December 23, 2007

Is The Constitution Legal or Illegal?

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According to Angus Reid Global Monitoring service, "Many people in Bolivia reject the proposed body of law drafted by their Constituent Assembly, according to a poll by Equipos Mori. 48 per cent of respondents think the new Constitution—which has not yet entered into force—is illegal."

Here are the numbers:

Polling Data

Do you think the National Constitution approved by the Constituent Assembly is legal or illegal?

Legal

35%

Illegal

48%

Not sure

17%

Source: Equipos MORI
Methodology: Interviews with 1,100 adult Bolivians, conducted from Dec. 1 to Dec. 6, 2007. Margin of error is 3.5 per cent.


Coming from Mori, I tend do take the numbers for what they are. I mean, what Mori does is poll people in the three largest cities in Bolivia, La Paz, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. I argue that these results can be a bit skewed, because there is a significant difference between how the people in these cities think and how people in other smaller cities and smaller towns think. In other words, there is a significant regional difference that is not being accounted for. It is not just enough to ask crucenos, people from the Chaco region, Vallegrandinos, and others might not think the same. However, all differences aside, the numbers are better than nothing, right?


PS. I just wanted to wish everyone a very merry Christmas and a successful and healthy 2008. I will be without internet connection for the next week or so. So, until next year! And thank you for visiting MABB!

December 21, 2007

The New Government's Constitution

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This is the preamble of the new government's constitution. It starts, indeed, before colonial times. It starts at the very beginning, the creation...

Click on the title above to read the entire document. It's worth a read, really.

December 15, 2007

Bolivia: New Draft Constitution and Regional Autonomy

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Today, December 15, 2007, will be an historical day for Bolivia. The president of the Constitutional Assembly has turned in the newly drafted and approved Bolivian Constitution to the Vicepresident. This has been a long and hard road for MAS and the Morales government. A road that threatened to end in an abyss, had the government not pushed its will, disregarding the participation of the opposition.

It was today, as well, that the departamento of Santa Cruz, primarily, along with Tarija, Pando and Beni, declared their autonomy from the central government. This autonomy implies a certain independence in decision making and management of the resources within the department.

Tensions are high however, due to the government's unwillingness to accept the departamentos moves and vice-versa. The government has been rejecting rumors that it was planning, among other things, an autogolpe (or fujigolpe), a curfew or a military take over of Santa Cruz.

Miguel (Pronto*) has an interesting take on the legality of these events.

"Technically, of course, none of the autonomic statutes are 'legal'

The next days promise to be interesting, to say the least.

December 11, 2007

A Closer Look at the New Constitution

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Miguel from Pronto* takes a closer look at the Constitution approved by MAS. He says: "Even w/o an opposition present (whether through boycott or intimidation), assembly delegates couldn’t agree on 8 articles (out of 408), which are still on the table. Thus, it’s still unclear what the final draft will look like."

Take a look!

December 10, 2007

Morales And His Party Approve Their Constitution

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The MAS and Morales approved their Constitution yesterday, December 9, 2007. After a marathon session of around 16 hours (or more, for what I can tell). The image above was taken by Mario Ronald from Palabras Libres, who has been blogging directly from Oruro. Checkout his images and podcasts, their phenomenal.

As we've already said, the opposition was virtually not present and the lack of debate characterized the entire session. However, Doria Medina (UN) was there making observations and suggestion, which can be read in the record, I guess. Other than that, the masistas flew over the approval with an alarming dexterity. There were 164 of 255 assembly members present, and the text has 411 articles.

As Pronto* already pointed out, there are changes to the current system. For example, there will be four branches of government or powers, executive, legislative, judicial and electoral. The National Electoral Court (CNE) has been elevated to a government branch rang. Congress will remain bicameral, but the number of deputies and senators will vary. The senate will have 36 rather than 27 members and the lower chamber will have 121 rather than 130 members. The proportionality of representation within congress is an enigma in this moment.

The second electoral round has been introduced in the election of president and vicepresident. However, continuous and indefinite reelection is not in (not yet). To be president a Bolivian born person has to be at least 30 years old.

A recall mechanism has been introduced for all elected offices, at the local and national levels.

On the judicial front, communitarian justice has been given the same status as ordinary justice. The justice system's regulatory organ will be made up of judges and communitarian justice 'officials'. Justices will be elected.

Officials of the electoral court will be designated by Congress, two of which will have to be representatives of the indigenous peoples.

The use of the 2/3 voting threshold to encourage negotiation and agreement will be replaced by the simple majority or what they call, absolute majority.

Check out Miguel's (Pronto*) post on the same topic.

Other things to consider:

The final approval will depend on the next three referendums and is expected by the government for the end of 2008. First the recall referendum has to be carried out. This'll be the one asking the people if they are with Evo or against him. The second referendum (not sure if these two will be at the same time) will be the one asking at what should be the size of large property that people will be allowed to have before the state takes it away (5000 or 10000 hectares). The third referendum will aim at asking the people to approve or discard the new constitution. Only after that, if the new Constitution is approved it will be put in force. So we have at least one more year to go.

December 08, 2007

Morales And His Party MAS To Approve Their Constitution

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The government and his party, MAS, will approve today after six pm their Constitution. The Assembly's board of directors decided last night to meet at Oruro's Technical University and go ahead with the vote. The opposition is not present.

The text is planned to be revised and in detail (it means actually article by article) approved in a record time of around 3 hours. Some assembly members have said though they will need 16 hours to approve the whole document. The assembly will not discuss each article but they will be put into thematic blocks, to save time.

December 07, 2007

Bolivian Constitutional Assembly: Newest Developments

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The newest developments in the Constitutional Assembly barullo (mess, confusion) are interesting to observe and consider.

For example, in the last two days, President Morales has decided to challenge his opponents to a recall vote (in Spanish, referendum revocatorio), while he gets ready to approve his Constitution on December 14 in Chapare, Cochabamba. This is Morales' own region, where support for him is overwhelming. His opponents are the seven Prefectos of Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, Beni, Pando, Sucre, La Paz and Tarija. For the record, they all readily accepted his challenge today. However, to put these development into perspective, there are a couple of things to consider.

The condition the Prefectos are asking for are for Morales to freeze the Constituent Assembly and leave without effect the recently approved senior pension, Renta Dignidad. They argue, these things should be resolved after the referendum. Some Prefectos are reacting skeptical. Why this move now?

Morales has said he is not afraid of the people. He is confident he'll win. Once he does, he said he'll press on with the changes to impose his agenda. He is also said he will accept any decision coming out of the referendum. Even, if it is unfavorable to him. However, for him to be removed, around 54% + one vote of the people would have to vote against him.

On the one hand, 1,544,374 (from 2005) + 1 voters must choose to remove Morales from office. If the vote is just a simple up or down vote, he could be removed from office. But if the vote includes more choices, such as the Prefectos, then it will be virtually impossible to reach the number cited above.

I cannot really figure it out what would be the best formula for Morales to use, assuming he wants to stay in power. One question could be, are you with me or against me. But, with that he will not be assuring his victory.

I guess we will know once he sends his proposed law calling for the referendum.

Meanwhile, preparations are under way to approve his Constitution without the presence of the opposition. I am thinking, if he approves his Constitution, why call the referendum? Unless that is a demand or a condition to convince some skeptics to join the vote in Chapare next December 14. That would mean, he would have the upper hand by having a Constitution and using the referendum to consolidate his government.

Sorry, for the rumbling, I am just thinking out loud.

