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26 Jan, 2009 07:59

Bolivia 'throws out God'

Bolivia 'throws out God'

The people of Bolivia went to the polls on Sunday to decide whether to adopt a new constitution. Christian groups were fiercely opposed to the document, saying it opens the door to abortion and same-sex marriages.

The socialist government says the constitution is needed to free the country from the clutches of the Catholic Church.

A television advertisement shows Bolivia’s President Evo Morales dressed as a shaman. He is knocking away at an image of Christ; a document marked ‘New Constitution’ is emblazoned with the slogan: “Choose God, Vote No”.

This ad has been put out by evangelical groups concerned the new constitution will lead to legalized abortion and same-sex marriages. Neither issue is mentioned in the document, leaving room for ambiguity.

Other adverts ask: “Did you know they want to throw God out of Bolivia?” and “If you believe that God exists, you have to vote AGAINST the New constitution.” The country votes on Sunday and religion is playing a key role in the no campaign.

A country without God

The opposition is centred in Santa Cruz – in the wealthier eastern lowlands of the country. Its Archbishop, Cardinal Julio Terrazas, has a difficult relationship with the government. In one of his homilies over Christmas, he said: “Bolivia is becoming a country without God or law.”

Bolivia is officially a Catholic country and the Church, while rejecting the messages in the adverts, has been critical of the proposed constitution. While praising the focus on the poor, the Church has expressed concern the constitution would provide an “excessive concentration of power in the executive”.

Influential Bishop Jesus Juarez has constructed a list of 10 complaints about the document. The Church has had to defend itself from government accusations of political involvement. The ringing of church bells, such as at Cardinal Julio Terrazas’ cathedral, often mark the start of opposition protests.

Bolivia is following fellow socialist countries Venezuela and Ecuador with the introduction of a new constitution. If passed, the Catholic Church would lose its role as sole state religion. The state would become independent of religion and Pachamama – the Andean earth deity – would acquire equal status to the Christian God.

Bolivia to be 'decolonised'

Central to the document is the intention of “refounding” and the “decolonization” of Bolivia, empowering the poor indigenous majority.

Evo Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism came into power in 2005 with a mandate to take control of Bolivia’s natural resources – largely in the opposition-controlled east – as defined in the proposed constitution.

Same-sex marriages are not ruled in the document. Gabriela Montaño Viaña, the presidential representative in Santa Cruz, said the constitution “could open the door to a civil law allowing homosexual marriage if there was a public will to do that”.

Anti-abortion groups believe that article 66, a “guarantee to women and men the exercise of their sexual and reproductive rights”, is a phrase that means there will be a “right” to abortion and contraception. President Morales described these as “lies”, saying the document is not pro-abortion.

President blends paganism and Catholicism

President Evo Morales’ own faith is a complicated, but common, combination of faith in Christ and Pachamama. This merging of beliefs is technically forbidden by Catholicism, which defines worship of Pachamama as paganism.

He describes himself as an “admirer” of Christ. He also said: “I believe strongly in the rites and in Pachamama.”

President Morales’ relationship with the Church hierarchy is competitive. He cites: “The Catholic Church and the media are the only opposition I have left.” He has set up a state-owned newspaper and warned the church to stay out of politics.

Grupo Mori opinion polls suggest that the MAS party should win the referendum and the constitution will be passed.

Jonathan Stibbs for RT

Update: Bolivians vote for new constitution

Voters in Bolivia have approved a new constitution granting more power to the indigenous majority. In a national referendum, 56.8 per cent voted for the new document while 43.2 per cent opposed it.