May 28, 2004

Mesa's Migraine

MABB is a registered TM.

For any head of government of a democratic country, the occasional headache is just a part of the job. But, for the president of Bolivia, Carlos Mesa, the occasional headache has turned into one of the worst Migrains attacks of his short presidency. The source of his pain is a complex compound of political activism by certain sectors of civil society, political parties inefficacy in congress, his own government's disunity, foreign pressures and, of course, the complexity of the issues he is set to confront as president of one of the poorest and most politically active nations in the world.

What is worst, his problems are starting to complicate even more. Just yesterday there was a strong confrontation between activists and police in the area of San Pablo (department of Beni). According to reports, the results of these confrontations were 21 wounded and 3 dead. It seems Mesa's problems are taking hin down the same old road of demonstrations, confrontations and violence, which forced the previous president (Sanchez de Lozada) to abruptly end his government.

But, who are the elements making up this problematic compound?

Social sectors

The Bolivian Workers Union (COB), which comprises of the corresponding regional workers unions as well as other civic organizations such as regional miners unions, regional transport workers unions, urban and rural teachers unions and so on, decided to increase their protests to pressure the government into attending their demands and to disavow the upcoming referendum. The COB disputed the government's arguments about the referendum and expressed that such mechanism was designed to protect interests of the transnational energy companies. They further argued the referendum did not addressed the will of the Bolivian population, which is the nationalization of gas and the derogation of the current hydrocarbons law. As a result, they decided to continue road blocks and demonstrations.

The La Paz teachers union maintain the general strike implemented in compliance to the COB's call to action and to ask for a pay raise. This sector has vowed to radicalize its measures as the conflict escalates. Currently, they are asking the resignation of the finance minister. While in Cochabamba, the regional teachers union is blocking roads as a pressure tactic.

The people living in rural areas around La Paz, who are organized in rural workers unions, decided to start road blocks to pressure the government to attend their demands. These measures are also set to radicalize as the referendum approaches and the government tries to bring everything under control.

Members of the Public Transportation Workers Union (ST) are voicing their discontent with the rise in gasoline prices. They have been urged by COB to join the efforts to pressure the government.

A group of about 1,000 miners have taken over a mine in San Vicente (south of Potosi) with arms in hand. They express their dissatisfaction with the government's broken promises to reactivate the cooperative mining system and thus provide employment for miners around Bolivia. In La Paz, a group of 200 miners from the Pacuni mine are demanding restitucion of their employment. They threaten with immolation.

University Students, professors and administrative workers of the University of La Paz (UMSA), are preparing new marches and demonstrations to pressure the government to increase the university's budget.

The bakers union are preparing a rise in the price of bread, due to a rise in the price of energy (gas) and other materials.

In Sucre (political capital of Bolivia), various organizations affiliated to COB, are planning demonstrations, marches and strikes, to pressure the government into funding a development project in Sucre ($4,8 mil.) and to clean the Pilcomayo river of pollution.

The Civic committees Pro La Paz, Oruro and Pando, expressed that they will join the COB's protests if the government does not attend to their demands. The demands: The removal of several government officials in Pando, whom they associate with defending the interests of the timber companies operating in that region.

Pressure also comes from within Mesa's administration. Xavier Nogales, Hydrocarbons Minister, quit his post. It is reported, but not confirmed that Nogales was asked to leave the post after he voiced criticism about the referendum questions. His criticism highlighted redundancies, ambiguities and lack of clarity in the formulation of the questions. Nogales leaves his post after only 40 days as member of the Mesa cabinet and at a critical time for the government.

A police officer, Jose Luis Mamani, has started a hunger strike to pressure the government improvements on the police department's administrative regulation and to show his disapproval of the referendum.

On another front, the US government, through its embassy in Bolivia, continued its pressure on congress to ratify the immunity treaty, signed on May 2003 with the previous administration of Sanchez de Lozada. The Bolivian government is worried about the outcome of the vote, because if the treaty is not ratified, it will result in more difficulties dealing with the government of the US. Mainly, the military aid, which is used to combat drug trafficking, will be compromised.

The private sector (business owners) as well as the energy companies, are worried about nationalization. Thus, Mesa has pressure to make sure his government respects the law and the contracts signed with these enterprises.

As we can see, the picture is complicated, and as stated earlier, it is about to get even more complicated. Every day unions or civic organizations join the COB's call to action. Mesa's pains are here to stay, for the moment. The solutions rest would on Mesa's political ability and astuteness.

