December 30, 2008

The Shape of the Current State

MABB © ®

This is another graph published by La Razon, which shows which public offices are filled by pro tempore officials. What the article talks about is that the government has appointed pro tempore people to fill these offices. It also shows however, the extent to which the government and MAS have taken over the government. Most, if not all officials, are MAS supporters; people who do not dare question the government or the party.

In prior posts, I have argued that this was part of the government's plans to stay in power. Once they occupy most of these offices, there'll be no one who will question the government's policies.

December 29, 2008

The Shape of the New State

MABB © ®

The above graph was published by La Razon today. It gives a glimpse of the future shape of the state. For instance, the president and vicepresident will be elected directly if they get 51% of the vote. If not, they, at least, would've have to obtained 40% with a 10% difference with the second runner up. If this does not happen, the new constitution opened the possibility to a second round of elections between the two most voted candidates.

For the legislative branch, the lower chamber will have 130 members to be elected in a mixed-member proportional representation system. That means, roughly half of the members will be elected by closed lists and the other half will be elected per district, directly. The senate will have 36 members, one more per department than today.

The judicial branch will have a Supreme Justice Tribunal, a Tribunal for Agrarian and Environment, Plurinational Constitutiona Tribunal and Consejo de la Magistratura (the instance in charge of controlling and overseeing the judicial branch). The justices will all be elected, and not nominated as it is now.

Lastly, the new constitution will create a new kind of authority, the indigenous authority. This person will exercise authority in these "indigenous regions" according to the uses and customs of the region.

So much for the new structure of the state.

The tentative schedule is as follows:

January 25, 2009: the approval of the new constitution
December 6, 2009: general elections of the new authorities
April 4, 2010: election of prefects, mayors and governors

December 28, 2008

Unemployment

MABB © ®
El Deber published the above survey conducted by Captura Consulting in the central axis (i.e. Eje Troncal). The report says that the major problems the country was going through, for Bolivians, were unemployment, followed by the current economic crisis, inflation, drug trafficking and poverty. At the other end, one can notice that, according to Bolivians, general health, foreign debt and lack of domestic investment are the least worries. When asked how was 2008 for Bolivia, 52% give a mixed review (almost indiferent). As for 2009, most people (55%) think the coming year will be better. In similar manner, people asked said they expect 2009 be a better year for them personally. What a bunch of optimists!

So, in summary, according to the report, people in the cities of Cochabamba, La Paz, Santa Cruz, El Alto, have a mixed review of 2008 but think 2009 will be a better year! From this stand point, Bolivians do have a reason to raise their cups and hope for a better year.

Just found this link with statistics.


December 27, 2008

End of Year Balance 2008

MABB © ®


The Bolivian government is trying to pass its 2009 budget, called Presupuesto General de la Nacion or PGN. This is just a proposal for now, until Congress approves it.

According to the government, next year's domestic investment will be in the order of 1.8 billion dollars.

If we take a look at the graph above, taken from the government's proposal PGN, the picture is rather positive. Gee, who'd've thought! The government is projecting an annualized GDP growth of 5.75%, down from 6% in 2008; inflation is projected 10.6%, down from 14% in 2008; the fiscal deficit is projected to be 1.84% of GDP (I assume from GDP, it doesn't specify), while in 2007 there was a historic surplus of 1.7%, and in 2008 the projection is a deficit of 4.1%.

What can you tell from these numbers? Not much! The first thing to remember is that the numbers are from the government. It is logical that they will want to present the rosiest picture they've got. Having said that, it calls my attention that they are projecting still a growth for 2009, while many analysts are saying the region will be touched by the global financial crisis. I mean, the biggest economies in the world are projecting recession, that means less demand for foreign products, the price of oil is down to the mid 30s (let's remember the price of natual gas is coupled with the price of oil), trade benefits for Bolivia with its second largest trade partner (US) has ended in October, etc. Why is the government being so positive about the macro economic conditions? I am thinking if the government makes good on its promise to invest 1.8 bn, then economic growth can be possible. They are counting on it.

In addition, it has been reported plenty in the press that inflation in Bolivia in 2009 will be well above the government's predictions to 16% (IMF). But, over the last months, those predictions have been lowered to around 12%. If the government is able to keep up government intake at the level its been having, then they will not need to print more money and inflation will not surge. However, if the price of natural gas keeps down and the government keeps spending the way its projecting to do, then where else will it get the money? It is already projected to make loans of up to 1 bn dollars to YPFB for investments. We'll see.

FYI, here is a statistical report from the National Statistics Institute you can take a look at.

2009 should be another interesting year for Bolivia. This time, the economic factor will be more prominent, I think.

December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas to Everyone Who Visits MABBlog

MABB © ®

Since there is little going on in Bolivia, as Bolivians are already full in Christmas mode, I take this opportunity to make my season wishes to all MABBlog visitors.

I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and may all enjoy the holidays with friends and family.

I will be off line until Friday, at least!

December 17, 2008

More Critique Starts to Surface

MABB © ®

Yesterday, I posted that critique against the Morales government, from its own support base, is starting to surface. Today, I read again new critique against the new constitution. La Razon reports that the Tupac Katari Peasant Organization from the province of Omasuyos (in the Altiplano, north from La Paz and Felipe Quispe's home turf) made public a resolution calling the government "traitors to their cause" and saying they will not support the new constitution in the coming approval referendum (January 25). In short, they call for the re-consideration of the constitution approved in Oruro in December 2007. Consequently, they dismiss the new constitution which came out of the negotiations in Congress (October 2008). They further say, they distrust all the "ngo people" working in the government. This refers to the people surrounding the President. Many of them, worked in ngos. The report also mentions critical voices coming from The Public University of El Alto and the Movement Without Land (MST).

From another front, the former Press Secretary, Alex Contreras, qualified Morales' reactions against the press as wrong. Contreras said the President should have concentrated on the persons who named him and not the press. This is a reference to the confrontation Morales is having with the members of the press. Apparently, he was fed up with the press publishing compromising reports about him and a huge smuggling case in Pando. Therefore, Morales decided he would not speak to the Bolivian press anymore and instead would prefer the international press. This has been going on for a couple of weeks, with last week having been one nationally coordinated demonstration from the part of the journalist unions.

Morales' agreements in Congress in October this year to approve "his" constitution is coming back to bite him. He made so many concessions just to approve the constitution that the Oruro document and this new document are very different. This is slowly being realized by the different organizations and movements within the MAS, and the result is that many don't like it. In addition, this last smuggling case incriminating Minister Quintana is turning to be a damaging case for the government. Morales' reaction against the journalists has been seen in many circles as too harsh and simply wrong.

The fissures within MAS are starting to show. The interesting question for me is, from a political scientist view, if the MAS as a new form of political party, is able to effectively replace a "traditional" political party.

December 16, 2008

Critique From the Bases

MABB © ®

Today I read again an article about the critics that have been brewing within the MAS for a long time. These critics, as quiet as they have been, are getting louder. At least, that is my perception.

