August 11, 2008

Morales Wins and so do the Prefects

MABB © ®

The latest projections, which are taken as semi official in Bolivia and the world, show Morales being re-confirmed in office by 63% of the people (graphs are from La Razon). In addition, five of the eight Prefects are confirmed as well and three are recalled. As exit polls indicated, the Prefects who will keep their jobs are: Costas (with 67%), Cossio (with 64%), Virreira (with 76%), Suarez (with 61%) and Fernandez (with 56%). The recalled Prefects are: Paredes (with 42%), Aguilar (with 45%) and Reyes (with 39%).

It is interesting to highlight that Morales was recalled in four out of nine regions: Sucre, Beni, Tarija and Santa Cruz.

And also, Morales lost support in urban areas versus rural areas, where the core of his support is strong. What is surprising in the above graph is that the urban recall vote in Cochabamba wasn't higher. The rest I could have imagined it myself.

Just out of curiosity, the last graph shows how Paredes was recalled. He was so confident he would be reconfirmed because of his work for La Paz. I saw him in Coroico in May and he said people know he is making a lot of improvements for La Paz and people will recognize that. At the same time, the government was beginning a massive campaign against him. Did that work?

When you look at the graph, you notice he was just barely approved in urban areas. I think here El Alto played a decisive role in recalling him. Even though he is from El Alto, people there have little sympathy for him.

Now, what does this all mean? Here are my two cents...

I agree with the majority of verdicts, this result is a draw. The referendum changed very little of the situation. Yes, the President came out with some more support, but so did the Prefects in the opposition. Some of them came out swinging. This means the two sides will keep on pressing their agendas. The President will keep on trying to approve his constitution and the Prefects will keep on deepening their autonomic processes. They have already said so.

What will change is that the departments of La Paz and Cochabamba will be on Morales' side now. Since he can appoint the new Prefects, until there is a new elections at least, I imagine he will be appointing bold supporters. The prefecture of La Paz I see going to someone from the El Alto supporting organizations, and in Cochabamba will be someone from the coca growers union, I take.

Aside from that, the two sides will have to do what they should have done from the beginning: talk. Morales has to be prepared to compromise in some aspects and forget about trying to push the changes he is trying to push. The deeper the differences, the harder it will be for Morales to drive through his revolution.


Anonymous said...

Thats a good blog ... loved the charts and the summary

Gringo said...

Ditto good summary. Both Morales and Chavez poll better in the countryside than they do in the cities.

Similarly or by contrast- take your pick- in the US Republicans poll better than Democrats in rural areas. Which is why those red/blue maps show a predominance of red when there is a fairly even split between Democrat and Republican votes. (Why Republicans became Red and Democrats blue is another issue.)

Looks like continued conflict in Bolivia.

mabb said...

I think there is a fairly good explanation for that. In Bolivia, at least.

Morales has been taking full advantage of the perks Chavez has given him. He has been traveling everywhere like a US presidential candidate two weeks before an election. That might have been a reason why the Puma helicopter crashed down. Too much use.

His objective was to reach the four corners of the Bolivian country side. He always made sure he was taking Venezuelan checks and some goodies such as ambulances, police cars, plans for schools, etc.

He paid little attention to urban areas, with the exception of El Alto and La Paz, of course.

I suspect, in the country side, people are more susceptible to like someone who brings gifts, right?

Whereas, in the US, I would argue, people in rural areas tend to be more conservative and that is why they tend to vote republican.

You remind me of something curious I noticed in the US when on the road. As soon as I would leave the DC metro area, there was an overwhelming presence of country music over the radio waves. It was very noticeable, especially in this area. I say that because I always associated conservative with country music. Even when I was going to the beach. :-)

Daniel said...

Thank you for your posts.

Indeed, the similarities of voting pattern between Venezuela and Bolivia are amazing and even amplified as Boliva is way more rural than Venezuela. I can see that Chavez and CNE advice were carefully followed by Evo.

When I read the details you offer us this morning, I am more confident that Recall Elections are a waste of time. I think the mistake of Evo was to want to get too much: by wanting to get rid of local Prefects at the same time the only thing he gained was a bigger stalemate. Had he only put his job on the table, with a 63% today he would be basking in the limelight, able to push his constitution once and for all. But now his 63% is of no rel use except ensuring he will finish his term.

Do you think that Chavez advised him on putting all jobs on the table?

GS said...

I agree with gringo. For those interested in some stability in Bolivia, this was the worst possible outcome of the referendum because it only increased the polarization. Now both Evo and the opposition prefects can rightly claim to have a mandate. There are two roads available now for both groups: negotiate a mutually-agreed upon way ahead or dig in heels, put heads down, and push forward.

Great summary, MABB. Thanks.

mabb said...

I don't think Chavez advised him on that. I can't think of Chavez wanting to put his job up for recall. Although, one has to consider, he is in a different situation than Morales. Chavez was shrewd enough to consolidate his power soon enough.

I think the people who advised him were the people around him. He needed to do something and his hope was to weaken (if not getting rid of altogether) the opposition. I think his strategy was to beat them in the campaign. He was trying to take away financing for political parties, he did take away funds from the Prefectures and he had a pretty solid campaign machinery in place. He only needed to take his message and his Vene-dollars all over Bolivia.

However, he forgot about the civic committees. These organizations are not governmental nor political parties. They are self subsisting organizations and they are pretty powerful. These people were the ones who did not let him fly all over. They would show up in the places where he was supposed to arrive and do everything to disrupt the plan. That is why he could not take his message where he wanted.