December 04, 2007

Update on the Constitutional Assembly Struggle

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As you surely know by now, the Morales government approved its own version of a Constitution last November 24, with the help of its allies and the absence of the opposition. This happened in the security of a military academy, outside the city of Sucre, and in the thick of wide protests and violent clashes between citizens of Sucre and security forces. In the aftermath, the government declared victory for having approved a Constitution, while the opposition declared state of alert, civil disobedience and national hunger strikes.

Relative peace has returned to the cities. However, four departments have started hunger strikes. Around 70 people have set up strike posts in Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija, led by Conalde (Comite Nacional de Defensa de la Democracia) . The leaders expect this number to increase significantly by the end of this week. In Santa Cruz alone, the strikers are expected to reach 250.

Meanwhile, the Prefects (Governors) of Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, Beni and Tarija, have started a tour to the US and some European nations to denounce what they call the authoritarian tendencies of the Morales government. In a press conference in Miami, the four Prefects expressed their concerns over the alleged illegal actions of the government and the MAS faction in the Constitutional Assembly, through which democracy is in danger. They are asking the government, in a very public manner, to include the Catholic Church or an international organization, to mediate. Their next stop is the OAS and the United Nations.

As far as the assembly is concerned, the opposition has said they will not accept the moving of it to another city. Eight of the 16 political forces, PB, MIR, AAI, Camino al Cambio, Podemos, MNR-A3, MNR and CN, have decided to stay in Sucre and some will even continue working on their own Constitution.

The government has decided to push its Constitution to the last consequences. At the moment, they are trying to convince opposition assembly members to cross over the isle. MAS needs 23 more votes to obtain a 2/3 super majority in the assembly. Were MAS to obtain these votes, things would be much easier. Alternatively, the MAS or the government plans to go ahead with the change of seat to Oruro or Cochabamba and the approval of the entire text in a marathon session expected to be the last day (December 14). However, since three are some issues that cannot be resolved, the MAS is expected to take those issues, such as the indefinite reelection of the president, to a referendum. This would delay the approval of the Constitution for about four more months.

November 28, 2007

The New MAS Constitution

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I just found two versions (or are they the same?) of the Constitution approved by MAS last week. The documents are large and very convoluted, I might add. That is all I can say after glancing at them shortly. See what you think.

Here and here.

Evo's Gamble, Will It Pay Off?

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Source: La Razon

By now it is pretty much clear what is the government's strategy to push its agenda. It seems that Morales has decided to just leave the opposition out of the decision process. First, we simply have to look at the way the MAS Constitutional Assembly approved their Constitution. According to various reports and personal accounts, the MAS decided to take the assembly sessions to La Glorieta (the military academy in Sucre). The directory argued that in the city of Sucre there was not enough security. Which was true, due to the demonstrators or citizens who were gathered around the building where the assembly was meeting. So president Lazarte and her MAS colleagues, took the sessions to the military academy because it was secure and it laid within the boundaries of the city, thus meeting the technical problems raised by the law. At the same time, the opposition was not informed and (according to some news reports) was not even allowed to go to the place. It was in that manner, that MAS, with around 130 assembly members, could rush through the passing of the new constitution.

A second example, depicted by the photo above, is the way in which Congress approved the Renta Dignidad (Dignity Rent for retired people). Apparently, during the day (Tuesday, November 27) several thousand campesinos (indigenous people from Altiplano) closed up the streets and access roads to Congress. They organized a system of tight control points to regulate who was allowed to go into the building and, most importantly, who was allowed to attend the session called by the congressional leaders. As you can imagine, none of the opposition congressmen could enter the building, unless they swore to pass the law to be debated and voted on. Some congressmen were even warned by the police that their personal security was not guaranteed. So, it was that way that the MAS, which has no problems in getting the necessary quorum, made the Renta Dignidad into law. In addition, taking advantage of the situation, it modified the Constitutional Assembly law to allow the directors to change the meeting place.

This is a great gamble MAS is taking. It seems it did not see any other alternative and the reasoning is, we pass the laws first and then we see how we manage. It could pay off, big time or it could backfire terribly. If it pays off, the consolidation of MAS' (or rather Morales') power is well under way. Using the same tactics, the next obvious steps are the appointment of the Supreme Court Justices and Constitutional Court Justices. This will allow MAS to do every thing within the law. Subsequently, MAS or Morales would have to sack the people in the Electoral Court, to have ample leeway to manage the elections. Until now, the Electoral Court has been rather independent and has carried out its mandate efficiently. But, MAS and Morales need a friendly Electoral Court.

However, if the gamble does not pay off, it would be a disaster. Predictions are not useful because the sky is the limit. Here we have to start talking about best and worst case scenarios. The best scenario would be that somehow the opposition and MAS find some type of consensus. This, under the current circumstances, is difficult to foresee. The worst case scenario would be armed conflict. Lets not forget that firearms were taken from the arsenal of the looted police precinct in Sucre last weekend. Also, that there were reports which indicated the delivery of Venezuelan arms to the Army post in Trinidad, Beni. In the same manner, there were reports that there are armed militias training in Beni or Santa Cruz.

Whether the gamble pays off, it remains to be seen. The hope is that the worst scenarios do not become reality.

November 26, 2007

Very Schocking Video

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In, what is clearly an opposition media outlet, I found this very shocking video re-counting the deaths under the Presidency of Evo Morales.

For your information only.

This Is How They Did It

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In order for MAS to fly over the approval of its Constitution, they had to first modify the rules of debate. They modified the necessary articles in the following manner:

  • Article 27: Another commission was created to incorporate all the commission reports that had been presented in the form of a constitution.
  • Article 50: Sessions can be held on weekends and holidays (before was only Mo to Fr).
  • Article 51: Each session will meet without a time limit (before they met for six hours a day).
  • Article 61: Political forces have two times 20 minutes to speak.
  • Article 63: Commissions have 15 minutes to present their reports (before they had two hours). For the approval 'in general', each political faction and regional faction has 15 minutes (before one hour) to speak. For the 'in detail' (article by article) approval, each faction has 20 minutes (before all of the 255 members could speak for 10 minutes). The debates will be in five blocks.
  • Article 64: There is one minute available for motions (before two minutes).
  • Article 68: Members can vote now by simply raising hands.
  • Article 71: For an item to be reconsidered it has to be supprted by 1/3 of the votes present.
  • Article 84: The removal of officials (loss of mandate) has to be approved by 2/3 of the present.
Source: La Razon article on November 24.

November 25, 2007

MAS and the Government Impose Their Constitution

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UPDATE: Pronto* has been following the situation in Bolivia and here is what he has to say: "The text of the new constitution was supposed to be approved by two thirds of the Assembly delegates. But since the opposition was absent from the meeting, this no longer seemed to matter. Technically, MAS delegates represent a quorum (half plus one), and they voted for the text by a staggering 98% of those present. The Assembly still needs to meet again to vote on the draft, article by article. Once these are approved, the constitution will be put up for a national referendum, w/ a simple “Yes” or “No” vote, requiring a simple majority to pass." (Read more on his blog)

Even more dramatic photos from this blog in Sucre's newspaper Correo del Sur.

Bolivia clashes leave three dead
BBC News Sun, 25 Nov 2007 6:31 PM PST
Violent clashes leave three dead in Bolivia where a constituent assembly has approved a draft constitution.

Riots erupt in Bolivia
Deseret Morning News Mon, 26 Nov 2007 0:00 AM PST
A demonstrator protects himself with a shield taken from riot police Sunday as riots convulsed Bolivia's colonial capital of Sucre. The clashes erupted after allies of President Evo Morales approved the framework for a new constitution that would permit his indefinite re-election. At least two people were killed.



