March 27, 2005
Sobering tales from Bolivians who emigrate to England, France and Spain. The newspaper El Deber, published a series of articles on the stories of some Bolivians who emigrate to these countries in search of work and better living conditions.
One story goes like this: A 29 year old cruceno woman leaves her 7 year old son to go to find work in London. She cannot take her son with her so she leaves him behind in the care of the grand mother.
Another story: Marlene Cruz, an undocumented Bolivian woman working in Madrid, rents a sofa for six hours, so she can lay down and rest after she earned Euro 25 per day cleaning offices.
Another one: Jose Serrano, pays Euro 5 in advanced so he can sleep in a bed for seven hours. He approaches the bed and wakes the person sleeping before him. Serrano confesses "We don't look at each other because of shame......"
Stories like these are all too common among undocumented Bolivian immigrants around Europe.
According to the El Deber story, the government of Bolivia, instead of helping Bolivians may even be harming the only chances of Bolivians living in Spain to obtain a work permit and thus make their lives a lot easier.
El Deber's series of articles are eye opening and very sobering.
March 25, 2005
March 24, 2005
I found an interesting post over at GM's Corner. He ponders about this post by Capitain's Quarters.
What are the responsibilities of a blogger to his/her readers?
Does he have to try to emulate the MSM and write about things so he pleases the majority of his readers?
Or, does she have to write what's on her mind, backed by good and accurate sources, thus bringing her opinion to the public?
Personally, I prefer the second option! What do you think?
Pilgrimage to Copacabana
One of my fondest memories from my life in La Paz is the pilgrimage to Copacabana. This is a trip about three days on foot from the city of La Paz to the little town on the shores of lake Titicaca, Copacabana.
The trip required more than I ever thought I could take. My friends and I departed from La Paz one Wednesday evening. In the beginning the walk was fun. A sudden feeling of liberty and adventure stroked me as we were walking away from the city. We were still upbeat and still walking faster than the rest. The road was full of people. Pilgrims of all kinds. Those experienced who had been there many years before and will be there many years after. Those inexperienced, like us, who were a bit nervous because they did not know what awaited them. But, over all the mood was somewhat festive.
As the trip progressed and time passed on, we started to look for places to spend the night. Boy, there were places to pick. All kinds of offers. With bed. Without bed. On the hey. On the floor. So we felt picky and looked for the best one we could afford. The first nigh was pretty cool. We could sleep relatively well.
The next morning we started to feel the walk. We walked for most of the day. We made short stops, for eating and resting. But, the walk....oh, the walk. There are some moments when you just get in a kind of a trance and start walking automatically. The excitement wore off and tiredness started to take over. One of my friends was talking out loud with out any apparent reason. He was just talking to the mountains. Another heard some donkeys making noise and he thought he understood them. He started translating what the donkeys were saying. At one point, we decided to take a short cut. We were getting impatient. So we walk down this path, which we thought would lead us straight to the mountain we took as our reference point. All of the sudden we see this huge dog with the biggest fangs you could ever imagine coming towards us, barking like crazy. I see this and immediately start running the opposite direction. Meanwhile, one of my friends, still in shock (I think) calmly started to look for a stick he had in his backpack, which he had kept precisely for moments like this. All this while the dog was coming towards us. We just pulled the guy and his pack with us before the dog could get him.
The rest of the day was just as boring. :-) As we approached the next evening and started to think where were we going to sleep, we noticed that there was far fewer people walking with us and that the choice of beds had reduced to nothing. So we ended up having to knock on houses and begging if we could spend the night somewhere. That night I had the best dinner I ever, ever, had in my life. It consisted of freshly brewed coffee and freshly baked bread. Those people in the country side really know how to make some bread.
That night we got out very early because we were loosing time. We had to hurry. So we started walking aroung 3 in the morning. At some point, after an hour walk, we sort of gave up. We were so tired that we just lied on the side of the road. After about half hour of sitting there, I start to look around and suddenly a horrible thought comes to mind. We had heard some supersticious stories about a small town in the Altiplano rising against the owner of the Finca (land) and giving them the most horrible death. These people were murdered close to the town's curch and left in the church. The legend goes that the murdered family still walks around that area and some times go after the pilgrims.
Well, guess where were we lying down. That's right, near the church. When I suggested that to the others we all looked at eachother and at the same time looked at the empty street. There we see this lonely silhouette calmly walking towards us. One of the guys (the one we called Rambo) said is nothing. Don't worry about it. But, as it was dark and the silhouette kept apporaching more and more, we got nervous and started walking faster.
All of the sudden, the silhouette starts hissing and running towards us. He had a cowboy hat on, which made his face even darker. In a low voice he said "let me walk with you". We all said ok and kept on walking. No one dared to look at the guy. We all walked in silence. This accentuated all the noises around. We always wondered about the guy. Why didn't we talk with him?
By the third day we were pretty much robots. We walked and walked and walked until we could not Walk any more. When we reached Copacabana, our hearts filled with joy and admiration. What a view. The lake in front of us, deep blue and the town of Copacabana, idyllic and picturesque. The first thing we did was to go to the local market and ask for a Saice. This is a tradicional paceno dish made with rice, ground meet, peas, souce and onions, masterfully prepared by the paceno women.
After settling down, we spent lots of time on the shore of the lake. Walking around the little town and visiting my friend's finca.
What an experience!
Note: As a suggestion of my wife, I expanded a little bit the story.