Another thing that disturbed his plans was the media coverage. Because of the many attempts to the freedom of the press, Morales is distrusted by the media. That is why they are very critical of his actions. Some newspapers were conducting a pretty strong anti-Evo campaign coming up to election day. The interesting thing is that feeling is pretty much general. It is not just a couple of newspapers who are doing this.

mabb said...

Yes, I agree this might have been the worst possible outcome, but I'd also add that it was the most likely outcome.

If you take a look at the possibilities, Morales wasn't going to be recalled and neither Costas, Fernandez, and Cossio, the core of the opposition provinces.

Of course the most desirable outcome might have been that ALL would go away! :-)

GS said...

but I'd also add that it was the most likely outcome.

Surely who ever came up with the idea to have a referendum in which the president and all the prefects were going to be on the docket considered the possibility that all sides would win and, therefore, all positions could become even more entrenched. I agree with you that this was probably the most likely outcome. So, was this by design, then? If so, to what purpose? What were the worse alternatives that drove the parties to agree to this design?

mabb said...

Was it by design? I don't know. I don't think so. The government seemed to be wanting this.

I think the events unfolded just by chance. What many people are still asking themselves is why did the Senate, after having blocked the law for so many months, surprisingly decided to pass it without revision?

I personally think this was due to internal opposition differences. At the time (in April and May) the opposition Senators (Podemos) and the Prefects were having disagreements about how to engage the government in dialogue and they were being heavily lobbied by the government.

All of the sudden, the Senators flipped over and passed the law without revisions, as is. Just the way Morales had sent it. Even Morales himself was surprised, I learned afterwards.

One Senator gave a vague excuse. He said, the government was getting ready to siege Congress and pass the law without the opposition's presence. As it had done before to move the Constitutional Assembly out of Sucre.

Gringo said...

Daniel-Venezuela posted on the referendum. He makes some good points against recall referendums. Read and find out.

One question. Daniel compares Bolivia to the US 1859-1860, and talks about the army splitting up were there separation or military action against the Media Luna. A Chapaco I worked with in the US told me that the officer corp was disproportionately from the Altiplano, which would tend to support any future military action against the Media Luna. Comments?

GS said...

Daniel compares Bolivia to the US 1859-1860, and talks about the army splitting up were there separation or military action against the Media Luna.

Seems to me to be a ridiculous comparison. The political realities are significantly different. To my understanding, no one save perhaps a radical fringe in the Media Luna is calling for secession. No prefects or National Deputies or Senators from the Media Luna are calling for session. Without secession, there is no reason for the Army to be deployed to "take" anything back. Sans such an action, there is no reason to think that the Bolivian military would fracture into regional forces.

...the officer corp was disproportionately from the Altiplano, which would tend to support any future military action against the Media Luna

Can't quite put my finger on this, but something's not right with this logic. I would think that, were a secession scenario at hand, it wouldn't be up to the military to do much about it except follow orders, whatever from they take.

Daniel said...

My comparison is not that ridicule since I placed it in 1859-1860, when secession could have still been avoided. Lincoln election, the trigger, took place in November 1860. And also I assumed the worse case scenario that a secession would indeed take place in Bolivia which is far from certain, on that I agree with you.

But history is full of lessons and even if the social conditions of the US in 1859 are eons apart from Bolivia in 2008, it would be a mistake to ignore historical precedent.

GS said...

My comparison is not that ridicule since I placed it in 1859-1860, when secession could have still been avoided

It is ridiculous. It is also poor analysis and intellectually sloppy. You say you framed your argument in 1859-1860 but then you don't do a comparison of that timeframe and instead draw conclusions from a different timeframe, 1861. This is intellectually sloppy.
(Some would argue, btw, that secession was avoided in the US in 1820 as well. It would be more useful to do that analysis).

And also I assumed the worse case scenario that a secession would indeed take place in Bolivia...

Well, shit. Your comparison becomes even less insightful now. This is a pretty significant assumption, that the country is going to break apart, wouldn't you say? Under that caveat the fragmentation of the military will happen practically in any country around the world. This a gargantuan hypothetical makes the comparison and your point meaningless.

Daniel said...

I am curious: did you really read what I worte in my blog?

Here: "Think the US circa 1859-60. That is your reference point. And if you think that Morales with 60% of the vote will be able to force the army to retake Santa Cruz, you will be seriously disappointed. If the "media luna" were to break away, the Bolivian army would break apart, just as Robert E. Lee left the US army to lead the Southern one, after Virginia decided to bolt. "

That is, I place Bolivia today in 1859-1860 frame of mind. BEFORE the break up. Then, I anticipate the break up consequences as these happened in the US AFTER Lincoln election.

True, I could have possibly written it better, but I do not think I deserve your scorn. But that is fine, I have survived worse.

Gringo said...

Can't quite put my finger on this, but something's not right with this logic. I would think that, were a secession scenario at hand, it wouldn't be up to the military to do much about it except follow orders, whatever from they take.

Point 1. We are talking about Bolivia, which has ample historical examples of military people NOT following orders. Recall the old Landru cartoon. A says: “The problem with Bolivia is that there is too much anarchy.” B replies: “No, the problem with Bolivia is that there is too much anarchy in the military.” Coup of the month, anyone? Habits of nearly two centuries are not discarded overnight, and are often reverted to under crisis.

