December 29, 2004

A Brand New Year: 2005

MABB is a registered TM.

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

Feliz Navidad; Merry Christmas; Fröhliche Weihnachten

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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

Bolivian Congress: The Wheels Slowly Start Turning

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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

Goni and his legacy

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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.

Read more.

December 14, 2004

The Capitalization Process in Bolivia

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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

Corruption: UN International Anti-Corruption Day

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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

Between Soccer and Bolivia

MABB is a registered TM.

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

Shades of Belonging

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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

Christmas in Hamburg

MABB is a registered TM.

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

Bolivian Elections: Two Days and Counting.

MABB is a registered TM.

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.