February 27, 2006

Do the People Trust the State?

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This has become a big problem for the Bolivian government. The little graph published in La Razon shows how much the people distrust the judicial branch of government and speaks volumes on the issue of legitimacy or lack thereof for the institutions of the state.

The graph shows, comparatively, support or confidence for the judicial branch in the years 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006. It gives a choice of very trustworthy, somewhat trustworthy, not at all trustworthy.

The striking result is that the judicial branch scores as not at all trustworthy. In all the years the scores lie between 64% (2006) and 84% (2002).

Of course, one just has to keep in mind that the Apoyo, Opinion y Mercado survey was, once again, conducted only on the biggest cities in Bolivia. These cities are La Paz, El Alto, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz (also known as the "eje truncal" or the main axis).

I have been arguing that these kind of surveys hardly represent the opinion of the population in general. The survey concetrates in urban areas where there are a lot of problems and a lot of people who are disenchanted with the system. It does not take into account the people who live in the country side.

Nevertheless, the outcome is astounding for democrats alike. The legitimacy of the democratic system seems to be threatened to the core. All institutions, the Congress, the judicial, the presidency, the policy, the military, the political parties, etc., have little support amongst the population.

The question coming to mind is, is this a crisis of the democratic system or is it a realignment?

February 25, 2006

Constituent Assembly

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Last Friday (February 24) the mixed commission (the parlamentary committee comprised by senators and deputies looking to write the first version of the bill calling to the Constitutional Assembiy (CA))passed the preliminary version of the CA bill. There was agreement among the representatives on 26 of the 29 articles. The issues left to be considered in the congressional plenum were: The number and the form of election of the representatives.

These two issues are the most problematic and divisive. There is basically two kinds of proposals. The government's proposal would require to elect assembly members per electoral disctrict. The other proposals dictate that assembly members should be electec taking account the departments and using some combination of proportional representation and set amount of seats based on groups to be represented.

There were more than 20 proposals submitted to the commission to be considered. The ones who carried more weight were:

  1. MAS proposed 210 constituents, three from each of the 68 circunscriptions (electoral disctricts).
  2. Podemos propesed 9 constituents in national circunscriptions, 70 uninominal constituents, 11 indigenous y 54 departmental constituents.
  3. Santa Cruz proposed the election of 155 constituents and places importance on the departmental level. The departments with less population would get one representative each (Pando, Beni, Tarija, Oruro, Chuquisaca y Potosí), 125 constituents would be distributed by department (La Paz, 35 circunscriptions; Santa Cruz, 31; Cochabamba, 22; Potosí, 11; Chuquisaca, 8; Oruro, 6; Tarija, 6; Beni, 5 y Pando one), where in each of the departments half of these representatives would be elected per circunscriptions and the rest by uninominal districts according to the 2001 sensus.
  4. Beni proposed 10 constituents per departament and 24 indigenous groups.
  5. Tarija proposed 15 members per departament.
  6. DDHH (the Human Rights office) proposed 2 members per departament, 2 per each uninominal circunscription, 9 per ethnic groups, 1 afro-Bolivian, 16 per uses y customs and 1 representing the handicapped.

According to the mixed commission, they looked at all of the proposed bills and developed a new bill incorporating many of the features of all proposals. As of right now, I couldn't find a version of this bill, so there is not much to talk about it. However, I do know that it incorporates some of the following characteristics, among other things:

On its article 3 it defines the CA as an independent legislative body not subjected to any state authority. It is expressly to reform the constitution. It will be voted by universal, direct and secret ballot.

Article 20 says the CA will be in session no less than 6 months, but no later than 1 year.

Article 22 says that the CA will end when the new social contract is approved. To be approved the document will need 2/3 of the votes.

Article 23 states that within 120 days of the document's approval the CA will call to a referendum to submit it to the approval of the population.

The major problems is that of the representation. Many departments with small populations like Pando, Beni, Tarija and Sucre argue that they should be represented in equal terms. The government's proposal is based on district representation. In the end there are two camps, the one suggested by the government, which seems doomed by now and the proposal to elect constituents by department. This discrepacy plays very close with the issue of regional disagreements.

One further problem is that of the autonomic referendum. The government and the Santa Cruz civic committee are diametrically opposed. The civic committee wants to make the referendum binding, while the government doesn't see the necessity.

The elections for constituents to the assembly is due to take place in July 2, and the CA is due to start working on August 6.

February 20, 2006

Paying Taxes in Bolivia

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Here is a little graph from La Razón showing everything one wants to see when talking about reforms in the tax code and collection. It's showing that the collection of taxes (value added or as we know them, sales taxes) has increased from 2001 to 2004. While the tax evation problem has decreased markedly.

