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!!!

May 08, 2015

Bolivia's Demand Against Chile in the Hague


Since 2013 Bolivia is suing Chile in the International Court of Justice in the Hague regarding the long standing issue of sea access. This has been and still is the most important issue in Bolivia's foreign affairs. While all prior governments have made it an important issue, the Morales government has been the government which has done the most, among other things, take Chile to international court.

After having successfully internationally promoted the issue in different summits and meetings such as the OAS and the UN, Bolivia has created a special agency that has the only task to further support and "promote" this effort through the dissemination of information in different media and to legally support the effort at the Hague, the DIREMAR.This effort has successfully resulted on the acceptance of the demand in the ICJ and the subsequent exchange of arguments.

Here you can read (in PDF), in English, Bolivia's application to the ICJ. Here you can read Chile's objection (Vol I, Vol II, and Vol III) to the application and Bolivia's response to the objection. Here you can go to the case's link to keep up to date.

This May, Bolivia and Chile have been going through the most recent exchange of arguments. Both countries have presented their oral arguments (May 4 and May 6) outlining them before the judges.

However, one thing that attracted my attention was that the case is not about the sovereign sea access of Bolivia, which is the impression you get if you follow the issue through the media. Bolivia has been for a very long time complaining that the lack of sea access has had negative effects on its ability to economically develop. In fact, the issue has inevitably been tied to the issue of poverty in the country. But, not, the issue at hand at the Hague is not sea access per se, but to force Chile to recognize its "obligation to negotiate" with Bolivia over a the issue of sea access.

Bolivia's argument is:
Quite simply, all that Bolivia asks, as stated in its application, is for Chile to fulfill its obligation, to respect its repeated promises, its agreement to negotiate sovereign access to the sea, an agreement independent of the 1904 Treaty.
In effect, Bolivia is suing Chile into accepting negotiations on sea access issue, but that those negotiations include the words "sovereign access", which really means that Chile has to transfer sovereignty of territory to Bolivia. And this is something Chile does not want to do, and will not do, if they seriously mean what they (the Chilean government) have been saying all along.

The question is whether sovereignty is needed in order for Bolivia to have autonomous access to the sea through a Chilean port. Reason might argue it is not needed, unless there are reasons to dispute that reason. Arica has been, until now, the port through which the largest part of Bolivian exports and imports move. The situation was functioning well until Chile privatized the port in 2004 and the conditions changed for Bolivia since 2009 due to the company's rise in prices.

It is going to be without a doubt interesting to follow the decision...

Prior post to this topic

April 30, 2015

Subnational Elections in Bolivia


On March 29, 2015, Bolivia went once again to the ballot box this time to elect sub-national authorities. On that day, the question of distribution of power among the so called autonomous departments and municipalities across the territory was decided.  However, while most states and municipalities have had a clear outcome, there are still some unclear departments in which a second round of elections will be necessary. This second round will happen on May 3, 2015.

However, one thing is already clear from the partial results: namely, the MAS is slowly but surely losing its hegemony, at least at the regional and local level.

The monitoring and figuring out the results is not that easy in Bolivia. But, there are a few things the one who follows this with interest has to pay attention to.

Similar to a federal system, the different levels of governments have a government and an assembly or you might call it a parliament. At the departmental level, the head of government is the Governor (before it was called Prefect). But, the governor also has to pass legislation for his or her department through the scrutiny of the departmental assembly. For that reason, the distribution of power within that assembly is also important. Important is, above all, which parties make it into the assembly, the proportion of votes each party has, the coalition alternatives and who controls the agenda setting mechanisms. Most of all, the different coalition alternatives has proven to be of utmost importance, given the fact that in some particular assemblies coalitions have changed frequently and not always per ideological reasons.

Similar to the departmental levels, the municipal levels of government in the country have a head of government, the Mayor (or in Spanish, the Alcalde) and an elected assembly. The things to pay attention to are the same as in the departmental level. However, here, the possibility of removing the Mayor through a constructive vote of no confidence procedure make the number of parties present in the assembly and the distribution of power among them also important. Not to mention the alternative coalitional possibilities. This has led in the recent past in quite a few municipalities for a very unstable political situation. In addition, added to this situation in the assembly, the role of the vigilance committee (a sort of civil society watch dog with powers to stop the flow of funds to the municipality) has but complicated the political process.

