LA PAZ (AFP) — Bolivian President Evo Morales proposed talks with political foes Monday, one day after a referendum deepened divisions that threaten to make his poor South American nation ungovernable.
The United States and Spain said they stood ready to facilitate the dialogue between Morales and conservative governors who are defying his socialist reforms.
Morales and four governors who have formed an opposition coalition in Bolivia's east all emerged from the plebiscite with their mandates strongly confirmed by voters.
That result revealed a rift that has caused a crisis in the country.
It is split between the indigenous majority who mostly live in the Andes to the west and who massively back Morales, himself of Aymara Indian descent; and the relatively wealthy east, which is governed by an elite of European descent.
Morales, who won more than 60 percent of the vote according to unofficial results, told international media in La Paz that once the National Electoral Court finishes its own tally, "we will call the governors and the sectors (unions and rural workers' groups) to dialogue."
The court is expected to give its count of the ballots within the next 30 days.
US State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters in Washington before Morales's statement that the US government urged both sides in Bolivia "to seize this opportunity to begin a frank dialogue to resolve outstanding issues and define a way forward that unites all Bolivians."
He said the United States "stands ready to assist" and was committed "to be a good partner in Bolivia's journey to a more democratic, prosperous future."
That offer by itself was likely to fall on deaf ears.
Morales, a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, is staunchly anti-US and has accused the United States of fomenting violence in his country and planning a coup against him.
He also criticizes US-backed efforts to criminalize commerce in coca leaves, the source of cocaine, but also a traditional crop in Bolivia used for a variety of medicinal purposes that Morales himself used to farm.
But Spain, Bolivia's former colonial master which still enjoys prestige, stepped forward too with an offer to help.
"If required, the Spanish government reiterates its availability to support any effort in this direction," a statement from the Spanish foreign ministry said.
It was unclear how many -- if any -- concessions Morales would be willing to make to his enemies.
In his post-referendum victory speech late Sunday, Morales congratulated his foes on their wins, and called on them to work with him.
But he also made it clear he felt vindicated in pushing reforms that already include taking state control of the gas and telecommunications industries.
"Your vote consolidated the process of change," he told a crowd of cheering supporters in La Paz.
"We are here to continue recovering natural resources and the consolidation of nationalization," he said.
His broader program is to "eradicate extreme poverty" in his country by handing the indigenous population a greater share of the land and national revenues, and enshrine his changes in a new constitution.
The governors in the lowlying eastern states of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Pando and Beni -- home to Bolivia's crucially important gas fields -- have dug in their heels over those moves and responded by making a push towards autonomy, an ambition Morales has branded "illegal."
The only way the stalemate might end was for Morales's government to start negotiating with the governors, analysts said.
One analyst, Ricardo Paz Ballivian, told AFP: "What is clear is that the extremes are now stronger. We're in the same position as before the referendum, except we're more polarized and with deeper differences."
He doubted that dialogue would be possible. "One side or the other might try to make a knockout blow. My fear is that it will be the government that tries, egged on by the results of yesterday (Sunday)."
A moderate opposition figure, Samuel Doria Medina, said the results meant "more division, more confrontation.
"There is a clear mandate for negotiation for both sides because clearly neither has the support of all the country," he said.
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