonomous last month to protest the
proposed constitution. Morales' allies passed it in the
constitutional assembly late last year during a boycott by
On Wednesday, anti-Morales groups in Chuquisaca filed
thousands of signatures with provincial authorities as part of
their drive to become the fifth province to declare autonomy, a
move that would tip the balance against Morales.
Governors from the eastern provinces, which are rich in oil
and natural gas, fear Morales will cut their share of lucrative
revenues from energy exports and enact a land reform program
that would whittle away at sprawling soy farms.
The judges said the proposed constitution is "illegal and
illegitimate" because allies of Morales approved it without
input from the opposition or a two-thirds majority in the
Legal holes and inconsistencies also riddle the document so
it cannot be put to a referendum this year as planned by
Morales, the judges said.
"The project is legally stillborn," they said.
Morales and opposition governors have tried to resolve
their differences but talks stalled this week on how to revise
the constitution to incorporate the provinces' autonomy
declarations and divvy up natural gas revenue.
The governors and Morales said this week they would face
referendums that could remove them from office if they fail to
reach a national accord soon to end the protracted political
(Reporting by Armando Perez Fernandez and Terry Wade; editing
by Fiona Ortiz and Vicki Allen)