My name is Miguel A. Buitrago. Welcome to my blog. If you want to know more about me visit my personal website. Thank you! Happy readings!!!

September 30, 2005

Another Crisis Fast Approaching

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Another crisis might be fast approaching due to the Constitutional Court's decision to find in favor of the Santa Cruz legislative faction. This decision ordered Congress to redistribute the seats in Congress in favor of Santa Cruz. According to the constitution at least half of the seats in the Bolivian Congress must be distributed proportionally using the last census numbers. The results of the last census in 2001 account for a massive emigration of the population eastward to Santa Cruz city. It is because of this phenomenon that Santa Cruz is due to gain four seats in Congress at the expenses of La Paz, Potosi and Oruro.

This situation has had a serious effect on the December 4 general elections. Because the seats have to be redistributed, Congress had a window of about a month to act and just follow the Constitution. However, this is easier said than done. The political factions of La Paz, Potosi and Oruro have decided not to abide by the rules and fight for their congressional seats. As a result Congress is currently in a stalemate not being able to deal with the issue with the necessary expediency. This uncertainty has brought the elections into question.

The ramifications are larger. On the one side, the political parties, which are in the middle of their political campaigns, have reacted negatively to the possibility that the elections be delayed. Two political parties, USTB and FREPAB, have stopped completely their electoral campaigns. Tuto Quiroga has repeatedly voiced the necesity to hold the elections on the date agreed. Doria Medina and Evo Morales have also expressed their expectations that the elections will be kept on track.

However, things don't seem to be going well. El Diario reports that Congress is speaking already of delay, presidential succession, or for President Rodriguez to stay beyond the 180 days the constitution allows. These are dangerous waters because many of the most radical elements in Bolivian society are expecting the elections to renew the leadership in Bolivia. If the elections are postponed, it might be the case (I'd say it will be the case) that a new social crisis explodes in the country. And this time the consequences are not easy to be discerned.

Adding to that fear are comments like Evo Morales' comments saying (almost instigating) that if the elections were to be delayed, the so called "social movements" will come out on the streets and revolt. Morales accuses the civic leaders of Santa Cruz and, not the least, the Constitutional Court of acting in concordance to keep what he calls the "neoliberals" in power.

Others, like the civic and social movements in El Alto accuse the wing of the MNR aligned with former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada of purposely destabilizing the country. These "activists" also accuse the Constitutional Court of acting against their movements.

This is a very volatile situation and period in which Bolivia is going in. The tempers are flaring, accusations are being thrown right and right and frustrations with the political elite is reaching a critical level. The people in Congress are clearly not acting in the best interest of the country.

President Evo Morales?

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Mr Evo Morales, leader of Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) and candidate to the presidency representing that political party, is behaving more and more like the future president of Bolivia.

For the first time since I knew Bolivia was going to hold general elections on December 4 I have had a serious, and I have to admit, chilling thought that Evo Morales was heading to win not just the presidential elections, but the necessary votes in parliament to become the next President of Bolivia. Sure, before I have asked myself if Evo really had chances. But, after closer examination of the process, I pretty much came to the conclusion that Morales was too extremist, out of touch with the middle class and not prepared for the presidency. However, in the last few weeks, and particularly after it became clear who would be seeking the presidency, Evo started to behave and speak more and more like as if he would be sure he'd be succeeding Rodriguez Velze.

With in the last month or so, Evo has changed his radical rhetoric. As of late, he has started to send signals that he would not be a populist and radical president who would expropriate the energy conglomerates operating in Bolivia. In fact, he has repeatedly observed that he wants to do business with the companies, but on his terms. He has also expressed clearly on what it might be called his first foreign policy stance. He will repeal the "zero Coca" policy by a policy of zero drugs. That way he has implicitly (more directly) taken out the US help on the war against drugs. Also he has clearly aligned with the Chavez and Castro regimes and this placed in direct confict with the US government.

The poll results are certainly having an effect on him. Because he has seen himself with the real possibility of winning the vote, he has had to modify his behavior and rhetoric. The polls have also served to strengthen his lead. People who might be undecided see these results as a confirmation that Morales is for real.

Finally, his small but significant recent tour through France and Spain has boosted his international presence and also helped make him look more presidentiable. Just for the fact that he was recieved by an official from the Spanish government, albeit an official way down in the hierachy, makes Evo look good. In Spain he has also talked with various political leaders of at least three political parties. I think he has met with leaders of the PSOE, PP, IU and other worker's unions. Additionally, according to some accounts, Morales had a very good welcoming in France. As reported by Eduardo of Barrio Flores, there was even a fund raising event organized.

Granted this does not mean that Evo Morales will be the next president of Bolivia, it means that his image in Bolivia and outside is being enhanced and thus prompting me to have such naughty thoughts. :-)

Note: Surprisingly there is not much coverage of Morales' visit to Spain by the Spanish newspapers. On the other hand, the coverage in the English media is moderate. A quick search by Yahoo or Google news should tourn up many articles.

BTW: Just wanted to pass on a link. Eduardo from Barrio Flores has been published in the Global Voices blog. Take a peek. Thanks to Eduardo for mentioning me.

September 27, 2005

Bolivia: World News Round-up

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A series of interesting news, having to do with Bolivia, are making their way around the world. This post will briefly review some of these news.
The first report I'd like to call your attention to is the decision of the IMF and World Bank (WB) over the weekend to forgive 100% the debt of four Latin American countries, Bolivia, Guyana, Honduras and Nicaragua (along with many African countries). This proposal stems chiefly out of the initiative of the UK government, which made the appeal on this year's G-8 meeting in Scotland. Trevor Manuel, the Bank's policy making committee said:

"The (debt) agreement now carries the full weight of support of all member states of the IMF and the World Bank and sets the basis for the next moment. These agreements are premised firstly on 100 percent debt relief,"

In a first phase the initiative would provide multilateral debt cancellation worth about 40 billion dollars to 18 of the world's most impoverished nations, including Bolivia. This is, of course, good news for Bolivia.

