February 28, 2007

Evo Morales: "The developed nations are to blame...they damage the environment....we have to take it."

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The post title quotes Evo Morales talking about the climate disasters due to El Nino currently affecting Bolivia (click on the link below to read it in Spanish).

Since last December Bolivia has been suffering under the effects of El Nino. This La Razón graph shows the kinds of climate misfortunes under way. The worst 'disaster' is seen here in the red. It covers the region where various rivers (including the Mamore) have flooded, not just land, but also many communities. For the last two weeks or so, there have been reports about people living on the roofs of their houses, with inadequate clothing and no food. Pretty precarious conditions. The graph also shows how many families have been affected, in which areas are they located, and even gives estimates of loses for the cattle ranchers.

The UN has been one of the first international organizations to call to help for Bolivia. While international aid has been coming in, it has also been too slow. Even the government has been slow in reacting. Just today, Morales and his government will talk about declaring 'some' regions as disaster areas. The main reason the government has been slow in declaring much of Beni as a disaster area is because of the side effects this emergency status will have on the government's land reform process. If Morales declared these region as disaster area -the region in question including the lands of the cattle ranchers considered 'too rich' for Morales- the process would have to be stopped for at least three years due to an article in the land reform law which says that no land affected by natural disasters can be treated by this law. Political decisions are everywhere to be made, it seems, even in times of emergency.

The unwillingness of the government to declare Beni as a disaster zone has made waves throughout the political landscape. On February 24, the Prefect of Beni, has asked Morales to do this. In recent days, the opposition has qualified the government as insensitive for not doing it. The government has been awaiting reports from the areas to make its decision. No government official has been willing to accept that the area was a disaster zone. The national emergency director, Gonzalo Lora, has even said that what was happening in Beni could not be qualified as emergency because there were no dead and the region did not look like a war zone (read here in Spanish).

February 27, 2007

The Dollar Against the Boliviano

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The US Dollar has been sliding down against the Boliviano since mid 2005. It's dropped 10 cents Bolivianos.

Why? Because the central bank has increased the difference between sell and buy of the dollar, thus creating a demand for Bolivianos. As simple as that. The Bolivian economy has been slowly de-dollarizing due to the rosy macroeconomic look (budget surplus, less debt, plenty of reserves, positive growth, etc.) and the central bank's policy. The government wants Bolivians to use Bolivianos instead of dollars, since the Bolivian economy has been relatively dollarized.

One advantage is that it gives Bolivia, for the moment, a good image. Any time a currency does better compared to the dollar, the world looks with glee. However, by the same token, Bolivian products do get more pricey, and imports win. A word of caution, the idea should not be to appreciate the Boliviano's value against the dollar, but to control inflation. If the Boliviano, continues on appreciating, it might result in a negative effect on Bolivian products. That would be the most obvious observation.

The Government's Problem With Recruiting People

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There is an interesting short discussion in the comments section of my February 19th post. The topic was the government's problem with recruiting people. Although, the post was about the importance of remittances in Bolivia's GDP, I had mentioned my concern about the implication that this increase in remittances might be related to an increase in emigration from Bolivia. That is, Bolivians who left Bolivia and are making a living overseas are sending more money to their families, either because they have better jobs or there are more Bolivians emigrating. I am guessing there are more Bolivians leaving Bolivia.

The 'brain drain' phenomenon and what that means for the current government in terms of recruiting professionals is a serious concern and limits the capacity of government to administer the affairs of the country. This is mainly due to a lack of professionals working in the government. In that post, I also said that the government was aware of this problem and was currently searching for capable people to fill posts. Galloglas, in that comment section, commented that one of the problems of the current government was hiring people based on ideology, rather than competence. I agreed, and here is why.

The Morales government has been using a policy to recruit people based on the particular person being identified with the values and political track of the government and the party. In fact, one had to be a MAS supporter in order to take up a post in the government. One major way in which posts were filled, were by recommendation of some union, worker's organization, or one of the organizations MAS calls its 'bases'. This mechanism had been later formalized by allowing these organizations to issue 'political avouchments' to people who wanted to work in government. Let's keep in mind that in Bolivia, working in the government is one of the few ways in which people can get a job. Public service is a very contested place of work. Specially, in the urban areas.