Today's La Razon, published the opinions of Felipe Quispe, leader of Movimiento Indigena Pachakuti and Alejo Veliz, a long time leader in the coca growers movement. These two people belong to the increasingly critical indigenist wing within MAS. Just FYI, you can get a good english description of the internal squabbles of MAS in Donna Lee Van Cott's book From Movements to Parties in Latin America.

Quispe told La Razon that it wasn't just Quinatana's presence in government, but most of the people around Morales, who, according to his opinion, could not interpret correctly the preferences of the people. Veliz, in turn, criticized that Morales surrounded himself with people from NGOs and not with indigenists. These people, according to Veliz, have their own interests in mind and not those of the people.

I May, I saw an interview in Bolivian television to Felix Patzi (link to a post in MABB), an indigenist intellectual who criticized Morales sharply for surrounding himself with what Patzi called the traditional left. He said Morales' government was "hijacked" by this "obsolete and radical" left and that this left was not in tune with MAS' original objectives and purposes. In that sense, Morales had veered away from the origins of MAS.

This criticism is louder within MAS, but it just doesn't make for many headlines. Now that the government started to use security forces to repress some protests (today there were reports that a clash in Patacamaya had left at least one dead), it might set the stage for a different relationship between the, so called, social movements and the government.

December 10, 2008

The Performance of the Bolivian Finance Minister

MABB © ®

La Razón, reported about a published survey by América Economía, where a panel of 140 international economists rate the best finance ministers in the region.


The report does not touch on Bolivia, but one can see from the graphs that Bolivia ransk very low among its peers. It is pretty discouraging to see the perception of Bolivia in the international arena is so low.

December 04, 2008

The Power Struggle in Bolivia Retreats to the Legal Arena

MABB © ®

The power struggle between the current government and the opposition has left, for now, the political arena to move on to the legal arena. Now that there is a new deal regarding the constitution and all the parts are waiting for next year's approval referendum, the battle has been continuing on the courts.

On the one side, the government has continued with its "witch hunt". The strategy is to remove the opposition or to weaken it as much as possible with any means. First, the government tried the ballot boxes at the recall referendum, where it did remove two thorns, Jose Luis Paredes, former Prefect of La Paz and Manfred Reyes Villa, former Prefect of Cochabamba. It seems that the next step is to try the law. One Prefect is already removed. Leopoldo Fernandez, former Prefect of Pando, has been taken to La Paz and has been incarcerated. In addition, the government has also "taken" many civic activists from Pando to La Paz to face charges against them. Now, it seems that Tarija is next and therefore the government has been also "taking" some civic activists to La Paz to process them.

The actions of the government has alarmed the opposition. It is currently in the process of re-organizing itself to respond to these attacks. In addition, it has initiated its own legal process to counter these attacks. The Santa Cruz Prefect, Ruben Costas, together with the people left in the Conalde (Natinal Council for Democracy), which groups the opposition, has initiated paperwork to accuse the Minister of the Presidency, Juan Ramon Quintana and the Ministry of Government, Alfredo Rada for having staged the Porvenir killings and conspire to remove elected authorities, such as Leopoldo Fernandez, by fabricating and manipulating evidence.

All these are indictions that the power struggle in Bolivia is far from over and the battle goes on.

At the same time, there is an important piece of news coming out fron the Judicial branch of government itself. All the organisms in this branch (the Supreme Court, Constitutional Tribunal, the Judicative Council, and the Agrarian Court) got together in the city of Trinidad, Beni for the 6th Judicial Power Summit. In this meeting, the branch presented a resolution where they express their worries and critiques to the governmet arguing that the current government is contributing to the collapse of the rule of law and the state itself.

In its attempts to dismember the opposition, the government is trampling over other powerful actors such as the Judicial branch. These actors are less likely to stay put if they see danger in their futures. One indication is this recent resolution which heavily criticizes the actions of the Morales government. Other actors, such as the Catholic Church, are also becoming bolder and raising their voices against the government.

What seemed to be over with the agreement on the new constitution is continuing in other arenas outside the political one.

November 24, 2008

Approval for the New Constitution

MABB © ®

Angus Reid has a poll that asks if Bolivians approve the new constitution.

The majority of people in Bolivia agree with the revised version of a new Constitution, according to a poll by Equipos MORI. 56% of respondents support the changes to the new charter agreed upon by government officials and members of the opposition.
The data can be found here.


The above graph is from La Prensa and presents a more condensed situation. Perhaps more to the reality. As you can see the black bars represent approval of the constitution and the white bars represent disapproval. In Santa Cruz, Trinidad, Tarija and Sucre, the people will not accept the new document as the new constitution. While, clearly, La Paz, El Alto, Oruro and Potosi will vote to accept the new constitution. The battle-ground is (to use an American elections term) Cochabamba. Three percentage points separates the yes from the no, in favor of the yes.

According to the simple average I took based on the above data, the constitution has an approval rate of 43%, while 39% of the people disapproves of it. This is a significantly different number from the number I quoted from Angus Reid above. I don't know whether they use a different source, but it seems they base their numbers on the same Mori survey.

One more thing to observe is the percentage of undecided, the gray bar. According to the numbers above around 19% of the electorate are not sure they'll support the new constitution. What is more interesting is that in the departments where the no-vote is higher, the undecided seem to be higher. In the departments where the yes-vote is higher there seems to be less undecided, with perhaps the exception of La Paz, where the undecided vote makes 33%.

One thing seems to be clear, if the vote would be now, it looks like the new constitution would be approved. The campaigns have started and it seems it will be a hard fought battle. I expect the government to continue bombarding people with adds through radio and TV. Likewise, I expect the opposition to do the same, but at a more local level. In the end, I think the difference will be that the government has a national strategy and the opposition doesn't. If the opposition will coordinate at a national level perhaps it will have a chance. That is, provided they have the same funds the government will have at its disposal.

November 23, 2008

Evo Morales in my Alma Mater

MABB © ®

Morales, in his recent visit to Washington, DC, chose to hold a speech at my Alma Mater, American University. AU, has been an important place for politicians (international and national) to express their views, when it was important for them that their words would resound inside the Beltway.

In recent history, people like John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter (who's no stranger to AU) and Bill Clinton, to cite a few, have used their time at AU to make important speeches. I personally, profited from this while at AU and heard the Dalai Lama, Bill Clinton (1997), Shimon Perez, and others that scape my memory.

Morales was a natural to speak at AU, where progressive (meaning left leaning) ideas are the order of the day. Not to say that conservative ideas are not present. For what I remember, there is a lively debate between these two camps in campus.

But, as far a Morales is concerned, his speech was well received by the people. He got cheered when he entered the room and people laughed at his jokes.

Morales used this speech to try to convey, what it seems to me, a contradictory message to the future US government. He said he was expecting to have a better relationship with Obama and at the same time he kept attacking the DEA, USAID, the US Embassy in Bolivia, etc. I say contradictory because for the US government, if you attack the mechanisms that build that relationship, what kind of relationship will be built?

If you are interested to watch his speech, you can visit AU's speeches page. There you can download the video and watch it.

