October 24, 2008

The New Constitution

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This is the first version I've seen of the new constitution. Take a look at here (in Spanish only).

Here is the old version to compare it to.

With a bit more time I will post some opinions.


October 21, 2008

Referendum to Approve the Constitution

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Here is one of the two questions to be asked on January 25, 2009 about the new Constitution:
¿Esta usted de acuerdo con refrendar el texto de la nueva Constitución Política del Estado, presentado por la Asamblea Constituyente y ajustado por la Comisión especial de Concertación del Honorable Congreso Nacional, que incluye los consensos logrados en el diálogo entre el Gobierno con los prefectos y representantes municipales sobre autonomías, incorporando el resultado de la consulta sobre el artículo 398 a ser resuelto en este mismo referéndum y que la misma sea promulgada y puesta en vigencia como nueva Ley Fundamental del Estado boliviano?
Do you approve the text of the new constitution, as presented by the Constituent Assembly and adjusted (amended) by Congress, which include the agreement of the dialog between the government with the prefects and municipal representatives, and incorporates the result of the referendum regarding article 398 to be resolved in this same referendum, and that the new constitution be promulgated and designated as the new fundamental law of the Bolivian state?

Sorry, the question is enormous, but that is the way Spanish is used. Though, some referendum questions in English are not so different.

I got this from Fides.

Agreement is Reached in Bolivia

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In the early hours of October 21, 2008, the government of Bolivia and the opposition in Congress reached an agreement on what will become the new Bolivian Constitution (Constitución Política del Estado Boliviano).

After grueling months of conflicts, which brought Bolivia several times to the brink of collapse, and 12 days of negotiations, around 100 articles modified and endless verbal confrontations, the new Bolivian constitution was finally agreed upon.

To reach this accord, the government had to show its flexibility and let up its hard line position. The opposition is the relative winner in my opinion.

The re-election of the president was the last difficult issue. President Morales accepted in the end to reduce his ambitions to stay until 2019 and accept a one term re-election after the new constitution is enacted, that is he would be able to run for office and theoretically stay until 2014.

First, Congress had to pass a law re-interpreting article 233 of the current constitution. This article gives Congress the power to 'adjust' and fine-tune the new text without changing the character of the document. Congress has to approve these 'adjustments' by 2/3 vote.

Once these 'adjustments' were done, the president signed the new law and only then the constitution could be 'adjusted'. After the adjustments were done, the Congress drafted the law convoking a referendum to approve the new constitution.

The schedule runs as follows:

Last night, Congress approved the law calling for the referendum to approve the new constitution. This referendum will be carried out on January 25, 2009. If the new constitution is approved, this would give free way to the next general elections on December 2009, where new President, Vicepresident and legislators would be elected. The new constitution is set to come into effect from January 1, 2010 on.

In January there will be two questions, one asking to decide for the size of land tenure (between 5000 and 10000 hectares) and to approve or disapprove the new constitution.

The agreements are set, but the new constitution is not yet drafted. There is an attentive expectation from the part of the opposing departments (Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, Tarija and Sucre). They want to keep any opinion until they've had the chance to see the document.

However, these departments warned of their skepticism for the new constitution. The legislative factions of these regions voted against the law calling for the referendum. That was a sign that they were not happy with the agreements.

The Path to the New Constitution

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The following photos are taken from ABI.

These photos depict the march towards Congress. Morales caught up with the march in El Alto and led it to its destiny, the Murillo square (Plaza Murillo, the seat of government).

Plaza Murillo in daylight. Congress was in the building negotiating and debating. In essence, doing what they should have done a long time ago.

Notice the presence of police in front of the building. This is a change of strategy by the government. Initially, the police was supposed to stay away.

The Plaza Murillo at night. The people had decided to stay there until an accord was reached.

Evo celebrates his triumph.

October 20, 2008

The State of Negotiations in the Bolivian Congress

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It seems as though the negotiations in the Concerting or Compatibility Commission in Congress are going rather well. Positions have come closer and some agreements are starting to filter out. Issues such as land tenure and use, as well as autonomy are said to being close to an agreement.

There is one issue, however, that is standing out because of its difficulty. It turns out that the government wants to call to general elections as soon as the constitution is approved. This would mean that on January, general elections would be called so that in June a new President, Vicepresident and legislators would be elected. This would mean, in turn, the reduction of mandates.

It is a hard issue because we are talking about elections in no other place than Congress, where the eyes of politicians is not only on the present but also on the next elections. The opposition does not want to accept what they call the reduction of mandates because according to their calculations this would favor Morales.

