December 29, 2004
2004 is come and gone and now we anxioulsy await 2005. What will it bring us? I choose to think it will bring us a mixture of all good and not so good things. However, the good things will outweigh the not so good ones. It's a matter of being optimist or pessimist, I guess. I think, no matter what happens to us, we all end up remembering the good things.
I do have a list of New Year's resolutions, and in this I also choose to be optimist. My list begins with getting in shape. Although, I have already started doing this, there is more that can be done. The next item in the list is to eat healthy. I also think I have slowly started doing this (changing my eating habits), but there are many more things that I could do. An example would be, to stop eating too much salt. And so the list continues with starting an exercise program, jogging and/or walking, etc.
Now that I realize, my list is mainly about getting healthy. Living healthy and increasing the quality of my life is a major goal. After all, one has to be healthy, in order to do all the other resolutions one might have.
Among the other resolutions I have for next year is the continuation of this blog. Since I started it, back in 2003, I have increased my readership little by little, that is encouraging. What encourages me more though, is that one of the goals of this blog is slowly being achieved. Overall information about Bolivia is starting to increase exponentially. I remember when I started surfing the net using Mosaic, back in 1994, I looked right away for information about Bolivia. All I found was the little information available in some American databases and the nodes of ENTEL (Bolivian Telecommunications Company). This lack of information about Bolivia continued up to recently (three of four years ago). Now, there is much more information, but not enough, in my opinion. That is not to say, that because of MABB there is all this information available now. No, the contribution MABB does is small, but important, I think. When people do a search on Bolivian topics, MABB shows up in the search. That is cool in itself, but at the same time it means that more information in English is needed.
Continuing in the spirit of optimism, I know, Bolivia will increase its presence in the information superhighway in 2005. The infrastructure is already there or in the process of being built. There are two hopes that arise from this: First, that the government will utilize this tool to make the administration of Bolivian affairs more transparent, thus increasing legitimacy and credibility. The second is that with the availability of all these technologies, Bolivia will become a more educated country. The hope is that through these technologies, education becomes more accessible to all the citizens of Bolivia. Because only through education will Bolivia be able to rid itself of all its maladies, like corruption and instability.
In essence, next year, MABB will continue to express my opinions and perhaps the opinions of others. I will continue to follow up Bolivian affairs and other aspects of Bolivian culture. I will also continue to follow events in my adoptive country, the US and my new home, the EU.
Wishing all the best to all readers, I say "chao", until next year!
December 22, 2004
Here we are, two days before Christmas 2004. It's certainly been an interesting year. I guess I only need to mention a couple of things: US Elections and Bolivian Referendum.
However, the end of this year has come. I think 2004 itself, is happy about it. It is time for the new year, 2005. It comes with lots of responsibilities and lots, but lots of expectations. I wish you all, a happy Christmas with your loved ones and the best for the New Year.
This will probably be the last post for the year. As you know well, it's a busy time and thus there is little opportunity to make long posts. Although, I will try to update between Christmas and New Year, it will be a little hard to do it because I will be most likely trying to have a happy Christmas and spending it more with my family and friends.
This time of year, takes me inevitably back to my fondest memories in the Christmas season. The whole Christmas feeling lingers around involving me until I am completely intoxicated with it. This year it certainly has been specially intoxicating because in the city where I live, Hamburg, Germany, they are very good at creating this atmosphere. One cannot help of getting in the mood when walking through the city. The Christmas lights adorning the streets, all the Christmas markets (there are at least four in the center of the city), the smell of the food vendors, all the stores with their Christmas motives and decorations and also, everywhere you walk, there is Christmas music playing. Not to mention, the wether is just the right one for Christmas. I tell you, it is difficult, even if you would want to, not to get in the Christmas mood.
But it is about another place's Christmas season that I want to tell you about. While remembering my best experiences in Christmas, I like to remember my Bolivian Christmas. There, in some aspects, is similar to what I am experiencing here. For example, as in Hamburg, Christmas fully starts around the first of December. This is when the first Advent is celebrated. The Advent time is the time before Christmas and, for more religious folks, is when the people start waiting for the coming of Christ. Although, this year it started end of November. In Bolivia, this thing about advent was not well known, although in my family we did celebrate it.
Nonetheless, all the stores start putting up their Christmas decorations and playing some Christmas music. So the streets start taking this Christmasy look. In additions to the music from the stores, I could enjoy the Christmas Villancicos. That is groups of small kids walk through the streets playing and singing Crhistmas songs. The instruments they mainly use are Harmonicas, pipes and an instrument they make themselves out of bottle caps. What I used to do, when I lived there, was to often go out into the center of the city (La Paz) and just walked around in search of that oh so special Christmas gift. The streets filled with busy merchants, street vendors and shoppers, all walking around in search of that elusive Christmas gift. As the 24th approached, one started to see more and more people around and the streets filling more and more. Closer to Christmas eve, the streets were so full, one could not walk on the sidewalk anymore. Also, the fact that the street vendors took almost half of the sidewalk, did not help.
I would say, about two weeks into Christmas, there is a full festive feeling. All the commercial part of the city (the center), is lit and the stores as well as the streets are full.
In Bolivia, we traditionally celebrate Christmas Eve. We believe Jesus Christ is born exactly at twelve at night in the eve of the 24th. So all the preparations are for this time. Christmas eve started for my family and me, early on. Well, more for my mom that for any of us. All had to be ready around 10 pm. All the candles lit, all the presents arranged at the foot of the 2 m high Christmas tree, the table set, and the food ready. Usually, my dad arrived after work at around 6 pm, and that was the cue, that the evening had begun.
Actually, all we did was wait......and wait......and wait......and wait. Until, finally Jesus was born and we could get on with the celebration. Right after twelve, we all wished each other merry Christmas and we toasted to peace and love. Then, we all got to open the presents. That was usually the best part of the evening, specially for me. I had been waiting for that moment for a long time.
Another highlight of the night was the dinner. At home, my mom prepared THE most delicious Picana. That's a dish made like a soup (fricase) which contained red meat, chicken and pork. It also had pieces of maiz, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, raisins, some red wine and other ingredients that I don't remember. How could I, I just ate it. I let my mom do the cooking. She was a master at it.
We stayed up late that night. The grown ups talking and the kids (that was me) playing with the new gifts.
The next day, we all got up a little late. We enjoyed a delicious lunch, which consisted on warming up the rest of the Picana. Somehow, it seemed to all of us that the next day the Picana tasted even better. After lunch, or many times for lunch, we had family visits.
So, that was Christmas for me (in a short version) in Bolivia. Enjoy yours and once again, Merry Christmas!
December 19, 2004
The Bolivian Congress' wheels have slowly started to move. Last Friday (Dec. 17), early in the morning, the Congress finally designated those officials in the Judiciary branch, of which I talked about on this article and on this one. The designations has been in provisional status for just about a decade. However, there is more to be done (as if there isn't always).
After having fulfilled their obligation to the Bolivian people, the Congress decided to take a end-of-year brake. The brake comes after finalizing 60 of the 90 sessions for the 2004 calendar year. Moreover, some newspapers are reporting that the special commissions have not been working at full potential.
The President of the Deputies Chamber, Mario Cossio, has of course, praised the work of Congress and has said the brake is deserved. He also said his chamber has decided to come back earlier next year on January 10 instead of the 17th, because there are important issues to deal with.
If there someone to credit with this historic event, Congress ending the uncertainty in the Judicial branch, I think it must be President Mesa. He was the one who, emboldened by the results of the Referendum and his high approval ratings, surprised the Congress by appointing the officials himself. In essence doing the work of Congress. This way, he applied pressure, which resulted on last Friday's designations.
Now, that doesn't mean I am a supporter of Mesa. I am staying neutral on this president. But, that doesn't mean that I cannot give him credit for this one.
December 18, 2004
How history will judge presidents is a mistery. The fate of Goni seems to be turning for the worst. Gonzalo "Goni" Sanchez de Lozada (MNR), president of Bolivia from 1993 to 1997 and 2002 to 2003, will be taken to court for his part in the Bolivian Gas War. The newly appointed Attorney General (Fiscal General), Pedro Gareca Perales, has promised to act with due diligence in the Sanchez de Lozada case. He is prepared to seek extradition from the US Government. He said, he will make the Sanchez de Lozada case a priority.
Sanchez de Lozada is largely credited with stopping Bolivian hyperinflation in the 1980s. He was Paz Estenssoro's (MNR)(1952 - 1965, 1960 - 1964 and 1985 - 1989) Economics Minister. He worked to stop hyperinflation applying what we now know as "shock therapy". Sanchez de Lozada said, "inflation is like a tiger. You have one bullet and if you don't kill it, it'll eat you".