While on the debt issue, Bolivia is doing relatively well, on other issues is not. The White House is deeply troubled about current events in Bolivia and it is taking some steps in anticipation. In a memorandum to the Secretary of State, the President identified several countries as major drug transit or illicit drug-producing country for the fiscal year 2006. One of these countries is Bolivia. In the directive President Bush says:

Pursuant to section 706(1) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003 (Public Law 107 228)(FRAA), I hereby identify the following countries as major drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries: Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.

President Bush goes on to direct the secretary of state to pass this information to Congress. And, as a result of actions like these, Congress has taken the steps to call for a congressional hearing on the topic of "Hot Spots in Latin America". This hearing, sponsored by Chair of the Oversight Subcommittee U.S. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), will be held tomorrow Wednesday. The background document speaks of the current and worrying situation in the region and describes it as:

Despite two decades of political and economic progress among many Latin American and Caribbean basin nations, systemic problems continue to plague the continent, including persistent poverty; violent guerrilla conflicts; autocratic leaders; drug trafficking, crime and corruption; weak judicial systems; political polarization; and the rise of virulent populism. Frustration and a growing lack of confidence by citizens in many countries are echoed in the respected Latinobarometro surveys for 2004 that indicate an erosion in public confidence in democratic governments over the past ten years.

Specifically about Bolivia, it says:

Bolivia and Ecuador have had a number of presidents ousted since 2000.

The hearing should provide an assessment of U.S. policies to advance and reinforce democratic reforms and democratic institutional capacity within Latin America, as well as assess the potential threats to the stability of those institutions.

At the same time, the US government is doing its part to make not only Bolivia uncomfortable, but Brazil and Argentina and Paraguay. The reason is the joint military exercises being carried out by U.S. and Paraguayan soldiers in the region close to the town of Pilar. The agreement allows for the participation of 400 U.S. troops over a year-and-a-half period. Critics to the military exercises say:

The US is "establishing a military base here to monitor natural gas reserves in neighboring Bolivia where leftists could soon take power. Others charge U.S. financial interest in a nearby fresh water reserve, one of the world's largest."

While the Paraguayan government explains it is simple terms:

"This is an opportunity for our forces to get professional training," Paraguayan Foreign Minister Leila Rachid told Reuters by telephone from Washington. "It's as simple as that."

And the US military says:

"We're doing the same exercises that we've been doing here for years. We aren't doing any more of them and we aren't doing any different ones," said Kevin Johnson, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Asuncion. "We have no interest in a base."

The uneasiness comes on the back of the US government's history of interventions in the region. Horacio Galeano Perrone, a former Paraguayan education minister and military analyst said:

"... the country offered a central location bordering Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia and an enormous but largely dormant airfield at the Mariscal Estigarribia base in the northern Paraguay that could prove attractive to U.S. forces at some point. The base includes an airstrip built by U.S. technicians in the 1980s during the dictatorship of Paraguayan strongman Alfredo Stroessner that is longer than the one at Asuncion's international airport and exceeds the needs of the Paraguayan air force and its fleet of six planes. "

In Bolivia itself there has been a lot of speculation on the ulterior motives of the US government. Many have uttered the very same criticism expressed by many in the region. Specially concerned are the people of MAS. They see this latest move as particularly troubling. The MAS has been an instrumental tool to stop the Bolivian Congress to even debate the issue of immunity for US troops from the International Tribunal. MAS' presidential candidate, Evo Morales, has made a campaign promise to abolish the current Coca eradication program implemented during the Banzer government. This program has been seen in Washington as one of the major victories in the war against drugs and the major counter argument against critics of this policy.

September 24, 2005

Elections 2005 Are Hanging on the Edge

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This is what the BBC via AP is saying:

Dispute puts Bolivia vote on hold
Presidential elections in Bolivia have been put on hold after a court ordered the redistribution of several seats in the country's parliament.

Three highland provinces will lose representation, while the eastern area of Santa Cruz will gain more seats.

The head of Bolivia's election board said the vote, due before the end of the year, could not take place until the court ruling was implemented.

The affected provinces branded the decision a conspiracy.

They have threatened blockades on major roads.

Oscar Hassenteuffel, the head of Bolivia's election board, said no vote could take place until parliament approves the changes.

Bolivia's constitutional court ruled against an electoral law that said population information from a 2001 census should form the basis for parliamentary elections.

La RazonThe Constitutional Tribunal gave its veredict on the case the Congress' Santa Cruz faction brought before them. In it the faction asked the tribunal to force Congress to apply the law and use the 2001 census for the distribution of seats in congress. The highest court of the land said that the newest census (2001) should be used in the distribution of seats. This does not dramatically change the composition of Congress but it does give four more seats to Santa Cruz and two more to Cochabamba at the expense of La Paz, Potosi and Oruro. However, the problem is that this veredict might result on the delaying of the December 4 elections. As you may already be thinking, this would bring Bolivia's democratic stability to a new testing point.

One problem is that the loser regions are not ready to accept the high court's decision and have said already that they are planning certain measures of protest. Among them, road blockades and massive demonstrations. The problem does not only go to the general elections but also to next years constitutional assembly. The other probles is that radical groups within the MAS and the "crew" in El Alto are also ready to start protests. The MAS will argue that the "right" is trying to steal the elections from them. The radicals in El Alto, well, I am sure they will find a reason soon enough.

Correction:
Thanks to Miguel's (Ciao!) comment. He acurately points out that the last paragraph of the BBC's article I quote here is just plain wrong. It should say that the court ruled in favor of the law and not against it. So much for trusting the professionals, ha?

Update:
Miguel from Ciao! has put a sobering post about the BBC's goof-off with its article about Bolivia. Read the post here. He has contacted the BBC so they can rectify their mistake, but according to Miguel, 24 hours after the initial contact the article is still online. This is getting ridiculous.