The opposition thinks or calculates that in the next two years, Morales will still have strong support. Therefore, he is not afraid to go to the polls because he knows he will win. The most pressing possibility however is that the opposition will lose its grip on the Senate and thus render it utterly useless.

Therefore, the opposition is proposing to have the new constitution enter into force after the next elections (in 2010) as the new government takes office. This, would at least give them time to get together and ready themselves for a new electoral exercise.

In the mean time, the Conalcam has reached El Alto and is now, as I type, on its way to plaza Murillo and Congress. Surco, the President, has said the organizations will not leave until the new law calling for a referendum to approve the new constitution is passed. That means, they will siege Congress and stay there to pressure legislators to pass the law.

As you have see on my earlier post, some legislators have gone prepared to congress bringing their own mattresses in order to stay in the building and prevent any political maneuvering from the part of the government.

Chronology of Failed Dialogs

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This is a chronology of past failed attempts at negotiation between the government and the opposition.

The two groups tried to meet on September 2007, January, February, May (the opposition and Podemos did not go), August, and October of 2008.

These meetings failed because of the unwillingness of both, the government and the opposition to negotiate and compromise.

October 19, 2008

Sunday Session of Congress

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Today's Congress session is very important for Bolivia's crisis. Today, the government wants to pass the laws convoking to the approval referendum for the government's constitution.

Above you can see two Podemos deputies arriving to Congress withe mattresses and covers ready to stay in the building in order to assure the 'right' required quorum and prevent the government to pass any laws without the opposition.

As you may very well know, the government's strategy is to siege Congress and prevent any opposition member of Congress to enter the building. This way they cannot vote against the measures.

The only thing is that I could not find the names of these deputies. Does anyone recognize them?

The Negotiations in Congress

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The debate and negotiations that were supposed to have taken place in last year's Constitutional Assembly are taking place today in the Bolivian Congress. Today's objective for the President of the Bolivian Congress, VP Alvaro Garcia, is to approve a law convoking a referendum to approve or disapprove the new constitution. Parallel to this debate, the negotiating tables are still working. Already there are rumors, from the side of the government mainly, that there are around 100 articles agreed upon.

Some of the issues being talked about are the following.

Agreements on:

The ownership of land - 5000 hectares for agricultural work and 10000 hectares for cattle farming.

With this agreement, the referendum on the approval of this specific article would not happen.

The election of plurinominal (per list) or uninominal (per district) legislators - This is a bit confusing still because there are various versions. In La Razón, it is reported that there will only be plurinominal deputies. The argument is that the MAS wants to prevent minority governments by preventing cross-voting, i.e. voting for a President and for a deputy of another political party.

In El Deber however, it is reported that the new Congress should have the same number of members (130), 70 uninominal and 60 plurinominal in the lower chamber. In the Senate there should be 32 members, 4 for each department and one indigenous Senator.

The social control - The opposition argues that this fourth branch of government receives too much power over the other branches of government. So this point is a major issue!

The reform to the constitution - It is said that the new agreement will allow to discard any reform to the constitution with a simple majority (in Bolivia called absolut majority) and instead the 2/3 rule will apply.

Sources: La Razon, El Deber, Erbol, Fides, El Diario

October 14, 2008

Disturbing Trends

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I Came across this video from Telepais, a cruceno TV channel (very opposed to Evo), which shows a speech Juan Ramon Quintana (Minister of the Presidency) gave to campesinos in Cobija (Beni department).

Putting aside the fact that the video is presented in a sensationalist manner to drive the point to the extreme, it would be difficult to ignore what Quintana is saying.

Quintana shows his true colors in this video!

Apparently, he did not know he was being filmed. However, now he knows and he, or the government, did something about it.

On the morrow of the 13th., Jorge Melgar, a journalist from Riberalta (also in Beni), who worked on a local TV station, was captured by government special forces with a variety of charges. At 4:30 am government forces (which a witness says were military and some Venezuelans and not police) stormed into his house, tied him up and took him away. It seems that Melgar filmed Quintana and then published the video in a Santa Cruz media outlet (Telepais).

In addition, Melgar, is said to be very critical of the government and allegedly has expressed his rather violent desires on the air in his program. The government has videos where Melgar speaks just as bad as Quintana.

However, the actions of the government are no less disturbing. Over the last month, the government has been rounding up people in a clear illegal manner. These special forces just storm people's houses and take the target persons without showing the required documentation to arrest someone. This was the modus operandi when the government "arrested" Leopoldo Fernandez (the Pando Prefect) and many other opposition activists.

