January 29, 2006

Evo Morales, the Staunchest Ally of Hugo Chavez?

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As it turns out, it might be that Evo Morales is not the staunchest ally of Hugo Chavez in Bolivia after all. That title would have to go to the new Energy Minister, Andres Soliz Rada. Thanks to an interview conducted by the online magazine Green Left Weekly before the December 18 national elections, Soliz Rada spells out his hopes and beliefs on Bolivia. Moreover, he talks about how important it is that Chavez's plans are backed by the Bolivian government.

Below you'll find an excerpt of the interview:

Yet Bolivia’s gas, Soliz Rada said, can help resolve this issue, “because finally there is an idea” — the nationalisation of Bolivia’s gas — “that can unite the dispersed social sectors”. The national mobilisations in May-June of 2005 not only threw out a president, but were the first truly united mobilisations of the social movements, from the east to the west, behind the demand for nationalisation. “Rather than demanding on behalf of Aymaras, Quechuas, Guaranis or for the people of Oruro or Chimore, they are now in agreement that the gas has to be recuperated for Bolivia. It is a banner that unites Bolivians.”

Bolivia’s gas “also has an extraordinary importance in external politics, because Bolivia could participate in [Venezuelan President] Hugo Chavez’s idea of forming a consortium of state petroleum companies in South America — with Petrobras [from Brazil], Enarsa [from Argentina], YPBF from Bolivia and PDVSA [from Venezuela]” — which Chavez has named Petrosur.

“The state companies, united, could confront the grand consortiums such as Repsol from Spain, Amoco from the United States and British Petroleum. It could become a strong force of defence [against these corporations], and importantly we could begin to elaborate a development plan of big projects, of big dimensions for South America as a whole.

“The division of our peoples is a permanent form of domination. This idea of division has been overturned by Chavez. Just as internally the issue of gas can be a point of unity for Bolivians, there is now a point of unity for Latin America ... which could generate serious concerns for the US, because you are generating a resistance of the national states.” According to Soliz Rada, this resistance will be strengthened through Petrosur, as the issue of energy “will not be brokered by the US, but rather negotiated among the South American states”.

Together, South America has around 15% of the world’s energy resources, making Petrosur a potentially powerful player in global politics. “It is a project that will be very difficult, but I am convinced that we must go in that direction”, added Soliz Rada.

The first steps were taken the day after Morales’ inauguration. PDVSA opened an office in La Paz on January 23. That same day, an agreement was signed by Chavez and Morales for cooperation between PDVSA and YPBF to develop projects for infrastructure, processing and refining of gas and petroleum.

Continue reading....

January 27, 2006

Alasitas 2006

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Those of you who are visiting this blog for a long time might remember last year around the same time I wrote a post about the Alasitas fair in La Paz. Well, this fair is a traditional fair which happens every year and is back this year. It is one of the fondest memories I have from my life in La Paz.

The pictures you are looking at on the left are gracefully shared by Patricia, the author of a blog bearing her own name. As you can see by visiting her blog, she has made many interesting photos of this year's Alasitas. A visit to her blog is a must. But, additionally, she has a very interesting and picturesque photo stream in Flickr. There she shares with us more photos of the fair and if you go back far enough, you'll find her point of view of the recent political events in Bolivia.

As you can very well observe from these two photos in the post, humor is a very important element of the fair. Traditionally, this is the time where mini-newspapers come out fress from the mini-press. These mini-newspapers emulate their real counterparts, but with a twist of humor. They have a very good layout, very realistic, and the articles in them are very real. The topics are usually in the form of political satire, as you might have already notices from the photos. Personally I find the photos hilarious. Specially the one about Evo Morales marrying Condoleeza Rice, while Castro, Bush, Chavez and the others look. The photo montage was done perfectly.

A very short trip down memory lane, takes me to the small restaurants set up in the fair where they sell Api con empanadas. This is a sort of thick, lilla tee, made out of mais. It's very sweet and you usually drink it with a kind of hugely inflated, very thin layerd turnover. This turn over is made in the following manner. The woman who owns the little cafe or restaurant (however you want to call it) takes a very elastic and sticky kind of dough. She skillfully stretches it with her hands until she has a flat layer (kind of like a piece of cloth) of dough. Then she dips it into the very hot pen of oil and she deep fries it there. The dough inflates itself to an oversized turnover while it is cooking. This doesn't take more than two or three minutes. Then she takes the turnover out of the oil and sprinkles it with powder sugar. This turnover with the api is just wonderful. Worth to try!

Enjoy the photos!

January 25, 2006

Congress and Government Take Shape

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In one of my posts I briefly mentioned that one of the most inmediate issues Morales would have to attend is the structure of his government and that of the Congress. Now, Morales looks to have a good handle on his cabinet and for certain he has partial control of Congress. In the last few days (January 16) the new congress was inaugurated with a "renovation" rate of about 90%. That is, 17 out of 157 legislators have not been able to keep their seats. Almost everyone in congress is new to legislative politics. Talking about "renovation".