November 16, 2008

Possible Contenders in Next Year's Elections

MABB © ®

If the new Constitution is approved next year in January, which is expected to happen, the next step will be to pass laws to start implementing the new system. After that, the other significant event will be the general elections in December 2009.

For the latter, there are already groups trying to get together to offer an alternative to MAS.

For example, Samuel Doria Medina, leader of the political party UN, wants to start a group called National Alliance. For that he invited all leaders who want to participate. He also wants to directly elect the person who will lead this front into the elections.

The Santa Cruz Prefect, Ruben Costas, also wants to create an alternative, the National Ample Front. His idea is to group together regional parties to promote autonomy as a central issue.

In addition, in Santa Cruz there are two other groups wanting to organize. One group will be an initiative from the Santa Cruz faction in Congress. Those Senators and Deputies who once represented PODEMOS, which, as of today, it seems destined to extinction. The other project is denominated Equalitarian Collective, which will have a leftist leaning.

In the Andes, as it was to be expected, Felipe Quispe wants to make a comeback with his party, Pachakuti Indigenous Movement. He wants to dispute the leadership with Evo Morales.

Also, former leader of FSUTCB and CSUTCB, activist Alejo Veliz, has created Pulso (Peoples for Liberty and Sovereignty). It is believed he will be taking part on the next elections.

Another front from the Altiplano (high plateau) is the Potosi Alianza Social (Social Alliance) lead by Mayor Rene Joaquino. He has already taken part in the last elections. It is also to be expected for him to take part in the oncomong elections. He has a commanding lead in Potosi.

On the side of the traditional political parties, the MNR is currently trying to clean up house and get ready for next year. I am expecting also that MIR, to a most regional level, will be taking part in next years elections.

There is an unconfirmed rumor that former Presidents Carlos Mesa and Rodriguez Velze, together with former Vicepresident Victor Hugo Cardenas, will be organizing a group to participate in the elections next year. The rumor is going on strong because neither party, especially Mesa, wants to deny it.

Of course, MAS will be taking part as the current major political force to reckon with.

That seems to be the future political landscape. Notice that there are few political parties and lots of alliances. This is attributed to the still going on crisis in the Bolivian political party system. A new animal has appeared, the civic alliance.

November 09, 2008

On the January 2009 Referendum - The Ballot

MABB © ®

This is the ballot to be used in the January 2009 referendum, when Bolivians are supposed to decide over the text article number 398 is supposed to have and approve or reject the newly negotiated constitution (click on the image to see a larger version).

The first part asks voters to decide whether article 398 should read, in its final sentence, 10,000 (24 710 acres) or 5,000 hectares (12 355 acres). The article pretends to regulate the private property of large pieces of "productive" land. Productive here, is defined as land that has a social function. Please, don't ask me what social function is, because it is not defined.

The second part asks voters to approve or disapprove the new constitution, which was written by the Constituent Assembly, agreed upon with the Prefects and amended by the Special Committee on Concertation in Congress.

This referendum is the next milestone Bolivia, Bolivians, the government and the political leadership have to go through in order to bring Bolivia away from the current crisis.

The bloodiest constitution writing process

While most constitution writing processes are prone to social unrest, political polemic, long and heated debates and full of accusations and even insults, the latest Bolivian attempt to write a new constitution was one of the bloodiest in recent history.

According to a report in La Razon, there were 25 deaths product of the intolerance and intransigence the opposition and the government negotiated the document.

The process started on August 6, 2006, as Evo Morales sought to drive his political agenda ahead.
Six months later, and after serious delays on the constitutional assembly process, the first 3 victims fell. On January 11, 2007 government followers and supporters of the then Cochabamba Prefect, Manfred Reyes, clashed without control and without the presence of the police. Reyes had announced he would push through autonomy for Cochabamba.

Eight months later, on September 24 - 26, 2007, police forces and protesters clashed on the streets of the city of Sucre (a.k.a. Chuquisaca), with 3 more people dead. The civic organizations had called supporters to action to force the Constituent Assembly to include the moving of the capital to Sucre in the debate.

But September 11 - 12, 2008 were the bloodiest of days of all. In one of the most violent confrontations between government supporters and opposition forces, 18 died in the small town of Porvernir, in Pando department. The conflict grew out of protests from the opposition departments (Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija) in response to the government's efforts to impose its constitution and the reduction of the department's intake from natural gas exports (IDH). In the same month, September 17, one young opposition supporter, member of the UCJ (in Spanish Union Juvenil Crucenista) died beaten by government supporters.

The calculations on how much money was spent in this process are still being made. However, no matter how expensive it was, the loss of one life was too much.


November 05, 2008

Latinos Surrounding Obama

MABB © ®

Here is an article, in Spanish, talking about the Latinos surrounding Obama. Obama himself admitted he does not much about the region and thus it is important to get to know the people with whom he intends to associate in order to get advice.

One guy, Dan Restrepo, was already mentioned in the prior post but the rest not. I only know Arturo Valenzuela from his academic work. The rest of the guys are: Riordan Roett, Gregory Craig and Frank Sanchez (I am not sure about the link).

And, here is an article in Times magazine about why Bolivia is quiting the US war on drugs.

November 03, 2008

Possible US Approaches to Latin America and Bolivia

MABB © ®

Update:
Ok, here is a brief summary of the interview with Dan Restrepo, Obama adviser on Latin America.

Obama's approach
  • 1. Meetings with leaders (Chavez and Castro) (with conditions) to convey democratic values
  • 2. Cooperation on Democracy and security
  • 3. The establishment of a Latin America office (in the White House?)
  • 4. Revision of NAFTA
  • 5. Support of TLC with Peru
  • 6. Critical of CAFTA
  • 7. Support Colombian on security
  • 8. Critical of Colombian action against union leaders and ONGs
  • 9. Skeptical of TLC with Colombia (wants to make it conditional upon the criticism)
  • 10. Will focus more on Mexico-US border control and domestic reduction of use of drugs
  • 11. Allow Cubans in Miami to visit family in Cuba and send money
  • 12. Continuation of the embargo
A commenter asked, does it really make a difference if we get to know McCain's approach to Latin America? At this point in time, I tend to make myself the same question.

Also, in July this year I have taken a look at this same question and looked for some clarity on Obama's and McCain's approach to Latin America.

----------------------------------------------------------

I will be following the race with the help of the Washington Post. Just in case you want to do the same, here is how.

Washingtonpost.com throughout the day for the latest news, election returns and commentary from our writers, analysts and others.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/

Share your voting experience and find out how it compares to what other voters are finding with Vote Monitor.
http://projects.washingtonpost.com/2008/vote-monitor/

Come back in the evening to watch our Live Election Webcast beginning at 6 p.m. on postpoliticstv.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/postpoliticstv/

Get Breaking News on Your Mobile Device. Text "ELECTIONS" to WPOST (97678) for breaking news and race calls delivered via text message.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/contents/mobile/alerts.html

Follow your favorite blogs and columnists, and access state-by-state election results, on our mobile site at twp.com.
http://www.twp.com/

Twitter users can have Post state calls delivered throughout the evening via our results-only Twitter feed.
http://twitter.com/washpostresults

Navigate Post Election Day coverage on TimeSpace, an application that maps news stories, blog posts, photos, videos and more.
http://specials.washingtonpost.com/timespace/election/

Listen to an election day preview on the Post Politics Podcast.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/mmedia/podcastfront.htm#politics

Follow Washington-area races in our Local Elections section.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/metro/elections/2008/index.html


-------------------------------------------------------------
Otto, a friend of mine, told me about this BBC Mundo article where the two foreign policy advisers from Obama and McCain speak about their own approach to Latin America. This is an interesting article that could shed some light on future policy towards the hemisphere.

