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Latin America Changes: Hunger Strikes in Bolivia, Summits in the Caribbean

This weekend's summit, where Obama and Chavez will shake hands for the first time, might offer some glimpses into the region's future.
 
 
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After Bolivia beat the Argentine soccer team led by legendary Diego Maradona by 6 to 1, Maradona told reporters, "Every Bolivia goal was a stab in my heart." Bolivia was expected to lose the April 1 match as Argentina is ranked as the 6th best soccer team in the world, and Maradona enjoys godlike status among soccer fans. This story of David and Goliath in the Andes is just one of various events shaking up the hemisphere.

Bolivian President Evo Morales just completed a five day hunger strike to push through legislation that allows him to run again in general elections this December. And at this weekend's Summit of the Americas U.S. President Barack Obama will meet with Latin American presidents who may end up giving some economic advice to their troubled neighbor in the north.

Evo Morales on a Hunger Strike

When opposition party members in Bolivia left a Congress session on April 9, refusing to pass a bill that would allow for general elections in December of this year, Evo Morales began a hunger strike while thousands of government supporters rallied in the streets in support of the bill. Morales began the fast to pressure opponents into passing the legislation, which in addition to enabling elections, would give indigenous communities broader representation in parliament and give Bolivian citizens living abroad the right to vote in the December elections. The opposition blocked the bill in part because they said it would give Morales more power and did not significantly prevent the possibility of electoral fraud. On April 12, opposition members returned to Congress when Morales agreed to changes regarding a new voter registry.

During his hunger strike, Morales slept on a mattress on the floor in the presidential palace and chewed coca leaves to fight off hunger. Morales said that this was the 18th hunger strike he participated in; before becoming president, Morales was a long-time coca farmer, union organizer and congressman. He said the longest hunger strike he had been on lasted 18 days while he was in jail, according to Bloomberg. But Morales wasn't alone: 3,000 other MAS supporters, activists, workers and union members also participated in the hunger strike, including Bolivians in Spain and Argentina.

Early in the morning on April 14, once it was official that the Senate passed the bill, Morales ended his strike. "Happily, we have accomplished something important," he told reporters. "The people should not forget that you need to fight for change. We alone can't guarantee this revolutionary process, but with people power it's possible."

This controversy erupted just weeks after Bolivia's new constitution was approved in a January 25 national referendum. Among other significant changes, the constitution grants unprecedented rights to the country's indigenous majority and establishes a broader role for the state in the management of the economy and natural resources.

Summit of the Americas: Cuba, Obama and Chavez

On April 17-19 the Summit of the Americas will take place in Trinidad and Tobago. Most of the hemisphere's presidents will be in attendance. It will also mark the first meeting between Presidents Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez.

Before the larger Summit begins, a Summit for the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA) will take place in Venezuela from April 14-15. Those planning to attend this gathering include President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Evo Morales, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, and others. Chavez announced that this ALBA meeting will take place with the objective of formulating common positions to bring to Trinidad and Tobago, including plans regarding the formation of a regional currency, called the Sucre. These leaders are also likely to lead the push for an end to the blockade against Cuba.

 
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