August 30, 2005

A Positive Note About Bolivia, Via South Africa

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So we don't get the crazy (incorrect, would be the best word) idea that everything that happens in Bolivia is BAD! or somehow it doesn't work, let me highlight an article from the South African online newspaper, Business Day. The author talks about the micro lending industry in Bolivia and how it has become one of the leading industries in terms of quality and growth.

Posted to the web on: 29 August 2005
Ideas we can borrow from Bolivia
Vuyo Njokweni
AMID the arguments on the most suitable regulatory framework for South African microlending, it is worth-

while taking a brief look at Bolivia, a country more associated with revolutionaries and drug peddlers.

In fact, Bolivia has a world-class microlending industry. Claudio Gonzalez Vega observed “one could not write the world history of microfinance without highlighting Bolivia”. Bolivia stands out as one of the pioneers of modern consumer finance. Its name is synonymous with successful consumer lending.

Bolivia’s track record in improving access to credit has been one of the most impressive in the world. Its bellwether institutions, BancoSol, Caja Los Andes and Pro-Mujer, evolved in a liberalised regulatory environment. Curiously, their success was one of the indirect influences for promulgation of the Exemption Notice to the Usury Act in SA in 1993, which was the catalyst for SA’s microlending industry.

Consumer lending in Bolivia began with the liberalisation of interest rates, the elimination of directed credit and the closing of the state banks in the 1980s. The deregulation of the industry in 1985 was a final break with the feudal banking system. Since the commercial sector was not well developed, the poor were dependent on loan sharks and moneylenders for credit. This created distortions in credit markets and innovations were few.

The improved regulatory environment set the stage for competition amongst microlenders, attracting many players who introduced new credit technologies and created a credit bubble. Consumers chose between a plethora of credit providers jostling for customers.

Aggressive lenders offered loans quickly and flexibly and secured repayment from the borrowers’ salary. However, with few formal employers around they soon applied this lending methodology to the self-employed or informally employed. These lenders encouraged missed payments so they could make profits. These practices led to shifts in the repayment culture.

Consumers’ attitude to debt contributed to the crisis. It became a status symbol to hold multiple loans. Delinquency rates were high. In effect, there were no rules for the game. The numbers were right but the fundamentals of lending were unsound.

As economic recession struck Latin America, borrowers who could not service their debts took to the streets, agitating for debt forgiveness and easier terms. This political pressure from organised groups forced the authorities to reintroduce interest rate restrictions.

As Elizabeth Rhyne, of microlending organisation Accion International, puts it, the “Bolivian experience suggests that the principal public-image issues for microfinance are high interest rates — the age-old concerns about moneylending”.

Bolivian authorities briefly suspended their tradition of liberalised interest rates by capping rates for a few months in 2002. Caps were removed when it was realised that rates declined in a competitive environment, and that the best option was to strengthen other regulatory aspects such as disclosure.

The quick removal of interest caps and the strengthening of regulation ensured a sound framework which stabilised the market and enabled competitive pressures to improve credit methodologies and eliminate inefficient players

South African and Bolivian microlending experiences have many commonalities. In both countries, aggressive expansion led to overindebtedness, mainly among salaried workers. In SA, the liberalisation of microlending coincided with the sociopolitical changes of 1994. Increased access to credit for the previously disadvantaged unleashed large latent demand. As market saturation approached, competition for clients, as in Bolivia, led to predatory lending practices and overindebtedness.

SA now faces the prospect of interest caps in consumer credit. Do we, like Bolivia, introduce these only to reverse them in short order? The Bolivian experience teaches us that interest restrictions depress the markets and thus lead to the limited supply of financial services. Low-income borrowers suffer the consequences in the process. Secondly, free competition within a sound regulatory framework is the most effective way of avoiding overindebtedness, promoting customer service and sustainable access to credit. Deepening and extending the supply network are the key success factors in the long term.

‖Njokweni is microfinance analyst for Pan-African Investment and Research Services.

August 27, 2005

Things Are Not Going Well For MAS

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Well, things are not going well for Evo and Garcia Linera. The ambitious project Garcia Linera wanted to push for by uniting the political left with all the social movements (specially in El Alto) never became reality.

Alvaro Garcia Linera, when asked by Evo if he would run for Vice-president at his side, answered he would, if and only if, all the social movements would ally in one colosus block. This project seemed very ambitious but if realized would have been a force to reckon with.