I am posting this before I read them, and therefore without commentary.

PS. The article is in Spanish only. Hopefully those of us who read the article will have a discussion so people who cannot read Spanish are able to know what is going on. Otherwise, I will summarize the articles in the next days. Enjoy!

November 01, 2008

DEA Suspended

MABB © ®

Morales announced today the indefinite suspension of DEA operations in Bolivia. He accused the DEA of political activities, such as financing the opposition in 'rebel' departments, spying and transporting unknown cargo in and out of Pando, Beni and Santa Cruz.

In addition to that, Morales announced he will wait for the next administration to ask for Bolivia to be placed back into the beneficiary countries list.

The big question is, what will Obama do in the case of Bolivia? (is there any doubt now that Obama will be the next president of the US?) Judging from his willingness to speak to Raul Castro, his inclination to lift the long standing Cuba embargo and his willingness to dialog with Hugo Chavez, it is very probable that Obama will put back Bolivia on the list.

Or, will Obama stick to the American line of foreign policy towards Latin America?

Big question!

Sources:

http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSTRE4A01IW20081101
http://www.erbol.com.bo/noticia1.php?id=1&identificador=740&bdatos=notiportada1

October 24, 2008

The New Constitution

MABB © ®

This is the first version I've seen of the new constitution. Take a look at here (in Spanish only).

Here is the old version to compare it to.

With a bit more time I will post some opinions.

Enjoy!

October 21, 2008

Referendum to Approve the Constitution

MABB © ®

Here is one of the two questions to be asked on January 25, 2009 about the new Constitution:
¿Esta usted de acuerdo con refrendar el texto de la nueva Constitución Política del Estado, presentado por la Asamblea Constituyente y ajustado por la Comisión especial de Concertación del Honorable Congreso Nacional, que incluye los consensos logrados en el diálogo entre el Gobierno con los prefectos y representantes municipales sobre autonomías, incorporando el resultado de la consulta sobre el artículo 398 a ser resuelto en este mismo referéndum y que la misma sea promulgada y puesta en vigencia como nueva Ley Fundamental del Estado boliviano?
Do you approve the text of the new constitution, as presented by the Constituent Assembly and adjusted (amended) by Congress, which include the agreement of the dialog between the government with the prefects and municipal representatives, and incorporates the result of the referendum regarding article 398 to be resolved in this same referendum, and that the new constitution be promulgated and designated as the new fundamental law of the Bolivian state?

Sorry, the question is enormous, but that is the way Spanish is used. Though, some referendum questions in English are not so different.

I got this from Fides.

Agreement is Reached in Bolivia

MABB © ®


In the early hours of October 21, 2008, the government of Bolivia and the opposition in Congress reached an agreement on what will become the new Bolivian Constitution (Constitución Política del Estado Boliviano).

After grueling months of conflicts, which brought Bolivia several times to the brink of collapse, and 12 days of negotiations, around 100 articles modified and endless verbal confrontations, the new Bolivian constitution was finally agreed upon.

To reach this accord, the government had to show its flexibility and let up its hard line position. The opposition is the relative winner in my opinion.

The re-election of the president was the last difficult issue. President Morales accepted in the end to reduce his ambitions to stay until 2019 and accept a one term re-election after the new constitution is enacted, that is he would be able to run for office and theoretically stay until 2014.

First, Congress had to pass a law re-interpreting article 233 of the current constitution. This article gives Congress the power to 'adjust' and fine-tune the new text without changing the character of the document. Congress has to approve these 'adjustments' by 2/3 vote.

Once these 'adjustments' were done, the president signed the new law and only then the constitution could be 'adjusted'. After the adjustments were done, the Congress drafted the law convoking a referendum to approve the new constitution.

The schedule runs as follows:

Last night, Congress approved the law calling for the referendum to approve the new constitution. This referendum will be carried out on January 25, 2009. If the new constitution is approved, this would give free way to the next general elections on December 2009, where new President, Vicepresident and legislators would be elected. The new constitution is set to come into effect from January 1, 2010 on.

In January there will be two questions, one asking to decide for the size of land tenure (between 5000 and 10000 hectares) and to approve or disapprove the new constitution.

The agreements are set, but the new constitution is not yet drafted. There is an attentive expectation from the part of the opposing departments (Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, Tarija and Sucre). They want to keep any opinion until they've had the chance to see the document.

However, these departments warned of their skepticism for the new constitution. The legislative factions of these regions voted against the law calling for the referendum. That was a sign that they were not happy with the agreements.

The Path to the New Constitution

MABB © ®

The following photos are taken from ABI.

These photos depict the march towards Congress. Morales caught up with the march in El Alto and led it to its destiny, the Murillo square (Plaza Murillo, the seat of government).



Plaza Murillo in daylight. Congress was in the building negotiating and debating. In essence, doing what they should have done a long time ago.

Notice the presence of police in front of the building. This is a change of strategy by the government. Initially, the police was supposed to stay away.

The Plaza Murillo at night. The people had decided to stay there until an accord was reached.


Evo celebrates his triumph.

October 20, 2008

The State of Negotiations in the Bolivian Congress

MABB © ®

It seems as though the negotiations in the Concerting or Compatibility Commission in Congress are going rather well. Positions have come closer and some agreements are starting to filter out. Issues such as land tenure and use, as well as autonomy are said to being close to an agreement.

There is one issue, however, that is standing out because of its difficulty. It turns out that the government wants to call to general elections as soon as the constitution is approved. This would mean that on January, general elections would be called so that in June a new President, Vicepresident and legislators would be elected. This would mean, in turn, the reduction of mandates.

It is a hard issue because we are talking about elections in no other place than Congress, where the eyes of politicians is not only on the present but also on the next elections. The opposition does not want to accept what they call the reduction of mandates because according to their calculations this would favor Morales.

The opposition thinks or calculates that in the next two years, Morales will still have strong support. Therefore, he is not afraid to go to the polls because he knows he will win. The most pressing possibility however is that the opposition will lose its grip on the Senate and thus render it utterly useless.

Therefore, the opposition is proposing to have the new constitution enter into force after the next elections (in 2010) as the new government takes office. This, would at least give them time to get together and ready themselves for a new electoral exercise.



In the mean time, the Conalcam has reached El Alto and is now, as I type, on its way to plaza Murillo and Congress. Surco, the President, has said the organizations will not leave until the new law calling for a referendum to approve the new constitution is passed. That means, they will siege Congress and stay there to pressure legislators to pass the law.

