February 12, 2016

Politic Stability vs. Strengthening of the Democratic Process

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On February 21, 2016 Bolivian voters have to head to the voting booths again because the Morales government wants them to decide whether the President, Evo Morales (it is not decided yet whether the current VP will run again too), can run for president again in 2020. Morales needs to win this referendum because his government has to amend the 2009 Constitution to allow him to run for president again. As if it was not the case every time, voters are yet again confronted with a hard choice. This time around, however, it will not just be about whether or not to support Morales and his policies, instead it will be about whether Bolivians want continued political stability, on the one side, or whether they want to strengthen their democratic process, on the other side.

Political Stability

If we define political stability in terms of the absence of general strikes, blockades and continued confrontation between the government and organized society, so that the government is able to govern, i.e. administer, pass laws and carry out its agenda; as well as the regular continuation of the political process whereas there are regular free and fair elections, the passing of laws through the legislative process and the regular work of an opposition; we can more or less talk about the last ten years in Bolivia as being a politically stable period.

To start of, the arrival of the Morales government to office has meant for Bolivia practically the end of endless confrontations between the government and organized society. If we remember the 2000 - 2005 period, we cannot do otherwise than remember the political and social crisis the country lived through. I covered in this blog that process extensively. That period was characterized by devastating general strikes, road blockades and demonstrations which often forced the closing of government at the national and departmental levels and meant millions of loses for the economy. Added to that, there was the several deaths which were the result of such confrontations. In contrast, during the last decade, the level, and above all the quality, of conflict decreased significantly. While there is still conflict between government and organized society, the quality and quantity of conflict is nowhere near the levels of the mentioned period.

Second, because the level of conflict between society and government has been lower in intensity, the political process has been able to continue on. In that sense, for example, since Morales took office in January 2006, there have been ten elections (between referenda and national and subnational elections), each of which have been observed by national and international observers and have been deemed as free and fair. Another example is the routine in which the legislative process has been conducted. The Congress has been able to routinely pass new legislation, that is laws which have been necessary to implement the creation of a new state. However, I do know this point is weak because the MAS has controlled 2/3 of Congress and as such it has pretty much been able to pass all these laws without opposition. But again, while the opposition might have been at a loss, other groups (such as the lowlands indigenous groups, some groups in the mining sector and some groups in the largest cities), even within the MAS, have played an important role and have forced many times the government to either negotiate some policy or in some cases to accept their demands replacing thus government policy. This has bee a particular characteristic of Bolivian politics today. 

Third, and as a result of the above, the government has had plenty of room to govern. Namely, it has had the time to design policy, pass it through Congress and implement it. Compared to prior government, that simply has not been the case. Morales has founded a new state in his first presidential period. He has also been able to gain control of many economic sectors such as the natural gas, telecommunications, electricity industries. Him and his government have had the time to create legislation practically from scratch during his second term. Most laws passed since the creation of the Plurinational State in 2009 have replaced older legislation. Today he is continuing his agenda by consolidating the nationalization of many industries and the diversification of the economy.

The Strengthening of the Democratic Process

To start of, and for the sake of the argument, I just want to highlight the fact that Bolivia, throughout the Morales government, has been defined as a democracy. Of course, depending on which measure you rely on, you might qualify Bolivia as a weak democracy, as a partly free democracy, as a simply democracy (as opposed to full democracy), and even as a flawed democracy. However, there is little doubt that Bolivia still belongs to the democracy column as opposed to the authoritarian column.

But as highlighted by the several qualifications for the Bolivian democracy, under the Morales government, there has been a lot of skepticism about the democratic process. Many observers (here I include myself) of the Bolivian process, have highlighted the many governmental actions that have contributed to the opinion that Morales has had an authoritarian tendency and that as a result the democratic process has suffered. Examples of these actions have been the manner in which Morales and his government have dealt with opposition leaders, even those elected to office. The Attorney General's office has taken to court an unusual number of opposition leaders, many of which were even removed from elected office with the help of legislation allowing such actions. Another point for criticism has been legislation passed by Congress which resulted in de facto establishing self-censorship in the media. The law against racism and all types of discrimination has the potential to sanction any statement that can be interpreted as racist or discriminatory. But above all, the perceived tendency from the part of President Morales to want to stay in power indefinitely is the reason for vivid debate. Morales is technically in his third presidential period, but in 2010 he managed to pass a law which allowed him to start counting from 2010 because a new state was created, namely the Plurinational State. Currently, the February referendum is about asking the population whether his Congress can amend the 2009 Constitution to allow him to run for another period.