Well, the project has just crumpled. That is to say, the social movements were not able to bridge their differences and come to an accord. The results are that a half hearted effort to support the Garcia Linera/Evo formula has been agreed upon. Half hearted because from the two most important groups in El Alto, FEJUVE (Neighborhood Juntas Federation) and COR (Worker's Regional Union), only FEJUVE decided to continue supporting MAS. That is, if every thing goes as planned.

The members of COR decided, on its Friday's assembly, that they wanted to stay independent of political parties and therefore not officially support MAS in the next elections. I think this decision makes sense precisely because COR is a worker's union. Had they become involved with MAS, they would just be another political party. Would they be able to fight against the government without biting themselves on the tail? I don't think so.

As for the support of FEJUVE, it is conditioned to two things. First, in exchange for support, FEJUVE gets the four nominations for uninominal (directly elected deputies) deputies. And second, the president of FEJUVE, Abel Mamani, gets to run for the prefecture of La Paz under the MAS formula. However, this is not 100% secured. MAS, as FEJUVE, is composed of many smaller organizations, which are denominated bases or bases. These bases are questioning the deals MAS made with FEJUVE. They feel they also have to get some participants as candidates.

The thing gets more complicated when the gremiales (informal and formal small vendors) or the student unions are taken into account. El Alto is not an easy place to discern politically. There are too many interests and too many groups and too many differences among them to call them a cohesive group.

As a result, what I called the Garcia Linera project, has definitely disintegrated. Now it is up to MAS to keep this lefty "mass" together before more pieces start to fall apart. And I am not even mentioning the supposed gain on the middle-class voters Garcia Linera's candidacy was going to bring.

The big questions are: Will the Bolivian left be able to get its act together for December? Is there a Bolivian left, per se? Where are Izquierda Unida, Partido Cominista and Partido Socialista?

Prediction: There is one prediction I am voluteering to make in regards to the outcomes from all these alliances. ASSUMING, FEJUVE and other social movements alike, end up supporting MAS and also ASSUMING MAS, as is expected, gains seats in Congress, then I think it is reasonable to expect that the participating organizations will be quieter and will not engage in protests as much. That concretly means that if FEJUVE becomes part of the system by having leaders as congressmen, they will be less likely to stage as disrupting protests as they are accustomed to. In other words, they will become more or less irrelevant. Much like the once powerful CSUTCB (Only Peasant's Union of Bolivia).

August 26, 2005

Is the Garcia Linera Project Stumbling?

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There is no other way to put it, Bolivian politics are never dull. A while ago I posted two articles here and here. They talked about how the electoral campaigns were taking shape. On the one side we had what I called the Tuto quiroga project, which more or less was organizing the right side of the political spectrum. And on the opposite side there was what I called the Garcia Linera project, which was more or less organizing the left side. I also said that there was still plenty of time until December 4th. At present time it seems the Tuto project is still taking shape and it might be getting in even better shape. It is slowly adding alliances and support.

What surprises me is what is going on on the left side of the spectrum. Contrary to what it seemed, it looks like the Garcia Linera project, which by now is the Evo/Garcia Linera project, is stumbling. According to news reports, there are difficulties emerging among all the possible allies and supporters. These divisions concentrate mainly on the division of the pie. At least one thing is clear though, an alliance with Plan Progreso (PP), led by El Alto Mayor Jose Luis Paredes, is out. The two parties (MAS and PP) tried to form an alliance, but Paredes was expecting the nomination for Vice-president, which obviously did not get. There was also the posibility of an alliance with Rene Joaquino's Frente Amplio (FA). However, this posibility did not materialize because Joaquino did not get the Vice-president candidacy either.

MAS decided in turn to play it all on the civic organizations. In recent weeks there has been intense negotiations and more speculations about the two largest organizations in El Alto, FEJUVE and COR, to join MAS behind Garcia Linera. However, recent reports highlight the possible problems that might arise. On the one side, MAS and its leaders negotiated the alliance by offering seats in congress and the prefecture of La Paz to the leaders of FEJUVE and COR. For a while it looked as everything was said because the FEJUVE directed to all its member organizations to come up with nominations to be included in the list for parliamentarians. Abel Mamani, leader of FEJUVE could already taste the Prefect of La Paz candidacy. On the other side of the coin, as every thing looked as if it was coming together, many organizations member of MAS reacted by denouncing the political deals and started speaking against the allotment of the legislative seats. Apparently they too want a piece of the pie. As a result, it seems as though some cleavages are starting to become visible and the Evo/Garcia Linera project doesn't seem as close to completion as it once did.

