June 30, 2008

Savina Cuellar is Elected Prefect in Sucre

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On Sunday, June 29, 2008, the department of Sucre (Chuquisaca) elected, once again, its head of government (Prefect). Savina Cuellar, the candidate backed by the civic organizations in Sucre city and running under the party Alianza Comite Interinstitucional - Movimiento Popular Ciudadano (ACI-MPC) , which roughly translates to Inter-institutional Alliance Committee - Popular Citizen Movement, won the elections. She got 55 % of the vote while her opponent, Walter Valda (MAS), got 45 % of the vote. This places Sucre squarely in the opposition camp. However, it is necessary to highlight that Cuellar won in the urban areas, and the MAS candidate won in the rural areas. Nevertheless, this is a loss for the central government.

More results can be seen here.

Savina Cuellar's goals are to bring back the seat of government to Sucre and to further autonomy for Sucre.

What an agenda!

June 28, 2008

USAID and the US Are Being Kicked Out of Bolivia

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The diplomatic relations between Bolivia and the US have turned sour. The latest development was the (virtual) expulsion of USAID (the development agency) from the Chapare region in Cochabamba. As I posted earlier, coca growers in that region "invited" USAID to get out. Wisely, USAID heard and took the invitation.

As you may realize, this is not a good development in the diplomatic relations between Bolivia and the US. The American government must be, to say the least, worried about these developments. Although, it doesn't show, but I am guessing it must be.

What is worrisome is the showing complacence from the part of the Bolivian government with these actions. This is to the extent that Morales has congratulated the coca growers for their actions against USAID and has also invited the US government to leave Bolivia.

The US government has taken these words as unfriendly and worrisome.

At this point, the question arises: What will happen to the US-Bolivia relations?

On my part, I think it is a significant defeat for the US. One, because it shows their diplomacy is not working. Two, because any loss of contact with a country like Bolivia will be a bad signal from the US vis-a-vis the world. Countries around the world are like investors looking and analyzing each and every move the US is making. Three, it contributes to the bad image the US currently has in the world. This is one thing, I am sure, the US government is working against. Four, the US government does not want to loose support in the region (in this case contact). It must be afraid of the domino effect it might represent. Other people around the region might decide that is a good way to proceed. I see what is happening in Bolivia as a very low point in American diplomacy.

I have to add, it might even be due to the little importance the American government has placed in the region.

I am not sure this might even be good for Bolivia. Granted I consider this move by Morales has placed Bolivia in a position of relative strength, cutting off diplomatic relations with the biggest donor, might not be the smartest thing to do. The Morales government says they prefer receiving help from Europe than the US. I am sure, the people in the government has seen how much comes from the EU and how much help from the US. Need I say more?

For the time being, the relations are very tense and, I would say, there is a tendency to get even worst. The government's comments are not the most conciliatory!

June 26, 2008

The Situation in Bolivia

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It seems as though the political situation in Bolivia is remaining tense, and is not letting up as it is quasi the norm in this roller coaster of politics. Currently, there seems to be, at least some people allege, some actions being taken by the government, which might not be conducive to mitigating the tension.

For starters, the June 29 Prefect elections in Sucre has proven, once again, a battle field to measure political force between the opposition and the government. The two leading candidates, Sabina Cuellar, who is backed by the Inter institutional Committee, and Walter Valda, who runs under the MAS banner, have been campaigning vigorously. Both campaigns have been marred with accusations, incrimination, name calling, and plenty of interference by the government and the opposition. It has been repeatedly alleged that the government, and not the party, has been financing this campaign. The MAS candidate, Valda, was appointed Prefect by President Morales, after the prior elected Prefect, David Sanchez, stepped down due to the disturbances which ended with two demonstrators killed back in August 2007.

A second allegation, says that the coca growers association, need I remind everybody this is the political bases of MAS, has decided to stop receiving help and working with the American foreign aid organization, USAID. They accuse this agency of working to topple Morales from power by financing opposition groups. In recent weeks, union members started taking off the various signs indicating the work USAID does in that region. At the same time, they asked USAID to get out of that region. This week, USAID heard the message and took all its personnel out of the Chapare region. On June 17, while giving a speech in Caranavi, Morales called on to coca growers not to work with USAID anymore. Apparently, the people heard Morales' message and USAID is being practically expelled out that region.

