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.


blogsurfer said...

Good post. However, no offense, but most bloggers looking into Bolivian politics reached the conclusion that Evo wants to "pull a Chavez" long ago.

miguel (MABB) said...

None taken, and true! But if you read the entire post and compare it with what happen in Venezuela you can see the pattern emerging.

Kind of like supporting evidence, if you will.

Originalexplorer said...

Miguel, I recently ran across your blog, its seems pretty good, very informative, lots of information... But, I am dissappointed to see you falling into line with the US/Venezuelan Elite line on Chavez. First off, quoting the Wall Street Journal on Chavez is like quoting the Miami Herald on Castro... Not exactly a dispassionate view, not exactly a source that will weight Chavez's problems and his virtues equally.

The thing that is so troubling about the standard Chavez=tyrant line, is that a) it is dangerous when encorporated with the Bush administration's rhetoric (and actions) against Venezuela, which claims Chavez is a democracy-crushing dictator. He may be an autocrat, but anyone who knows two shits about Venezuela knows that he is incredibly popular. b) Venezuela is incredibly "democratic" today, at least by my definition of democracy. You have massive participation among the majority of Venezuelans in civic life, in worker cooperatives, in decision making processes, not just over who to elect, but over what decisions to make.

With that being said, you probably think I am some Chavista... Not true, but I can give credit where credit is due. I agree, Chavez is/might be/ probably is an autocrat. he also may be eroding the political institutions that were in place in Venezuela. But is that really a bad thing? Is Chavez really so powerful? Or are the people behind him powerful. Political institutions that maintain a 20%rich/80%poor social divide and resist change don't deserve to be saved. From what I have read, there is some reason to hold out some hope that the institutions which people are establishing under Chavez are more democratic and equitable that the old ones.

With regard to Chavez, Evo, and consolidating power: first, i'd like to register my suspision over the assertions of Evo being a little Chavez jr... No offence, but it reeks of reactionary politics. But I would not be surprised if it were true either, but is it so shocking that a politician (Evo) wants to consolidate his power? Is it a bad thing if indigenous candidates dominate the constituent assembly? From what I have read of the writings of AGL, he views the consituent assembly as an opportunity to resolve one of the long-term crises of the Bolivian state: its foundation relegates the indigenous to a subserviant position vis-a-vis mestizos and whites. I'd be interested in your thoughts about that. I can send you the AGL peice that I have in mind if you would like...

Sorry that was a long post. I had wanted to post the Chavez stuff earlier, but I didn't have time. Thank you for the great blog and looking forward to your response.


Miguel said...

Dear Alex:

First of all, thank you for your long response. I do appreciate you taking the time to read my posts. If anything, I think blogs contribute to an exchange of opinions unlike any other place in the world. So in that respect, we do post and comment what we think. Of course, respecting the opinions of others.

I am sorry if I disappointed you, but there are those of us who are sceptical about the coming to power of Evo Morales and much more in disagreement of what Chavez is doing in his country. I think of myself as a democrat. That is a person who thinks there is no other form of government other than democracy. I cherish the liberties, rights and responsibilities I have under a democratic regime. That is of course having tasted other forms of government. In that respect I criticize what Chavez is doing in his country. He might be helping a lot of people, but if he is hurting others in the process then is questionable. This is not a Machiavellian world where the ends justify the means. There has to be democracy to work (including all its institutions).

Now, if you forgive me, I would love to make a detail comment on your thoughts but unfortunately I am getting ready to go Istanbul to the World Movement for Democracy assembly. Of which I can tell you much more when I return. However, I do intend to answer your questions when I get back.

So if you can wait about a week or so. :-)

In the mean time I wish you a good week.

Vasundhara said...

I'm writing this basically as an outsider. But from what i've read, newspapers, books, magazines.. I would completely agree with what alex has said.

And i think there's only one other thing that I would like to add. I read in one of the comments about how morales was out to crush the middle class. I would believe that the idea is not to crush the middle class..but more just to go about reducing this massive rich poor divide that exists in bolivia today..and while moving in that direction a lot of luxury that the middle classes enjoyed prior to this would be lost. But one needs to keep in mind that this is happening within a larger context of not simply consolidating his power or for any kind of selfish interest that he might have but infact to reduce the kind of disparity that is there. If you think of what the economically lowest section is then getting..morales wouldn't seem to be such an enemy of bolivia's national interest.

True development is not to have a rapidly increasing growth rate like that of China..which was one of the most equal societies 50 years back as a communist nation and today with its growth rate in double digits has a rapidly increasing rich poor divide as well. True development is that which works from the lowest sections of society and uplifts their postition. Such a nation is always much stronger. It might be a slower process but the product at the end is then far superior to any kind of China.