Well, it turns out that some people, specially in La Paz, had made out of this a neat and efficient little market. Some MAS people were selling these pieces of paper. I don't know what were the prices, but it has become an embarrassment for MAS and Morales. Now, since the party's politics on recruiting will not change, MAS wants to create a data bank instead. This DB will contain all the names proposed by the 'bases' and when the government needs some people, it will just go to the database, look for the person it needs and voila.

I think, if MAS and the government continue recruiting people in this manner, they will still have the same problem. The recruitment is politicized and linked to MAS' ideology. He or she who does not belong to MAS or is backed by an organization will have no chance to get hired. It invites patrimonialism and clientilism; two traditions in Latin American politics.

February 23, 2007

Approval Ratings for President and Prefects

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Evo Morales has been loosing support as of late, but recent surveys indicate that he has gotten back on the good track. This graph from La Razon, shows his approval rating increasing six points to 65%. A mild, sober increase, but still dramatically down from the 80s he was showing in 2005. Still, I don't understand why the people of Opinion & Mercado, the company doing the surveys, concentrate in the eje troncal (central axis) of major cities. In previous posts I argued that they might be loosing valuable information if they did not include the rural areas as well, as there is a significant difference in thinking among the two (here and here).

On the other hand, the prefects are doing just well. Looking at the graph below you can appreciate the comfortable support the Prefect of Santa Cruz, Ruben Costas, has. All in all, the opposition Prefects have leads, with the Prefects of La Paz, Paredes and of Cochabamba, Reyes Villa, just over the 50% mark. However, the one who must worry more is Manfred Reyes Villa. His support has plummeted from the high 80s to the low 40s in three months in 2006. Ironic to think that the recent disturbances in Cochabamba may have helped him recover in this front.

However, the two graphs must be take for what they are, just two pictures in time.

February 19, 2007

Remittances Surpass Foreign Investment in Importance

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Just wanted to share this graph with you all. This is a graph from La Razon, which shows, among other things, the relation between remittances and foreign direct investment (FDI) in the Bolivian economy.

The graph depicts how over the last ten years, remittances of Dollars and Euros (mainly) have become an important part of the GDP, and how in the last years it has surpassed FDI. At least, that is what the Bolivian Central Bank says.

My impression, I think FDI will be even lower in the next year. What is somewhat alarming is how remittances are growing (39% p.a.). This may be the result of an increased numbers of Bolivians emigrating overseas, or those who already emigrated, are making more money. Most likely is that Bolivians overseas are making more money, but the biggest reason must be that even more Bolivians are emigrating. And that is just what is scary. The flight of human capital is alarming.

One grave problem for Bolivia has been that of 'brain drain'. There are an overwhelming number of Bolivian professionals working all over the world. However, currently, an even greater problem has been for the government to recruit professional people to take positions in the government. This emigration trend is most damaging, and no wonder Morales has a serious problem in recruiting people to work on his project..... Yes, remittances are up, the country has a new source of capital, but at what cost?

February 17, 2007

About 'Andinomania' and Morales in Der Spiegel

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Two articles called on to my attention today. Firs there is the discussion of the 'andinomania' takin over the Andean Region. This guy has a bone to pick with Morales. :-)

The other article is an interview Der Spiegel, the German Newsweek, did to Morales. Once again, I have to say, Morales' arguments sound sincere, good in principle, but either misled or very naive. Full of contradictions, he explains his government, its plans for Bolivia and its relations with the US, Brazil and Venezuela-Cuba.

Here it is:
DER SPIEGEL 35/2006 - August 28, 2006
URL: http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,434272,00.html
"Capitalism Has Only Hurt Latin America"

Bolivia's President Evo Morales, 46, talks to DER SPIEGEL about reform plans for his country, socialism in Latin America, and the often tense relations of the region's leftists with the United States.

SPIEGEL: Mr. President, why is such a large part of Latin America moving to the left?

