Politics

Bolivia officials meet in the hope to find an agreement on the date of the census and end social tensions

Officials and leaders of Bolivia gather with the hope to find a solution on a date of the next census that has been the source of social protests. The date of the census will define resource distribution and political representation across the country.

Le président bolivien Luis Arco (au centre) lors de la réunion plurinationale pour le recensement le 28 octobre
Le président bolivien Luis Arco (au centre) lors de la réunion plurinationale pour le recensement le 28 octobre | Twitter

The government of Bolivia on October 28 invited 364 elected officials of the country, including governors, mayors, authorities of the rural native indigenous autonomies, and public universities to participate in the Plurinational meeting for the census in Cochabamba, a reunion to pacify the country with a solution on the date of the next population and housing census.

If 95 percent of authorities confirmed their presence to make their opinion known, one seat remained empty and brought a lot of attention. Luis Fernando Camacho, the governor of Santa Cruz, doesn’t participate in the discussions.

Right-wing politician opponent to the left-wing government, Governor Camacho only wants to talk once the decision to conduct the census in 2024 is repelled.

What is at stake is more than a census and a date.

The population and housing census of Bolivia, which also includes a cartographic update of the country and its infrastructure, is a massive process with more than 200,000 people involved in the operations. The last census took place in 2012. And the results of the census also lead to adjustments to the distribution of resources and political representation across the country.

And Mr Camacho wants the results of the census to be effective before 2025 and the general elections that decide on the next president of Bolivia and parliament members of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. Left-wing Luis Arco became president with 55 percent of the votes in 2020, Mr Camacho gathered 14 percent of the ballots.

The debate around the date of the census really started off in April when the director of the National Institute of Statistics, Humberto Arandia, said there was no logistical, financial and technical conditions to conduct the census originally scheduled to November 2022. At the time, postponing to 2024 was only a suggestion.

But in July, the government decided to officially postpone the census to 2024. Mayors of La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz de la Sierra and Potosí considered they were able to conduct the census in the first half of 2023 while Sucre, Oruro, Trinidad and El Alto were satisfied with the postponement.

Mr Camacho wants the census to take place in 2023 so that changes induced by the results can be implemented before 2025. Santa Cruz may get three more seats in parliament.

Santa Cruz is the most populous department of the country. Bolivia is home to approximately 12 million people, with 8 million in the departments of Santa Cruz, La Paz and Cochabamba. Santa Cruz is also the economic center and the agricultural export hub of the country.

Backed by Mr Camacho, strikes erupted in Santa Cruz. And on October 22, thousands of people started an indefinite strike, during conflicts between supporters and opponents of the government led to deaths and injuries.

Supporters of the government claim the date of the census is used as an attempt to destabilize the country.

The government, which faces its largest social crisis so far, on Wednesday announced a pause on exports of crops, soybean meal and soybean derivatives, sugar, beef and oil, “as a preventive measure” to ensure domestic availability of staple commodities. This decision also puts pressure on Santa Cruz, the main agricultural export hub of the country.

The mayor of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes Villa, on public broadcast Bolivia TV said on Friday that census has already started in the country with survey of Bolivia’s cartography, but that the main issue lies in when results will be available.

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