If the Bolivian people chooses to vote for the Yes, it will be basically voting to have continuity. That means, to allow Morales to keep on working in his "process of change", i.e. implementing his agenda and to have the same political stability that up to now has characterized Bolivia. If the Bolivian people chooses to vote for the No, it will be strengthening its democratic process (by international standards), but it could also mean a new period of instability, be it political or social.

February 03, 2016

Some Reasons Why Morales Eventually Might Be Losing Support

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On February 21, 2016, Bolivians, once again, will head to the ballot boxes to cast their votes in yet another referendum. This time, the issue is whether the 2009 Constitution can be amended to allow Mr. Morales to run a third time for office in the coming elections. According to the Constitution, that is one thing he cannot do, but would be able to if the basic law is amended. While the country is asking itself how long Morales wants to stay in power, political observers instead are asking themselves questions about the level of support he has been having. How long can Morales keep the high levels of support he has up to now been having? Will this support be enough to bring about a constitutional amendment?

Support

One way of looking at this issue is by considering what is going on in the current referendum process. In fact, it seems as if Morales will have the necessary support to change the constitution in his favor. 

According to the poll numbers you observe below, the level of support for the yes option, as in yes let us reform the constitution so that Morales can stay in power, has been stable since the end of 2015, which has given the government reasons for optimism for February 21. This level of support, the government has argued, has been solid since Morales arrived to government and will continue to be solid until the end. The main reasons cited are the desire of all Bolivians to continue in the path Morales has been working on. The government repeats itself without getting tired it has been governing by "obeying the people" and that the numbers give them right. On the other side, the camp in favor of the no, seems to have been started on a good foot to having dwindled a bit to gain some impetus in the last weeks towards the referendum. However, the jury is still out on whether the yes or the no camps will prevail.


Polls




Pollster
Publication date
In favor of: Sí
In favor of: No
Undecided
Captura Consult.
Dec 2015
48%
54%
5%
Mercados y Muestras
Nov-Dec 2015
40%
54%
6%
Equipos Mori
Dec 2015-Jan 2016
41%
37%
19%
IPSOS
Dec 2015-Jan 2016
38%
44%
14%
Mercados y Muestras
6-13-Jan 2016
41%
38%
21%

Source: Electoral Office (http://oep.org.bo/#post/encuestas)

Currently, the country is in the middle of the campaign process, which according to law should take place 20 days before the referendum. The re-election issue is a loaded one in Bolivian politics because it has a history. Whereas Morales has been in office since 2006 but has been able to successfully argue the first term did not count because it was before the founding of the new Plurinational State in 2009, the president is seeking once again to stay in office beyond 2019, when his current term should come to an end. 

If we go up the abstraction ladder a bit more, observers are beginning to talk about the fall of the so called new left in Latin America. If we look around, the Maduro government has collapsed, the Correa government is having its share of troubles and the rest of the leftist government around the region have left the stage, including that of the Kirchners. The new left is in retreat, that is how the headlines read in the newspapers around the world. One cause is mentioned over and over, the price downfall in the primary products.

Lack of support?

However, if we look at each situation with careful and unemotional eyes, we can observe there is a mix of causes, both, at the international and national levels. In the case of Bolivia, for example, Morales will loose support, much less because the new left is in retreat in Latin America or because the economy is growing at a lesser pace than before, but because Bolivians are not seeing a real and sustained improvement in their lives and their lives are not feeling the concrete efforts of the government. One illuminating example of the nature of such national causes is the state of the health system in the country.

The Health Care System

Bolivia's Health Care System is currently fragmented and difficult to get a grasp on. According to what I have been able to gather, it is divided into six areas: Public, Social Security, Armed Forces, NGOs, Church and Private.

I begin with the latter. The Private area includes all privately owned health centers, these can include hospitals, clinics, and other health center of that nature. Also, not to forget, is the fact that some of these centers might take care of publicly covered patients with a combination of public and privately billed services. In some areas away from the urban centers (either in the country side or at the limits of a large city), the Church has traditionally provided with some type of health care. While early on the Catholic Church was the one taking the initiative, today there are other initiatives from the evangelical tradition. Similarly, some non-governmental organizations, such as private groups or even many private persons, have engaged in the construction of infrastructure, supply of material and machinery and provision of health care.