Point 2. I am not here to argue whether or not Daniel or you are correct regarding the 1859-1860 US analogy. But to go back to the US analogy. The officer corps in the US was disproportionately from the South. Most - not all- of the officers from the Southern states left the US army when their states seceded. Example: Robert E Lee, the greatest Confederate General. So, if secession ever becomes an issue, there is ample historical evidence for soldiers aligning themselves with the home areas that secede. Soldiers are not robots that always follow orders, especially with regard to secession.

Most likely this will remain hypothetical, as long as Bolivia finally incorporates a word that has been absent from its political discourse for most of its existence as an independent nation : compromise. ( If you disagree with my statement that compromise has been lacking, my reply would be: what about the long-standing recourse to roadblocks? Roadblock= My Way or Not the Highway.)

mabb said...

@Gringo: Interesting question. Historically speaking, the military career in Bolivia was also a privilege of the elite. After the 52 revolution, things changed markedly and the military career democratized a bit. It was also one of the objectives of the revolution. By that I mean that from then on, many regular people could join the military academy in La Paz. Slowly, it has turned into more of a professional academy than an elite producing machine.

In that sense, many people of humble origins started to join the ranks of the military and see the military career as a way to escape poverty too. I think, your chapaco friend might have been referring to that.

Now to the question of whether the corps would help support any military action against the media luna. I don't really know, and I dont't think there are any demographical statistics on who joins the military, but it can very well be that a lot of Altiplano people (people with indigenous background) are predominant in the Army. After all, they might be the ones trying to better their lives that way. However, that does not automatically mean they are true to the Altiplano region.

I think, it will depend where they grew up. I think the officer corps are to be distinguished from the rank and file or soldiers. The soldiers are from poor Altiplano families and are most likely little educated and identified with the plight of the indigenous peoples.

The officers, on the contrary, are most likely to have gone to school and finished it. And that makes a big difference. Many might be identified with the place where they were raised. And, might have already joined the ranks of the middle to upper social classes. You would be surprised how fast an Altiplano man becomes a camba.

What I've been able to get though is that the military is not blindly behind Morales. I mean, he did decapitated it last year by retiring two generations. These people were really upset with him. But, from the analysis Lt. Nava (the terrorist) was carrying with him, it seems that the military forces are still under the influence of some retired officers. His analysis was talking about many officers in Santa Cruz not having a compromize with the President.

Going a bit further on to speculation, I would argue that the commanders of the military bases located in Santa Cruz must have crossed words with, at least the Prefect. There must be some kind of exchange there. I wouldn't think the opposition would be so bold as to stand up to the President knowing he is the commander in chief of the army. I would also think that, knowing the military, many high ranking officers, might have land in Santa Cruz and therefore might have their own interests vested with the autonoy movement. After all, Banzer was one general who owned vast areas of land in Santa Cruz and Beni.

Now, was the analogy right? I don't know. I guess I understand your point Daniel. However, as GS says, it was another time and another context.

Frank_IBC said...

Off topic, but can any folks recommend a good phone card for calling from the DC area to Cochabamba? I've used the DMV cards (primarily "Boss") for almost three years now, but I've gotten very bad connections or none at all for at least three weeks now.

mcentellas said...

Comparisons between US in 1859 and Bolivia in 2008 suffer from a fatal flaw:

In 1859 the US was already a federal system that had evolved from a confederal system. The states were very powerful and had established governments *prior* to their union. Also, the US federal army at the time was incredibly puny. That's why almost all military units that fought in the war were STATE militia units (the Main 20th, Massachussetts 54th, New York 10th, etc.).

In 2008 Bolivia has had almost 200 centuries of existence as a central state w/ only recently devolved power to local administrative units. The army is significantly large & well armed, and there are no state forces (at best there are some municipal police, but these even pale in comparison to the National Police). So there is no army to split, and there is no established local government tradition to base a secession on.

mcentellas said...

Sorry, I meant 2 centuries (or 200 years), not 200 centuries.

Daniel said...


I do not know how are Bolivian armed forces. I suspect that they are of somewhat better quality than the Venezuelan ones which have long ago stopped being something we can look up to. Well, I never respected armies, I am allergic to anything military anyway so I have a hard time being objective discussing "la soldatesca".

This being said, it was my point: if Bolivia breaks up, the army will break up too, according to where do the units come from. Evo as well as Santa Cruz know that this is the way civil wars start and we can all hope that they will find a way to avoid that as none of them has any certainty of winning such a war.

But I am rather optimistic about the future of Bolivia. After all the egos of everyone were sort of pleasantly stroked so both sides are in a unique position to make concessions without compromising their support. Will they have the intelligence to do that? I do not know from here, but I sure hope that you will try your best to make sure that Chavez is left aside because I can assure you that he has no interests whatsoever in seeing his protege negotiate for real. You can trust me on that one.

Daniel said...


I was writing my reply to MABB while you were posting that extra bit of information. I would have written it differently now that you have enlightened us about the nature of the army, which in a way you seem to imply to be very Altiplano formed, officers and soldiers. Thus clearly the army would likely follow Evo if the media luna were to secede.

Now, this being said. I wish there were a little bit less of literal interpretation of words. Of course I am aware of the huge difference between the situation of the US in 1859 and Bolivia today. Though on a more "psychologcal level" the differences might not be as big. After all we could draw parallels between slavery and indentured/exploited indigenous labor in Bolivia, still fresh in memories, no? Not to mention the fight between North and South to secure the empty West/East. Santa Cruz was empty until not that long ago, was it not? These "feelings" do not apply in the same directions as they applied in the US but their consequences could be troublingly similar.

