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.