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(To make the site faster to load, I am taking the embedded Youtube videos off, but you can find them here)

On November 24, 2007, the governing political party, MAS, approved Bolivia's new Constitution (in general). That means that the incomplete text was partly read and unanimously approved by the around 140 MAS supporters in the assembly. Members of the opposition were not present. The session was carried out in the military academy know as La Glorieta.

While MAS was approving its Constitution, outside the citizens of Sucre were engaged in a bloody confrontation with police forces and more MAS supporters. The result of this confrontation was one 39 year old dead lawyer and countless of demonstrators wounded.

FYI, here are links where you can get more info.

Dramatic photos in Yahoo News.

Bolivian troops, students clash; 1 dead
AP via Yahoo! News Sat, 24 Nov 2007 6:04 PM PST
Soldiers clashed with students protesting Bolivia's constitutional assembly on Saturday, leaving one student dead in a second day of unrest against the pending legal overhaul.


Amid deadly turmoil, Bolivia approves new draft constitution
AFP via Yahoo! News Sat, 24 Nov 2007 7:08 PM PST
A pro-government majority of Bolivia's constituent assembly approved a new draft constitution for the Andean nation Saturday, with the opposition boycotting and violent protests on the streets.

Bolivia approves constitutional draft amid clashes
Reuters via Yahoo! News Sat, 24 Nov 2007 6:35 PM PST
The assembly charged with rewriting Bolivia's constitution produced a new constitutional draft on Saturday amid violent street protests in which at least one person was killed.

Police, protesters clash over Bolivia's capital
Reuters via Yahoo! News Sat, 24 Nov 2007 2:30 PM PST
Protesters armed with clubs and stones clashed with police in southern Bolivia on Saturday in demonstrations demanding the full relocation of the country's government to Sucre from La Paz.

Bolivia approves constitutional draft amid clashes
AlertNet Sat, 24 Nov 2007 6:42 PM PST
Source: Reuters (Updates throughout) By David Mercado SUCRE, Bolivia, Nov 24 (Reuters) - The assembly charged with rewriting Bolivia's constitution produced a new constitutional draft on Saturday amid violent ...

Police, protesters clash over Bolivia's capital
AlertNet Sat, 24 Nov 2007 2:27 PM PST
Source: Reuters SUCRE, Bolivia, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Protesters armed with clubs and stones clashed with police in southern Bolivia on Saturday in demonstrations demanding the full relocation of the country's ...

Below, for those of you who can read Spanish, the links to info which goes into more detail. First, accounts by people in Sucre:

Here are photos.

Here, someone tells what is happening.

Here you'll find Bolivian newspapers with images and articles:

La Razon
El diario
Los Tiempos
El Deber
El Correo de Sucre


November 22, 2007

The Bolivian Government Raises Its Rhetoric

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Update: It seems the Bolivian government has stepped up its efforts. Today, at 7 p.m. the Constitutional Assembly has been able to restart its sessions, but in a military building 7 kms from the city of Sucre. The quorum was easily reached with MAS' 145 supporters. At the same time, it has started legal proceedings against the Prefects of the opposition, accusing them of treason. Also, it has stopped money transfers to fund prefectural projects and has reduced the amount of money these governments are supposed to receive. On another front, the government has been accused of financing and inciting social groups to go to Sucre thus raising the stakes of violence.

This latest 'push' is having varied reactions from the opposition. The Cochabamba Prefect has called for the Military to intervene to stop these Government's efforts. The civic leaders and departamental governments of Beni and Pando have called for opposition. They have fixed a date in which they'll declare autonomy (short of independence). The Santa Cruz people are yet to say something. Tarija has also denounced the government's efforts to force a new Constitution.

Meanwhile, the situation in Sucre is deteriorating further. There are protests and confrontations in the city. It is suspected that if the assembly runs its sessions longer, the people in the city will have time to organize and will head to the military building, where they are meeting. The problem is that around the building there is a strong presence of military forces (well armed) and, around them, there are several thousand MAS supporters also taking care that the assembly meets in peace.

Yahoo photos

Yahoo news
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In recent weeks Bolivia has been dangerously spiraling down through a path of continued confrontation and social convulsion. Not that that is something new. What is new however, is the government's rhetoric substantially raising the level of conflict.

According to press reports, the government has started, what they call, "their last push for change". Within this 'push', the government has and is calling its social bases to put pressure on the Senate (which is controlled by the opposition) and the Constituent Assembly. In the last few days, an all out offensive has been taking place with several government ministers, MAS parliamentarians and MAS leaders initiating marches, demonstrations and blockades.

At the same time, the rhetoric has hardened, this time led by the Vice-president, who has expressed the significance of the latest struggles in terms of 'either we lose or we win'. Also, the Presidency Minister talked about a 'battle' to be won or lost. As a result of this black or white good or evil logic, several of the most radical leaders within MAS have started talking about the possibility of a civil war. The leader of the Ponchos Rojos militia said they were already training for such a possibility. The leader of the worker's federation also talked about a civil war.

The government is trying to apply pressure to the opposition by raising its rhetoric. If this strategy will work, it remains to be seen. The worst case scenario in this case, would be a real nightmare.

November 01, 2007

Redistribution of the IDH Funds

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Graph from La Razon

On October 24, 2007 the Bolivian government issued Decree No. 29322 to redistribute, once again, the intake from the Direct Taxes to Hydrocarbons (Impuesto Directo a los Hidrocarburos, IDH). This tax is levied from the production, mainly, of natural gas exports. Before this latest Decree, the tax was distributed to the municipalities, universities and the departmental governments or Prefectures, with the latter receiving the larger amount of funds. After the new decree, the municipalities are the ones receiving the larger financing from the Central Government.

As a matter of clarification, the municipal governments have the task to further local development and the Prefectures worry about regional development.

This latest policy action by the Morales government has sparked protests on the part of the Prefectures, as was to be expected. At the moment the Prefectures of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija, as well as Sucre (with different motives), are preparing a fight to change the decree and revert the redistribution. Santa Cruz has decided it will fight with strikes, marches and town hall meetings. Beni, to date the most radical, has called its citizens to defend their share even with arms. La Paz, a stronghold for MAS supporters (though the Prefect is not masista), has announced cuts in public works in infrastructure and agriculture development.

The result will be another period of instability and power struggle between the regions and the central government.

In addition, the issue of the moving of the seat of government is not resolved. The Political Council, in charge of forging these agreements in order for the CA to continue, has threatened to move the sessions to Oruro. As a result, Sucre has tamed its stance and has shown some flexibility by trying to show that the sessions could continue with relative normality. However, Sucre has not abandoned its claim to be once again the seat of government.

On thing to point out is how an alliance, between the regions fighting to keep their share of the IDH and Sucre, is forming. In these days, the leader of the Santa Cruz movement, Marinkovic, has gone to Sucre to meet with the leaders there.

For the moment, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. No party is willing to give up its claim to arrive to a middle ground.

October 27, 2007

The Political Battle on the Constitutional Assembly and on the Constitutional Court

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Two things to highlight in this post, the fight to keep the Constitutional Assembly (CA) alive and the other fight to control the Constitutional Court (in Spanish, Tribunal Constitucional, TC). I'll start with the latter.

Yesterday, two of the TC magistrates resigned from their posts. The current President, Elizabeth Iniguez and the Decana (the oldest member), Martha Rojas sent their resignation letters to the Vice-president of Bolivia. They argued they took this drastic decision due to the constant harassment they were subject to by a member of the lower chamber, Gustavo Torrico (MAS). Earlier, four of the five magistrates were accused by President Morales of prevarication and the MAS faction tried to bring a legal action against them in Congress. The action passed in the lower chamber but was stopped by the opposition in the Senate.

