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!!!

April 30, 2006

Crisis in the Andes III

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The crisis in the Andes deepens as Peru pulls its ambassador from Venezuela (ES). The Peruvian government rejected the attacks, and resulting breach of sovereignty, against presidential candidate Alan Garcia and his candidacy to the presidency.

It just seems to me that the whole region is playing right in the hands of Chavez. He must be very happy of the results. The brake up of organizations like CAN will only free the way for Chavez's boliviarian project.

In that spirit, one more win for Chavez is the so called Treaty of Commers between Peoples or TCP in Spanish. Here is a list of links reporting on the events.

Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia seal anti-US trade deal
AFP via Yahoo! News Sat, 29 Apr 2006 8:56 PM PDT
The leftist leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia have signed a trade agreement to counter a US-led drive to forge a Pan-American free trade area.

Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela Reject U.S. Trade
AP via Yahoo! News Sat, 29 Apr 2006 4:04 PM PDT
Bolivia's new left-leaning president signed a pact with Cuba and Venezuela on Saturday rejecting U.S.-backed free trade and promising a socialist version of regional commerce and cooperation.

Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia cement left alliance
Reuters via Yahoo! News Sat, 29 Apr 2006 9:31 AM PDT
Leftist leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia met in Havana on Saturday to complete an integration agreement cast as an alternative to U.S. plans for a free-trade pact with the Latin American region.

Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela Reject U.S. Trade
ABC News Sat, 29 Apr 2006 2:40 PM PDT
Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela Celebrate Alternative to U.S.-Led Trade Pacts

Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela poised to sign anti-US trade pact
AFP via Yahoo! News Sat, 29 Apr 2006 1:04 AM PDT
The leaders of Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela are poised to sign what they call "a people's" trade accord designed to counter US efforts to forge a free-trade area of the Americas spreading from Alaska to Cape Horn.

Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela in Trade Talks
ABC News Sat, 29 Apr 2006 7:57 AM PDT
Leaders of Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela Meet to Endorse Trade Alternative to U.S.-Backed Pact

April 29, 2006

Approval Ratings

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At the risk of being redundant, I include the graphs La Razón published abut the latest results of the popularity contest in Bolivian politics. There is a marked descent of the approval for President Morales, and a slight drop on Garcia Linera's popularity.


This is a fluctuation over the last three moths. Now, I don't know much about polls, but it seems to me that a change like in the case of Morales' is not too significant. Three months is a very short time. Who knows, in the next two months it could be jumping 40 points. Judging for what we can see here.

However, if these polls have some effect on the population, can we expect the approval rating of Morales continue its downward trend? The potential implications for his plans to design a "new" Bolivia could end up truncated. That is, if these numbers translate into votes.

But, once again, as we've seen in the last elections, these polls don't really give a relatively accurate picture. It could be that Morales' poll numbers go down, but his votes en up giving his party a majority in the assembly. Main point, who knows!

To continue on the last point, the Parliament has taken up two issues relevant for the coming Constituent Assembly (CA). The one issue is that of the "depurados" or people who for one reason or another were disqualified to vote. The government wants to issue a "one time" general amnesty for all the disqualified to allow them to vote in the CA. The opposition (Podemos, UN and MNR) in the Senate have expressed their intentio to block that measure because they argue doing so would open the doors to very questionable results. The vote is still coming, but as of now, it looks like the "depurados" will stay out of the voting places.

The other issue is that of state campaign financing. The government wants to do away with it, with the motto: "unnecessary spending". Of course, the MAS relies on contributions from their bases (i.e. member organizations). So they say! The opposition parties are left in the cold because the main bulk of their financing comes from the state. So they are putting up a fight in Congress. The issue is not resolved yet, but it seems that state campaign financing will continue, albeit with less money. For now, the number being thrown around is half of the previous sum (Bs. 57 million).

April 27, 2006

Evo Morales Presses to Tighten his Power

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It is rather obvious now that the policy of Evo Morales is to tighten his grip on power. As I've been saying as of late here and here, him and his government have been pressing for the consolidation of power. His aim is to redisign a "new" Bolivian state. A state no one knows how will it look like. He has not put any suggestions forward or has any ideological advances so others can perhaps deduct from them. It seems that he is either improvising as he goes along or he is just not telling what his plans are.