Now, you may not like my example, OK, I can deal with that. So, since you are a political scientist, which other historical example would you suggest us to look at in order to get ideas as to how avoid a bloody confrontation in Bolivia?

True, Bolivia is rather unique, but let's indulge some in historical comparisons if you can come up with a better one than the one I came up with. I would love to discuss it.

mcentellas said...

In the past I've pointed to the most similar case of Bolivia's regional divisions that I can think of (despite some key differences): Spain. In fact, many Bolivian regionalists (in particular, those from Tarija) have looked to Catalan autonomy as a model.

And I would emphasize that Bolivia's army is NOT likely to divide. It is too integrated, and has too powerful an esprit de corp. If ethnic loyalties were enough to keep the army from behaving in a disciplined problem, you wouldn't have soldiers recruited from the Altiplano shooting at Oruro miners or fellow Altiplano indigenous protesters throughout the last ten years. Ditto w/ security forces in the Chapare.

The analogy w/ the US in the 1850s is a poor one for the reasons I've stipulated. And in other countries where the army has split during such wars (e.g. Nigeria's Biafra secession), the army was organized along ethnic divisions. That is NOT the case in Bolivia.

Again, the US did NOT have much of a standing army in the 1850s. In fact, it didn't have much of a standing army until the 1940s! Prior to that, army units were essentially state militias (which have since evolved into the National Guard units, which are commanded by state governors). The differences between the 1800s US and contemporary Bolivia are so vast, that no comparison is meaningful. The issue of slavery is not helpful, either. In the 1850s it was the areas w/ slaves that fought for secession; in today's Bolivia the regions where hacienda system never really existed are the ones seeking autonomy (not secession). If Bolivia was like the US in the 1800s, then La Paz elites should be seeking secession away from the more modernized/industrialized/wealthier Santa Cruz.

Instead, for recent examples of regionalist movements, I'd look to: Quebec, the Lombard League (in Italy), Scotland, Catalonia & the Basque country (in Spain), or even the Flanders & Wallonia (in Belgium). Those are in many ways more similar to Bolivia than the US in the 1800s.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting these from La Razon.

You interpret the rural results as being due to Evo and Hugo passing out loot, but maybe rural voters just think Evo is fighting for them. Maybe they think Evo does cumple and is reasonably honest.

Looking at results, I see large minorities remaining against the big winners: Evo, Costas, and Cossio. Maybe 63%, 60%, and 59% are landslide wins, but as you have pointed out, not enough to ignore the opposition. It impresses me after all the blog and media talk that Tarija and Santa Cruz still show 40-41% for Evo and against their prefects. How can the prefects leave their capitals if they take a hard line against 56% and 58% of those populations? And of course, Evo knows he is not welcome in Tarija and Santa Cruz.


Anonymous said...

Did you see Al Jazeera's story on Bolivia?

"Yet it would seem that the struggles of a central government, composed of a previously disenfranchised majority, to assert control over its hydrocarbons, so that the wealth generated would be shared equally among all ethnic groups, would surely resonate with US policy.

The US champions such a government in Iraq, and has exerted immense political pressure for the passage of a law that recognises its immense oil deposits as a national resource, and guarantees an equal distribution of the revenue gained, so that everyone feels they have a stake in the preservation of the federal entity."

Of course, comparisons to other times and places are fun too.


Gil said...

Wouldn't Morales have technically been recalled in *5* of the nine regions, since he only drew 51.8 in Pando, and was supposed to have to get more than 53.8 or something? (or did they change it to straight majority and I missed that part)

GS said...


Coup of the month, anyone? Habits of nearly two centuries are not discarded overnight, and are often reverted to under crisis.

Rest assured I am sensitive to Bolivia's long history of military intervention. Let me point out though, that you should consider that the Bolivian armed forces today is nothing like their forebears of even 20 years ago. Bolivia has undergone many crises since 1982 and nearly continuous crisis since 2002 and no coup or threat of coup has yet to materialize. Bolivia’s is far from a fully professionalized military, but their understanding of their lane and their place in a democracy is much more acute than many politicians’, particularly Evo and his crew. This is not to say that in a situation in extremis such as secession the military would not get involved, but only to point out that the military in Bolivia deserves a lot more credit than what you are giving them. This is also not to say that the advances the military has made over the years in this regard will not be thoroughly erased under Evo’s continuing politicization.

So, if secession ever becomes an issue, there is ample historical evidence for soldiers aligning themselves with the home areas that secede. Soldiers are not robots that always follow orders, especially with regard to secession.

If by “ample” you mean the US civil war, I don’t think this is “ample.” This is just one instance. There are other examples of secession, of course, but such comparisons are very problematic for a variety of reasons, including deconflicting motivations of culture, history, nationality and ethnicity with the unique Bolivian case. But regardless, lets go with your assumption, that if regions break apart then soldiers who feel allegiance to the regions instead of the state may decide to terminate their military service.

So what? What’s the larger point here? Originally you said that because the officer corps came from the altiplano (another assumption that may be incorrect, it turns out) they would be more likely to take military action. I think this is a silly supposition. If they take military action I think it would be because they are ordered to do so, not because they are from the altiplano. This is part of my beef with Daniel’s post. It’s superfluous information. I just don’t see why this point is relevant to anything. Am I missing something?