With that in mind, we also know that MAS has a majority in the lower chamber and a not so minor minority in the Senate. As a result, Morales' party was able to secure the presidency in both cameras for itself. While the presidency in the lower chamber was assured, MAS had to negotiate the one in the upper chamber and thanks to the help of the two senators, one from UN and the other from MNR, MAS got the necessary votes to secure the upper chamber's presidency. So, the president of the lower chamber is Edmundo Novillo (MAS) and of the Senate is Santos Ramirez (MAS). Now all that remains is to settle on the structure of the senate, which should be negotiated and in accrodance to the house rules.

The Congress' structure is as follows:

Senate -
The upper chamber has six seats making up the leadership (president, two vice-presidents and three secretaries). It also has 11 commissions and 10 committees.

Deputies' Chamber -
The lower chamber has seven seats making up the leadership (president, two vice-presidents and four secretaries). It also has 12 commissions and 30 committees

Once the distribution of spacial power is negotiated, Congress will be able to start working on the agenda. Evo Morales has made it clear he will start as soon as possible to work on changing the "neo-liberal" economic model currently implemented in Bolivia, the resource nationalization process, the Constituent Assembly, etc.

Moreover, Morales has already started working on the structure of the executive power. He has recently declared he will maintain the number of ministries at 16, with some changes on the goals, areas, names and objectives. Additionally, Morales has recently been handed the reports of the three "transitional commissions" (politic, social and economic) created to asses and put forward a plan of transition toward government. These commissions have found out that one of the worst problems within the executive is the high dependency of its organisms to organisms of the international cooperation. The report expresses that the degree of dependency is worrysome, to the extent that some vice-ministries have no financial support form the Bolivian government and totally depend on donations from the international cooperation community.

Morales has been troubled by this result and has expressed his desire to, in his words "nationalize government". That is to create a government structure entirely dependent on the resources of the Bolivian government. Among other restructuring plans, Morales' government wants to get rid of the so called "special delegations". These delegations have the task to work on a specific area, for example corruption. It is precisely this delegation which Morales wants to eliminate because he feels it has not achieved much in its short existance, while the costs (around US$ 8 million per year) are too much for the government to bear.

What impact will these decisions have? only time will say. Corruption is an endemic problem in Bolivia. One which will not be easy to eliminate.

Morales' Cabinet

David Choquehuanca Céspedes, Canciller de la República (State Department).
Autodidact and has a diploma in "Right of the indigenous peoples" from the Cordillera University. He attended a course in Anthropology and History in CIDES, UMSA, La Paz. Democratic activist during the 1970s dictatorship. Consultant to the peasant movements. The last 15 years he worked in the Nina peasant education project, funded with French funds.

Juan Ramón Quintana, Ministro de la Presidencia (Ministry of the Presidency).
Retired Mayor from the military academy, Gualberto Villarroel. Researcher on national security. Sociologist with studies in Philosophy and Politics at the UMSA, La Paz. Consultant in security issues, defense and police. Director of the Observatorio Seguridad y Democracia (Security and Democracy Observatory).

Alicia Muñoz Alá, Ministra de Gobierno (Ministry of Government).
Anthropologist and former member of Congress. Former journalist in radio and former director of women and family; former president of the Democratic Women's Federation of Bolivia; former member of the departmental council on culture (Oruro); university professor of Anthropology at the Technical Oruro University and former president of the employment commission in Congress.

Walker San Miguel Rodríguez, Ministro de Defensa Nacional (Defence Ministry).
Constitutionalist lawyer. Former professor and director of Gaceta Juridica (law publication). Director in LAB (Bolivian airlines). President of the Bar Association of Attorneys.

Luis Alberto Arce Catacora, Ministro de Hacienda (Finance Ministry).
Economist (UMSA), Accountant and Master in Economics from Warwick, England. He worked 18 years in the Central Bank of Bolivia (International Operations Department). Professor in several state and private universities in Bolivia.

Carlos Villegas Quiroga, Ministro de Desarrollo Sostenible, Encaragado de Planificación de Desarrollo (Ministry of Sustainable Development).
Economist and Director of the doctoral program in Development at the UMSA, La Paz. Former professor of economics in Bolivia and Mexico.

Celinda Sosa Lunda, Ministra de Desarrollo Económico, Encargada de Producción y Microempresas (Ministry of Economic Development).
Former leader of the Peasant Women's Federation. Adviser on the creation of micro-enterprises (textiles, honey, eggs).

Salvador Ric Riera, Ministro de Servicios y Obras Públicas (Ministry of Services and Public Works).
Doctor in Diplomacy and private entreprenour. He has businesses in import of cars and parts, he owns several retail businesses.

Andrés Soliz Rada, Ministro de Hidrocarburos (Hydrocarbons Ministry).
Journalist and Lawyer. Former Deputy and Senator for the political party, Condepa (Fatherland Conscience). Executive Secretary of the Journalist Association and Vice-president of the Latin American Journalists Association.

Wálter Villarroel Morochi, Ministro de Mineria y Metalurgia (Mining and Metalwork Ministry).
He was a miner in Comibol (the Bolivian mining company) until 1985 and in 2004 he became leader of the mining federation, Fencomin.

Félix Patzi Paco, Ministro de Educación y Cultura (Ministry of Education and Culture).
Studied Sociology in UMSA and is a Master in Rural Development and Doctor in Culture and Identities. Professor of sociology and education in UMSA, La Paz and since 2004, director of the Sociologic Research Institut.