One solution could be to share the power and thus the responsibilities with key leaders of these social sectors. This would bring into action these sectors and would result in to such sectors taking ownership of the many problems Bolivia faces. Of course, this solution can also result on a radical movement of the government to more populist policies and a rapid descent into chaotic situations. Not to mention, the possible effects on Bolivian democracy, foreign relations and stable economic growth.

Source links:
COB, CSUTCB,

May 25, 2004

Email from a reader

MABB is a registered TM.

An email from a reader asks very interesting questions. Following, is the unedited email:

Well, good article, although it is almost impossible to answer these questions in a short article, as they are quite complex. That is in my view another weakness of the entire referendum. Too many questions and too complex to answer (especially in a country with such a high illiteracy, as you point out). To be specific: how will they measure if the referendum has succeeded or failed? How will the government measure the answers to these questions? Plus the question about whether or not the current policy and thus the current government is supported, has no place in a referendum. For the very reason that, what happens if the answer is no.

Moreover, most people won't really understand what they are saying yes or no to, and can be all too easily swayed by lobbying interest groups to vote one way or another. It can also lead to a splitting of the population, which might again result in more public turmoil on the streets.

What do you think?

My answer

I agree with the statement that there are too many questions. There are too many issues at stake and that might lead to confusion and prevent some people from understanding the referendum and its goals. However, there is nothing that sets limits on the number of questions in a referendum. Ironically, you are not the only one who is uncomfortable with these questions. Manfred Reyes Villa, the leader of NFR (New Republican Force), asked the government to rephrase the questions. In his opinion, they do not reflect the people's voice.
How will the government measure the success or failure of the referendum, you ask?

Well, I am thinking the government is heavily betting on the "yes" vote. That is how the questions were designed, in the first place. That is how they will be measured. They realize that the population is not the most literate, therefore, in their words, to give chance illiterate people to vote, they color coded the ballot. That is, "green" for "yes" and "red" for "no". Again, they are hoping to get as many greens as they can. The government's information campaign is concentrating in showing where is the green square and what does that mean. That will be, for the government, a measure of success.

On the other hand, if the worst happens and there are more "no" votes than "yes" votes, as stated earlier, the government is in big trouble. That would mean, that the people does not trust Mesa to do a good job and to set good policies that benefit Bolivia.

I guess, in the end, the outcome of the referendum will be the ultimate measure. It will decide whether the Mesa administration stays or goes.

On your question on what has a place in a referendum.......

Actually, what I've read, about referendums, is that they are legislative and/or constitutional mechanisms providing for the people of a country to decide on important issues affecting them. These issues can be political, legislative or social. The questions can originate from the legislative or executive branches of government.

As far as I can understand, the questions asked in the Bolivian referendum, are valid. The only question that, perhaps, is a little doubtful is question number three. This question asks about the recovery of the state oil company (YPFB). It seems to me, this is a question more for the ministry of energy than for the people. However, we have to keep two things in mind here. One is, if YPFB is recovered, it is likely to have an impact on the people of Bolivia by means of employment and revenues generated by the commercialization of oil. And, two, that is what presumably the Bolivian people, through the organized labor and other social organizations, want.

Finally,

Turmoil, there will be anyways. That is what I talk about on my next article.

Thanks for reading and keep on coming back!

May 21, 2004

The Questions are out

MABB is a registered TM.

President Mesa, in a speech given on Wednesday night, May 20th, made public the questions he is planning to ask Bolivians in the July 18th referendum. The questions are listed below. Following the questions in Spanish are the translated questions (by me) in English.

Las preguntas que el Presidente propone para el 18 de julio.

1. Esta usted de acuerdo con la abrogacion de la Ley de Hidrocarburos 1689 promulgada por Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada? Si o No.

2. Esta usted de acuerdo con la recuperacion de la propiedad de todos los hidrocarburos en boca de pozo para el Estado boliviano?

3. Esta usted de acuerdo con refundar Yacimientos Petroli­feros Fiscales Bolivianos, recuperando la propiedad estatal de las acciones de las bolivianas y los bolivianos en las empresas petroleras capitalizadas, de manera que pueda participar en toda la cadena productiva de los hidrocarburos?

4. Esta usted de acuerdo con la poli­tica del presidente Carlos Mesa de utilizar el gas como recurso estrategico para el logro de una salida util y soberana al oceano Paci­fico?

5. Esta usted de acuerdo con que Bolivia exporte gas en el marco de una poli­tica nacional que cubra el consumo de gas de las bolivianas y los bolivianos, fomente la industrializacion del gas en territorio nacional, cobre impuestos y/o regali­as a las empresas petroleras llegando al 50 por ciento del valor de la produccion del gas y el petroleo en favor del pai­s; destine los recursos de la exportacion e industrializacion del gas, principalmente para educacion, salud, caminos y empleos?