It has been speculated that the government is trying to vacate the five posts in the TC so it can place its own people. If the government would be successful in it, it would gain important support for its agenda. The current TC has ruled in several occasions against the interests of the government and thus it has indeed been branded as biased and corrupt by President Morales.

The two resignations has plunged the TC into a severe institutional crisis. There are three magistrates left, of which two are ill. The TC, technically, only needs three judges of five to function. However, the institution is stretched to the limit. Two of the three remaining magistrates are substitute magistrates who took over the posts after the last round of resignations.

I guess I don't have to remind anybody how important it is the independence of the TC. If that wasn't the case, the whole constitutional process would politicize greatly. Justice would not be blind anymore.

The second development is the struggle over the moving of the capital which is having a severe impact on the viability of the CA.

The Consejo Politico (Political Council), as we know, is trying to forge agreements to the most difficult problems affecting the CA to find consensus. The latest decision was to offer Sucre the seat of the Judicial branch and a new branch called Electoral Power. The counter proposal came shortly thereafter reaffirming Sucre's contention to take the Legislative and Executive powers to Sucre.

This situation has, once again, placed the CA in danger. If there is no agreement, the CA cannot continue.

The Political Council is now wanting to move the CA to the department of Oruro, where they say the CA can continue without interruption.

The situation in the TC is important because it might have important consequences later on on constitutional matters that might arise. The situation with the CA and Sucre's demand is highly destabilizing and fares not well for the health of the CA.

October 19, 2007

Cross-post: The Newest Dispute Between Santa Cruz and the Government

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Miguel from Pronto* has the update on the situation in Santa Cruz. Apparently, the government has militarily taken control of the international airport of Viru Viru in Santa Cruz. As a result, there were confrontations between crucenos and military guards. More violence is expected. Read more here.

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As I write this, it seems that the situation has been de-escalated by the government by withdrawing the troops from the Viru Viru airport (read here and here). It also seems that the Santa Cruz Prefect, Ruben Costas, has made Hugo Chavez the culprit. He has insulted him and said Santa Cruz was not afraid of Chavez. He accused Chavez of wanting to turn Santa Cruz into a Vietnam. Costas also declared Chavez a persona non grata and prohibited him from setting foot in Santa Cruz.

Is this the end or there is more?

October 18, 2007

A Video on Bolivia and Morales Online

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Sorry! Thanks to Jorge, I just realized people who live outside Europe cannot access the video. Thanks to the 'infinite wisdom' of the French and the Germans (Arte is a joint venture), anyone who lives in the US cannot access the video. The message you get literally asks for understanding. Gee, and I thought this type of thing was just happening in the US. Last time I tried to access one republican party's blog (don't remember exactly which one) I got the same message!

So, once again, sorry for the mistake and I will try to keep an eye if the film shows up in Youtube or Google videos. If anyone else finds it, I'll be grateful if you let me know.
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I want to point to this documentary film on Bolivia about the so called "indigenous revolution". The film was aired in German TV in the last couple of days. It was filmed and directed by Rodrigo Vasquez, a young Argentinian director, and aired in the French-German channel Arte.

Of all the renditions of the Evo revolution I saw, I thought this one was worth pointing out. It is not the expected romanticized approach of the indigenous leader who fights against neoliberalism and imperialism to become the President of Bolivia. Hmm...yes, it has a bit of that, but it also shows a somewhat more balanced approach to what is going on. He gets himself a heroine and follows her through her rise from a project leader to a Deputy for MAS. In this way he brings to light the complexities of the indigenous movement, which is by many seen as a monolith.

The film is narrated in German, but there is enough Spanish to know what is going on. For "Bolivianists" it will be easier to understand.

October 17, 2007

Bolivian Government Issues Decree Increasing Control of NGOs

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The Morales government has issued decree number 29308 to increase state control over the financing of NGOs.

This decree, among other things, will require NGOs to register and make available to the government their source of financing. It also prohibits the financing of projects with ideological or political conditions. Also, it states that no government official will be able to take a leading post in any of these NGOs until two years after they stop working for the government.

Two counter arguments are put forward. The first is that as a result of the decree, the amount of foreign aid or international cooperation will diminish. The second argument cites the right to work that citizens have when leaving government posts.

According to the graph, there are 434 NGOs operating in Bolivia. Of those, 183 in La Paz and 76 in Cochabamba. The countries where these organizations come from are: Germany, Belgium, Canada, Spain, USA, France, Great Britain, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, and Venezuela. The areas in which they are active are: agriculture, education, strengthening of institutions and health.

October 13, 2007

“¡causachun coca, wañuchun yanki!“

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The diplomatic relations between the US and Bolivia is deteriorating to the point that it might be time to change Ambassadors, once again.

As the title of this post demonstrates, it is no secret that the Bolivian President, Evo Morales, is not really interested in maintaining a good relationship with the US government. The title of this post cites Evo Morales' slogan as he spoke it from the coca grower's union leadership, a position he still holds even now. It is in Quechua and means, "viva coca, death to the Yankees".

The latest development in this diplomatic row are Morales' words declaring Phillip Goldberg (the US Ambassador) as an invalid middle-man or representative against the Bolivian government. In fact, short of declaring him persona non grata, he banned him from entering the government building.

These words come against the backdrop of more diplomatic nuances. It started when Morales was arriving to the US to speak in the UN. His plane was diverted to NJ and he and his people had to wait more than an hour before they were even let out of the airplane. Morales then, feeling not welcomed, decided to start a campaign to move the seat of the UN away from the US. Goldberg, when asked about those declarations, replied that it wouldn't surprise him if the Bolivian government would start a campaign to move Disney World.

The reaction of the Bolivian government was harsh against Goldberg. The Bolivian Department of State asked for a formal apology. Goldberg then sent, a few days ago, a letter apologizing for the faux pas. Now it seems as though, the Bolivian President is not happy with it and wants more.

It seems absurd, but it is happening. First, it seems poorly thought out, the fact that in times like these, the American Ambassador would make a joke like this. Granted, it is not a terribly bad joke, but he should have considered the delicate times the US-Bolivia relationship is going through and specifically the nature of the current Bolivian government (touchy, I mean, not afraid to use the race card). It was just not to be expected from a professional diplomat.

Secondly, it is clear the Bolivian government profits more from antagonizing the US and "fighting imperialism" than being best friends. On the one side, it fits well Morales' image of rebel. This image is even liked among some Americans. On the other side, Morales stands to gain more from his friendship with Chavez and Ahmadinejad, that with his friendship with Bush.

Is is time to recall Ambassador Goldberg home? You bet. Even if he is an outstanding diplomat and has achieved much on his career for the US, he is of no use in Bolivia any more. The only thing that would help him is to apologize publically to the Bolivian people and to Morales himself. Now, the US cannot afford to loose any contact with Bolivia, yet another country in its "back yard". As we've seen before, these things tend to have a certain domino motion, and might spread to other countries. Ecuador, perhaps?

October 03, 2007

The Bolivian Constituent Assembly Process

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Update: It was decided, by the Consejo Politico, to keep the CA in recess for two more weeks until October 22. Council members agree that the process needs two more weeks to arrive at an agreement. One failure the council is making is to leave aside the issue of the moving of the capital. And, for all intents and purposes, it is the council that which is writing the new constitution in the end and not the CA.

Update: This is the denominated Consejo Politico (Political Council). They also call it supranational organism. It is mainly a group of politicians from all political forces and the Vicepresidency, who try to negotiate and build consensus.