The final results are on the way!

March 05, 2015

Morales' New Cabinet


I have been trying to post each new Morales cabinet to keep a public record. This time, Morales was sworn-in on January 22, 2015 and he appointed his cabinet the day after. It is a mixture of new and old faces. 

Source: Communications Ministry of Bolivia
If you need more information on each person take a look at this website, which has an interactive graph that will tell you who is new and who has been ratified in his post. If you scroll down you will find a short bio of each person.

Also, the Communications Ministry has this page with the same information you see above.

Really, in my opinion, a deeper look on each candidate has not been so useful. The cabinets have been changed periodically and the figures are (or have to be) pretty loyal, otherwise they leave very soon.

The only people worth some time, in my opinion, are the Minister of International Relations, David Choquehuanca, the Minister of the Presidency, Juan Quintana and the Minister of Economy and Public Finances, Luis Arce Catacora. Choquehuanca and Catacora have been in their posts as long as Morales has been in the presidency. Quintana has been as long too, but has changed from the Ministry of Government to the Ministry of the Presidency. Very key ministries and very interesting people. One day I might devote some posts to these people.

Elections 2014: Distribution of Power in National Assembly


Evo Morales and his party MAS were the winners of last year's Bolivian general elections, that much was clear shortly after election day. However, the question on how much power did the MAS acquired this time around has taken a bit longer to clear out. Above all, the government took some time to count the votes, to investigate some allegations of electoral fraud and, finally, to officially publish the list of elected congress members. To that delay, I have to add the fact that I did not have too much time to publish anything in the last months. Nevertheless, I am publishing now these three graphs below which illustrate the power structure in the Bolivian assembly.

The main question has been: How much power does Morales have in congress this time around? Does he have enough support to change the constitution, if he wants to remain in power beyond this term?

This question has already been answered in percentages terms with the publication of the official results, which you can find here. However, just knowing what percentage of the popular vote did Morales and the MAS get does very little to let us imagine the magnitude of support he will be enjoying within the assembly in his last term in office.

To see this, first of all, lets remember the Bolivian Plurinational Legislative Assembly, as is officially named, is made up of both, the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. The Senate has 36 members and the Chamber of Deputies has 130. The National Assembly is constituted when these both chambers come together, and as such it has a total of 166 members.

Also, lets remember that from what is described in the 2009 Constitution's section about the legislative branch, Bolivia uses the term absolute majority and means the formula 50% + 1. This is how decisions are made in the assembly and this is how laws are passed. At the same time, this would mean the MAS would need to control just one vote more than half the number of each chamber's members.

The graphs below show just how many congressional seats each party controls in each chamber.

To make it explicit, the MAS comfortably controls both chambers. In the Senate, which would require 19 members to have an absolute majority, the MAS has 25 votes. In the lower chamber, which would require 66 votes for an absolute majority, the MAS has 84.

What is more, in an assembly with 166 total members, such as the Bolivian assembly, the government party needs to have 84 members in order to control the passing of legislation. In the graph above, the governing party MAS has 109 members. That is well over the number required to obtain an absolute majority, namely 84 votes.

But, the question about constitutional reform remains. Now, the 2009 constitution states there are two forms of constitutional reform, one is total/substantial and the other is denoted partial reform. The difference lies in the fact that the first type means a change in the character of the constitution, i.e. rights, state form, values, etc. The second type reform can be a minor change, say in the number of terms allowed for the president to stay in office. The first type needs an almost constitutional assembly process where the reform is debated and, in the end, has to be voted on through a referendum. The second type of reform can be initiated by popular initiative or by the national assembly issuing a constitutional reform law. In the end, this reform too, has to be approved by referendum. However, the key factor is this law has to be approved by the two-thirds rule (so called qualified majority) with ONLY all the present members.