The most damaging allegation to date has to do with a recent event. A bombing of the Channel 4 building in Yacuiba, raised serious speculation about the government being involved in some less to be desired activities. In the early hours of June 22 (the day of Tarija's autonomic referendum) there was an explosion outside of Yacuiba's Channel 4, causing substantial damage. Shortly thereafter, a military officer was captured by the police. After interrogation and preliminary investigation, it was confirmed this officer was working in the office of the Presidency. The investigation is till going on, but the opposition was quick to jump in as well. It turns out that the police found some fire arms and bomb making material in the car of this officer. The item that stands out is an AK-47, which a high commander of the Army confirmed the military was using. However, he (nor the military institution) can say how did these guns came to be circulated in the Bolivian armed forces. According to this commander, he cannot explain why are there around 10,000 of these guns and no records of how were they obtained.

One leader of the opposition has started making numbers and has alleged that the government has to do with this. He remembers that back in 2005 Hugo Chavez acquired about 100,000 AK-47s from the Russians. Back then, this action prompted Rumsfeld to ask himself why did Venezuela need these guns for and what would be the implications for South America's security. Now, this opposition leader has tied the knots and alleges that those rifles come from Chavez and that is why there is no record in the Senate's arms committee, when there should be one.

While the government is busy trying to dispel every accusation thrown at it and the opposition is busy throwing everything it can at the government, the crisis at hand remains latent. The next important date intensifying this crisis so far is August 10. This is when the recall referendum is supposed to happen. However, the media luna Prefects (or should I say Governors now) have announced they will not take part in it. Added to this, is the decision to stop all negotiations (or dialog, as Bolivians call it) from the part of the government, until after the recall referendum.

In addition, there are still the legal matters concerning the last four autonomic referenda and the constitution passed in Oruro. All these legal matters have yet to be considered by the relevant legal court. And that might just be one significant problem. At present time, the Supreme Justice and the Constitutional Court are frozen without quorum. Judges have to be appointed by Congress, and up to now, it hasn't been able to do it. This inertia at the highest levels of the legal system has been a major deficit to solve.

The latter point has to be one of the contributors to the prolonged crisis in Bolivia. The lack of a government branch in charge of interpreting the law makes many legal matters fall in a legal gray zone. This might even be an incentive for the current political actors not to try to fix this problem. It gives them flexibility, because at this time, they are the ones interpreting the laws.

June 23, 2008

The Referendum in Tarija

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The press is reporting a telling win of the "yes" vote in the Tarija autonomic referendum, carried out yesterday, Sunday, June 22. According to the reports, which are based on exit polls (the official results will take longer) over 80% of Tarijenos voted to accept the autonomic statutes, and a little less than 20% said no to them. This time, the abstention rate hovered around 35%.

The event took place with little trouble, contrary to the prior three referenda.

The significance is that now the government has one more province on the record, saying loud and clear, "we want autonomy". This has weakened the government's position. And is contributing to an even weaker position. Now, the provinces of Cochabamba and Sucre, have decided to go on with their own referenda to approve their own statutes. This is most likely to happen in the next months.

June 22, 2008

The Autonomic Referendum in Tarija

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The autonomic referendum in Tarija is underway as I type these lines. So far there are no reports of violence, other than road blocks in and around the towns of Yacuiba and Bermejo. The blocks however, are not necessarily and/or exclusively related to MAS supporters. The problem in Yacuiba is twofold. The first problem arises from the MAS supporters refusing to allow the vote to take place in the town. The second problem arises from the discrepancy with the prefectural government. The town wants (and has, last weekend) to elect its own head of the local government, and the Prefecture does not want to recognize this. In fact last weekend, the town elected Marcial Rengifo as the town's new head of local government, known as Subprefecto. This vote has its own problems, because it was not organized by the regional electoral agency, but then again, similar problems has todays referendum. So, intead of delving into details, I will limit myself to just reporting the facts.

As I said, I have not hear of any significan violence, much like in Santa Cruz, going on and so far even the in the problem towns the vote is taking place.

Yacuiba has been however the center of news these last weeks. Just yesterday there was an bomb attack on the offices of the local Channel 4 (Red Unitel). To the detriment of the central government, which was busy acusing two young men of trying to assassinate the President, the perpetrators of the bombing got into a car accident as they tried to get away. According to reports, one of them escaped, while the driver was found unconcious behind the wheel. The police, after investigating, found the car loaded with weapons, munitions, and other materials which indicated they could be used to cause material damages. In addition, the driver "confessed" that he set up the bomb, that he worked in the Office of the Presidency, and that he was there accompanied with a busload of young people from the Santa Cruz Plan 3000 neighborhood. The latter is a neighborhood where Morales and MAS has majority support. On top of that, one reporter from La Razon, called the Office of the Presidency confirming thus the alleged perpetrator worked there.

