July 30, 2014

Elections 2014: Political Persecution?

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Once again, coincidence or not, legal processes against opposition candidates are springing up. I think the question is relevant. Is there a concerted effort withing the government to take opposition candidates out of the race or at least damage their possibilities? Why are such suits coming just before the elections when, some of them, have been there for years?

Lets see, two first cases have come out recently. First, Juan del Granado, presidential candidate for MSM, has been dealing with accusations brought against him by the national office of the comptroller. The office re-opened (meaning the process was already there for some time) an investigation for irregularities in the construction of three bridges in La Paz while he was the Mayor. Del Granado has been cited to declare and the meetings have been postponed. He alleges political persecution to take him out of the race. In similar terms, del Granado’s Vice president candidate, Adriana Gil, has been dealing as well with her mother’s arrest under corruption charges. This time the regional office of the attorney is behind. She too alleges that the government wants to take the MSM candidates out of the race.

This post can be updated as more cases come to light.


July 25, 2014

Government Control of Citizens?

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The Bolivian government has been implementing what it has called a program for controlling, and therefore reducing, gasoline and natural gas smuggling activities. The name of such program is B-Sisa, which translates to Bolivian System of Aut-oidentification, and is under the jurisdiction of the National Hydrocarbons Agency, a regulatory agency. The problem for the government is that, because it subsidizes these products, many people see this as an opportunity to make extra money. In addition, the government indirectly ends up subsidizing illegal activities such as the production of drugs, which make use of gasoline as well as the illegal/clandestine exploitation of some minerals.

Why is this important?

The objectives of such an effort are fine, the problem is on the procedures used to apply such control. Since mid-2013, all automobiles, heavy machinery and motorcycles owned by Bolivian nationals are obliged to obtain an RFID sticker or a card (in motorcycles something like a ring) with which the control should be implemented. The procedure is more or less like this. Every car has been registered (name, address, ID, car, color, model, car ID number, etc.) in the agency's database by agents located in gas stations. So, for example, a person filling his or her tank drove into a gas station and while or after he or she bought gas, an agent came and registered them and their car and placed the sticker on their windshield. According to some press reports, close to 900,000 vehicles have already been registered. Currently, the agency is in the process of registering heavy machinery and motorcycles.

What is the problem with such program?

The problem with such a program is that the state is able now to monitor (closely) the consuming habits of private citizens because they gather private and habitual information about citizens. First, it is a concerted effort among various government agencies. For example, not only the hydrocarbons agency is involved, but also the Ministry of Productive Development and Plural Economy, the Authority for Controlling and Social Control of Enterprises, and the General Directory of Controlled Substances. Indirectly, the ministries and agencies involved are under the supervision of the Ministry of Government and the office of the Presidency.

How do they monitor?

First, as mentioned above, the agency gathered private information on each citizen who owns or drives a car. The information gathered was name, address, ID, telephone, car make, model, car ID number, licence plate and color. In addition, agents made digital photos of each registered car. Secondly, with the aid of the RFID chip placed in the sticker, the state (in this case the hydrocarbons agency) knows who is filling gas at the moment, how many liters and where he or she is located. The chip, as soon as is recognized by the antennas installed in every gas station in the country, establishes a connection with the hydrocarbons agency's data base and pulls up the information gathered and the photo. When the transaction ends, the information is sent to the agency. That way, the agency continuously gathers more and more information and can ultimately monitor each individual driver.

What are the implications?

The implications are double-edged. While on the one side, the state might have implemented an effective means to control or prevent that gasoline or natural gas be used for illicit activities, it has also at its disposal a powerful tool to monitor some aspects of the lives of its citizens. The government itself mentions that one of the objectives is citizen security. In light of this, not only smuggling can be monitored at every station along the borders but also, since the information includes names, people who are crossing the borders for private reasons. Another benefit for the state is the monitoring of sales of each gas station. While this might sound good for consumers who think this type of control is necessary, the monitoring itself is a problem.

With this type of control/monitoring there is a significant amount of privacy that gets lost. For those of us who consider privacy and the liberty to move free and anonymously around, this is a true concern. The benefits just do not outweigh the costs.



July 16, 2014

Elections 2014: The First Potential Problems Surface

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The five political alliances taking part in the Bolivian general elections in October 2014 have officially submitted their list of candidates for the legislative to the electoral court. For more on this please see the prior post. This post is about the problems already arising from the submission of such lists.