As you have see on my earlier post, some legislators have gone prepared to congress bringing their own mattresses in order to stay in the building and prevent any political maneuvering from the part of the government.

Chronology of Failed Dialogs

MABB © ®

This is a chronology of past failed attempts at negotiation between the government and the opposition.

The two groups tried to meet on September 2007, January, February, May (the opposition and Podemos did not go), August, and October of 2008.

These meetings failed because of the unwillingness of both, the government and the opposition to negotiate and compromise.

October 19, 2008

Sunday Session of Congress

MABB © ®


Today's Congress session is very important for Bolivia's crisis. Today, the government wants to pass the laws convoking to the approval referendum for the government's constitution.

Above you can see two Podemos deputies arriving to Congress withe mattresses and covers ready to stay in the building in order to assure the 'right' required quorum and prevent the government to pass any laws without the opposition.

As you may very well know, the government's strategy is to siege Congress and prevent any opposition member of Congress to enter the building. This way they cannot vote against the measures.

The only thing is that I could not find the names of these deputies. Does anyone recognize them?

The Negotiations in Congress

MABB © ®

The debate and negotiations that were supposed to have taken place in last year's Constitutional Assembly are taking place today in the Bolivian Congress. Today's objective for the President of the Bolivian Congress, VP Alvaro Garcia, is to approve a law convoking a referendum to approve or disapprove the new constitution. Parallel to this debate, the negotiating tables are still working. Already there are rumors, from the side of the government mainly, that there are around 100 articles agreed upon.

Some of the issues being talked about are the following.

Agreements on:

The ownership of land - 5000 hectares for agricultural work and 10000 hectares for cattle farming.

With this agreement, the referendum on the approval of this specific article would not happen.

The election of plurinominal (per list) or uninominal (per district) legislators - This is a bit confusing still because there are various versions. In La Razón, it is reported that there will only be plurinominal deputies. The argument is that the MAS wants to prevent minority governments by preventing cross-voting, i.e. voting for a President and for a deputy of another political party.

In El Deber however, it is reported that the new Congress should have the same number of members (130), 70 uninominal and 60 plurinominal in the lower chamber. In the Senate there should be 32 members, 4 for each department and one indigenous Senator.

The social control - The opposition argues that this fourth branch of government receives too much power over the other branches of government. So this point is a major issue!

The reform to the constitution - It is said that the new agreement will allow to discard any reform to the constitution with a simple majority (in Bolivia called absolut majority) and instead the 2/3 rule will apply.

Sources: La Razon, El Deber, Erbol, Fides, El Diario

October 14, 2008

Disturbing Trends

MABB © ®

I Came across this video from Telepais, a cruceno TV channel (very opposed to Evo), which shows a speech Juan Ramon Quintana (Minister of the Presidency) gave to campesinos in Cobija (Beni department).

Putting aside the fact that the video is presented in a sensationalist manner to drive the point to the extreme, it would be difficult to ignore what Quintana is saying.

Quintana shows his true colors in this video!

Apparently, he did not know he was being filmed. However, now he knows and he, or the government, did something about it.

On the morrow of the 13th., Jorge Melgar, a journalist from Riberalta (also in Beni), who worked on a local TV station, was captured by government special forces with a variety of charges. At 4:30 am government forces (which a witness says were military and some Venezuelans and not police) stormed into his house, tied him up and took him away. It seems that Melgar filmed Quintana and then published the video in a Santa Cruz media outlet (Telepais).

In addition, Melgar, is said to be very critical of the government and allegedly has expressed his rather violent desires on the air in his program. The government has videos where Melgar speaks just as bad as Quintana.

However, the actions of the government are no less disturbing. Over the last month, the government has been rounding up people in a clear illegal manner. These special forces just storm people's houses and take the target persons without showing the required documentation to arrest someone. This was the modus operandi when the government "arrested" Leopoldo Fernandez (the Pando Prefect) and many other opposition activists.


October 13, 2008

The Real Power of the Social Movements

MABB © ®


This guy, Fidel Surco, current president of the Conalcam (Coordinadora Nacional por el Cambio), might turn out to be one of the most powerful people in Bolivia. He presides over an organization which groups another 35 organizations or social movements, as they like to call themselves. These organizations are very active in the decision making process within and around the government. They have direct access to Morales and Garcia, as well as direct access to the executive via Hector Arce (Defense Minister) and Sacha Llorenti (Viceminister of Coordination with the Social Movements). In this capacity, the Conalcam takes part in cabinet meetings and Surco is no stranger in the Palacio Quemado (government palace), where he meets the President at least once a week.

The organization also has direct access to the governmental faction in Congress. There they coordinate with Senator Felix Rojas, Chair of the official faction and Deputy Cesar Navarro, in the lower chamber.

The clout of influence these organizations have over the Morales government is significant. The government itself says it doesn't take any decision without informing the social movements.

In addition, the Conalcam has influence in the public service because the majority of public posts were distributed among the 35 member organizations. This gives Conalcam tremendous operative power.

Finally, the real power is on the streets. The Conalcam has the power to bring people to the streets if the government doesn't do what they want.

The question is, how representative is this or as Toqueville and Mill put it, is this the tyranny of the majority?

October 12, 2008

Coming Back From the Brink... (Republished)

MABB © ®

I wanted to republish this post because at this moment the government and the opposition, this time in Congress, are negotiating the modifications to the Morales constitution. I think these, below, are some of the themes they will be talking about. I don't change the words because I want to preserve the original post, but the enumerated items continue to be important.

I bolded the items being talked about now.

-------------------------------------------------
Coming back from the brink, that is how Bolivia's motto should cry. The, what I called in prior posts, Bolivian roller coaster has hit a new low point and, if history serves us good, the car is on its way up!

Yesterday, the people (MAS supporters) decided to give Santa Cruz (and us) a brake. They decided to lift the two weeks old blockade until this coming Saturday. They'll continue if the opposition Prefects do not sign the latest government offer.

The offer is to modify the Oruro constitution to include the autonomic statutes. The modifications, however, are only in that chapter. No other part of the constitution should be touched.

That must be a tempting offer but one hard to realize, as the Oruro constitution, in the eyes of the opposition, needs a number of improvements (to say it diplomatically).

The issues to be worked out are the following.

At the top are:
1. Land reform
2. The kind of autonomy

The rest:
1. Definition of the state (pluri, multi, kulti, etc.)
2. Constitutional reform (simple majority vs. absolute majority) --- this is in the Bolivian sense
3. Presidential reelection or term
4. Relevance of private property vs. communal property
5. Communal justice
6. Organization of the state




October 11, 2008

Humillados y Ofendidos (Film About the Sucre Disturbances)

MABB © ®

Check these websites or video feeds (however you want to call them). They show parts of the film made by Cesar Brie, director of the Indigenous Theater of the Andes. The film is about the disturbances in Sucre on May 24, 2008.

I haven see the videos so watch them at your own risk because they are supposed to have disturbing scenes. Just wanted to direct you all and after I watch the videos I may post some opinions.

In google video here.

In archivo documental here.

