My name is Miguel A. Buitrago. Welcome to my blog. If you want to know more about me visit my personal website. Thank you! Happy readings!!!

October 01, 2014

The Bolivian Economic Model

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It has been eight years in the making, but Bolivia has developed an economic model which the Morales government calls: The new economic, social, communal and productive model of development. It has taken this long because the government has basically been rewriting all the laws in Bolivia, and I am not exaggerating too much when I say this. If you want to get an idea of what I mean, take a look at this post of mine. Morales and his supporters call this effort the "re-foundation or re-establishment of Bolivia". To achieve that they needed to pass new legislation. Now, it is highly debatable whether the country has indeed been re-founded (if you ask me the government has been largely re-inventing the wheel), another thing is to say that the government has consequently been redrawing the State's structures and its basic foundations. So much, that the model has began to show shape in recent years. Part of that effort has been the implementation of an economic model of development, which has increasingly become a reality for most Bolivians. For that reason, this post aims at explaining what kind of a model it is.

To begin to understand what the government is trying to do, the fundamental question is what does social, communal and productive model of economic development means?

To start of, this model rests on two principles:
  1. a) reduction of poverty and 
  2. b) reduction of social inequality.

To follow up, those principles rest on several goals:
  1. the recovery of the natural resources ownership
  2. the recovery and the subsequent generation of income for the State
  3. the re-distribution of the State's income through distribution mechanisms
  4. the re-distribution of the State's income into other income and employment generating economic activity


Source: The Ministry of Economic and Public Finances

The Morales government has set itself a particular purpose to achieve, also with economic development. The Buen Vivir, which is translated as Living Well in English, has the aim of producing economic development by rejecting materialism and capitalism in favor of a dignified, healthy, well satisfied life in harmony with the community and the environment. At this point, I will leave this definition as it is, because it can be the material for another post or a book.

To reach its goal, the Morales government's economic model places the State at the center of economic activity. In fact, it would be fair to characterize it as "the" most important economic actor in such an economy. One, because it is the entity that "recovers" the natural resources from private hands and, in doing that, it also "recovers" State income, which otherwise would have been going to other places. This last statement means that large corporations or private companies which have been in charge of the exploitation and commercialization of Bolivian natural resources transfer the income generated by this activity to their central offices, wherever those may be. Second, the State oversees and plans the production and generation of income to then re-distribute it within the population to achieve a social goal.

In that vein, the State has a simple plan. As the most important economic actor in the economy, the State administers the income-generating nationalized companies so they can continue generating income, this time however, in favor of the state, and of course, as the dogma goes, in favor of the people. These companies, which the State calls strategic, have the necessary and only task of generating income. In Bolivia's case these are mainly the companies dealing with natural gas, oil and minerals.

With the income stemming from the strategic companies, the State has two main tasks. On the one side, as administrator of that income, the State designs mechanisms of distribution such as the mentioned subsidies of prices (gasoline prices, for example) and other things such as housing, social transfers (bonuses and rents), wage increases, and public investment. On the other side, and related to the last distribution mechanism mentioned, the State promotes the industrialization of the economy through the investment of financial funds on the creation of state-owned or state-sponsored industry (tourism, manufacturing of textiles, handicrafts, etc.).

However, the state is considered the only player in what the government calls a plural economy (that would be too communist, wouldn't it?). This means that, in addition to the state, there are other economic actors which may play a role in the economy. The most important of these is the private sector. However, while the private sector is welcomed to make joint investments with the State or even allowed to engage in enterprise by itself in some areas, the end results have to align with the State's political agenda and goals. This is however not to say the system is authoritarian in a sense that private enterprise cannot exist. The influence of the State is subtle and many times subversive. For example, if the government does not like what a large firm is doing in the country (e.g. the cement factory), it might just create its own firm and try to drive the private firm out of the market. Finally, other players might be communities, which may produce agricultural or handicraft goods and social cooperatives, which in Bolivia's case I take it to mean the production of agricultural goods.

The next question would be if that model can be observed in reality.

Source: The Ministry of Economic and Public Finances

Well, Bolivia receives income from the following sources:
  1. Public Enterprises (Strategic: to generate resources, transport, telecommunications, energy, hydrocarbons, mining; Social: to create employment, providing services, meeting non-satisfied demand, to intervene in the market to prevent distortions)
  2. Central Administration (national taxes SIN, international trade levies/tariffs AN)
  3. Decentralized Entities (institution that generate other types of income such as fees)
  4. Departmental Governments
  5. Municipal Governments
  6. Public Universities
  7. Social Security Institutions (selling goods and services)
  8. Financial Institutions (selling goods and services)

From those, 50 per cent and 35 per cent of the State's income is generated by the public enterprises (i.e. the selling of natural gas and, in less capacity, minerals) and the collection of taxes and tariffs by the central government.

