May 18, 2005

"Habemus Law"

First of all, a big SORRY for the title, I could not resist!
But, the white smoke has emerged from Congress and Bolivia finally has a brand new, though un-wanted, Hydrocarbons Law.

Congress, ran out of maneuvers and finally promulgated the new law. The president of the Senate, Mr Hormando Vaca Diez, was sure to express that this new version was better than the one created under Sanchez de Lozada's term. At the same time, he sharply criticized, what he called, "the President's lack of initiative to do his job".

There is no question now, in retrospect, that Mesa bet on spreading the guilt rather than taking it all himself. As we can see it, Mesa's "stratigery" is (and has been) paying off. The so called "social movements" have enlarged the bull's eye to include the Congress.

Plus, I am getting a funny feeling, that Mesa is more of a political fox than many people give him credit for. Right after Congress, reluctantly, came out with the new law, the government came out with its brand new socio-economic programe named, Bolivia Productiva y Solidaria (Bolivia Productive and Solidary). Mesa, in his address to the nation, presented his programe for the period 2005 - 2007. In it, and not without first reminding the people that the new law was a product designed, debated and passed by Congress, Mesa outlines his policy for the remaining of his term. Among the initiatives, he will sign some 50 new decrees and supreme resolution (the Bolivian versions of executive orders). Topics will include: reduce the fiscal deficit, increase exports, reducing government expenditures, provide for more public investment, continue with free trade agreements, provide micro-enterprises with financing, the construction of three new airports, deepen decentralization and democratizing access to land (not sure what that means), fight against smuggling of diesel, maintain diesel subsidies, lower electricity prices, infrastructure, the creation of a company to develop the Mutun area, incentivate rural women to work in the health care branch, better education and more access to homes.

That is an ambitious project! However, I am not sure how does Mesa thinks he'll be passing this new project by Congress. I am betting that Congress will make it very difficult for Mesa to implement his plan. Unless of course, he uses his decrees and supreme resolutions to this end. In which case, he will end up turning authoritarian.

On his part, Evo and his party have decided not to pursue the blocking of streets strategy and instead concentrate into modifying the new law. The modifications they want to make are: 50% royalties, YPFB having the right to participate in the production chain and reverse the neutrality principle from the contracts with the multinationals.

But, all is not quiet on the front, there are still demonstrations, marches and road blockades being carried out and the indication is that some social movements (like El Alto) will increase the intensity of their measures.

In the end, the new law is there and it will be in effect as of today. What happens next is going to be seen in the next days.