December 04, 2008

The Power Struggle in Bolivia Retreats to the Legal Arena

MABB © ®

The power struggle between the current government and the opposition has left, for now, the political arena to move on to the legal arena. Now that there is a new deal regarding the constitution and all the parts are waiting for next year's approval referendum, the battle has been continuing on the courts.

On the one side, the government has continued with its "witch hunt". The strategy is to remove the opposition or to weaken it as much as possible with any means. First, the government tried the ballot boxes at the recall referendum, where it did remove two thorns, Jose Luis Paredes, former Prefect of La Paz and Manfred Reyes Villa, former Prefect of Cochabamba. It seems that the next step is to try the law. One Prefect is already removed. Leopoldo Fernandez, former Prefect of Pando, has been taken to La Paz and has been incarcerated. In addition, the government has also "taken" many civic activists from Pando to La Paz to face charges against them. Now, it seems that Tarija is next and therefore the government has been also "taking" some civic activists to La Paz to process them.

The actions of the government has alarmed the opposition. It is currently in the process of re-organizing itself to respond to these attacks. In addition, it has initiated its own legal process to counter these attacks. The Santa Cruz Prefect, Ruben Costas, together with the people left in the Conalde (Natinal Council for Democracy), which groups the opposition, has initiated paperwork to accuse the Minister of the Presidency, Juan Ramon Quintana and the Ministry of Government, Alfredo Rada for having staged the Porvenir killings and conspire to remove elected authorities, such as Leopoldo Fernandez, by fabricating and manipulating evidence.

All these are indictions that the power struggle in Bolivia is far from over and the battle goes on.

At the same time, there is an important piece of news coming out fron the Judicial branch of government itself. All the organisms in this branch (the Supreme Court, Constitutional Tribunal, the Judicative Council, and the Agrarian Court) got together in the city of Trinidad, Beni for the 6th Judicial Power Summit. In this meeting, the branch presented a resolution where they express their worries and critiques to the governmet arguing that the current government is contributing to the collapse of the rule of law and the state itself.

In its attempts to dismember the opposition, the government is trampling over other powerful actors such as the Judicial branch. These actors are less likely to stay put if they see danger in their futures. One indication is this recent resolution which heavily criticizes the actions of the Morales government. Other actors, such as the Catholic Church, are also becoming bolder and raising their voices against the government.

What seemed to be over with the agreement on the new constitution is continuing in other arenas outside the political one.


dv said...

Just the presence of even a good constitution is no guarantee to the rule of law, especially when people get entranced by the message of a charismatic leader and ignore what he does in their name. In that circumstance any constitution will fail. It almost seems like a recipe. Populist leader with a belief in unchecked majority rule, distorts the law and weakens the other branches of government.

Many people don't know this but here in Louisiana we had the only dictatorship in US history. Huey P. Long was a liberal populist - he made it possible for blacks to vote by abolishing the poll tax, he provided free textbooks, built roads and bridges, created the Charity Hospital System -quality free medical care across the state. He even came to office in the 1920s by promising to heavily tax Standard Oil and use the money to create services for the poor - which he did. He promised to limit the wealth of the rich and give the poor a "homestead" with the money.

But he also did something else: in the first few years he removed state supreme court judges and got is own followers elected. By the 1930s he directly controlled the legislature: He would personally summarize a bill and call for an immediate vote: at some points laws were proposed and passed one every 2 -3 minutes. When journalist outside Louisiana called this nondemocratic he said “a perfect democracy can come close to looking like a dictatorship, a democracy in which the people are so satisfied they have no complaint.”. He destroyed the right of minorities parties to block legislation, eliminated judicial review, and directly controlled the poll stations. He took control of city and parish governments so that he could appoint is own followers, He created a bar association directly under his control so that he could bar any lawyer from practicing law in the state. He created the Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI), a state police force authorized to make arrests without warrants. He created the State Board of Censors to block opposing views from reaching the state from outside and taxed newspapers for "lying". He passed a law that allowed him to declare martial law without an emergency.

Even after Huey was assassinated, Louisiana suffered under the political machine that he left behind. It didn't really start to break down until Gov Edwin Edwards was convicted by the feds (in their 3rd attempt) after he was governor in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. (with place holder governors there to cover term limits).

Hurricane Katrina seems to finally have woken people up to the fact that they have the power to change things. People are watching what their politicians are doing and not just what they say. They are demanding respect for the law. Katrina was a real revelation to people. Unlike most states 80% of the population's parents were born here. Most people just assumed that the whole country was like Louisiana, until we were forced to leave.

mabb said...

Well, more than a problem of the constitution I see it as a problem of the polity. A constitution can be the most virtuous text ever written or the most infamous, but if the people do not want to uphold it, then it's just a piece of paper.

And, thanks for sharing that bit of history. It is interesting.

dv said...

yes, that was the point I was trying to get across. We had the long lived US constitution and still look what happened.

Kevin said...

Good point by DV... I am just back from SCRZ, LPZ and CBBA and everything is Ok... that is, unless Minster Rada wants to put you in jail for 'crimes against the state and overall badness against the state'.
The Human Rights groups are going to start hearing about - and reacting to this latest issue of jailing civic leaders from Tarija.
Plus Almaraz is back at it and has now accomplished his revenge 'taking'of Roland Larson's farm by force... plus two others with support of the Bolivian Army... you will remember that Larson's story was in the NYT.
At this point Pres. Morales thinks he has a mandate from his fabricated 56% vote in the referendum [what a joke - guesses are that 200,000 dead people voted - all for Morales! Quite an accomplishment for Vice Ministro Llorenti].
Things are actually quite different and the opposition is still quite strong - even though they are running trying to escape from being jailed by the MAS (Rada) for nothing.
My sense from talking to a broad spectrum of people (I do get around and into the field amigos)... is that Bolivia is more and more simply becoming two separate countries - the geographic separation line is drawn roughly northwest to southeast from Cobija through CBBA and just west of Tarija.
If one was picking a viable state from amoung these two 'halves' - it would have to be the 'oriente'.
This is why the MAS is so eager to grab land from the Menonitas in the Cordillera region and establish amayra asentamientos in the taken land.
This was done in the Chapare in the 1960's and 70's and produced the coca sindicatos and Mr. Morales. This is what he knows and now he wants to replicate the 'colonialization' to Santa Cruz.
Stay tuned - this is far from over.

Gringo said...

FYI: Fausta podcast on Economic Dangers in Bolivia.

mabb said...

Thanks for the tip, Gringo!