- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2008

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia

The former governor of one of Bolivia’s nine provinces went into exile in neighboring Peru fearing that President Evo Morales will use military force to impose a socialist con- stitution that much of the nation opposes.

Regional Gov. David Sanchez, based in Bolivia’s former capital of Sucre and a member of Mr. Morales’ ruling Movement Toward Socialism, said from the Peruvian capital, Lima, that he fears for his personal safety and that of his family.

In videos released to the press through a Christian group that helped him flee the country last month, Mr. Sanchez said he “cannot work as governor under circumstances which the government has made unsustainable.”

The Peruvian Foreign Ministry confirmed that Mr. Sanchez applied for asylum and that the United Nations has given him political refugee status.

Mr. Sanchez resigned as governor of Chuquisaca province after violent pro-tests in November in front of the constitutional assembly in Sucre, during which three persons died.

Governors from Bolivia’s eight other provinces traded insults with Mr. Morales ahead of a scheduled meeting yesterday in the capital, La Paz, Reuters news agency reported.

But the two sides called a truce as the talks got under way.

“I want to build a national accord for a new country that gives dignity to Bolivia,” Mr. Morales said.

Gov. Mario Cossio of natural-gas-rich Tarija province said both sides will “make an effort to forge a national pact of reconciliation,” Reuters reported.

At issue is a draft constitution Mr. Morales’ allies forced through a constitutional convention held in Sucre last year without the presence of opposition delegates.

Mr. Morales is seeking to remake Bolivia, one of the poorest nations in Latin America, into an anti-American socialist nation modeled on Venezuela, where private-property rights are increasingly restricted and key industries are being nationalized.

Over the weekend, Mr. Morales accused conservative parties in Spain and the United States of working with conservative parties in Bolivia to halt his reform agenda.

Four of Bolivia’s nine provinces declared themselves autonomous to protest Mr. Morales’ threats to impose a new constitution.

“His hands are stained with blood,” Ruben Costas, the governor of Santa Cruz province, was quoted as telling an anti-Morales rally over the weekend by the newspaper La Razon.

Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera said changes to the constitution are “nonnegotiable.”

Mr. Morales also made changes to Bolivia’s military to consolidate his hold on power.

He recently named air force Gen. Luis Trigo as armed forces chief. Gen. Trigo led the recent military takeover of a regional airport in Bolivia’s eastern lowlands, where opposition to Mr. Morales is especially strong.

Mr. Morales was elected as Bolivia’s first Indian president in 2005 on a promise to transfer income and wealth to poor Indian peasants, mainly in the Andean highlands of the west.

Opponents of the proposed constitution say it ignores regional demands for autonomy.

“I made all efforts to find a negotiated solution and for a suspension of the [constitutional assembly] due to the dangerous situation” Mr. Sanchez said.

At one point, he was physically ejected from the constitutional assembly session by its president, Silvia Lazarte.

Opposition Sen. Roger Pinto, who is acting as a spokesman for Mr. Sanchez, said the decision to flee the country followed accusations by Mr. Morales that Mr. Sanchez is responsible for the unrest.

Members of Mr. Sanchez’s family say Interior Minister Alfredo Rada threatened to arrest him and that plainclothes agents were following his movements before a Christian group connected with opposition leaders smuggled him across the Andes to Peru.

“He was afraid that he was going to be arrested and killed,” Sen. Pinto said. He added that several foreign embassies refused to grant him asylum for fear of reprisals from Mr. Morales and his close ally, President Hugo Chavez in oil-rich Venezuela.

The governors from Bolivia’s four eastern lowland provinces, where opposition to the central government is entrenched, requested yesterday’s meeting with Mr. Morales after he deployed the military in Santa Cruz and other eastern cities.

“The bloody events of black October in 2OO3 could repeat themselves in Santa Cruz,” Mr. Morales said recently, referring to an army massacre that brought down a previous government.

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