Here is the translation.

The questions president Mesa proposes for the July 18th referendum.

1. Do you agree with the abrogation of the Hydrocarbons Law 1689 signed by Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada?

2. Dou you agree with the recovery of all Hydrocarbons from the well head (mouth of the well) in favor of the Bolivian State?

3. Do you agree with the re-creation of Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos (state oil company), recovering the interests (stocks) of all bolivians in the capitalized petroleum companies in a way that it participates in the production of hydrocarbons?

4. Do you agree with president Carlos Mesa's policy of utilizing gas as a strategic tool to gain useful and sovereign access to the sea?

5. Do you agree with an export policy that covers local consumption; promotes industrialization of gas in Bolivia; charges taxes and/or rights fees to the petroleum companies arriving at a 50 per cent of the production value of gas and oil; and uses these resources for education, health, roads and jobs?

Reactions
These questions, as expected, have triggered reactions from a variety of political actors nationally. One reaction, which I did not expect, was the support of Evo for the questions and the referendum. Perhaps it is because this referendum is what he was looking for. He even said that his party (MAS, Movement Towards Socialism) helped create the second question. More support, again as expected, came from coalition partners MIR (Movement for the Revolutionary Left), MNR (Nationalist Revolutionary Movement) and many parlamentarians who backed this idea. On the other hand, there was disent and repudiation coming from the social sectors and civic organizations (grass roots organizations, NGOs and a vast network of unions), who are seeking the total nationalization of the Energy sector. Another sector against this idea, which particularly has a problem with the questions, is the private sector. The association of private enterprisers said these questions are confusing and do not address the real problems Bolivia faces. Additionally, there are a number of civic organizations in Santa Cruz (the second largest city), which are against the referendum. They argue that such a mechanism is not legally backed and is unconstitutional. Finally, the NFR (New Revolutionary Force) has officially characterized the referendum as unconstitutional and will be challanging it in the courts. They also argued that the questions are too dificult to understand.

Analysis
As one might expect, the formulation of such questions is, to say the least, difficult. However, having said that, the referendum will happen and thus the questions have to be correctly and clearly formulated. Especially in a country like Bolivia, where illiteracy reaches about 14 per cent of the population. In rural areas this number is higher due to the poor education, insuficient infrastructure, isolation from the urban centers and to the fact that the majority of people who live in rural areas speak Spanish as a second language. Not to mention the fact that illiteracy in women is much, much higher.

So, are these questions clearly formulated? In my opinion, some are not as clear as they could be and others are somewhat complicated. They are designed to bring a satisfactory outcome for the government.

Question number one asks whether the country should throw away the Hydrocarbons law 1689 signed into law during the previous administration. If the old law were to be thrown out and since it is well known that Mr. Mesa wants to introduce a new energy law, this would prove to be all too convenient for Mr. Mesa. Therefore, it seems that to achieve this result, the question includes the name of the former president Sanchez de Lozada. Now, we all know that the government is keenly aware, at this point in time, the name Sanchez de Lozada is generally despised by the population. The asociation of anything with the name Sanchez de Lozada will cause inmediate rejection. So, I ask, why did Mr. Mesa include the name of former president Sanchez de Lozada, when he could have simply asked whether the law should be abrogated or not?

In the second question, the government asks whether Bolivians are in favor of recovering the ownership to natural gas from the energy companies. This is a question that had to be carefully formulated. Every word had to be carefully thought out. The implications of making a mistake are too big. The main demand of the social sectors is the nationalization of the energy resources (natural gas, oil, etc.), but the question here is asking whether the government should recover the rights of ownership of the hydrocarbons by means of renegotiating the terms of the contracts with the energy companies. This entails understanding that The word propiedad (property) refers to the gas once it is out of the well. According to the contracts, once there is gas flowing out of the well, this gas becomes property of the company extracting it. The hydrocarbon underneath the earth is still property of the Bolivian state. The question does not ask whether Bolivian gas should be nationalized or not. The government has no intention of taking away all the rights of the companies or entirely taking over the production of oil and gas. In the eyes of the world this would mean commercial suicide for Bolivia. The key aspect here is whether the average Bolivian will know what this question really refers to, maily that the energy companies are there to stay.

