August 13, 2010

The First Serious Test for Morales?

MABB © ®

Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia, has had a relatively peaceful first term in office (2006 - 2010). Eight months into his second term, which for him is just his first term because of the new constitution, he has his first serious challenge in his hands. Civic organizations in the department of Potosi are into their 16th day of hunger strike, street blockades and general strike. These actions have stranded many international tourists, to the point that some had to be taken out due to health reasons, and the citizens are starting to suffer shortages of food.

The Comité Civico Potosinista (Comcipo - Potosi Civic Committee), an umbrella organization comprising of 28 other organizations and six provinces in Potosi, has been leading the actions. These organization are demanding the government meet their demands for:

  1. - a satisfactory solution to the border problem between Oruro and Potosi. Both dispute a piece of territory named Coroma (northern Potosi).
  2. - the construction of a cement factory in Coroma.
  3. - the construction of an international airport.
  4. - the opening of Karachipampa plant.
  5. - the preservation of the Cerro Rico de Potosi.
  6. - the construction of roads.
The strikes are into their 16th day and, according to the Comcipo, there are no plans to give up. In fact, the discussions are shifting towards taking even more radical actions, such as taking over public offices or buildings, marching to La Paz and other undefined by the leaders.

The government has been challenged to negotiations in Potosi. It has responded by demanding the measures be stopped before any negotiation can take place. For its part, the Comcipo relaxed its demands by asking Evo Morales to the table in Sucre. The Comcipo considers Morales the only person whom they can talk because they elected him. In the process there has been several attempts to create a negotiating table by some ministers, but without success.

The problem for the government can become even larger due to the unwillingness of Evo Morales to sit and negotiate. Also, the longer it takes for the two parties to sit and talk, the worst the conditions will get in Potosi and the support for Morales will dwindle even more. Another problem for Morales is that the once pillar of MAS, the mining workers, are involved in this problem supporting the Comcipo. The Cooperativistas or independent miners, who have been critical of the government, are already criticizing the government again. The mine workers of companies operating in Potosi have also hinted their disapproval at Morales' unwillingness to talk directly with the Comcipo representatives. This situation could turn even more problematic for the government because some miners are asking the nationalization of some private mines. For example, the miners in San Cristobal, a mine operated by the Japanese Sumitomo, have asked the government for the nationalization of this company.

So the question remains, will the Morales government be able to deflate this latest conflict with the Potosi region? or will new extreme situations arise?


Oscar said...

I think the title really should be "The First Serious Test for Morales?"

mabb said...

If you must! :-) thanks.

Gringo said...

The blockader of roads now has to deal with a similar phenomena.In defense of Morales, he did not originate the tactic, but was following a time-honored Bolivian tradition. Just that now he gets a different perspective on it. It is one thing to apply such tactics to get your goal. It is another thing to have those tactics applied to yourself. Like the old saying says, heist on his own petard.

Three weeks after posting and no change? That would be five weeks, as the posting referred to 16 days of the strikes by August 13. The most reference I saw was an August 26 report in Financial Times.

Here is my uninformed view of the issues:
1 - a satisfactory solution to the border problem between Oruro and Potosi. Both dispute a piece of territory named Coroma (northern Potosi).
In a pig's eye. Both sides will hunger strike. The side with the most dead, wins.
2- the construction of a cement factory in Coroma. depends.

3) International airport- in a pig's eye. Though in a perverse sense the strike is an argument for one. If there is another strike in Potosi, which cripples land transport in and out of the city, but air transport is not harmed, tourists in Potosi wouldn't be stranded.
4)Karachipampa plant- no idea. Wasn't there some sort of Soviet built smelter constructed there in the 1980s?
5)the preservation of the Cerro Rico de Potosi. If there is no more mining, Cerro Rico gets preserved in its present state. Is that what they want?

6) construction of more roads- good idea.

mabb said...

The problem deflated itself. In my opinion, Morales is gaining the upperhand. But, as you mention, we'll see how long will it last. After all, politics will be politics. The different groups are bound to find eachother in confrontational situations.

Gringo said...

FWIW, turns out my memory on Karachipampa had some validity to it, based on reading for a paper a quarter century ago:
Con Rusia, el comercio es casi inexistente, las exportaciones no llegan a 3 millones de verdes y las importaciones son de 1 millón cuatrocientos, ciertamente la mayoría en vodka. En materia de inversiones, oí por ahí que están queriendo volver al sector minero. Cabe recordar que en los revolucionarios años setenta nos vendieron la planta de Karachipampa, que nunca fundió un gramo de plata.

At least Morales doesn't appear to be as controlling and as insane as Chavez. While Moreales drinks the socialist Kool-aide, government finances appear to be in better shape in Bolivia. Moreover, the strong anarchic strain in Bolivian society resists a strongman.Though considering Chavez's record, that is damning with faint praise.

mabb said...

If I remember correctly, it was La Palca, the one built by Russians and with Russian technology. I am not sure about the financing. Karachipampa was financed by the west and built by the Germans and Belgians. But, I would have to check that.

I do agree about the strong societal control to which Morales is subjected to.

Anonymous said...

Here you can read more about the corruption in Bolivia:

Gringo said...

No comment on your President's prowess on the soccer field? :)

mabb said...

What a knee, don't you think? I can't imagine what would he do if someone dares to make a tunnel on him.
Someone who knows him told me that he is a pretty bossy person and difficult to work with. The incident would tend to confirm that.

I just hope that is not the way he administers the country! :-)