PBS has an interesting interview with Goni. Here is an excerpt and a link to read more.
INTERVIEWER: Why has Bolivia seen so many military coups?
GONZALO SANCHEZ DE LOZADA: There has been a great deal of institutional instability, but it's interesting to note something that few people will realize: From 1825 to 1995 -- 1825 is when Bolivia was founded [and] became a republic, and 1995 is when the study was concluded -- Bolivia had fewer changes of government than Great Britain, and Great Britain is seen as the example of democratic stability, while Bolivia is seen as the example of instability in democracy. The reason we have had so many military coups is that many times, when we have had big problems, we haven't been able to really resolve them. We haven't had the flexibility that comes when you have the ability to change the prime minister of the party or take a vote of non-confidence. But undoubtedly it was institutional weakness and non-participation. You have to realize that it was only in 1952, after the national revolution, which my party led in Bolivia, that the people really were given the vote. Before that it was a very, very qualified vote. Two hundred thousand people voted, and today it's three million people. Back then women couldn't vote; peasant farmers couldn't vote. You had to take a literacy test, pay property taxes, and take a series of tests to make sure that democracy wasn't participated [in]. Only now have we achieved the basic stability of democracy, which is to have the people participate in elections.
December 14, 2004
In the last few days, Bolvian politicians have been expressing their discontent with the Capitalization process in Bolivia. Some have even said the process was detrimental for the country. Some have pointed out, with relative reason, the capitalization has been devastating for the capitalized companies. However, how is capitalization going to help growth, if the citizens themselves have been, and still are, blocking its development into a possible growth engine?
The capitalization process started in 1994, under the presidency of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (MNR) and his new economic policy. The basics for this policy was to "capitalize" government owned enterprises. The reasons being, the vast inefficiencies in the management of these enterprises. In basic terms, the public companies were not making any money and were not contributing to the creation of capital, which is the necessary ingredient for economic growth.
In 1995 the process started. ENTEL (National Telecommunications Enterprise), ENFE (National Trains Enterprise), LAB (Bolivian Airlines), ENDE (National Electricity Enterprise), YPFB (National Oil Company) y VINTO (Mining Company)were all capitalized.
The basic scheme was to sell 50% of the company's shares to strategic investors. These investors were to bring, in addition to capital, know-how, management and more investment. The state, who owned the other 50%, in the name of all Bolivians, was going to share in the profits.
Ten long years have passed and the capitalization process has nothing to show to justify its implementation. The reson d'etre, to reverse the economic crisis, was not achieved. The most conspicuous and easy to understand figure illustrating this is the official unemployment rate, which is around 8.5% currently. However, one has to look at underemployment, which is around 35%, and there is a gigantic informal sector, having all the ingredients of a shadow economy. There have been many scandals surrounding the capitalized enterprises and its efforts to become profitable companies. Bolivians are not richer; they are not employed; economic growth is weak at best; some of the former national enterprises are shut down now. The discontent among the population is palpable. The population just doesn't see the benefits of the capitalization.
A closer analysis of the economic progress, over time, might reveal something different. For example, foreign direct investment (FDI) in Bolivia, over the 1995-2001 period, discloses an average of 700 million dollars per year of FDI, with marked increases in 1998 and 1999 of over 1,000 million. GDP growth for the period 1990 to 2002 is an average of 2.7%, with some years reaching 4% annual growth. The National Statistics institute (INE) estimates for 2003 and 2004 are 2.9% and 3.2% GDP growth respectively. Bolivia exported at an annual rate of 6% from 1997 to 2002.
What these numbers highlight is some level of economic activity. If we compare these numbers to the 1980s period, they show a marked improvement. Of course, mainly because the 1980s was marred by hyperinflation and crisis after crisis. But, even if we compare them against other Latin American countries, the numbers have a respectable look. Additionally, part of the reason the country ended that vicious cycle of uncertainty and economic lassitude in the 1980s was the economic reforms instituted by the latter governments, including that of Sanchez de Lozada.
Although, I do not want to justify the capitalization process. God knows it would be a difficult task in light of its lackluster results. It is a fact that Bolivians are not better-off as a result of capitalization and some Bolivians are even worst-off (workers laid off, like miners). However, it is worth to emphasize the fact that the population had a very big role in hindering the possible benefits of those policies. Even though, it may have had some very good reasons for the disruptions.
If the government cannot fully implement its economic program and has to devote the bulk of the time in resolving social crises, then the policies do not have a chance to evolve. The endless, and very often unreasonable, demands, strikes, blockades, etc., from the different social sectors, greatly disrupts the government's ability to work. While Bolivia is in an endless state of crisis, no international investor wants or is even able (even if it wanted) to invest in the country. Uncertainty and a high level of government intervention in the private sector clogs the investment climate in a county.
I always have to think of the Bolivian Government as a confused man lying on the floor trying to get up. You just don't come to this man and start kicking and beating him in order to help him get to his feet. If you depend on this man, for once you might just wait until he is up and has regained his strength.
December 11, 2004
According to a public opinion survey, political parties are the institutions most affected by corruption world-wide. These are followed by parliaments, the police and the judiciary. This is according to a report conducted by Transparency International (TI), a leading corruption watchdog in the world.
The aforementioned report was published on December 9, 2004, marking the UN International Anti-Corruption Day.
For this report, 62 countries were surveyed. The score was between 1 (not at all corrupt) and 5 (extremely corrupt). Ecuador, followed by Argentina, India and Peru, scored the highest, highlighting these countries as having the most corrupt political parties in the world.
Bolivia scored 4.5 out of 5 as having extremely corrupt political parties. The legislature scored a 4.3; the judiciary scored 4.0 and the police department scored 4.2. The Bolivian population thinks these political organs and the police department are marred by corruption. If you are familiar with Bolivia, ther is nothing new here. Other sectors like business private sector, medical services, education, registry and permit services, and utilities scored around 3.0. The least perceived sectors were Media, NGOs and religious services which scored 2.8, 2.7 and 2.2 respectively.
Additionally, 44 per cent of the people asked thought corruption had, to a large extent, an effect on the political life of a country. In the same manner, 33 per cent thought corruption had significan and/or moderate effect on business life.
What is a little surprising is when Bolivians were asked whether any member of the family had to pay any kind of bribe in the last 12 months, 21 to 30 per cent answered yes. I would have thought the percentages were higher.
It is a fact that corruption in Bolivia is rampant. The only difference now, is that it's being kept track on.
December 09, 2004
Yesterday, December 8, 2004, there were two very important events going on. The first one, was the creation of the South American Community during the summit of Latin American Presidents in Cusco, Peru. Bolivia, Argentina, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Surinam, Uruguay y Venezuela, signed the new document. México y Panamá will be observers.
The second important event for Bolivians was the soccer game between Bolivar (Bolivia) and Boca Juniors (Argentina)for the South American Cup. Boliviar won 1:0. Now, Boliviar has the chance (a chance like this is not often in Bolivian soccer) to become South American champion, if it wins the second-leg game to be played at the famous "La Bombonera" stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
But, my post has nothing to do with these two events, rather it has to do with what is important to Bolivian politicians: Bolivian affairs or Soccer.
According to a report from El Diario, on the day of the soccer game, the Bolivian Congress declared a recess so legislators could attend the game. Now, I am trying to understand this. On the one side, yes, this is a once in a blue moon opportunity for Bolivian soccer. I am sure the game was one of the most important games in recent history. Bolivia does not get very often to finals and much less comes out wining.
On the other side, there are so many pieces of legislation pending in congress, one of which is the Hydrocarbons Law. This is a piece of legislation which is being anxiously waited by just about everybody. Every day that passes without this law being signed represents millions of dollars lost for Bolivia.
Among other issues to be considered is the Constituent Assembly; the appointment of officials to the Department of Justice, whose nominations are pending for more than a decade (not kidding, look here)(see my post on this issue). And finally, time is just running out. The end of year recess starts 17th December.
Is there really time for legislators to postpone Bolivian affairs to watch, perhaps, one of the most important soccer games in recent times?
Of course, one could argue, there are other things to consider, like continue negotiations among parties. And, negotiations are very well conducted in back offices of the Parliament as in the suites at the stadium, while watching the game.
But, what does that say about priorities of parliamentarians. Is their motto: "There is nothing that cannot wait"?