At the same time, and as I reported last week, the miners in Potosi are increasing their violent acts to force the government to exempt them from making them pay taxes. Yesterday, they have attacked various local government buildings, including the offices of the regional electoral court, the Prefecture building and the offices of the tax agency. They occupated the offices of the regional electoral court and detonated dynamite destroying its facade; they vandalized many offices in the Prefecture and they burned offices in the local tax agency's building.

June 19, 2008

Update on Bolivia

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The temperature in Bolivia seems to be rising, even though the thermometer is showing single digits. This rise in temperature is due to the political climate, which seems to come in waves.

At present time, there is a high-tide of new and old problems, which seem to be making life in the government more difficult. To start, the Tarija autonomic referendum is fast approaching. This sunday, the 22nd., Tarija will vote on whether to approve or reject their autonomic statutes. The expectations is that the approval for the statutes will not be as overwhelming as in Santa Cruz, but they'll be clear enough, in and around the 70s percentage points. Perhaps the participation factor will be a bit better than in Santa Cruz.

This situation is very uncomfortable for the government. For that reason, the government has been trying to go to Tarija to show presence. Morales was due to visit the city of Tarija to meet with his supporters, so he can give them ambulances and one of those checks donated, generously, by the Venezuelan government. However, diverse groups have called on the government not to show itself in Tarija, especially right before the 22nd. So, as Morales announced his visit, these groups gathered around the airport and literally prevented the president to land there, forcing him to cancel his trip. This is not the first time nor the first place where Morales is banned from visiting. He has been prevented to visit places like Santa Cruz, Sucre, Villa Montes, Pailon, etc., and he has been declared persona non grata in Pando and Beni, as well. So much is the impact of these events, that the government itself has started to talk about using other "measures" to guarantee the president's free mobility within the country.

Aside from that, there is a problem brewing in Potosi. As you might have already read in my prior post, miners and transport workers in Potosi have been protesting calling on the government to stop an attempt to make these two groups to pay more taxes. As you may know, they were staging road blocks and demonstrating in the main square in Potosi. Now, this problem has spread to Cochabamba, where the heavy wight transport workers have started a road block with the same aims at their counterparts in Potosi. The government, up to now, has been adamant on making these two groups contribute to the budget.

In addition, there is a 24 hour strike declared in Pando to force the government to reconsider the cut on province transfers. Pando argues that many investment projects cannot be continued because the money is just not there.

These are hard times for the government. Hardest of all, will be this coming 22nd of June.

June 18, 2008

Interview With Shannon, About Bolivia

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This is a link to an interview with Thomas Shannon in Washington, DC by La Razon. It touches on the issue of the current relations between the two countries. Interesting, not only the answers but also the questions.

Sorry, only in Spanish. Anyone care to translate it?

Evo Morales' answer:

“No es posible que el llamado movimiento campesino cocalero esté detrás de Usaid, enemigos centrales de nuestra lucha, enemigos externos de la hoja de coca, enemigos del movimiento campesino, de los movimientos sociales. Nos han acusado de terroristas y no es posible que nuestros compañeros ex dirigentes y actuales dirigentes estén detrás de Usaid, cuando Usaid hace campaña permanente contra Evo, contra el Gobierno y contra el cambio”, afirmó.

This a quote from an article looking at the government's attacks to the USA.

June 17, 2008

Trouble in Potosi

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There are reports that the prefecture of Potosi has been taken over by protesting miners.

In the last few days there has been brewing a problem in Potosi. Miners and heavy transport workers have been demonstrating in the main square and blocking roads to pressure the government not to go ahead with a bill, which would make them pay additional taxes. These two factions have been pressuring the government for some time now.

The situation has been worsened due to the Potosi campesinos, who have vowed to open up the roads, even if they have to use force.

Things have worsened now, because according to some people who live in Potosi, the miners who were demonstrating in the main square, have taken over the prefecture or government building.

More detailed reports later....

June 14, 2008

Sorry to Hear Tim Russert Passed Away. May He RIP.

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The Recall Referendum

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While the recall referendum might have been a surprising and politically calculated move by one side of the opposition to prevent the government in its efforts to consolidate its power, it might end up helping the central government anyway.