However, as I mentioned before, the Morales government is working hard in implementing its model of economic development. Here is how:

Here is a list of public enterprises divided into strategic and non-strategic categories:

Strategic:
  • Empresa Siderurgica Mutun (mining)
  • Empresa Minera Huanuni (mining)
  • YPFB (petrol or oil)
  • COMIBOL (mining)
  • Empresa Metalurgica VINTO (mining)
  • ENTEL (telecommunications)
  • Transporte Aereo Militar (transport, mainly cargo)
  • Empresa Boliviana de Industrializacion de Hidrocarburos (natural gras)
  • EPSAS (water and sanitation)
  • Empresa de Apoyo a la Produccion de Alimentos (sells commestibles)

Non-strategic:
  • Empresa Naviera de Bolivia (transport)
  • Boliviana de Aviacion (transport)
  • Corporacion de las Fuerzas Armadas para el Desarrollo Nacional (infrastructure)
  • Cartonbol (carton)
  • Empresa Boliviana de Almendras y Derivados (almonds and related goods)
  • Complejo Agroindustrial Buena Vista (agriculture)
  • Lacteosbol (milk)
  • Papelbol (paper)
  • Empresa de Comercializacion de materia prima, insumos, equipos de trabajo (commercialization of raw material and capital goods)
  • Empresa Nacional de Electricidad (electricity)
  • Empresa de Cemento Boliviano (concrete)
  • Depositos Aduaneros Bolivianos (customs)
  • Azucarbol (sugar)
  • Empresa de Correos de Bolivia (mail)
  • Agencia Boliviana Espacial (space, such as satellites)
  • Servicio de Aeropuertos Bolivianos (airports)
  • Bolivia TV (television)

Now, before you get impressed with the number of industries and industry-promoting agencies listed here, you have to know that this is a comprehensive list of all the government has been and still wants to do. Many of those mentioned companies or entities exist only in paper and many already exist but are not operating yet and still, others are already operating, but either at a loss or are in the early stages and others are already bringing benefits (at least to the government, as in the case of Bolivia TV).

In light of what has been happening and the real possibility that Morales will be re-elected this October 12, the possibility that this model will be fully implemented is very high. However, there are several things that come to my mind when I think about this.

The first though in my mind seriously questions the reliance of economic growth on a few nationalized companies. While I agree the money has to come from somewhere, it might as well come from those nationalized companies, which at the same time forces me to seriously think about the role nationalizations can play in such contexts, however to rely on basically the production and sell of one product seems to me crazy. Not just me, but many others have been expressing their anticipation of how will things turn out for Bolivia when the prices of natural gas take a turn down on international markets. This skepticism is specially relevant when we consider that 50 per cent of Bolivia's income is generated by the sell of natural gas to Brazil and Argentina. An alternative would be, for me, to classify a few other capital-intensive sectors as strategic and invest in them with special attention so as to diversify the risk. I would consider perhaps the industrialization of lithium, the production or assemblage of electronic goods or even the manufacturing of textiles (El Alto had a very lively textile sector until recently).

The second thought, and countering the pessimism of the first one, I cannot help of thinking the government is perhaps just doing that, namely industrializing. I think this when I look at the list of efforts enumerated above. Many of these efforts are in the manufacture sector and many in the industry sector. The only fear is, and with this coming back to the critical side of my argument, if whether the decisions to create factories, assembly lines, refineries, transport companies, etc., are all of many of them based on political consideration rather than economic ones. By that I mean, for example, if the decision to construct and launch a communications satellite has not been based on the intentions to improve Bolivia's profile in the world and not on the necessity of a satellite because the internal market was needing such an investment. Similarly, if the construction of a refinery or a separation of liquids plant in such and such part of the country has not been decided because of the local constituencies and the fact that such plants were far away from any distribution net were neglected in the decision process. In fact, these things have been happening in the implementation of the Bolivian economic model.

Finally, I also have to think about the deficiencies the model might have. For example, the central role of the government seems to me on the wrong side of the development path. In my opinion, such a centrality of the government's role is bound to hamper growth rather than stimulate it, in the end. This not only in light of the crowding out effects economists like to cite but simple mechanisms of the markets. If the government, due to political decisions, either subsidizes to a large extent prices, this distorts the functioning of the markets. Demand does not meet supply anymore and the mechanism does not function. But, leaving aside, economic arguments, which I am convinced are very important, I can convincingly say that if the government seeks to undermine a rival through the creation of a competing firm to take it out of the market, I suggest this will not be in the interest of the country. Once again, the heavy reliance on one sector seems to me not to be sustainable. I think I don't need to hammer this nail any more that what I have done. To end on a positive note, I have to think on the social transfers the model prescribes. I think they are necessary, so long they are kept under control. The social transfers the Morales government has implemented has directly reached many people who otherwise had not had the chance to bust their income like that. These transfers have to some degree contributed to reduced indigent poverty in Bolivia.