September 23, 2005

On Polls and Coca

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On September 18, La Razón published the latest poll conducted by Apoyo, Opinion y Mercado. This poll showed that Evo Morales was ahead of Tuto Quiroga by six percentage points. However there were those (Ciao!) who doubted the results. One of them was me.

I was not so much doubting Evo's support, but Apoyo, Opinion and Mercado's numbers. In a commentary to one of Nick's posts Isaid (for the whole thread, check the link): "I am sorry but I also tend to question the acuracy of representation of those polls. IN my opinion, the Apoyo people cite the last poll as having too great a margin of error. That is, they skip, albeit urbanization, a significant portion of the population. Namely, the rural population. They have been doing this constantly for every survey they conduct.

A quick look at the last census will tell you that 3.1 million people out of a total of 8.2 million live in the rural area. That is about 38% of the population. That is a big chunk to skip. I don't know why these people in Apoyo are doing this. I am puzzled. So the numbers they come up with are not entirely representative."

Today I read an interesting interview by La Razón to the director of Apoyo, Luis Garay. In it La Razon asks Garay why do they not include two important cities like Trinidad and Cobija. Garay answers that the number of registered voters in the whole of the Pando and Beni departments is less than 5%. That is the reason why they do not include those people in the polls. They are just not statistically significant. However, the answers anyone in these two cities and also in the rural areas would give are most likely very different (not to mention representative of the area) than the answers people in the Altiplano or valleys would give. And since you are measuring voter's preferences, I think that would qualify for significant if one wants to get a representative opinion of the electorate.

Another question is, why has Apoyo considered Cliza, Porongo and Guaqui (three rural communities) as representative for the whole 15 thousand small towns and 38 thousand communities in the whole territory? Garay answers that to get a representative sample of the rural areas, the people of Apoyo have taken three (in their opinion) representative rural towns located in each of the three major departments of Bolivia. They say that the rural population is represented in these towns because there are at least 50% of rural people in these towns.

Again, the Apoyo people are really not paying attention to the regional differences in the rural areas. A Guaraní peasant is not equal to an Aymara. Heck, an Aymara is not equal to an Aymara, in the Altiplano. They all have different preferences. Garay readily points out that even when the rural numbers are taken out of the calculation, Evo still comes out ahead. I say, of course, all Apoyo has done is to poll the biggest cities from the beginning.

The rest of the interview circles around the accusiation Tuto and PODEMOS have made against the possible bias of Apoyo in favor of UN because they have them listed as clients. Nonetheless, my main criticism to Apoyo remains their method of selection for sample populations. In my opinion they are seriously overlooking the rural vote and the regional difference in preferences. If I take a ironic tone, I would say that they are too comfortable to go out in the rural areas and make the right questions.

Now on to Coca. About two days ago I learned that Evo had pronounced himself on the issue of the legality of the Coca leaf According to the report (nope, not La Razon :-) from AP, Evo said that he would not continue with the eradication program backed by the USA.

Aside from the issue that decision would create between the USA and Bolivia, which is bad enough, I am worried about the less ovbious ones. I cannot begin to imagine how would it be if Bolivian and US troops stop monitoring and controlling the spread of fields producing Coca. Evo adds that there won't be "illegal Coca" but there would be "illegal drugs". How does he think he would be able to control Coca growers not selling to drug traffickers. Well, let me tell you what I think this insane policy would lead to.

First and foremost, Coca production would increase exponentially. There is not a person in the world that could tell me that a great majority of that production would not go to drug producers. With those good prices, it is a fact. Additionally, the Coca growers in Chapare believe that the production of Coca is not at fault for producing Coca, it is the consumption in the rich nations that is at fault. Talking about sharing responsibilty.

Second, drug producers and traffickers would instantly overflow the Bolivian lowlands (much like it was in the 80s). These people are being put under pressure all over the region. They are seeking a place to establish themselves. At the moment, the places they are finding are in Colombia, Ecuador and parts of Peru. If the control is lifted, there is no doubt these people would move in as soon as possible in Bolivia's tropical areas.

Third, once these people are already established in the Bolivian tropics, there is a big probablility (and this is just my especulation) that the Colombian guerrillas, FARC, would seek some kind of relief area to train or cure their wounded, perhaps. I am not kidding. We are seeing this happening in Ecuador and Venezuela. The guerrilla and the war are spilling over the those two nations slowly. Yes I know Bolivia is far away from this, but the FARC has mobility and they are seeking places to operate. Besides, we already know that they have a strong link with the drug trafficking cartels. What is there to stop them to use Bolivian territory to support the FARC?

And Fourth, the war on drugs, world wide, is getting more and more violent. What is to prevent these people and the FARC to introduce arms into Bolivian territory? or perhaps do business (sell arms) with groups like Felipe Quispe's?

I am afraid that some of the violence in the region will spill over into Bolivian territory. This is, of course pure speculation, but given events in the area and history, they are very plausible.

Well, here are my two cents on Polls and Coca.

Also, read this post by Eduardo at Barrio Flores on the Coca issue. And this other one in Boz's blog about the same topic.

September 20, 2005

Democracy in Action

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This past Sunday, September 18, 2005, I had the unique opportunity to experience one of the most established democracies in the world (generally accepted) in action. As you may already be aware, Germany went to the ballot box and chose (or not) a new government. As a sutudent of political science and currently studying democracy, I obviously was very interested not only about the outcome but about the process itself. After all, I think that Bolivia could learn a couple of things from the way Germany deals with its elections. Therefore, after commenting and taking a brief look at Germany's 2005 elections, I will draw a couple of points Bolivians and Bolivia could learn from one of the most established democracies in the western world. And please, don't think I am a total fan of Germany's democratic process. As any other democracy Germany has its good sides as well as its bad ones. I just think Bolivia can learn from the good ones.