The latest moves are two: First, he wants to dry up the state campaign funds of the opposition, while he has moved to increase the funds for his own party. As mentioned in an eralier post, the directors of MAS have demanded (and later asked) a 5% contribution from the bureaucratic apparatus of the government. So, with this new policy, every person who works in government, central, departmental or municipal, is (morally) obliged to contribute to MAS. According to some newspapers, the contributions range from Bs. 30 to 3000. On the other hand, Morales' party is opposing and practically freezing a new law, which would provide for state funds for the political parties' campaigns. State funding for campaigns has been one of the reasons why many parties of all ideologies have been able to participate in the political arena in Bolivia. By freezing this law, the government and MAS in Congress are practically leaving the opposition without funds and without any chance to take their message accross.

Second, the changing of leadership at the National Electoral Court (CNE) and the Constitutional Tribunal (TC) are under way. As a result of pressure applied by the government in recent months, when it criticized the methods of the CNE and some rulings of the TC, three officials from the CNE and four from the TC have resigned from their posts. That gave way for other people to come in. For many critics, inside Bolivia and outside, the government's meddling with the affairs of supposedly two independent organs within the system, is going outside executive authority and is breaching the separation of powers principle of the Bolivian constitution.

It is clear that Morales' aim is to cope power so he and his party have an easy time designing what kind of country do they want at the oncoming Constitutional Assembly. What is not clear however, is how will this new country look like. To my knowledge there is not proposal, plan or even a draft of it. There are only vague statements from the MAS leadership.

April 24, 2006

Crisis in the Andes II

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The Crisis in the Andean Community (CAN) is reaching new hights. It seems that the future of the CAN is imminent disintegration. Last Saturday, Hugo Chavez announced Venezuela was leaving CAN. He argued that the TLC agreement Colombia signed with the US would prevent Venezuela to create new jobs. He also criticized Peru's TLC with the US. On Sunday, Evo Morales publicly asked Chavez to reconsider his decision. To what Chavez answered that he would reconsider if Colombia and Peru would reconsider their agreements with the US. The presidents of Peru and Colombia reacted energically to the comments, which deepened the crisis in that region.

The president of CAN, Allan Wagner, took up a suggestion made by Morales and called for an urgent presidential summit to save CAN. But, at the same time, he energically rejected Morales insinuations that he has worked against Bolivia.

Chronology of the crisis

April 20 - Chavez said, while attending the Asunción summit, that CAN was dead, and that Morales was behind him. Chavez announces that Venezuela was thinking of leaving the block.

April 21 - Allan Wager, CAN's General Secretary, asks for serenity.

April 22 - Hugo Chavez makes his country's withdrawal from CAN official.

April 23 - Morales ligns-up with Chavez and attacks Colombia and Peru's presidents. Additionally, he accuses Wagner of "playing dirty" with Bolivia.

April 24 - Peru and Colombian issue strong answers to Chavez and Morales' comments.

Update 1:

FYI, here is a list of links from Yahoo news to articles about the crisis in the CAN.

Bolivia threatens to pull out of Andean bloc
CNN.com Wed, 26 Apr 2006 11:57 AM PDT
QUITO, Ecuador (Reuters) - -- Bolivia could leave the Andean Community bloc if Peru, Colombia and Ecuador do not shelve free-trade deals with the United States, Economy Minister Luis Arce told Reuters.

Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela to ink People's Trade Treaty
El Universal Wed, 26 Apr 2006 10:42 AM PDT
The governments of Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba next Saturday are initialing in Havana a pact to jump start the People's Trade Treaty (TCP), Bolivian President Evo Morales said, as reported on Wednesday by several Bolivian media.

U.S. Trade Deals Embitter Latin Americans
AP via Yahoo! News Wed, 26 Apr 2006 11:38 AM PDT
With the rise of China and stiff competition from Europe, the United States has been flexing its economic muscle in its own backyard.

April 22, 2006

The Washington Post Profiles the Bolivian Justice Minister

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An interesting article about the Justice Minister of Bolivia, former maid, Casimira Rodriguez was published by the Post. The article talks about Rodriguez's humble origins and how she at the age of 13 was working as a maid without being paid.

The article also talks about how precarious is the state of justice in Bolivia. It says:
Bolivian police regularly demand bribes from crime victims before pursuing their cases. The country's criminal courts refuse to hear 96 percent of the cases that come before them, and those that do go forward often end up delayed to the point that the courts lose their credibility, the Washington-based nonprofit Partners of the Americas said in a 2005 study.

A full 64 percent of Bolivians have little or no faith in their justice system, according to a February survey by the Apoyo Opinion y Mercado firm, which says the figure was as high as 84 percent just two years ago.