Now, if we make some math, the MAS would require to have 111 MAS congress members in a full National Assembly to be able to pass the reform law. As we stand, MAS has 109 and therefore is 2 seats short of a 2/3 majority. However, this should not present a problem because the constitution mentions the word 'present' in the formulation of the text. This means, the MAS has to have support of 2/3 of all the members present at the day of voting. So, 111 is not a magic number, In fact, the magic number depends on the attendance to the assembly on that day.

This seems like a very comfortable situation for the MAS. The hurdles to make a substantial or total change to the constitution are pretty high, but the hurdles to make 'partial' adjustments are not so high.

Now, I said that this picture was already clear as the results came out. However, the graphic illustration of the situation makes it even more clear. Besides, since I did not see such graphics in any other place, I figured I should put them out there.


Now, Bolivia, as many other nations, makes use of the absolute majority concept in order to take decisions in Congress. However, it is important to highlight that in Bolivia (and maybe in the Latin American region), the meaning of absolute majority is different from what we mean in the Western world, and with that I mean pretty much the US and Europe. In this "world", absolute majority is a form of a qualified majority which denotes the use of fractions such as 2/3 to distinguish it from a simple majority which is a majority gained with the formula 50% + 1 vote. Qualified majorities are used to address various reasons, chief among them, to raise the hurdle for more important issues such as the amendment of a constitution.

December 20, 2014

The Issue Between Bolivia and Chile


This is a collection of links on the dispute between Bolivia and Chile about sea access.

The official Chilean video laying out their argument.

This is a documentary produced by DIREMAR, the Bolivian agency in charge of laying out the Bolivian argument.

This is the first of several videos that tell the Peruvian version of the Pacific War.

November 07, 2014

Elections 2014: Official Results



Source: Los Tiempos

These are the official results for the 2014 Bolivian general elections reported by the electoral entity on its website (click here for a final report) and on the side is the allocation of seats in parliament according to the voting results. The latter image is borrowed by the excellent Cochabamba newspaper Los Tiempos, which shows the distribution of seats within the legislative assembly. It shows the power, and therefore dominance, MAS has achieved in this election. Click on the image to enlarge it, for a better view.

The MAS won 61.36 per cent of the votes, while the closes opposition party, the Democratic Union, won 24.23 per cent of the vote. As a third politically relevant group, the Christian Democratic Party won 9.04 per cent of the vote. The rest of the political forces, the Green Party and the Movement Without Fear were not able to reach the electoral threshold of 5 per cent.

This really means, Evo Morales and his MAS party are set to govern the country for a third consecutive term. This also means continuity in the policies and, much more, in the deepening of the Process of Change (read more about it here). At the same time, this also means, the old/new governing party will once again be controlling the legislative assembly and will once again be able to pass any law it might consider necessary.

However, the ultimate test for Morales and his MAS will come next year on March 29, 2015. That is when the next round of elections will take place, namely the sub-national general elections.

These elections will result in the political power distribution within the executives and deliberative assemblies of every department, municipality and autonomous regions and indigenous regions for the period 2015 - 2020. This is an election MAS will have to win if it wants to consolidate its power.

October 15, 2014

Elections 2014: Problems with the Results


The votes are in and now the counting has began. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal has been busy counting the votes, trying to get the ballot boxes to its counting centers and also trying to transmit the results electronically to its central office in La Paz. However, already in the third day of counting, this task has proven very difficult. Though the office has 12 days after the election to present official results, it has been the normal process to have close to 100 per cent of the votes two or three days after the elections. At least that is how I remember from past elections. During the rest of the available days, the office usually counted twice or three times to make sure the results were correctly counted.

This time around however, there are a number of irregularities being reported by some people. For example:

- militants of opposition parties reported the departmental elections office had published (on the web) the results in a special district when in fact the ballot boxes had not been open yet.

- in the same site (see prior post), the results for UD had gone up and then down in a matter of hours (taking into account votes for a party can only go up as the votes are counted).

- in Sucre, the departmental office published the percentage of votes counted for the district 1 which first were 75 and later in the day were 45 per cent.

- in Tarija, for district 40, earlier in the day there were 420 voting tables from which were counted around 66 thousand votes. Later in the day there was one more table and the votes went up to 88 thousand votes. The curious thing was the first time around an opposition candidate was winning and later a MAS candidate had won.

