September 30, 2006

Bolivian Government Suffers From Weakness

MABB © ®

Going through the variuos news services, I use to keep me updated on Bolivian affairs, it dawned on me that the government has some serious problems of weaknesses. When you look at what goes on in Bolivia over a particular time frame, you cannot help to notice the continuous and relentless undermining of the governmental apparatus by the citizenry. Be it by road blocks, strikes, marches, or by diverse groups setting themselves in direct conflict with the central government, conflict between state and citizenry has become the norm. It is as if the state had lost its monopoly on violence.

Following the Weberian tradition, it is commongly accepted that the state must have the monopoly on legitimate violence. This monopoly allows it to fulfill its functions as state, mainly to assert its right to sovereignty, to maintain the security of the citizens and to provide for order and law. These tasks are becoming harder and harder to achieve for the Bolivian state. More often than none we have seen confrontations between the state and the citizens, and as a result the state's legitimacy is being eroded in the minds of the citizens. I would argue that for a great part of the indigenous population, the state or government is not a legitimate entity. This arguments stems from the observation on the increased confrontation between the state and citizens.

Let's take the latest example. Last Friday, there was the first violent confrontation of the Morales government between government forces and coca growers. As part of its coca eradication efforts (that statement seems a bit strange in a Morales government) the government sent the mixed (police and military) coca eradication force to destroy what were considered by the government illegal coca plantations. As the policing force got the the place, they encountered fierce opposition waiting for them by the coca growers themselves. So much opposition there was that later accounts related a confrontation with arms, sticks and stones on the part of the locals and fire arms from the part of the policing force. The outcome has been several hurt and two dead coca growers.

When we think about it, the people were already waiting for the government forces. They were armed and ready to defend what they considered theirs. This type of confrontation between state forces and citizens is not rare. To the contrary, it has become the norm in Bolivian society. If we think about the last six years or so, this kind of confrontation has been growing bolder and bolder. The worst examples are the events in 2005 when Mesa was forced to step down and the events in Sucre (the same year) to force Rodriguez Velze to the highest office, effectively ignoring the line of succession given by law.

The weakness of the Bolivian state might lie in two reasons. One, failure of the government of providing for the basic necessities for its citizens. Two, the actions of government officials themselves, which weaken further the government's role. Not only the government is not fulfilling its basic obligations with the citizenry, but it is not fulfilling its obligations as a state. It is slowly losing its monopoly to legitimate violence by arbitrarily engaging in questionable and inconsistent actions. Mesa set a dangerous precedent when he did not want to enforce the law, thus embolding extremists to engage in even more violent demostrations. The dialogue between governmet and citizens to resolve conflicts has allowed too many violations of the law. With the pretext of dialogue, the government has allowed too many illegal actions go by without them being set straight.

It is a dangerous road in which the Bolivian government, willingly or unwillingly, is going down. If we take the Weberian position, "a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory". The functions of the government cannot be carried out without this prerogative.


mcentellas said...

Excellent post. It's funny, because we were just talking about this subject in my comparative politics course -- where I had them read a series of articles on what a "state" is (including Weber, of course) and "failed states".

MB said...

Thanks! But, tell me which articles did you guys read? I have started to think about this more and more. Specially the idea of failed states.

I think there are two interpretations of what a "failed state is", at least for me. One, that state which is incapable of providing what it has to provide for its citizens. And two, that state which has lost its state nature, i.e. its monopoly on violence. I think the second is the worst, because it would potentially lead to the end of that state. On the first one, the state at least can work on it. There is still redemption time.

What do you think?

mcentellas said...

The articles we read for that class were:

Jeffrey Herbest, "War and the State in Africa" (which argues that African states are weak because, unlike Europe, they were not forged by war; e.g. Prussia, Britain, France, etc)

Rogert Rotberg, "The New Nature of Nation-State Failure" (which looks beyond merely Africa, but provides a good description of "failed" and "collapsed" states).

We didn't read it, but I recommend an article by Charles Tilly called "War Making and State Making as Organized Crime" which emphasizes the Weberian tradition of a state as a monopoly over the means of coercion -- and then traces that origin.

A good book I read a while ago was "The Development of the Modern State: A Sociological Introduction" by Gianfranco Poggi.

The article on failed states uses the same framework you have. States lose their legitimacy when they fail to provide "positive goods" (namely security, but also public/social services) to its citizens. In the absence of a strong state, individuals turn to civil society (the Church, tribal leaders, NGOs, etc to meet their needs), which further weakens the state's legitimacy, and then makes it easy for some group (say, the dominant tribe or the military) to just take over. Or the whole thing sinks into anarchy (like Afghanistan in the 1990s or Lebanon in the 1980s). If the state can't mininally provide security for its citizens, the citizens turn to "parallel states" (like in Somalia) and then there really just is no state.

Tambopaxi said...

Interesting post indeed. I don't know that much about Bolivia's recent history (although I am reading Miguel's dissertation, which helps!), but I have the impression that the Government of Bolivia (as a concept) is going into a downward spiral from which it can't seem to pull out.

Morales seems to think, as far as I can determine, that he has a mandate to impose an ethnocentric and geocentric framework on the entire polity and geographic area known as Bolivia. That outlines of that framework seem to be emerging from some of the preliminary work of the Constituent Assembly as related by Norman in his blog last week.