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Once again the Bolivian Constituent Assembly (CA) process is on the verge of collapsing due to the deep divisions concerning the kind of state to create. At present time there are two possibilities, one of which was unacceptable up until three weeks ago. The first possibility would be to solve the outstanding issues and continue with the process. The other possibility would be to close the assembly. This brief post tries make a brief overview of the process until today.

A brief reconsideration of recent events

In August 6, 2007, the CA should have had a draft of a new Constitution, and with that finish its work. That was the intention, at least, of the conclave itself, the government, the political forces and the people. However, it was not possible. The CA arrived at this date with empty hands and much controversy. Among the most controversial topics were the approval of the internal regulations, where the vote threshold of 2/3 to approve articles won and the vision of what kind of country to create (kind of state) divided even more the CA. This last topic proved to be the most problematic.

A second topic, which was raised shortly before the August 6th deadline, to move the seat of government back to Sucre, proved to be the next insurmountable obstacle. But, before tackling this new obstacle, the CA had to extend its existence. It did just that, on August 3, 2007, by passing the piece of legislation extending its life to December 14, 2007.

Hardly was the first week of August gone, the CA was again stuck on trying to deal with the issue the department of Sucre had raised. Sucre argued that since the CA is "foundational", it was appropriate for it to deal with the long standing issue of moving the seat of government back to Sucre. The CA, or rather, the political forces within the CA tried to bring the issue to debate. After several attempts by supporters of Sucre to debate, the presidency of the CA, along with the La Paz faction, MAS faction and others against this idea, forced a vote in the CA to take out altogether the issue at hand. This vote, in August 15, was carried out with a quorum of 234, in which 134 assembly members (most from MAS and La Paz) voted to remove the issue from any debate in the CA. They argued that there was no commission to treat such an issue and that the decision was taken to guard the country's unity. On the other hand, the opposing group decried that the La Paz removal proposal was not included in the agenda 48 hours before the debate, the way the regulations call for, and thus it was illegal.

The result could not have been more contrary. The radicalization of the groups supporting the capital issue followed. In August 16th, Sucre (a.k.a. Chuquisaca, Ciudad Blanca), begins a general hunger strike, which was going to last around 24 days, and demonstrations and marches or protests. Masses of people march to where the CA was meeting and force the closing of the conclave. Several assembly members of La Paz are attacked and clashes between police and demonstrators intensify. In August 22nd, the CA's presidency declares an indefinite recess due to lack of security.

At the same time, several civic committees (Santa Cruz, Tarija, Sucre, Pando and Beni), prefects and other groups, declare themselves supporters of the Sucre demand and start mobilizing to implement general strikes in their respective departments. The general strike is executed on the 28th of August in the departments of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, Pando, Sucre and Cochabamba.

For its part, the government announces a march in Sucre with 100,000 indigenous and military participants. This march, according to the President, is to show its support for the continuation of the CA. Days later, the Sucre Prefect resigns his post alluding to the potential for violence if this march were to take place. On September 8th, the Sucre Supreme Court repeals the CA decision to remove the issue of the capital from the debate. Sucre stops the strikes and the government and its supporters (around 10,000) march in support of the CA.

On September 7, the CA President, Silvia Lazarte and six of her colleagues, met and decided to call for a one month recess. This recess, said the President, should allow for dialogue and resolution of the main problems preventing the CA to come up with a new Constitution.

The state of the CA

As I am writing this post, the CA is in recess. In this month, all the problems preventing the assembly to go forward should be debated and resolved. Four days before the month is over, solutions are hardly discernible.

On September 20th, 14 of the 16 political forces signed an accord to make the CA viable. They agreed to discuss all the problematic issues within the framework of three task forces. One committee would be created, Special Committee for Dialogue and Consensus, to do just that until September 30th. The committee in charge of resolving any differences within the CA is called, Concertation Committee. This committee will provide another space to debate and to come to agreement. The third and last space where differences can be resolved would be the denominated Supraparty organism. This task force stems from the same consensus seeking organism this agreement came out of and is integrated by senators, government officials and politicians.

The most important task for any of these committees was to bring about an agreement between the La Paz and Sucre factions over the capital issue. So far, there have been several dialogues and meetings, but no consensus on the issue. The two parts have irreconcilable positions. La Paz, wants to keep the seat of government and Sucre wants to move it back to Sucre, where it once stood.

As a result, 10 of the 16 political forces taking part in the CA have decided to go on to the next step and seek a political consensus. Those remaining in La Paz to seek a political dialogue include MAS, AYRA, AS, ASP, CN, MBL, MNR, MCSFA, MOP, and UN. They want to try to save the CA. The other group of political forces, including PODEMOS, MNR-A3, APB, AAI, and MIR, have gone back to Sucre. They argue that a political solution is out of the scope of the CA and this would undermine the assembly.

The thing is that the block in La Paz has around 180 votes of the 170 needed to get a super majority. This would mean that this group could potentially approve a new constitution without the input of the major opposition force, PODEMOS. A dangerous game for PODEMOS.

The debate over a suspension of the CA

Over the course of this difficult time, the idea of closing the CA has been gaining support slowly. The last signal was given by the impossibility of reconciling the La Paz - Sucre confrontation. Several prominent assembly members have expressed their sunk optimism if the situation could not be solved. Among these, the head of the MAS faction, Roman Loayza, and MAS assembly members Victor Borda, Marco Carrillo, Mirtha Jimenez. In the opposition, PODEMOS Senators, Carlos Böhrt and Fernando Messmer. And of course, leaders of the two antagonist groups.

Will it close or will it continue?

The desire from everyone involved is to continue with the CA process, at least I hope it is. However the prospects are dim. If the issue of the capital does not get resolved, it would mean the end of the assembly. Simply because people are loosing faith in it. Additionall, the issue of the capital is not the only pending issue. Other potentially conflicting issues are: the distribution of land, the kind of state, autonomy of departments, and natural resources (who controlls them). Tough issues to tackle.

On the other hand, the CA does not have to be closed. It has been extended until December 14th. What would prevent the government and the Bolivian people to agree to extend it one more time. After all, it would be a big loss if the CA is closed without any result. There have been other CA processes that went on longer (an example escapes my mind now).

PS. See Pronto* for more discussion on this topic.
Prior posts on this topic: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.
Sources:
Article one, two, three, four

October 02, 2007

Bolivian History Online

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It is always fascinating to find how much history is being placed online. This time I have found the website: American Memory from the Library of Congress. This website collects historical documents and images, mainly from American history. However, if you do a search, you can find some interesting documents on Bolivia, as well as many other countries in the world, I guess.

For instance, I found this report from a Lt. Gibbon, who traveled through Peru, Bolivia and a bit of Brazil and wrote his impressions on the places he saw and his experiences (pages 130 on). The report was presented to Congress in 1854.

Also, I found various interesting pictures. For example, I found three panoramic views, one of Sucre and two of La Paz (here and here), from 1915.

October 01, 2007

MABBlog Anyversary: Four Years, and Still On!

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Echoing Miguel Centellas of Pronto*, who just celebrated his five years of blogging, I am celebrating four years of continuous blogging. I started one September evening of 2003. The name changed from LatAm Central, to MABB to MABBlog, in search of individuality and, a little bit, pushed by the rankings in search engines.

Blogging has paid off big time for me. I have brought, as initially intended, a continuous flow of information about Bolivia to the English speaking world, whereas before there was very little. At the same time, saw the number of blogs such as mine increase over time, and cannot help of thinking I contributed to this growth. And, I met many people, some of them already in person, interested in Bolivia as I am.

There are plans for development in MABBlog's future. I would like to get my own domain and more room and control over the site. But, for now, Blogger is just perfect. It is free and the improvements they've made are pretty good. Oh, yea, did I mention it's free? :-) As long as Blogger remains functional, reliable and fast, I think it will be ok.