However, the bulk of the coverage has been done by the central government. The Social Security area provides coverage mainly for salaried and organized workers. This coverage is mainly comprehensive, including disability benefits. Lastly, the public area covers, what recent Bolivian governments have considered, weak groups. Today the system scheme covers, free of charge, pregnant women (from before the birth to six months after), children up to 5 years old and also includes all women up to 60 years old. There is also an insurance scheme, also free of charge, for people older than 60 years old. Lastly, there is a scheme, free of charge, covering students.

The administration of public health care is carried out by the central and the subnational levels of government. In this manner, the closest level to the citizen, the municipal level, is considered the first level, where one can find sanitary posts, clinics, mobile health units and a basic level of health care. The second level is the departmental level of government, and here one can find hospitals with a larger health coverage and, many of them, are specialized in some areas. At the national level or the third level one would find national health institutes and highly specialized institutions.

Lastly, the Morales government has been implementing a "new" model of health care which they denominate Salud Familiar, Comunitaria Intercultural, SAFCI (Intercultural Communitary Family Health). This system has, most importantly, seeks to complement the western-style medicine with Bolivian traditional medicine, through the following principles: Social Participation, Integration, Intercultural and "Intersectoriality".

The system creates a series of spaces for the population to take part in planning and debate. This participation is more pronounced at the local level through assemblies and, what in Bolivia is known as social control and means entities created with the aim at exerting some type of control over the planning and financing processes. At the departmental and national levels there are committees which also discuss the policies, and above all, the compliance with the central government's policies. The model also provides for the integration of different components of traditional life, such as family, community, and nature. The intercultural part addresses the intention of complementing the western-style medicine with Bolivian traditional medicine and the "Intersectoriality" part seeks to build a comprehensive approach to health care by including diverse components such as health education, sanitary infrastructure, the production or supply of medicine, etc.

The latest Ombudsman report

The Bolivian Ombudsmen Office, in a report published in January 2016, has stated the issue of health is one of the most vulnerable human rights in Bolivia. Considering that a lot has been done in the passing of laws to better the health care sector, building of infrastructure and in the creation of posts for health workers, the report cites several conclusions which point to an unsatisfactory development of it: a) there is a general lack of knowledge of the law and therefore of the norms and principles of the new system; b) in that matter, the law is not being applied as it should be; c) there is still confusion on the administrative side of the process, forms and processes are not being handled as they should be handled; d) the level of information is insufficient, people still do not know their benefits and rights; e) insufficient infrastructure still or too many patients; f) delays in the transfer of funds between municipalities and health units; g) not enough medicines; h) additional charges in many cases where there should not be any.

The report also cites some more facts: four out of ten people do not have any type of health coverage, coverage in the country side is significantly less than that in the cities, specialized care is inadequate, with patients having to wait months before they get an appointment, and in many hospitals care is rejected due to deficiencies in facilities, i.e. not enough beds or no access to technology.

Support at the national level

In the course of this last ten years the Morales government has been in power, many things have been achieved, but by the same token, because the task is so  monumental, there are still many more to achieve. If the average Bolivian, at the beginning of the current government, felt as if this was the one government that was going to change things for the better, ten years into the "process of change", they are starting to measure the government with different measurement instruments. In more concrete terms, if people do not feel the newly created health care system is not working for them, they will have less trust in the government and the level of support will erode. In political science, that is a well known association. The longer the government is in power, the less support it has. That is one reason why presidents who come into office with double digit support numbers, tend to leave office with single digit support numbers.

In the case of Evo Morales, it will not be different. The more he stays in office the more chance he has to do some work, but at the same time, the more chances he has to make some unpopular decisions. Added to that, the fact the process is a slow one, that almost guarantees impatience on the part of the people.

Sources:

http://www.paginasiete.bo/sociedad/2016/1/22/defensor-solo-cuatro-cada-bolivianos-tienen-seguro-salud-84196.html

http://www.ops.org.bo/textocompleto/pi31260.pdf

http://www.eldeber.com.bo/bolivia/41-poblacion-votaria.html

January 19, 2016

Time Line of the Autonomic Process 2005 - 2015

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In this link you will find a time line for the autonomic process in Bolivia. The link is from the State Service for the Autonomic Process (SEA).

Here


January 16, 2016

List of Political Parties and Other Organizations Allowed to Advertise Their Messages for the Referendum

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The following graph shows a list of political parties and other organizations allowed by the electoral entity to advertise their messages (either yes or no) in government media for the coming referendum in February 2016.

In it, Bolivians will decide whether the constitution CAN be changed so that Morales and MAS can run two more times for the presidency.