September 23, 2014

Elections 2014: This is How Bolivians Will Vote

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If you have been following these posts on the October 2014 Bolivian general elections, you probably already know Bolivia has a proportional representation (MMP) and multi-party system, and as such five political parties are participating in this year's elections. Surely, you also know that aside from the current government's party MAS, other four alliances will be seeking support. These are: Unidad Democratica, Movimiento sin Miedo, Partido Verde and Partido Democrata Cristiano. At this point, I kindly refer you to the other posts if you want to know more about the parties and candidates. I have enough information and links on them through out the posts. You just have to look for Elections 2014 on the post headlines.

This post is about how exactly Bolivians will be voting. First of all, it is a general election and that means not only the President and Vice president will be elected but also the members of the Plurinational Assembly (Senate and Deputies Chamber). While the Senate members will be included in the party lists (I assume they are closed), the lower chamber members will be elected through a mixed-member system. That is, half of the seats will be reserved for members elected in single districts and the other half will be elected through lists as well. Below you can see the actual ballot.


The ballot is divided in five columns where each of the parties will be represented and two rows, of which the above row features the photos of the presidential candidates and the row below features the photos of the local district candidates for the lower chamber.

In practical terms, this means that a person will have to make two marks, one on the above row and one on the lower row. By making a cross in one of the squares under each presidential candidate, the voter will be electing the President, yes, but also the Vice president, the senators and the deputies in the department's list. However, the voter has more than one option to make their crosses. One option is (that is the preferred option in MAS) to make the cross in the same column. That means, the voter is electing all the people listed in the party list in his or her department and the deputy in his district. That would be an optimal vote for a party.

The other option, of course, is to cross the vote. That is, a voter makes a cross under the name of a presidential candidate (thus electing the people I mentioned above), but makes a cross in the box under the name of a district candidate belonging to another party. Bolivians call this a crossed vote or punishment vote. There are two reasons to make use of this option. One, the voter will have provided for a balance between the executive and the lower chamber by spreading his or her support. This includes a flexibility between the ideological preference and the local and more immediate interests. In addition, in the eyes of the MAS and its supporters, who expect the support of all indigenous peoples, this option is the worst outcome; so much that in some areas of the country the local MAS organization has threatened to bodily punish he or she who votes in this way. Many indigenous people are not satisfied with the work Morales and the MAS are doing and, even though they still support Morales, they want to punish it by splitting their vote.

The other obvious options would be to mark the vote in an invalid manner or to leave the ballot blank.

The real threat for the Morales government has really been the punishment vote and not the emergence of a real opposition alternative. The latter is more or less well controlled, but the punishment vote is not. Many local indigenous groups have complained the MAS authorities have not listened to their needs and wishes because they have forced the election of some other candidates instead of the locally elected person. That is the reason why not few local MAS leaders have threatened to punish those who split their vote. This unhappiness has been slowly eroding the support for the MAS. The interesting question is how much of an erosion has occurred and how much of an impact will that have on the support for Morales. Although, when one takes a look at the polls, it is evident that Morales does not have to worry too much.


Elections 2014: Where is the Political Campaign?

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For those who have been following this blog for some time, you know I have followed closely (more or less) every Bolivian electoral process since 2003. For those who want proof, please check the archives. In any case, I have followed those processes, and not only the general elections but also the municipal ones. So, it is sort of strange for me to observe the current electoral process (using different sources such as twitter, youtube, facebook as well as TV, newspapers and online radio) and not see the same activity as in previous elections. In fact, it is rare to read the headlines of online newspapers and not see the front pages full of spicy commentaries and suggestive headlines of what the one candidate has said about the other candidate. When looking at the newspapers, it seems as though the elections were still far away, when in fact Bolivians will be voting on October 12.

To give you an idea, I am borrowing two images from the Bolivian Institute of International Commerce (IBCE, Instituto Bolivian de Comercio Exterior). This institution compiles, every day, the front pages and the most important news of some of the most important newspapers in Bolivia, i.e. those which have the most circulation. Please click on the images to enlarge them if you will.



Similarly, if you go to twitter or facebook and try to follow the political campaign there, you will come out short, compared to previous elections. While I have to say that the level of activity in twitter is significantly higher than in the newspapers, there seems to be no exchange of opinions and seems (to me) one sided. By that I mean, everyone speaks of themselves and what they do or are doing. This is specially true for twitter. A short search on "Bolivia" and "elecciones" will quickly set you up to follow most news outlets, including the online newspapers I talked about above and just about every journalist in Bolivia. You can also follow many independent organizations and people who have set up accounts to share information on the electoral process. You will find many people from the opposition as well as the candidates themselves. Also, you can find many government ministries, agencies and other entities as well as government officials such as assembly members, ministers, and so on. However, it is notorious that every one is careful not to criticize too much the other side.