March 21, 2005
Once again Apoyo, a company which conducts surveys about Bolivia, has polled Bolivians all over the territory. The results of this poll can be seen on various news websites. Although, some reports differ from others.
However, I looked at many of this reports and took the most consistent. In the absence of the original report we would have to make with the nest best thing.
The numbers run like this:
Between 11 and 15 of March, the company polled 2.155 people. Of those, 654 were between the ages 18 y 24; 854 between 25 a 39 and 647 between 40 a 70. The cities in which the poll was conducted included La Paz, El Alto, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Sucre, Tarija, Oruro y Potosí. Additionally the rural towns of Guaqui in La Paz, Cliza in Cochabamba and Porongo in Santa Cruz were polled.
71% of the people polled said they approve of a harder stance of President Mesa against the demands and actions of the social movements. When asked what should the government do to deal with the demonstrators, 63% said the government should establish dialog and 29% wanted some kind of law punishing those who block streets and the leaders. 71% of the people asked though that the demonstrators and activists are directly responsible for the crisis of the country.
On the questions of the hydrocarbons law, 53% is in favor of Mesa's tax formula (18/32) and 29% is in favor of Evo's 50% royalties. Moreover, 66% of the people said they approved of President Mesa (down from 68% last poll) and 28% said they disapprove of Mesa. When this numbers are broken down by city they read as follows: In Oruro, 86% approve of Mesa; in Cochabamba 85%; in Tarija 84%; in La Paz 79%; in Sucre 76%; in El Alto 76%; in Potosí 70%; in Santa Cruz 44%. While in the rural towns of Guaqui (La Paz) 68% approve of Mesa and in Porongo (Santa Cruz) 33%.
All in all, very good approval numbers.
What does that tell us about the social movements and Evo and the MAS and all the other so called social leaders? Well, I think this gives us a pretty good picture that, one, there is a silent majority and this majority does not unconditionally support all what these "movements" are doing. In fact, if we take the above numbers at face value, we can conclude that al least 71% of the people blame social activist, such as Mamani or De la Cruz or Evo for Bolivia's crisis. Two, the same silent majority does have significant support for what Carlos Diego Mesa is doing. Three, what is not ready to see in the numbers, but one can safely conclude with a little bit of logic, is that those social movements, with a relative small number of supporters, can practically shut down the country. Consequently, I think they have an efficient and highly organized group machine which works wonderfully when the top leaders send orders down the line. Moreover, it works even more beautifully when the different social groups coordinate their actions. By now, they already know the effects of launching an attack in masse.
We also know. They can bring the country and its president to his/its knees!
March 18, 2005
The Bolivian Congress repealed yesterday President Mesa's call for early elections. Shortly thereafter, Mr Mesa went, againg, on TV and told the nation that, indeed, he was staying in office.
The two conclusions were: First, that nobody in Congress was willing to put their jobs on the line. And second, that Mr Mesa lost all of the credibility he got left after he threatened to quit last time.
To me, that is the biggest mistake Mr Mesa could have made. Indeed he lost any credibility he had left. That was his powerful weapon and now he's got nothing.
Now, the so called social movements, have gracefully given the government from a couple of weeks to a couple of months to rest. The trouble is set to begin again at the time the proposed energy law is debated in the Senate.
Meanwhile, Mr Mesa is running out of strategies and arguments. What will he do next?
March 17, 2005
Yesterday was another busy day in Bolivia. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Deputies Chamber passed the controversial article 53 of the new energy law making the 18/32 formula the winner. As we knew, the 18/32 formula meant 18% royalties and 32% taxes on oil and natural gas resources. But, 18/32 is not equal 18/32, as we discover the details.
According to news reports, there was intense negotiations between the Congress and the Executive in the last few days. The sticky point was the wording of article 53. While the formula was not a problem anymore, because Cossio (the president of the Chamber of Deputies) agreed with Mesa, the nature and application of the royalties and taxes was the problem. For Mesa, 32% taxes meant that they were going to be deductible and gradual. As for Cossio it meant the taxes were going to be non-deductible and immediate. Judging by the reports, it looks like Cossio tried to slip his version after agreeing numerous times to back the president's version. A short time before the vote, Mesa and his Minister of Government, Galindo, discovered the change and decided to pull out of any agreement. It is then when Mesa decided to draft and propose a law calling for early national elections.
This is Evo's face at the time he was listening to the President's next move.
there are those who say, including me, this is another move by Mesa to remove stones from his path. He is playing to get re-elected. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure, Evo Morales did not receive the news in a bad way. Reports quote Evo and the MAS faction to agree with Mesa's decision and on top of it they are calling for the two people next in-line (Vaca Diez and Cossio) to excuse themselves from the office of the Presidency. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that Evo is also playing an all for nothing game. He wants to be the next President of Bolivia. I think, if elections were carried out, Evo would be left as the next contender with more possibilities, that is judging by his outcome on the last elections. Although, I have to say the latest assumption contradicts what Ciao! argues. He says that MAS does not have much support in the urban centers. His support is more in the rural areas. Therefore, he would not be as formidable opponent as some make him. Alas, he's got the data to back that up.
Anyway, either way this is looked at, this situation is turning out to be a showdown between Evo and Mesa. Who will end up on top, that is still to be determined. Rest assured that we will be on the look out.
March 16, 2005
Late las night the Bolivian Chamber of Deputies voted to pass the controversial article 53 of the new energy law, which sets the 18/32 formula fiercely backed by the government.