The one idea I like though is that of recognizing (by the authorities) informality as a problem and developing the willingness to fix it. One proposal is to formalize the informal and incorporate all those merchants into the tax paying ones.

I should be expecting more glowing financial and economic reports coming out of Bolivia. Since so much debt was forgiven (Spain, the IMF and now Japan) and there is actually an increase in the in-take of tax contributions. If things go this way, I suspect somewhere in the future lies some form of income tax.

February 15, 2006

A Worrysome Pattern

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There is a worrysome pattern I am noticing about events in Bolivia. First, the government (and apparently the people too) wants to rush with the Constituent Assembly. The new president has told the Congress to hurry and be ready by early March with the bill, or else, he will mobilize his sindicates and social movements to pressure it. Second, Morales' proposal will end up giving his party a majority representation in the assembly. Third, he and his party have expressed their frustration with the heads and members of the electoral court. They said they wanted to give them a vote of no confidence. They want to change the people at the electoral court. Fourth, as we speak there are Venezuelan experts helping the Bolivian government to establish a system to register and give identification cards to people in the country side. Fifth, the Santa Cruz region is demanding the referendum on autonomy to be binding. The government disagrees.

I don't know how this looks to you, but it is kind of worrying to me!

Update 1:

Thinking about this pattern developing in Bolivia, where the country seems to be following a certain line with a distinct and disturbin objective, I can see at the same time, positive developments. For instance, the engagement of, not just Brazilian businesses, but the Brazilian government istself. This "entangling alliance" may serve to provide some balance to the political pull from Venezuela. Brazil may prove to be an important partner for Bolivia to safe guard the democratic way.

Just a thought!

February 11, 2006

Dondeestamos (dot) net

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I got an interesting email from the people of dondeestamos.net. This is a relatively new Bolivian website or portal. It brings, what I've seen up to now, the most interesting information. You can actually zoom in to the place you want on their satellite image map. Although the resolution coud be better, because I could not really make up the house I lived there last, but I am not complaining. The fact that something like that is already available is something.

That is if looking up the place you stayed in Bolivia is important to you, then the information will be interesting. Aside from this feature, you can actually locate a business in every city in Bolivia. This service is still in its beginning stages but it is a good start. You can also find the latest news from the newspaper La Prensa and you can also get some tasteful jokes emailed to you.

There are forums, which I don't find particularly useful, and there is a link to listen to Bolivian radio through shoutcast's feed and using winamp. This I also find useful.

As usual, I just thought I share this info with you all.

February 09, 2006

Every One Seems to be Wanting Something from Bolivia

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While the next item in the agenda seems to be coming into full attention, Constitutional Assembly, there also seems to continue that wave of international attention Bolivia got right after the elections. More so now, I think, the attention is more due to the unclear (whether deliberate or not) positions from the new government in most issues. Although, I have to say, the president is really trying to keep Bolivia in the news map. Lately he has accused the big energy companies operating in Bolivia and some politicians from the oposition (PODEMOS) of conspiracy against his government. Morales has said that he has proof, including photos, conveniently supplied by the government of Hugo Chavez through the Bolivian military, of arms movements for unknown reason which point out to the conclusion that someone was conspiring against his young government.

For example, the US government is asking and will continue pressing for Bolivia to continue with the Coca eradication programs. The US government will not only speak with its mouth, but also with its wallet, by threatening to cut almost 96% of financial aid to Bolivia. In turn the Bolivian government is calling for the US government and Congress to consider carefully its decision because it could affect the government's efforts to fight against drug trafficking. Also, aside from the Venezuelan government seeking to entangle Bolivia into a close alliance, the Brazilian government is seeking to get closer too. In recent days, a member of president Lula Da Silva's international relations council has met with Morales to express the Brazilian intention and hopes to establish a broad and closer cooperation relationship with Bolivia. These cooperation will cover areas such as education, health, agriculture and of course, energy. At roughly the same time, the Spanish Minister for External Relations, spoke of closer politic and economic cooperation between the Spanish and the Bolivian governments. Hopeful that the negotiations between the Morales government and the Spanish energy company Repsol are going well, he stressed the decision of the Spanish government to exchange Bolivian debt for education.

