June 26, 2008

The Situation in Bolivia

MABB © ®

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.