The electoral law restricts publicly and privately financed campaigning to a period between 20 days and two days (72 hours) before the referendum, February 21.

La Razon, January 16, 2016

Link

Elections in Bolivia Between 2005 and 2016

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La Razon, January 16, 2016
Link

January 13, 2016

The Tiquipaya Conference on Climate Change

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Bolivia has been active on trying to contribute to the global debate on climate change. Back in 2010 already it organized a conference of the peoples in Tiquipaya, Cochabamba, where all the peoples (as in indigenous plus non-indigenous peoples) gathered together to make decisions on climate change. This conference came up with a paper, which eventually came to be known as Tiquipaya I.

In October 10 to 12, 2015, Bolivia organized a second conference in Tiquipaya, Cochabamba with the aim at the UN Climate Change conference in Paris, the COP 21. The results of this conference were to be presented at the COP 21 and were called Tiquipaya II. In this link you can find the results.

The paper basically is a plead for leaving capitalism as a form of development and to adopt instead the concept of Vivir Bien (Living Well), of course, the alternative model followed by Bolivia.

Update:

In the mean time, the COP 21 has already happened in November 30 to December 11, 2015 in Paris. It was considered a full success because of the, according to the media and the organizers, historical agreement. Here you can find more details on the conference and here you will find all the contributions of all participant countries. In any case, I could not find the declaration of Tiquipaya II.

Bolivia's Development Model and Plans

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The Bolivian government has published, in the context of the climate change conferences in the last months, a series of papers outlining its approach to development. This exert is from the contribution to the Paris climate change conference COP 21: (here you find the version in Spanish, ergo de original version)

Living Well with the vision of development in which the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution of Bolivia is based on, includes the construction of a human being without material, social and spiritual poverty; universal access of the population to all basic services, in the context of the human right to water; a social and community production model that generates wealth and redistributes it to build a more equal society; productive growth based on diversification by strengthening the energy, agriculture and tourism, and boosting oil and mining sectors with industrialization; roadside, railway and river integration of the country, connecting populations and the flow of goods between the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean; and an environmental management model for living systems to eradicate poverty, fully develop the local and national economies in a complementary way with the conservation of environmental functions and the development of sustainable production systems. Bolivia considers that it must make fair and ambitious efforts to address the impacts of climate change, although it has not caused the phenomenon of global warming. Also, Bolivia defines its national contribution in the context of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and its 169 goals, which are part of the new development agenda, from a holistic view of the commitments, to be implemented voluntarily by each State and framed by the Political Declaration of the General Assembly resolution document. The fight against climate change for sustainable and harmonious development with nature on the basis of management systems life is present in this vision.




September 28, 2015

The ICJ Decision on Whether it has Jurisdiction to Attend Bolivia's Request

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On September 11, I asked whether November 24th, the day the ICJ was to issue its first decision on the case brought to court by Bolivia against Chile, was going to be a decisive or fateful day for Bolivia. It turned out to be, against the expectations, the first decision among many.

The court said it rejected Chile's contention about the case not being in the court's jurisdiction. The judges cited the Pact of Bogota (signed in 1948) as giving them jurisdiction.The consequence was, the court also judged in favor of Bolivia to accept the Application filed by the Plurinational State on 24 April 2013. Both decisions were passed by 14 to 2 votes.

It is a first decision because this decision was, to start of, to determine whether the court had authority to accept such a case and to decide whether the case filed by Bolivia was going to be accepted. This was requested by Chile.

This first decision seems to have been an obvious one because, what international court with aspirations to really become an international organ of justice was going to reject such a case? Was it not?

The second decision was a bit more tricky: it seems Bolivia formulated a convincing argument.

If you followed the case, you surely did not miss the resources, efforts and planning that the Bolivian government applied to bring this application to the ICJ. I mean, in the formulation of the application, the government was making use of the full experience of its justice system, but in addition, the efforts were supported by a team of lawyers, historians, political scientists and other professionals from Bolivia and outside. Adding to that was the council of international experts and international lawyers. In addition, the Bolivian government armed a significant international campaign to bring its message to every possible place in the world. The government created an agency (Diremar) dedicated to do this through every conceivable medium, including the effective media in the Internet.

September 11, 2015

September 24: A Decisive or a Fateful Moment for Bolivia?

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Thursday, September 24, 2015 at 15 hours (The Hague time) can turn into a fateful moment or remain a first decisive moment for Bolivia. On that day and that hour, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will "deliver its Judgment on the preliminary objection to the jurisdiction of the Court raised by the Republic of Chile in the case concerning the Obligation to Negotiate Access to the Pacific Ocean (Bolivia v. Chile)" [PDF file].