October 13, 2008

The Real Power of the Social Movements

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This guy, Fidel Surco, current president of the Conalcam (Coordinadora Nacional por el Cambio), might turn out to be one of the most powerful people in Bolivia. He presides over an organization which groups another 35 organizations or social movements, as they like to call themselves. These organizations are very active in the decision making process within and around the government. They have direct access to Morales and Garcia, as well as direct access to the executive via Hector Arce (Defense Minister) and Sacha Llorenti (Viceminister of Coordination with the Social Movements). In this capacity, the Conalcam takes part in cabinet meetings and Surco is no stranger in the Palacio Quemado (government palace), where he meets the President at least once a week.

The organization also has direct access to the governmental faction in Congress. There they coordinate with Senator Felix Rojas, Chair of the official faction and Deputy Cesar Navarro, in the lower chamber.

The clout of influence these organizations have over the Morales government is significant. The government itself says it doesn't take any decision without informing the social movements.

In addition, the Conalcam has influence in the public service because the majority of public posts were distributed among the 35 member organizations. This gives Conalcam tremendous operative power.

Finally, the real power is on the streets. The Conalcam has the power to bring people to the streets if the government doesn't do what they want.

The question is, how representative is this or as Toqueville and Mill put it, is this the tyranny of the majority?

October 12, 2008

Coming Back From the Brink... (Republished)

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I wanted to republish this post because at this moment the government and the opposition, this time in Congress, are negotiating the modifications to the Morales constitution. I think these, below, are some of the themes they will be talking about. I don't change the words because I want to preserve the original post, but the enumerated items continue to be important.

I bolded the items being talked about now.

Coming back from the brink, that is how Bolivia's motto should cry. The, what I called in prior posts, Bolivian roller coaster has hit a new low point and, if history serves us good, the car is on its way up!

Yesterday, the people (MAS supporters) decided to give Santa Cruz (and us) a brake. They decided to lift the two weeks old blockade until this coming Saturday. They'll continue if the opposition Prefects do not sign the latest government offer.

The offer is to modify the Oruro constitution to include the autonomic statutes. The modifications, however, are only in that chapter. No other part of the constitution should be touched.

That must be a tempting offer but one hard to realize, as the Oruro constitution, in the eyes of the opposition, needs a number of improvements (to say it diplomatically).

The issues to be worked out are the following.

At the top are:
1. Land reform
2. The kind of autonomy

The rest:
1. Definition of the state (pluri, multi, kulti, etc.)
2. Constitutional reform (simple majority vs. absolute majority) --- this is in the Bolivian sense
3. Presidential reelection or term
4. Relevance of private property vs. communal property
5. Communal justice
6. Organization of the state

October 11, 2008

Humillados y Ofendidos (Film About the Sucre Disturbances)

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Check these websites or video feeds (however you want to call them). They show parts of the film made by Cesar Brie, director of the Indigenous Theater of the Andes. The film is about the disturbances in Sucre on May 24, 2008.

I haven see the videos so watch them at your own risk because they are supposed to have disturbing scenes. Just wanted to direct you all and after I watch the videos I may post some opinions.

In google video here.

In archivo documental here.

In aol here.

Here you can read an article by the author.

I am sure Youtube also has them.

I am interested in some opinions!

October 09, 2008

Letter to the Editor

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The New York Times published on October 6 an editorial entitled, "Playing into Mr. Morales' Hands"

In it, the Times asks the Bush administration to reconsider its decision to remove Bolivia from the beneficiary country list of the ATPA. It says this move would be "self-defeating" and would mean playing into Mr Morales' hands.

As a kind of response and/or commentary, I wrote a letter to the Editor, which I reproduce here in its entirety.

Letter to the editor – New York Times

A real dilemma – What is the US government to do?

In your editorial, published October 6, 2008 (Playing into Mr. Morales’ hands) you point out the US government’s annoyance with the government of Bolivia. This, due to the, by now, pretty clear unwillingness of Mr. Morales to continue cooperating with the US on the war on drugs. You also point out, that while the Bush administration has been adopting a, in your eyes, more sensitive approach to foreign policy, now its mind has been clouded with the anger stemming from the expulsion of the US Ambassador in Bolivia, P. Goldberg. As a result, you conclude that the US government is playing right into Mr. Morales’ hands and therefore you suggest the government should reconsider its decision.

The question here is not, what the government should do, but rather can it do anything. The US government has been playing into Mr. Morales’ hands since a long time. Mr. Morales is who he is partly because of the US government. Ever since his days as the leader of the Bolivian Coca Growers Union and his countless confrontations against antidrug-enforcing government forces, which were supported by US forces, Mr. Morales defined himself as an enemy of what he determines as the “empire”. Later, as Mr. Morales was running for office in 2002, Ambassador Rocha suggested Bolivian voters not to vote for Morales. Because of those very comments, Morales can candidly joke now about the US being his best campaign manager. As you may well know, those comments help Morales significantly better his polling numbers.