As for Brazil, what seems to exist there is a left elected governement that's veering towards the right more n more. There seem to have been no real land reforms, none of the promises fulfilled..and at the end of the day its again america thats in control. News of corruption in Lula da Silva's government keeps coming in. So Brazil to me doesn't seem to be really what any Latin American country would want to achieve.

Those were my humble thoughts..
Would like to hear your response..


Miguel said...

to Alex:

Hi, I am back. I would like to address some points you make.

First point, in my opinion, there is no objective newspaper. Every one of them is in some way biased. Some obvious than others. What they all use, however, are facts. And with facts is difficult to argue against. Anyway, I do get your point though.

Second, It surprises me that anyone would say that Venezuela is "incredibly" democratic. I hardly know where to begin to cite you examples that say the contrary. If I do, this post will get really long. I would ask you to do a search on democracy and Venezuela and you'll find plenty of information. Particular atention has to be paid to the democratic institutions. Are they functioning the way they should. Are there any checks and balances on Chavez's powers? Do all the citizens in Venezuela enjoy the same liberties? Let's remember that democracy is more than free and fair elections and participation by a majority. Let's also remember Mill's words about "tyranny of the majority". For me, democracy is more than that. It is not only, in the words of Dahl, a polyarchy, but it encompases well functioning institutions, a well functioning political parties system, a vibrant civil society, basic freedoms and responsibilities and so on.

You ask, if eroding some institutions and becoming an autocrat is "really" bad. I say that is VERY bad. If Venezuela has an autocratic regime, it is not an "incredibly" democratic country.

My argument here goes in support of the democratic system. It does not defend the old regime in Venezuela, don't get me wrong.

Please, don't say that! The least we need in this world and in Latin America is an autocratic regime. We've had anough of those already. It is time to give democracy a real chance. We are so close.

If you take a look at the first articles of the Bolivian constitution, you'll see how it talks about a multiethnic society and the rights and responsibilities each citizen has. Of course, there is a big gap between the written word and the real world.

I know that one of the aims of not only Garcia but also of Evo is to "re-found" a new country. They talk about the new Bolivia. But, that new country will only come trhough a democracy not because an autocrat will want to. Let's remember that once people taste power, it has always been the case that they don't want to get rid of it.

Miguel said...

to Vasundhara:

I agree that one of the aims is to reduce poverty. But, the solution is not becoming an autocrat and staying in power forever. The solution lies in the participation of everyone involved, that includes the citizens of Bolivia, all of them.

I also agree with you that China is not the model of development, and it is a "nice" idea that development comes from the bottom-up, as you say it. However, if we stop dreaming, we realize that "development" in the sense that we all think about, mainly comes with the accumulation of capital, be it money, machinery or education. It is in that sense that people and countries can come out of poverty.

Thank you for your thoughts. I do appreciate it.

Vasundhara said...

I completely support a good wholesome democratic system.. one is not justifying autocracy at all. I just don't know how far Morales is really moving in a direction that is more undemocratic than the previous system.
Another thing is that sometimes in countries with strong elements of an aristocratic fuedal elite moderate reforms often do not really serve the purpose and at times it is almost REQUIRED that certain measures be taken so as to be able to carry out REAL reform. While democracy ensures participation of all with equal rights..what often happens in most democracies is that the parliament..where battles are really fought..have essentially a bourgeois composition and what eventually takes place then is a protection of completely bourgeois interests. Issues relating to backward and exploited sections are rarely seriously discussed and their problems almost never found a solution to. Parliamentary Democracy is therefore not the most perfect system for such a situation as Morales is attempting to confront. Then again one is not justifying autocracy..but what u call autocratic and so called "consolidating his power" could be simply a much more REAL democratic system where there is infact a really proportionate representation of the different ethnic communities and classes of bolivia in the parliament..most of which would at this point support Morales..not as sychophants..but as people who believe Morales is fighting for THEIR cause..for once...

And I'm sorry but i completely disagree about teh part where i'm dreaming.. It's a convenient way of justifying a highly exploitative capitaist system.. just because it has permeated to almost every part of the world does not mean it's right..
that is precisely then "tyranny of the majority"...

miguel said...

I agree with you. That's why the title of the post is in the form of a question. I also agree with you that we just don't know in what direction Morales is moving. That is why, the post hints at a "pattern" that might be heading in the wrong direccion. This uncertainty is not really good for the country.

As for your comment about the REAL REFORMS that have to take place when the elite is in power, I just don't know in which direction you are going.

For me is clear that ALL rights of the people have to be guaranteed, be it elite or otherwise.

Once again, I do not say that Morales is a Chavez Jr., but merely point out that I see a worrysome pattern where it might be that Morales is heading in the direction of Chavez.

And lastly, that is the argument that I have always with friends who are a bit left-oriented. This idea of how "it should be vs. the way it is" (realism vs. idealism). It's just how people see the world. ;-)