December 07, 2004
In many Latin American countries, race is a flexible concept and can change with a person's status in society. Historical and contemporary evidence shows that a Latin American strain of racism favors lighter-skinned over darker-skinned people, but as an old Caribbean proverb says, "Money bleaches."
This quote comes from an article written by Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, published by the Los Angeles Times. I found about this article through Hispanic Trending, a blog that writes about Latino issues in the US.
The article talks about a study authored by Pew Hispanic Center researcher, Sonya Tafoya, who analyses how Hispanics in the US see themselves in relation to race, politics, education and social position within the society in general.
This study is interesting to me because it reflects the complexity of the Latino ethnic group within the US. Whereas Latinos are defined ethnically as Hispanics for statistical purposes, they (we) are far from being a homogeneous group. Even though, Latinos share some cultural traits and a common language, they are as diverse as they come.
The study highlights the more obvious differences. Skin color, being the most mentioned. Also, among the differences, the author cites economic situation, education, employment, political ideology and cultural identification.
December 04, 2004
I have created a temporary photo-blog about Hamburg, the city where I live, in Christmas time. In it, I want to show why is it I like Hamburg specially in this time of year.
Please visit the site and enjoy the views!
Hamburg in x-mas
The Municipal Elections are just two days away and it seems everything is under control. So much, that according to the Electoral Code (Codigo Electoral)and the National Electoral Court (CNE), there are several prohibitions in place 48 hours before the elections.
For instance, it is prohibited to sell or consume alcohol within the national territory. The price can be up to Bs 100.
It is also forbidden to carry any kind of weapon. In addition to losing the weapon, the owner could find himself or herself in prison and pay up to Bs 500.
It is not allowed to drive any kind of vehicle during this period in the national territory. To drive, one has to have a special permit.
Also, it is not allowed to engage in any kind of political campaign. Not obeying this rule can cost Bs 500.
The party representatives and elections delegates are not allowed to show their partisanship with any extravagant or obvious garments. They are only allowed to wear caps and arm-bands.
It is also prohibited to transport voters from one place to another. This violation can cost Bs 500.
And finally, it is prohibited to travel, in any way shape or form, within the national territory. Although, international travel is allowed.
So, the voters, on top of having been bombarded with political slogans, campaigns and propaganda, they have to suffer through thirst, restricted movement within the city and not being able to visit family in other states. What a weekend will this be for Bolivians.
November 28, 2004
On December 5, 2004, Bolivia will again go to the ballots to elect local governments. This will be a major test, not only for Bolivian democracy, but for the decentralization process as well. These elections will be the first ones in which voters will have other choices than just those the traditional political parties present them with. Thanks to the recently approved Ley de Agrupaciones Ciudadanas y Pueblos Indigenas (roughly translated to Law of Citizen Groups and Indigenous Peoples) promulgated on July 6, 2004, voters will be able to chose among candidates representing Agrupaciones Ciudadanas and Pueblos Indigenas. This law, essentially demonopolized Bolivian politics, making it possible for different citizens groups and indigenous organizations to present alternatives.
As a result, the pool of candidates has exploded. According to the Corte Nacional Electoral CNE, there will be 12,946 candidates up for election this coming December 5. Encouragingly, 35.93 % of the total candidates will be women and 64.07 % will be men. One other interesting fact is, when we look at the total people able to vote (4,531,744), 23.5% are between the ages 22 and 30. Moreover, the group of people between 31 and 40 represent 23.3% of the electorate. Together, these two groups make almost half of the people eligible to vote. This is not surprising since Bolivians between 20 and 40 years old make up about 28% of the entire population. The Bolivian population as well as the electorate is relatively young.
The older generations are represented as follows: the group of voters between 41 and 50 years old make up 18.14% of eligible voters, and the groups between 51 to 65, 66 to 70 and over 70, make up 16.66%, 3.4% and 8.5% respectively.
For more coverage of Bolivian Municipal Elections visit Barrio Flores. Eduardo Avila has been covering this process closely. He takes you right into de middle of the political parties' rallies.
As far as I can see. The elections are set to proceed without any major event. The people are fully engaged in the process. We'll see in the next few days if it stays the same or something else develops. As always, following Bolivian politics is a roller coaster.
November 25, 2004
The Bolivian Congress has a full plate before them to finish by early next year. Among other important issues to be considered by both chambers, like the Constituent Assembly, the legislative is pressed to finish work on the Hydrocarbons Law (pdf) (Ley de Hydrocarburos), the upcoming municipal elections, the national budget (Presupuesto General de la Nacion or PGN) and the appointment of justices and District Attorneys (DA).
The Hydrocarbons Law is most likely to be postponed to be finished next year. The reasons being the December municipal elections and the PGN. Nevertheless, some work on the energy bill has been finalized. Articles dealing with the ownership of the natural resources; procedures reviving the national oil company; YPFB (Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos) and guidelines for YPFB, were passed by the Deputies Chamber yesterday.
The municipal elections are set to be held on December 5. The legislative is planning a recess so legislators can turn their attention to local issues arising from the elections. For its part, the elections are right on schedule. By December 3, free and paid campaigning is set to stop, the ballots are already in the precincts and elections officials are all ready.
Although some have called for the consideration of the PGN after the elections, the legislative wants to get this issue done before the elections. This is a very ambitious wish but not unlikely. Congress knows that if it doesn't get it done soon and to the liking of the Executive, President Mesa will act, backed by Article 147 of the Constitution, to elevate the project to law. Congress does not have much choice but to work on it.
The issue most likely to be left for early 2005 is the appointments of judges and DAs in the Legislative Branch. Here, Congress is also pressured by the Executive. On the eve of July 31, 2004, Mr. Mesa filled, by a decree (Decreto Supremo), these posts that had been in provisional status for over a decade (read my post on this here). This was the beginning of an ever harshening relations between Congress and the President.
November 23, 2004
This post is purely for entertainment. Nothing to think, just read and laugh. Perhaps learn a bit of American pop culture mixed with urban legends.
Warping through cyberspace I came across the story about Dan Rather, anchorman of CBS Evening News, leaving his seat, which he held more than four decades. I am actually kind of sorry to see him leave. He was a good anchorman. I enjoyed his program. But, the mistake he made with President Bush's medical records was fatal, in my mind.
The funny thing is not that he lost his job, but what happened to him a while ago. Rather has always been a 'rather' colorful personage.
To find out you are going to have to answer the question below by following the links. If you already know the answer, you can leave any comments by clicking the comments link.
What do Dan Rather and REM have in common?
REM and Dan Rather
First clue: the song
Second clue: The incident
The explanations: here, here, and here.
So there. Now you know more than you aver wanted to know about what strange things happen to Dan Rather.
November 19, 2004
Again, I find an article amidst the Time's OP-EDs that I like. I have been thinking for a long time about this problem. But, then again, who hasn't?
Every day we read about violence in the Middle East, about insurgents in Iraq or some act of violence somewhere in the world perpetrated by a radical islamist. This article, in the NYTimes, has gotten to the core of my opinion about the subject. I always wondered, about why muslims in the world have not been more OUTSPOKEN agains all the violent acts commited in the name of Allah.
It seems to me, the latest triggering act was the murder of the well known dutch film maker Theo Van Gogh. He dared to criticize Islam. As a result, there has been a string of attacks between non-muslims and muslims, which have had an eerie repercussion throughout Europe. In Germany, the actions in Netherlands, have prompted a debate about immigrants integration and paralell societies.
The following article does one thing, in my mind. That is: It voices what every muslim in the world MUST be saying after hearing about a suicide bomber blowing himself or herself up in a crowded place anywhere in the world (not just Israel).
INDIGNATION! REPUDIATION! of these acts.
Here is the article in full length, for those of you who are not registered in the NYT.
Under the Cover of Islam
By IRSHAD MANJI
Published: November 18, 2004
As a young Canadian Muslim who has called for reform in Islam, I've been traveling throughout North America and Europe over the past year. Last week, I toured France and Spain. God help me.
I didn't expect a warm reception from fellow Muslims. But now, I'm also not sure that liberal Muslims like me fit comfortably in a secular European crowd. I say this even after the murder of Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker, who police officials say was shot and stabbed by a Muslim extremist. Mr. van Gogh had exercised his right to criticize Islam - a right that I, as a modern Muslim, defend unequivocally.
What then gives me the sense that even modern Muslims can't be modern enough for Western Europe? It's precisely that, from Amsterdam to Barcelona to Paris to Berlin, people incredulously ask me one type of question that I'm never asked in the United States and Canada: Why does an independent-minded woman care about God? Why do you need religion at all?