Nevertheless, as I said earlier, all is not said yet. There is plenty of time until December 4th, which by the way, the government of President Rodriguez and the current legislature are keen on guaranteeing (unconstitutional or not).

August 24, 2005

Possible Complications in the Bolivian Electoral Process

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Several complications might stall or even delay general elections in Bolivia. These difficulties have to do with a process of redistribution of legislative seats in favor of Santa Cruz; the legislative's attempts to reform the Electoral Code; and the possible unconstitutionality of the elections themselves.

The first potential problem that the coming general elections can encounter is a Constitutional Court (CC) ruling in favor of a demand presented by the congressional Santa Cruz faction. This ruling is most likely to favor those demands for the redistribution of seats in Congress, according to current population numbers, which is what the Constitution establishes. According to the 2001 census, Santa Cruz gained population and as such is due an increase in the number of seats assigned by law. This increase would come on the back of a respective decrease of legislative seats for departments like La Paz and Potosi.

As a result, the legislative is currently considering three options to deal with the possible ruling. The first option is to do what the Constitutional Court says and do it promptly. This option though, according to some parliamentarians, would delay the elections, most likely for three months. The second option is to transfer the redistribution to be carried out in next year's Constitutional Assembly. This option, of course, was the reason why the Santa Cruz faction took the case to the CC in the first place. The third option was advanced by a congressmen from MAS and will most likely be put up for debate if the ruling is in favor of Santa Cruz. The option says to give a base of 10 deputies to each department, no matter how small the department is. That would make 90 seats, and the rest can be distributed by population. The main point being that as a result of this ruling, the general elections on December 4th could end up being delayed by three months.

Another problem the coming elections can encounter is the much needed reforms to the electoral code. The Deputies Chamber has sent to the Senate an approved set of reforms to the code. The Senate has surprisingly rejected the reforms and thus sent the bill back to the lower chamber for further deliberation. The main reasons the Senate sent back the bill were because it did not like the campaign finance reforms the lower chamber made. These reforms lower the amount of money each party would get to finance its campaign and transfers the administration of the funds to the Electoral Court.

The problem is not the campaign finance reforms, but another set of reforms, which as a result are being delayed. The Electoral Court has been asking expediency on extending the deadline for the registration of candidates to September 5. The current deadline is August 26. This reform is necessary to give more time to civic organizations wanting to take part in the elections. The objective here is to give more legitimacy to the electoral process. If this reform is not passed, it certainly won't be the end of the world, but it'll make a lot of people angry and frustrated with the electoral process. Many will problably be crying foul.

Lastly, Senator Ana María Flores (NFR) and congressmen Gonzalo Barrientos (MNR) want to start a process in the CC against the December 4th elections. Flores and Barrientos argue that the general elections were unconstitutionally advanced. This process threatens to stop the electoral process alltoghether, if it is successful.

As I have been saying on my previous posts, it looks like the electoral process is advancing. However, there are potential difficulties which could end up disturbing, delaying or stopping the December elections. Well, nobody said it would be easy. Much less it should be expected this would be free of problems in a country like Bolivia.

Update: One of the problems seems to be solved. The Senate yesterday made a 180 degree turn and approved the reforms to the Electoral Code, which the prior day it had rejected. Now, a series of reforms would come into effect, after the lower chamber sends the bill to President Rodriguez and he signs it. The signing of the bill is very likely to happen today Friday 26, because of the deadline to register candidates.

The reforms include, the extension of the deadline for the registration of parties' lists of candidates. Apparently, no party has a list ready yet. Funds destined to the financing of political campaigns will be reduced 50% and administered by the Electoral Court. Also, the period allowed for political propaganda is extended to 60 days from 30. All alliances between political parties and citizens organizations are free to pick from between 30% to 50% the female participation quota. And lastly, it was determined to use 2002 districting, which is based on the 1992 census.