Facebook is also another source where the campaign is in full swing. Though, a bit more difficult (at least for me) to find reliable and interesting information. What I have been able to find is the facebook sites of the participating parties and (interesting enough) the local chapters of many of these parties. Through the latter one can get a bit of an image of what is going on at the local level, yet one should not expect too much. However, for the most part, I have unfortunately found many pages and people who create senseless and uncritical posts and images that really say nothing other than show the frustration with the political situation, on the one side, and the blind compromiso with the change, on the other side. Such posts and images are plenty in facebook.

The two places where one can find more traditional information, i.e. campaign spots and so on and therefore the exchange or debate, are on television and radio. That is because the law provides for the campaign spots to all the parties participating. However, on the one side there is the government media apparatus, which includes an extensive radio network and a smaller but equally significant television network. This network of course has a clear bias towards the MAS and Morales, although the media here are also obligated to run spots from the opposition. On the other side, are the private and non-governmental media. Notice, I am avoiding the word independent and critical here because at this point in time I doubt there is a truly independent news outlet in the country. I say this, at the risk of being unfair to the very few that really are independent. Sorry! These media however has been reporting on the campaign and has even been trying to organize debates between candidates. Of course, these debates have to take place without the presence of Morales because he does not see the need to debate.

I guess the problem I have is that I was used to observe a much more in-your-face style electoral campaign process. The newspapers were busy filling their front pages with what candidate X and candidate Y had said and done. This newspaper was busy digging up the secrets of this candidate and this other newspaper or radio was busy digging up the secrets of the other candidate. There was an active exchange of positions (given not always constructive) among the candidates through the television and radio outlets. Yes, it was not nice and some will argue it was even negative for democracy, but the information was circulating and the citizens were able to consume this information to make up their minds. That was the famous Dahlian precondition to free access to information. I like to think that Dahl did think that citizens were able to distinguish between rubbish and good information. This is based on the premise of a well informed citizens makes better political decisions. That is why I am missing the processes before, because I consider it is better to have information and opinions exchange (even if a part of it is rubbish) than having less information circulating. Lets remember that less must not necessarily mean better.



September 08, 2014

Manipulation of Elections or Mere Coincidence?

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This is how Evo Morales COULD be manipulating elections. The first sentence has an emphasis on could because I am not sure whether what I am going to describe is an attempt by the Morales government to manipulate the outcome of the October elections or if it is just plane coincidence or merely the working pace of Bolivian bureaucracy (including justice). Certainly, the opposition strongly suspects the first, but the government must also be given the benefit of the doubt, or not?

In the following paragraphs, after presenting the facts which are relevant for the post, I will state some questions expressing the doubt or doubts I have regarding the government's actions.

The Facts

The first set of facts to consider are about the electoral tribunal - the agency in charge of the organization and regulation of the electoral process - which has issued a set of rules that affect the political campaign process. Based on laws number 26 and 18 (Electoral law and Law on the Electoral Organ respectively), passed by the National Assembly, the tribunal has issued resolutions N. 229/2012 and 347/2014, which regulate the electoral process and, particularly, the political campaign process.

The 2012 resolution mandates the electoral campaigns would be allowed to begin 90 days before election day and end 72 hours before. Further, all mass media organizations wanting to take part in the elections process would have to register with the tribunal, providing the personal information of a responsible person, aside from information on the media itself. In addition, political parties that wanted to make use of mass media could do so within 30 days and the 72 hours before election day. Moreover, each political organization has to present a "Media Plan" to the tribunal 24 hours before it engages in mass media campaign. In that plan, the political parties have to report with much detail when, where and how will they issue their media campaign. Also, in the regulation it is clearly stated that every political organization or political party is responsible for the content of their spots. The state media apparatus is to offer free of charge broadcasting of political campaign for all political organizations. This will begin 20 days before election day. The consequences in light of violations of this rules are harsh. For the political organizations, for the most part, are fines, but for the mass media the violation of a rule means fines and the exclusion from the process for the next two elections.

In addition, the 2014 resolution adds more rules to the process. Important to highlight for this post is that no media organization could broadcast between 90 and 30 days before election day the images or voices of any candidate. Also, during the whole electoral process, media are prohibited to broadcast the national symbols and colors. This last prohibition is also applicable for the political parties.

The second set of facts to consider have to do with the justice system. In the last months, there have been reports on several cases the government, through several district attorney offices, has brought against several opposition candidates. For example, the case against the mother of MSM's vice president candidate Adriana Gil. In the city of Santa Cruz, Gil's mother was placed under preventive confinement (as is usual in Bolivian justice) against corruption charges. Another recent example is the also preventive detention of Cochabamba MSM Senatorial candidate Mario Orellana, who was charged with falsifying papers. While Orellana is already out, the campaign had to be stopped because he was in jail.