I'll answer in a moment. To get there, allow me to observe key differences between the debate over Islam in Western Europe and North America. In Western Europe, the entry point for this debate is the hijab - the headscarf that many Muslim women wear as a signal of modesty. By contrast, the entry point in North America is terrorism.
Some might say that difference is understandable. After all, Sept. 11 happened on American soil. But March 11 happened on European ground, yet the hijab remains the starting point for Europeans. Meanwhile, it makes barely a ripple in North America.
This difference speaks to a larger gulf in attitudes toward religion. To a lot of Europeans, still steeped in memories of the Catholic Church's intellectual repression, religion is an irrational force. So women who cover themselves are foolish at best and dangerous otherwise.
Not so in North America. Because it has long been a society of immigrants seeking religious tolerance, religion itself is not seen as irrational - even if what some people do with it might be, as in the case of terrorism. Which means Muslims in North America tend to be judged less by what we wear than by what we do - or don't do, like speaking out against Islamist violence.
But there's something else going on. The mass immigration of Muslims is bringing faith back into the public realm and creating a post-Enlightenment modernity for Western Europe. This return of religion threatens secular humanism, the orthodoxy that has prevailed since the French Revolution. Paradoxically, because many Western Europeans feel that they're losing Enlightenment values amid the flood of "people of faith," they wind up sympathizing with those in the Muslim world who resent imported values that challenge their own. Both groups are identity protectionists.
We see such protectionism playing out in the debate about whether Turkey may join the European Union. Reflecting a sizable segment of public opinion, European Union commissioners have argued that Turkey is too "oriental." And let us stay that way, proclaim some Muslim puritans who fear the promiscuity of pluralistic values. But is Turkey all that different from Europe?
It's a longtime member of NATO. Its so-called Islamist government has updated the country's human rights statutes to conform to the standards of the European Union. It's home to an astonishingly free press. Recently, a left-wing newspaper questioned the Koran's origins, a right-wing newspaper wrote about gays and lesbians lobbying for sexual orientation to be included in anti-discrimination laws, and a centrist newspaper editorialized that the education system should be reformed to promote diversity.
As one young Turk told me, "If Western values are tolerance, democracy, justice, equality and freedom, then I live in a Western country: Turkey." Try explaining that to those Europeans who want to impose their baggage from the Vatican onto Muslim immigrants. Their secularism can be zealous, missionary - dare I say it, religious.
Which brings me back to the question of why I, an independent-minded woman, bother with Islam. Religion supplies a set of values, including discipline, that serve as a counterweight to the materialism of life in the West. I could have become a runaway materialist, a robotic mall rat who resorts to retail therapy in pursuit of fulfillment. I didn't. That's because religion introduces competing claims. It injects a tension that compels me to think and allows me to avoid fundamentalisms of my own.
Islam today has deep flaws, and I know saying so makes me a blasphemer in the eyes of countless Muslims. C'est la vie. If they move beyond emotion, they'll come to appreciate that for the rationalists among us, religion can be a godsend.
Irshad Manji is the author of "The Trouble with Islam: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith.''
November 17, 2004
Even though I was slammed with work last week and this week, I want to take time to direct you to a very good site I found. Well, actually, it found me. Don't ask, long story.
The site is Centro Boliviano de Estudios Multidisciplinarios or CEBEM.
Translation: Bolivian Center for Multidisciplinary Studies
The site is an excellent source for innovative research emanating from Bolivia. I have not seen many of these. These people, seems to me, are serious researchers.
Give it a try!
November 15, 2004
While Bolivia's congress is busy derangedly debating the proposed Hydrocarbons Law; the government is hazily trying to avert attacks from all sides of society and government; and civil society is bent on fighting both congress and the executive in defense of what they call 'national sovereignty', plans on liquid gas exports are going ahead.
El Diario's latest report says president Kirchner and Antonio Brufau, REPSOL-YPF's representative, will sign an agreement to expand the gas pipe line of the north. While this plant takes care of the northern region's market in Argentina, other plants will be free to supply contracted amounts with Brazil, Chile and Uruguay.
This is what I am thinking. After reading numerous reports of big energy companies signing contracts or agreements with neighboring countries, like Brazil or Argentina, I am thinking, there is a new strategy within the energy companies. It seems that Bolivia, as a country, with all its idiosyncracies and its cronic instability, is effectively being circumvented by big business. The energy companies only have to build their plants on more secure, stable and business friendly soil, like Brazil or Argentina. These countries, in the name of "brotherhood and cooperation", would negotiate generous contracts with the government of Bolivia. That means, cheap gas folks!
If we think about it. That would be one way to lower the high risks of doing business with Bolivia and at the same time, get cheap prices. That kills two birds with one shot.
So, I ask. Why isn't Bolivia taking advantage of its natural reserves and bringing plants, pipes, jobs and everything else that comes along with actually contstructing these things in Bolivian soil?
November 12, 2004
Reading about the passing away of Mr Arafat, I found this article in the NY Times, which posed an interesting alternative to the solution of the Middle East problem. Essentially, the author mentions that, on the table, there is a proposal to create a state in which both, Palestinians and Jewish will live together. This would mean the elimination of the Jewish state and the Palestinian state.
Now, that is some proposal. Bold, but it makes you go, hm!
What would this mean? The social intricacies within Israel are a complex issue. There are Jewish and Arab citizens, and within these two groups, there are more levels of divisions, along religion, politics and geographical origin. For a good look at this topic, look here.
Following the Corruption series, MABB wants to also give a forum to other opinions about the Corruption issue in Bolivia.
PRODEMOS, an interesting Bolivian blog in Spanish (it definitely deserves a visit), published an article that tackles this issue. The question posed by Gonzalo Quiroga Zubieta, "Corruption: Chronic National Illness?" is a question that aims to the heart of the problem.
November 10, 2004
Mr. Alberto Gonzales, now, former White House Counsel , and it looks like, future US Attorney General (AG), is on his way to the highest post ever held by a Latino in the US Government. That is, according to news reports.
Mr. Gonzales, according to a press report, has been a long time friend and associate of President Bush. He will finally be rewarded for his loyalty, his counsel and his hard work.
If Gonzales is appointed, he will be in a unique position to represent all Latinos living in the US. That, in itself, is worthy of mention.
His critics, however, frown eyebrows at his possible appointment. Apparently, Mr. Gonzales is a conservative with deep roots in the south. Gonzales was born in San Antonio, Texas.
While at the White House, Mr. Gonzales was involved in the negotiations between the White House and the 9/11 commission. Mainly, he asked the commission, for conditions to be met so National Security Advisor, Condolezza Rice could testify. He was also in charge of negotiating President Bush and VP Cheney's talk with the same commission.
Another issue Gonzales was involved, which made news, was the issue of the war in Afghanistan and the prisoners in Guantanamo. According to a memo obtained by MSNBC, Mr. Gonzales advised President Bush to "declare the war in Afghanistan, including the detention of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters, exempt from the provisions of the Geneva Convention."
It would be good for all Latinos in the US if Gonzales is appointed. That would be a step forward in improving the Latino image in the US. He, ultimately, whether he likes it or not, will be a role model for all Latinos.
At the same time, it would be detrimental for that same image, if Gonzales is seen as a second Ashcroft or even worst.
Here is more info on Mr. Gonzales.
November 07, 2004
While 51 percent of Americans are so happy, they are dancing on their kitchen tables while sticking their tongues to the opposite side, the other 48 percent have been largely missing from the after elections coverage.
Ah, but yours truly has found them. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, the Internet and AOL, I have found the other half of Americans, those losers of elections, those who I thought were in such a depressing state, they were in bed and did not want to get out of it for at least the next four years.....
Here is what the are doing.................enjoy it! ;-)
The other half of Americans.
November 04, 2004
Well, it's Thursday November 4, the elections were two days ago and we already know who our President will be for the next four years. Mr. Bush.
In the aftermath analysis, we are all asking ourselves, how come Mr. Bush was able to win in such a decisive way. In my opinion, it is because America is a pretty consevative land. Yeah, I knew America was conservative. But, I did not know how much. It surprises me the depth of conservatism. I am not the only one who thinks that way. Todd S. Purdum, from the New York Times, has published a very interesting article and as is my custom I post the whole article below. Enjoy it.
Electoral Affirmation of Shared Values Provides Bush a Majority
By TODD S. PURDUM
Published: November 4, 2004
It was not a landslide, or a re-alignment, or even a seismic shock. But it was decisive, and it is impossible to read President Bush's re-election with larger Republican majorities in both houses of Congress as anything other than the clearest confirmation yet that this is a center-right country - divided yes, but with an undisputed majority united behind his leadership.