Having experienced several electoral seasons in the US as well as in Bolivia, I have a reference point to compare to. The German electoral season is very different to those I observed. In the US and Bolivia, the period before the actual elections is very "active". By that I mean there is a lot of proselytism. In the US, for example, the political campaigns are enormous. The voter has not a moment of peace. He is bombarded with posters, TV ads, radio ads, now online ads, newspaper ads and articles, door to door campaigning, road signs, pamphlets, flyers, buttons, pins, bumper stickers, and the like. The political discusion gets more and more as the election day approaches. Even at the voting centers the voters are not left alone. As you walk into the voting center, you can see volunteers lining up the walk way to the door and handing you last minute leaflets, flyers and the like. In Bolivia, the campaign is even messier. The walls of the city get painted and repainted with the slogans of the parties. Posters cover entire buildings displaying the best side of the candidate. The media goes also crazy with the political campaings. The most widely medium is the TV, of course.

Starkly contrasting this chaotic picture, the German pre-elections season is one of calm and serene discussion. I am not talking so much about the candidates but about the citizens. I heard very informative and calm discussions among my friends and colleagues. Also, on the months leading to the September elections and after it was clear there was going to be elections, I was greatly surprised of how little proselytism and campaigning there was. The discussion concentrated on newspapers and television, where every so often there were reports on what the candidates were doing and saying. August was a very quiet month for US or Bolivian standards. No posters, flyers, very little TV and radio ads, and almost no newspaper political ads.

It seemed to me that only on the two or three weeks leading to election day I saw the posters, ads, flyers poping up all over the region. Now I am guessing this was due to some kind of law (which I am not aware of now) regulating political campaigning. But, I have to say, even these weeks were so calm and civil. I could not believe. The candidates traveled all over the country taking their messages. I just did not see much of them. What got a little hot were the discussions between the local candidates. These people were all over their regions. But, yes, Schröder, Merkel, Westewelle, Fischer, Lafontaine, did show their faces in Hamburg, I am not saying they did not. But, they were so quiet. Again, by my standards.

As people walked to the ballot boxes, they did not have to deal with any volunteer shoving a last minute appeal from candidate X or urging them to vote for candidate Y. That is because proselytism in and around voting centers is prohibited by law. On that day, Germans tried to deal with their famous double vote dilemma. The big question in the minds of many Germans is: Who gets my first vote and who gets my second vote? And here is my theory: I think this is why German pre-election polls are so unreliable. Everyone knows the percentage of undecided is big, but the reason why there are so many undecided is because every voter grapples with the dilemma of who will get his/her two votes.

Well, the elections themselves are not a big deal for the average German. The discussion is lively but low key. The discussion also revolves around parties, which at the same time represent issues for most Germans. So for instance, to vote Green (Fischer) means to vote for social justice and environment (e.g. cut atomic energy). To vote CDU/CSU (Merkel) means to vote for the dismantling of the social system, freer labor market, more jobs, etc. To vote Social Democrat (Schröder) means now also to dismantle the social system although not in the CDU sense. To vote Free Democrat (Westewelle) means more free market policies, less taxes, etc. In essence, German voters, even though they talk in terms of political party preferences, they really mean to talk about issues. This aspect is comparable to the US but not to the Bolivian case.

So what lessons are there to be learned from the German democratic process?

There are two main lessons that Bolivia and most importantly its citizens could learn from the German case. The first lesson is the acceptance of the outcome. The second lesson is the concentration on the issues.

At six o'clock that Sunday evening, the German TV was giving the first projections (in the US are called exit polls). Almost inmediately the DCU/CSU was declared the party with most votes. As the evening progressed, it became clear that Ms Merkel had the most votes but did not have a clear majority with which to form a government. For the sake of clarity, the German system is a parliamentary democracy and as such the head of government is chosen in congress. However, all the party leaders as well as the people with which I had contact that evening and the subsequent days, accepted the outcome as it was. There was no doubt in their minds that the results were those and they had to be dealt with. That meant, for the people to accept the outcome and for the parties to try to build the new government of Germany. As an example, as we learn more and more and it is slowly becoming clear that the possibility of a coalition between the environmentalist greens with the crhistian democrats and the free democrats might be a reality, the reactions of green supporters is one of resignation and not one of rage. At the worst, what I heard is that supporters intend to punish the greens by not voting for them in the next elections.

It is important to highlight here the reaction. Notice that I said they will punish the greens by not voting for them in the next elections. This reactions implies that the electorate does not see any other way of reaction other than not supporting the green cause in the next elections. It is this kind of acceptance, not just of the outcome but of the democratic process along with its institutions that sets appart Germany and Bolivia.

The other lesson Bolivia could learn is that before, during and after the elections, the people and the political class must concentrate on what is important: the issues. As I said before, most German voters with which I talked before, during and after the elections have talked about voting for the issues. Even though there are some people who make a difference between the West German voter and the East German voter where the West German votes by party and the East German votes by issue, in the end what everybody talks about are the issues. West Germans do talk about which party they will vote, but the reason is not because Fisher or Schröder or Merkel is on the ballot, the reasons are unemployment, atomic energy, higher prices in the pump, less taxes, social security, retirement pensions, etc.

This concentration on the issues is what is lacking in Bolivian politics. The voters are still awating for the magic Doria Medina or the Tuto or the Evo who will come and save them. It is a kind of personalistic political race rather than an issue oriented race. Even though some issues are being thrown into the ring, the character of politics remains personalistic. This is one reason why Bolivian politicians do not think twice about changing party afiliation. There is no firm ideology.

Now, as I said it before, I am not saying Germany's electoral process is perfect and it should be imitated by all. We all know that is not the case. However, what I am saying is that there are some aspects worthy of imitation. I take Germany as an example because it is the most recent event I experienced and one that I am intimately linked to.

September 15, 2005

Transparency and Accountability: Indications from the Bolivian Electoral Front

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There is not doubt that Transparency and Accountability are two very important aspects for the democratic process to continue and strengthen. It is in light of these objectives that politicians have an incentive to gain legitimacy. I am glad to see that a movement toward these objectives is being taken in the Bolivian electoral process.

