Thousands waved the Santa Cruz region’s green-and-white flags in the streets as council members of the Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni and Pando districts made the public announcement.
The officials displayed a green-bound document containing a set of statutes paving the way to a permanent separation from the Bolivian government.
Council representatives vowed to legitimize the so-called autonomy statutes through a referendum that would legally separate the natural-gas rich districts from President Evo Morales’ government.
The move also aims to separate the states from Bolivia’s new constitution, which calls for, among other things, a heavier taxation on the four regions to help finance more social programs.
About 35 percent of Bolivia’s 9.5 million people live in the four states, according to The Associated Press.
Some indigenous pro-Morales groups claim Bolivia’s richer, white-ruled Eastern regions want to control the country’s natural resources. Bolivia has South America’s second-largest natural gas reserves, behind Venezuela. Most of it is produced in the Eastern regions.
In the capital city La Paz on Saturday, Morales addressed thousands of flag-waving supporters in the Plaza Murillo, defending the new constitution and lashing out against what he called the racist policies of Bolivia’s elite.
“They must give back the money they took from us,” he told a cheering crowd, which included members of the Quechua and Aymara tribes. “We will retroactively investigate all the big fortunes, and the corrupt are now trembling with fear.”
Morales—who belongs to the Aymara indigenous group—nationalized the country’s oil and natural gas reserves when he took power in 2006, creating what became known as the “gas wars.”
Running on a platform of redistribution of wealth among Bolivia’s poor, Morales has defied countries such as Brazil and the United States for the exploration of Bolivia’s natural reserves.
He has also protested the country’s racial divide.