Surveys of voters leaving the polls found that a majority believed the national economy was not so good, that tax cuts had done nothing to help it and that the war in Iraq had jeopardized national security. But fully one-fifth of voters said they cared most about "moral values" - as many as cared about terrorism and the economy - and 8 in 10 of them chose Mr. Bush.
In other words, while Mr. Bush remains a polarizing figure on both coasts and in big cities, he has proved himself a galvanizing one in the broad geographic and political center of the country. He increased his share of the vote among women, Hispanics, older voters and even city dwellers significantly from 2000, made slight gains among Catholics and Jews and turned what was then a 500,000-popular-vote defeat into a 3.6 million-popular-vote victory on Tuesday.
The president's chief strategist, Matthew Dowd, released a memorandum yesterday noting that Mr. Bush had become the first incumbent Republican president to win a presidential race with majorities in the House and Senate since Calvin Coolidge in 1924, and the first president of either party since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 to be re-elected while gaining seats in both houses.
"I think that there's a great deal of evidence that the American people support this president," said Ralph Reed, the former Christian Coalition leader who was Southeast regional coordinator of the Bush campaign this year. "There is a wide swath of voters, not just in the South but in the heartland of the country, that no longer feels that the Democratic Party speaks for them or their values, and that is a serious impediment to the Democrats in a campaign like we have just been through."
From state capitals to Capitol Hill, the Republicans made gains on Tuesday. Eleven state ballot initiatives to ban same-sex marriage passed easily, even in laid-back, live-and-let-live Oregon, and apparently inspired turnout that helped Mr. Bush. William J. Bennett, the former education secretary who has crusaded for moral values, noted in National Review Online that it was Ohio, which may well have lost more jobs under Mr. Bush than any other state, that gave him his electoral vote victory.
The former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who led the charge that produced a Republican Congress 10 years ago this month, said: "I think all of the major themes of this president fit very much into the concept of a center-right governing majority. If you think about John Kerry goose-hunter, and John Kerry altar boy and John Kerry defender of America, he understood at some pretty profound level that you could not move out of the center-right and win."
Mr. Gingrich added of Mr. Kerry: "Look, I think he did the best he could. I think he actually overperformed his natural vote by four or five percentage points. You have to give him some real credit."
All along, Mr. Bush's political guru, Karl Rove, had argued that if Mr. Bush could turn out millions of conservatives and evangelical Christians who stayed home four years ago, he could win, aided also by population shifts that added electoral votes to the Sun Belt states in which the president ran strong both times.
Vice President Dick Cheney, as he introduced Mr. Bush at a victory rally in Washington yesterday afternoon, said that his boss had already had "a consequential presidency," and that voters had been inspired by his "clear agenda."
The biggest questions now may be about just what parts of that agenda Mr. Bush will choose to pursue, and just how many fights he will take on with either his liberal opponents or his conservative supporters.
Will Mr. Bush move to create private investment accounts for Social Security, a move that would follow through on an idea he first broached four years ago, gratify free-market ideologues but discomfit fiscal conservatives worried about how he would pay for them and practical politicians fearful of simply touching such a hot issue? Will he pick confirmation fights over anti-abortion judges, or press for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage? Or neither? Or both?
Yesterday, Mr. Bush sounded a conciliatory note. "A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation," he said. "We have one country, one Constitution, and one future that binds us." Mr. Cheney's daughter Mary and her longtime partner, Heather Poe, appeared together at the victory rally.
The power of second-term presidents tends to dissipate quickly and Mr. Bush's will be limited at the outset because he will still be five Republican votes shy of the 60 needed in the Senate to stop a Democratic filibuster.
Senator Arlen Specter, the moderate Pennsylvania Republican expected to head the Judiciary Committee, warned Mr. Bush yesterday against nominating judges "who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade."
James A. Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, said that for all the Republican gains, "the other story is that the nation is deadlocked, especially in the Senate, over what the most important issues are and how we deal with them."
But Grover Norquist, president of the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, said that the Republican Party was no longer what it was 25 or 30 years ago, "a collection of people running on their own." Instead, Mr. Norquist said, "there is a coherent vision, and to a large extent voters can tell that Republicans are not going to raise their taxes, are for tort reform, are for free trade."
He said that without the drag of the war in Iraq, Mr. Bush would probably have rolled up a bigger majority.
As it is, Mr. Bush became the first presidential candidate to win more than 50 percent of the popular vote since his father did so in 1988, and he received a higher percentage of the popular vote than any Democratic candidate since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
All those are daunting numbers for the Democrats. Early in his campaign, Mr. Kerry drew fire for musing aloud that the Democrats could win the White House without the South.
Yet for all of their hope that the Southwest could be their new ticket, Democrats were left with the fact that in the past 28 years, only Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton among their ranks have made it, and both had Southern and evangelical support. Mr. Kerry, a lifelong Roman Catholic, often struggled this year to speak of his faith in public.
"Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter got elected because they were comfortable with their faith," said Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, a former Clinton aide. "What happened was that a part of the electorate came open to what Clinton and Carter had to say on everything else - health care, the environment, whatever - because they were very comfortable that Clinton and Carter did not disdain the way these people lived their lives, but respected them."
He added: "We need a nominee and a party that is comfortable with faith and values. And if we have one, then all the hard work we've done on Social Security or America's place in the world or college education can be heard. But people aren't going to hear what we say until they know that we don't approach them as Margaret Mead would an anthropological experiment."
November 03, 2004
It is official, Sen. Kerry called President Bush to concede the race and wish him success.
So, we'll have four more years of President George W. Bush.
Congratulations Mr. President. Let's make America proud.
This is an incredible race, worthy of a photo finish. Tighter cannot actually get!
Various news media organizations are projecting the winner of this elections day, and no one can agree on the actually winner.
MSNBC is projecting Bush having 269 electoral votes (EV) and Kerry having 238 at last count. These numbers reflect the Ohio votes, which MSNBC and Brokaw put under the Bush column. It is worth noting that Ohio vote counts are not final. Also, Brokaw and co. have placed the 17 Michigan EV under the Kerry column.
CBSNews is projecting different numbers. Dan Rather and co. give Bush 254 EV and Kerry 242 EV. The discrepancies lie in the fact that they are counting New Hampshire for Kerry and Ohio as not decided yet.
CNN has yet different numbers. They are giving Bush 254 EV and Kerry 252 EV. The difference is the 10 EV Wisconsin has, which CNN is counting under the Kerry column.
The Washington Post agrees with CBSNews and projects Bush with 254 EV and Kerry with 242.
The Yahoo News section is also projecting 254 for Bush and 252 for Kerry. They are pretty much leaving Ohio out of any count, for now.
That is THE big question, which most likely will keep us in suspense the rest of this week. Ohio's vote count. They still need to count the so called "provisional ballots", which are ballots suspect to validation. In Ohio's case, these ballots will not be counted until 10 days after the elections. Elections officials will have to look at each ballot contested and make sure it was cast by a legally registered voter. There are already people who are predicting this will end up in the courts.
One thing is for sure, though. The Senate and the House will remain in the hands of the Republicans and it Bush wins, they will have a tremendous opportunity to remake America. During the next term, who ever wins, will have the chance to appoint five Supreme Court justices and if William Rehnquist leaves his seat, that will be one more seat that needs to be filled.
So here we go again! De'ja vu! I think, there is one thing clear coming out of all this mess. America needs to fix its systems for voting. In the mean time, we won't know who won until the issue of Ohio is settled.
November 01, 2004
If the planets and the stars are aligned and the curses and legends are correct, then all the odds must be given to the New England patriot, who wears red sox and is favored by the redskins.
There are several wild predictions about the presidential elections going around. But, this one folks, is the wildest.
Apparently, sports legends (article)and symbolism are favoring the democratic challenger Kerry to win the oncoming elections.
The story starts on Superbowl XXXVIII. On that day, the New England Patriots won the coveted trophy. Of course, we all know that Sen. Kerry is a New England native, and won the primaries of his party. At this point most superstitious people and the patriots' fans would have been happy to make a coincidence appear more than what it is. Really a coincidence!
However, this late in the race, enthusiasts of this theory have three more reasons to point out. First, they are just too happy to recall one of the biggest upsets in baseball history when the Boston Red Sox (from New England) pulled an incredible come back from a deficit of 3 games to defeat the New York Yankees 4 to 3. The Sox were by far the underdogs due to the so called "Curse of the Bambino", which plagued the team until now. This curse, it is said, began when the Sox traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees back on January 3, 1920. But, seemingly, the team's curse was lifted and they proved to be worthy of the World Series. People, started to pay attention to the eccentrics who were pointing out these coincidences.