One of the first attempts to gain support trhough transparency and accountabilty has been taken by the industrialist and presidential candidate Samuel Doria Medina (UN). He has made public his financial information and what I find even better, he has a website containing this information.

Now I don't know if the website was even necessary. Of course, it is a good thing for people like me, who are always in the hunt for information about Bolivia and its people. However, to disclose (presumably) all his financial details for the world to see, would make me a bit nervous (for reasons of privacy).

The website is called:



www.dinerolimpio.com

The website shows Doria Medina's academic career, his links to SOBOCE (cement factory), how he paid a debt to the Central Bank (a point of criticism used by his opponents), his investments, his private life, his public service as Minister of Planning, his links to MIR and how much will he invest in his own campaign.

The information offered there is not much, but is a start in the right direction. Moreover, from this site I learned about the UN's website. I hope every party would have a website wher it, at the very least, presents its programme. Logically, as expected, this website is entirely in Spanish. But, count on me to bring some interesting aspects to the English speaking world.

So there you have it, take a look at it, scrutinize it, fine comb it, don't leave a stone unturned. And if you are not satisfied, you can always email him personally.

September 13, 2005

Commentary on Bolivia's Democracy

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Some times I think Bolivia's democratic process is developing in the wrong direction. Instead of making decisions based on consensus, negotiation, political participation and using the tools the system provides to solve problems, the different actors tend to force their way of thinking to gain the result they want. Case in point is this problem of the distribution of the hydrocarbons tax (IDH).

On one side, the government is trying to decree its way out of this new crisis and on the other side, the municipalities and students are trying to force the government to meet their demands by protests, blockades and the like.

It seems to me they are see this issue as teen agers see a pizza. See, when my friends and I used to order a pizza, there was always the problem of not enough pieces for everybody. So we all tried to eat fast to get at least two slices. The same is happening with the IDH, just that the parties cannot take the slices that easily and therefore they are trying to force their way to a slice. Much like the bigger and stronger kid got the last piece in our group.

But, does it make even sense to divide the IDH among all? I guess I am more puzzeld by what is going on than what I know about the problem. I guess the municipalities need these funds to fulfill their mandates. If the money stays in the hands of the government, what is the government going to do with it? Will it use it to pay the debt? reduce the fiscal deficit? invest in job creation? As you can see I have more questions than answers......

On another issue, Tuto is also puzzling me. Why is he so intent on making Evo agree on respecting the first majority? As far as I know, Tuto proposed an out of the ordinary arrangement to respect the first majority resulting from the elections. He said that the parties in congress should respect the person who wins the most votes in the elections and elect him the new persident. To achieve that he is proposing either a consultative referendum to decide between the first and second places in the elections (this is most likely to be him and Evo). After the referendum, the parties in congress would respect the wishes of the people and vote accordingly. The other posibility is to make a pact, mainly between Tuto and Evo, to respect the person who gets more votes and make him president. That would be overseen by the a cardinal.

I have to admit some of Tuto's arguments are appealing to me. He says that the people are tired that their wishes at the ballot box are not being respected. He also says that the voting on parliament are just where the political parties distribute themselves jobs. This is not representative of the preferences of the people. Personally, I have serious doubts about the legitimacy of the "presidential parliamentarist system" in Bolivia. Precisely because it seems, to the naked eye, not to represent the will of the people.

However, what intrigues me the most is the real reasons why Tuto is trying to lock Evo into a political pact of that sort. Is he afraid the presidency will be taken away from his hands? It has happened before to the ADN. Does he know something we don't? Is he seeing some other polls not available to the rest of us? In turn, why is Evo so calmed? He doesn't want to enter into this pact. Based on his last experience, he should be jumping to this opportunity.

We'll see what happens. I assume, we'll know after the fact.

September 10, 2005

A Bit on US - Latin American Relations

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The time is coming when Roger F. Noriega, current Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere at the Department of State (henceforth State), will be leaving his post and thus make space for the new appointee, Thomas A. Shannon (and here). Much has been said about the implications of this change. This issue is an important one for the US government, because it comes at a time when it seems that things are not just going as the US government would like them to go. Latin America seems to be veering in an increasingly opposite direction politically.

The departure of Noriega seems to bring a bit of relief to the current administration. Noriega has been, as of late, criticized for putting too much emphasis on voicing (unconstructive) criticism and engaging in a war of words with Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez. There have been people who have even suggested that Noriega was obsessed with Chavez and Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Noriega himself takes time to refer to this criticism by the press in his speeches. In a recent speech given at CSIS on September 8th, he talks about his relationship with the press, his self described bluntness, and the successes of his time in office, but he aknowledges his public image as:

"if you follow only what you read in the newspapers, you would likely conclude that we have done little or nothing except to verbally spar with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. To be sure, Castro and Chavez represent the polar opposite of progress in the hemisphere. .... Most of this [his] message is missed by journalists who save their one question in a press conference to ask me about Chavez and then write that I'm obsessed with Venezuela. Most of them don't have the patience to study what we're doing at the OAS or in the Summit process to know that we're being good neighbors. If we don't solve a problem single-handedly we are accused of not caring, and if we dare to offer an opinion about another problem, they accuse us of interfering."

Noriega promplty admits his bluntness when relating to the leaders of Latin American countries and when talking about the issues. He says:

"That is the sort of blunt talk for which I have become known. I speak clearly for two reasons: first, my Spanish is not good enough for me to be subtle; second, I respect our friends in the region enough to shoot straight with them rather than condescend. Most of what I've said today I've said before."