On the other hand, the tribunal is also 'considering' a fine against Minister of Productive Development, Teresa Morales because the UD complained she was braking the rules by engaging in political campaign during office hours (which she cannot do). In addition, the accusation for which Orellana was in trouble highlighting how Morales asserts the G77+China summit was an electoral act has not been considered neither by the justice department nor by the electoral tribunal.

The questions

Call me naive, but these events make me suspicious, and therefore, I have several questions coming up in my mind. The Orellana case was from 2011 and the Gil's case from at least two years ago. Is the Bolivian justice process so slow? Why do these cases suddenly appear less than two months before the elections? Why are other cases that touch the MAS (presumably of corruption too) not being investigated now?

It is certainly problematic for the government that all these cases against opposition candidates are being brought up right before the elections. The opposition is certain that these actions, namely the detention of candidates or their families, are politically motivated. I think, they should give something to think about.

But, don't get me wrong, I am not advocating that these cases should not be brought to justice. If they are guilty, then they should be prosecuted. However, it is the timing that makes me think there is some type of calculation here. Why now? Why not six months before? one year ago?

Using counterfactuals

If the government (the district attorney's offices) had not brought up these charges against these candidates, the MAS would have less support than otherwise. Why do I say this? Well, a while ago, I heard Morales, in a speech, say that his party's objective was to capture 86 per cent of the vote so his government would have an absolute majority. Now, I believe Evo Morales when he says that. I is really not that crazy when one places himself in his shoes for a second. His record has been indicative of a rising trend in support for every election he has run. So, if he was able to capture around 65 per cent the last time he ran, what is to stop him now that he has at his disposal the machinery and resources of the government?

Of course, others might mention the fact that he is running in a multiparty system, the fact that he has been serving for two consecutive periods and the fact that not all has gone the way he wanted, would prevent such high expectation, but we are not all perfect. Besides, he has to demonstrate confidence to the public.

Conclusion

So what is the conclusion? There is no conclusion in this post! There is only skepticism on the actions of a government which has an ambitious plan and wants to realize it against all odds. The question remains, is the government trying to manipulate the electoral outcome? Why does it not take action against its bigger rival Santa Cruz governor Costas?



August 31, 2014

The Problem With the Bolivian Opposition

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It is becoming increasingly obvious the coming general elections in October will present very little challenge to the Morales government. That is because, on the one side, the opposition seems to be doing very little to position itself as a real alternative to the current government. On the other side, things seem to be going just as the government wants.

The opposition has not been able to distinguish itself as a real alternative. Instead of closing ranks to challenge the MAS' hegemonic position in Bolivian politics, it chose to split itself in several groups (PDC, UD, MSM), which are now taking part in the electoral process with their own candidates, their own platforms and their own ideas. Now, one can only speculate as to why the opposition decided to divide instead of converge. Perhaps no leader was willing to make place for the other? The one sure result from all this is that the opposition's vote is effectively divided. In a system where there is a second round and where there are provisions that would prevent a second round if the winner has sufficient distance to the second placed candidate, to run separately and divide the votes an opposition would get seems just crazy.

Further, by dividing itself, the opposition seems to have renounced to present an identifiable ideology which could counter that of the government's. Morales and the MAS have been able to build a seemingly convincing ideological discourse on what Bolivia is and what it should look like in the future, namely indigenous, anti-neoliberal and anti-capitalist. What is more, they have been able to make that discourse the dominant one, which is most important in political terms. The opposition, in contrast, although it seems to advocate more moderate social democratic ideas, has not been able to reach the electorate with those same ideas and arguments. Instead, it seems incoherently determined to conduct its campaign with the strategy: politics as usual. This means merely to try to differentiate itself from the "opponent" by highlighting what the other does or has done wrong. Well, this might be useful in electoral campaigns in places such as the US, however what the Bolivian opposition is achieving with such strategy this time is, first, the alienation of the Bolivian electorate, and second, the closing of the ranks in and around the MAS and Morales.

Moreover, the opposition has not been able to respond to the needs and preferences of a relatively corporatist society, whose corporate groups have increasingly sought to gain political relevance and decision-making power. If there is one thing remarkable about the MAS, is that as the political instrument of the social movements, it has been able to fulfill its raison d'etre. That means, the social movements and the different indigenous groups have used the MAS (the political instrument) to gain power by "playing the democratic game." The MAS, on its part, has been agile and apt to gather and channel those forces towards the support of its political aims through its discourse and political as well as organizational work. In contrast, the opposition has concentrated itself on conducting politics as usual in the same manner the today discredited political parties did before Morales came to power. That is, they have built coalitions or alliances with the most diverse groupings, which most likely have the most diverse political interests, needs and preferences. These lose alliances have begun to show their inherent weaknesses through the rupture of such agreements even before the elections. Some of these groups have even allied with the MAS.