Morales: Injustice, inequality and the poverty of the masses compel us to seek better living conditions. Bolivia's majority Indian population was always excluded, politically oppressed and culturally alienated. Our national wealth, our raw materials, was plundered. Indios were once treated like animals here. In the 1930s and 40s, they were sprayed with DDT to kill the vermin on their skin and in their hair whenever they came into the city. My mother wasn't even allowed to set foot in the capital of her native region, Oruro. Now we're in the government and in parliament. For me, being leftist means fighting against injustice and inequality but, most of all, we want to live well.

SPIEGEL: You called a constitutional convention to establish a new Bolivian republic. What should the new Bolivia look like?

Morales: We don't want to oppress or exclude anyone. The new republic should be based on diversity, respect and equal rights for all. There is a lot to do. Child mortality is frighteningly high. I had six siblings and four them died. In the countryside, half of all children die before reaching their first birthday.

SPIEGEL: Your socialist party, MAS, does not have the necessary two-thirds majority amend the constitution. Do you now plan to negotiate with other political factions?

Morales: We are always open to talks. Dialogue is the basis of Indian culture, and we don't want to make any enemies. Political and ideological adversaries, perhaps, but not enemies.

continue reading...

February 15, 2007

Passing of the Controversial Article 70

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On the evening of Wednesday February 14, the Bolivian Constituent Assembly approved the controversial Article 70, which will allow it to continue with the drafting of a new constitution. It has been seven months since the assembly was inaugurated, but has been plagued with divisions and paralysis. This article, which had been in dispute for over two months will regulate the approval mechanism for each article of the new social contract.

The details are as follows: First, each commission report will be approved by simple majority. Second, the draft document will be approved by simple majority vote, since 51 per cent is enough (Bolivians are calling it absolute majority, dunno why?). Third, and most important, each article will be approved by 2/3 majority. Albeit, they would have to be voted by July 2, this year. Fourth, those articles not reaching the 2/3 consensus, will go on to the Consensus commission. This commission will be constituted by the assembly leadership, presidents of all the factions and the presidents of the commissions in question, respecting the majority-minority proportion reflecting the assembly. This commission will negotiate a solution and will send this solution to the general assembly for its approval with 2/3 of support. Fifth, if the articles in question do not get 2/3 support in the assembly, they will be put into consideration of the population via a referendum. Finally, the whole text of the new constitution will be voted in the assembly and will be approved with 2/3 of the vote.

The 2/3 won and the government denied it had a hegemonic project in mind. As you can imagine, the opposition is happy though reserved, because there is still a lot to do. However, this small step is already good news for the rest of the population. The 2/3 means that MAS will not be able to write the new constitution alone, and instead it will have to listen and negotiate with the minority parties. This is encouraging for the minority parties, since there are 16 political forces represented in the assembly. So, consensus, negotiation, and good intentions are the words of the day.

Another thing that, more or less, worries me is the July 2 deadline. I am not jurist, nor have I ever taken part in a constituent assembly process, but I cannot help but thinking, isn't that date too short in time? That would mean that the assembly members would have six months to approve the whole constitution. That has to happen in an assembly which has 16 different political forces and 255 members. But, it is just because the assembly is so divided that the decisions are even harder to reach consensus.

According to the press, 81 per cent of the assembly members voted in favor of this article. That is a good number to realize that the 2/3 had ample support. Also, in an article in La Razon, it was reported that the assembly leaders tried to smuggle their own version of the article, which was not the one negotiated during those two months. Just one word, unbelievable!

So, finally the work can continue. The discussion from now on can be about what will be the shape of the new Bolivia, an not about the simple majority vs. the 2/3 voting method.

February 12, 2007

Echoes From My Two Homes

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The relationship between the Morales government and the US government has been making some waves in the most unsuspected (for most people) places. In a post on January 2, this year, I talked about the decision of the Bolivian government to start requiring entry visas to US citizens. This decision, according to the government, was taken in reciprocity to the US government's policy, which requires Bolivian citizens to apply for visas to enter the US.

In that post I showed my concern for Bolivia's decision because the most affected were going to be the thousands of Bolivian-Americans living in the US. This group makes yearly trips to Bolivia, either to visit family and friends or for business. The largest group is located in the Washington DC, metro region. According to an article just published by the Washington Post, there are officially 20,000 Bolivians living there. It also mentions that, unofficially, the number is three times larger. I come from the Virginia side of that region.

