March 07, 2005

It Was to Be Expected: Mesa Resigned

MABB is a registered TM.

After un unbearable week and with the prospects of even more political pressure President Mesa submitted his resignation to congress late last night. Under the constitution, if the president wants to resign, he has to present the letter to congress to be considered. If there is enough political will, which usually there is, the resignation is taken and a new president is appointed. The next in-line would be the president of the Senate chamber (Hormando Vaca Diez, MIR). To appoint the president is one of the functions of congress under a representative democracy like Bolivia's.

In a speech given last night, Mesa stopped short of condemning the actions of Evo Morales, FEJUVE-El Alto's head Abel Mamani and Santa Cruz's Civic Committee. In particular he spoke of intransigent positions adopted by Evo and Mamani and the results those were having on the stability of the country.

My take is this is a bold move by Mesa to fight back against those three intransigent groups trying to destabilize Bolivia's democracy. There are several reasons to think this way. First, Mesa's approval ratings are very high. As of January 2005, Mesa's approval numbers in La Paz were 68%, in El Alto were 62% (a jump from Dec. 2004 of 56%), in Cochabamba were 72% and in Santa Cruz were the lowest with 16%, down from 31% in December 2004. Notwithstanding, these numbers are very high for a president, especially a Bolivian president.

Second, his seeming success in the carrying out and the outcome of the July 2004 referendum and the most celebrated December 2004 municipal elections, has given Mesa a push on his popularity. The fact that these two events were carried out in relative tranquility and relative success speak good for Mesa. Thirdly, Mesa is also relying on the spontaneous outpour of support he saw during the tense weeks after his raising the price of gasoline and diesel the first week of this year. Mainly, I think, he thinks he's got lot of support among the population and he is determined to use it.

His resignation is an outcome not desired by many in the country and also in congress. There is a faction in congress denominated "the patriots" which includes congressmen and women from various political parties which support Mesa and what he stands for. This faction could be seen as a semi-coalition acting as the official government ally in congress.

As Mesa knows he's got "some" support at least, he is playing all or nothing (bluffing in a sense) against Evo and Mamani. The population has now two choices. One, to continue with the protests and support Evo and Mamani's leadership and thus walk down the path of chaos and destruction. Two, to support Mesa, let him stay in power and govern and stop doing what the civic leaders want them to do.

In the case of Santa Cruz I wouldn't be much optimistic. The propaganda machine has worked its wonders there. It seems the crucenos have a bad opinion of Mesa and want them out. In the case of El Alto and Cochabamba, the thing is up in the air. It could go any way. On one side, there is clearly some sympathy and some degree of support for Mesa, however, the pressure exerted on the citizen by the civic organization's machinery is considerable. The ever presence of the local government and local neighborhood federations is closer than Mesa could ever get to the average Mamani.

What will it be? It is hard to say, but If I had to guess, I would say there is a real possibility that Mesa would stay in power. On one side, there is not much support for Hormando Vaca Diez in congress. Also, he is seen as another enemy by the Altiplano side because he is from Santa Cruz. On the other side, Mesa has gained some support for him in congress and a very high percentage of the population want him to stay.