Lastly, the opposition does not seem to be able to rid itself from an association with the "traditional parties"of the pre-Morales era. The so called traditional parties, the MNR, ADN, MIR, NFR, etc., are still identified with what Morales calls the neoliberal era in Bolivia. Because the discourse today is strongly anti-neoliberal, any political organization associated with this era has a significant political deficit. Of course, most opposition leaders today have a political past as former members of the mentioned parties or even leading actors in those organizations. This linkage still weighs heavy on their backs. It is curious however, that this association does not seem to have a significant enough weight on the, let's say, recycled politicians within the MAS.

Looking at the same problem from the opposite side, it is also arguable that the opposition has difficulties due to the government's actions. First, the government has strong support because of all the benefits it distributes (jobs and financial resources). The government has been keen on highlighting the fact that poverty in Bolivia has been reduced because of the different bonuses (social transfers) it has created. Currently, the government has been discussing the increase in wages and the payment of extra bonuses for Christmas season. The implicit calculation is, if people can expect benefits from their support for the MAS, they will tend to vote for it and disregard the opposition's promises. Second, the government gives indigenous citizens, which makes up the largest group, a sense of unity around a discourse which includes inclusion, equality, indigeneity, decolonization, vivir bien, etc. Also, this sense of unity leads to a strong identification with the MAS as the instrument to gain power. Most of the groups in which the indigenous population is organized have recently expressed their plans to control their members so they vote for the government. They argue that a vote against Morales will be seen as an act of treason against the indigenous movements.

Third, and most important, it seems the government has the potential to heavily influence the outcome of the elections. These allegations (not only from the opposition but also from other organizations such as the national association of journalists) are largely based on the events in and around the electoral process. One way in which the government could allegedly be influencing the electoral outcome is through the control of the electoral tribunal. The opposition has been repeatedly accusing the tribunal of being partial with the government. For example, the UD has repeatedly complained the tribunal has not reacted to the many complains submitted highlighting how the government violated current electoral rules. For example, campaigning rules. Similarly, another example is how the tribunal has used those rules to impair the opposition's campaigns. Recently the tribunal passed a resolution prohibiting the use of candidate images and voice in any media before a certain date (September 12). This has been a major obstacle for the opposition because they have not been able to, one, criticize Morales, and two, to distribute their messages with their candidate's faces. Apparently, however, the tribunal does not see anything wrong when the president or vicepresident show their faces and hold speeches on TV cameras or radio microphones inaugurating a clinic or school or some other project around the country.

Moreover, the opposition has repeatedly highlighted the government's intentions to influence the electoral outcome by making use of government resources in its political campaign. Morales has been traveling around the country in government-owned helicopters, cars and airplanes, clearly giving him an unfair disadvantage against its opponents. At the same time, it has been making use of the government's own media outlets in order to send its message. Finally, the government is also, some times pressuring and other times directing, that civil servants significantly contribute to the political campaign with either money (part of the wage) or time (by showing up in every concentration there is). 

In conclusion, it is evident the Bolivian opposition has handicapped itself by splitting and showing a broken front which has not convinced the Bolivian electorate. However, it is not only the doing of the opposition which makes it difficult for itself to present an alternative against Morales. The government has been effective in trying to control, one way or the other, the outcome in October.


August 26, 2014

Elections 2014: Government Programs

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The Bolivian website Gobernabilidad (Governability) has just published a comprehensive text in PDF format where they compare all party programs running for election on October 2014. For those Bolivia experts with Spanish knowledge this new publication should be interesting. This is the first time I have seen such a compilation of the programs for a Bolivian election. Here is the exact link.

For those English speaking only Bolivianists, here is a summary of the MAS' program. This is a lose translation, directly from the text in Spanish.

The MAS government proposes/plans, if re-elected:

Economic policy:

1. Defer the payments on Bolivian debt.
2. To use Bolivia's natural resources as basis for development through a participative development model (I have not seen more detail on what exactly a participative development model is)
3. To redistribute national income to increase domestic demand.
4. Plan and supervise credit to promote productive activity.
5. Recuperate and strengthen strategic enterprises (with popular participation).
6. Engage in infrastructural investment.
7. The reactivation of national industry.
8. Special treatment for value-added production and for capital goods needed to generate production output.

(this section has nothing on the agricultural and mining sectors, which are two important areas in the Bolivian economy. Both of them are politically charged, because the prices of primary products are rising and people are getting impatient as well as the mining sector tends to be the source of work for many poor Bolivians and the price of minerals is dwindling in the international markets. There is also no mention of how to deal with inflation, monetary policy, etc.)

Social policy:

1. Compulsory contribution of the private economy towards the development of the country.
2. Focus on the development of underdeveloped border regions and poor neighborhoods.
3. Creation of a national disaster center.
4. Health and education are a responsibility of the state.
5. Increase of wages and social bonuses according to a progressive scale.
6. Automatic medical care for the Chaco war veterans.
7. Extension in the social security system coverage to all.

