LA PAZ, Bolivia, June 21 (UPI) -- Bolivians are beginning to voice disquiet over the way President Evo Morales is preparing to prolong his rule through constitutional devices that will likely enable him to seek election to a third term.
The president has high approval ratings among Bolivia's majority Amerindian and Mestizo voters, the first and second largest groups respectively in a population of 10 million. The president has less loyal supporters among citizens of European ancestry but all three communities have worked fairly well so far with the government.
News of Morales wanting a third term has been circulating for some time, but it stirred a diplomatic row between La Paz and the Organization of American States, which has headquarters in Washington.
Inevitably, fiery rhetoric related to "the empire" -- the United States -- having something to do with all this got into headlines as the president accused the OAS of backing U.S. interests rather than serving the peoples of the member countries.
In April a constitutional court ruled Morales could stand for president a third time because his first term from 2006 to 2010 did not count since it was under an old constitution.
Opposition politicians called the court ruling unconstitutional and vowed to fight to have it overturned. Although Morales' indigenous racial background has been part of the winning formula, the government-led reinterpretation of constitutional law has left opposition divided.
Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera signed the change into law while Morales was out of the country at that time.
"He has the constitutional right to choose to be re-elected," Garcia Linera declared at the time, but critics are not so sure.
"It is clear that the will of the MAS [the Movement Towards Socialism ruling party] is to remain in power and opt for the re-election of Evo Morales," political analyst Maria Teresa Zegada told the El Pais newspaper.
Despite the constitutional maneuvers, Morales has yet to formally announce his candidacy in elections to be held next year.
But the president reacted angrily amid leaks about his plans, prompting OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza to apologize.
In a 2008 letter OAS Secretary for Political Affairs Kevin Casas-Zamora wrote to former Bolivian conservative President Jorge Quiroga about a Morales comment he would not seek a third mandate.
As the third-term controversy brewed last week, Quiroga released the contents of the letter in El Pais. Published comments appeared to suggest OAS gave assurance Morales a third term was off the table.
Analysts said the revelation by Quiroga, who was president from 2001 to 2002, contradicted presidential campaign pronouncements by senior aides, including Vice President Garcia Linera.
Critics said the president's pledge not to go for a third term was documented in negotiations involving the opposition, the OAS and the United Nations as part of international efforts to promote democracy in Bolivia.
Morales singled out the OAS for targeted criticism following the disclosure. The OAS needs deep transformations and shouldn't be seen serving "the empire" rather than the people, Morales said.
The president is facing renewed discontent over drought in the Chuquisaca, Santa Cruz, Tarija and Cochabamba regions, which has affected more than 16,000 families. Critics say a $2.67 allocation for relief handouts may not be enough as the drought spreads.