The measure passed by a difference of 11 votes, 58 in favor to 47 against. The deciding factor was the change of mind of several deputies in the New Republican Force (NFR) party faction. According to news reports, this faction was supporting Evo's 50% formula, but now they had a change of heart.
Evo Morales' reaction was to leave the decision of keeping the pressure to the "basis" as he calls his supporters. Evo is going through a period of low support, which might have played a role in the decision of the NFR faction to turn on him.
I just have to publish this article from the El Alto Press Agency (APA). This is incredible. Can you even begin to imagine what is going on in El Alto?
For English speaking readers: Sorry, I haven't had a chance to translate this but I will try to post a summary later on.
I have been trying to post this for about 8 hours, without success. Blogger and my site was inaccessible to me. Don't ask me why, as I don't know. I assume it is one of those notorious Blogger/Google problems that arise once every too often. It is serious enough to make me think about leaving Blogger for bigger and better things. So PLEASE Blogger, don't make me!
Now on to other things.
Just when we thought we had reached the climax of the Bolivian telenovela, the protagonists throw us into new suspense. Yesterday, President Mesa announced he is asking congress to call to general elections on August 28. This means Mr Mesa is raising his hands and giving up (or is he? more on that later). This new action by the president comes a week and days after he offered his resignation to congress. As we already know, congress later voted to keep him in office and ensure he serves to the end of his mandate in 2007. That would be to the interest of everybody, including Evo. The Congress and Mr Mesa closed a four point deal which was deemed "The Pact Before the Nation". The aim of this pact was to make Bolivia more governable.
However, Evo Morales and his party, Movement Towards Socialism, Mr Mesa's principal opponents, were not part of this pact. In fact, they disapproved of it and vowed to keep their pressure tactics (roadblocks) to force the executive and congress to pass a new energy law levying 50% royalties on international investors. Meanwhile, congress, with its typical attitude, moved slowly and in the end was not able to come up with an energy law that Mr Mesa could sign.
Mr Mesa found himself practically incapable of doing anything. The last draw was when the Attorney General and the nine District Attorneys told him that the road blockades were in fact "constitutional" and therefore legal. The president then saw no other alternative than to call to early elections.
nonetheless, this might not be a move solely out of frustrations. As my friend Barrio Flores accurately notes, if there is a favorable time to call on early elections for Mesa, that time is now. Let's see, Mesa is at the peak of his popularity (67% approval rating), he is widely seen as the victim (thanks mainly to his skills in front of the camera), the notoriously silent "silent majority" has spoken and have said they are fed up with the blockades, the traditional parties are at their lowest point in popularity and support and Mr Evo Morales is also at a low point in his popularity.
All this says this move could be beneficial for Mesa. Additionally, the elections are supposed, not only to elect new president and vice-president, but new congress too. In the case Mr Mesa is back in office, he would have a different field to play in, new executive, new congress and perhaps, less of Evo.
But wait, there is more. It so happens that the Mesa might not have acted according to the Bolivian Constitution when he asked the congress to call for early elections. Some constitutionalists have said his actions were not legal. But, Mr Mesa said, if congress does not call on to new elections, he is done with the job and will quit. This time for real.
So what now. Well, nothing........ we just wait until Congress decides either to call to early elections or rejects Mesa's proposal and thus prepares itself to find a new President. Perhaps Evo?
March 15, 2005
By now I am sure you heard about the "Social Summit in Cochabamba" organized by Sacha Llorenti, president and official representative of the Bolivian Human Rights Permanent Assembly (APDHB, in his Spanish acronym), the Bolivian Ombudsman, Waldo Albarracin and representatives from the Catholic Church. This summit is supposed to bring together representatives of the social sectors (local and national), political parties, business leaders, the presidents of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies of Bolivia and representatives of the government. The aims are to bring solutions to the major problems affecting the country at this time. In particular, the summit is to focus on solving the Chapare road blockades, which, as time goes on, are turning specially troublesome. Another sticky point is the one on the royalties on natural gas.
This last point holds the magic key to solving it all, well almost all, the problems presently running down Bolivia's democratic process. There are basically two positions on the problem and neither party wants to give some space. On the one side we have Evo Morales (MAS) together with some worker's unions, who want to implement a 50% royalties on the extraction of Bolivia's natural gas resources. This solution is a product of the Deputy Chamber's Economic Committee, where Mr Evo has considerable influence. These people are set on demanding the government to raise the royalties for, what they argue, the benefit of Bolivia. As they see it today any other solution would only benefit the private companies. These people are in an all out war against private corporations and a system which they see as decadent and detrimental to their way of life.
On the other side, Mr Mesa and his government are set on levying a combination of royalties and taxes known as the 18/32 formula. This formula would charge 18% royalties and 32% taxes in income and profits. This, of course is the preferred version to the energy companies operating in the territory. Mr Mesa argues, this is a "sensible" law and that this law does levy 50% of "taxes" on the companies and, furthermore, it is consistent with the results of last year's referendum. Thus, he is not going back on his word, which he is being accused of by his opponents. Additionally, he argues, by inplementing this formula in to the Hydrocarbons Law, Bolivia would not be scaring international investors. If Mr Mesa has some room to negotiate, it is not visible at this moment.
