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.

(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
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.