June 22, 2005

"Bolivia Stands of a Cliff-edge"

MABB © ®

That is what former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (GSL) thinks of the current Bolivian situation. In an article published by the Financial Times of London, GSL speaks about the dangers of manipulation of legitimate concerns at the hans of, what he calls, politicians.

It is interesting that GSL calls this group of leaders, among them Morales but more directly, Solares, Mamani, de la Cruz and others, politicians. This is just a primary observation.

In the article GSL continues to say:

These developments reveal systemic problems that transcend individual elected officials. The problems include: centuries of exploitation of the indigenous population, a growing drug trade, frequent and destabilising protests, and populist programmes that at one point drove up inflation more than 25,000 per cent. Populist leaders in Bolivia have built their careers by channelling economic unrest into political violence. As La Razon, the Bolivian newspaper, noted, these protests are not spontaneous uprisings. People were coerced into joining blockades, which continue to cripple the economy, cause food and water shortages and take a heavy toll on Bolivians' daily lives.

And political leaders continue to threaten more blockades to advance their calls for energy nationalisation. But nationalisation would not help ordinary Bolivians as it would drive out the very investors that enable Bolivia to sell its natural resources.

Bolivia gains more by working with foreign investment than by shunning the international economic system. This is no time to start another quixotic quest to nationalise the oil industry.

There is a consensus building here, that the perceived power of these indigenous movements, including MAS, are just not powerful enough to take hold of government. Furthermore, when we talk about elections, if we base our estimations on the las elections and some preliminary polls, these movements do not have much support among the people. GSL highlights this fact by also talking about the reasons why so many people show up to the demonstrations called by these movements. He cites news reports where it is argued that the social movements use coercion to draw supporters. I talk about that here.

GSL goes on to say:

But Mr Rodriguez cannot make progress alone - Bolivians must renounce the tactics of political intimidation. In his inaugural address, Mr Rodriguez said he would "insist" that Bolivians who demand change must do so non-violently. That is a crucial statement, because he correctly acknowledged that progress in Bolivia requires the rule of law. Without it, Mr Rodriguez could face the same fate as his two predecessors.

Supporting free elections in Bolivia is in the interests of all democracies. Bolivians have harboured suspicion that foreign governments care more about the country's natural gas than the people. By supporting a democratic process, other nations can allay that fear.

Moreover he ponders a questions that is in the minds of many people, including me:

The populist streak of Bolivian politicians' crusades against "foreign involvement" are also a great hypocrisy. Despite his nationalistic tirades, Evo Morales, head of the Coca Growers Union and leader of the Movement Toward Socialism Party, emulates the foreign and manipulative populism espoused by Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chávez of Venezuala. This is no time for Bolivia to imitate their state-run economies. I do not know whether Mr Chávez has been directly involved in the recent turmoil in Bolivia. But it is widely known that Mr Morales is a keen admirer of Mr Chavez, whose agenda is to advance state ownership of private assets and divide the hemisphere for his own political gain.

It is simply unacceptable for the international community to talk of "supporting Bolivian democracy" while allowing questions about Mr Chavez's possible involvement to linger. The United Nations must launch an independent investigation to determine what role, if any, Mr Chavez is playing in internal Bolivian affairs. It is past time for the democracies of the western hemisphere to investigate and confront Mr Chavez.

Mr Morales has also opposed aggressive coca eradication proposals. That position has contributed to the 17 per cent spike in Bolivian coca output last year. We must not forget that abundant coca spawns more corruption, violence and decay of civil society.

Finally despite some misperceptions stoked by the media, most Bolivians do not support the drug trade or Mr Morales. Only 20 per cent of Bolivians supported Mr Morales' platform in the 2002 election; his tactics simply rely on intimidation. I admit that neither my administration, nor my successor's, produced a nationwide consensus, but that is why Bolivia needs lawful debate and democracy now, not more unrest.

What GSL has to say is important in the sense that he is a former president of Bolivia. One who was removed from office by the very social movements we are talking about in this article.

Also, GSL is currently on his way to being formally charged by the Bolivian DA for the deaths of 60 protestors back in October 2003.