It could be a fateful moment because the finding could severely undermine the efforts Bolivia has been making to, from their perspective, rectify a historic wrong. For it is sure that if the decision is against Bolivian interests, the country will continue to make efforts to bring Chile to a negotiation table. Only, that, if such is the case, those negotiations will not take place on Bolivian terms but rather on Chile's terms. In order for those negotiations to take place on Bolivian terms, a favorable judgement by the ICJ is imperative.

However, it could also be a first decisive moment, if the judgement is favorable to the Bolivian cause. That being the case, it is pretty much for sure Bolivia will continue the process. The difference would be that the country would have gained international recognition and, yes, some significant support for its cause. Of course, that does not mean Chile will capitulate. On the contrary, the issue is more than likely to continue in other instances.

So let's wait until the judgement is delivered and then we can keep speculating how will this process go on.

August 24, 2015

The Lithium Dilemma for Bolivia

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The Morales government has been continuing its plans to develop Bolivia in economic terms based on the extraction of natural resources. One of its latest objectives has been to add the mineral Lithium to the resource list, which includes gold, silver, soy, wood and, most of all, natural gas. That is because, the Salar de Uyuni, a salt-flat some 10 thousand square kilometers large located south-west in the Potosi department and near the Andes, is considered by the government the next significant source of wealth for the country. This gigantic area, roughly the size of Connecticut, has the potential to be one of the largest lithium-producing areas in the world, and that is very tempting for the Bolivian government.

For that reason alone, the Bolivian government is planning to invest, with the help of its Central Bank, some 925 million dollars by 2019, in the hopes to develop an industry capable to meet the world demand for lithium due to growth in the car and electronics industries. In few words, Morales pretends to turn Bolivia the first supplier of lithium based batteries for the world.

However, in light of the slow pace of Bolivia's industry pretensions (presumably until 2019), the rapid pace of technology developments (including in the area of battery development), the interest of the different industries that use this kind of batteries to come up with an alternative to lithium batteries and, not to forget, the dangers of lithium batteries, it is important to question whether the strategic plans of the Bolivian government are well founded. After all, it would be senseless to invest so much money in creating an industry from scratch to only see it become obsolete before recovering at least the investment.

The Bolivian government places its hopes (and at this point one cannot say more than that) on the, at the moment, insatiable demand for lithium batteries around the world. And that, is not that crazy. At the moment, li-ion batteries are being used in practically every mobile device thinkable, laptops, tablets, cellphones, etc. The advantages are well known: lots of power, reasonable rechargeable times and relatively long-life. To that, one has to consider the use of these batteries in the auto industry. Many car makers are already using li-ion batteries to power their hybrid or electric cars. The plans, in fact, are the increase the use of such batteries and the increase in the production of such cars. Many governments, in their efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and meet their self set emissions targets, are actively funding the increase production of e-cars.

In light of that, it seems a good idea for the Bolivian government to bet for the development of an industry that may have significant prospects. This would make even more sense if we consider the amount of lithium available in the Salar de Uyuni and that lithium itself is not that wide-spread as other resources around the world. 

However, is the future of li-ion batteries assured? Above all, is the demand for such batteries assured? Will they be replaced by another invention? (one that might already be in the works?). The short answer to the last questions seems to be, yes, there are alternatives being worked on. One in particular seems to be very promising: aluminium based batteries.

There are several reasons why has the industry been thinking about developing alternatives to li-ion batteries. The most significant of these has been its tendency to catch fire. There have been numerous reports of such batteries catching fire or even exploding. Other reasons are their not so efficient charge time and their relatively insufficient life-spans. In fact, the industry (in this case the battery industry) has been long seeking other alternatives, but none has been more promising as the aluminium alternative. These batteries have been cheap to produce, they take short times to recharge and presented low levels of risk (as compared with the li-ion batteries). The only caveat has been the relatively low levels of energy they produce. However, the industry seems to be paying a lot of attention to the development of a viable alternative to li-ion batteries.

In conclusion, while it might seem, at the moment, a good idea for Bolivia to develop a lithium battery industry, the future of li-ion batteries looks very uncertain. If the industry is actively seeking for alternatives, the long-term future for those Bolivian plans seem not to be so good. They would only make sense if Bolivia starts producing such batteries as soon as possible. That would mean, the development process would need to be sped up a great deal.