Additionally, Noriega, in his speech, outlines the US' policiy towards Latin America and what he qualifies as his success by his office. He says that President Bush's policies towards the region seek to:

to advance freedom and prosperity in the region.

to work to bring peace and security to all countries in the region.

to get corruption under control and make governments more responsive and transparent.

to break down trade barriers and promote investment.

to raise education levels throughout the hemisphere.

to call for strengthened democracy and the rule of law in every country in the hemisphere.

to reward those countries that are adopting the responsible policies of fighting corruption and investing in their people.

to work alongside our neighbors to carry out these critical tasks -- using the multilateral tools available to us to organize our work and execute our plans.

Furthermore, Noriega assures that the US goal is "to promote democracy so every citizen is empowered to decide for themselves what is best for them. We promote free enterprise as a perpetual engine of growth. And we promote the rule of law so that each of us has the guaranteed right to demand our fair share of political freedom and economic opportunity. That is a formula for achieving a genuine revolution in the Americas."

Finally, Noriega sums up his perceived success as:

"Many of our friends in the Americas know that our vision works. The problem is, too many of them have had to leave their homes and families to find that out. I was in Miami just a few days ago, and it struck me driving around that fifty miles in every direction from where I was there is a thriving barrio made up of citizens of each of our neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean. What they found here was a country that met them half way: that gave them little more than a level playing field and a fighting chance. And they have thrived. And they have prospered. And we're all better off for it. That is what we are working to replicate in every country -- near and far."

Personally, I am not crazy abou the guy. I am though, kind of glad he is gone. I did not mind much his bluntness or style, but his obsession with Chavez and Castro. I thought these personal attacks were not helpful at all. Especially at a time when the US needs to come closer to the average Latinamerican. The US needs to better its image in the region. There is tremendous hatred towards the US spreading all over the world and specially among the poor in Latin America. Noriega's comments were not helping America achieve its goals for the region.

I hope Shannon brings a bit of fress air and a more constructive and efficient approach to the region. Although, I have not been able to find much info on the guy. He seems to bring to the office as much bureaucratic experience as Noriega.

Note: As far as I can tell, Noriega mentions only two times Bolivia in the context of helping nations who are hoding elections this year to achieve democracy.

September 07, 2005

Some More Profiles

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I have gotten a few requests (comments and emails) about the other two candidates who are running under the civic organizations' flags. These are, to say the least, pretty unknown political figures (somewhat recycled nevertheless). They represent, the "new" faces in Bolivian politics.

Nestor Garcia Rojas

President candidate for the newly formed group, Social Union of the Bolivian Workers (Union Social de los Trabajadores de Bolivia, USTB). Born October 6, 1951 in Lagunillas, Santa Cruz. He is a lawyer, graduated from the Gabriel Rene Moreno University, Santa Cruz. His specialties are Social Sciences and Trade. He has taught in rural areas and led the alphabetization program for the Bolivian Radiophonic Schools Network. He presided as judge in a local court as well as at the state level (Santa Cruz) in penal cases, and was national attorney for controlled substances. He worked also as director for the Selecciones de Bolivia magazine and was advisor for the participants in Fonvis (National Housing Fund).

His running mate is Teodomiro Rengel. Born in southern Yungas, La Paz. He has a degree in Political Science and is currently studying law. Former MNR deputy subsitute. He worked on a national rural electrification program. He is in politics because he feels there is a need for change.

Eliseo Rodriguez

President candidate for the newly formed Bolivian Agricultural Patriotic Front (Frente Patriotico Agropecuario de Bolivia, FREPAB). Born June 14, 1951 in La Paz. Married and has seven children, four sons and three daughters. Agronomist by profession and director of exodo, which is an NGO working on agricultural development projects. This is his first time in an electoral process. In the municipal elections 2004 he and his group could not participate because they could not registrate with the Electoral Court on time. FREPAB has candidates in La Paz, Oruro, Potosí, Cochabamba y Santa Cruz.

His running mate is Irma Encinas. Born in Capinota, Cochabamba, 36 years of age. She works the land. She has expressed her desire to find answers to the problems affecting the marginalized population in rural areas. That is why she is running for office.

With these profiles, I try to bring whatever information is there about these four specific candidates. The other incumbents have had more media coverage. Also my source is Bolivia.com's 2005 elections page. Bolivia.com has done a superb job on publishing specials on various topics. For those Spanish speaking Bolivia aficionados is really worth a visit.

The Official List of Candidates

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Barrio Flores has the official list of presidential and vice-presidential candidates for next December 4th. This list was published by La Razon and Eduardo has it posted on his blog.

All the political parties and most civic organizations have been in a race against time on Monday to put together their official lists. In the process, some political parties, like MIR and ADN, have failed to get their acts together. Paz Zamora's MIR is the most symbolic because Paz Zamora himself defected to Tuto's camp. Does this mean the Movement of the Revoulutionary Left has become obsolete? Does this mean a realignment of the political spectrum in Bolivian politics? You bet! At least on the surface....

One interesting link to visit is the CNE's site. There you can already look up all the official candidates. Not just the presidential and vice-presidential candidates, but incumbents for the Senate, the lower chamber and for prefects. In my opinion, the CNE has done a really excellent job on their website on bringing information and transparency to the public.

September 06, 2005

Candidates List: Semi-Official

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Yesterday, September 5, 2005, was the deadline for the political parties to register their party lists with the Electoral Court (CNE). Here is a semi-offcial list published on .....yes, you guessed it, La Razon. :-)

Later on I'd like to compare this list with the official list.

ASXXI
President: Jorge Quiroga Ramírez

Vice-president: María Renée Duchén

Profile: Candidata a la Vicepresidencia • Nació el 2 de agosto de 1965, en La Paz. Periodista, ejerció su carrera en Estados Unidos y Bolivia, con la Red ATB. Además, asesoró a instituciones como Coca-Cola y organismos internacionales, pero no ocupó cargo público ni militó en ningún partido político. Está casada y tiene dos hijos.

