April 29, 2007

Limited Blogging

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Dear readers,

I will be paying a visit to my family and friends in VA for the next month. Therefore, there will be limited time for Blogging, but it will not stop completely. It all depends on the availability of internet and time outside work and family and what happens in Bolivia.


April 24, 2007

Autonomy: The Strategic Moves of the Movement

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The above image was taken from Perry Castaneda's map library collection.

The autonomy issue has become 'the' most important issue in Bolivian politics. Up to now, it has dominated the debates in the Constituent Assembly and it was the number one demand heard by the latest assembly tour around Bolivia. There are basically two kinds of autonomies being proposed or, better yet, demanded. One is the autonomy reaching to the local level of government, such as municipalities, but, in it, the most important is the departmental level. The other kind of autonomy demands that autonomy reaches to the indigenous groups level. The difference in autonomic demands emanates from the two geographically differentiated groups in Bolivia. Namely, the Western altiplanic part of Bolivia, including La Paz, Oruro, Cochabamba and up to now Sucre, seek the autonomy version for indigenous groups. The Eastern departments, known as the 'half moon states' (in Spanish, media luna), demand the departmental version of autonomy.

This is a deep division in preferences, rooted in a plethora of reasons difficult to discern. Nonetheless, the parties do not give up their efforts to undermine the other party and gain advantages for their own cause. In that spirit, and highlighting the intricacies of Bolivian politics, the Eastern group, made up by Beni, Pando, Santa Cruz and Tarija, may have scored a small victory. But, before, let me explain a bit why does this group is called half moon. The name comes from looking at the Bolivian map. As you can observe, from North to South, the geographical boundaries of these departments make up a half moon (ok, with a lot of imagination). However, there was a small problem. If you observe more carefully, you'll notice that the Southern point of the moon is broken up by the department of Sucre. For that reason, it was difficult for me to call this group, half moon.

However, and coming back to the politics of it, the group may soon be able to call themselves half moon, proper. The reason is as follows: The Sucre department is, aside from being departmental capital, the judicial capital and the founding place of Bolivia. The founders of Bolivia, after the 1825 revolution of independence, declared the birth of the Republic of Bolivia, in the city's liberty house. By 1988, however, the center of power had moved to the city of La Paz. The same powers decided to move the seat of government from Sucre to La Paz. That is, in short, how Sucre came to take second seat to La Paz.

In the midst of efforts to re-found Bolivia through the Constituent Assembly, and emboldened by the current government, Sucre has re-ignited that long dimmed but never extinguished flame. It has decided to pursue the moving of the Executive and Legislative branches of government back to Sucre. This was one of its loudest demands when in the last weeks the assembly came to Sucre to ask for their opinion. The demand has provoked an equally loud cry from the department of La Paz, saying that the moving of the government was not for negotiation.

Now, the autonomic movement, in an effort to put pressure and gain supporters, has expressed its support for Sucre's demands. Sucre, for its part, has enthusiastically welcomed the support. It remains to be seen if the support for the causes is mutual. At this point in time, it seems as though Sucre will close that gap the half moon had and will close ranks with the autonomic movement of the East.

April 19, 2007

The Fight Over Natural Gas

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What is going on in Bolivia? A lot! As you can see.

Conflict over Bolivia natgas field escalates
AlertNet - Apr 19 8:19 AM
Source: Reuters (Refiles April 18 story to correct technical problem) (Updates throughout, adds byline, changes dateline) By David Mercado YACUIBA, Bolivia, April 18 (Reuters) - Protesters demanding a share of
Bolivia Resumes Gas Supply to Argentina After Deadly Clash
Bloomberg.com - Apr 18 9:41 AM
April 18 (Bloomberg) -- Bolivia resumed natural gas transmission to Argentina after soldiers killed a protester while suppressing a riot near a pipeline operated by Royal Dutch Shell Plc, the country's Hydrocarbons Chamber said.
Bolivia to Auction Tin From Seized Glencore Smelter (Update1)
Bloomberg.com - Apr 18 8:55 AM
April 18 (Bloomberg) -- Bolivia plans to sell tin from a plant seized two months ago from Swiss commodity trader Glencore International AG as the metal trades at the highest in at least 18 years.
Conflict over Bolivia natgas field escalates
AlertNet - Apr 18 8:04 PM
Source: Reuters (Updates throughout, adds byline, changes dateline) By David Mercado YACUIBA, Bolivia, April 18 (Reuters) - Protesters demanding a share of taxes from a large Bolivian natural
Demonstrators take police as hostage in Bolivia over gas dispute
People's Daily - Apr 18 7:52 PM
Hundreds of protesters held 40 policemen hostage in southern Bolivia on Wednesday in a dispute over gas field royalties, the state Bolivian News Agency reported.

The gist is, there is a boundary dispute between two provinces within the Tarija department. The two provinces are O'Connor and Gran Chaco (the region where the Chaco War was fought against Paraguay). This piece of land, called Chimeo, holds one of the biggest natural gas camps in that department, the Margarita camp. Apparently, both regions have a claim to the area.