Now, those are the official reports, but the reality is another. First of all, the summit has been doomed from the beginning. Shortly after being announced, the different participants started to go back on what they said and reconsidering their attendace. Problems started when Evo declared that, if he was going to the summit, he was not considering other solution than the 50% formula. Shortly thereafter, the government announced it was not going because it considered the summit a place where the government could not and should not negotiate. However, Mesa encouraged everybody to assist and formulate proposals. That is also when he said he was sticking to his 18/32 formula. These were two widely expected attitudes. For Evo, this just signals continuity on his demands. That may help somewhat his image, which has been considerably damaged by last week's events. But, for Mesa, this last pronunciation has been a bit damaging. One of the headlines in a widely circulated newspaper read "Mesa: he wants communication, but will not go to the summit" (paraphasing). In the eyes of Bolivians this will mean that Mesa is not doing what he said he will do. Bolivians are quick to judge any politician's behaviour as being "typical" politician (in Bolivia, politician = lier).
In recent reports, I have also read that many of the organizations set to assist the summit did not go. Additionally, one of the organizers, the Chatholic Church, has decided not to assist either. Some of the political parties have also not assisted because they did not receive an invitation. In summary, it has turned out to be another failed attempt to bring solutions. Bolivia's history is full of those.
The key question has been and still is, what will happen next? The way it looks, the road blockades are going to continue. Evo has said that if there is no 50% the road blocks are going to continue and, in fact, they will radicalize as time goes on. That means, small towns in the rural country will continue to be isolated from the world. Many products like banana and other fruits will rot without a chance to be brought to the markets. And, the cargo being held on the roads will also (has also) rot. Just as nothing can come out, nothing can come in. That means, these little towns are going to start running out of supplies. They'll run out of gasoline and food. Some towns have been already running out of things to eat. The people most hurt will be the small producers.
This situation has turned into a confrontation between two of the most powerful man in Bolivia, Mr Evo and Mr Mesa. Who will win? who knows. What's certain is that Bolivia is the looser, as usual.
March 14, 2005
I have the pleasure to introduce two more additions to the list of Bolivian Blogs.
The first blog is "The Economist en su Laberinto", written by Antonio Saravia, who is an Assistant Professor of Economics at American University of Sharjah in the UAE. He is currently teaching Principles of Microeconomics and Industrial Organization. I am particularly exited to list this blog, because American University is my alma mater and I am an economist. So you see the interests there.
The second blog is called "Paulovich". For those of you who are new to this name, Alfonso Prudencio Claure Paulovich belongs to one of the best known humorists/columnists in Bolivia. Paulovich has had a long and distinguished career. Now, he has taken the leap into cyberspace, so it seems, so we can enjoy his humor online.
The Paulovich blog is not authored by Paulovich himself. It was my mistake to assume. Sorry! The blog was created by Ronaldo from Rocko's weblog. Although, I have to say, it looked as Paulovich had gone digital. Once again Sorry!
As you know, you can find the new additions on the right column, under the Bolivian Blogs heading. Enjoy!
March 12, 2005
In the spirit of increasing Bolivia's presence in the Blogsphere, I started a Bolivian Blogs list, which you can see, and visit, on the side bar. This list is full of interesting blogs written by Bolivians or by people living in Bolivia. From this list, I make it a habit to, when needed, highlight Blogs making some news or doing something interesting or some that just catch my attention.
This time I want to tell you about Rolando Lopez's blog, Rocko. It turns out that the BBC in Spanish invited everybody to write a short story about a photo they showed on their "El Espacio del Lector" (Reader's Space) section. The contest is called "Cuentos Cortos a partir de una foto". Rolando stepped up to the challenge and sent in three short stories.
Out of the three, and who knows how many entries a publication like the BBC receives in one of those gimmicks, one of Rolando's short stories got selected as one of the best ten.
Rolando was born in La Paz, Bolivia and currently lives in Spain. Aside from being a real fan from Calvin and Hobbes, he is interested on music, literature and film. He often writes interesting reviews and/or opinions about the stuff he reads, sees or hears. If you read Spanish or are interested on learning by reading something fun, a visit to his blog will definitely pay off. For Spanish speaking people the visit will surely be interesting.
So surf by and leave him a congratulations comment on his achievements.
March 11, 2005
No matter how busy you are at work or how little time you have, you always have some time to do a little post. That is the beauty of blogging. So I said.
So, what's it going to be? 18/32 or 50. Those seem to be the magic numbers which will determine whether Bolivia, once again, enters in a relative peaceful time or not.
Evo and his allies want, of course, the big fat 50. Although, I have to say, I have a feeling Evo has something else up his sleeve. He doesn't seem to want to compromise or to find a solution to the problems. I think he is aiming at a higher number. How about 100%. He wants it all. He wants the presidency. Why settle for 50 when you can have 100%. I have the impression that Hugo Chavez has been warming his ear telling him how his presidency would look like and how good the sound of "President Evo" sounds.
On the other side, Mesa is fighting so hard for the 18/32 number that he is risking loosing it all, the 18 and the 32 as well. But what choice does he have? He is in a manager's position, between the customer and the boss. He has to make both happy. But alas, he has just decided that dealing with the customers is much easier than with the boss. So, he has come up with his "mano justa" (just hand) slogan to deal with the road blocks. I wish him well. I hope he doesn't end up like GSL.
March 09, 2005
In the aftermath of all this chaos, we can see, read and hear that Mesa is staying as president of Bolivia. But, the big question is not, weather Bolivia is now in a better position, no! The question is what comes next?