According to the Post, Rodriguez has no plan yet, but ideas. She wants to:
Rodriguez is unfazed. She says she hopes to humanize and build trust in the judiciary while strengthening traditional Indian justice systems that depend on community elders rather than courts.

Rodriguez says she'll fight to boost spending for the judiciary and make it work for the poor, who account for more than 60 percent of Bolivians.

She also wants greater respect for traditional Indian justice systems, still used in much of the country, where community elders hear cases and decide on sentences that can include corporal punishment.

Communal justice in Bolivia doesn't only mean corporal punishment. Often it means lynchings and flat-out murder. One interesting book to read about this is Daniel Goldtein's "The Spectacular City: Violence and Performance in Urban Bolivia". The book is an anthropological view at communal justice in the surroundings of Bolivia's fourth largest city, Cochabamba.

The implications of pursuing a policy of sthrengthening communal justice in Bolivia can be a dangerous game. There is certainly the potential for human rights abuses to be perpetrated.

April 21, 2006

Demands from the Social Movements to the Bolivian Government

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Here is a list of demands coming from the self defined social movements in El Alto, Bolivia. These demands cover all the organizations. Some, list a few and some list literally over hundred demands. They are usually listed in a pice of paper and given to the government, either to its representatives or to the president himself.

The first set of demands are called the "October Agenda". This are three demands which were the main demands during the October 2003 confrontations with the government.

  1. Nationalization of the hydrocarbons (sometimes without compensation).
  2. Constituent Assembly.
  3. Prosecussion of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada for the events in October 2003.

These demands show up generally in any list. They are the flag demands.

  1. The abolishment of the "neo-liberal" decree 21060 (the decree which basically set up the neo-liberal model.
  2. Inmediate refounding and strengthening of the former state companies, YPFB, ENTEL, LAB, ENFE y Comibol.
  3. Construction of the road Cotapata-Santa Bárbara and the prosecussion of the officials who let the proce of the poject go so high.
  4. Complete development of the north of La Paz.
  5. Revision of the hydrocarbons tax (IDH) distribution, so it reflects the activism of El Alto in defense of the natural resources. Additinally, establish the control of those resources by the social movements.
  6. Creation of work places with dignity and access to social security and free medical insurance.
  7. Establish the La Paz parliamentary group's seat in El Alto.
  8. Establish a teacher school in El Alto.
  9. Construction of the North and South Hospitals of El Alto.
  10. More teachers and medical personnel for El Alto.
  11. Construction of a bus terminal in El Alto.
  12. Moving of the International Airpor of El Alto.
  13. Construction of the headquarters for the Central Regional Workers' union (COR).
  14. Construction of housing for the members of the street merchants union and handicraft workers union.
  15. Mechanization of agricultural communities and construction of a milk processing plant in El Alto.
  16. Creation of an Artisans Financing Bank.
  17. Breakfast and lunch for High School students.
Once again, these are but a short list of demands. But, they are representative and are the onces that show up more often.

April 20, 2006

Crisis in the Andes

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The Andean Community (CAN or Comunidad Andina de Naciones) has suffered a severe blow in recent days. During the summit of countries hosted in Asuncion, Paraguay, where Bolivia, Paraguay, Venezuela and Uruguay met (April 19), Hugo Chavez announced his country was leaving the organization and Evo Morales declared it practically "dead".

The reasons they gave were mainly that the CAN did not reflect the necesities of the member nations anymore. Especifically, they pointed at the TLCs Colombia and Peru signed with the US. Morales said that due to the TLC between Colombia and US, Bolivia was to lose its lucrative Soy market.

The future of the CAN is seriously in doubt.

In the website of the CAN, which is functioning since 1969, there is a long list of achievements. Among them stands out the efforts to economic and political integration, and more specifically, the agreements towards the establishment of a free trade zone. The CAN is also keen on seeking the Latin American Free Trade zone. I can right away see why Venezuela is leaving and why Bolivia is thinking about it.

If the CAN does not solve this crisis, the work done until now will be lost. Of course, until now, I think that the results are only observable on paper.

Here is a nice graph that shows how important CAN is for Bolivia.

April 18, 2006

The Ballots to be Used in the Constituent Assembly

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This is how the ballots to be used in the Bolivian Constituent Assembly will look like. The regional electoral courts have set the place of each group in the ballot. La Razon has published this graph on April 14.



