August 09, 2008

It's All About Strategy

MABB © ®

The latest events going on in Bolivia are nothing more than strategic moves from the two antagonist parties to attain the upper hand in this power struggle.

The crisis Bolivia is undergoing can also be explained (in my opinion) in terms of political strategies.
The central government and the opposition are playing a dangerous game. On the one side, the government is betting all its cards on the recall referendum. The strategy was, according to my analysis, to take full advantage of this 'mistake' from the part of the opposition in Congress and so consolidate, if not power, at least support and legitimacy for its plans.

The first step was going to be passing of the recall referendum law. As this suddenly happen in May, the Morales government readily accepted the 'challenge' and embarked on step two. What was to follow is pretty much logical. The government started its massive campaign by first filling the party's coffers with funds. These funds were primarily collected by way of mandatory contributions from party members. In addition, the government machinery tapped on the bureaucratic mass (be it MAS supporter or not, people had to contribute to keep their jobs). Also, as if that was not enough, Morales made no effort to conceal the use of the Chavez checks for campaigning purposes.

At the same time, Morales was working on a new bill that was going to cut state funding for political campaign purposes for political parties (a sort of campaign reform). That, in addition, to having cut funding for the departamental prefectures by eliminating the natural gas taxes (IDH in Spanish), which benefited these regional governments. This way, he has going to leave the opposition without funding, while he had a coffer full of bills.

The next step was going to be the campaign. This, a mixture of political proselytism and presidential obligations, was going to take (and did take him) Morales all over Bolivia to spread his message and seek support for re-election by speaking and giving away not only money but also projects, ambulances, schools, police cars, etc.

The effect was going to be to create an image of a dynamic president who is in touch with Bolivians and knew all their problems. At the same time, he would have brought material solutions and hope for his re-election.

On the other side, the opposition played its cards pretty well too and it even showed it had a couple of jokers on hand.

The first thing the opposition did was to put in doubt the legality of the recall referendum. In a seemingly coordinated attack, some deputies started legal actions against the bill and took these claims to the highest court, the Constitutional Tribunal. This knowing there was not possiblity for this instance to give a solution to the problem. However, these attacks were effective insofar as to really call to attention the legal weaknesses of the law. This was to the extent to forcing the national electoral court (CNE) to change the bill.

While this was going on, the opposition prefects agreed and refused to participate in the referendum, adding thus an element of confusion to the whole process. For example, Ruben Costas and Mario Cossio, change opinion more than once. The newly elected Sucre prefect, Savina Cuellar, said she was against the referendum, even though she was not going to participate.

There was also a coordinated attack to the process. Many opposition actors alleged the voting registration process to be prone to fraud. There were a number of people who publically called attention to the participation of Venezuelans in the process to give free ids and that the lists were fraudulent by having a number of irregularities. For example, it was alleged that in thousand of cases, one person had many id numbers. Of course, the government tried to defend its free id program, but the publicity left a shadow over the whole affair.

Finally, few weeks before the recall referendum on August 10, the opposition mobilized, if not coodinated, it was surprisingly at the same time. A wave of protests placed the government on the defense and disrupted all its plans. The protests included the opposition prefects, the civic committees, and to much surprise some organizations supporters of MAS. For example, the worker's union, the union for handicapped people, and miners staged protests and road blocks against the government.

This wave of protests disrupted the government plans and its campaign, and it also managed to tarnish Morales' image. As you may already know, last Tuesday there were confrontations between miners in Oruro and police foreces. The result was two people dead and over 40 people injured. Also, Morales could not get to some cities in Beni, Pando, and Tarija. In the latter, he was going to meet with the presidents of Venezuela and Argentina to sign some cooperation agreements and give some gifts. Disturbances forced the cancelation of this meeting and provided a draw back for his campaign.

Now, one day before the recall referendum, Morales is looking weaker and, at times, defeated.

At this point in time, I can say, however, that this will not change much the outcome of the referendum nor what will follow afterwards. I think, Morales will not get recalled. He still has more than enough support to survive. Now, some prefects might get recalled, such as Jose Luis Paredes from La Paz. But, the main opposition actors, Costas, Cossio, Fernandez and Cuellar, will still be there. I even think Manfred Reyes Villa will survive. If these people are still there, not much will be changed. They have said, they will continue with the opposition for Morales.

One indication is what has just happened in Santa Cruz. The province has just approved a law (regional law) allowing for elections of the newly created departmental assembly (also known as departmental council). This is significant, because it shows that Santa Cruz WILL continue moving towards autonomy, whether Morales and his supporters want it or not. And, if one province does it, why not the other ones?

It all points out to a further polarization of the situation and, what is more, a further radicalization of actions from the part of the opposition. Do they have any other choice?