Other candidates in the list:

Guido Áñez -Santa Cruz
Luis Vásquez - La Paz
Roberto Moscoso - La Paz
Marco A. Oviedo - La Paz
Wálter Arízaga - Sucre
Fernando Rodríguez - Sucre
Fidel Herrera - Sucre
Tomasa Yarhui - Sucre
Óscar Ortiz - Santa Cruz
Orlando Careaga - Potosí
Carlos Cabrera - Tarija
Roberto Ruiz - Tarija
Tito Hoz de Vila - Cochabamba
Ernesto Suárez - Beni
Claudia Mallón - Cochabamba
Ninoska Lazarte - Cochabamba
Leopoldo Fernández - Pando

MAS
President: Evo Morales Ayma

Vice-president: Álvaro García Linera

Other candidates:

Álvaro García Linera - La Paz
Santos Ramírez - Potosí
Ricardo Díaz - Sucre
Víctor Ramírez - Santa Cruz
Carlos Cornejo - Cochabamba
Antonio Peredo - La Paz
Félix Rojas - Oruro
Julio García - La Paz
Iván Canelas - Cochabamba
Ricardo Ayllón - Oruro
José Pimentel - Potosí


UN
President: Samuel Doria Medina

Vice-president: Carlos Dabdoub Arrien

Profile: Nació el 15 de diciembre de 1945 en Santa Cruz. Es médico de profesión. Fue presidente del Comité Cívico Cruceño, diputado nacional; como militante del MIR fue ministro de Salud, ideólogo de la Nación Camba.

Other candidates:

Hugo San Martín - La Paz
Juan José Torres - La Paz
Carlos Borja - La Paz
Claudia Paredes - El Alto
Eduardo León - El Alto
Bertha Acarapi - El Alto
Roberto Fernández -Santa Cruz
Edmundo Soruco-Santa Cruz
Germán Gutiérrez -Chuquisaca
Felipe Carvajal - Chuquisaca
Ruth Montalvo - Chuquisaca
Juan C. Medrano - Chuquisaca
Mirtha Calero - Potosí
Carlos Leaño - Potosí
Gloria Zoto - Potosí
Mabel Yapur - Tarija
Carlos Espada - Oruro
Miguel Becerra - Pando
Carlos Peláez - Beni

MNR
President: Michiaki Nagatani

Vice-president: Guillermo Bedregal

Other candidates:

Luis Eduardo Siles - La Paz
Walter Ovando - La Paz
Octavio Copa - La Paz
Brígida Gutiérrez - La Paz
Julio Leigue - Santa Cruz
Mario Justiniano - Santa Cruz
Roxana Sandóval - Santa Cruz
Cinthia Vacaflor - Potosí
Miguel Majluf - Beni
Juan Manuel Tobías - Beni
Enrique Urquidi - Chuquisaca
Miguel Antoraz - Chuquisaca
Jorge Justiniano - Pando

MIR
President: Hormando Vaca Díez

Vice-president: Not yet known (ups!)

Other candidates:

Julio Aliaga - La Paz
Adolfo Soliz - La Paz
Juan Carlos Pereira - Cbba.
Norah Soruco - Santa Cruz
Vinko Paniagua - Santa Cruz
Ernesto Justiniano - Santa Cruz
Rosario Chamicedine - Sta. Cruz
Gari Peña - Santa Cruz
Jaime Argandoña - Chuquisaca
Morgan López - Chuquisaca
Juan Carlos León - Chuquisaca

NFR
President: Gildo Angulo

Vice-president: Gonzalo Quiroga

Other candidates:

Manfred Reyes Villa - Cbba.
David Vargas - La Paz
Ana Barriga - La Paz
Ovidio Messa - Santa Cruz
Rubén Costas - Santa Cruz

MIP
President: Felipe Quispe

Vice-president: Not yet known (double ups!)

Other candidates:

Juan Carlos Jiménez - La Paz
Germán Flores - Oruro
Fidel Condori - Potosí
Edil Coya - Santa Cruz

September 05, 2005

Presidential Candidates' Profiles: Part II

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This is the second of two posts about the candidates.

Hormando Vaca Diez

Born in Santa Cruz, April 30, 1949. The youngest of 13 siblings. Hormando grew up playing trompo (a toy which children make spin by wrapping a thread around) on the streets of his city. He comes from a family of statists. He always dreamed of one day becoming the president of Bolivia. After graduating from the Florida High School, at 18, he started working as a History, Geography and Civic Education teacher. Hormando studied Journalism at the Gabriel Rene Moreno University in Santa Cruz. While working as a journalist, he also led the local journalists' union. He studied law and economics in Argentina. From 1971 until 1977 he lived in exile in Salta, Argentina, Paraguay, and Sao Paulo, Brazil. He is married to Nina Vaca Diez, his second wife, whom he met at a party. They have six children. In 1995, he was operated on his heart (by-pass) in Sao Paulo. He has been a member of parliament since 1989 and in 2004, he was elected president of Congress. He was also interim president several times.

Michiaki Nagatani

Born May 10, 1960 in the San Juan de Yapacaní colony. Is the third son of Japanese immigrants who arrived in Bolivia in the 1940s. He grew up in Santa Cruz and graduated from the Muyurina High School. Politics was his passion, that is why he studied International Relations and Diplomacy in the Jorge Tadeo Lozano University, Bogota, Colombia where he graduated in 1987. While in Colombia, he married a Colombian woman and had three children with her. Later they got divorced and Michiaki returned to Bolivia. Once back in Bolivia, he worked as a consultant. Among his achievements are the construction of a Hospital in Cochabamba. In the 2004 municipal elections he founded a political organization called MACA (Movement for Citizens' Action) and he run for Mayor of Santa Cruz. He obtained 3.9% of the vote. Because of his Japanese features, various media outlets called him the Bolivian Fujimori. Nagatani does not like that because he considers himself as Bolivian as a potato.