Thank you to all those who over the years, have come to MABBlog to read about a country, which is one of the most interesting countries in the region (own opinion). A country which four years ago would hardly make the news, and now is a headline maker (for the most part, thanks to Evo Morales). Thank you for that continuous interest in Bolivia.

Thank you also for the comments, which have not only enriched the blog itself, but through which I have learned a lot. The possibility of interaction is what makes a blog the more rewarding.

Finally, thank you just for visiting.

September 29, 2007

The National Development Plan to "Live Well"

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The government just officially published its national development plan and issued decree No. 29272, making it into law. After 20 months in office, the Morales government released its plan outlining how is it that Bolivia will develop economically and socially. The graph below, taken from the report, shows the government's concept.


In the graph you can see the greater role the government is supposed to play in the development question. In fact, it is the basis of the whole structure. What I still don't understand is what's neoliberalism doing there. But anyway, the structure is supposed to have four pillars: productive, dignity, democratic and sovereign. All this will require the cooperation of the state, private enterprise and the community.

For those of you who want to take a closer look, here is the whole plan. Although I have to warn, some links do not work yet.

Gabriel Loza Telleria, Planing Minister, said not only the private sector and the communal organizations had to follow this plan, but the international cooperation had to do it as well. He added the plan concentrates on fostering the participation of those it considered excluded. He called this "positive discrimination".

September 28, 2007

Evo Morales and Ahmadinejad

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That (left) is how the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saluted the Bolivian people during his five hour visit to Bolivia. He was received with all the military honors protocol dictates. The photo on the right captures the beginning of this relationship, when Ahmadinejad and Morales met in January 2007. Now, it looks like the relationship has grown to the point of establishing formal diplomatic relations.

During this short but fruitful visit (for Ahmadinejad), the two nations signed a series of cooperation agreements and a joint statement. The joint statement expressed their support for the use of nuclear energy for peaceful objectives, their intention to work towards a multipolar world, and to announce a billionaire investment by Iran in Bolivia.

The three areas covered by the cooperation agreements were: hydrocarbons (oil and natural gas, I take), agriculture and industrial development.

The opposition, of course, is skeptical. They ask what is Bolivian gaining by establishing, in so public a manner, diplomatic relations with a country such as Iran. Some even highlight the contradictions when Ahmadinejad praises Bolivian and Iranian women and at the same time officially asks not to allow any women to any reception at his hotel or any ceremony where Iranian officials are present.

September 26, 2007

Evo Morales: "Capitalism is Bad for Humanity"

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As many of you might already know, Evo Morales is in New York. He has been making a series of speeches and appearances in TV.

His visit to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart was a success, I would say. See it for yourselves here.
In the mean time several versions of the appearance were also posted in Youtube.

His speech on the world climate change in the UN General Assembly can be seen here. And his speech to the General Assembly can be seen here. By the way, the whole meeting, which is from September 25 to October 3, is being broadcasted live by the UN and if you can also find all the speeches in this page.

September 23, 2007

Bolivia Has a Shortage of Natural Gas

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If you follow Bolivian affairs you'll get a kick out of this photo. In it you can see arch rivals and now best friends Evo Morales and Ruben Costas, Santa Cruz Prefect. The photo was taken during Morales' visit to Santa Cruz, where the biggest industrial fair has started this weekend, ExpoCruz 2007.

While the Santa Cruz economy seems to be sailing with good wind, the rest of the country is experiencing troublesome trends. For example, the most important natural resource for Bolivia today is natural gas. As you probably already know, the government recently nationalized it and the current government is planning to use it to develop the Bolivian economy. However, in the last months Bolivia has been suffering a shortage of natural gas. Of course, people asked themselves (perplexed, because Bolivia was said to have the second biggest natural gas reserve of the region) how is that possible? Some were quick to point out to the demand from Brazil and Argentina, to whom Bolivia exports natural gas. In fact, these two countries have been asking Bolivia to increase its production, because they need more gas.

But, now there seems to be another culprit. It seems that internal demand is also increasing. The talk is not only about the traditional household demand, but also of industry and cars. Especially affected are the industries in the city of El Alto and La Paz. Also, the amount of cars using natural gas as fuel is increasing. This last point is the one I find interesting. Below you can see an nice graph outlining the increase of cars that use natural gas and the corresponding increase of the demand for natural gas.


After my last visit, I am not surprised that La Paz is running behind this trend. Apparently, Cochabamba is leading and Santa Cruz is behind.

The lack of natural gas has an important effect on the rise of prices. Many 'first necessity' products such as bread are affected by this situation. Inflation is expected to hit double digits for this year.

To that, another worrisome news is the down trend of the trade surplus. This year is gone down 13%, as reported by La Razón. That means Bolivians are selling less to the rest of the world. I am afraid some link exists between natural gas shortage and export decrease. The impact is not good on the Bolivian economy.

From here on it doesn't look as the Bolivian economy is in trouble for now, but some red lights are definitely there.

September 15, 2007

Bolivia, the US and Drug Policy

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Reuters and AP, and by now the rest of the world, are reporting the US government's decision to continue giving Bolivia foreign aid. The press is talking about a report, due to be published within the next days, on the drug trafficking and production in the world. In this report, Bolivia, along with other countries, is listed as drug producing country. However, the US government says that because the Bolivian government has met some conditions in the drug production fighting efforts, it will not be listed as "having failed demonstrably", which would result in the cutting of foreign aid funds.

AP says: "But, it finds that Bolivia, which has long been a concern, has taken adequate steps to stave off the sanctions. Last year, there was heated debate about whether the government in La Paz deserved a pass and Washington delayed a decision." While Reuters writes: "U.S. officials cited two reasons for the decision. First, Bolivia met a U.S. target of eradicating at least 5,000 hectares (12,360 acres) of coca crop. Second, U.S. officials believe placing it on the list could undercut counter-narcotics cooperation. The presidential determination will likely paint a mixed picture of counter-narcotics work in Bolivia, showing increased drug seizures but suggesting those reflected higher cocaine production."

If I remember correctly, not a week ago, the US Ambassador in Bolivia, was making commentaries about the current Bolivian government having to work harder on the drug eradication problem. I am paraphrasing now.

The thing is, the current Bolivian government has become very important for the US administration. Not only the government, but the situation in Bolivia. The US is afraid or does not want to destabilize Bolivia further. Also, it does not want to push the Bolivian government towards Chavez even more. In addition, it serves better the US government to stay in Bolivia and monitor things from near, than with spy drones from Washington or even interceptions from Asuncion.

I haven't seen any Bolivian government with such power, until now.

September 12, 2007

Visa for Bolivian-Americans

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The Morales government will from December 1st. ask American citizens for entry visas to enter Bolivia. I am sure that the government has not thought about the Bolivians who are American citizens and who are the bulk of people who transit between the two countries.

The requirements will be:

  1. fill out the visa form with personal data and a color photo
  2. current passport, not expiring for at least six months
  3. police report
  4. proof of hotel reservation for the whole stay or
  5. a notarized letter of invitation by a Bolivian citizen who takes responsibility for the visitor
  6. immigration can interview this citizen before approving the visa
  7. round trip ticket
  8. yellow fever vaccination certificate
  9. proof of economic solvency (bank accounts or work letter, who knows)
  10. US$134
I am speechless. What can one say?

Update:
Of course, I am speechless, but Miguel at Pronto* is not. Got sei dank!

