September 30, 2008

Bolivia, the US and the ATPA

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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

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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

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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 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

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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

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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?

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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.


September 14, 2008

Bolivia Update!

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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.

Evo Morales: "Patria o Muerte"

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Country or death proclaims Evo Morales, calling his supporters to make the ultimate sacrifice to support his government.
Siempre hemos gritado 'patria o muerte', si no podemos vencer hay que morir por la patria y por el pueblo boliviano
"We have always cried 'country or death', if we cannot win, we have to die for our country and our Bolivian nation" Morales said in a speech given in Cochabamba on September 13.

I find this disturbing because it comes from the very organ supposed to prevent any kind of violence. As such, it has the responibility to speak and act responsibly and not to succumb under the pressure emanating from the opposition forces.

Although, we shouldn't forget that this violent rhetoric does not only come from the government but also fron the opposition. However, one party, namely the government, has perhaps the responsibility to initiate or give example and not incite to violence.

Meanwhile, the danger for more violence rises and rises. In Pando, as soon as the martial law was announced, the violent groups gathered there looted two weapons stores. It is presumed that the perpetrators were the same gruoup that attacked and murdered the group of MAS supporters days before in Porvenir. Witnesses say looters took guns and machine guns with ammunition and other weapons there available.

In the low-lands of Bolivia there is a similar situation as in the wild west in the States. People there are used to carry guns. The average household has guns. Now there are more guns available and I don't need to say what is the potential there.

September 13, 2008

Back Home

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Back home from a really good conference in Bergen, Norway, I wanted to get cought up with what is going on in Bolivia and write an update. However, instead of doubling the work, I will give a short update and suggest a couple of links, where updates are plenty and interesting.

The Bolivian government has confirmed 16 people dead (among them one military officer) days (since September 11) of confrontation between the MAS and autonomist opposition forces and the military and autonomist forces in Pando. These days have been the most violent under the Morales presidency and it doesn't seem to be an end in view.

The government, in response to the violence, has issued decree DS29705 which orders a state of emergency (martial law), where no one can be outside. This has been done to restore security and stability. But, there were already reports that the martial law did not have total effect because some protesters occupied other government offices in Pando.

Meanwhile, the military has responded to Hugo Chavez's intentions to intervene in Bolivia if anything was to happen to Morales or his government. The General in command, Luis Trigo Antelo (who is from Santa Cruz, btw.) has said the Bolivian military will not permit any foreign intervention.

On the international arena, I am sure you already know, the Bolivian-US relations are demoted to a 'relationship' instead of a partnership. The two respective ambassadors are heading home and the two countries are at the lowest point of their relationship. The American side will revise the relationship to see if it still makes sense to continue the current cooperation.

There has also been some interesting discussion, mostly in the comments section of Pronto*, about the role of the military. There are many people who are asking themselves, where is the army?

Pay a visit to Miguel at Pronto*. He has been following the events. St Jaques, has a post here discussing recent events.

More links to come....

Dramatic photo stream.

September 08, 2008

The Limits of the Bolivian Crisis

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The theoretical limits are becoming more visible in Bolivia as the crisis deepens. On the one side, the fundamental question (see Weber) about the right of the state to exert the legitimate monopoly of the use of force in a given territory is being severely tested. At the same time, the relative strength of the state is also under scrutiny. Has the Bolivian state become too weak? On the other side, once can see how far can discourse go or perhaps to what extent is discourse useful.

At the moment, the Young Civic Unions of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, Sucre and Tarija are directly challenging the state's authority. As we can see in the news, they are not only staging road blockades, but in their efforts to intimidate the state, are occupying state buildings and are even planning to shut down border entry points. This behavior raises the question about the weakness or strength of the Bolivian state. Is the state weak?

In my opinion, I think the Bolivian state is not weak, but is unwilling. Is not weak, in the sense that it has the means to exert legitimate violence to bring those events under control. Not only the Bolivian military is up and running and, as they say, firmly under civilian control, but the police forces are also there and capable of acting.

Now, some, for sure will argue, and I will tend to agree, unwillingness to act is a form of weakness.

I think the reason why Morales is unwilling to act is because he knows the moment he orders repression, the risk of deaths increases exponentially. He might also be reluctant because he knows what can happen, either due to his own experience or by simply observing recent past events.