This dispute began in May 2005, when O'Connor filed a petition to the regional government, the Prefecture, to delineate the boundaries. The head of government, the Prefect, sought to remove himself from the problem because of conflicts of interests. The Mayor of Yacuiba, a town in Gran Chaco, was his relative. So, he relayed the problem to his General Secretary. This time, the Gran Chaco province did not feel comfortable with the 'judge' and asked the central government to move the case to another jurisdiction. So, the General Secretary, in view of the problems passed the case to the central government. The government in La Paz refused three times, until recently when the protests in the provinces became more serious. Yesterday, it decided to give in to the demands of Gran Chaco and relay the case to another jurisdiction. That decision promptly provoked protest in O'Connor.

So, in the last few days, there were violent confrontations in the different towns. The most violent, with one death, was in Yacuiba. In the mean time, the gas pipelines to Argentina are in danger to be shut down and the Pocitos and San Antonio camps were taken over.

The graph is from La Razón.

April 15, 2007

Cumbre Energetica Suramericana

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The first South American Energy Summit will take place in the Venezuelan Caribbean island Isla Margarita, on the 16th and 17th of March. This is, as you probably already know, one of the most ambitious plans or wishes of Hugo Chavez. The aim is to integrate the energy needs of the whole continent (except the US of course).

Twelve nations are supposed to be represented there (Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Perú, Surinam, Uruguay y Venezuela). The most likely topics to be covered, as you can see in the La Razón graphic, are natural gas, oil and Brazil's Ethanol.

As it could be expected, Bolivia's president Morales has already RSVPd.

More on the event as it happens.

In Resounding Tone the Assembly Hears: Autonomy!

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On this post I talked about the Constituent Assembly's tour around Bolivia. This tour was supposed to bring the assembly to the people and that way collect proposals. Now, the tours is over and there is a resounding call for autonomy as a result.

There is not much to report, other than the last visit was made to Trinidad, the capital of the Beni department. Although, there were 'interesting' proposals made in the areas of land tenure, security, and country symbols (among many others), in the different speeches and acts, the call for autonomous local governments were the primary issue. However, the division of opinion between East and West about the kind of autonomy was and is still evident.

According to La Razón, the tour lasted 35 days and costed 600,000 US$.

April 07, 2007

The Relationship Hugo + Evo: Is Evo Following Hugo's Path?

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Currently, the big question when it comes to Bolivia is: Is Morales: Following Chavez or own path?

Thanks to a tip from galloglass, a MABBlog reader, I came across with the above article published in Yahoo! News. This question has made noise in recent days with the publication of this article, however, the question has been for a long time in the minds of many people who follow Bolivia.

Is Morales following Hugo Chavez' path towards consolidation of his power? I, for one, am getting more and more convinced that Morales is following Hugo's path. I have been worried by what I called a 'disturbing trend'. Below you'll find links to my earlier posts which deal with this intriguing question, along with interesting commentaries.

Note: I would recommend, however, to focus on the content and to please forgive the misspellings, attribute them to lack of time for posting. :-)

April 03, 2007

The Assembly: Fourteen Months After

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This nice La Razón graph shows us how has the Constituent Assembly changed internally in the time it has been in progress. Even though the power balance has not changed much, MAS (had 137 members) is still the strongest political force followed by PODEMOS (had 60 members), gradual changes can be perceived. For example, on the side of the opposition, the graph shows a loss of 2 members for PODEMOS and 3 members for CN, and UN lost one member. In the same manner, on the other side of the isle, MAS and ASP lost one member each. The loss of a member does not necessarily mean the change of sides, some of these people declared themselves independent. However, currently and according to La Razón, the MAS side has 155 votes, which leaves the opposition with 100 votes. Let's just remember that the opposition is not made up of the 100 votes because we have to take into account the independents, and the fact that not everyone in the opposition is on the same boat.

Nevertheless, 155 votes is a commanding lead, but not necessarily enough to write the constitution as Evo Morales would like to do. MAS has to reach the 2/3 hurdle now to approve any article of the new constitution, and that means it has to have 192 votes. In this climate of mistrust and animosity, I can imagine it would be extraordinary to achieve the feat of winning 37 more votes in favor of MAS' plans. MAS' best chances are with the other micro-forces such as AAI, APB and AS. These groups have shown themselves sympathetic to MAS' plans before. Then of course, since these are not enough, MAS would have to attack the opposition ranks by talking to MIR, MNR and UN (it is already doing so as we speak). These forces, altogether, have 26 votes, added to the 10 afore mentioned make 36, one vote just short of 37. This means that it is inevitable that some PODEMOS votes would have to defect to MAS, if Morales is to fulfill his promise.

This situation makes it difficult for MAS to go ahead with its goals to re-write a new social contract and re-found a new Bolivia, more to its preferences. That is the reason why, now confronted with a new challenge, MAS is taking steps to turn around the political climate by announcing its preference to have new general elections next year after the new constitution is ready. Additionally, the electoral machinery of Morales has realized that most of more than 400,000 16 and 17 year olds in Bolivia would vote for MAS in 2008, therefore the government is pushing the Congress to make a new law to allow the vote from 16 years up.

These two moves would first increase Morales' chances to get higher than 53% of the votes in the general elections. Second, it places enormous pressure to the assembly to open the possibility to allow Morales be re-elected again in 2008.