(in this section the issues of immigration, housing, employment, social inclusion, are not included.)

Political rights:

1. Defense of the freedom of speech and expression.
2. Codification of aggression against the free press and journalists in the penal code.
3. Defense of democratic liberties, social rights (specially of the social movements').

Security:

1. Prevent the use of the police force in persecution, repression and torture.
2. Higher education for police officers with higher ranks.

(notoriously here is missing the issue of drug trafficking and drug production.)

Corruption:

1. Creation of a special commission to recuperate state property illegally appropriated.
2. Control and investigation of foreign accounts open by Bolivians overseas.
3. Control and investigation of acquisition of goods by Bolivians who do not have the means to acquire such goods.

Political:

1. The creation of a large political instrument (this means a party or political group) to further a political agenda.
2. Policy of relocation to populate border areas to address the issue of territorial integrity.

Foreign policy:

1. Formulation of foreign policy by the social movements (sounds like a corporatist model).
2. Deepen Bolivia's participation in Mercosur and CAN.
3. Follow a policy of good relations with all nations with similar objectives.
4. Adopt a peace approach.
5. Work to eliminate restrictive commercial exchange policies.
6. Maintain Bolivia's sovereignty of its territory.
7. Gain access to the sea.

Indigenous peoples:

1. Revert to the state unproductive latifundio and re-distribute the land in favor of the indigenous peoples.
2. Promotion of agricultural activity (of the indigenous peoples) through credit, distribution, commercialization, transport, insurance, etc.

Gender:

1. Create a National Women Institute to promote advancement in the rights of women.

July 30, 2014

Elections 2014: Political Persecution?

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Once again, coincidence or not, legal processes against opposition candidates are springing up. I think the question is relevant. Is there a concerted effort withing the government to take opposition candidates out of the race or at least damage their possibilities? Why are such suits coming just before the elections when, some of them, have been there for years?

Lets see, two first cases have come out recently. First, Juan del Granado, presidential candidate for MSM, has been dealing with accusations brought against him by the national office of the comptroller. The office re-opened (meaning the process was already there for some time) an investigation for irregularities in the construction of three bridges in La Paz while he was the Mayor. Del Granado has been cited to declare and the meetings have been postponed. He alleges political persecution to take him out of the race. In similar terms, del Granado’s Vice president candidate, Adriana Gil, has been dealing as well with her mother’s arrest under corruption charges. This time the regional office of the attorney is behind. She too alleges that the government wants to take the MSM candidates out of the race.

This post can be updated as more cases come to light.


Elections 2014: On Preferences, Voting Intentions and Polls

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This is an attempt at following the voting preferences of Bolivians for the coming October general elections. The numbers you will see here respond to the question for whom would you vote if the elections were today or this weekend?

At present time, several opinion polls have been published, but they are a bit confusing. First, most make use of a different methodology and, second, in consequence, they deliver different numbers. For one, some make a difference between intention of voting and preference for a candidate and others formulate questions less accurately.

But at the risk of showing something irrelevant, I decided to follow the polls and see if they have something interesting to say.

Lastly, clearly they are less informative than the ones we had in prior general elections.

In the following table you will see the names of the candidates, the poll results in percentage and a bit info on the methodology and, if available, the date.



Evo (MAS)
Samuel (UD)
Tuto (PDC)
Juan (MSM)
Fernando (PV)
Undecided
Tal Cual for Los Tiempos (July 20)
44
19.3
7.3
4.8
0.4
24
Ipsos for ATB (2 to 18 July)
41
9
2
2
2

Captura Consulting for Poder y Placer (eje central)
50.2
24.4
4.6
5.8
0.7
14.2
Equip. Mori
for El Deber
(July 19 and 28)
52
15
4
4
0.5
12

This table will be updated as the numbers come out.

July 25, 2014

Government Control of Citizens?

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The Bolivian government has been implementing what it has called a program for controlling, and therefore reducing, gasoline and natural gas smuggling activities. The name of such program is B-Sisa, which translates to Bolivian System of Aut-oidentification, and is under the jurisdiction of the National Hydrocarbons Agency, a regulatory agency. The problem for the government is that, because it subsidizes these products, many people see this as an opportunity to make extra money. In addition, the government indirectly ends up subsidizing illegal activities such as the production of drugs, which make use of gasoline as well as the illegal/clandestine exploitation of some minerals.

Why is this important?

