Bolivia's Morales, governors try for unity accord
Tue Jan 15, 2008 - Reuters

LA PAZ, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Bolivia's leftist President Evo Morales and opposition governors negotiated late on Monday to try to strike a national unity accord that would end a divisive political crisis.

Politics in South America's poorest country have been especially volatile since four of its nine provinces declared themselves autonomous last month to protest a draft of the new constitution passed by Morales' allies.

At what was expected to be a marathon meeting, Morales' cabinet chief Juan Ramon Quintana said the government would offer to revise the constitution to legalize some of the provinces' autonomy demands.

He also said both sides needed to settle the thorny issue of how to share lucrative tax revenue from natural gas exports.

Ruben Costas, the governor of Santa Cruz province and a leader of the opposition, said the government needed to be flexible or risk losing more support.

"We want a national accord for the country. Let's see if the president has the political will to revise the constitution," he said.

The draft of the new constitution is to be voted on this year in a referendum.

Separate referendums on Morales and the provincial governors are also planned and would give Bolivians a chance to kick political leaders out of office if the political crisis deepens.

Critics say the new constitution lacks legitimacy because allies of Morales passed it in the constitutional assembly late last year during a boycott by opposition delegates.

Morales, an Aymara Indian whose support is strongest in the Andean highlands of western Bolivia, has clashed with opposition governors from the natural gas-rich eastern lowlands. They want compensation for any gas revenue Morales takes away from the provinces and diverts to cities and social programs. (Reporting by Armando Perez Fernandez and Terry Wade; editing by Doina Chiacu)