Daniel said...


OK, I am not been understood on why I think the US in the late 1850ies is a distant mirror. Apparently only recent comparisons are meaningful, to which I disagree as there is a Zeitgeist component that I find only in my US example. So I am going to drop it from further discussion.

However among those alternative example you mention the only one that I can agree with is the Lombard league. The other ones have a religious and/or linguistic content that I do not see in Bolivia unless it were the indigenous populations of the Altiplano that wanted to secede. As far as I know it is not the case.

The Lombard league has also the advantage of having more of a left/rigth division, and even a prejudice from the North towards Italians from the South (Altiplano = Mezzogiorno?).

Still, I will point out that regionalisms have a way to shift toward secession over time. You mention Belgium which started as a regionalization demand for the Flemings. Now it is the Fleming that want to get rid of the Wallons and it is just a matter of time for Belgium to become two states.

So perhaps indeed today a better comparison is Italy but I suggest that we meet again in a couple of years to discuss which was after all the better "model".

StJacques said...

Another good commentary MABB, my compliments.

I have linked this article from a blog entry of my own discussing the results of the referendum at:

Keep it up!


mcentellas said...

My objection to looking at the US in the 1850s isn't just that it was a long time ago, it's that it has too many structural differences.

I also think the best example is Catalan autonomy. Catalans and other Spaniards are predominantly Catholic. And whether Catalan is a separate language or merely a dialect was for many decades controversial, only recently is Catalan internationally recognized as a separate language. Also Catalonia has long argued that was forced into union w/ Spain, and has a long history of political divisions (Catalonia is more left than the rest of Spain).

Santa Cruz also speaks a distinct dialect, so there's that. Many in Santa Cruz have pushed to recognized the "camba" dialect as a different language. Similarly, the political differences between east/west Bolivia exist.

No comparison is perfect, of course. And there is much to be said for the Lombard example in the sense that only recently has a region developed a political "identity". After all, it's important to remember that "ethnic" identities are not static; they evolve over time and are actually social constructs, not age old entities. After all, Italian identity was only recently "constructed" (only in the 1850s).

But comparisons should share important similarities in other areas beyond merely the threat of possible secession. The US model you present is far too different in all other areas to be useful (though I can see how it's appealing for an American to look to his/her own history to explain the world).

mabb said...

As far as a comparison between the US in 1859 and Bolivia in 2008, I agree with mcentellas. They are just too different. I eco mcentellas' remarks there.

However, I see why not one could try drawing some parallels. I guess, for what it's worth.

I also would like to consider here the idea that the Bolivian military, and I mean the army and airforce, would split when push comes to shove.

I know that most military bases in Bolivia are located in the tropic areas of Beni, Pando, Santa Cruz, mainly in border towns like Villamontes, Camiri, Robore, Trinidad, and Tupiza (Tarija).

I also know (from people I know who are in the military) that these units are under the control of strong commanders. In the past, high military commanders had to assure the support of these people before they staged a coup. You see the relative autonomy in these units? Why wouldn't it be the same in these democracy years?

I think that when push comes to shove and supports have to be declared, there exists the possibility that base commanders in the tropics and border towns of opposition departments will have to make a choice. And, I am not so sure they will always take the side of the President.

As we've seen on Lt. Nava's assessment of the situation within the military in Bolivia, the President only counted with three trustworthy commanders. Three out of 56 Nava listed in his report.

I also want to say here that I am no military expert. :-)

Also, John is certainly right. I don't mean to imply that rural voters might no believe in Evo and they only vote for him because he comes with goodies. Not at all. I know too well Evo is respected and is seen as a father figure.

But, I also know that rural people are very distrustful, very distrustful, even among them. So, I wouldn't confuse (which is very, very, very often done in the international romantic view of Bolivia) trust and appreciation with blind support!

And also, you put your finger in something I have been pointing out for a long time. What about that other half (more or less, to make a point) that didn't vote for Evo? didn't vote for Costas? etc, etc.

What about them????

Gil, yes Morales was technically recalled in four departments, but in his case, only national results are valid.

mcentellas said...

The key problem is that Bolivian military men are indoctrinated to believe in the nation-state ideology. They may have political/regional sympathies, but they will defend the country's territorial integrity. I don't think they'll go as far as to support secession.

In 1850s US, there was no such esprit de corp in the US military. In fact, there was barely a military at all. In fact, both sides had to raise new units almost from scratch for the war. For example, at Gettysburg, of the nearly 100,000 Union soldiers, less than 5,000 were from "federal" units (the rest were all state militias). Additionally, many Americans believed that states were sovereign, not the federal government (remember that US federal experiment was still relatively knew in the world). If you visit Gettysburg, you'll notice that the graves of Union dead are laid out by STATES. Even in the north, people fought for their states (troops would often muttinee if they were assigned to another state's regiment).

In contrast, Bolivia (like most of Latin America) the OLDEST national institution is the army. The wars for independence in Latin America were won and managed by military forces, by armies, and their caudillos. In the US, independence was managed by a Continental Congress, under whom Washington served (can anyone imagine Bolivar serving "under" anyone?). Bolivia's army thus has nearly two centuries or a united history that ties it ideologically to a sacred defense of the national territory—which means putting down invasions, secessions, or "domestic" enemies.

It's not that there are NO parallels between the two cases. But the kind of military & military histories that exists in each case (US 1850s, and Bolivia today) are radically different.

GS said...