As we all could, lip-bitingly (I just invented this term) observe, the outcome came down to practically the entire congress (MNR, MIR, UCS, ADN, NFR and son on) backing up Mesa's return (rather stay in) to power. Except of course, Evo's MAS and El Mallku's MIP. The entire Bolivian political espectrum signed a deal, known now as "Acuerdo ante la Nacion" (Accord before the nation) to basically follow four specific points: 1) to pass a "sensible" Hydrocarbons Law that helps Bolivia to industrialize and bring more equality into society. 2) to facilitate the path to the referendum on autonomy (much desired by the cruceño elite). 3) to clear the way towards the elections of Prefects. and 4) to make the Constituent Assembly a reality, expressly, to found a new republic.
However, the significance of this "accord" is very small in light of who is missing. On the one side, the signatory parties do not form a cohesive block. Like I said, they spread all over the political spectrum. Some of them are in a deep identity crisis, like the MNR (Nationalist Revolutionary Movement). This party currently has four different currents who want to take the lead and take the party forwards. The current leadership is closely aligned with Goni Sanchez de Lozada (who is currently fighting against being taken to court for his role in the October events of 2003). The other currents just want to get over Goni and establish their own ideology. The MIR (Movement for the Revolutionary Left) is also in a crisis. Even though, the leader, Jaime Paz Zamora, has just come out of a challenge to his leadership, there is still the issue of little support around the nation to deal with. These two parties are not walking in solid ground and have to be careful on what they say and do, otherwise they will keep loosing supporters.
Most of the traditional political currents (parties) are discredited before the Bolivian population. Not long ago there was a report saying that the view towards these parties was very low amongst the population. This is because these parties were seen as corrupt and inept.
On the other side, the fact that MAS and Evo, together with MIP, have a respectable lead in the polls (specially within indigenous people) speaks volumes for them. They are present in every corner of Bolivia, at least that's what last December municipal elections showed. Present in the Banco Central meeting, they walked away from the negotiating table, because Mesa was insistent in passing a Hydrocabons Law that preserved the 18/32 formula. This means that troubled times are still ahead. In fact, there are reports now that this new pact between the government and the traditional Bolivian political parties resembles too closely, and eerily, to the mega coalition backing Goni Sanchez de Lozada before his departure from government in 2003. You can be sure the "movements" are well aware of this.
According to further reports, the negotiations held in the Bolivian Central Bank building, started with full attendance from all the heads of the factions represented in the congress. At times, reports say, the delegations of MAS and MIP felt that Mesa was too aggressive arguing for a "viable" hydrocarbons law. Too aggressive in the eyes of these two parties who want 50% royalties on the production and export of liquid gas. So aggressive that they came to the conclusion that Mesa was on the side of what they like to call the transnational corporations. So, as good defenders of Bolivia, they withdrew from the negotiations table and vowed to continue their blockades and demonstrations (a.k.a. struggle) to recuperate, what they deemed lost Bolivian resources, in the name of all Bolivians.
A few rumors about Evo Morales. I have been reading in various news sources and blogs that Evo is a bit too close to Hugo Chavez. The fact that Evo does not want to understand the reality of Bolivia is connected to his ambition to become, one day, president of the "Bolivarian Republic of Bolivia", if Chavez has his way. It is very clear by now that Chavez has all the intentions of backing up Evo to become the next president of Bolivia. For one, what better event than the country who is named after Simon Bolivar (the liberator of South America) to become the first country to join his "Bolivarian" dream of creating a united South America. Secondly, Chavez, as the petroleum country in Latin America, has the resources ($$$$) to back Evo's presidency. And finally, Bolivia is the perfect country to dump all of Chavez's populist rhetoric, because Bolivia is so divided by racial resentment and a void for ideology, that Chavez's ideology would just fulfill the wishes of all the people in Bolivia. At least that is what Chavez is thinking.
Now a few rumors about Mesa. We all have seen his incapacity to govern, but we just have to give him kudos on his performance on TV. His speech was a masterpiece in the sense that he could relate directly to the people and was thus able to draw immediately support as a result of it. Let's not forget, he owns the TV channel PAT and he's real career was as news anchor of a news program. He really knows how to take advantage of TV waves and how to relate to people through the screen. Therefore he was able to say a few things to people that other politicians would not have said, in his place. This, I attribute, also to his relative naivete as a politician. If you ask me, I would say that Mesa is not a real politician. I would be willing to bet he regrets every day he is in power. But, as the Germans say, experience makes the master.
In the end, what do we have? For the reader who is seeking conclusions rather than complex explanations of what happened, I can say that the result of all this mess is: CONTINUED UNCERTAINTY. The fact that Mesa was re-confirmed as president gives a certain "dictarorial" facet on his presidency. One could say that he is unchallenged now and will rule as he pleases. Some people would call this "Fujimorismo". If you know what I mean. However, since Evo and his party (MAS) are not subscribers to this "national pact", that means that trouble is still ahead. Granted that Evo's strength has diminished somewhat, one cannot with certainty say that the indigenous people will not obey his orders anymore. Moreover, news reports say that the three most powerful indigenous leaders have just closed a pact. Evo Morales, leader of the coca growers' union and leader of the Movement Towards Socialism, Abel Mamani, leader of the Neighborhood Associacions of El Alto and R. Solares, leader of the Workers' Union have closed a deal to keep the pressure on the government to force a Hydrocarbons Law that asks for 50% royalties from the private companies and demands the expulsion of Aguas del Illimani from El Alto immediately.
How about that? Trouble is just starting................................
March 08, 2005
It all points out to Mr Mesa is going to be staying in power. It also looks like nobody, not even all powerful Evo, will call his bluff.
I have a feeling that after all is said and done, people will be talking about the "brilliant" move Mr Mesa pulled on his two nemesis to gain some leverage and thus be able to continue governing.