Nila Heredia Miranda, Ministra de Salud y Deportes (Minstry of Health and Sports).
Surgical Doctor, former Vice-president of UMSA and former director of the Health Department. Currently university professor and President of Latin American Federation of Associations of Dissappeared and Detained People.

Santiago Alex Galvez Mamani, Ministro de Trabajo (Ministry of Employment).
Studied Business Administration and Accounting and has 27 years of working experience. Former Executive Secretary of the Factory Worker's Federation and since 2003 national secretary of the same union.

Hugo Salvatierra Gutiérrez, Ministro de Asuntos Campesinos, Indígenas y Agropecuarios (Minstry of Peasant Affairs, Indigenous People and Agriculture).
Lawyer, activist and leader for social justice. In the December elections was candidate for the Prefecture representing MAS.

Casimira Rodríguez Romero, Ministra sin cartera Responsable de Justicia (Ministry of Justice).
From age 13, she worked as maid. Victim of fisical, mental and sexual abuse. Worked two years without being paid. Leader of the house workers union. She help enact the first law regulating the worker's rights of house workers.

Abel Mamani, Ministro sin Cartera Responsable de Agua (Ministry for Water).
Studied three years Odontology, made other technical studies and became carpenter. As a young student he was the leader of the student federation in his province. In 2004 became leader of FEJUVE-El Alto, having a major role in the resignation of Carlos Mesa.

Some opposition already

The first controversy is on Abel Mamani, the former leader of FEJUVE-El Alto. Now, Mamani is in the middle of recriminations and investigations steming from his own organization. The FEJUVE-El Alto is against his nomination as minister and want to formally ask Morales to make a better pick. Apparently, Mamani did not tell his followers he was going to take a post as minister in Morales' cabinet.

The same kind of problems is facing Walte Villarroel. Apparently he has lost the support and confidence of his organization. The current leaders are insisting they want a new minister of mining. But they are not saying too many details on why.

The most objectionalble of all, though is the nomination of the journalist Andres Soliz Rada as Minister of Hydrocarbons. Soliz Rada has a reputation of a hard core anti-neoloberal and anti-privatization, at the same time that he has the custom of expresing himself in not so diplomatic ways. His critics point to his near-absolute inexperience, other than critizice.

January 22, 2006

Live Events in San Francisco Square

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This is the event right after the swearing ceremony in Congress. Morales walked from Congress down to the plaza. There, the new president and vice-president have pledged once again to the people their government. Various speakers took part as follows:

(This is an attempt to bring what was said in that event as things were happening. It might be a bit abreviated, but you'll get the idea. The ceremony/event continues but Morales has already left. He has to host a receptions in the Presidential palace for all the visiting heads of state.)

Juan del Granado (didn't get to hear)

Eduardo Galeano Said that what happened in Bolivia is good for Bolivia, America and the world.
He was tired to see Bolivia covered by the international press. Bolivia for the press is invisible and difficult to understand.

Alvaro Garcia Linera said that the time of the indigenous people has come. Not there will be more iquality, compromise, racism will be eradicated. 513 years, the indigenous people have had to wait to be included. This is the "hour zero" for the indigenous people.

Evo Morales said:

The Bolivian people's efforts were not in vain. Thank you for the support. Really, I never thought I would become president. But, all indigenous peoples are presidents. Thanks to Eduardo Galeano for the support, to Ana maria campero (Bolivian ombuds woman).

This inauguration is not the end, but the beginning. We have lots to do. We will end the neocolonial state and the neoliberal model. Justice has to come to bolivia. Those who masacred the people have to come back to Bolivia to go to jail.

Thank to all heads of governments and an applause for the international press. Thanks to the indigenous movements around the world.

If we cannot go ahead in government, you brothers and sisters have to push us.

Greetings to a gradfather, wiseman, Fidel.

Let's invite the vice-president from Cuba, Carlos Lage.

Carlos Lage said, Evo says you want to hear me, but the people want to hear Evo. The profecy has become true: You send me away, I will return millions! The indigenous of America have returned. President Evo, we admire you for your ancestry, humility and honesty. We are living a historical moment for Bolivia, America and the World. Fidel could not come, but Fidel is present in you all. Patria o muerte, venceremos! (country or death, we will win).

Evo again:

I invited brother Hugo Chavez, but he said he was al bit ill. Viva Chavez. Viva the Boliviarian revolution. Viva Cuba.

I want to thank Gaston Ugalde. He painted the mural. The union of West and East.

I never thought we (MAS) would grown so fast.

So they don't say we are machos, I have seen a diminutive Ecuadorian activist sister, Blanca Chancoso. I invite her to come to speak here.

Blanca Chancoso:

She speaks in quechua. Sorry I don't understand! :-)

Now in Spanish - From other parts we have come to accompany and to take part in Bolivia's celebrations. 500 years ago it was said that in the middle of the day, it became night for the Andean peoples. But now, January 22, the light of day returned. Companero Morales we will be with you.

Evo Morales again:

Our solidarity with our quechuas brothers from Ecuador.

I want to salute the El Alto people. Thanks to El Alto and its people. Thank you for support.

Thanks to the association of retired people. They recommended us not to exclude any popular movement. We really try.