This last point is potentially a danger for the elections because the Santa Cruz faction in Congress is on the verge of winning a favorable veredict from the Constitutional Court which deems this last reform as unconstitutional. If this were to happen, the elections on December 4th would be in serious question.

People Who Give America a Bad Name

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I would probably would read this story on my feeder and then click on to the next one. However, these incredibly dumb comments by Pat Robertson are just too dumb to click away. Something's got to be said.

Pat Robertson (I am assuming everyone knows who this character is, if not, check this, this, this, and this out. You'll get the idea), has recently made the most feebleminded, foolish, moronic, numskulled, simple-minded comments about Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. On Monday this week on his "700 Club" television program, Robertson said
"If he (Chavez) thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it... This is a dangerous enemy to our south controlling a huge pool of oil."
He also said killing Chavez
"would stop Venezuela from becoming a launching pad for communist influence and Muslim extremism."
And as if that was not enough, he added
"We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability... We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator."
Now, don't get me wrong. I am no Chavez fan. In fact I consider myself an opponent of Chavez's plans for Latin America. My complains are with the comments and the impact they have on America's image around the world. My first thought is, does America really need this kind of discrediting propaganda? I think, people like Robertson give America a bad name. His comments don't only show a lack of understanding of the world outside the US, but a simple lack of respect for anyone who hears them. Anyone who has lived through September 11th.

The guy is jut the biggest moron, period.

The US government, which has an almost blinded support from Robertson's followers (I think in the order of nine out of ten), has been keen on distancing itself from Robertson and his views. However, it has stopped well short from strongly condemming the comments.

The Venezuelan government, of course wanted a stronger statement from the Bush administration and they are asking for assurances in regards to Chavez's safety when he travels to New York next month for a special session of the U.N. General Assembly.

All in all, I think Robertson's comments have a negative effect on America's image around the world. An image all expat-americans (including myself) are trying hard to improve.

Further reading here and here.

Update: I found a very good article in the Washington Post and the related Church Committe's report.

August 22, 2005

New Polls

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New polls came out in La Razon showing who is ahead in the Bolivian elections effort. In this graph left we can see a head to head run between Tuto Quiroga (ASXXI), 22% and Evo Morales (MAS), 21%. However, I'd like to call your attention to the last two numbers. The first of the two is the number of voters who will not be voting/will vote null or will vote blank (protest vote). This number is almost as much as the support for Tuto and equal to the number of support for Evo, 21%. The undecided are a mere 7%.

As my friend Miguel Centellas over in Ciao! has said in his post, one thing is clear, no one will get the 50 + 1 per cent of the vote needed in order to be elected president next December 4th. Therefore the decision will be made by the newly elected Congress. Once again concurring with Miguel Centellas at Ciao!, I think local candidates for deputies and senators will be crucial. It'll depend on how will power be divided in the new Congress.
This other graph on the right shows what is the standing of President Rodriguez's popularity. As the graph shows, it has gone up 8 points. What does that mean? I think now much, as approval ratings for Bolivian presidents tend to change from one day to the next.

That's just about it. I just wanted to share with you the poll numbers. Now back to work!

August 20, 2005

Bolivian Elections: Updates, Commentaries, News, etc.

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One international issue/event has been catching my attention last week, the visit of US Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to Paraguay and Peru. Though, I wasn't particularly interested, Rumsfeld's comments forced me to pay more attention. He said:

“There certainly is evidence that both Cuba and Venezuela have been involved in the situation in Bolivia in unhelpful ways...”

This comment resonated throughout the world. First, it signaled a change of approach from the part of the US government (or perhaps just from Rumsfeld) to one focusing on Chavez and Castro. Second, it closely and eerily resembled outdated "cold war" rhetoric. There were various reactions, not just by the affected parties, Chavez (who denied the charges), but by governments in the region.

One reaction that came as a surprise was that of Senator Arlen Specter (R), Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Specter is apparently worried of the effects of Rumsfeld's attacks agains Chavez on the war against drugs. He said that the US should be working on cooperation rather than alienating Venezuela.

In another news, international aid is making its way to the Bolivian electoral effort. A group of donors, benelux countries plus Canada, have donated much needed funds to the Electoral Court so it can carry out its important work. The CNE had asked Congress for 55 million, but it was not sure whether it would get all it asked for. This is an important donation because it makes the work of the CNE more doable.