The second event that raised eyebrows was the sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals by the Red Sox in the World Series. The final score was 3-0 for the Sox. Not since 1918, the Sox had won a World Series. This proved once and for all that the curse was lifted and the Sox were a team to reckon with. At the same time, this also was a final sign that the stars were in favor of New England. Sen. Kerry, himself was quick to point out the Sox achievement when asked whether his campaign was in trouble. (news)
The third and final event, which for many confirms this theory, is the losing of the Washington Redskins' home game before the elections. This past Sunday, the Skins lost against the Packers, 28-14, which I don't find in any way amusing, since I am a Skins fan. This is relevant because, according to history (here & here), in the last 17 elections, the last home game of the Redskins before the elections has correctly predicted the outcome of the elections. If the Skins win, the party in power stays. If the Skins lose, there is change of power in the White House. This fact, has not only captured the attention of all the proponents of the wild theory. Now, we even have, political commentators such as Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert, talking about it.
So, there you have it. The predictions are made and the bets are on. Who will win the Tuesday elections? It is hard to tell, but at least we have some theories to rely on.
Jose Maria Paz, a fellow blogger who keeps an interesting photoblog from La Paz, has cool pictures of the La Paz Zoo. You can visit his blog at, Joe's Blog.
This is the site Joe is building for the Zoo.
When I was still living in Bolivia, the Zoo was located in the city. Now, apparently, it has been moved to the south, where it is warmer and there is more space for the animals.
October 30, 2004
Continuing with my habit of telling my readers about Bolivian traditions, today I will tell you about another tradition: Todos Santos or All Saints Day.
This tradition is historically interesting, it comes from the mixture between western religion and pagan customs. As we know, Catholicism has a long tradition of adopting pagan customs in order to expand the appeal of christianism towards the natives of every region. However, I thought I'd spare you the history and instead I tell you about the tradition itself and about how my family experienced it.
It always started early in the morning, November 2. That was when I used to see my mom preparing the table. But, before I tell you about the table, let me tell you a little about the meaning. Todos Santos is the day the souls of all the deceased family members come back to us to visit. They are supposed to stay 24 hours. I know, it sounds a bit ridiculous since everyone knows the dead don't have a whatch :-) At least not one that works. The doors of the beyond are supposed to open for that period of time. I guess that is where the 24 hours come in. But, stay with me. It is for that reason that the table is needed. It was a kind of a make-shift altar.
Our table was very discreet or so my mom wanted it to be. She used to place a black table cloth over a small table. The central spot would always be taken by the pictures of my grand mother and grand father. These I assume, would represent all the dead family members. Luckly, at that time, we did not have many souls which would pay us a visit. Most of the family members were still alive, with the exception of my mom's parents. But, that is another story. She would place the portraits in the center of the table. At both sides of the photos, and towards the front corners, she would place two white candles. Inmediately behind them, she would place two vases with flowers. I forget what kind of flowers, but they always looked pretty to me. Usually, they would be of a kind we had outside on the patio. They were arranged neatly and with gusto. Now, here is the important stuff. The tradition was to place some type of pastries and a glass of water for the peculiar visitors. So my mom, being a pastry chef, would bake some pastries herself and a special kind of cake called Bizcochuelo, for which I don't have a translation. It was delicious, you can take my word for it.
Once everything was in place, we would all kneel and say a silence prayer in the name of our potential visitors.
If anyone ever came, I would never know. Although, this idea made and impression on me, so I would ask my mom if she had ever seen one of them. She would quietly shine a smile at me and would caress my head. She would assure me if anyone came, they would not do anything bad and so I should not be afraid. She always did know how to make me feel good. I cannot say I have ever seen anything out of the ordinary, and I kept watch, you know. The only thing that would keep me in doubt was the fact that the glass of water always seemed to empty a little. This drove me nuts, until later when I was older, much older, I figured it out.
This is a tradition which, at least to me, taught me to respect and not to be afraid of the dead or of death. I don't know if it had any other effects on me, to this day I cannot say otherwise. But, the fact we had such a tradition was strangely peace inducing.
This was a well known tradition among my circle of friends. I remember everyone would know what day it was. Everyone of my friends felt weird. I guess that was because we did not understand it. Not, that the grown ups understood it either, but at least they believed in it. However, Todos Santos just wasn't like Halloween, if you know what I mean. It was more like a very quiet holiday to spend few moments together with your family thinking about those already departed and perhaps, to some, also a chance to think on his/her own mortality. I know that was the case for me.
As for the pagan traditions, in La Paz, we were influenced by the Aymara. The Aymara tradition says that in this day, all the dead come to visit from the place where they dwell among all the ancestors and nature gods like Pachamama (mother earth). This is the day when the doors of wherever is they dwell, open and the souls come out to the real world. Interstingly, this was also a belief within the Druids.
Here is a link to a site where they have a nice report on this custom. Unfortunately, it is only in Spanish. So, for those of you who can read Spanish, enjoy it. For those readers who don't speak Spanish, I would suggest a visit anyway, they have a really interesting photo section. They are very interesting. And remember, don't hesitate on asking any questions on the comment section. I will attempt to answer them. :-)
For those of you who can only speak English, here is an article in English.
October 29, 2004
That is what is says: Access Denied. You don't have permission to access this server.
Now, why is it that the Bush campaign, Mr. Bush and his people are blocking access to Bush's campaign website www.georgewbush.com?
Well, an article in the Washington Post says, they were attacked last week by hackers and as a result, they were off-line for about six hours. So now, to make sure this does not happen again, they've blocked the world, except US and Canada, from entering their website.
This makes me unhappy, to say the least. I think this decision was a moronic one.
I post the Post's article in its entirety here, for those of you who are not registered in the Washington Post.
Bush Web Site Bars Overseas Visitors
By Brian Krebs
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 27, 2004; 4:52 PM
The Bush-Cheney reelection campaign has barred people outside the United States from viewing its Web site following an electronic attack that took down the campaign's Internet address for six hours last week, according to computer security experts.
Since midnight on Monday, no one outside the United States except people in Canada could see the site, said Rich Miller, a security analyst for Netcraft, a Web site monitoring firm in Bath, England. Internet users from other countries instead see a white page featuring the message: "Access denied: You don't have permission to access www.georgewbush.com on this server."
The move happened one week after the Bush-Cheney and Republican National Committee sites were unavailable for almost six hours. Security experts said the outage probably was the result of a "distributed denial-of-service attack," in which hackers use tens of thousands of hijacked computers to overwhelm Web sites by flooding them with bursts of digital data.
The Bush campaign did not return repeated calls for comment.
RNC spokesman Scott Hogenson acknowledged last week's outage but declined to comment further, calling the incident "no big deal."
It is not unusual for Web sites to block e-mail and browser traffic from individual Internet addresses and from certain countries notorious for churning out online fraud scams and junk e-mail, but security experts said the Bush-Cheney campaign's move is probably unprecedented.
"I've never heard of a site wholesale blocking access from the rest of the world," said Johannes Ullrich, chief technology officer for the SANS Internet Storm Center, which monitors hacker trends. "I guess they decided it just wasn't worth the trouble to leave it open to foreign visitors."
Malicious hackers use computer worms and viruses to seize control of unprotected home computers and corral them into remote-controlled attack armies known as robot networks, or "bot nets." Between January and June, the number of bot networks monitored by Cupertino, Calif.-based online security company Symantec Corp. rose from fewer than 2,000 to more than 30,000.
A week after the attack, and on the same day that the site's access was restricted, the campaign hired Akamai Technologies Inc. to manage its Web data. The Cambridge, Mass., company has more than 1,000 clients, including Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc. and Federal Express. Akamai stores Web content on thousands of Internet servers around the world, a tactic experts say makes its customers' sites more resistant to disruption from electronic attacks.
An Akamai spokesman declined to comment for this story.
Mikko Hypponen, director of antivirus research at Finland-based F-Secure Corp., also could not reach the site from his home in Finland. But he questioned whether denying access to foreign visitors would make any difference. "I don't see any other reason why they'd do this other than to try and avoid problems coming from people who probably don't really have any desire to see the site to begin with," he said.
Jonah Seiger, founding partner of Connections Media, a Washington campaign consultancy that works with Democratic candidates, said that it did not make sense for the Bush-Cheney campaign to "consciously block access to anybody."