(Morales thanks to all the member organizations of his alliance. Workers, peasants, small business, women's associations, etc.)

Thanks to La Paz Mayor Juan del Granado.

We want to recuperate the national resources and many more supporters.

Thanks to Alvaro Garcial Linera. He represents the intelectuals of Bolivia.

Thanks to the intelectuals and professionals for their support.

It is important to coordinate social conscience with intellectual capacity.

I want to announce, I have to live in La Paz and had to leave my house in Cochabamba. I, frankly, am afraid to live in the presidential residence. I proposed that Alvaro Garcia Linera (vice-president), Santos Ramirez (Senate president), Edmundo Novillo (Deputies' president) and I will live in the president's residence. (I don't know if he was joking or he was serious)

Congress and Government have to cooperate.

I want to confess, today I dreamt that I was walking along the shores of lake Poopoo and the sun was rising. I am very impressed with this dream and very encouraged.

Viva Bolivia and viva the social movements!

P.S. Sorry for the English, but it was written as the people were speaking.


Take a look at Patricia's photo stream. She was in the ceremony in Tiwanaku. Thanks Patricia.

Evo Morales a Real, Modern Inca?

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As I watch what is going on in Bolivia I cannot help of thinking how unprecedented these events are. The fact that a president elect is being vested with a "special kind of authority or power" over the people, has up to now been unthinkable. But, exactly that is what is happening today in Bolivia. This highlights the complexity of the Bolivian reality. A country which its history does not start in 1492 or even 1825, but much, much earlier with the history of the Inca and Aymara cultures.

Today, president elect Morales is being vested with what is known as the "andean power or authority". This authority has symbolically been given to him by high priests of the Andean cultures. The ceremony was held at the ancient Aymara temple, Kalasasaya, located in the town of Tiwanaku (60 km from La Paz). There Morales was dressed with an ancient "poncho", which has not been used in (as some say) 10 centuries. Below you can see the map of the temple and the ancient ruins, where the ceremony were carried out. Also depicted are the details of the ceremony.

The ceremony itself started with Morales walking up the piramid of Akapana bare-foot. He was escorted by four young man and women (two male and two female). These threw in Morales' way flower petals. Accroding to some experts and organizers of this ceremony, this ritual would ease the "cosmic energy" of the sacred temple to penetrate Morales' body through his naked feet.

Once at the top, Morales was handed the authority scepter, which represents the power given to him by the Andean world. This ritual was performed by four Amautas (Andean religious priests) from the three andean towns of Tiwanaku, Charazani, Samaipata and the Chaco region.

Morales was dressed with the sacred Andean "poncho", called Unku. This poncho was used in the imperial tiwanakota period by Inti priests or Sun priests. This poncho hasn't been used by anyone for 10 centuries. After being dressed with the sacred poncho, he was blessed by the priests with water from a sacred river. The poncho has two kinds of motives. One is a series of Anacondas, which represent the Amazonas region and the other is a series of Condores, representing the Andean region. Together they remind us of these regions living in harmony with nature. Lastly, he was given a hat, called Chucu, with four points representing the four geographical points of the territory.

Once Morales was dressed up and received the spiritual power, he spoke to the people from the ancient door of the Kalasasaya temple. Once he finished, he walked around the temple towards the central squere of the Tiwanaku town. There he received the real power over the Andean world. He was given a stick and a whip, symbolizing power and punishment (justice). He was also given another poncho, this time red, a scarf and traditional cap. He was declared the prodigal son of the Andean world.

Below you can see the picture where all is explained in Spanish. I have already tranlated for you above.

Once again I have to repeat that this ceremony is unique and unprecedented in the history of Bolivia. An interesting even, nevertheless.

Graphics from La Razon.

January 18, 2006

The Inauguration: Who'll Be Attending and How Will it be Happening

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New Update

This inauguration day is unique in the history of Bolivia. No other even can compare to the scale of this event. To pull this off, the La Paz government has had to appeal no only to the police to prvide security, but has had to come up with original ideas to deal with the scope. Examples of this are: the various rival political parties like MNR and MIR and others, have had to volunteer to work side by side to clean the entire city. Every party took a delineated zone and the supporters cleaned the streets. That is of course, the entire health and environment department of La Paz would already be involved in the operation. As far as security, as I mentioned not only the entire police force of La Paz is involved (around 8000), there are also delegations of other departments (Santa Cruz and Cochabamba, for example). Additional security is being provided by volunteer miners (around 1000) and other governmental workers in La Paz.

Above you can see a graph from La Razon which shows the plans and the scale of the project.


Here is a graphic from La Razon, showing a more complete list.

Here is a sample list of who'll be attending Evo Morales' inauguration.