The Post's article shows a side of the Bolivian community not seen previously. It talks about the concerns Bolivian immigrants are starting to have about the Morales government. One of them is that his government is polarizing deeply the country and bringing it to the verge of civil war. On the other hand, every one, supporters and skeptics, agree on the fact that Morales brings much hope after replacing old worn out corrupt elites.

All in all, a good article to have an insight on the "small" Bolivian community living in the metro area.

February 10, 2007

Speculating About the Movement Toward Socialism

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There is a curious trend showing up within the ranks of the MAS-IP (from the Spanish Movement Toward Socialism - Political Instrument), which seems to indicate internal troubles. Division within is the trend, and it affects the much needed unity of the 'party' (pls., click here to know why I put the word party in quotation marks). In a previous post I talked about two strong currents dividing MAS. The intellectuals and the bases, are two groups which have different agendas and expectations of MAS. It often comes that these two groups disagree on what should be done. One example is the voting method in the Constitutional Assembly, which the intellectuals favoring the 2/3 and the bases wanting simple majority.

This time there is a schism being noted in regional terms, more specifically, the national versus the departmental. Lately, this division has become more evident after the MAS' La Paz wing called to a party congress, where the new directory was supposed to be elected. Also, according to the organizers, Morales himself was supposed to attend along with all departmental organizations. However, the leaders at the national level called all supporters in La Paz to boycott this congress because it did not have permission from the national leadership. Mutual attacks followed between the two levels of leadership and until now it is not know whether this congress is supported by Morales or not.

Now, puting into practice the title of this post, and based on some reports in the press, it could be said that the differences highlighted are really the outcome of an internal power struggle among factions with not necessarily socio-economic, socio-political or ideological motives, but with more mundane ones. Some people in MAS have been complaining that the IP (political instrument), in order to win the elections has compromised its soul and thus has allowed politicians of other parties to take advantage and join the cause. This would really mean, for these individuals, what has traditionally meant for many others like them, that they would support MAS in exchange for jobs in government. This particular issue, I think is grounded in the urban-country divide. On the one side, the country supporters of the IP are more true to its ideals (fighting exclusion and taking over power to change Bolivia, for example). On the other side, MAS supporters who live in the urban areas, have other priorities and thus other expectations from MAS. That would be jobs mainly. This is mostly curious when think we are talking about mostly of indigenous people in both cases.

At the urban level there are a host of problems which have been showing up all along since MAS came to power. They are more conspicuous in La Paz and Santa Cruz where many times MAS people have been fighting for governmental jobs. Different groups of people accuse each other of not being true MAS supporters and thus not having claim to those jobs. This, I think, will be a big problem for MAS. To put it simply.

February 03, 2007

The Weaknesses of New Blood in Government

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One of the positive effects of the Morales government has been the almost total (above 90%) renewal of the old political elite. This group was seen as deeply corrupt and had completely lost touch with the people's political preferences. That was, more or less, the verdict. Instead, new people were elected and appointed who, it was hoped, would change the direction of leadership and make a fresh start.

Well, this was the case, pretty much, in the beginning. However, that renewal had also its negative effects. One major effect was that the people in office now did not have experience in government administration. Most people were very inexperienced local politicians with little experience at the local level. Others had experience in worker's unions leadership, but no administration.

The article I quote now is one example how can the issue of 'experience' turn into a negative effect against the current government. The report talks about the Amauri Samartino case. Samartino was a Cuban dissident living in Santa Cruz, who had criticized severely the relationship between Evo Morales and Fidel Castro. As a result, the government went after him.

In a legal battle, the Bolivian government deported Samartino to Colombia. He was deported by the then Minister of Government, Alicia Munoz. Ms. Munoz was one of those 'new' government officials who were supposed to bring new ideas and, most importantly, no connection with the old corrupt elite. She issued a ministerial decree deporting Samartino.

It turns out however, she was naively wrong. The case got all the way to the Constitutional Court. Last Friday, it ruled that the decree issued by Munoz was unconstitutional, because it violated the rights of foreign national living in Bolivia. This opens the door for a possible return of the Cuban to Bolivia.