Another possibility might be that Morales is unsure of the military's loyalty. It might just be that once he sets the military in motion, it might take a life of its own and start making own decisions. I think Morales has some good reasons why not to trust the military. An indication is the fact that Morales keeps publically calling on the military to support the change, i.e. his government. For its part, the military has repeatedly had to, also publically, voice its intention to act under the guidelines of the constitution.

So, one can say that the Bolivian state is weak, but not in the classical sense.

Another visible limitation is the extent to which the Morales discourse is useful. Morales has had a strong discursive element in his politics which has helped him maintain high levels of support. In fact, his discourse is made up of a complex plethora of terms. At the front is the anti-neoliberal banner, and following not too behind are terms such as powerful elites, empire, colonizers, equality, etc.

Of all the terms used by Morales, I think, neoliberalism and empire are the ones who are most useful for him. These are two terms which are already defined and those definitions come associated with many other concepts, countries and other things, which to a large extent, play at the feelings of MAS supporters. Supporters know these two terms are the enemy and anyone associated with them is the enemy.

However, if we observe the current events, one cannot help but notice the reduced effect of the discourse when used by Morales. For several weeks now, Morales and his VP have been calling on his supporters to 'defend' the process of change. So far, there have been only sporadic reactions in terms of marches, mainly in La Paz, and some confrontations against the road blockers (which I think these were more out of desperation than any allegiance to Morales).

The question arises then: What are the limits of discourse? Can a particular discourse be used indefinitely?

So far for my thinking out loud!

PS. This week I am in a conference and won't be able to update nor comment as usual. Having said that, I will continue monitoring Bolivia and will make the necessary posts and updates.

September 07, 2008

Morales Sends Bills to Congress

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Things are becoming clearer in Bolivia's latest ever going crisis. The decree promulgated by the President was decree number DS 29699 (issued September 6, 2008). This decree calls for the elections of the La Paz and Cochabamba Prefects.

The proposed law which is supposed to call the approval referendum for the Oruro constitution sets the referenda to be on January 25, 2009 as well.

The proposed law seeking to reform some laws will reform the laws of political parties, citizens organizations and indigenous peoples. This law will create the Subprefect and Departmental Council figures. Funny, this figures already exist in Santa Cruz.

So in summary, the aim of the government is to set January 25, 2009 as the date when:

- the elections for the Prefects of La Paz and Cochabamba are carried out
- the elections for the newly created Subprefects and Departmental Council Members are carried out
- the two referenda are carried out

The result is that the December 7 date is discarded.

This move means that the ball is on Congress' court. They have about 19 days, until September 25, 2008, to come up with an agreement. This is, since the law has to be signed 120 days before election day.

Now, if recent history serves us right, this will mean that the bickering between the Government, the MAS forces in Congress (Deputies Chamber and Senate) and the opposition forces will drag on to the deadline. In the end, the government will force the passing of the law with the help of its supporters wich will physically prevent the opposition Senators from attending the debates and vote. This will have been with the assurance that some substitute Senators from Podemos would support the bill.

Can it really be that easy? To tell you the truth, I don't know! If I could tell the future I would be famous. But, certainly we can look back and observe some behavioral patterns. And that is what I am doing right now. But, the Bolivian problem is so complex and dynamic that is imposible to say what is next. We can only guess.

My guess is that we are bound to see more violent acts this time. The military is starting to act on the road blocks. They have unblocked the road between Beni and La Paz. This will prompt a radicalization from the part of the protesting forces. As it has done in the past. This, certainly, is the recepy for more violence.

As I argue, the civic forces will radicalize and, if their word is good, they'll start occupying more government offices, as they have started doing.

The government will keep pressuring Congress. Morales and Garcia will keep inciting MAS supporters to 'help' and 'defend' the changes taking place. And to clarify, I say inciting because when the President or his Vicepresident tell supporters they have to defend the change, the masses understand (have understood so far) physical resistance, as we have seen.

And yes, the opposition leaders will also incite their supporters, though in a less public manner. At least, less public in the sense that the press does not cover these too much.

Overall, I am expecting deeper trouble in the weeks to come before it gets better.


President Morales sent Congress today two proposed laws and promulgated one decree. The decree calls for elections for the Cochabamba and La Paz Prefects. Elections day should be January 25, 2009.

The first proposed law deals with the referendum to approve the Oruro constitution and the second, will approve or reject the article dealing with land property in that constitution. Congress should be the one instance to approve the law calling for those referenda.

The second proposed law will seek to change the law of electoral parties and citizen groups and the electoral code to provide for the election for Subprefects and Departmental Council Members.