But, let's not get ahead of ourselves and think this through. Today, Tuesday 8, 2005, will undoubtly go as a day to remember in the history of Bolivia. The congress (Deputy and Senate chambers) will consider Mr Mesa's resignation letter.
They will have to then decide whether they accept or reject the resignation in the name of the people of Bolivia. That's a heavy burden for any congress, if you ask me. What happens next has been already said. If congress accepts the letter, they will have to elect another president. The next in-line is the Senate Ppresident, Mr Hormando Vaca Diez. But, this is an already troubled choice. Mr Vaca Diez has very little support in congress and he has already been singled-out by Evo and his party as a potential enemy. You see, Mr. Vaca Diez comes from Santa Cruz and belongs to the Movement for the Revolutionary Left party. This alone makes him an enemy of Evo and the "movement". The same reasoning goes for the third person in the line of succession who is Mr Cossio (MNR, born in Tarija), the president of the Deputies Chamber.
But, this considerations are a little bit out of place. Right after Mr Mesa sent his letter to congress, the leaders of all the factions started to talk together. On Monday, they met and according to news reports, the buzz was that the first thing they agreed on was that Mr Mesa should finish his term. I even read that after the meeting, Evo concurred that Mesa should finish his term. However, and this is why I think this move is intelligent, Mr Mesa is using his leverage good and asking for a compromise to let him govern in peace. It was said that representatives from congress and the government (mainly Mr Galindo, Minister of Government) were negotiating a "pact" to stop the preassure against the government, stop making intransigent demands and work to pass a sensible Hydrocarbons Law. In Mesa's words, "one that can be accepted by the international community".
At the same time, the rumors about a coup d'etat started circulating. Because you know, after all this is Bolivia we are talking about, right? NO. As a sign to shut up all those sceptics, the military brass (Air Force, Navy (yes Navy, you read right) and Army) issued a communique calling the citizens of Bolivia to remain calm and assure their intent to remain under the command of the president and to respect the constitution.
So, come Tuesday, and it looks like the negotiations are well on their way and every indications has been given that Mesa will remain in power and will get, at least some kind of pact to continue to be able to govern. This is a lot, in this case. Just to think it could have gone all wrong.
However, I think he shoudn't expect much. Yes, it very well may be, that Evo calls off his general strike and enters in some kind of deal. And let's suppose that Mamani and his FEJUVE also, somehow come to their senses and call off their strike. Chances are, judging by history, this "honey moon" period would not last long. What these two (Evo and Mamani) want is to see results right now. They do not consider how easy it is to attain those demands, they are just in the business of demanding in the "name fo the people". Of course, as of today, Mamani, who is gone into hiding because of death threats, wants to continue with the protests. They want Aguas del Illimani out of El Alto and out of Bolivia, RIGHT NOW!
March 07, 2005
Here are the front page headlines Bolivia made around the world today. These articles were on the front page of the print and online newspapers and online news sources such as Yahoo and Google for at least couple of hours.
Argentina: "Ante la presión opositora. Bolivia: Mesa presentó su renuncia al Congreso".
Chile: "Mesa oficializa su renuncia ante el Congreso. Chile respeta la decision. Fuerzas Armadas se subordinan a Mesa."
Ecuador: "Mesa presento su renuncia al congreso de Bolivia".
Mexico: "Entrega Mesa renuncia al Congreso boliviano".
Paraguay: "Presidente boliviano anuncia su dimision".
Peru: "Presidente Mesa renuncia cansado de las protestas". "Mesa: "Radicales ponen en riesgo futuro de Bolivia".
Uruguay: "Mesa presento su renuncia al congreso".
Venezuela: "Bolivia polarizada por renuncia del presidente Carlos Mesa".
BBC: "Bolivia leader quits amid protest".
CNN International: "Bolivian TV: President offers resignation".
Google News: "Boliva's president resigns".
Washington Post: "Bolivia President Offers to Quit as Protest Mount".
New York Times: "Bolivia Leader Offers to Quit Amid Crisis Over Control of Resources".
For the German media the news was not front page material.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "Boliviens Präsident tritt zurück (Bolivian President steps down)".
Die Welt: "Mesa kapituliert vor den Proteststürmen (Mesa capitulates before the protest storm)".
except for Die Zeit it was front page worthy: "Präsident Mesa Tritt Zurück (President steps down)".
Also for the Süddeutsche Zeitung: "Präsident Mesa Dankt ab (President Mesa resigns)
Front page in Le Figaro: "Le président bolivien Carlos Mesa a présenté sa démission".
Front page in Le Monde: "En Bolivie, le président Carlos Mesa soumet sa démission au Parlement"
El Pais de Espana: "El presidente Mesa presenta su dimision al Congreso de Bolivia tras 17 meses de cargo".
I hope you get a round about on the impact of what is going on in Bolivia on the world. Over in Europe, the news are not that important because Bolivia itself is not a priority for the European Union. What is more, the framework in which Bolivia is considered with in the EU is through development aid and together with all the other Latin American countries. Geographically and politically the Latin American region is a far away place from Europe. Nevertheless, there is some interest on the region.
After un unbearable week and with the prospects of even more political pressure President Mesa submitted his resignation to congress late last night. Under the constitution, if the president wants to resign, he has to present the letter to congress to be considered. If there is enough political will, which usually there is, the resignation is taken and a new president is appointed. The next in-line would be the president of the Senate chamber (Hormando Vaca Diez, MIR). To appoint the president is one of the functions of congress under a representative democracy like Bolivia's.
