September 20, 2012

The Morales Government is Falling Victim of its Own Doctrine

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The latest conflict between independent miners (known as Cooperativistas in Bolivia), mine workers and the government is a good example of how the Morales' government doctrine, governing obeying the people (gobernar obedeciendo al pueblo), is not working.

All throughout his government, Morales has been repeating himself expressing his, first desire, and later his actions, as governing obeying the people. With that he has meant meant that his government's policies are being constantly consulted with different interest groups such as, for example, the coca growers union, the campesino federation (CSUTCB), mining workers of the state company COMIBOL or the indigenous women federation Bartolina Sisa. Moreover, his government has periodically (usually once a year) been submitted to evaluation and criticism by the same organizations, which make up the MAS, his government party.

While this approach to government has paid large dividends for Morales and his government in the first years of his government, lately it has become a real obstacle to governance. For example, at the time of passing the first laws with which Morales sought to carry out the "change" (towards his new Bolivia), consensus was pre-programmed. The laws concerning the electoral system, the judicial system and the Constitutional Court as well as the law on Autonomy and Decentralization passed without much controversy. This was because these laws had to do with the awaited state reform and as such did not directly touch the lives of MAS supporters. Moreover, the decisions that nationalized the energy industries were another example of this joint effort.

In this second term, the Morales government has repeatedly found itself in a difficult situation. The latest conflict within the mining sector has the quality of highlighting these difficulties. At the core of the problem is a mine in the town of Colquiri. In his attempt to obey the people, Morales responded to the demands of the Cooperativistas to gain control of the mine by giving them the control of it and thus permission to exploit it. However, the mine workers of COMIBOL have been demanding the mine be nationalized in accordance to the government's economic policies. This has resulted in a full blown conflict, in which both camps have began a campaign to force the government to take their sides. The conflict has escalated so much that in a latest confrontation between the two groups, one miner was killed and others wounded.

What does this show? It shows that, while it might be most desirable for a government to govern obeying the people, this strategy might not be the best one. The Bolivian government is experiencing this first hand. On the one hand, at the discourse level, the idea to consult the people and obey their demands has won for the government significant support. However, this support has been on large and, many times, beyond pure politics issues such as identity, ethnic conscience, power balance and inclusion. These, are issues that not very many people would disagree with, especially in a country such as Bolivia. For example, not only the indigenous Aymaras have gained ethnic conscience. The crucenos, tarijenos and sucrenses have also become more aware of their identity and ethnicity. At the same time, these groups have also sought to establish a better balance between regional and local governments vis-a-vis the central government.

On the other hand, it is at the time of considering issues that directly affect the lives of people that the "nice" idea of governing obeying the people confronts its problematic sides. If a government is going to do what the people wants, then the problem rises when the people want something different and that these something is contradictory to each other. As in the example cited above, if the Morales government has listened to the Cooperativistas and obeyed them by giving them the control of the mine, it is clear (from the example) that the decision has directly affected the mine workers. It might be that the latter also want to exploit the mine because it has significant resources and thus this will secure their livelihoods. It is at the time these conflicts appear that the government gets confronted with the realities of governing, i.e. that every decision the government makes is bound to affect, positively as well as negatively, at least one group of people.

For this reason, it is very unlikely that the Morales government will continue having success with his governing obeying the people strategy.

September 11, 2012

Why Does the US Denies Bolivia's Request to Extradite Goni

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The government of Evo Morales has been, since 2007, requesting the US administration to hand former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada to Bolivia because he is being accused of Genocide by that government. The Morales government wants to bring Sanchez de Lozada to a court of law to make him responsible of the 67 deaths in a violent confrontation between police forces and demonstrators back in October 2003.

Formally, the US administration has not been willing to give any particular reason for the denial. However, the article below cites an anonymous source who is very familiar with the case who does speak about the reasons.
Trying to shed some light on what’s going on behind the Obama administration denial of the request, ABC News granted anonymity to a source familiar with the matter to give some perspective. The source said there were serious technical problems with the Bolivian extradition request.
 The source essentially says that the Bolivian application is faulty and contains little to none evidence. The implication is that the Bolivian lawyers have not been doing a good job at formulating the application in accordance to the guidelines. A more explicit implication, expressed by the source, was that the Morales government did not want to really extradite Sanchez de Lozada but it just wanted to further demonize the US administration to keep the support solid at home.

These are, I think, two legitimate questions. First of all, why are Bolivian lawyers not able to put together a fact-solid, well argumented application? Personally, I don't think it has to do with them not being able to do that. I would argue further that, to the contrary, Bolivian lawyers must be more than capable to formulate such an application. Some of them might have even studied in the US and thus be familiar with US law.

Secondly, is the Bolivian government rather trying to maintain its popularity high at home by fueling the anti-American feeling they have been propagating? I find the Morales government is certainly capable of that. In fact, there is no denying that the discourse against capitalism and imperialism and Americanism has paid large dividends for Morales. Anti-American feelings run very high in Bolivia in current times.

But, at the same time, we should not forget the other side of the coin. For one, the US government does not have any incentive as of now to cooperate with the Bolivian government. So, why should the US administration give course to the Bolivian petition? Especially, considering that Sanchez de Lozada has been a close ally of the US and, by any means, should be discarded that Sanchez de Lozada will make an attempt to come back to power in Bolivia. This, even if it is just to re-write how history will remember Sanchez de Lozada.

September 06, 2012

Freedom House's Assessment of Latin American Democracies: Wavering, but not in Deep Decline

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Here is an article worth reading from Freedom House that argues some Latin American democracies are wavering, but not deeply declining...

Freedom in Latin America is wavering, not in deep decline. But the wavering should concern us all, and especially those who recall a time when the region was synonymous with state violence, political extremism, and injustice.
I personally think it is a sobering verdict and overall pretty much right. Nonetheless, one has to have in mind all the criticism that has been raised against FH.

September 05, 2012

Is Bolivia a Failed State?

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I was just taking a look at the Failed States Index 2012 site and found something that struck me funny. If you  see the graph below, and if you follow Bolivia's political and social development somewhat, you will notice something that doesn't feel right ...

Yes, that is right, Bolivia is red and the color denotes critical. Now I knew Bolivia was in trouble but to be in critical as a failed state is something new to me.

According to the site, the criteria used to come to this conclusion includes: Demographic pressures, refugees/IDPs, group grievance, human flight, uneven development, economic decline, delegitimization of the state, public services, human rights, security apparatus, factionalized elites, external intervention.

Now, I look at the categories and I am thinking to myself, well, Bolivia might meet some of those criteria but wouldn't a country have to meet 90 percent of the criteria in order to be a failed state?

I mean, yes, there is a significant group grievance (if you consider the Santa Cruz opposition as a group and their desire to have more saying on their own affairs as a grievance). The country has been plagued with inequality, but right now the government has managed actually to reduce it with all those transfers it has implemented. There is no human flight whatsoever, unless the index means emigration with it. In economic terms, Bolivia is passing through one of its best moments ever. The current state has a level of legitimacy rarely seen since re-democratization, granted it is losing legitimacy in the process. Political rights are suffering and not human rights. Finally, and the one thing I do agree with, is that Bolivia's relationship with Venezuela has been problematic, to say the least.

The thing that confuses me is that Bolivia is red as you arrive to the web site. This leads me to conclude, as a Bolivian expert, that either something is wrong with the data or the site has a bug that makes Bolivia show red as in critical.

Personally, I disagree with the results of the index. I don't think Bolivia is a critical case in the universe of failed states. Further, Bolivia might fail in some things but is not a failed state. At the most, I would place it in the "borderline" category.