Néstor Kirchner (Argentina)
Inacio Lula Da Silva (Brasil)
Alfredo Palacio (Ecuador)
Álvaro Uribe (Colombia)
Ricardo Lagos (Chile)
Martín Torrijos (Panamá)
Alejandro Toledo (Perú)
Nicanor Duarte (Paraguay)
Hugo Chávez (Venezuela)
Janez Drnofek (Eslovenia)
Mahamed Albdelaziz (Rep. Árabe de Saharahui)

Organiziations (from the 70 already confirmed)

Organización Nal. de Pueblos Indígenas (ONPIA). Argentina
Cooperativa de Feriantes Mayoristas Frutihortícola del Norte argentino Limitada.
Partido Comunista Revolucionario de Argentina.
Asociación de Madres Plaza de Mayo, Argentina.
Partido Democrático Revolucionario de Argentina, PDR.
Organizaciones Indígenas Amazónicas (COIAB).
Consejo de Todas las Tierras de la República de Chile.
Fondo Indígena de Chile.
Confederación de Trab. Metalúrgicos de Chile.
Organización Nal. Indígena de Colombia (ONIC).
Alianza Indígena (Colombia).
Partido Polo Democrático Alternativo (PDA), Colombia.
Movimiento Indígena Pachakuti del Ecuador.
Consejo nacional de Indígenas del Ecuador.
Consejo Nal. Indígena Salvadoreño (CCNIS).
Izquierda Unidad de España.
Decenio de Maya de Guatemala.
Consejo Nal. de Pueblos Autóctonos de Honduras (CONPAH).
Comité Revolucionario de Libia.
Internacional Nacional Socialista de México.
Partido de la Revolución Democrática de México.
Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo de Nicaragua.
Frente Democrático de Liberación de Palestina.
Conf. Campesina de Perú.

Some numbers

Diplomatic missions from all continents will arrive in Bolivia for the January 22 inauguration ceremony, where Evo Morales will swear and become President of Bolivia.

60 diplomatic missions confirmed their attendance.

11 presidents among them.

Rather, zero (0) Fidel Castro.

The Bolivian government will carry costs in the neighborhood of US$ 12 million to host all the guests.

1000 to 1200 acredited journalists will be covering the ceremonies from China, Japón, Rusia, Suecia, Holanda, Italia, México, Canadá, Inglaterra, Alemania, España, Francia, Venezuela, Brasil, Argentina, Perú, Chile, Paraguay y Uruguay, for example.

For them there will be around 60 computers available, with flat screen monitors, USB, state of the art chips, Wi-Fi, DSL (broad band access), plasma TVs, a fiber optic port with 20 GB/s for live feeds, and satellite transmitions.

10000 volunteers to clean up La Paz.

3000 touristic brochures.

A giant Quinua cake (5x3x3 meters) depicting Morales' face and the Illimani as background.

Around 70 representatives of indigenous groups will be attending the ceremony in Tiwanaku.

Around 200000 people are awaited to gather in San Francisco square.

100000 will be coming from the other departments.


Friday 20 - The Bolivian government will be waiting the whole day for all the official delegations arriving at the El Alto airport. It will also provide transportation to the hotel.

Saturday 21 - This day too, the government will wait for the arriving delegations. Some delegations will be presented with military honors.

This day is when president elect Morales will take part in the arqueologic town of Tiwanaku a unique andean ceremony, where the indigenous peoples will invest him with symbolic power. This ceremony is traditionally andean and gives power and moral authority to the new leader. He will receive the wooden scepter and the whip, to govern and punish.

10:00 - Morales will head to Tiwanaku
12:00 - The ceremony will take part. Morales will get the ceremonial and symbolic power.
14:00 - Morales will return to La Paz.

19:15 - All visiting presidents and high officials will head to the "Buned Palace" (the Bolivian White House).
19:00 - Outgoing president Rodriguez Velze will welcome the guests.
20:00 - The reception in honor of the distinguished guests begins.

Sunday 22 - Inauguration day

12:00 - Begin the arrival of guests to the legislative building.
12:30 - Arrival ot the presidents and high officials to the legislative building.
13:00 - Arrival of Rodriguez Velze
13:15 - Arrival of Morales and Garcia
13:00 - Message to the nation by President Rodriguez Velze. Hand back of the presidential symbols or medals to the National Parliament. Swearing of the new authorities.
15:30 - President Evo Morales walks diagonally across the street to the Palacio Quemado (Burned Palace).
16:00 - Military column of honor.
16:50 - President Morales and Vice-President Garcia head to the San Francisco square to take part in the celebrations and once again "pledge allegiance to the people."
17:00 - Morales and Garcia compromise to the people (the pledge of allegiance I call it).
19:30 - All the heads of states have the opportunity to congratulate Morales and Garcia.
20:00 - Reception offered by President Morales in honor of his guests.

Monday 23 - 9:30 am will be the appointment ceremony of Morales' cabinet.

13:00 Morales heads to Sucre (a.k.a. Chuquisaca).
15:30 - Morales will designate and present the 9 departmental Prefects (heads of departmental governments) in the Liberty House.

January 17, 2006

Articles About Bolivia

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I found these three articles on my news service I thought you'd get a kick out of reading.

Bolivia elects first woman President

CORRECTED: Chileans elect their first woman president

Marcos: Zapatistas Will Not Attend Evo's Inauguration in Bolivia

I guess India has an excuse. It is so far away from Bolivia that it would be comprehensible for an Indian not to know where Bolivia and Chile are. A mistake is understandable. But, Reuters? what a mistake. I just have to chuckle.

The last piece is interesting to me because I would have thought the Zapatistas would want to attend. But, I was wrong!