In aol here.

Here you can read an article by the author.

I am sure Youtube also has them.

I am interested in some opinions!

October 09, 2008

Letter to the Editor

MABB © ®

The New York Times published on October 6 an editorial entitled, "Playing into Mr. Morales' Hands"

In it, the Times asks the Bush administration to reconsider its decision to remove Bolivia from the beneficiary country list of the ATPA. It says this move would be "self-defeating" and would mean playing into Mr Morales' hands.

As a kind of response and/or commentary, I wrote a letter to the Editor, which I reproduce here in its entirety.

Letter to the editor – New York Times

A real dilemma – What is the US government to do?

In your editorial, published October 6, 2008 (Playing into Mr. Morales’ hands) you point out the US government’s annoyance with the government of Bolivia. This, due to the, by now, pretty clear unwillingness of Mr. Morales to continue cooperating with the US on the war on drugs. You also point out, that while the Bush administration has been adopting a, in your eyes, more sensitive approach to foreign policy, now its mind has been clouded with the anger stemming from the expulsion of the US Ambassador in Bolivia, P. Goldberg. As a result, you conclude that the US government is playing right into Mr. Morales’ hands and therefore you suggest the government should reconsider its decision.

The question here is not, what the government should do, but rather can it do anything. The US government has been playing into Mr. Morales’ hands since a long time. Mr. Morales is who he is partly because of the US government. Ever since his days as the leader of the Bolivian Coca Growers Union and his countless confrontations against antidrug-enforcing government forces, which were supported by US forces, Mr. Morales defined himself as an enemy of what he determines as the “empire”. Later, as Mr. Morales was running for office in 2002, Ambassador Rocha suggested Bolivian voters not to vote for Morales. Because of those very comments, Morales can candidly joke now about the US being his best campaign manager. As you may well know, those comments help Morales significantly better his polling numbers.

Now that Mr. Morales is in office, his strategy is to play to wide-spread anti American sentiments among Bolivians. He repeatedly defines the US as the empire and therefore as the enemy. Consequent to that strategy, Mr. Morales is trying to show the door, not only to the US Ambassador, but to the US government as well. As you well point out, he has been attacking US policy in the world and in Bolivia, he has launched a series of accusations against Mr. Goldberg suggesting he was involved in efforts to overthrow his government, he has publicly congratulated Coca growers organizations for expulsing USAID from the Chapare region, and he has actively sought to establish relations with states such as Iran, North Korea and Venezuela. It is clear that Mr. Morales wants the US out of Bolivia.

So in light of this situation, what can the US do? It seems to me the US government has his hands tied. It cannot forcefully react against a government where the president has so much symbolism that transcends Bolivia’s borders. It cannot be too soft against a government which uses anti-American sentiment to legitimize itself. What can the US do?

At the moment I see the US government has no alternative other than to play into Mr. Morales’ hands.


Letter to President Morales

MABB © ®

The opinionated Human Rights Foundation (HRF), based in New York, has sent a letter (along with a report about concerns for human rights in Bolivia) to President Morales expressing alarm on the government's attitude towards the opposition and its efforts at silencing it. The letter also, more or less, accuses Morales of inciting violence through his and his government's discourse.

It makes for an interesting (and amusing) read, considering it comes from an international organization. Both the letter and the report are very critical of Morales.

Read the letter to Morales here and you can read the report here. They are in Spanish, sorry no translations.

October 05, 2008

The Political Dialog in Bolivia

MABB © ®
Update:

In this image above, taken from ABI: Left to right, Ernesto Suárez (Beni), Mario Cossío (Tarija), Mario Virreira (Potosí), Luis Aguilar (Oruro); President, Evo Morales, VP, Álvaro García Linera; Pablo Ramos (La Paz), Rafael Puente (Cochabamba), Rubén Costas (Santa Cruz), and Rafael Bandeira (Pando), as they leave the dialog room.



Archenemies, Morales and Costas play it nice and give each other the hand. I'd like to know what is Costas thinking... :-) Morales later expressed his discomfort for having to meet with "those" people.



This is the guy who will siege Congress, Fidel Surco. He is the President of Conalcam (National Coordinating Organization for Change)

---------------------------------------------------------
The political dialog in Bolivia continues today after a week recess. However, Morales has warned that today will be the last day he talks with the opposition. The prefects, either sign his proposal or they sign his proposal. It is that simple.

The opposition, meaning the four prefects, are under great pressure to come to an accord. Nationally, they are being portrayed as the ones who do not want to talk because they don't get what they want. They do not sacrifice for the nation.

The opposition, do not want to continue the dialog because, they argue, the government has violated at least one of the points they agreed at the start of the talks. The government was to stop arresting people in the opposing departments. The government has continued making arrests and bringing people to La Paz jails.

The government is in a position of strength and it is utilizing it to the full extent. It has, on the one side, continued arresting political activists from the opposition, it has continued with its accusation campaign, it has continued to push its supporters to prepare for renewed disturbances and it has continued with the suit against Leopoldo Fernandez, the Prefect of Pando.

Yesterday, Evo Morales, in a speech to the members of Conalcam (The coordinating organization for change) said that the government will continue pushing for its agenda. Morales said that the next steps were:

On October 15, the consideration of the 'approval referendum' in Congress.
On October 13, the Conalcam will start a march towards Congress to siege it in case the opposition was not ready to vote for the law.

Morales wants to have his constitution ready so that in June next year (2009) he can be re-elected and the new congress can be elected.

That way, he can take his office on August 6, 2009.

It seems to me the opposition has some difficult months ahead. It will all depend on how strong the opposition doesn't want to accept the Morales constitution and how far are they prepare to go to stop it.

The way Morales is going ahead, I am afraid we are going to have to continue talking about violence, resistance and perhaps some type of armed confrontation. That is, unless, one of the parties is persuaded to give in.

October 03, 2008

ATPA for Bolivia Seems to Be Heading Out

MABB © ®

Here is an article about the decision taken in the US Senate.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a one-year renewal of longtime U.S. trade benefits for Colombia and Peru, but potentially only a six-month extension for Bolivia and Ecuador.

The emphasis must be placed on the word potentially. It will be left up to the government to include or not Bolivia as beneficiary country.

And for those of you who can read Spanish, here is an article detailing the cross examination process in the suit for the $800.000 suit case Venezuela wanted to contribute to Cristina Fernandez's campaign. What a mess! and what government's do in combination with business owners.

September 30, 2008

Bolivia, the US and the ATPA

MABB © ®

Update:

The US President has to publish his decision of excluding Bolivia of the ATPA on the Federal Register. This is a bureaucratic procedure, not to be evaded! In the FR notice, published on October 1, the government lays out the procedure to be followed to exclude Bolivia. Once the intention has been expressed, the US trade rep has been put on notice, and the notice is published, there needs to be a public hearing to consider comments. This hearing is scheduled for October 23 and will receive comments by way of electronic mail, fax and spoken word.

Opposite to what I was thinking, the President has the discretion to include or exclude any country from the list of beneficiaries. This is, regardless of Congress approving the extension of the ATPA and ATPDEA.