The objectives of such an effort are fine, the problem is on the procedures used to apply such control. Since mid-2013, all automobiles, heavy machinery and motorcycles owned by Bolivian nationals are obliged to obtain an RFID sticker or a card (in motorcycles something like a ring) with which the control should be implemented. The procedure is more or less like this. Every car has been registered (name, address, ID, car, color, model, car ID number, etc.) in the agency's database by agents located in gas stations. So, for example, a person filling his or her tank drove into a gas station and while or after he or she bought gas, an agent came and registered them and their car and placed the sticker on their windshield. According to some press reports, close to 900,000 vehicles have already been registered. Currently, the agency is in the process of registering heavy machinery and motorcycles.

What is the problem with such program?

The problem with such a program is that the state is able now to monitor (closely) the consuming habits of private citizens because they gather private and habitual information about citizens. First, it is a concerted effort among various government agencies. For example, not only the hydrocarbons agency is involved, but also the Ministry of Productive Development and Plural Economy, the Authority for Controlling and Social Control of Enterprises, and the General Directory of Controlled Substances. Indirectly, the ministries and agencies involved are under the supervision of the Ministry of Government and the office of the Presidency.

How do they monitor?

First, as mentioned above, the agency gathered private information on each citizen who owns or drives a car. The information gathered was name, address, ID, telephone, car make, model, car ID number, licence plate and color. In addition, agents made digital photos of each registered car. Secondly, with the aid of the RFID chip placed in the sticker, the state (in this case the hydrocarbons agency) knows who is filling gas at the moment, how many liters and where he or she is located. The chip, as soon as is recognized by the antennas installed in every gas station in the country, establishes a connection with the hydrocarbons agency's data base and pulls up the information gathered and the photo. When the transaction ends, the information is sent to the agency. That way, the agency continuously gathers more and more information and can ultimately monitor each individual driver.

What are the implications?

The implications are double-edged. While on the one side, the state might have implemented an effective means to control or prevent that gasoline or natural gas be used for illicit activities, it has also at its disposal a powerful tool to monitor some aspects of the lives of its citizens. The government itself mentions that one of the objectives is citizen security. In light of this, not only smuggling can be monitored at every station along the borders but also, since the information includes names, people who are crossing the borders for private reasons. Another benefit for the state is the monitoring of sales of each gas station. While this might sound good for consumers who think this type of control is necessary, the monitoring itself is a problem.

With this type of control/monitoring there is a significant amount of privacy that gets lost. For those of us who consider privacy and the liberty to move free and anonymously around, this is a true concern. The benefits just do not outweigh the costs.



July 16, 2014

Elections 2014: The First Potential Problems Surface

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The five political alliances taking part in the Bolivian general elections in October 2014 have officially submitted their list of candidates for the legislative to the electoral court. For more on this please see the prior post. This post is about the problems already arising from the submission of such lists.

To start of however, a bit of context. As you know, the Plurinational Bolivian State has a bicameral system with a higher chamber being the Senate and the lower chamber being the Chamber of Deputies. The Senate has a total of 36 seats, with four seats for each of the nine departments. The lower chamber has 130 seats, with half being filled by the proportional representation method and the other half with first-past-the-post method. This, so called, mixed member proportional representation method is seen as the most fair, and not only by Bolivia. 

Having said that, shortly after the different political organizations submitted their lists to the electoral organ, there were already people complaining about the process, in particular about how the lists were filled. The major complain across political organizations seems to be that the lists have been filled not by consensus but by designation of some people in higher posts. That is, for example, one complain within the MAS. One supporter from Santa Cruz complained the names already agreed upon in a locality in Santa Cruz had been changed by two leaders of the MAS. The supporter complained the statutes had been violated because a seniority rule was not respected. An additional complaint was about the number of persons invited to run under the MAS. These people have recently become members of MAS. This means that people who have been in the MAS for a long time and wanted to fill a position were taken out and were replaced by some other person who was recently invited by some MAS leader.

Similar complains echoed within the MSM, whereby this organization does not pretend to principally open up spaces for participation for indigenous people while the MAS does. However, the basic pattern of the problem is the distribution of spaces (in this case candidacy posts) among the various organizations allied. Following this logic, if one organization does not respect what has been agreed upon, the alliance may run the risk of falling apart. The case of the UD, is similar but with one distinction, namely the political group has tended to recycle politicians from the traditional political parties and the MAS renegades. But essentially the distribution of positions in the electoral lists has been the glue keeping together (even the MAS) these alliances.

Two things need to be highlighted when looking at the lists, which you can access in the electoral agency's website. There are a number of family members coming up within the lists of candidates. The most conspicuous are the nephew of Evo Morales and the sister of MSM Vicepresident candidate Adriana Gil, who will run for lower chamber seats. I did not look at the lists careful enough to see other cases of nepotism? but I would not be sure these were the only cases. The second thing to be highlighted is the number of women in the lists. I think Bolivia has made tremendous progress in the area of women representation in leading posts. A news report says women make up 52% of all the candidates in this election. We should add that a significant percent of these have a real chance to being elected because they are incumbents as opposed to just substitutes.