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?

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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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.

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.