January 14, 2006

Preliminary Balance of Evo Morales' World Tour

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Mr Morales returned this past weekend from his world tour. A tour which took the president-elect to Cuba and Venezuela, to Western Europe, China, Sourth Africa and Brazil. No other Bolivian official (althoug he is not official yet) has headed such a world tour not had such a coverage by the international press. On the way, Morales met with presidents, prime ministers, other high officials and even kings. The topics of speculation and interests were of course the natural gas reserves of Bolivia and Mr Morales' sweater.

As he returns to Bolivia, the question arises, what has he achieved with this trip? He is not even the president and yet and he went on a world tour? Why? This small and preliminary article pretends to extract a sort of balance to Evo Morales' trip.

Among the most significant result of Morales' trip seems to be the support he has secured from other governments (Spain, France, the EU, China and South Africa, and of course Cuba and Venezuela). Among the most significant shows of support he got we can count the financial offerings of Hugo Chavez, the condonation of half of the debt owed to Spain, and the promises of investment by the government of China.

First, Morales traveled to Cuba, where aside from calling Fidel Castro "maestro" (master), he secured assistance from the Cuban government to help people with eye problems and a promise to help eradicate analphabetism in 30 months.

Second, Morales arrived in Caracas, where he signed an agreement of cooperation with Chavez of US$ 30 million and he also received assurances from Chavez of plentiful oil supplies for Bolivia.

The third stop was Spain. It was there where his sweater made more news than his policies. He was received by King Juan Carlos, afterwards he met with the Spanish head of government, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (the real one) and confirmed the condonation of half of the US$ 120 million debt to that country.

In Brussels, he met with the foreign minister of the Euroean Union, Javier Solana. Morales left Brussels empty handed, but not without being warned and with promises of moral support.

In France, Morales met with Jacques Chirac, and there he received assurances of support and an offer to condone some €US 20 million in debt.

Morales' sixth stop was Beijing, where he met Hu Jintao and also got assurances of significant investments from the part of Chinese companies to develop the Bolivian natural gas resources.

In Pretoria, South Africa, Morales was received by president Thabo Mbeki, but does not get to see another one of his heroes, Nelson Mandela. However, he does not leave empty handed. Aside from getting suppor and an understanding to tighten relations between the two countries, Morales receives notice that the US government is interested in talking with him over the drug eradication program, and later on that it will be attending his inauguration. This was a result of Morales' statement forgiving the US for, as Morales puts it, earlier humiliations and verbal attacks against his persona.

Lastly, in Brazil, Morales convinced Lula Da Silva to agree with the renegotiation of the contracts signed with Petrobras. There is also a second agreement of increasing Petrobras' participation and investment in the hydrocarbons industry. Apparently, Petrobras controls 46% of the proved and probable reserves of Bolivian natural gas.

Ensuing the aforementioned agreement, Repsol-YPF (the Argentinean/Spanish consortium) has expressed its intention to increase investment and its desire to become Bolivia's principal partner in the exploitation and industrialization of the natural gas reserves.

On top of it all, and in spite of Vicent Fox's comments about Bolivia and its gas, the Mexican government has expressed its interested in buying Bolivian gas. A Mexican offical has express Fox's desire to meeting with Morales next May in Vienna.

Additionally, there were a few clarifications (statements made by Morales) to his government's domestic policy.

Morales repeatedly stated that he will not confiscate the property of the transnationals operating in Bolivia. There was much speculation on Morales' policiy of nationalization. Did that mean confiscation or not? For now, at least, it is clear that confiscation will not be an option.

What is also clear is that the government will be increasing its share of the benefits. How? it is not yet known.

It was also confirmed by Morales, once again, that he will pursue the legalization of the production of the Coca leaf. That would mean to, in some significant way, affect the current eradication program backed by the US.

On the foreign policy front, Morales opened the doors to the possibility of some kind of relationship with the US government. He had previously said that his government would be a nightmare for the Bush administration.

Overall the balance of Morales' world tour can be qualified as positive. With significant financial contributions (in different forms) and many diplomatic victories. Morales must be coming home satisfied and more self-assured.

The most immediate issues requiring his attention now, up until his inauguration, are: the construction of his government and the presidency of the Senate.

A Little Food for "Commentary"

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This is Mr Michael Radu, Ph.D., from the Foreign Policy Research Insitute. He is Co-Chairman of FPRI’s Center on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism, and Homeland Security. Mr Radu wrote an article where he asks if The end of Bolivia is coming, and where he describes his assessment of the present Bolivian situation and prescribes policy to the US government to deal with this situation. These are his prescriptions:

"In dealing with Bolivia’s dysfunctional political culture, Washington has long fallen behind, out of either discretion or a misguided reliance on Bolivia’s neighbors to act in their own self-interest. It may not be too late, if the United States takes some very simple and clear decisions. To begin with, no more aid, in any form whatsoever, for an Evo Morales regime; second, insistence on La Paz’s respecting international rules regarding property, on behalf of the threatened Brazilian, Argentine, and European companies; third, severe sanctions against Bolivia—including withdrawal of diplomatic recognition, bans of travel by officials, even indictments in U.S. courts—if coca growing is legalized; and fourth, diplomatic, economic, political or other support for any of Bolivia’s neighbors who are threatened by a Morales regime. If this leads to the end of Bolivia as we know it, so be it. To hide behind respect for “democracy” when faced with the dubious election, under threat of civil war, of an openly anti- democratic individual is an insult to democracy."

