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Bolivia's autonomy referendums signal rightist backlash

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"We don't want this to end here," says Carlos Pablo Klinsky, the president of the caucus of legislators in Santa Cruz who helped usher in the autonomy referendum. On Sunday, Bolivians in the Amazonian states of Beni and Pando overwhelmingly voted for more autonomy. With three victories and a fourth vote planned for June 22, Bolivia is emerging as an epicenter of a growing pushback against Latin America's left.

"We want this to spread not just to the rest of the country but to Venezuela, Ecuador, and Nicaragua as well, to end with this centralism throughout Latin America," says Mr. Klinsky.

Opposition unites across states

In a twist, the region's traditional outsiders have suddenly become the insiders, says Michael Shifter, of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue. Led and financed almost entirely by oil-rich Venezuela, they have formed an alliance in their pledge to create a new Latin America.

And now the longtime insiders have risen as Latin America's "opposition." In many countries, the opposition is a frayed bunch, and those who are united are often fixated against the ruling president or focused on domestic issues. But many say there is opportunity for symbiosis.

Yon Goicoechea, who led the student movement against Chávez's failed constitutional reform in December, has since traveled around the region speaking with student leaders. In January he was in Bolivia to share the methodologies of his campaign.

"They also have a constitutional reform restricting liberties, and actually threatening democracy," says Mr. Goicoechea, who resists being tied to Venezuela's traditional opposition and was recently awarded $500,000 from the Cato Institute in Washington. He wants to use the money to set up a foundation to form a network of young political aspirants across Latin America.

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