- in Tarija a ballot box with 4000 votes appeared in a voting precinct which only had 300 voters.

If this is an indication of anything, it is an indication the counting process has not been planned well and it has turned very chaotic.

Of course, the opposition has been prompt in proposing several theories for why are these things happening.

1. The first explanation, made by an opposition leader from Santa Cruz, argues the government is slowing the counting process down because it wants to justify the lead it had in the polls. This assumes of course the MAS did not have such a significant lead.

2. The other explanation/accusation argues the government (namely the electoral office) is manipulating the results to reallocate seats from the opposition in favor of the MAS.

I have to say, this type of denunciations from the part of the opposition is not rare in Bolivia. In the last elections, there was also a wave of electoral fraud reports. Some people also found ballot boxes full of MAS votes and the like. However, nothing got cleared or investigated and some weeks after no one remembered those reports. If I had to guess, I would say, this time will happen the same thing.

October 13, 2014

Elections 2014: Results


Update: For up to date results, as the counting progresses, follow this link which takes you to the Bolivian electoral office's (TSE) web site. The results are in Spanish.

There you can see the results at the national as well as the departmental and the district level.

Have fun!

It looks like Evo Morales was re-elected for a third term. According to exit polls reported in local media (here and here), Morales won the general elections with 60 per cent of the vote. The result for the other candidates has proven to be irrelevant this time around because the difference between Morales and the second candidate Doria is more than 40 per cent.

What is relevant still is whether Bolivians have made use of what they call the crossed vote, which means to vote for Morales for president but locally for a candidate of another party. This might translate in a larger and more relevant opposition in the national assembly, i.e. less power for Morales.

October 10, 2014

Elections 2014: Better Late Than Never - On Transparency


I guess better late than never, as the saying goes. Several partners, among them some universities, some ngos, some research institutes and other organizations have gathered together to present the Bolivian electorate two websites where they can inform themselves about the October 12 elections, the candidates and what is going on during election day.

It sounds good. I just ask myself why now? It is Friday 10, two days before the elections. Don't the electorate need such digital tools much before the elections? All I can say, is good try.

Here is one of the sites: voto informado Bolivia. The title translates to a very promising, informed vote for Bolivia. It is very poorly designed site. I wish they'd saved themselves the trouble. While you can obtain all the names of all the candidates (10 president and vice president, 72 senators and 260 deputites, primary and alternates, 18 representatives to supra national assemblies) running for election, in many cases that is all you will get. Of course, the presidential candidates are featured prominently. As you land in the site you see a dynamic row with the pictures of all candidates for president and vice president. However, once you click on one picture (thinking you'll get some info on the person), all you get is a short paragraph on them. It is really disappointing. Also prominent on the home page is a search field where you are prompted to enter a department name. However, once you do that you get the lists of the candidates for that geographic area. Many of the profiles don't even have a picture and when you click on a person you mostly get the gender, party, age and the name. That is all!

The other web site is: yo reporto Bolivia. This site, which translates to I report Bolivia, is a bit more useful. It has the motto voto informado y transparente, plataforma ciudadana, which, in light of what I am highlighting in this post, I am not sure whether it is entirely wishful thinking or only half of it. The motto translates to a citizens' platform for an informed and transparent vote. The main objective of the site is for citizens to report whatever they want to report on the day of the elections. Citizens can call, sms, twitt, and submit reports. Citizens can also sign up to receive alerts. So, the web site works as follows. A citizen reports what is going on in a voting precinct, be it he thinks it is something irregular or if she want to show the interior of a voting precinct or if he or she wants to take a picture of his or her vote. Anyone online can go to the website and in a geo-tagged map can follow the incident or observation or picture. Something similar to this was available last elections and proved for me to be very useful and, at the same time, very interesting in terms of digital or even liquid democracy.

However, and this is a very big however, the elections office or court prohibited two days ago the use of any electronic device in the voting precincts. That means people cannot report incidents or take pictures or make videos of what is going on in a voting precinct. The elections office argues it wants to guarantee the secrecy of the vote.