To start of however, a bit of context. As you know, the Plurinational Bolivian State has a bicameral system with a higher chamber being the Senate and the lower chamber being the Chamber of Deputies. The Senate has a total of 36 seats, with four seats for each of the nine departments. The lower chamber has 130 seats, with half being filled by the proportional representation method and the other half with first-past-the-post method. This, so called, mixed member proportional representation method is seen as the most fair, and not only by Bolivia. 

Having said that, shortly after the different political organizations submitted their lists to the electoral organ, there were already people complaining about the process, in particular about how the lists were filled. The major complain across political organizations seems to be that the lists have been filled not by consensus but by designation of some people in higher posts. That is, for example, one complain within the MAS. One supporter from Santa Cruz complained the names already agreed upon in a locality in Santa Cruz had been changed by two leaders of the MAS. The supporter complained the statutes had been violated because a seniority rule was not respected. An additional complaint was about the number of persons invited to run under the MAS. These people have recently become members of MAS. This means that people who have been in the MAS for a long time and wanted to fill a position were taken out and were replaced by some other person who was recently invited by some MAS leader.

Similar complains echoed within the MSM, whereby this organization does not pretend to principally open up spaces for participation for indigenous people while the MAS does. However, the basic pattern of the problem is the distribution of spaces (in this case candidacy posts) among the various organizations allied. Following this logic, if one organization does not respect what has been agreed upon, the alliance may run the risk of falling apart. The case of the UD, is similar but with one distinction, namely the political group has tended to recycle politicians from the traditional political parties and the MAS renegades. But essentially the distribution of positions in the electoral lists has been the glue keeping together (even the MAS) these alliances.

Two things need to be highlighted when looking at the lists, which you can access in the electoral agency's website. There are a number of family members coming up within the lists of candidates. The most conspicuous are the nephew of Evo Morales and the sister of MSM Vicepresident candidate Adriana Gil, who will run for lower chamber seats. I did not look at the lists careful enough to see other cases of nepotism? but I would not be sure these were the only cases. The second thing to be highlighted is the number of women in the lists. I think Bolivia has made tremendous progress in the area of women representation in leading posts. A news report says women make up 52% of all the candidates in this election. We should add that a significant percent of these have a real chance to being elected because they are incumbents as opposed to just substitutes.

Elections 2014: The Candidates are Set and Official Campaigning can Begin

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This week was the deadline for the citizen groups, which will be disputing the general elections in October 2014, to present their official candidates lists. With the submission of these lists the candidates are set and officially allowed political campaigning can begin.

There are basically five groups or as we might call them political alliances, that will take part in the general elections. The most important is, of course, the current government's alliance Movement Towards Socialism - Instrument for the Peoples Sovereignty (MAS - ISPS). This alliance will be led by Evo Morales and Alvaro Garcia as President and Vicepresident candidates, respectively. This is what in Bolivian politics is known as the official side or in Spanish, partido oficialista.

As it was expected, the opposition could not agree on an alliance capable of making real opposition to the MAS. The result of all the meetings, negotiations and gatherings was the opposition being split into four groups or political alliances. These are: the Movement without Fear (Movimiento Sin Miedo, MSM), which placed Juan del Granado and Adriana Gil as President and Vicepresident candidates; Democratic Unity (Unidad Demócrata, UD), which designated Samuel Doria Medina and Ernesto Suárez as President and Vicepresident candidates; the Green Party of Bolivia (Partido Verde de Bolivia, PVB), which postulated Fernando Vargas and Margoth Soria as President and Vicepresident candidates; and lastly the Christian Democratic Party (Partido Demócrata Cristiano, PDC), which postulated Jorge Quiroga y Tomasa Yarhui as President and Vicepresident candidates. If you want details on these groups take a look at my prior posts about the Elections 2014.

A clear continuation of the trend set in 2002 and confirmed in 2005 is the absence of the so called traditional political parties. I am sure you noticed that when I mentioned the political organizations taking part in the elections I described them as groups or political alliances. The reason is because many if not all traditional political parties have lost credibility in the course of the last decade. That is the reason why politicians now tend to form, more or less, ad hoc political groups or alliances to be able to run for public posts. In the opposition, the only traditional party is the Christian Democratic Party, the rest are alliances. In fact, the most important traditional political parties to date, the MNR and the ADN, are about to lose their accreditation at the electoral court.

So there you go, the political landscape is clear (I hope, this is Bolivia after all), the candidates are nominated, and the campaigns are set to begin, right? Well, for the MAS and other alliances such as the MSM, the campaigns were already open some months ago even though this was illegal. But, heck, what is one more month or less?