"Maybe the next thing they'll try is to block Democrats and people in blue states from coming to the site," Seiger said.
October 28, 2004
This is the beginning of a new series about the decentralization process in Bolivia. In the same way as the corruption series, each article will begin with the word decentralization. This will make it easy to search all the relevant articles, when using the search feature at the top of the page.
One of the ideas I (others before me) have been pondering while I read more about the decentralization process in Bolivia is the relevance of the departmental level of government.
The decentralization process in Bolivia began with the Popular Participation Law (PPL) (Later, I will describe in more detail the whole process). With this law, essentially, Bolivia was divided into 314 municipalities. Each municipality has a government, which receives funds from the central government. This establishes a direct relationship between municipality and government.
In the middle is the departamento (state) government.
Since, the funds flow directly from the government to the municipalities, there is a serious question about the relevance of the departametos level of government. And, the question is: Is this level of government necessary?
Currently, Bolivia is going through yet another phase of crisis. This time it stems from the departamento of Santa Cruz. The main civic organization, Comite Pro Santa Cruz (CPSC), which is composed of hundreds of other civic organizations, has decided to start a period of protests in light of the government's intentions of passing the proposed Hydrocarbons Law. What the CPSC demands is, mainly autonomy for Santa Cruz.
This promises to be an equally tense time as the last crisis. We'll keep an eye on it!
October 25, 2004
Ok, hear me out. Imagine you are a 60 year old woman or a 71 year old man, which ever you pick, it doesn't matter, anyone will do. You are retiree living in your nice little comfortable house somewhere in the sunshine state of Florida after a lifetime of paying your taxes to the government. Not too far away from the sea, but not too close to the alligators either. That is how you planned it. You have moved there because of the sun, the sea and the golf courses. However, 2004 was a specially hard year. You and your significant other, have had to endure four hurricanes. You barely made it. But, the important thing is that you made it. At this point in time you are thinking, that is not what I expected from Florida. Life is turning out to be a bum here. It is not as fun as I heard some of my retired friends describe it, but you continue to press on. You are not a chicken, you can make it.
Now, you have to face the next challenge. Florida is just not the paradise for retirees it used to be. One has to really work to live here, you say to yourself. Well, bring it oooooon! You realize you have to cast your vote in The US presidential elections. A race where every vote counts and that you know that your vote, yes your vote, can really make a difference. Again, you prepare, and plan to face this challenge the same way you faced those four hurricanes: with courage, conviction and hard work. On November 2, you wake up extra early to walk an extra mile. You want to be fit for the daunting task facing you. You make sure you eat a good American breakfast, with some sausages and eggs, to give you strength. You finally get to the poll station, and to your satisfaction, you see you are among the first there. There were others who were there first, but those people don't count. They're the ones who spent the night there. They're too freaky, in your opinion. Well, you get on line, get your ballot, and with a discrete look upstairs, you ask for wisdom and a steady hand. You walk inside the booth and this is what you see......(click here)
Now, how in the H---, are we supposed to vote with such shenanigans going around!
Thanks to the guys of BoomChicago.nl :-)
October 22, 2004
Again, surfing I found this story that moved me and thought I sould share it with you. I don't want to get philosofical, that is why I reserve my comments, but sharing the story is good enought for me.
The story is in spanish. I found it in this spanish blog.
Mi amigo no ha regresado del Campo de Batalla, señor. Solicito permiso para ir a buscarlo" dijo un soldado a su teniente. "Permiso denegado", replicó el oficial, "no quiero que arriesgue usted su vida por un hombre que probablemente ha muerto". El soldado, no haciendo caso a la prohibición, salió y una hora mas tarde regresó mortalmente herido, transportando el cadáver de su amigo. El oficial estaba furioso : "Ya le dije yo que habia muerto!. Digame: merecía la pena ir allá para traer un cadáver?" Y él soldado, moribundo, respondió: "Claro que si, señor!. Cuando lo encontré,todavia estaba vivo y pudo decirme : ¡Estaba seguro que vendrías!
Here is the translation:
"My friend has not returned from the front, sir. Permission to go and look for him", stated a soldier to his Lieutenant. "Permission denied" said the officer, "I don't want you to risk your life for a man that's probably already dead". The soldier, disregarding the order, went in search for his friend. An hour later he returned mortally wounded carrying his friend's corpse. The officer, furious said, "I told you he was probably dead". Now tell me, was it worth it to go and get his corps?". The soldier replied, "Yes sir, when I found him, he was still alive and could tell me: I was sure you would come".
Now, that is loyalty.
Cruising throug the information super hyghway I came across this article by nationally syndicated columnist Robert Novak. This is his take on the US's policies towards the drug problem as it relates to Bolivia.
This post is just to add some other points of view to the topic.
Check this article too. It makes for good read.
October 19, 2004
At just two weeks from the November 2, US elections, I compared the two candidates platforms and have not found much information about their policies concerning Bolivia. Of course, I think, it is to be expected that foreign policy discussions centers on more important topics like Iraq and Afghanistan and not on Bolivia. After all, Bolivia is not high in the priority list of neither candidate since it is seen in the context of a region rather than a country, with some exceptions. However, the strong influence US Foreign Policy has over Bolivian domestic politics, economics and the society in general is pretty much undisputed. We can cite countless examples where what the US Government (USG) has to say about Bolivian affairs is carefully weighted no only by the Government of Bolivia (GOB) but by politicians and business people as well. As it is expected, most Bolivians are opposed to such influence and meddling in domestic affairs by the USG. However, this is something Bolivians have to live with because it is somewhat out of their control. Bolivia, whether it wants it or not, lies within the geographic sphere of influence of the big neighbor to the north and as such, it both, benefits and hurts from such relationship.
I took a look at both candidates policies towards Bolivia and asked: How will Bolivia be affected by the outcome of the November elections? Will the same policies continue or will there be any change? What are the positions of Bush and Kerry concerning Bolivia?
The Bush administration and Bolivia
As far as the Bush agenda and the Republican partys platform is concerned, current policies will pretty much continue in the case President Bush is re-elected.The Bush administration and thus the USG see US-Bolivian relations in basically four distinct dimensions: Drug trafficking control, strengthening of democracy, poverty alleviation or foreign aid, and as a part of a regional trade area.
Drug trafficking control: One of the first priorities of President Bush and his administration has been to fight against organized drug trafficking and narco-terrorists within Bolivia. According to the 2003 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report released by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the principal USG counter narcotics goals in Bolivia are: to remove Bolivia as a major producer of coca leaf for the production of cocaine; to promote economic development and establish alternative licit crops and markets to provide farmers with viable options to cultivating coca; to disrupt the production of cocaine within Bolivia; to interdict and destroy illicit drugs and precursor chemicals moving within and through the country; to reduce and combat the market for the domestic abuse of cocaine and other illicit drugs; and to institutionalize a professional law enforcement system. The USG has also sought to work through various programs to promote institutional reform and to strengthen the elements within the GOB dedicated to addressing counter narcotics-related issues. The GOB and the US Embassy have been meeting routinely at all levels and across several functional entities to coordinate policy, to implement programs/operations and to resolve issues. This support is defined by Letters of Agreements (LOAs) signed annually with the GOB.
The Strengthening of Democracy: The Bush administrations policy is to strengthen the regions democratic institutions by working with leaders in the region to promote good governance and combat corruption and by promoting development and reforms. One approach has been the creation of the Millennium Challenge Account which provides funds in exchange of better governance (accountability and transparency), reforms (free markets) and investment in the areas of education, health and small companies. Bolivia is one such country which has been selected to receive funds.
Poverty alleviation: As we can see from the previous point, this objective of US foreign policy is closely related to strengthening democracy. The Bush administration created the Millennium Challenge Accounts (MCA) program. Proposed by President Bush in Monterrey, Mexico in 2002 and passed by the republican congress in January 2004, the MCA provides funds to developing nations in exchange of greater responsibility, reform, governing with justice and equality, respect the state of law and fight against corruption. The funds should be used in education, health, and economic reform, free markets and less bureaucracy. Bolivia has been one of 16 countries selected to participate in this program. However, selection does not guarantee funding.
In addition, the Bush administration has sought to improve the effectiveness of the World Bank and other development banks in raising living standards; insisting upon measurable results to ensure that development assistance is actually making a difference in the lives of the worlds poor; increasing the amount of development assistance that is provided in the form of grants instead of loans.