I think Morales is playing it safe because he might have the necessary votes in Congress. It wouldn't be the first time that some substitute congressmen from the opposition vote with MAS. It happened before and it can happen again. Besides, as my prior post states, the leadership in MAS is pretty sure it has the necessary votes. That would make things a lot easier for MAS and Morales.

September 05, 2008

Bolivian Politics and Latest Developments: Violence, Threats and Actions

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I guess I don't need to introduce this post by saying (once again) that things are getting hot in Bolivia; because they are! I will attempt here to lay out the latest developments.

The first thing to consider is the escalation of violence in the Western and Southern regions of Bolivia. Over the last 11 days, el Chaco region was suffering under road blockades isolating the region from the rest of the country and even neighboring countries such as Argentina and Paraguay. These blockades were, and are still, being staged by the civic organizations opposing the government. Their demand is for the government to give back the taxes imposed on the production of liquefied natural gas. On September 3, Democratic National Council (Conalde), organization made up by the opposing Prefects and various regional civic organizations, decided to back the protesting organizations in el Chaco by reinforcing the blockades and setting up blockades and staging demonstrations in their respective regions. Since this decision was taken, a range of conflicts have erupted all across the lowlands. In el Chaco, the protesting organizations have started to take over various governmental agencies. The same has happened in Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija. At the same time, government supporters have also started the forceful occupation of government buildings. In Pando, the Agrarian Reform Institute (INRA), the Bolivian Roads Administration Agency (ABC) and the local customs office have been occupied by government sympathizers, to cite a few.

Added to the road blockades and the occupation of government buildings, some buildings and private houses have been bombed. In Trinidad, capital of Beni, a bomb exploded in the local offices of the civic committee (the opposition). In Santa Cruz, the homes of two political leaders, critics of the autonomic movement, were bombed. Earlier this week, there was a serious confrontation between opposition forces and military forces, which prevented the forceful take over of government buildings. Finally, in Tarija, a mob of students forced the retreat of the police and took over the local customs office.

In response to this, and perhaps adding to the radicalization of the protests by the two groups, the government has sent military troops to prevent these occupations. But, this measure is proving insufficient since the buildings are being taken over nevertheless.

The effects of this road blockade is not only being felt by the government but, more directly, by the inhabitants of the affected regions. The city of Tarija, for example, is running out of gasoline, diesel and cooking gas. With time, there are shortages of food and as a result prices are soaring. In el Chaco region, towns such as Villamontes and Camiri, in Santa Cruz, are equally suffering.

For its part, the government has denounced a 'civil coup' which tries to overthrow the Morales government. The reaction, as noted earlier, has been to prop up military presence in these regions. It has also dug its heels deeper and has decided to comply with the request of the National Electoral Court (CNE) and pass a law allowing the referendum to approve its own constitution. For this it has the following strategy. It will draw up the bill complying with the electoral court. It will negotiate with Senators and Deputies from the opposition so they support the bill and it will 'suggest' supporters to put pressure on Congress to pass the bill.

The first step is already underway, and as far as some reports, the second is as well. A La Razon article cites a MAS leader expressing the government's strategy. A second Erbol article talks about the possibility of 23 opposition members of congress, 4 Senators and 19 Deputies, will support the new law. The article talks about the internal divisions within Podemos and how these senators lean more towards MAS, now, than the other Podemos wing.

September 03, 2008

Update on Bolivia

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Violence is turning into a daily affair in Bolivia. Yesterday, the civic organizations in Trinidad, the capital city of Beni, engaged into a violent confrontation with state security forces which were preventing this mob from taking public buildings. The organizations decided to occupy public buildings to prevent the central government from carrying out the referendum to approve its constitution.

In the Chaco region the road blockade is going into its 9th day. This situation is turning unsustainable because there are two antagonist groups getting ready for confrontation. On the one side, government supporters want to brake the blockade and on the other side, opposition groups want to radicalize the protests.

On the political level, the government has vowed to continue the 'approval' referendum scheduled for December. This is significant because it is a response to the electoral court's decision not to carry on with the process based on a lack of legality argument. The CNE decided to stop the process because there is a need for Congress to call or issue a law calling to referendum. The decree issued by Morales is not acceptable.

In the mean time, Morales has been to Lybia and is wrapping up his visit to Iran.

He has signed a number of agreements and statements of intent pledging loyalty, friendship and resistance against the empire!

He has also sought to bring investment to Bolivia in the area of energy.

This is what is going on these days!