Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bolivian Candidate Sentenced to Making Bricks

The candidacy of a Bolivian politician vying for the governorship of the La Paz department has been set aside for a more mundane task – brick making.

Felix Patzi, an Aymara Indian and former education minister, was arrested for drunk driving on Feb. 4 following a wake and sentenced under the country’s’ community justice system to make 1,000 adobe bricks as reparation.

Patzi was running for the governorship of La Paz in the April regional elections as the candidate of Morales’ Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party.

Typically, the La Paz department, which is home of the nation’s capital, has been a MAS stronghold but the situation has cast the outcome of the April election into doubt and sharpened divisions within the country’s ruling party.

Initially, Patzi offered a verbal withdrawal of his candidacy but, citing the support of several highland peasant groups, he changed his mind. His candidacy was never revoked by the country's electoral court.

Now Patzi insists that he is a qualified candidate given the fulfillment of his sentence and has accused MAS of discriminating against him.

It is unclear if the community justice process supersedes the regular court process. Patzi was the first Bolivian convicted under the country's new drunk driving laws passed less than 24 hours before his arrest. His drivers license was suspended for life and the criminal case against him is still being investigated.

The controversy complicates an already tumultuous political battle for the highland department Last month the ex-governor of La Paz and leader of the opposition Plan Progreso political party, José Luis Paredes, fled the country following accusations of embezzlement.

Patzi’s primary rival in the race has been Simon Yampara, a candidate with the Moviemnto Sin Medio (MSM) party. Historically, MAS and MSM have been politically allied but recently tensions have emerged as Morales has worked to consolidate his control over the governing coalition.

Also running are Lino Villca, a former MAS senator and Julio Tito with Social Patriotic Alliance (ASP).

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