On to the electoral process and political campaigning, the UN duo Doria Medina/Dabdoub, are full in their campaign. Last week they were talking to around 25 thousand pacenos. Doria Medina put forward his plan to ask the trasnational companies operating in Bolivia to share profits with the Bolivian people. He did not call for nationalization, which is one thing that many candidates are doing and not just those from the left.

For the MNR, the oldest traditional party in contention, this weekend is crucial. Over the weekend, the MNR will try to come out of its crisis by coming together and deciding on a presidential and vice-presidential candidate. The choices are between Juan Carlos Duran, who leads the denominated corriente de renovacion (renovation current) and the independent but gonista and with Japanese ancestry, Michiaki Nagatani. These two candidates represent the two opponent factions within the party. It will be a tough job to amend divisions. We'll see what happens.

On the left front, it looks like Felipe Quispe (MIP), leader of the Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia (CSUTCB), will be running again for office. This time though, he'll be joined by the leader of the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB), Jaime Solares. Their slogan is the nationalization of the natural resources. On the other front, there is speculation that the civic organizations in El Alto are debating about whether to support the candidacy of Morales and Garcia Linera (some people in El Alto align Morales with neo-liberal policies). Even more speculation is the possibility of the leaders of Fejuve and COR-El Alto, Abel Mamani and Edgar Patana respectively to run together for office.

So, this is how it stands as of this week. It looks to me that the right is slowly coming together and getting things done, while the left is seemingly coming together as well, but it still has a long way to go.

August 18, 2005

Brief Update

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Everything seems to indicate the political parties are getting things together for the upcoming national elections on December 4th. Here is a brief update on the candidates and the campaigns.

Two important dates. According to the electoral code and the CNE (Electoral Court), the deadline for the parties to register the names of their candidates is August 26. However, there is a amendment bill (waiting in Congress) which would extend this date to September 5. This bill is very likely to pass because it contains many needed reforms to the current code in order to make the prefectural elections a reality.

Thus, the political parties are busy negotiating to get their candidates in order. So far, as reported earlier, the National Unity (UN) party has its candidates ready and campaingning. The candidates are: for President, Samuel Doria Medina, and for Vice-president, Carlos Dabdoub. For its part, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) also has its President and Vice-president candidates ready, Evo Morales and Alvaro Garcia Linera, respectively.

Still on the selection phase are: Alliance Century 21 (ASXXI), Ample Front (FA), MIR, MNR, ADN.

Speculations about Tuto Quiroga's running mate are circuling around two people. One is (or was) Progress Plan's (PP) Jose Luis Paredes. Paredes, however, has discarded this option since his support base wants to ally themselves with a leftist party (on a personal level, Paredes would feels closer to Quiroga). The other person being speculated about is Quiroga's former minister Tomasa Yarhui. At this point, if this speculations are right, Yarhui could end up running at Quiroga's side.

The Leftist Revolutionary Movement (MIR) has expressed through a member, though not officially, that Hormando Vaca Diez wants to be the candidate. This decission will be taken next Tuesday.

As far as FA, MNR and ADN, there is nothing new. Juaquino (FA) is waiting decisions being taken in El Alto. MNR is has been quiet and even more so, ADN.

August 17, 2005

US-Bolivia (Un) Relations

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Just wanted to direct you to this interesting article in Yahoo news. It seems that the US government (it had to be Rumsfeld, the smartest of the bunch) is taking it upon themselves (yet again) to act as campaign managers by drawing more attention than needed to Evo and the left.

ASUNCION (AFP) - US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrived here for talks with Paraguay's President Nicanor Duarte Frutos amid concerns over what US officials see as a Cuban-Venezuelan campaign to subvert neighboring Bolivia.

"There certainly is evidence that both Cuba and Venezuela have been involved in the situation in Bolivia in unhelpful ways," US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters as he flew here from Washington.

Rumsfeld declined to elaborate but senior defense officials traveling with him said a major purpose of the secretary's visit to Paraguay was to consult on Cuban and Venezuelan activities in the region.

"Very clearly in the past year we've seen a return of an aggressive Cuban foreign policy," said one US defense official, who spoke to reporters traveling with Rumsfeld on condition of anonymity.