-------------------------------------------
Last week there was extreme alert on Bolivian circles due to the Bush administration's intention to take Bolivia out of the ATPA (Andean Trade Pact Act). There were repeated calls from the part of the Bolivian government directly to the US government to revise its decision and allow Bolivia to continue benefiting from the arrangement. The Bolivian Export Association, on its part, asked the question: Why don't we export more to Venezuela? It tried to answer this question in a national forum which took place in La Paz, last September 26. For the conclusions see the link. In addition, there was a series of reports in the press on how Bolivia did not have an alternative to the ATPA (see La Razon, La Prensa, Los Tiempos, etc.). Over all, the fear is, if the ATPA does not include Bolivia, the manufacturing branches of the economy, such as the textile industry, will loose its markets. With the ATPA, the products can access the US markets without any tariffs. Hard to beat.

However, the black future that was visible yesterday, is a bit brighter today. The reason is the decision of the House of Representatives to pass the extention of the ATPA for one more year, until December 31, 2009. As it is the procedure in the US Congress, the bill will now be considered by the Senate. This is the reason why some on Bolivia are not yet breathing freely. They say that because the Senate is controlled by the Republicans, Bolivia could still be taken out of the benefitiary list.

On the other hand, I tend to argue that the Senate will pass the extension, this time as well, for the same reasons Senator Lugar cites:

"Our trade preferences for Bolivia and Ecuador are important because both countries have elected leaders whose record and rhetoric cast serious doubt on their commitment to market-based economic policies. For this reason, it is important for the United States to maintain a strong relationship with the constructive forces in these countries. We want to encourage those who are working for economic liberalization and reforms that promote foreign investment and the creation of jobs. We want to support those who are pursuing policies that will improve social and economic development in health and education and advance the welfare for the less fortunate. It is in these countries where the effect of greater, and not lesser, engagement will yield the highest long term benefits.

The ability to benefit from trade preferences is difficult in an environment in which the rule of law is coming under severe attack. Both countries are facing challenges on this front, with weakened justice systems that struggle to uphold the law. In this regard, an environment that supports free economic exchange and accountable governance is weakened by the inability of these governments to implement the law.

Both Bolivia and Ecuador have much to gain by focusing on strengthening and depoliticizing the rule of law. Without an improvement on the legal front in these countries, the potential for these trade preferences to serve as development tools is limited.

It is my hope that 10 months from now, when we again address the issue of preferences for the Andean countries, we will be well into the implementation of FTAs with Peru and Colombia and at the same time witnessing an improved commitment in Ecuador and Bolivia to the reforms that are essential to getting the most out of trade preference legislation."

This quote, illustrates, in my opinion, how the US Congress generally feels when it comes to the US-Bolivia relations. There is a general feeling of wanting to engage rather than isolation.

FYI: ATPDEA amended the ATPA. USTR info on ATPA.

September 28, 2008

"Por la Buenas o por las Malas": Bolivia's Morales Shows His True Face

MABB © ®

Bolivia's President, Evo Morales, says his government will push for his Oruro Constitution to be approved "por las buenas o por las malas" (literal translation: by good or by bad). That cannot be litterally translated, but it roughly means that either the ongoing negotiations find a solution (which should be on Morales' terms) or Morales will force the decision by, once again, staging a siege to Congress to force the passing of the law calling for the approval referendum needed now to activate the new constitution.

In a speech given to his bases in Cochabamba, Morales launched a series of attacks, not only towards the opposition, but against the US government as well. In a clear attempt to pressure the opposition to sign an accord, Morales told his base to act in order for the constitution to entern into force. In the same event, the various organizations gathered there decided to start a march to La Paz on October 13. This march will end at the doors of the parliament building and will siege the same and thus force Congress issue a law calling for a referendum to reject or approve the Morales constitution.

In the same speech, Morales continued his accusations agains the US government saying that there was a plan to assasinate him, much the same way Chavez is to be assasinated.

Meanwhile, these attacks have certainly not gone unnoticed by the Bush administration. In sign of a political response, the Bush administration has moved to punish Bolivia by cancelling this country's access to the US market through the ATPDEA.

U.S. moves to suspend trade benefits for Bolivia
Reuters via Yahoo! News Fri, 26 Sep 2008 3:49 PM PDT
U.S. President George W. Bush is moving to suspend longtime U.S. trade benefits for Bolivia because of that country's failure to cooperate in drug-fighting efforts in the past year, the top U.S. trade official said on Friday.

Bush seeks to suspend Bolivia trade benefits
AFP via Yahoo! News Fri, 26 Sep 2008 11:57 AM PDT
US President George W. Bush wants to suspend Bolivia's trade preferences under a US-Andean trade pact rewarding countries that help battle illegal drugs, the White House said Friday.

As a result of this decision, several groups of exporters in Bolivia have expressed their dismay. It is clear, for them, who will be the losing side in this, Bolivian exports.

Meanwhile, the Morales government, by way of its Minister of International Relations, D. Choqueuanca, has asked the US government to reconsider its decision, while it managed to attack it by calling the decision unjust and having the intention to destabilize the Bolivian political situation.

In my opinion it is to be expected that the situation will deteriorate more before it gets better. I think the light we all have seen at the en of the tunnel is, really, that of the oncoming train.

In the mean time, the investigation on what happened in Pando continues. There are new reports saying that six of the 15 people who were killed in Porvenir, Pando, last week were Venezuelan military personnel (see here) (link seems to have been erased, sorry!). The opposition wants to push this issue because it sees in it a valuable tool to counter the government's version of what happened in Porvenir.

September 23, 2008

The Siege to Santa Cruz

MABB © ®

The siege to the city of Santa Cruz is reaching high levels of tension. This siege was put into place by MAS supporters in order to pressure the opposition into an agreement. It consists of road blockades and a gradual march into the city center. As you can see in the below La Razon graph, the blockades close almost all access roads in and out of the city. So far there are no official numbers, but leaders say there are around 20 thousand people and the goal is to increase this number to 50 thousand. The people are armed, not only with sticks, stones and metal bars, but also with fire guns. Old, but functioning, I guess.

This is the latest government strategy to pressure the opposition into an agreement. The people are there with government consent. Interior Minister Rada said there are no plans for the police to intervene.

This is the kind of strategy Bolivia doesn't need at this moment. The government seems to want to bully the opposition into signing the proposal it laid on the negotiating table last weekend. As expected, the opposition did not accept and has now decided to ask for more time.

In the same manner that the opposition managed to bring the government in to the negotiating table. That is, staging those violent demonstrations and the occupation of public buildings, the government now wants to force an agreement by closing up the city of Santa Cruz.

One doesn't need to be a rocket scientist to know this way of negotiating will not work.

See below links to some international reactions:

South American leaders to meet on Bolivia crisis
Reuters via Yahoo! News Mon, 22 Sep 2008 3:14 PM PDT
Leaders from several South American nations will meet in New York this week to discuss resolving the political crisis in impoverished Bolivia, Chilean Foreign Minister Alejandro Foxley said on Monday.

