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Volume 486: debated on Tuesday 13 January 2009

4. What assessment he has made of the political situation in Bolivia in advance of the constitutional referendum. (246478)

We applaud the dialogue that has led to the constitutional referendum on 25 January. We congratulate the Bolivian Government and all parties involved. We are committed, alongside EU and international partners, to help bring stability and prosperity to Bolivia.

The Minister will be aware that Bolivia is the poorest country in Latin America, but at last under Evo Morales it has a Government who are committed to addressing the huge economic and social inequalities in that country. Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity to send a clear message to the separatists in Bolivia, who have engaged in violent conduct culminating in the Pando massacre, that any attempt by them to overthrow the democratic will of the Bolivian people, as expressed in the January referendum, will have no international support whatever?

As the House knows, my hon. Friend is a great friend of the Bolivian people. I share his concern about the recent violence and deaths in Bolivia, which have no place in a peaceful and democratic society. The best way to resolve those issues is through diplomacy, dialogue and democracy. That is why I very much look forward to the referendum at the end of the month and stress our strong support for democracy in Bolivia and our full recognition of the democratically elected Government of Bolivia.

We must recognise, though, that within Bolivian society there have been many political clashes and unrest. One of the last clashes led to more than 15 people being killed and 100 people going missing. Although we hope for a peaceful referendum on 25 January, can the Minister tell the House what guidance she has given to British people living in Bolivia in order that they can be secure and safe in the run-up to the referendum?

The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the considerable violence and tension that there has been. We have a difficult year ahead, but I believe that there are prizes to be won. The involvement of our high commissioner in the process, along with the EU, has been welcomed. We continue to keep an eye, as we do in all countries, on our consular advice to British people, whose safety is always our primary concern.