Continue reading

August 11, 2005

The Tuto Quiroga Project

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More and more it looks like Bolivian politics is dividing itself in two very distinct and very obvious camps, the left and the right. On my previous post I spoke about the Garcia Linera project. This project is an attempt by Garcia Linera to unite the left behind his leadership as vice-president candidate and Evo Morales' presidential candidacy. On this occasion I'd like to especulate on Tuto Quiroga's own porject to unite the right.

According to press reports, it looks like Quiroga and his camp are working towards that goal. Jorge "Tuto" Quiroga, Cochabambino, former ADN and former President, has decided to step forward and enter the race with a new political "project", Alianza Siglo XXI (Alliance 21st Century or ASXXI). This project is more or less clearly defined in terms of its opposition to the nationalization of the natural resources and its belief in open markets and trade. Things that for the Bolivian left are taboo at this time.

Quiroga has been working hard and thus traveling extensively throughout Bolivia to consolidate support for his project. Press reports are confirming now that he was able to secure the support of around 33 citizens groups and indigenous organizations. The latest alliance with 15 organizations, in and around La Paz and El Alto, will be announced today in the rebel city of El Alto. In addition to those, Quiroga has alliances with 18 organizations in Cochabamba, Tarija, Potosí and Sucre (Chuquisaca).

In addition to this impressive (I am certainly impressed he has gained support in El Alto) result, Quiroga stands to gain support from two of the traditional parties, MIR and NFR. If Jaime Paz Zamora, the leader and founder of MIR, has his way, his party would be giving up presenting his own candidate in the next elections and instead support Tuto's candidacy. According to Paz Zamora, his party must now realize that it has to concentrate on the regional level because after regions gain autonomy, this level of government will be important. Paz Zamora has support from his son, who is a deputy from Tarija, Rodrigo Paz Pereira. Additionally, Manfred Reyes Villa, leader of NFR, has also expressed its intentions to examine a possible alliance behind Quiroga. This action more or less would unite the right behind Tuto Quiroga, thus setting up a clash between the left and the right on December 4th.

Notwithstanding, I find interesting the fact that Bolivia is betting (what I think all) on the complete renovation of the political class. Two reasons indicate this desire for renovation. First, Tuto's alliances with the civic and indigenous organizations have been based on the promise, from the part of Tuto, not to include politicians with strong ties to the worn out governments in recent years and to the neo-liberal policies applied by them. Tuto has been keen on keeping that promise. I am not sure if he will be able to keep it until election day. After all, precisely those people are the ones who have extensive experience in administration and government affairs. It is a hard promise to keep.

Secondly, the current MIR crisis is another indication. The MIR will have its national convention on August 18. In this date, the party is supposed to define itself all over again. There is a strong current within the party, lead by the congress woman, Erika Brockmann, which want a change in the leadership of the party. These people feel the need for Jaime Paz Zamora and long time political operative (who has considerable weight), Oscar Eid, to step aside and leave space for new leadership to emerge. According to people from the party, this is exaclty what will happen coming August 18.

Personally, I think this is a good move. Paz Zamora is worn-out as a leader. It is time for new leadership to take over and for it to re-define where the party stands. If the right achieves this feat (to bring new leadership to the parties), I think that the left will be pressed to differentiate itself and to come out with real and concrete proposals. Leaving aside that militant and populist rhetoric for a realistic proposal on how to achieve leftist ideals would seriously challenge the right. However, as I have been saying all along, at least there is a movement forwards. The elections are a-coming and road-blockades, disturbances and senseless protests are just bad memories (at least for now).

August 09, 2005

The Garcia Linera Project

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If the left has a chance to get together and "do something" next December 4th, this could be the chance. Primary reports from La Razon state that there might be the possibility that a mega coalition among the social movements and indigenous movements could get together behind an Evo Morales/Alvaro Garcia Linera ticket.

The report says that various social movements, among them the FEJUVE-El Alto, COR-El Alto and indigenous movements like El Mallku's MIP, are thinking about forming a mega coalition to support in the next elections a ticket with Evo Morales as president and Alvaro Garcia Linera as vice-president. This idea, according to the report, was a suggestion (more like a demand) steming from Garcia Linera when he was asked by Evo if he would consider joining his candidacy.