September 11, 2007

Outcome of the Mobilizations

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Yesterday, September 10, the groups supporting and against the moving of the seat of government to Sucre were supposed to meet. The former, were striking and marching on the streets of Sucre. The latter, wanted to march through the same streets in support of the government and the MAS dominated assembly. As a result, there was a very real possibility that the two groups would engage with violence against each other.

However, one day later, we can say that was not the case. First of all, the Sucrenses stopped their strikes and marches due to a State Supreme Court ruling, which declared illegal the assembly decision of leaving the issue in question out. On the other hand, the attendants to the government's 'march in support of the assembly' were not as many as the government said they would be. In fact, out of the 100,000 people who were supposed to attend, it was calculated that only 12,000 attended. A big group was made up by the Chapare cocaleros.

This last group, after hours of debate, produced a document with ten decisions, of which three are basically important to mention. The first decision was to ignore the State Supreme Court's finding. The second was to move the assembly to an other department. The third was to make the traditional independence day presidential speech rotate among all the departments. This speech was given every year in Sucre.

Bottom line, the intransigent positions of the two groups are still in place. It is most likely that Sucre will continue to rally for the changing of the seat of government, thus provoking more mobilizations. The assembly will not have a platform on which to build consensus and the possibility that the assembly will be closed is nearer and nearer.

September 06, 2007

Yet Another Ultimatum, September 10

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Update:
In a state of emergency, the Constituent Assembly decided yesterday to "suspend" its activities for a month. Let's remember that the assembly is already working on borrowed time and has until December 14th. The president (Silvia Lazarte) argued that there was no security to continue with the sessions due to the possibility of confrontation between citizens.

Now, the organization pushing for the moving of the seat of government, is currently evaluating its hunger strike and has expressed the tendency to stop. At the same time, the other six civic committees which were supposed to join Sucre in its efforts are also re-evaluating. They have also showed a preference to stop striking and start talking.

The government, on its part, is going ahead with the show of muscles by continuing with the 'social movements summit' in Sucre's streets.

So, while the strikes are stopping and the tempers are relaxing in Sucre, there still exists the possibility of some kind of trouble with the show of force from the part of the government.

What is most disturbing though, are Alvaro Garcia Linera's words. At a conference he said: "the process of change will continue, even without the Constituent Assembly"; "we were very flexible"; "...whatever it takes, we will continue with the process of transformation of Bolivian society"; "this process [...] will deepen in terms of decision making..."

I don't want to read too much into Garcia's words but they sound more like threats to me than a call to understanding.

Read here the source article.

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Once again Bolivia is hanging on the verge of social brake down. On September 10th, the two sides will meet again, but this time in the streets of Sucre. The Junta Democratica (Democratic Junta) will continue its actions to force the government to include the issue of moving the seat of government to Sucre in the debate. Also, they demand the Constituent Assembly to respect the 2/3 voting rule to make decisions. The Junta wants to broaden its hunger strike to the departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, Tarija and Cochabamba on this date.

Btw, the Junta Democratica is a new group formed by the civic committees of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, Tarija, Sucre and Cochabamba.

The government, on the other hand, is, at the very least, supporting a congregation of a round 50,000 Altiplano indigenous in Sucre to march in support of MAS' constitution project and the assembly. This is to happen also on the 10th of September.

Looking at the situation, the intransigent positions of the government and the opposition is leading to an inevitable state of confrontation. We had, in February, the first indication of how these confrontation could end up. September 10th can be another Cochabamba.

Also, if history is any indication, the last time the capital moved from Sucre to La Paz, it was during the so called "Federal Revolution of 1898-1899". If that is what it takes for the seat of government to move back to Sucre, we have still the worst to come.

September 04, 2007

Bolivia's Commercial Relations

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Vicepresident, Garcia Linera is traveling to the US to tell the Bush administration and Congress that Bolivia wants 'only' a commercial relationship, and that the issue of drug trafficking and coca plantation should not come in between. He also wants to ask the US Congress for an extension of ATPDEA.

The question is, whether the US government will take him seriously, since US policy towards Bolivia is anchored in the drug eradication in exchange of commercial relations principle.

Both countries have great interest in continuing with some kind of relationship. On the one hand the US just cannot afford to antagonize one more South American country. The US is basically forced to engage, as opposed to disengage. Moreover, it is of US interest to keep some kind of control over the Coca production, and of course, it cannot leave its backyard unattended.

For Bolivia, it is also of significant importance to continue the relationship with the US. Much of Bolivia's financing comes from the big brother in the north. In terms of exports, the US has always been important for Bolivia. In the graph below, which you can click to see it bigger, you can see Bolivian exports from 1990 to 2006 (left column 1990, right column 2006). The US has been a significant buyer for Bolivian exports, compared to Venezuela, which got some relevance beginning 2001. This table was taken from the Boletín Externo No. 36 of the Bolivian Central Bank.

To illustrate and complement the point further, I take this next table, from the same document, which shows the nominal value of Bolivian exports in 2006 of traditional products. Excluding mineral and natural gas exports. As you can see, the US has bought a wide range of products, except soy bean oil. Other countries do not buy such a wide range of products, though are significant buyers nonetheless.


My intention here is not to qualify whether the US is better than Venezuela as a commercial partner. I am simply pointing out to the importance of the US for the Bolivian export sector. The Bolivian government should be careful on negotiating and, moreover, dealing with the US government. Statements such as the one from Garcia himself and Quintana.

August 22, 2007

The Level of Tension is Reaching New Heights

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Update:

What happened yesterday in Sucre you ask?

The headline summary is: Confrontation, Repression, Violence and Paralyzation.

Almost the whole city was mobilized. There were several marches through the streets, which in the end came together in front of the Gran Mariscal Theater. The people actually tried to stop the session, which after weeks of recess was taking place. At one point, the police barricade was broken and chaos reigned.

In consequence, the President of the conclave declared it in recess due to lack of security. She was right, because several assembly members were physically assaulted. Specially in danger were people from La Paz and, of course, some Sucrences who were not supporting Sucre. There was also a violent confrontation between police forces and protesters, which left 10 wounded (one of them seriously). Among that crowd were Sucre's Mayoress and the president of the committee for the campaign to move the seat of government. During the afternoon and into the night, several offices of MAS were damaged and at least one house, where an assembly member was hiding in, was vandalized.

Surprising, to me, was the decision of the Cochabamba Civic Committee to support Sucre. I think it was coordinated with the Media Luna civic committees.

The tension is certainly not off. First because the MAS is still trying to make the resolution which strikes the moving of the seat of government to Sucre off of the agenda. And second, because the MAS and the government have used their majority in Congress to impose an impeachment procedure for some judges in the Constitutional Court. This move is seen as too authoritarian from the part of the government.

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If you've been reading MABB, you know I was alarmed at the rising of tensions in the Constitutional Assembly lately. After evaluating the year's work of the CA, I was worried to see the level of alarm reach the 'Elmo' level. Well, not it seems that alarm level is reaching a new height.

As I write this post, the citizens in Sucre are getting ready to assemble in front of the place where the CA meets, the Gran Mariscal Theater. They want to loudly protest against the seemingly unorthodox and arbitrary methods of the majority group, MAS.

It seems as though, MAS, in addition to having angered the Sucre citizens by arbitrarily removing the motion to debate the move of the seat of government, are getting ready to go ahead an approve their proposed constitution using their majority votes. An action which is widely repudiated, not only by the opposition, but also by the citizens of Sucre.

The move is supposed to come late in the afternoon, after having considered two additional commission reports, in an item described only with the word, 'various'. The opposition fears that MAS will attempt to pass its proposal, which then would have to be considered by the CA in detail.