Questions number three and four are pretty clear, in my opinion. However, if there is one clearly formulated question, number four is it. It is clearly asking if the government is right in using Bolivian gas as a political tool to help Bolivia gain access to the seas. This point will directly affect diplomatic relations between Bolivia and Chile. This question will have many foreign policy implications for Bolivia, but we'll leave this issue for another time. I think it is pretty clear what the answer will be, considering that Bolivians have never lost hope in recovering their shores.

The fifth question asks whether Bolivians will support Mr. Mesa's new hydrocarbons law. There is a lot riding on this question. It implicitly asks if the people have faith in Mr. Mesa or not. If the question is "yes", then the Mesa administration can move forward with its policies and projects. However, if the anwer is "no", Mr. Mesa will be left in a difficult position. He may suffer a similar fate as his predecessor. Nevertheless, it is a long question and as such will require for people to actually read and think about it, if the government does a good job in informing and educating the people about the questions and what they mean for Bolivia, it should not be difficult to understand it.

Lastly, the success or failure of the referendum lies entirely on how well the government conducts its information campaign about the referendum. People need to discuss the issues and for them to do this, they would have to have a pretty good understanding of what it's at stake. Of course, Bolivians are not ignorant about the issues, they know in rough terms what is it they need to do and think about. And, if they do not know, the social sectors opposed to the referendum will make sure they hear their side of the issue. Therefore, if the government does not carry out an efficient info campaign reaching out to the furthest corners of the territory, the referendum has little chance to be in favor of the government.

May 19, 2004

Gas: to nationalize or not, that is the question

MABB is a registered TM.

Boliv-gas poll To nationalize the production of natural gas or not, that is the question at the root of the problem Bolivia is facing at the same time it wants to hold a referendum.

The mesa administration wants to hold a referendum on July 18th to give Bolivians the chance to have their say on its new energy policy. The government is hoping to gain legitimacy to implement such policy, which touches on issues like natural gas sovereignty, the reactivation of the old state oil refinery and industrialization.

On the other hand, there are various "social sectors" under the radical leadership of Jaime Solares (COB), Felipe Quispe (Movimiento Pachakuti) y Roberto de la Cruz (COR-El Alto) and others, demanding the abrogation of the current energy law. These movements want to nationalize the energy sector. They argue that the referendum will not solve anything and does not address their concern. Thus, they are a potentially strong opposition to the legitimacy of the referendum.

One look at the Bolivian media suggests that there is overwhelming support for this idea (nationalization of natural gas production). According to a poll carried out by Red Erbol in La Paz and El Alto (the most populated area in Bolivia, 2,35 million people as of 2001 census), 83 percent of the people want the natural gas to be in the hands of Bolivians, in spite of the potential economic setbacks this decision might represent. Furthermore, 70 percent supports the reactivation of the old state oil refinery, Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB). Finally, 69 percent of the people in the polled areas support the export of gas through a Peruvian port.

According to a report of the paceno newspaper La Razon, 11 social sectors -among them, COB, COR, CSUTCB, various workers unions, teacher unions and other organizations- have voiced their demand and thus their implicit support for the nationalization of the natural gas resources. At the same time these same social sectors have issued, what it amounts to one more threat, to president Mesa. They demand the nationalization of the gas reserves or they will force Mesa out of his job. The same way they forced out Sanchez de Lozada.

So the problem stands like this: The government is set on holding the referendum. The so called social sectors are opposed to the referendum and instead they are talking of boycotting it. At the same time, they are holding negotiations with the government to resolve their differences and are planning their pressure tactics by calling all Bolivians to engage in road blocks, hunger strikes and marches and demonstrations.

A fine mess this is! The result will be as usual: disruption of life in the major cities, confrontations between demonstrators and police and disruption of economic activity. Plunging Bolivia downward into this caotic spiral, so dangerous to stability.

However, there is one good thing to highlight. The good thing about this whole issue is that, for the first time in its history, Bolivia will hold a referendum. This is a very important exercise to reverse the weakening trend Bolivian democracy has been placed in the last decade. Hopefully, as a result of this referendum, Bolivia's, as well as the government's, energy policy will carry more legitimacy and will stand the test of times.

May 18, 2004

Face lift!

MABB is a registered TM.

Hi, with the introduction of Blogger's new look and interface, I have tried to give a face-lift to my blog. Of course, as with everything new one tries, there are good things and bad things to consider.

The good thing about the face-lift is that the blog looks spiffy. That is, it has cool colors and the format enhances the look. A new feature is the links to previous posts. This way, one can take a look at recent posts and go directly to the one that sounds more interesting. Another good thing is the new comments feature. Before this upgrade, Blogger did not support comments. What I did was to use a free comments service called Haloscan. However, now Blogger does support comments, but I just don't know how it will work. I'll just try it out for a while.