It is worth mentioning that Garcia Linera is a self described academic and intelectual; a widely quoted analyst, expert in social movements and a former member of the EGTK (Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army). This las group, which came to life some time in 1988 following the steps of El Mallku's original terrorist group "Ayllus Rojos", was also a terrorist group. This is worth mentioning because it is most likely coming back to hunt candidate Garcia Linera in the elections.

However, as mentioned earlier, these are just preliminary reports. Evo's MAS, along with Garcia Linera, is also considering other light-skinned intelectuals such as Roberto Fernández, Juan Armando Antelo, Ana María Romero de Campero, José Alberto y "Gringo" Gonzáles. The MAS' strategy is to, at the same time, secure the indigenous vote and to appeal to the middle class. That is why they are looking for a, what they call, blancoide or k'ara (in Aymara) intelectual candidates.

Will this strategy win? Evo and his MAS seem to think so. MAS even rejected a potentially rewarding alliance with the newcomer candidate of Frente Amplio (Ample Front), Rene Joaquino. FA, which is an alliance itself between six city Mayors, picked popular Potosi Mayor, Joaquino to be its presidential candidate.

But, in the words of Garcia Linera, this would be very, very difficult. The fragmentation of the social movements can prove to be insurmountable. As an example, one day prior to the La Razon's article, the same newspaper reported that Felipe Quispe (MIP) harshly rejected Garcia Linera's demands. Divisions among the different organizations like FEJUVE, COR, COB, MIP, M17 are evident.

If this would happen, I think there wouldn't be a better time for the left. The current crisis of the traditional parties makes the right as weak as it's ever been in recent history. There is practically no candidate with enough credibility and support to win a solid government. Most of the candidates on the right are discredited with their association with despised policies and discredited parties, with the exception of course of newcomer, Rene Joaquino. But, then again, Rene Joaquino is virtually unknown outside his Potosi.

I am greatly interested in what will happen the next few weeks in Bolivia. If there is a unification of the left, it will only confirm that wave going through Latin America which is increasingly moving to the left.

August 07, 2005

Happy Birthday Bolivia

Happy birthday Bolivia, here is to your 180 years of life. And here is another one wishing you get to be a 1000.

To all Bolivians visiting this site, I wish you a happy 6th of August.

August 04, 2005

The Electoral Slate is Taking More Shape

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At less than five months from the December 4th national elections, the electoral field is getting less dense and more clear as days go by. Even though many political parties do not have their respective candidates for President and Vice-president, there are a handfull that are in a better stance. Also a new poll by Apoyo for the newspaper La Razon shows a preference for Tuto Quiroga over Doria Medina and Evo Morales.

Making a careful revision of the political arena, I find at least three parties with defined candidates for the presidency and one of them ready to start the campaign with a duo of candidates. This last party is the National Unity party (Unidad Nacional, UN) headed by cement industrialist and former MIR vice-president candidate in the 1997 elections, Samuel Doria Medina. Doria Medina chose as his vice-president candidate, former MIR militant and founder of the separatist movement Camba Nation (Nacion Camba), Carlos Dabdoub. The two candidates of UN gave a press conference in various cities outlining their programme and at the same time refuting allegations against Dabdoub's membership in Nacion Camba.

The other two parties, Evo Morales' MAS and new comer, Rene Joaquino's Frente Amplio (Ample Front, FA), are in the process of finding a vice-president candidate. Out of the two, it was no surprise that Evo Morales Aima would be running for president at the front of Movement Towards Socialism. What could turn to be a surprise is his choice for a running mate. Morales has expressed he is looking, with preference, a woman from the East who is identified with the social movements. At the same time he is open to accepting a strong candidate emanating from El Alto, which is the center of rebellion in current times. Joaquino, who's FA was born out of an alliance between Mayors of different cities (La Paz's Juan del Granado being the most prominent of them) is also courting a candidate from the East or from El Alto. Both want to get at least alliances with the civic leaders of El Alto.

It is also imperative highlight Jorge Quiroga's "project". The former president's political group is denominated Alianza Siglo XXI (21st Century Alliance, ASXXI). This new "project" has dual nature, it is a new comer in the sense that it was founded by a group of students supporters of Quiroga and that this will be the first time it participates in an election. At the same time it is also a systemic party because it has a candidate who has held the presidency and as such has participated in formulating the policies currently in place. He is also seen, by many, as part of the problem.