In a speech given last night, Mesa stopped short of condemning the actions of Evo Morales, FEJUVE-El Alto's head Abel Mamani and Santa Cruz's Civic Committee. In particular he spoke of intransigent positions adopted by Evo and Mamani and the results those were having on the stability of the country.
My take is this is a bold move by Mesa to fight back against those three intransigent groups trying to destabilize Bolivia's democracy. There are several reasons to think this way. First, Mesa's approval ratings are very high. As of January 2005, Mesa's approval numbers in La Paz were 68%, in El Alto were 62% (a jump from Dec. 2004 of 56%), in Cochabamba were 72% and in Santa Cruz were the lowest with 16%, down from 31% in December 2004. Notwithstanding, these numbers are very high for a president, especially a Bolivian president.
Second, his seeming success in the carrying out and the outcome of the July 2004 referendum and the most celebrated December 2004 municipal elections, has given Mesa a push on his popularity. The fact that these two events were carried out in relative tranquility and relative success speak good for Mesa. Thirdly, Mesa is also relying on the spontaneous outpour of support he saw during the tense weeks after his raising the price of gasoline and diesel the first week of this year. Mainly, I think, he thinks he's got lot of support among the population and he is determined to use it.
His resignation is an outcome not desired by many in the country and also in congress. There is a faction in congress denominated "the patriots" which includes congressmen and women from various political parties which support Mesa and what he stands for. This faction could be seen as a semi-coalition acting as the official government ally in congress.
As Mesa knows he's got "some" support at least, he is playing all or nothing (bluffing in a sense) against Evo and Mamani. The population has now two choices. One, to continue with the protests and support Evo and Mamani's leadership and thus walk down the path of chaos and destruction. Two, to support Mesa, let him stay in power and govern and stop doing what the civic leaders want them to do.
In the case of Santa Cruz I wouldn't be much optimistic. The propaganda machine has worked its wonders there. It seems the crucenos have a bad opinion of Mesa and want them out. In the case of El Alto and Cochabamba, the thing is up in the air. It could go any way. On one side, there is clearly some sympathy and some degree of support for Mesa, however, the pressure exerted on the citizen by the civic organization's machinery is considerable. The ever presence of the local government and local neighborhood federations is closer than Mesa could ever get to the average Mamani.
What will it be? It is hard to say, but If I had to guess, I would say there is a real possibility that Mesa would stay in power. On one side, there is not much support for Hormando Vaca Diez in congress. Also, he is seen as another enemy by the Altiplano side because he is from Santa Cruz. On the other side, Mesa has gained some support for him in congress and a very high percentage of the population want him to stay.
March 06, 2005
The political situation in Bolivia is a roller coaster only apt for those looking for extreme excitement. It can change from relative peace to a popular movilization in a matter of days. The civic organizations, especially in Altiplano, are, by now, organized in an efficient system which allows for a massive response even at the whim of the leaders.
Hold on to your seats, we are about to go through a rough ride once again.
According to reports emanating from El Alto, the umbrella organization, FEJUVE (neighborhood federation), is radicalizing protests in El Alto. They have decided to launch an all-out attack by marching into the city of La Paz to close the Congress. They want to march into the city the same way they marched in October 2000 when they demanded the then president Sanchez de Lozada to quit his office. In the midst of their delirium, they think the FEJUVE together with El Alto, are the defenders of the Bolivian natural resources. They also say that the congress has not defended the natural resources and thus it deserves to be closed.
Their demands are:
- Immediate departure of Aguas del Illimani
- Nationalization of the Hydrocarbons
- The responsibilities process against Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and his cabinet
- The constituent assembly
- The resignation of the current El Alto mayor and the Minister of Work
- 100% water services for all altenos
- Not to accept the recently approved tax system regulating commercialization of natural gas
- Hunger strike
- General strike
- Road blocks
- Massive marches
- Town Hall meeting on Monday 7
- Stopping trucks transporting gasoline on their way to La Paz
As stated earlier, these people can do this because they have built an efficient system to coordinate among the many organizations representing different towns. First of all, every single town in el Altiplano is organized in entities, but mainly in neighborhood associations. The system is efficient because it has a vertical structure. It starts with the FEJUVE at the very top, then the regional organizations, down to the much smaller neighborhood organizations. Decentralization has added to this phenomenon because by giving power to the local authorities, these authorities can force every one in the community to participate in the protests. People have no other choice because if they don't, they'll either encounter problems in their bureaucratic paper work or in any dealing with the local government. Local governments are also politically allied with the central forces in El Alto, so they also have to obey orders. It works beautifully!
What I am asking now is if all these protests and demonstrations and arbitrary stances are not violating someone else's rights. Is this not illegal? Where will this end up?
I am starting a new feature on my blog. Once every so often, I'd like to showcase new additions to the Bolivian Blogs list or highlight one or more blogs that merit some kind of mention.
On this occasion I want to showcase two new additions to the list. The first blog is "Su Vida..." This is a blog authored by a boliviana who lives in la bella Italia. She gives us a glance of "her life...." through her peppy narrative. This is one of the two blogs listed which are authored by Bolivian women. These blogs, in my opinion, enrich even more the petite Bolivian blogsphere. The other one is the poetic PEDM.
The second blog to highlight is HÅLФ. This blog belongs to H. Alfredo, a self defined cruceno/computer guy who is currently spending some time in Texas, US. His blog shows us bits of his life in Texas through his acute camara lense. His photos are worth a visit.