The recall referendum, which is scheduled to take place on August 10 and is when the president, vicepresident and prefects will submit themselves to be recalled from their offices, was signed into law May 12, 2008. This was possible because the bill, which was introduced by Morales in December 2007, was approved by the opposition controlled Senate by surprise. Right after the vote, some senators argued that they approved the bill to prevent the government to pass its constitution in a special session, where the opposition was supposed to be left out.

The plebiscite stipulates that for any incumbent to be recalled, the vote against them must be higher than what they received in the last elections. In that manner, for example, for Morales to be recalled, at least, 54% of the people have to vote to remove him from power. That is the case for each of the prefects as well. These are very general conditions for Morales because his approval rating is well above 54%.

The danger is on the prefects of the opposition. Some of which, for example the prefects of La Paz, Pando and Cochabamba, are not sure they will be able to stand the test.

As the graph above shows, these prefects are in particular trouble. Jose Luis Paredes, prefect of La Paz, has to fight for his political survival in the most hostile territory for a member of the opposition. The department of La Paz is a stronghold of MAS. In particular, the city of El Alto along with the rural areas, are the places where the most staunch MAS supporters live. The department of Cochabamba, in particular, the Chapare region, is where the bases of MAS are found. Although, Manfred Reyes Villa, will argue that during his tenure, over 90% of the investment plan was executed. Finally, Pando prefect Leopoldo Fernandez, has a credibility and trust problem with the indigenous peoples from his department.

I differ with the inclusion of Mario Cossio in this graph, because I think Tarija is entirely in the opposition and as thus it will support Cossio.

The government, on its part, is already rubbing its hands and busy campaigning for what they call, the "si" vote. The "yes" vote is for Morales to continue in office. For example, it has implemented a "voluntary" but controlled, contribution from salaries to the MAS campaign. The MAS parliamentarians, Senators and Deputies, are "voluntary contributing" 50% of their salaries (BOB 10,500, $US 1,453). From the bureaucratic posts the party is expecting from 10% (from lower posts) to 50% (from higher posts). The latter are also "voluntary", but reports say that these "contributions" are controlled with lists. They are not direct deductions from the paychecks, as is the case in parliament. The party calls these, "political investment".

In addition, the government has suspended the negotiations with the opposition, destined to find a way out of this crisis, until after the recall fererendum. Apparently, the government doesn't see the need to talk with the opposition anymore until the referendum is carried out.

In itself, the referendum is being questioned by the two sides. The government, on the one side, questions the partiality of the departmental braches of the electoral court. In question are the departmental electoral courts of Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni, and Tarija. These are the courts which are overseeing the referendums on autonomic statutes. On the other side, the opposition forces see the newly appointed president of the National Electoral Court (CNE), Mr. Exeni, as partial with the government. The Cochabamba prefect, Reyes Villa, has sent a letter to Exeni expressing his opinion that while Exeni is president of the CNE, there will not be fair elections.

All these while some other members of the opposition are questioning the value of the referendum at all. The argument is that after the referendum, things will be the same way they are now. There will not be any changes.

For now, the referendum is on schedule, but for how long?

June 03, 2008

What's Happening to the Rule of Law in Bolivia?

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I am reading this report from La Razón and I cannot believe my eyes. Simultaneously, I am having horrendous flash backs.

The Minister of Government, Alfredo Rada, is talking, as if it were something natural, about the arrest of a person (a sucrense activist) with some "special unit of the national security forces" (alone the name gives me the creeps).

It turns out that the government has apprehended this person without an arrest warrant and its holding him, not in Sucre, where he lives, but in La Paz. This operation was not conducted by the police, but by the security forces or intelligence (as Bolivians like to call these groups). These people are not police officers and do not wear uniforms.

Rada alleges that the prisoner was involved in various criminal activities.

Here is the article.

What I find scary is that this guy (Rada) does not find problematic to arrest someone without an arrest warrant, by people dressed as civilians and then transports the person to another place other than the city where he lives.

June 02, 2008

The Referenda in Beni and Pando

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The referenda in Beni and Pando (the northern most provinces of Bolivia) have reached the 80% of acceptance for the autonomic statutes. However, absenteeism is notable.

In Beni, absenteeism was 35% and in Pando, over 46%.

These results, added to the Santa Cruz ones, should be read as a political maneuver to mount leverage against the weight of the government for the inevitable negotiations that have to come, if this problem is to be ever solved.

Next up on June 22 is Tarija.

With that, all the departments who voted yes on the autonomic question in the June 2006 referendum will have confirmed their desire to move towards a more autonomous Bolivia.