Now that Mr. Morales is in office, his strategy is to play to wide-spread anti American sentiments among Bolivians. He repeatedly defines the US as the empire and therefore as the enemy. Consequent to that strategy, Mr. Morales is trying to show the door, not only to the US Ambassador, but to the US government as well. As you well point out, he has been attacking US policy in the world and in Bolivia, he has launched a series of accusations against Mr. Goldberg suggesting he was involved in efforts to overthrow his government, he has publicly congratulated Coca growers organizations for expulsing USAID from the Chapare region, and he has actively sought to establish relations with states such as Iran, North Korea and Venezuela. It is clear that Mr. Morales wants the US out of Bolivia.

So in light of this situation, what can the US do? It seems to me the US government has his hands tied. It cannot forcefully react against a government where the president has so much symbolism that transcends Bolivia’s borders. It cannot be too soft against a government which uses anti-American sentiment to legitimize itself. What can the US do?

At the moment I see the US government has no alternative other than to play into Mr. Morales’ hands.

Letter to President Morales

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The opinionated Human Rights Foundation (HRF), based in New York, has sent a letter (along with a report about concerns for human rights in Bolivia) to President Morales expressing alarm on the government's attitude towards the opposition and its efforts at silencing it. The letter also, more or less, accuses Morales of inciting violence through his and his government's discourse.

It makes for an interesting (and amusing) read, considering it comes from an international organization. Both the letter and the report are very critical of Morales.

Read the letter to Morales here and you can read the report here. They are in Spanish, sorry no translations.

October 05, 2008

The Political Dialog in Bolivia

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In this image above, taken from ABI: Left to right, Ernesto Suárez (Beni), Mario Cossío (Tarija), Mario Virreira (Potosí), Luis Aguilar (Oruro); President, Evo Morales, VP, Álvaro García Linera; Pablo Ramos (La Paz), Rafael Puente (Cochabamba), Rubén Costas (Santa Cruz), and Rafael Bandeira (Pando), as they leave the dialog room.

Archenemies, Morales and Costas play it nice and give each other the hand. I'd like to know what is Costas thinking... :-) Morales later expressed his discomfort for having to meet with "those" people.

This is the guy who will siege Congress, Fidel Surco. He is the President of Conalcam (National Coordinating Organization for Change)

The political dialog in Bolivia continues today after a week recess. However, Morales has warned that today will be the last day he talks with the opposition. The prefects, either sign his proposal or they sign his proposal. It is that simple.

The opposition, meaning the four prefects, are under great pressure to come to an accord. Nationally, they are being portrayed as the ones who do not want to talk because they don't get what they want. They do not sacrifice for the nation.

The opposition, do not want to continue the dialog because, they argue, the government has violated at least one of the points they agreed at the start of the talks. The government was to stop arresting people in the opposing departments. The government has continued making arrests and bringing people to La Paz jails.

The government is in a position of strength and it is utilizing it to the full extent. It has, on the one side, continued arresting political activists from the opposition, it has continued with its accusation campaign, it has continued to push its supporters to prepare for renewed disturbances and it has continued with the suit against Leopoldo Fernandez, the Prefect of Pando.

Yesterday, Evo Morales, in a speech to the members of Conalcam (The coordinating organization for change) said that the government will continue pushing for its agenda. Morales said that the next steps were:

On October 15, the consideration of the 'approval referendum' in Congress.
On October 13, the Conalcam will start a march towards Congress to siege it in case the opposition was not ready to vote for the law.

Morales wants to have his constitution ready so that in June next year (2009) he can be re-elected and the new congress can be elected.

That way, he can take his office on August 6, 2009.

It seems to me the opposition has some difficult months ahead. It will all depend on how strong the opposition doesn't want to accept the Morales constitution and how far are they prepare to go to stop it.

The way Morales is going ahead, I am afraid we are going to have to continue talking about violence, resistance and perhaps some type of armed confrontation. That is, unless, one of the parties is persuaded to give in.

October 03, 2008

ATPA for Bolivia Seems to Be Heading Out

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Here is an article about the decision taken in the US Senate.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a one-year renewal of longtime U.S. trade benefits for Colombia and Peru, but potentially only a six-month extension for Bolivia and Ecuador.

The emphasis must be placed on the word potentially. It will be left up to the government to include or not Bolivia as beneficiary country.

And for those of you who can read Spanish, here is an article detailing the cross examination process in the suit for the $800.000 suit case Venezuela wanted to contribute to Cristina Fernandez's campaign. What a mess! and what government's do in combination with business owners.