The thing is, as you all know, Bolivia is not a homogeneous polity/society, and considerable parts of the citizenry don't seem to be favorably disposed to what I would guess is the Morales/MAS vision for Bolivia. Assuming Morales has any sense at all of what it really means to run a country (as opposed to a political party or a so-called "mass/popular movement") than he better step back, cool off, and reflect on how he can get the western and eastern parts of Bolivia to buy into a common vision of the country. If he doesn't, then he's automatically meant the definition of a failed state, because he will have split it in twain... T

MB said...

Miguel, thanks for the articles. I'll be sure to read them.

There really is no doubt that Bolivia is a "fragile state". I think that the jury is still out on whether Bolivia is a "failed state" or a "collapsed state". However, the interesting thing is that some five to seven years ago, Bolivia was "the" model of emerging democracy in Latin America. How fast can things change. It's amazing.

I think one of the roots of the state's weakness is that the new political elites do not really believe in the "nation state" concept. They do not seem to believe in the idea of "state". When the confidence and belief in an idea so basic as that one is gone, weaknesses start to appear.

I think Evo, and even more the people who sorround him, do not really believe in the Bolivian state. This non-belief is undermining the state.

MB said...

It certainly seems that way, yes. Regretably, Morales has played a major role in polarizing the country. But, he is not alone. He has assembled a team which rivals the elites it replaced in misunderstanding and misinterpreting what Bolivia really is. The good ole' words racism, xenophobic, corrupt, are no foreign adjetives to the new elite either.

I think you are right on your assessment. Evo's Bolivia, for the moment, is an unacceptable vision for the people in the East. Now, that the two parties will sit down, talk and agree on a compromise, I see as a remote possibility (for the moment). The divisions run deeper than ideology. I think they go into the culture as well.

Originalexplorer said...

"I think Evo, and even more the people who sorround him, do not really believe in the Bolivian state. This non-belief is undermining the state."
Oooh I wish this were true. Unfortunately I think its not. At least my reading of Garcia Linera is that he wants to use to state instrumentally to institutionalize social change.

I liked your analysis of the state in this post and I think it reflects the reality of the state in Bolivia, although . I mean, the Bolivian state has never had a monopoly over the means of violence. Look at after the 52 revolution when the defeated army left their arms all over La Paz or the fact that there were armed militias that basically functioned as an "army" for several years after the rev. Or you could look at all the trouble the various military dictatorships have had "subduing" the miners.

And then, look at the Bolivian state over the last 20 years. It has been disassembled by privatization and decentralization so it has very little capacity intervene in the lives of citizens in any POSITIVE way, although obviously it can still be violent, i.e. chapare or Oct 2003. I mean most of the social service function of the state have been "outsourced" to NGOs or int'l aid agencies. You still have some bureaucracy though heheh.

So given the fact that the state's power to help AND to regulate people's lives over the last 20 years has diminished so much (from the little it could do before) is it not surprising that so many bolivians consider themselves outside of the state or the state illigitimate, as you guys were saying. Thats one of the criticisms I would have leveled against Morales and Linera for deciding to go electoral, although I do respect their good intentions.

Oh, and come on folks -- you are totally exaggerating the extent to which Morales and Linera's indigenist discourse is exclusive. I'm sure it can be sometimes when they get riled up, but my experience listening to their speeches, especially AGL's speech when they convened the const. assem., it that while they stress the importance of the indigenous movement as an agent for social change, they don't do so to the exclusion of mestizos and whites. I'm willing to grant you that perhaps some of their supporters have reverse-racist beliefs. But I really, honestly, feel like that reaction come more from certain non-indigenous people's defensiveness, and from right wing propagandists in SC who are trying to build support for seperatism by exacerbating people's fears of exclusion.

MB said...

Garcia might have a two way strategy to operate (it seems to me that the whole government has it). He says one thing, but does onother. He might be talking about how to strengthen the Bolivian democracy, but what is he saying when he calls for the population to raise arms. It is this ambiguity, not just on Garcia, that I take as not believing in the state. Anyway, the state in which Garcia believes is very different that the current state. That much is clear, I think.

In my opinion, the Bolivian state might not have been the strongest (which one is?) but it did have the monopoly of violence. The massacres you cite, the new massacres, the coups d'etat, the milicianos, etc. Those are all examples of how the state had a monopoly of violence and how it exercized it.

That is exactly the problem. In Bolivia we have a saying: entre dicho y hecho, hay un gran trecho. That translates into saying that between the word and the action, there is a big gap. This double discourse from the part of the government is creating extreme confusion among Bolivians. And, I am not sure, that is not what the Garcias and Morales from the government want. I am inclined to think that this is a strategy to obtaing well defined goals. Garcia might say one thing, but he turns around and does another.

The government speaks of racism, exclusion, corruption from what they term, "neoliberals". That is not much different from what Bush has done in terms of "good and evil". However, the rhetoric also borders into the racist. Just listen what Choquewanca, Mamani, Contreras, Rada, have said. It is pretty racist.

Whereas the indigenous social movements could play a defining role in ridding Bolivia from racism, exclusion and corruption, if it takes a reciprocating form of racism, it will only serve to deepen the problems and not to solve them.