Given the number of political parties, groups, organizations, asociations, and what not, it would be easy to conclude that the upcoming Constituent Assembly would be well represented by society in general. However, that is not the case. Many, specially, indigenous goups like the Conamaq (the confederation of indigenous groups of the eastern regions), are saying they are being excluded from the process. I assume this is because they could not register to take part in the elections. These groups are organizing their own, paralell, constituent assembly. That is their way of protesting.

The ballot looks familiar, which is good for the voter. What is not so good, I think, is that the votes will be for lists rather than for people. I find that a bit unpractical. What if I don't like one name with in a particular list? Should I not vote for that list? But, what do I do if that particular group reflects my preferences best? I find that situation could prevent some people to vote for the people they want.

Personally, I think the vote should be personal.

One other thing I find to be not so optimal. The possibility of cross-voting is a reality and could be used to balance power better. But, are Bolivian voters capable to use this extra advantage? Notice, I am NOT saying that Bolivians are ignorant and don't know how to vote. What I am saying is, in order to make optimal use of the cross-voting option, the voter has to consider all (at least most) the possibilities. For example, what happens if I vote for PODEMOS at the national level and vote for MAS at the local level? What effect will that have in the overall number of delegates to the assembly? If I want MAS to have a slight majority, but at the same time I don't want MAS to dominate but rather want PODEMOS to have the chance to have some say and some real influence, what is the best strategy for my vote? What is going to happen if I give all my votes to PODEMOS? If I want the indigenous in the east to have some representation, or women, how do I vote?

I think this kind of considerations to cast votes are necessary, but to be realist, not even in the most developed democracies people take full advantage of this possibility. I would tend to say that the average Bolivian voter will only look for the party symbol and accronym and will cross on the box.

However, on the other hand, there is no simpler way of doing the ballots if the aim is to achieve representativeness and fairness. It's a difficult job.

April 14, 2006

The Bolivian Electoral System

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I'd like to republish a post Miguel Centellas from Ciao! wrote about the Bolivian electoral system. I've been wanting to do something similar, but Miguel has done it so much better and sooner. The post is brief, yet it is a good overview using some technical terms which are important to understand the system.

The reason I post the entire article on MABB is because, in addition to provide this important information to my visitors, I'd like to have a record of it for my personal use as well.

Brief review of constituent assembly electoral system
04.13.2006

By Miguel Centellas (Ciao!)

This is in response to Matthew Shugart's comment/question from this previous post on Bolivia's constituent assembly election. I now have a free moment to give a slightly better (i.e. clearer) account of the upcoming election. First, some background.

Since 1994 (first used in the 1997 election), Bolivia has used a mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system. That means that roughly half the lower house (the House of Deputies) are elected in first-past-the-post single member districts, while the rest are elected from party lists in nine multi-seat districts (the departments) using proportional representation. (For you electoral system nerds, specifically D'Hondt PR w/ a 3% electoral threshold.)

The single-seat districts are known as distritos (circunscripciones) uninominales in Bolivia. The department-wide districts are known as distritos (circunscripciones) plurinominales.

In the constituent assembly, the compromise (after several different proposals) was to elect FIVE delegates from each department (cf. distrito (circunscripción) plurinominal) & THREE delegates from each distrito (circunscripción) uninominal. Of course, it's not "literally" a "uninominal" district if it elects more than one delegate, but here we mean that they correspond to the electoral districts used to elect uninominal deputies during general elections. For reference, see the Ley Convocatoria.

As for the electoral formula. The ballot for the constituent assembly will resemble the ballots in general elections. This is good, since voters are familiar w/ the structure.

Here's a sample ballot (from La Paz). The top part is for the "plurinominal" (department-wide) candidate lists; the bottom part is for the "uninominal" candidate lists. Each voter will cast one vote for each portion of the ballot (voters can cross-vote). Essentially, voters are voting for two parallel sets of lists, not for individual candidates.

Seats will be awarded using a pretty simple formula. In the "uninominal" districts, the list w/ the most votes wins two seats; the list w/ the second-most votes wins the remaining seat. No other lists win seats. In the "plurinominal" districts, the list w/ the most votes wins two seats, w/ one seat each for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place lists. In the case that the 4th or 3rd place lists don't win at least 5% of the vote, the top two parties will split up the remaining votes. See Article 14 in the Ley Convocatoria.

All in all, I think this electoral system is pretty simple, and not an entirely radical change from the current MMP system. I also think it might correct for some of the problems of first-past-the-post uninominal districts (where many candidates win w/ only 18-22% of the district's votes).

