LA PAZ – The Spanish-born mayor of the southern Bolivian city of Tarija, Rodrigo Paz Pereira, says that the Andean nation “needs to be a solid, institutionally based democracy” and to move away from a pattern in which political parties are no more than vehicles for individuals.
Paz Pereira, the son of former Bolivian President Jaime Paz Zamora and Spaniard Carmen Pereira, was born in Santiago de Compostela.
The family spent much of Rodrigo’s childhood outside Bolivia because Paz Zamora, an outspoken leftist, was viewed as an enemy by the succession of military regimes that held power in La Paz.
In an interview with EFE, the 49-year-old Paz Pereira said that Bolivia’s political scene has been dominated by strong leaders for nearly a century.
“Before and during democracy, political parties have coalesced around single leaders,” he said. “This includes all parties. It is not the case of just one party, but all of them.”
To achieve “21st century democracy,” Bolivia’s parties should move in the direction of collective leadership and programs that are the result of consensus, the mayor said.
He added that the state, as an institution, must be at the service of society, not the other way around.
If the state “dictates a vision and society continues that process, we lose the transformative power of the citizenry, which is central,” he said.
“Many people who are in the government today, or those who preceded them, do not understand what was required to build this democracy,” Paz Pereira said. “I felt it as a child in exile.”
Paz Pereira became Tarija’s mayor last year, defeating the candidate of President Evo Morales’ leftist MAS party.
The city is the capital of Tarija province, which holds most of Bolivia’s massive reserves of natural gas, and the new mayor took office amid a steep fall in the price of the fuel that has been reflected in the decline of the annual municipal budget from $173 million to $72 million in just two years.