Concerning the traditional political parties, MIR, MNR, ADN and NFR, they are not ready yet. Out of the four, ADN is the party that has not had much activity. In essence, it is still in the process of finding a suitable candidate, after the defection of its former leader, Jorge Quiroga. The MNR and the NFR are also in search of candidates. The party suffering the most out of this situation is the MIR. This party continues to slip into the deepest crisis it has ever seen. Recently, the current leader and founder, Jaime Paz Zamora, expressed its opinion that his party should forget about the presidential elections and instead concentrate on departmental prefectures. Current contender for the leadership and would be candidate for president, Hormando Vaca Diez, qualified Zamora's comments as non-sense. Party bickering and bitter divisions continue to plague these parties. However, we would have to wait until after their conventions to count them out.

One interesting development is that some traditional political parties as well as some anti-systemic parties are preferring to concentrate on the elections for prefects rather than the national elections. As I mentioned earlier, Jaime Paz Zamora, leader of MIR, has expressed his desire for his party to concentrate to gain control of the Santa Cruz, La Paz and Tarija's prefectures. Similarly, the leader of Plan Progreso (Progress Plan, PP) and Mayor of El Alto, Jose Luis Paredes, has expressed his interest for his party to pursue some prefectural offices and concentrate in winning seats in Congress. In the same line, some leaders of MAS have said they will concentrate in winning seats in Congress.

This preferences by some parties highlights the importance of the prefectural elections, from now on. This rise in importance is due to the regional autonomic route Bolivia is taking as part of its re-inventing.

Notwithstanding, in some ways, it is politics as usual in La Paz. In the eve of the last session of this legislative year, the two major parties in Congress have agreed to maintain their 2002 pact which provides for the alternation of possitions of leadership in Congress. So therefore, next congress will have a MNR senator as president of the Senate and a MIR deputy as president of the lower chamber. This move represents both the reflection of power politics within the Congress and what is wrong in the legislative in the eyes of voters.

All in all, the process is taking more shape, with more and more parties announcing their respectives candidates and more and more alliances being formed. It is striking that this elections are shaping out to be one where the traditional systemic parties contend against the n.k.o.b. anti-systemic parties, on the one hand. On the other hand, there is a trend of concentrating more at the local level against the national level. I ask myself, is this last tendency a sort of decentralization of politics following the decentralization process implemented in 1994?

August 01, 2005

Once Again. What Are They Thinking?

MABB © ®
Source: La Razón

Some times I seriously wonder whether the Bolivian Congress has too much power or whether it is in good hands. Personally, I tend to side with the second thought.

Congress' lower chamber (the Constitution Commission to be more exact) has recently debated a motion presented by the Santa Cruz faction, which would update the electoral code and would follow what the Constitution says. According to the Constitution, the number of deputies representing each electoral district has to be calculated according to the number of inhabitants living in each district. The number of inhabitants has to be based on the latest census, which in this case would be the 2001 census. However, the result of the debate was to postpone the updating of the law until the 2010 elections.

The updating of the code would benefit Santa Cruz (see figure above). This department has been the most dynamic in recent times and its population has increased at fast rates. If the code is updated using the latest 2001 census, Santa Cruz stands to gain four deputies while departments in the West like, La Paz, Potosi, Sucre and Oruro stand to lose deputies.

Because of the decision, the Santa Cruz faction is livid. In effect, they say, congressmen from the West are conspiring against Santa Cruz so it doesn't reap the gains due to its growing population. They also argue that the new "crucenos", which most likely come from western departments, will not be properly represented in Congress.

The members of the lower chamber's Constitutional Commission (mostly the ones representing western departments), argue that because of the current situation Bolivia is going through it is not the right time to update the electoral code.

As a result, Santa Cruz is in state of emergency and has threatened not to participate in the next elections. The Santa Cruz faction is currently preparing to start a Constitutional process and bring the Constitutional Court in.

Once again I find myself asking: What are these people thinking? (the congressmen)

It is precisely in these dire times when Bolivia needs to adhere most to the law and avoid unecessary conflicts like these. Why not just follow the "law of the land" and update it.

Situations like these are the ones that make me think about the necessity of a total renovation of the Bolivian Congress. Often I think that the deep divisions everyone is talking about affecting the Bolivian nation is mainly on the congressmen's heads and to a lesser extent in the people's minds.