This lady is Lupe Andrade, former La Paz Mayor. She read the article and, I guess one can safely say, she did not like it. So she decided to respond to it. Here is some of what she had to say:

"My name is Lupe Andrade. I am a former Mayor of the city of La Paz; I was born in Bolivia, live in Bolivia and probably will die in Bolivia. I have just read your article on "The end of Bolivia", and though I lament your tone and intention, I will be smiling (probably from on high) when you and I are both gone and Bolivia is still around. However, if it were up to you, apparently my death should come much sooner, together with the death of my nation. I thus resent it as a person, as a Bolivian, and as a thinking human being.

I have seen, during my more than sixty years of life, all types of regimes as well as all types of "experts" and "analysts" come and go, the first often with few achievements, the latter just as often dictating misguided economic policies or writing ill-researched pieces with little foundation but their own bigotry and misconceptions. Seldom, however, have I come across anything as harsh and as hate-filled as your piece.

Seriously, Mr. Radu, as you seem to be a serious person, you should not glibly write what you do really not know about. Bolivia is a complex nation, not to be 'learned" or dismissed airily after reading a few briefs. Your article is biased (which can't be helped), but it is also full of half-truths and glaring inaccuracies."

I have to say, I tend to strongly side with what Mrs. Andrade is saying. Eventhough, she stretches her facts a little as well, she does have the advantage of knowing what she is talking about. In this case, Mr Radu "might be" in a disadvantage trying to assess what is a very complicated issue. But, on the other side, I think if I decide to write an article like Mr Radu's, I would really devote more than a couple of hours to the research phase. Or perhaps I would even decide to do the research myself.

As far as advocating the end of Bolivia, that does say a lot a bout Mr Radu. I will leave it to the readers to make some conclusions. I am sure this will make for an interesting discussion.

Check out Olli North's own two cents on Bolivia and South America

January 12, 2006

A Picture of the Bolivian Voter

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This post starts a series trying to develop a picture of the Bolivian voter. It is mainly based on a study completed by the Bolivian electoral court, as part of their "educate the voter" initiative. This study, as mentioned earlier, gives a picture of the preferences, perceptions and characteristics of the average Bolivian voter. This picture was taken end of 2004. I will start by looking at how informed is the voter and which ones are his or her sources of information.

On the graph above we can observe that the average voter presents some significant level of knowledge about Bolivian politics. The example highlights the percentage of Bolivians who know the names of various office holders, starting with the president's office down to the local deputy. According to the graph, 90.7 percent of Bolivians know the name of the president, and 52.9 percent know the name of the local mayor. It is interesting to note that only 25.2 percent know the name of their departmental prefect. The lower numbers are for the knowledge of the members of the legislative.

The next graph shows voters' knowledge of their political leaders (same as above), but broken down by education.

The graph shows five levels of education, none, primary, high school, technical and superior. The blue line shows knowledge of the president's name and the red line shows knowledge of the local deputy's name. So we can see that the more educaded the Bolivian voter is the more chances there is he or she knows the president's name. Nevertheless, 76.7 percent of those who do not have any education do know the name of the president. I guess Jay Leno would be hard pressed in the streets of Bolivia whith his "jay walking" parody on politics. Also to see is that even among the most educated, there is little interest to learn the names of the local legislative representatives.

The next graph shows knowledge of men vs. women.

What we can take from this graph is that men are a little more knowledgeable than women. Again, knowledge on the legislative is very low.

The next graph shows us the sources of information.

So where do Bolivians get their information? Well, 56,3 percent get it from the television, and 22,1 percent get it from the radio. Television rules in the urban areas and among the most well off. Radio is the mode of information for the rural areas and the less well off. Somewhere I read that the radio branch in Bolivia is surprisingly well developed. There is an amazing network of radios reaching the four corners of the territory. For the rural people is an indispensable tool.

January 08, 2006

Morales' World Tour

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Elected president (not yet official) Evo Morales, has embarked on a world tour right after his historic win in the December 18, 2005 general elections. I wonder what was it that made him hit the road so fast. I guess he was just trying to start ahead on the international front. His world tour has taken him to pay unofficial visits to Fidel Castro's Cuba, Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, Jose L. Rodriguez Zapatero's Spain, Javier Solana in Brussels, Jacques Chirac in France and as a last stop he is paying a visit to President Hu Jintao in China. It seems to me the order of the visits is according to Morales' priorities.

Morales comes to power in a situation no other president of Bolivia has come before. He is the first president, in recent times, to take office in a very benevolent economic climate. Bolivia's economic situation is pretty stable. The main variables, inflation, growth, budget deficit and foreign debt are more or less tamed. Bolivia has had a relatively stable inflation rate and economic growth over the last 15 years. In these terms one can speak of success controlling inflation and inducing some growth in the economy. This has resulted in a relatively stable economic environment. In recent years, the once worrysome budget deficit has come into a much better state. The ability of Bolivia to finance its government and its affairs has become more manageable (among other things it helps to be collecting more taxes).