Munoz, according to La Razon, made two grossly incompetent mistakes. One was that she based her arguments to deport Samartino on a Supreme Decree (DS 24423) which was found unconstitutional by the same court in 2001. The Supreme Court's opinion was that the DS 24423 violated the equality principle and the freedom of expression right in the Constitution by ruling that foreign nationals could not intervene in national politics. The second mistake was that she ignored she did not have the competence to issue such an order. That competency lies on officials of the Bolivian Immigration Service. She stepped over her boundaries without even looking back twice.

What does that tell us? For the purposes of this post, it simply highlights how much experience is worth when working in the government. That is the only way, I think, one can as reasonably and neutrally as possible explain these rookie mistakes. Even though Ms. Munoz was already a member of parliament and had experience in leading NGOs, she was not a member of the established elite and thus did not have as much experience.

However noble and liberating was to bring new blood into government, we can see experience is immensely important when it comes to govern. Without it, it can come to damaging outcomes, not only for the government but for the country as a whole.

February 02, 2007

Bolivia, Venezuela and Arms

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Here is another distubing piece of news. According to the 2006 Military Balance Report, published by the London based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Venezuela has been busily building its war power for some time now. A disturbing development has been that Chavez has began arming recently created civilian militias, in case the US decides to invade Venezuela. To defend the 'Boliviarian Revolution', so to speak.

The repor has details about this development, but one problem is that one has to purchase it. So it is not widely available. However, there are articles available from people who are involed in the writing of it. This article talks about Chavez's actions and also mentions that "Chavez also is helping Bolivian President Evo Morales and has warned of a U.S. plot to oust Morales - a claim denied by Washington. Venezuela will send Bolivia troops and two Superpuma helicopters, Defense Minister Orlando Maniglia said Monday. He said the Venezuelan troops would do roadwork and engineering tasks, though he didn't say how many would go or give other details."

This claim is disturbing because, as you can imagine, were Morales to follow Chavez's line, he would end up arming civilian militias. Moreover, as you may remember from my recent post, I talked about the Ponchos Rojos (Red Ponchos). This is already a civilian militia under the command of Morales. This group, which boasts of 100,000 soldiers, has said that it will be ready in case it has to act.

February 01, 2007

Reporter Without Borders' 2007 Report on Bolivia's Freedom of the Press

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF for its French name) released its 2007 Annual Report on freedom of Press. In its Americas chapter, it says that Bolivia ended up on top of the list with 'only' 13 attacks reported against reporters. The report says:
Though it came top among southern hemisphere countries in the 2006 worldwide press freedom index, Bolivia once more plunged into crisis in the last quarter of the year. Evo Morales, who took office in early 2006 as the country’s first indigenous president, now faces the threat of secession by four provinces. The media was the first target of the struggle between government and opposition. As happened in Venezuela, the gap between state and privately-owned media has widened and a “media war” may erupt.Two fire-bombs damaged the pro-government TV station Canal 7 in the opposition-controlled city of Santa Cruz.

The Bolivia chapter highlights the good standing of Bolivia, and the uncertainty about the future since the political crisis is more likely to continue. However, one paragraph makes me doubt about the carefulness and accuracy of the report. I mean, I would expect that RSF had reporters in Bolivia writing about Bolivia. People who are informed about what is going on. But it doesn't seem that way. The following paragraph states a widely circulated speculation, by the mainstream media I might add, as a fact:
The opposition governs four of the country’s nine provinces and has threatened secession, staged demonstrations and attacked state-owned media.

Ok, it's just a word, some might say. I would agree, but the difference is that it is a BIG word. I don't remember any time when the opposition in Santa Cruz threatened with secession. In no way, shape or form, did I hear or read anything reporting that the people in Santa Cruz wanted to secede. And here again I have to grant critics that the word did circulated around in the press and that some leaders of the opposition did not deny the possibility. However, that is far from being an official threat. And please, I am not defending the opposition in Santa Cruz. I am merely pointing out to the carelessness of, ironically, the reporters who wrote this paper. Coming from the Reporters Without Borders group, I had expected much better.