NOTE 1: Yes, I realize that the ballot includes the photos of individual candidates, so it seems that voters are actually voting for "individual" candidates. But the photo corresponds only to the titular candidate on each list. So the department-wide UN list in La Paz is headed by Samuel Doria Medina. But you'll notice that there are three other names below his. Also note that different parties have presented a different number of candidates on each list. Based in large measure on how many maximum seats they hope to win. Though I'm not sure why any list includes five names, since even in a blowout, no party could possibly win all five seats.

NOTE 2: Eduardo corrects me that the uninominal districts are usually referred to as circunscripciónes uninominales (not distritos).


April 12, 2006

Observations to the Government's Actions

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I cannot help but keep noticing, what I consider, troubling actions by the new government. It appears that the new lower house has just passed a one time only modification to the electoral code, whereby it would allow the people who could not be registered to vote for the last elections (for various reasons) to register anyway so they can vote. Now, this measure might seem logical in a democracy. After all everyone in the country should be involved and able to vote. However, the case gets complex when issues of double registration, voting of the deceased, voting in two or more places, etcetera arise.

Last December the electoral court prevented, through its registration process, these kinds of irregularities. That resulted on many (I don't really know how many) people unable to vote. Some of those people tried to register after the registration deadline. But, aside from speculations, the government now is trying to do away with this purging process. If this "one time only modification" makes it into law, it would open the voting process to be vulnerable to irregularities (so as not to be so strong).

My question is: why is the government doing this? Surely there are other ways to assure all eligible voters are able to vote.

And another bone to pick with this new government. It turns out that on March 27, the leadership of MAS (not the government) "directed" or ordered all bureaucrats, from top to bottom, to contribute 5% of their salaries to this party. These funds should be used in financing "events" (national, departmental and others).

I have never seen or known of such a surcharge on bureaucrat's salaries. Why is the leadership of a political party "instructing" bureaucrats in ministries, agencies and so on, to transfer funds directly to the party's coffers? With what kind of power is this political party acting? Doesn't MAS receive public funds like the other parties? Yes it does (the same funds it wants to abolish).

Just some food for thought!

April 07, 2006

World Movement for Democracy's Fourth Assembly

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Hi everyone, I am back from the World Movement for Democracy's Fourth Assembly, which took place in Istanbul, Turkey. It has been a very interesting week and a half. I was able to attend many workshops ranging from Latin American politics to decentralization to political parties and civil society. All in all, I have learned a lot and met many interesting people as well.
As you can see in the picture, the assembly was at the Istanbul conference center. A first class facility. There were around 700 attendees, so I'm told, from around 122 countries (my estimate). Representing Bolivia there were four people listed (including me), of which I met two. Not bad.

The Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, attended the opening ceremony and gave all the people a warm welcome. One of his main points was to express the readiness of Turkey to join the European Union. This issue seems to be on the top of the international agenda of his government. He took this opportunity to drive down the idea that Istanbul and Turkey did belong in the EU. I am sure it also helped that the US is keen in seeing Turkey joing the EU in the near future. For that matter, almost all of the Turkish officals in the assembly tried to make that point.

That includes the mayor of Istanbul, Dr. Mimar Kadir Topbas (on the microphone). On the second night of the assembly he threw us a monumental cultural party at one of the top hotels in Istanbul, the Conrad Hotel. On the image at the left, you can see him welcoming us to that party. Istanbul really threw a beautiful party. My thanks to the government of Istanbul for that.

As I mentioned I got to go to many interesting workshops. The workshop that interested me the most, though, was the one about decentralization. I got to listen and learn about other countrie's experience on decentralization. Later on, I had a very interesting conversation with a representative of the Institute of Social Sciences in New Delhi who told me a bit about India's experience with decentralization. He also told me that there was much interest on what is going on in Bolivia and that, in his opinion, Latin America seemed to him like a laboratory where many things would be tried before they were spread around the world. (hmmm) On another workshop about women's participation in Latin America, I got to meet many latinamerican women activists and researchers. There was an ecuadorian indigenous activist who was working on issues of education and shaping future leaders and a black-ecuadorian-woman activist, who talked about the barriers she has encountered to enter politics in her country. In the same workshop I got to meet the former Ombudswoman from Bolivia, Ana Maria Romero de Campero. She was, at one point in June 2005, briefly considered by Morales to run for Vice-president.

As I mentioned before, the experience was very rewarding and my visit to Istanbul/Consantinople/Byzantium was most of all unique. The report on the assembly most probably will be available online by end of summer. For those of you who might be interested, you can just check the WMD website.