Morales Ready to Modify Legislation That Is Sparking Protests in Bolivia


LA PAZ – Bolivian President Evo Morales established on Monday a one-year period during which his administration will discuss with social sectors the country's new Penal Code, adding that he is ready to modify it after recent nationwide protests.

"Starting now, we're giving a one-year period to discuss, to debate the articles in question," Morales told the media at the Government Palace in La Paz.

The president said that "if it's true" that it can be shown that any element within the Penal Code harms any social sector, the executive branch and the national legislature – where Morales' party holds a majority – are open to "modifying or perfecting the corresponding draft."

Morales said that despite the demonstrations "there is no convulsion" in Bolivia, but rather the protests are "a conspiracy by rightist groups" against his government.

He also said that now he is facing "new lies" about the Penal Code, after having repealing two of the most heavily-questioned articles of the Code, which was promulgated in December but which will not enter into force for another 18 months.

Morales made his comments after holding a meeting with representatives from social sectors that support his government.

Even before its promulgation, the Code sparked protests including a strike by doctors who for a month-and-a-half paralyzed the country's health care system.

The president two weeks ago decided to remove the article against which the doctors were protesting and another one that had motivated transport workers to take to the streets, with the strikers in both cases claiming that the Code's language criminalized their work with penalties, including jail time, for professional malpractice.

However, the protests have been kept up in Bolivia by collectives such as press associations, the Catholic and Protestant Churches, teachers, businessmen and certain labor unions.

In addition to those protests, 17 opposition lawmakers began a hunger strike seven days ago claiming that the new legislation also moves the country backwards in areas such as the fight against corruption, among others.

"In the face of citizen resistance, Evo is backing down and asking his base to review and discuss the Penal Code. He's backing down in the worst way ... the public and democratic forces are demanding the complete nullification of the Code," opposition figure Samuel Doria Medina wrote on Twitter after the president's announcement.

Last week in the region of Santa Cruz, the country's most prosperous and largest province, civic leaders called for a strike to demand the complete shelving of the penal legislation.