After Violence, U.S. Role in Bolivia Questioned
OneWorld.net via Yahoo! News Mon, 22 Sep 2008 4:21 PM PDT
NEW YORK, Sep 22 (OneWorld) - As tensions remain high between government and opposition in Bolivia, where more than 30 people have been killed in politically motivated attacks in recent days, a group of Latin America experts are calling for Washington to clarify its engagement in the internal affairs of Bolivia.

U.S. Diplomat Tells Why He Was Ousted From Bolivia
Newsweek Mon, 22 Sep 2008 3:10 PM PDT
Q&A: An ousted U.S. diplomat says that Bolivia and other Latin American countries are distancing themselves from the direction that the rest of the world is taking.

LDS missionaries leave Bolivia
Deseret Morning News Mon, 22 Sep 2008 4:36 PM PDT
The LDS Church announced Tuesday that some 102 North American missionaries serving in Bolivia have been transferred to Peru in the wake of political unrest within the Bolivian government.

Burton battles to box out Bolivia
The Herald-Press Mon, 22 Sep 2008 10:27 AM PDT
Congressman Dan Burton (R-Indiana) issued the following statement recently asking his colleagues in the House of Representatives to refuse extending the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) exclusively to the county of Bolivia while continuing the ATPDEA program to the countries of Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador.

September 21, 2008

The Negotiations Move Ahead in Bolivia

MABB © ®

The negotiations between the central government and the opposition, embodied by the Prefects of Santa Cruz, Beni, Tarija, Sucre and representatives of the major political forces with representation in Congress, are moving ahead. The latest word is that they are close to an agreement on the devolution to the Prefectures of tax revenue coming from the natural gas exports (IDH). This tax revenue had been taken away from the regional governments with the argument that the funds were to finance a pension scheme for seniors, called Renta Dignidad (Dignity Rent). The government as well as the opposition are in agreement in principle. They agree the pension scheme should remain in effect. They also agreed that the Prefectures should get back some or all of the revenue taken away. However, that is it. That is the agreement. The details of how to keep financing it need to be worked out.

Most likely, in my opinion, some part of the IDH will still be used to finance the pension. The rest, will have to return to the regional governments. That is a compromise I see coming up. Morales has no other argument to keep those revenues. At least, non that I know of.

The most difficult agreement will be on the kind of autonomy to design and whether this will mean a change on the text of the Morales' constitution. In principle, all of Morales' bases (supporters) are against any change on the Oruro constitution. But, when the details are worked out on the autonomy issue, it might be necessary to modify some of the text. Of course, the government might also offer to instate another law ironing all the details, but I really doubt the opposition will take this because it will mean they'll have to trust the government once more. I don't think the opposition is ready to trust the government.

Going into a bit more detail, some of the tricky issues are the kind of competencies each level of government will get. More specific, in what areas will the regional governments have complete discretion and in what others will there be shared responsibility. When you take a good look at the Santa Cruz statute, the list of attributions is very long. In some areas, it takes the central government, or shall I say national government this time, out of the picture. One of these areas is the police. In Santa Cruz, the police is dependent of the regional government and not from the national government any more. This is just to illustrate the kind of issues we are talking about here.

One potential problem I see here is the absence of the municipalities. Considering this level of government received a great deal of autonomy through the decentralization process, the kinds of things being negotiated currently, at times, touches on some of the competencies the municipalities have. I am fairly sure that after some compromise reached by the two parties negotiating now some one will shout foul. That seems to be how things are done in Bolivia.

The only hope is that the people who are negotiating are keeping this governmental level in mind. Otherwise, it would be a step backwards for the decentralizaiton process.

September 19, 2008

The Dialogue

MABB © ®

As a way to illustrate the dialogue I am borrowing these pictures from the Ministry of Communications.




This is how it looks in the negotiating table. On the first image, Morales is at the head and the Prefects on his right. The second image shows, from r. to l. Savina Cuellar (Sucre), Ruben Costas (Santa Cruz), Mario Cossio (Tarija) and Ernesto Suarez (Beni). The third image shows the international witnesses (anyone who can identify these and others in the images please do).





Other players are: On the first image we have Carlos Romero (Assembly Member) and ..... On the second image we have Garcia (VP) and Luis Alberto Arce (Min. of Finances). On the fourth picture you can see the Catholic Church.

As said it before, if you could identify them the better!

September 17, 2008

Dialogue, at Last?

MABB © ®

Yes, the government and the opposition have agreed on principles which will be conducive to some sort of dialogue. The talks are supposed to be based on various bases for dialogue, the reinstating of social peace and the starting of the dialogue process. Some of the topics to be touched are: the direct taxes to natural gas (IDH, for its Bolivian meaning), autonomy for the departments and their statutes, the new constitution, the nomination of various political posts (judges and authorities in the electoral court), and a revision to the voter registration list. The agreement also talks about involving international mediators such as the OAS, the EU, UN, UNASUR and the Catholic Church.

After reading the document and considering the way it is written, I am surprised the government accepted it as it is. It seems the government has compromised a lot and is willing to negotiate seriously. At least, that is how it looks on paper. I want to give the government the benefit of the doubt (based on prior behavior) and wait.

Meanwhile, for those who cannot have enough about Bolivia I post this link where you can see many videos of the recent events in Bolivia. The site is called LatAm Blog.

Enjoy!

September 14, 2008

Bolivia Update!

MABB © ®

This image I found in El Deber shows that the situation in Bolivia is scarily resembling more and more a civil war. For more of these images visit El Deber and scroll down to the bottom of the page.

On the back of these images, we can see a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. The Conalde (Consejo Nacional Democratico) and the government have started a dialogue and they are set to come to some sort of agreement today Sunday, September 14. The issues talked were the suspension of the martial law, the return of the infrastructure taken from occupied government offices, the IDH (natural gas taxes), constitutional reform and autonomy. Let's just hope they make sure that light is not an oncoming train!

On the part of the opposition, the particular topics to be negotiated are: The autonomy process, the devolution of the IDH to the Prefectures, to avoid the discount of all the costs the recent disturbances caused on government offices. Mario Cossio, chief negotiator and Prefect of Tarija, said that the repeal of the martial law and other measures the government might want to use, such as the encarceration of the Pando Prefect, Leopoldo Fernandez, will have to be included.

On the part of the government the agenda should look like this: The discussion over the Oruro constitution, the IDH and the financing of the Dignity Rent (Renta Dignidad), the autonomic processes and the suspension of all the pressure measures.

There seems to be a consensus of using international mediators.

Meanwhile, the lower chamber in Congress keeps on going ahead with the consideration of the bill submitted by Morales and has done the necessary modifications to the electoral law in order for this bill to be sent to the Senate. This work is still going on, even though this is the very problem that started the latest disturbances. This shows the government is serious on its course of change.

In addition, Morales launched in Cochabamba his campaign to approve his constitution amidst the violence still developing in Pando.

There is no clear path to be observed that tells us how the government is moving. I think these, at times very contradictory, signals from the part of the government are contributing greatly to the escalation of the conflict in Bolivia.