The bad side of the face-lift is that, as a result of it, I lost all the additions to the blog I previously made. In addition to loosing all my links, ability to syndicate and blogroll lists, I lost all the comments I had. With that, I also lost the ability to trackback. Well, now I will just have to do it all over again. It is not that much. One good thing is that the use of the images are left intact. I don't know why, I still have to figure that out!

All in all, I think these changes will enhance the experience and will be for the better.

May 14, 2004

Back from vacation

MABB is a registered TM.

Today, I get online, go to Blogger and, all of the sudden, I find myself in a completely strange and new environment.

Turns out that, Blogger has a new face. The people at Blogger have been working hard on revamping their site and adding all this new things that enhance the utility of the site. I have to compliment the people at Blogger.com. It looks very nice! Although, I still have to read about what is new, the little that I saw was enough to get me eager to start.........

Well, now that I am back from vacation (Poland, for those of you who have to know!), I thought I start with a little humor. These are two images I found in the internet that inject a little, yes! "humor", into American politics. Of course, the photos are doctored. Unfortunately I don't know who the author(s) is(are).


bushupsidedownbook1

This one is a favorite among the Democrats.


daschlesaluting1

This one is a favorite among the Republicans.

These photos are somewhat light, in comparison to the cartoons, videos, photos and other media posted on the websites of the two parties. You can visit these sites by clicking on any link under the heading: US Political sites, on the left.

Well, chuckle away!

May 03, 2004

Vacation!

MABB is a registered TM.

I'll be off-line for about a week. I also wanted to share with everyone this graphic I found on the Internet. It was created by Joe from American Leftist blog. This is an image created from the photos of all service man and women who died in Iraq. I don't really know what to think about it. I still have to make up my mind. My emotions are mixed........Confused. I only know that it makes me want to think hard about what is currently going on in that part of the world and what are we doing to make it better..... What do you think?


Bush-mosaic1

May 01, 2004

What's in the mind of the average European, now that the EU is bigger?

MABB is a registered TM.

The average citizen of the "old" member countries (EU-15) have lots of questions about the EU enlargement process. Here are some of the questions.

    Q1. What does the enlargement mean for the EU-15?

    A. The enlargement means that, as of 12:01, 1 May, 2004, 10 new countries are members of the EU. These countries are: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Malta and at least the Greek part of Cyprus. The new EU will encompass 25 countries; it will have around 450 million people; there will be 21 languages spoken and it will have around 40,000 Km of sea coast.

    Q2. Will there be a massive East-West movement of people?

    A. Bigger than it already is? No. Most of the "old" EU countries (at least the ones seen as most attractive, Germany, France, Italy, England) will still keep tight restrictions protecting their own labor markets. However, according to EU rules, starting 2011, all labor markets in the union should be open to any EU citizen.

    Q3. Who is paying for the enlargement?

    A. All EU member countries must pay, per year, 0,045 per cent of their GDP for the enlargement process. The new members will get, until 2006, Euro 65 billion. This money should be used to further the unification process (infrastructure, justice system, administration, etc.).

    Q4. What will happen with EU companies? Will they move to the East?

    A. This has been happening already. Companies Europe-wide have moved their operations to the new member countries citing economic grounds. A worker in the new member countries costs, on the average, between 1/4 to 1/5 versus a worker in Germany, for example. Experts expect the business environment in the new member countries to become more stable, thus creating more incentives for firms to move. However, it remains to be seen, whether or not firms choose to move.

    Q5. When will the Euro replace the currencies of the new members?

    A. First, the new members must fulfill the Maastrhicht criteria (planned government deficit must not be more than 3% of GDP and gross debt must be no more than 60% of GDP). Second, according to exchange rate rules, members can introduce the Euro at the earliest, 2007. Nevertheless, experts estimate that the economies of the new members won't be ready until 2009.

    Q6. What would be an immediate benefit for a citizen of the "old" member countries?

    A. Tourism and shopping. Due to the strength of the Euro, European tourists can still take advantage of difference in prices.

    Q7. Which language will, the average European citizen, speak?

    A. Most likely, English. Around 80 per cent of the people living in the new member countries say they can speak "at least a little English."

    Q8. Will an investment in the new countries be safe?

    A. According to the rules, banks and insurance companies of the new countries will be able to compete in the new enlarged market. Finance experts say, these companies will probably entice new investors with higher interest rates. Additionally, EU rules provide with an insurance of up to Euro 20,000 for each investment.

These are just some questions being provided as information throughout the European media by the media.