Morales is in a particularly better stance as other recent presidents in the sense that as a result of him coming to office, taking into account recent historical events, the international community of creditors has decided to eliminate a big chunk of Bolivia's foreign debt. Yes, the decision was made before Morales was elected, but one cannot deny the fact that recent events have had to influence that decision. The international community was worried about what was going on in Bolivia. Besides, all along it was clear that there was a very real possibility that Morales would end up in the president post. This relief of debt would result in an even more significant ease in the Bolivian accounts. As it wold be expected, more money will be available to the government to press on its agenda. It is a tremendous help for an incoming president knowing that the coffers will be full when he gets to office.

Now, as a result of his current world tour, Morales is getting even more help. Aside from picking up moral support in Cuba, in Caracas he picked up promises of plentiful oil suppies and financial aid in various forms. I expect Chavez will be buying some ammount of Bolivian debt in the near future. In Madrid, Morales got another debt relief deal. Spain will eliminate 50% of Bolivia's debt and that money will go to education, among other things. Now, in Brussels I take it he only got warnings and some promises of working together. In China, Morales potentially will be getting much needed investment. As everyone knows, the Chinese government has been eager to take up investments in resource rich Latin America. Now the Chinese government has a golden opportunity to reach-in into some of the resources Bolivia has to offer. One thing to consider though is that since the Chinese economy has started to cool-off a little, will the same level of demand persist over time? Who knows.

All in all, Morales has a very positive outlook to start governing. I guess my question at the beginning has been answered with all the support, promises, financial backing and debt relief Morales picked up during his visits. It all will depend what does he do with all those goodies.

January 05, 2006

Final Results Bolivian Elections December 2005

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Just to have a record of the official results of the elections. Above you can see the results for the presidential and congressional elections. These are without a doubt historical results. No party or president has governed, in recent times, with an absolut majority in the lower chamber. I am no fan of Morales, but I am impressed of the results.

Below you have the other significant results. For the first time in history (as far as I know) departmental prefects were directly elected by the people. Up until now, they had been appointed by the president in office. This has done a great deal for the advancement of the descentralization process in Bolivia and for the Bolivian democratic evolution.

January 04, 2006

An Interesting Discussion

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Just wanted to mention that fellow Bolivian blogger and author of Ciao!, Miguel Centellas was a guest in a radio program called Latin America's New Socialism. Miguel got to share the microphone with economist Jeffry Sachs. They talked about Bolivia, the present political situation and Evo Morales, of course.

Personally, I thought Jeffry Sachs should stick to economic analysis, rather than venture into politics. Miguel, on the other hand, said many interesting things. The one thing I did not agree with him when he first said it and still don't quite agree, is that he thinks the country (Bolivia) is heading towards secession.

My take is that secession is not even a question. Things would have to brake down completely for Santa Cruz and the other departments (what Miguel calls the media luna region) to seceed.

But, a very interesting conversation. You can listen to it here. And here is the podcast.

Kudos to Miguel!

January 03, 2006

Preliminary Plan for Inauguration

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Back and blogging. After a well earned New Year's celebration I am back, looking ahead to what 2006 will bring us. I hope this year will be a good one for all of us, and also for Bolivia.

As we all must know by now, Evo Morales (MAS) has earned the right to be called Mr President with over 53 per cent of the vote. More legitimate it cannot be. Evo Morales has achieved an historic result. One that will be engraved in history books.

Looking ahead now, on January 22 the inauguration is supposed to be held. Unless another crisis suddenly appears, this date should be set. There are all kinds of preparations going on, and this one promises to be an all out Evo Morales show. An by that I mean, in Morales' style.

Instead of one, there are three days in preparations and as far as I know, there will be two inauguration ceremonies, the official one and the traditional one. The official one will take place on the said date (January 22). This ceremony will be in the national tradition with protocol and lots of symbolism. For this ceremony Morales has invited many heads of state from around the region and the world. So far, Nestor Kirchner from Argentina, Alejanrdo Toledo from Peru, Tabare Vazquez from Uruguay and Nicanor Duarte from Paraguay have accepted and confirmed their visit. I am sure Fidel Castro from Cuba and Hugo Chavez from Venezuela will be there front and center. Also, musical luminaries and authors of protest songs like Silvio Rodriguez from Cuba and Piero from Argentina will be attending the ceremony. But, the latino star presence does not end there, also expected to attend is Diego Armando Maradona.

The ceremony will take place, the way protocol dictates, in the Congress, at the historic Plaza Murillo. From there Morales is expected to go to the other historic plaza, San Francisco. There he will be expected by the people where he will ceremoniously swear to carry out his agenda in full. One symbolic change will be the replacement of the traditional military guard by a guard made up of miners and other indigenous traditional authorities from El Altiplano. This, the coordinator said, will signal the people's will and supremacy. All in all there will be around 250 guests and 11.5 million bolivianos will be spent.

Additionally, there will be another, but this time more symbolic, ceremony. This ceremony will take place on the 21 of January and it will be in the town of Tiwanaku, El Altiplano. It will be here where Morales will be taking "real power". He will be invested with a traditional altiplanic authority poncho (the highest there is), the authority staff and the whip. The whip is a symbol of punishment to those who do not behave in a communal way and disrupt the order. In other words, it seems he'll be made king of the altiplano indians. It sure seems that way.