Alvaro Garcia Linera

Alvaro was born October 19, 1962 in Cochabamba. The last of four children in his family. He grew up part in La Paz, where he visited the Don Bosco school, American School and Domingo Savio school, and part in Cochabamba, where he graduated from San Agustin School. When he was 17, he went to study Mathematics in Mexico. Alvaro thought he was a somewhat boring kid. At 15 years of age he had read Marx's the Capital. He is a self described autodidact, which, he says, helped him get where he is and achieve his highest honor, the 2004 Agustín Cueva del Ecuador distinction in Sociology. He remembers his teenage years as a Soccer player (defense) and a basketball player (while in Mexico). He confesses he never thought of launching a candidacy because he thought of himself as timid. Alvaro has been a former member and intelectual of the EGTK (Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army). He was convicted and throwh in jail from 1992 to 1997 for his participation in the EGTK. It was in jail where he studied Sociology. The EGTK, which came to life some time in 1988 following the steps of El Mallku's original terrorist group "Ayllus Rojos", was a terrorist group.

Note: The short bios in La Razon were just that, short bios. Some of the facts are disputable because I found discrepancies in other sites. However, I translated all I thought could be accurately and some vague facts which give just a sense of the lives of the candidates.

September 01, 2005

Presidential Candidates' Profiles

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Thanks to La Razon, we can take a peek at the candidates' private lives. Following I translate small bios published by La Razon this week.

Jorge "Tuto" Quiroga

He was born on May 5, 1960, in Cochabamba. Jorge Quiroga Ramirez, the first president of Bolivia in the new millenium. He is the second of five brothers. In his childhood he was a very delicate boy who got constantly sick. He moved around a lot, within Cochabamba, and visited several schools like the Mariknoll, Loyola and San Agustín. His life in Cochabamba was spent between the pages of Julio Verne's books and chessboards. He never had a pet, because his parents did not allow it. Due to his father's job as an engineer in an oil company, Tuto and his family moved to Santa Cruz. He was enrolled in La Salle school and it was there he discovered his agility in sports. His mother, Sonia Ramirez, remembers him like a great basquetball player. Another one of his passions was climbing. He was a shy boy who never took a girlfriend home to meet his mother. However, now he is married to Virginia Gillum, whom he met while living and studying in Houston, Texas. He has four children, Vanesa, Cristina, Adriana and Cristian. Two significant loses made a deep impression in his life. The death of his best friend Luis Eduardo de la Reza, who died while Tuto was in school. The Second blow happened while he was president. His brother, Mauricio Quiroga died along with his wife and one of his daughters in a car accident. Tuto is Industrial engineer graduated from Texas University A&M. He also has a Masters in Administration.

Evo Morales Aima

Evo Morales was born on October 26, 1959 in Eucaliptus, Oruro. The strongest memory he has of his childhood is that Orange infusion smell, which his mother used to prepare for breakfast every morning. She used whatever orange peels Evo collected along the Cochabamba-La Paz highway. Proudly he remembers how he used to herd his family's llamas. He also assures he was a talented soccer player. But, the memory that fills his heart with warm thoughts is when, once a year, his father used to take Evo and his brothers to Oruro city to buy shoes and pants. His adolescence was marked by his fascination with music. He was a tumpet player in a band, which even got to record several long plays with the Lauro record company. According to Evo, he was specialist in playing most well-known morenadas and caporales (traditional music) of the time. He also remembers with some pain how while he was doing his military service he was ordered to take part on the repression of coca growers' demonstrations. Because of the extreme poverty he and his family lived in, they moved to Chapare, Cochabamba. There he became the leader of the soccer association. Then he became the leader of the coca growers' union of Chapare. This last post was the spring board which propelled him to become the leader of MAS, a political accronym given to him as a gift. In 1997, he participated in the elections with the United Left (IU). He became congressmen only to lose his seat later on. In the general elections 2002, with MAS, he was the second political force in Congress, obtaining 27 deputies and eight senators.

Samuel Doria Medina

Samuel was born December 4, 1958 in La Paz, Bolivia. He is the youngest and only male of seven siblings. He spent his childhood in Oruro studying in the German school. He finished his high schools in the San Calixto school in La Paz. He used to drive to school and smoke. He studied economics in Catholic University of La Paz, where he met his wife, Nidia Monje. He has an specialization in Public Finances from the London School of Economics and Politics. He has five children. He took over Soboce (cement company) while it was heading to bankrupcy and he turned it around to transform it into the second largest industry in the country. He is know as the "cement king". He is also know as the Burger King, because he owns the Burger King franchise in Bolivia. In November 1, 1995, he was kidnapped by the terrorist organization Revolutionary Movement Tupak Amaru (MRTA). After 45 days in captivity he was rescued safe and sound. Ten years later, January 21, 2005, he came out also untouched from a plane crash. In 1991 he was minister of planning and in 1997, vice-presidential candidate under MIR.

Rene Joaquino

Rene was born in 1966, in the town of Asiento, Potosi, one of the poorest regions in Potosi. Due to the extreme poverty in which he and his family lived, Rene could never study because he had to work. Up until he was eight, he herded his family's llamas and sheep. He was never embaressed to be a sheperd. He then worked as lamp-boy in the Chorolque mines along with his uncle. His life in the mine was not easy. The local school children did not let him join their games because he did not use shoes. However, this did not inhibit his dreams. While he was young he used to write notes just to sign them, "Rene Joaquino, future president". One hard blow he experienced was the suicide of his older brother. As a young men he worked in various profesions, such as baker (when he burned half of his body) and construction worker. While he was working he studied law in the Tomas Frias University of Potosi. He worked as adobe maker and in his brakes he went to class. So his fellow students did not notice the mud that sometimes got stuck on his hair, he used a baseball cap. His construction pay was not enough to help his mother who divorced his father and was still raising her other sons, Rene sold food in the markets. While he was the doorman in a kindergarten, he campaigned for councilman. In 1997, he became Mayor of Potosi due to the resignation of Mr Ore. In 1999, he got 61 percent of the votes. In 2004 he won by a landslide.

Next post, Hormando Vaca Diez, Michiaki Nagatani and Alvaro Garcia Linera.