Well, that is it. Two days before the elections Bolivians get two pretty much obsolete web sites which could have been very interesting had they been published much earlier. Though, the second might have something interesting after all. I will give it a look or two on Sunday.

October 07, 2014

Elections 2014: On Preferences, Voting Intentions and Polls


As fun exercise I have been collecting (and updating) prediction polls in the Bolivian electoral process. Though everyone is pretty much sure Evo Morales will win the elections, I would like to think it is interesting (at the very least fun) to take a look at the trends and guess what they might or might not say about who will win and/or whether there will be a second round or not. I have to say, the Brazilian results have given me some inspiration to bring this post to an end.

During this electoral period, which has been in my opinion weird because of the quiet campaigns and the timid media coverage, three polling companies have conducted voter opinion polls at the request of different media. As the first polls came out, I posted a few of them just to have them in one place. Throughout the months that followed, I kept collecting the few polls that were published. It has not been that much, I have to say. Nevertheless, below you will find, whatever has been published, though I am sure is not a complete set. 

The fact that I put them together does not mean they are comparable. Most polls, if considered generally, are a bit confusing. Most make use of a different methodology and, in consequence, they deliver different numbers, which may lead to different interpretations. For example, some make a difference between intention of voting and preference for a candidate and others conflate these two. Yet others formulate questions less accurately.

At the risk of showing something irrelevant and due to a lack of polling numbers in these elections, I decided to follow the polls anyways and see if they have something interesting to say.

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

In the following table you will see the polling companies, the dates of the polls, the names of the candidates, and the poll results in percentage of the electorate.

Evo (MAS)
Samuel (UD)
Tuto (PDC)
Juan (MSM)
Fernando (PV)
Tal Cual for Los Tiempos (July 20)
Ipsos for ATB (2 to 18 July)

Captura Consulting for Poder y Placer (eje central)
for El Deber
(July 19 and 28)
Mori for El Deber (5 and 23 Aug)
Tal Cual for Los Tiempos
(23 and 24
Mori for El Deber (18 to 29 Sept)

Ipsos for PAT and ATB (8 and 23 Sept)

If a trend is a prediction then the following graph suggests what we already think we know, i.e. Evo Morales will win Sunday's general elections. The graph displays the average percentage of support per month.

Own elaboration

As the graph suggests, Morales has been increasing its large lead in the polls. While in July he led with around 30 percentage points, his lead in September has increased to somewhat over 40 per cent. That is a large lead. In addition, it has been predicted in September he will have gathered around 59 per cent support among the voting population. The candidate who has been following him from far is Samuel Doria. However, it seems Doria has not been able to maintain the support it had. In fact, he seems to have lost support from almost 20 per cent in August to somewhere around 16 per cent in September. The third in the race, Tuto Quiroga, seems to have made the most improvement, however he has not left the single digits. One thing I have to point out is that the undecided line in the graph does not have much meaning because I have no data for September. That is the reason why it goes to zero. Careful, it does not mean there is not undecideds any more. It simply means I do not have date for that month.

Does this seem Evo Morales is heading towards his third consecutive presidential period? It surely seems that way. After all, the new constitution says a candidate wins an election if he or she gets 50 per cent + 1 of the vote or 40 per cent with a difference of at least 10 per cent with the next most voted candidate. If he does not fulfill these criteria, he would have to face the second most voted candidate in a second round election. So the conditions for his win are given. However, if the recently past Brazilian elections are any kind of indication, the Bolivian outcome may possibly not be that easy. Though a significant gap to close, and if so it would be very close to a miracle, the final vote might end up sending Morales and a second contender to a second round. I think, this is what the Bolivian opposition is wishing itself right now.

What I think the most important issue is, is another one. Morales has been confidently expecting to win this election as well. I have speculated on the reasons why in other posts. What he has been asking his supporters all along is to help him achieve the 2/3 control of the assembly, which would mean a blank check from the electorate in favor of Morales. What he is looking in the end, and forgive me if I go very speculative, is the means to be able to reform the constitution so he can stay in power indefinitely. I think that is Morales' goal this time and not merely winning the elections. But that is just me.

You can find the latest polls in rar format in the electoral agency's web site. Other polls you can find in this web site, which I think is also from the government.