In the past, high military commanders had to assure the support of these people before they staged a coup. You see the relative autonomy in these units? Why wouldn't it be the same in these democracy years?

I don’t understand this point. We’re not discussing coups. Aren’t we talking about the question of will the military break apart in secession? I think that if secession were to occur the President would mobilize the military to take over seceding regions and that the military, as an institution, would salute and start their deployment. I don’t think for a minute that they would say “No, senior presidente. We think the country should break apart so we will not deploy our forces.”

At the regimental or base level, commanders will be waiting for orders from higher military leaders. Maybe some commanders that have initiative will deploy units to secure key sites in anticipation of a deployment order. There is the off chance that a commander may have “gone native” (for lack of a better term) and, when the order came to deploy forces to repress the secession, he would ignore it and not budge because for some inexplicable reason he feels more allegiance to the Department than to the country, but I think that this is unlikely. He would also have to convince his subordinate leaders that his failure to follow orders and side with the breakup of the country is just. In turn, his subordinate leaders will have to keep their soldiers in line with the plan. This is a very dynamic situation that will be difficult for the recalcitrant commander to navigate successfully.

At the individual soldier level, perhaps a few troops would be insubordinate and some may refuse orders to deploy, but these will be onsies and twosies. Bolivian military units, as someone explained earlier, are not organized around regional cohorts so mass defections of entire units are unlikely.

As to the point of why wouldn’t it be the same in these democracy years, I fully expect that should there ever be a coup during a democracy that the leader of the coup would coordinate with other key individuals just as if the coup took place in a dictatorship or any other type of government. The difference in the democracy years is that the military as an institution is much more reluctant to launch coups or disobey lawful orders than during past years. Not saying the military coups are a thing of the past, just that the current Bolivian military seems to have a better understanding of what their role should be and will likely approach talk of coups very carefully and deliberately and only in an extreme situation.

mcentellas said...

Historically, when a coup has happened or when the military was split about what to do, the most any officers would do is sit it out (inaction). Active duty officers are very unlikely to fight each other. The military has above all sought to retain its institutional unity.

miguel (mabb) said...

Yes the point was closed a bit too soon. By that I meant the different divisions around the country have a commander in charge. In the past, when a coup was being planned, one could foresee it by listening carefully to news reports. For example, in the 1980 Garcia Mesa coup, weeks ahead of the day, one could hear reports or interviews with the different commanders from the most important divisions. Mainly in Santa Cruz. The commanders were either critical to the government or in support of it. This would be a signal that the military corps was uneasy and active.

While the coup was taking place, news reports would tell the population which division was supporting the coup. For example, in 1980 they started reporting that the divisions stationed in Cochabamba had occupied so and so building and that that division in Santa Cruz was in control of that building or strategic point. At times there were reports about some division fighting against another division (exchanging some fire).

This tells us that, coup leaders, in order to plan the coup, had to talk with as many division commanders as possible in order to secure support. I remember hearing a conversation between two generals talking about this (when I was a child).

So, this makes me suppose, these units have some relative autonomy, when it comes to making decisions about support. No coup that I remember or read about was staged in accordance with the whole army.

I might be wrong, but that is what I remember.

So these divisions can and are able to a certain extent decisions about committing support.

That is why I am arguing that it MIGHT be conceivable the Bolivian army splitting when the time comes to committing support for one or the other cause.

Of course, the President would try to mobilize the army to stop a secession. There is no doubt about that. But, the question here is whether the Bolivian army would stay together as an institution or whether it choose to support the regions where they are in.

Lastly, I think this point, however unlikely, it has to be at least considered.

Also, I think one of the major reasons why the military does not think about coups these days is because the US has changed its policy regarding supporting coups in South America.

mcentellas said...

Yes, a split in the military is possible. But I still think very unlikely. But MABB raises an important point: one of the factors that makes coups unlikely in Latin America in general is the lack of US support for them. That, too, could change, of course. But it's even less likely than a split in the military.

GS said...

Active duty officers are very unlikely to fight each other. The military has above all sought to retain its institutional unity.

Under normal conditions probably, but I would argue that a politicized military is far from united and at that point this generalization breaks down rather quickly. Bolivia�s military history is filled with examples of military officers acting against other fellow officers. The various military counter coups are just the most obvious example. There have also been assassinations of military officers (Torres, for example). At a less extreme level, there are the military fraternities like RADEPA that further demonstrate institutional unity is not a given in a politicized military. There are also other examples from around the world that disprove this blanket assertion.

Gringo said...

Looks like Daniel provoked an interesting discussion!

mcentellas said...

My point was not that militaries are NEVER divided, but that as a rule they seek to retain their institutional unity. The instances where militaries turn on each other in significant numbers is, actually, quite rare.

The examples of military v. military coups in Bolivia are interesting because they have been, as a rule, very bloodless. When the casualties were high (as in the Banzer coup) it was mostly due to civilians supporters standing up against military forces, not other units (again, this is a general rule, exceptions do happen).

The example of RADEPA is an interesting one. As far as I know, RADEPA no longer exists, at least not as what I think you mean. The RADEPA that launched the Villarroel coup was made up of Chaco war veterans, almost all of them no longer in active service. It's also telling that despite the military high command's objection to Busch & Villarroel, they were not removed by coup. Busch committed suicide; Villarroel was lynched by a turbulent mob. Barrientos was replaced by a left-populist military regime, but only after he died in a helicopter crash. Banzer was the only one to recently launch a full-scale coup against a military regime, but it was after he was cashiered & exiled. When he returned to the country, most military units instantly joined his coup. This wasn't a surprise, since Banzer had almost been elected to replace Barrientos by election w/in the officer corps (which strengthens the argument: military officers voting on who will be the next junta leader), but was narrowly defeated (in part because COB protests pressured them to install Torres).

