Bolivia's Morales Signs Law That May Oust Elected Opponents
May 25, 2010 - Buisnessweek

By Sara Shahriari     
May 25 (Bloomberg) -- Bolivian President Evo Morales enacted a law that allows him to suspend regional opponents from office if they're accused of a crime, boosting criticism that he's using the courts to consolidate power.

The law is "historic" and deepens efforts to root out corruption in the Andean nation of 10 million people, Morales said yesterday in remarks broadcast on state radio Patria Nueva.     The measure gives central government prosecutors the right to suspend governors who have formal criminal accusations against them, according to the text published on the official state newswire's website. Three of the country's nine incoming governors, all of whom oppose Morales, face charges brought by the government.

"The governors-elect should be content if they don't plan to rob anyone," Morales said.

The Provisional Law for the Functioning of Autonomous Territorial Entities is part of the "frequently acrimonious" battle between the government and regional opposition leaders wrangling over the terms of Bolivia's decentralization, said Miguel Centellas, a political science professor at the University of Mississippi who specializes in Bolivia. Eastern provinces such as Santa Cruz want greater autonomy to enact policies that would attract more investment to the region's energy industry, he said.     "It's not a coincidence that the regions that have most of the oil and natural gas are interested in autonomy," Centellas said in a telephone interview from Oxford, Mississippi.

Facing Charges
    Bolivia has the second-biggest natural-gas reserves in South America, and the bulk of the gas is located in opposition- controlled Santa Cruz and Tarija provinces. The governors of those provinces, and of Beni province along the Brazilian border, face charges and may be affected by the law. The three deny the accusations, which include mismanagement of funds.

The Morales government announced on the state newswire that governors will be sworn in by the president in a May 30 ceremony in Sucre.

Transparency International said in a November 2009 report that Bolivia's corruption had worsened, pushing its ranking among nations down to 120 from 102.

--With assistance from Jonathan J. Levin in Mexico City. Editors: Harry Maurer,

To contact the reporter on this story: Sara Shahriari in Philadelphia at
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at