March 27, 2006

Is Evo Morales Trying to Consolidate his Power?

MABB © ®

Those of you who have been reading MABB for some time know that I have a main fear when it comes to Evo Morales becoming president of Bolivia. As I said it im this previous post, there is a disturbin trend or shall I say already a goal by the Morales government to consolidate power. Much like the way Chavez has consolidated his power in Venezuela.

One reason lighting up my scepticism is the close relationship between Morales and Chavez. Aside from bein almost a close friendship, Chavez has taken it upon himself to provide Morales with all the support he sees fit to..... I don't know what? For starters, the Chavez government has an office in La Paz. That is, the PDVSA has an office in La Paz, which was opened the day after Morales took office. Chavez himself said that office was there to support Morales on energy policy and anything Morales needed. Moreover, there often are Venezuelans in the Morales' entourage and more recently, Venezuela has sent "experts" to help the Bolivian government to register people to provide them with id cards.

But, that wouldn't be much worrying, if it was just that, "cooperation" among nations. What is worrying is the pattern the Morales governmet is following, which is eerily similar to that followed by Chavez in recent time. For an overview and for purpose of comparison, you can visit the link about Chavez on Wikipedia. According to the WSJ:

Since winning a presidential election in 1998, Castro's Venezuelan protégé, President Hugo Chavez, has pursued precisely what the Russian researchers in Santiago described: the methodical consolidation of absolute authority under the guise of "democracy." Along with paramilitaries and community snoopers, the Chavez power grab has entailed converting the congress into a unicameral body, rewriting the constitution to enhance his rule and purging potential opponents in the military.

Having "legally" completed these initial steps to consolidate his power, Mr. Chavez then militarized the government, packed the Supreme Court, imported a large number of Cubans to indoctrinate the citizenry and began choking off the private sector with capital and price controls. The Catholic Church and the media remain largely outside his grasp but regularly are targets of state intimidation tactics. Virulent Chavez rhetoric polarizes society, inflames hatred and puts the safety of independent thinkers at risk.

Developments last week demonstrate that this crazed "Bolivarian revolutionary," as he sees himself, is now in the final phases of his consolidation. The noose is already so tight around the neck of what is left of the democracy that it may not be able to escape. Short of some improbable rebellion by the largely unarmed opposition, Venezuelan free society will be swinging from the gallows by the time Mr. Chavez's useful idiots in the U.S. Congress and the Organization of American States figure out that he is no democrat.

This is a widely recognized assessment of what and how Chavez has done to consolidate his government.

Now if we look at the first months of Morales' government, we can clearly discern a similar path. Morales and his government have been systematically trying to replace the leading positions in the government and other institutions. For example, he has fired all the generals in top positions of the military and the police. He replaced them, not the way is customary with the following class of officers, but he skipped three classes, 73,73,74 (about 30 generals). In the process he upset the protocol and not to mentioned the colnels and generals skipped over. Morales used the misil scandal to explain his decision.

Another example is the replacement of, according to the Minister of International Relations, Choqueuanca, all the civil servants representing Bolivia overseas. This means the resignation of 34 ambassadors and some 80 consuls. One more example is the attempts of the government to change the electoral court's officials. Morales alleged that there was foulplay by the acting officials of the electoral court because there were so many people who could not vote in the last elections. This is not a done deal but if the next Constituent Assembly elections similar problems arise, the court could be in for a change of guard. One last example is the all too worrying resignations of several of the Supreme Court's magistrates. The Supreme Court is one of the few institutions which enjoys a decent opinion rating and is fairly independent. Morales controls already the executive and the legislative branches. If he gets to control the judicial as well and institutions like the electoral court and the police, it would be something to think about.

Among other patters are the intention of the government to create a radio network with a station in each one of the 109 provinces in the country. This network would be supported by the government. This project, by the way, is being carried out with the support of the Venezuelan government. I think I can already hear "aló presidente Evo". Another project is that effort, also with the help of Venezuela, to provide with ids to people in the country side. Already there are allegations that those ids are being issued to foreign nationals as well.

In the last few days, there was an article in La Razón which talked about Morales' expressed intentions to control the Constituent Assembly. His strategy will be to use his party's name (MAS) and the names of other organizations. Since the distribution of seats will be two for the winning party and one for the second, Morales' intentions is to get the three votes from each voting district. That way he would control the assembly.

The premise is that Evo Morales is following Chavez's steps to try to consolidate his grasp on the Bolivian government. I don't think it would be exaggeration to say that this is not a secret anymore. It is clearly visible on Morales' actions. These are all intentions for now. But, if we just look at them as intentions, once they are reality it'll be too late to go back.