June 04, 2005

Is Bolivia Showing Signs of Disintegration?

MABB © ®

With much reluctance I am reading the various news reported by Bolivian newspapers and I don't really like what I see. I am hoping I am very wrong, but what I see are some signs in the direction of total collapse of the democratic government.

In first instance, we can observe the increasing absense of government. President Mesa has been reluctant to exert some kind of order in the country (read my post). He has expressed his decision not to use force to put down protests which are having a heavy toll on the democratic process. Congress is unable to provide an alternative to the executive due to the deep differences, not only within parties but, most importantly, between regions. In this sense, Congress hasn't been able to pass needed laws able to provide a solution to the demands from all the different sides. The Judicial branch has shown that it is not in the mood to overstep its madate and fill the vacumm it's been created by the other two branches. It repeatedly declined various requests by the Executive to intervene. Adding to the government's problems is the profound mistrust and lack of credibility it has in the eyes of the citizens. The average citizen does not trust in government or congress. Moreover, the citizen thinks the average politician is corrupt and inept. All these reasons exacerbate the fact that Mesa does not want to act on the only thing that makes a government a government, and that is the monopoly of violence. The only tool that a government can use to restore order. On the margin, I could understand Mesa, because he doesn't want to have blood on his hands. But, that is another topic.

In second instance, we have the military (armed forces) repeatedly having to reassert its role as defender of the constitution and integrity of the territory. Since months now, the rumors about a coup d'etat have been getting louder and louder. The man most pointed to as allegedly planning a coup is the current president of the Senate and second man in line to the presidency, Hormando Vaca Diez. However, he as repeatedly denied the rumors. As a result though, the military has had to repeatedly assure the population and I think the international community that it would stand behind whoever was the president of Bolivia and would defend the Constitution and democracy. Only when the military reiterates its support for a democratic solution, the rumors die down, a little. The latest reassurance was given yesterday when a group of unemployed gathered at the doors of the central command in Miraflores, La Paz, asking for the commander, General Marcelo Antezana, to take over the government. This move, which came after the previous day handing out of panflets outlining Antezana's government program, prompted the Chief of the Armed Foreces, Adm. Luis Aranda, to authorize Antezana to issue a statement in which he states his position as the defender of democracy and order. Finally, one last observation I would do is to note that the military brass, whenever they appear in the press, they are wearing their campaign uniforms. Are they getting ready for action? I wonder.

In third instance, we can observe that the population and the different sectors are looking for some type of order and are taking it upon themselves to achieve this. The sense of insecurity and uncertainty is becoming palpable. As we mentioned in the paragraph above, a group of unemployed gathered in front of the central army command to ask the commander to step in. In the southern region of La Paz city, the neighboors created the Comite de defensa de la zona sur (Southern Zone Defense Committee). This committee was created to provide defense to all the inhabitants of the southern neighborhoods (the most well to do in La Paz). Yesterday, they delivered a letter to the President's residence asking Mesa to provide defense or they will defend themselves by any means possible. These are just signs that uncertainty and insecurity is spreading throughout the region due to the lack of action in the part of the government. Simply said, if the government does not provide security for the citizens, then the citizens themselves will provide their own security. The return of the wild west.

In fourth instance, a worrisome trend towards a possible government crisis is developing. Up to now, two members of Mesa's cabinet have resign because of differences with the president. Last week, the now former Education Minister, Maria Soledad Quiroga, resigned from her office expressing deep differences with Mesa's line of government. Yesterday, the Minister of Economic Development, Wálter Kreidler Gillaux, resigned to his post. Kreidler also expressed differences with Mesa's government. One thing to highlight is that Kreidler is from Santa Cruz. One of the organizations behind the autonomic movement in Santa Cruz, which funnels funds to it (CAINCO), called for all the cabinet members who are of eastern origin to resign from their posts and ask for the resignation of Mesa. This could start a dangerous trend in the degree that it creates a cabinet crisis.

And finally, the protests continue. The social movements in El Alto and now including some rural regions, have pledged to continue fighting for the immediate nationalization of the natural resources and now they have added the resignation of Mesa and the immediate convocation to a Constituent Assembly (CA). In Santa Cruz, the civic sectors, which already have a pseudo-government functioning in the Committee pro Santa Cruz, has decided to go ahead with the election of prefects and the autonomic referendum on August 12. This is in spite of the decree issued by the Mesa administration to carry out an atuonomic referendum and election of members for the CA on October 16.

And to top it all off, it seems that the international community is starting to lose confidence Bolivia can come out of this crisis. Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru are negotiating the possibility of developing the Camisea camp in Peru to provide with much needed natural gas to their local markets.

What we have here are serious signs that a vacumm of power is being created by the absense of government and this is raising the levels of uncertainty and insecurity. The destabilizing forces (the protestors) are going ahead with their demands and protests and furthermore have shown an unwillingness to keep communicating with the government. Not even the intervention of the Catholic Church, has had a desired effect. What I have to ask me now is: Is this the beginning of disintegration? I surely hope I am being too premature in my observations.