So, take some time from your busy cyberlives and pay these two blogs a visit. I assure you, you'll come back, over and over.
March 05, 2005
El Alto is radicalizing its stance to the point of becoming intransigent. It wants the water services company, Aguas del Illimani, immediately out of El Alto. Government officials, private industry personalities, local government officials, among others, are trying to bring El Alto's civic leaders back to reality. They argue that a hybrid water services company would probably solve many of the problems, like the lack of quality, in the company's services. The governments of Germany and Switzerland have said they would probably stop any projects (financial help) if there is no company in charge that meets its requirements.
At this point, I am thinking, why don't these leaders think very carefully about their demands. The major question is whether just to kick-out Aguas del Illimani is to the advantage of the citizens of El Alto and in any case, is it to the advantage to the people of Bolivia.
The case against former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (GSL) took a step back. The Supreme Court sent the Attorney General's formal arraignment back, calling it incomplete. The high court said the arraignment lacked the statements of the accused. Additionally, the court said that the accused were not read their rights properly. Finally, the court added that the office of the DA can fix "defects" in the arraignment.
So for now, the process continues as GSL's ministers, one by one, make their statements of innocence and the GA fixes the mistakes in the arraignment.
March 02, 2005
I've been sort of following this issue of illegal download of music and the efforts of the Recording Industry to stop it. I follow it because, and I assume much like all of you, I like music a lot. Music is not just a hobby is a pleasure for me.
As we know, this issue is being hotly contested in the higher courts of the US. On the one side stand the Recording Industry, which wants to stop P2P services like Kazza because they "contribute" to the illegal download of digital music. In the process, the industry is being seriously affected as well as the artists. On the other side, we have the file sharing companies, the Kazzas of the world, obviously arguing for their existence.
As an individual who loves music and doesn't want to brake the law, I find myself in a difficult situation. Do I succumb to temptation and start downloading music for free, in the process braking the law and possibly end up being sued by the industry? or do I go legit and spend lots of dollars or Euros (depending where you are) on the music that I love so much.
My preferred way would be to go legit and buy the music I want. That way, I, first, am not braking any law. Second, I am paying for all the value added in a song. And third, I am also not making it more difficult for other new artist to have the opportunity to record. Although, I have to say, others would have a point or two to argue against my third reason.
But, how can I be legit and buy my music and not go broke at the same time? As much as I like music, if I would have my way, I would buy, realistically, at least one CD per week. That is not counting all the old releases I haven't got yet. If I would do that I would end up spending at least, and this is the bottom line, between US$50 and US$60 a month. This is crazy!
Now, I can accept the argument coming from the industry that making a CD with more or less 10 songs costs that much. Looking at the case, the cover and the CD, I could understand that. (hum, do I really?) Making CDs is expensive. But, and this is a big BUT, when we talk about digital music, how much does it really cost to make a digital song?
The Washington Post's David McGuire, in his article "Downloading: The Next Generation" (I think you have to be registered to read this) says "Finally, the question of how much digital music should cost remains unanswered. Some market observers and retailers say the current prices, particularly for individual downloads, may be too high. One-time promotions aside, the industry's standard rate for downloads has hovered fairly steadily at the dollar-per-song level since its inception.
RealNetworks offers both the Rhapsody subscription service and an a la carte download store. When the company offered downloads at 49 cents a song during promotions, sales tripled, Wolpert said. But RealNetworks took a loss to offer those promotions, he said, because the record companies won't lower their per-song rates.
IDC's Kay said more pricing flexibility would help, but added that he doesn't see much downward pressure on prices: "If Apple has managed to sell a quarter of a billion songs, it would be hard to tell them they're overpriced, but I would like to see it cheaper and more portable."
It is the thinking from the part of the Recording Industry that the "price is right" which interferes with my desire to buy music. Like McGuire reports, they (the industry) do not want to lower their prices per song, thus maintaining them at a level they deem "right". Now, the way I think recording companies like Sony or EMI price their products is as follows: But, before here is a bit of Microeconomics theory. A firm operating in a perfectly competitive market is pretty much a price taker. It cannot influence the market because it is not big enough. So according to the theory, the price is set by the market. So from that point of view the firms cannot do much but take the prevalent price. But, the market in the US is far from being perfectly competitive, and so the theory does not entirely hold.
What I think happens is that, since these companies are relatively big players, they tend to control the market to a certain extent and as such are able to impose prices. These prices are set much higher than just taking into account cost and profit. The process used is pretty much trial an error, which the industry has gotten pretty good at using. The aim is to find the highest price at which consumers are willing to pay for that product. This sounds reasonable, but the catch is in the "kind of product" the individual product is, and the magnitude of the elasticity of demand.
The price elasticity of demand measures the responsiveness of quantity demanded to a change in price, with all other factors held constant. Having defined elasticity, we can say that if we consider music to be a necessary product, the elasticity of demand for music will be relatively inelastic (E < 1). This means that as the price of music changes (holding income constant) our demand for music will not change much. The recording industry is very much aware of this apparently simple fact. This way the highest price at which consumers are willing to buy their music will be much higher than the normal profits they could achieve with a normal good, in a perfectly competitive market.
The result is higher prices even for digital music. I cannot believe (I have not been able to find data) that a digital song costs US$ 1 to produce. If the recording industry wants to stop illegal downloading, it should stop first bullying everybody and start appealing to the pockets of music lovers. It should bring the prices down to more real levels and stop profiting as much as it can from consumers. After all, braking the oligopolistic characteristics of the industry is, for now, just an idea.