But to underscore: Institutional unity is not a "given" in any army. There are always divisions. But officers are heavily indoctrinated to put the army first (after all, soldiers must be willing to DIE for others in their ranks!). So when internal military fighting happens, it's quite rare, but not the rule. So a split in the Bolivian military is *possible* of course, but HIGHLY unlikely.

GS said...

mcentellas: I think we are in agreement here. I was trying to point out that there should be some qualifiers to your initial observation.

On Radepa, yes, I was referring to the historical example; though I have heard rumors that similar type groups are active in the military, or were active at least through the Mesa years. No current info on this.

Also, I couldn’t agree more on the influence of the US on the dearth of military coups in Latin America. I would add that it’s not just US opposition to military coups, but also the US (particularly Department of Defense) actively promoting democratization and professionalization of the militaries in Latin America. This last is a key component of our security assistance programs in the region, often conviniently overlooked by the activist crowd.

mabb said...

In principle I agree with mcentellas, but I remain skeptical, and here is why.

I cannot imagine why in the world the Prefect of Santa Cruz and the civic leaders can be so bold in their actions. Specially, when they know the government has all the power to call on the army and put them in place.

I see two possibilities here. Either, the Santa Cruz leaders know that Morales would never call on the army on them, for whatever reason, or .....

Let me put it this way, I cannot imagine the Santa Cruz leaders not talking (consulting) with the local military leaders (commanders of different divisions around Santa Cruz) about signaling support.

Or it might be that they are arming themselves????

mcentellas said...

Perhaps. But I also wonder whether that kind of over the top rhetoric hasn't just become the norm in Bolivian politics.

StJacques said...


In response to your comment ". . . I cannot imagine . . ." I would like to say that what is occurring in Santa Cruz appears to me to be the naturally expected result of a political process of polarization that has been underway in Bolivia since at least last year, if not before.

Consider this; by the autumn of last year, when the Constituent Assembly was embroiled in the "Dos Tercios" controversy, national political alignments in Bolivia were considerably more complex and diverse than they are now.  In La Paz, you had a Podemos prefect governing a population that largely supported Morales.  In Cochabamba Manfred Reyes Villa of the NFR served as prefect, again over a population favorably disposed towards Morales.  And in Chuquisaca the largely Quechua population seemed willing to support Morales's constitutional project and the MAS was recognized as the "first political force" in the department, though the Chuquisacaqueños wanted the process to continue under law, not to be implemented by force.  And of course Oruro and Potosi were solidly under control of the MAS, while the four departments of the Media Luna were controlled by Podemos.  This was a diverse and varied political landscape.

But then began a series of events in which the national government used its ability to exercise police authority to push its constitutional project through in contravention of Bolivian constitutional law -- the "Dos Tercios" rule.  The assembly was relocated to a military base, the MAS-sponsored violence in Sucre over the possible relocation of the capital, and most importantly, the use of El Cerco at the end of February to impose the constitution while denying entry to opposition delegates to the constituent assembly.  In the relocation of the assembly, the central government used the army as a police organ to enforce its will, an instance of the excercise of state-sponsored police power.  In the violence in Sucre and the use of El Cerco at the Constituent Assembly the police organs of the central government stood "hands off" while MAS demonstrators violently imposed their will, which amounts to "state condoned" violence.  When all three are taken together, you find yourself confronting a redefinition of that basic question in political science -- Who is the State? -- which comes down to identifying those who exercise police authority, i.e. "violence," legally within society.

Evo Morales and the MAS have unilaterally imposed a redefinition of "the State" within Bolivia and that amounts to the creation of a revolutionary situation.  To redefine the State by unilateral action, outside of resort to legally-established constitutional means, is revolution and that is not a situation conducive to maintaining political dialog.

Now look at how the results of these actions have reshaped the political landscape in the aftermath of the recall referendum vote.  There is no longer a sharing of power in La Paz between Podemos and the MAS, now the MAS controls it exclusively.  The same type of analysis applies to Cochabamba, where the MAS has taken over from the NFR.  In Cochabama it is the MAS who has been pushed aside by Sabina Cuellar and the Alianza Comité Interinstitucional and they are now discussing the possibility of holding their own referendum on autonomy.  And in the Media Luna the autonomy movement is stronger than ever, as the unilateral actions Costas has announced show that they feel emboldened to deepen the autonomic process.

All of the above-mentioned results show that a process of polarization is continuing in Bolivia in which everyone is being forced to choose between two visions of a Bolivian future; the "Centralist" vision of Morales and the MAS or the "Autonomic" vision of the Media Luna, to which Chuquisaca appears to be gravitating more and more each day, though they do have a different political take on the process.