In the near future, the Secretary for the Andean Community will meet with Morales to speak about the andean energy integration project. This is a project that will contribute to the development of the Bolivian energy resources and the creation of more jobs, said the secretary. Within the framework, the community of Andean nations would try to coordinate their energy policy together. And finally, the Chilean government said that it is looking forward and it will be honored to receive (with hope) the visit of President Morales for the inauguration of Chile's recent elections winner and future president, Michelle Bachelet. The press secretary of the Chilean government, Osvaldo Puccio, referred to Bolivia as a "loved and dear country".

It seems, if not every one, many want to establish some kind of relationship with this new government. The closer these relationships are, the better. One topic that can be observed across the board is the energy policy and cooperation matter, and in particular the tremedous gas reserves at stake. Energy supply, specially natura gas, has become the topic of conversation in Latin America. Brazil, Argentina and Chile, need it, Venezuela and Bolivia have it. The trick is to make supply and demand match in a market. Or perhaps there are other plans in the works?

February 06, 2006

Is the Relationship Between Evo and Hugo a Cooperation?

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There is a distinct discussion going on in Bolivia at the moment. The relationship forged between Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez is being highly questioned by some sectors of the Bolivian society. What is the nature of this relationship?

Historically, the international relations between Bolivia and Venezuela have been within the framework of agreements addressing education and some exchange of products. Today, the luvy-duvy relationship between Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez has sparked some scepticism among some observers. This relationship is being highly questioned. Some people say that Bolivia is being subordinated and forced to align with the designs of Hugo Chavez by receiving so many favorable favors. While Chavez and his government insist that this relationship is only based on solidarity for one another.

Why is then that Chavez is so interested in helping develop Bolivia's gas reserves? According to the newpapers, the Bolivian government will not develop the project (a pipeline) with Brazil and Argentina. Instead it will join a consorcium created by Chavez, which will include the Bolivian state oil compamy, Petrobras and PDVSA. This company, according to the president of YPFB, Jorge Alvarado, will provide energy for the whole region at higher prices and will also provide stability. The Venezuelan government has already a PDVSA branch opened in La Paz. This office opened its doors a day after Morales' inaugration.

Considering the theory of international relations which defines these relations between states being based on agendas of self interests, one has to ask himself why is it really Chavez giving Bolivia so much help expecting very little in return (so far)? I don't want to jump to conclusions now but I just have to wonder as to the real intentions of Chavez, knowing his democratic record.

February 01, 2006

The Rainy Season in Bolivia

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This is one of the images one gets to see from the devastation brought by the rainy season in Bolivia. The particular place shown by the image is either San Julian or Fortin Libertad in Santa Cruz de la Sierra. La Paz has been getting its share disasters with rivers overflowing, bridges collapsing and entire house blocks also collapsing.

The situation is getting very serious. So serious that the US and Japan have already donated, 500 thousand and 90 thousand, respectively. Also Cuba and Venezuela have sent donations.

This is another kind of crisis.

Here you'll find more articles about Bolivia's latest emergencies and other interesting reports:

Thousands hit by Bolivia flooding
BBC News Wed, 01 Feb 2006 2:38 AM PST
Bolivia's President, Evo Morales, is dealing with his first emergency after widespread flooding leaves 13 dead.

Floods kill 13, bring misery to Bolivia
AlertNet Wed, 01 Feb 2006 2:10 PM PST
LA PAZ, Bolivia, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Devastating floods have killed at least 13 people in Bolivia and brought misery to more than 12,000 families following heavy seasonal rainfall in recent weeks, government officials said on Wednesday.

Floods kill 13, bring misery to Bolivia
New Kerala Wed, 01 Feb 2006 9:06 PM PST
LA PAZ, Bolivia, Feb 1 : Devastating floods have killed at least 13 people in Bolivia and brought misery to more than 12,000 families following heavy seasonal rainfall in recent weeks, government officials said today.
Venezuela sends humanitarian aid to Bolivia
El Universal Wed, 01 Feb 2006 10:38 AM PST
President Hugo Chávez' government is donating some 10 tons of supplies to Bolivia, in an effort to help this country face a crisis emerging from recent heavy rains that have left 13 people dead and 34,000 casualties.

Bush congratulates Bolivia's Morales
AFP via Yahoo! News Wed, 01 Feb 2006 12:10 PM PST
US President George W. Bush and Bolivian President Evo Morales agreed on the need for "constructive" relations and dialogue between their countries, the White House said.

Bush calls for dialogue with Bolivian leader
Reuters via Yahoo! News Wed, 01 Feb 2006 12:47 PM PST
President George W. Bush telephoned Bolivia's new president, Evo Morales, on Wednesday and expressed hope for a dialogue with the leftist leader who during his campaign called his socialist party a nightmare for the United States.