Meanwhile, the situation in Sucre has also gone up a notch. As of yesterday, there were 32 hunger strike groups with around 269 people fasting. A 200 member strong anti-riot police group arrived to the city, inspiring deep distrust and skepticism among the people. The Ponchos Rojos militia group sent 50 of their men to 'defend the assembly' and a group of the Santa Cruz civic committee is also due to arrive in the City.

The fear of violent confrontation is always there, when you have antagonist groups coming together. However, if we consider what happen recently in Santa Cruz, it could be argued that the tensions will just be only that, tensions. Although, it is important to keep in mind, these types of things are very volatile, specially in Bolivia.

August 20, 2007

The Bolivian Blogsphere: An Explosive Reaction

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With much happiness I am observing the explosive development of the Bolivian blogsphere. In a matter of four years (roughly) the number of Bolivian bloggers has increased tremendously and blogging has been adopted as an innovative form of expression. Initiatives are springing everywhere and participation is incredible.

I remember back in 2003, there were just a handful of blogs about Bolivia, mine, Ciao! (now Pronto* and Barrio Flores, for example. Most of them, were written by Bolivians living outside Bolivia (such as myself). One day I discover a way to search blogger profiles by country. I tried it and worked. From that search I found another handful of bloggers, but this time, the authors were Bolivians living in Bolivia. It was then when I decided to start collecting links to Bolivian blogs. That way, I thought, I could contribute to the growth of what I called the boli-blogsphere. People interested in blogging, especially Bolivian pioneers such as Joe and La vida en una fotografia would have the opportunity to have the list available to them, see who else was blogging and perhaps get in touch with each other. But most importantly, they would provide a window into Bolivia through their writing. This was one important aspect, since at the time there wasn't much information about Bolivia in the Internet.

After that initial search, I rapidly discovered more blogs, such as El Forastero and Rocko. Thereafter, there was a rapid development in the boli-blogsphere. El Forastero wrote an article in October 2004 listing various Bolivian blogs. This was going to be the birth hour of the first blog about Bolivian blogs. On July 2005, El Forastero and Almada de Noche started Blogsbolivia. Since then, this site has become one of the premier sites to find Bolivian bloggers. 2005, was the explosive year for the boli-blogsphere. At the hand of Blogsbolivia, Bolivia started to be interested on this phenomenon. There were articles published in the local press and some attention was given by Radio.

From this point on, the Bolivian bloggers themselves started to claim ownership of the blogsphere. Many events were planned and initiatives started, such as Pacena, Fricachos y Blogs with the help of Quintacho and Rocko, which promoted the first meet between Bolivian bloggers. The Libro Libre initiative, which was organized by the people at Mundo al Revez (if I am not mistaken). This initiative sought to support, promote and give incentives for people to read books. The idea was interesting, taken I think from Bookcrossing, people were supposed to 'liberate' a book in any place and at any time.

At the moment the boli-blogsphere has become an exciting place. I have read that blogs like Blogsbolivia or Boliviaweb blogs have more than 500 blogs in their databases. Considering that just a few years ago there were just a handful, it is amazing to see how much the boli-blogsphere has grown.

The latest initiative is Bloguivianos, the first national convention of Bolivian bloggers. It is supposed to take part in Santa Cruz on September 1, 2007. According to the organizers, they are expecting more than a hundred participants. Additionally, another project, Voces Bolivianas is offering stipends to people who want to attend the conference. Voces Bolivianas is another exciting project supported by Global Voices through its Rising Voices initiative. The project is led by our long time friend, Eddie Avila of Barrio Flores.

As you can see, the boli-blogsphere is taking shape and, as I believe, conscience as well. The fact that Bolivians, specially the youth, have received blogging with open arms is encouraging. As I said earlier, this does not only gives a medium for average Bolivians to express themselves, but it also has built a window from where the world can look into Bolivian culture, politics, society and economy. The only factor that might be hindering this development is the language barrier. Granted that the Bolivian blogsphere has grown at an incredible rate, it is mainly in Spanish. My take is, if more languages would be included, the reach would be enormous. I know there are countless of people in the world interested in what is going on in Bolivia, but the majority of them do not speak the language, so they have to rely on people like me to get their information. If the range of languages would increase, it would only expand the access from other parts of the world and the exposure of Bolivian bloggers would be larger as well. With anxiety and hope I am waiting for the first bi-lingual blog.

August 18, 2007

Former Presidents of Bolivia

MABB © ®


La Razón published a rare photo of a meeting between former presidents of Bolivia. They met to ponder on the last 25 years and the democratic experience.

I tried to recognize all of them, but could not. So, those of you who know, please help me. Starting from top left to right, you can find Guido Vildoso?, Carlos Mesa, Tuto Quiroga, Eduardo Rodriguez Velze, Luis Ossio Sanjines (was he a president? I thought he was VP). Sitting, from left to right, we have Jaime Paz Zamora, Lidia Gueiler and ???

August 16, 2007

The Constitutional Assembly Reaches Critical Level

MABB © ®

New Developments: The fight over the possible move of the seat of government to Sucre is Elmo hot. The situation is reaching meltdown levels. Yesterday, the entire city of Sucre was practically paralyzed due to the general strike. Even though the organization leading the efforts to bring back the government to Sucre did not organize any marches or demonstrations, spontaneous marches and massive demonstrations did gather on the streets. In addition, they blocked the city and laid siege to the place where the CA meets. Many assembly members, specially those from La Paz and the ones making up the presidency, had to remain there because of security reasons. Other members of the La Paz faction had to go underground, again because of security reasons.

During the marches, Sucre showed its hostility towards the government, the President and MAS. Some protesters burned Morales' photos and Whiphalas (the indigenous flags). Moreover, this will have a backlash on MAS support in the next elections. Sucre was one of the five departments where MAS won in 2005.

So far the consequences have been: the 24 hour general strike (which was successful), the withdrawal of the entire Sucre faction from the CA (23 members), the withdrawal of the entire opposition faction from the CA (54 members), the total paralyzation of the CA, seven assembly members are in hunger strike at the CA, 31 other people have started hunger strike in five other places, at least three more hunger strikes are planned to start in the next days, in Santa Cruz 20 Sucre citizens have started hunger strike, the Santa Cruz civic committee sent a group of people to Sucre to bring support, and the autonomic movement gained Sucre as new member.

The situation is critical. The paralyzation of the CA is a fact for the time being. There is a demand from Santa Cruz to postpone it until these problematic issues are solved. There are even calls to suspend altogether the CA. One thing is clear though, the way the CA presidency is handling these problems is not appropriate. The division is even deeper.

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The Constitutional Assembly (CA) has reached the Elmo level of alarm. Yes, it's Elmo alright!

In yesterday's long session, and at the very end, the President, Silvia Lazarte, took up the voting of a resolution removing from the CA's agenda the issue of moving the seat of government to Sucre. There were 234 assembly members present; 134 voted to remove the controversial item and 73 voted to keep it. In what it seemed to be a coordinated maneuver, MAS along with the La Paz faction, successfully voted to remove the item from the table.

Already in the afternoon assembly members from Sucre had publicly warned of the maneuver on the works. After the vote, the protest was loud and clear. People of all walks of life gathered around the building where the CA assembles to protest. The group coordinating Sucre's demand to move the seat of government back to Sucre announced a halt to negotiations and an immediate state of alert.

The measures to follow are a total cease of activities for 24 hours and several assembly members from the Sucre faction have started a hunger strike. Several more are to join them in the next days.

With this, Bolivia has, in effect, divided into two parts. On the one side are La Paz, Cochabamba, Potosi and Oruro. On the other side are Pando, Beni, Santa Cruz, Tarija and now Sucre (the complete media luna).