Regional Free Trade Area: The Bush administration has so far negotiated trade agreements with Central America and Chile. Currently, it is negotiating a free trade agreement with the Andean nations (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia as observer). This policy is most likely to continue under a new term of President Bush.
Kerry and Bolivia
The Kerry vision towards Bolivia is also framed by the broader picture of regional politics. Kerrys policies stem from four ideas: Creating a new community of the Americas, strengthening democracy, free and fair trade and reforming Americas immigration laws.
Creating a new community of the Americas: Behind the motto neighbors look after neighbors Kerry wants to create a sense of community in the Americas. He is for promoting educational exchanges; encourage remittances by lowering the costs; create a social investment and development fund; work to create economic opportunities; develop a transportation master plan (Mexico-US-Canada) and form a North American Security Perimeter.
Strengthening Democracy: Kerry wants to support strong democratic states with transparent rules and procedures, as well as those states that have broad respect for the rule of law. According to Kerry, these conditions are essential to alleviating poverty and inequality. He is committed to strong and steady support for democratic processes and institutions, to consolidate democracy where it exists and assist democracy where it is in trouble.
In this manner, Senator Kerry wants to establish a council for democracy to strengthen regional organizations. He also wants to triple the funds to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The NED is a USG funded organization which seeks to promote democracy in the world. In addition, Kerry want to stay neutral in free elections, support democratically elected leaders and support peaceful democratic opposition.
Free and fair trade: Kerry supports free trade in the Americas, as long as the agreements are not detrimental for the respective societies. Every agreement must be fair and assure the lifting of standards of living in the US and the partner countrycountries.
Reforming Americas immigration laws: Kerry will seek to make it easier for law abiding, thoroughly checked immigrants who pay their taxes, have it easier to legalize their status. He will make it easier for families to reunify. An finally, he will establish an orderly channel for future temporary workers coming into the United States, with stronger protections against displacement for US workers, and stronger wage and working condition protections for incoming workers.
So, where does Bolivia stand?
As stated earlier, Bolivia is not a focus of attention, but rather a part in the Latin American regional puzzle. Both Kerry and Bush see Bolivia in terms of regional politics. The focus on the region, for both candidates starts from the top down. Within this frame, Bolivia fits along with the rest of the Latin American countries.
If president Bush is re-elected, Bolivia can expect a continuation of the current policies in place. The MCA and the effort to fight drug trafficking and coca eradication are most likely to remain the main instruments of USG foreign policy in Bolivia.
President Bush argues that decades of massive development assistance have failed to spur economic growth in the poorest countries and that development aid has often served to prop up failed policies, relieving the pressure for reform and perpetuating misery. Mr. Bush further argues, the results of aid are typically measured in dollars spent by donors, not in the rates of growth and poverty reduction achieved by recipients. Therefore his answer is the MCA.
To this day, Bolivia is held as a success story of the US governments drugs eradication programs. The USG and the GOB, most likely, if the Bush administration is still in power, will continue to work together strengthening the Special Drug Police Force (FELCN) by expanding personnel; upgrading existing physical infrastructure; and constructing new bases. The USG will also continue to support Bolivia with its Alternative Development assistance programs which provide funds for farmers to grow licit crops.
According to President Bushs vision of the Americas, the region will be a fully democratic hemisphere, working together to achieve representative democracy, security, and market-based development as well as advancing trade liberalization in the Americas in order to promote economic development and democratic governance.(1)That is one objective the MCA programs seeks to achieve.
In the case Senator Kerry is elected President of the US, the focus is most likely to be also within regional politics. Kerrys idea of creating a regional community and to take the regions relations with the US to the level of neighbors will certainly be challenging. In fact, some might suggest that the idea is a bit naive and demonstrates a lack of understanding of the regions politics, which is more like a dysfunctional marriage rather than neighborly love.
The one policy that is most likely to have an impact on Bolivia, as it is the case with the Bush administration, is strengthening democracy. The shape of this policy is not yet clear, however it could be similar to the policies President Clinton had during his terms, considering that many of Clintons advisors are advising Kerry. In this manner, I think, Bolivia can expect more continuity with the same policy of conditional foreign aid. The Kerry camp is not radically different from the Bush camp in this aspect.
One interesting idea that catches my attention is the USG staying neutral on free elections. Given that the current administration was more of a biased observer, this neutral approach should prove to be difficult to carry out. Specially if a radical, ani-capitalist incumbent like Evo Morales happens to win elections in Bolivia. In the last elections, the USG was far from neutral in light of Morales second place in the elections. It would be interesting to see a Kerry administration staying quiet and neutral in the face of such an outcome.
The Kerry approach to free and fair trade would also mark a change from current policies. A Kerry administration would seem to be more populist and protectionist. I would think that the current negotiations between the Andean nations and the USG will be even longer under a Kerry administration. Bolivia could expect to have more difficulty selling its agricultural products to the US and to the world. Protectionist policies in favor of American farmers are most likely to strengthen under a Kerry watch.
John Kerry for president, www.johnKerry.com.
(1) Bush agenda, Republican partys platform, various speeches of government officials.
2003 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report released by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs http://www.state.gov/g/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2003/vol1/html/29832.htm
State Departments Information Agency, Speech from Ambassador Roger F. Noriega, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the Conference for the Américas organized by the Miami Herald,Coral Gables, Florida, 30 de September de 2004.
October 14, 2004
There is, what it seems, a crazy story circling around. President Bush being wired up to help him with his verbal and factual handicaps. Is that true? It certainly seems possible and reasonable to think so?
Here is the case:
Article at Salon.com
CNN, Portland Indymedia, Yahoo News, New York Times, BBC
The Washington Dispatcher says Salon.com continues with its speculation that Bush was wired during the debates. The doubt will just not go away.
What do you think?
October 13, 2004
Just as a matter of record, I want to list where in the net has MABB been mentioned or quoted.
On July 20 of this year MABB was mentioned as one blog covering the referendum and Gas issues in Bolivia by a Winds of Change regional briefing here.
On September 5, MABB was quoted on an article by Luis O. Gallardo, author of Nutslapper. In his article, Luis talks about the advantages and disadvantages of the one party system in Puerto Rico. Interesting, read more here.
And finally, on October 13, El Forastero mentions MABB in an article about Bolivian blogs. You can read the article here.
As honorary mention I'd like to cite Nicolas Wiseman from Life as a Bog as the best visitor up to date. He really has a way with words. Visit his blog.
October 11, 2004
I'm back from vacation, refreshed, relaxed and colored. La Costa del Sol is the place to extend your summer, if you happened to be wanting to extend your summer, right? I my case, I was trying to have a summer, since we had such a short period of good weather in Hamburg. However, I'm back and before jumping into the day to day routine, I wanted to share some photos I took from the place I was. Nerja.
This is Nerja.
The beaches are different from the ones I know from the US. For starters the sand was coarser and darker. There were also larger stones, through which one could walk and discover interesting places.....
Nerja was once a Roman settlement (not to mention a Visigoth town, a muslim town and a christian town). But, this aqueduct is not Roman, it was constructed in the middle ages.
There are many wonderful little towns around Nerja to explore, as well as a group of caves. These caves are huge, and I mean, HUGE! But, the tourist only gets to see a tiny part of them. There are special days (on the weekends generally) when more adventurous visitors can access the other caves by climbing through, following the guide.
September 27, 2004
To all the nice readers who visit this blog :-)
For the next two weeks I will not be posting due to me taking some color under the beautiful Costa del Sol sun. That means very little contact with computers and little time to surf. However, I will be checking my email, whenever I find an Internet cafe.
So, until next month!
I promise to post some pictures after I return!
September 23, 2004
Mr. Carlos D. Mesa Gisbert has been gradually gaining my respect, not only through his actions, but also through his words.
I can hardly remember a more eloquent, academic looking, well versed in history and most impressive Bolivian president since I have use of my brain.
The picture I had of Mr. Mesa was of an out of touch news anchor who instead of giving the news, would give his opinion. One historian more, among the many in Bolivia who wrote about Bolivia's historic events and the ancient cultures that used to live before it. An average journalist who would have an air of intellectuality out of sinc with his real job, which was to give the news and not his opinions.
However, since he has become president of Bolivia, he has gradually been gaining my respect, not only as president, but as professional, historian and academic.
The latest piece of video which increased my respect towards him was his speech before the UN's General Assembly. But, if you want to experience the real thing, you have to listen to the Spanish version.
But, hold on a minute. Before you confuse me with a Mesa fan, I have to say, I am not one. I am still doubtful of his ability to finish the job. However, he is doing a good job, one has to give him credit.