Now; returning to the actions Costas has announced in Santa Cruz regarding the creation of a new police force to parallel that of the National Police, which is only legal if you accept the autonomy referendum results as binding, along with his creation of the Fondo Tributario (which may be more important) to share revenues collected in Santa Cruz with the other departments pursuing the autonomic process.  It cannot be denied that these two actions also represent a restructuring of "the State" within Santa Cruz as well, a development I would likely expect to see extended to the other three Media Luna departments and possibly Chuquisaca as well in the near future.  I believe Costas intends for that police force to be used primarily as a governmental organ to enforce tax collections for the fund and not to confront the Bolivian Army.  Though the action may just get Santa Cruz into conflict with the Bolivian Army all the same.  But if Santa Cruz succeeds in collecting these revenues, I think we should all expect to see the other three departments of the Media Luna take similar actions soon afterwards.  And the most critical factor of all may be whether Costas holds out revenues for Chuquisaca to entice them to join the Media Luna's political goal of securing recognition of its autonomy.  That would produce a de facto separation of Bolivia into east and west or autonomic vs. centralist or neo-liberal vs. populist; however you may wish to describe it.  Bolivia is confronting a revolutionary situation right now.  It is not something which is impending.

Daniel has it right in his blog. (See link below)  Either Morales drops his current version of the proposed constitution and returns to the table to renegotiate with the departments pursuing autonomy, who must also be willing to accept renegotiation of their demands, or everything will disintegrate.

And for everyone who has examined the parallels of Bolivia's current political situation with the U.S. in the 1850's and 1860's, allow me to point to the political realignment of the 1850's in the wake of the Kansas-Nebraska Act when the Whig Party disintegrated and a process of sectional polarization proceeded that eventually produced secession and civil war.  The sectional polarization of Bolivia today into east and west appears to be proceeding in the aftermath of the redefinition of the state I have described above.  I dearly hope it does not disintegrate into mass violence.

And mabb, I once again would like to congratulate you and everyone else here on your ability to carry on a widely-ranging and informed discussion of a controversial political topic without resort to invective and name-calling.  It is refreshing.

Darn!  I could have written a blog with all this!


Gringo said...

And mabb, I once again would like to congratulate you and everyone else here on your ability to carry on a widely-ranging and informed discussion of a controversial political topic without resort to invective and name-calling. It is refreshing.

Perhaps the reason for this is that for the commenters and blog owner (Miguel, we all know you are going to be able to retire on the Riviera from the income you generate from this blog.ROTFL), Bolivian and not Bolivian, interest in Bolivia trumps ideology. (ignoring the occasional PSF.)

mabb said...

Quickly, I wanted to say thanks to all the kind words. I am also glad we can carry on an interesting conversation such as this one. I think this is what blogs are ALL about!

Now I have to go back to work, but my answers are coming soon.

mabb said...

Actually, the answer will not be that long. I agree with you. Bolivia is going through a revolutionary time. No matter what happens, it won't be the old Bolivia anymore.

Even if the two sides come to an agreement, the changes will be substantial.

And, I see, following this conversation, one can compare Bolivia 2008 with the US 1859 after all! At least we were doing it all along.

mcentellas said...

Yes, there are parallels that can be made between today's Bolivia and 1850s US. I don't deny that. But the parallel between what the army would/wouldn't do isn't one of them.

I also echo that this has been a good, intelligent, measured, and respectful discussion. A rare change from what's found in other blogs.

GS said...

MABB: You bring up several good points in your last few posts. Good point about the prefects talking to base commanders. It would be wise for prefects to do this, I think, if the situation is such that secession seems the only possibility (such “consultations,” of course, don’t guarantee that base commanders will abandon la patria). But right now I think that the Media Luna is very far from the point of secession (yet another reason why I think the comparison to US 1859 is shallow, exceedingly problematic, ill-conceived, and nauseating-—but other than that….) so I don’t agree with the rest of your postulation.

Why are Media Luna prefects to vociferous? I hardly think it’s because the local base commanders are amenable to their position. Again, no one is talking about secession. Autonomy is very far from secession and, as such, the legitimacy and likelihood of a military advance into a Media Luna department is degraded. Right now this is a political and legal battle, not a military one. All this is to say that such consultations, if they are taking place, are largely irrelevant because it is unlikely that the military would be used given the current situation. Also, since a long road remains to be travelled to reach the point of secession, it is also unlikely the current military commanders will be the same ones in a position to make a tactical difference should secession ever happen.

So why are the prefects so ballsy? I think it’s a combination of things. It’s because they know that military action is, at this point in time, very unlikely. Also because there is political space that allows them to be forward leaning on autonomy--they are part of the official opposition, they just won huge mandates for their positions, and they were elected. But Bolivian politics has always had a tinge of scrappiness like the bloqueos or the events of 2003. All ballsy actions. This gets to mcentellas' point about “over the top rhetoric” becoming the norm. I would add that over the top actions are also the norm in Bolivian politics—throwing around dynamite, hunger strikes at the drop a boliviano, charging Goni et al with genocide…. Jeez.

Another good point on "revolution.” I guess it depends on how “revolution” is defined but no doubt that Bolivia is going through some changes. I hope that the good will outweigh the bad when all is said and done, but I agree that Bolivia is not going to look the same as it did in 2004. The “revolution” is ongoing, but it did not start over the weekend with the referendum. It started in January 2005, but it’s roots a bit longer.

Lastly, kudos to gringo for identifying that ideology is the hobgoblin of small minds.

mabb said...

Just want to clarify, I am just talking about the POSSIBILITY of armed conflict and the brake up of the army when push comes to shove. Now, the latter can also be understood as secession, and that's ok, but, it is not necessarily the only interpretation.

At the moment I cannot see the opposition departments wanting to secede. The conflict would have to escalate in order for this to happen.

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mabb said...

we got the link, thank you!