August 22, 2007

The Level of Tension is Reaching New Heights

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Update:

What happened yesterday in Sucre you ask?

The headline summary is: Confrontation, Repression, Violence and Paralyzation.

Almost the whole city was mobilized. There were several marches through the streets, which in the end came together in front of the Gran Mariscal Theater. The people actually tried to stop the session, which after weeks of recess was taking place. At one point, the police barricade was broken and chaos reigned.

In consequence, the President of the conclave declared it in recess due to lack of security. She was right, because several assembly members were physically assaulted. Specially in danger were people from La Paz and, of course, some Sucrences who were not supporting Sucre. There was also a violent confrontation between police forces and protesters, which left 10 wounded (one of them seriously). Among that crowd were Sucre's Mayoress and the president of the committee for the campaign to move the seat of government. During the afternoon and into the night, several offices of MAS were damaged and at least one house, where an assembly member was hiding in, was vandalized.

Surprising, to me, was the decision of the Cochabamba Civic Committee to support Sucre. I think it was coordinated with the Media Luna civic committees.

The tension is certainly not off. First because the MAS is still trying to make the resolution which strikes the moving of the seat of government to Sucre off of the agenda. And second, because the MAS and the government have used their majority in Congress to impose an impeachment procedure for some judges in the Constitutional Court. This move is seen as too authoritarian from the part of the government.

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If you've been reading MABB, you know I was alarmed at the rising of tensions in the Constitutional Assembly lately. After evaluating the year's work of the CA, I was worried to see the level of alarm reach the 'Elmo' level. Well, not it seems that alarm level is reaching a new height.

As I write this post, the citizens in Sucre are getting ready to assemble in front of the place where the CA meets, the Gran Mariscal Theater. They want to loudly protest against the seemingly unorthodox and arbitrary methods of the majority group, MAS.

It seems as though, MAS, in addition to having angered the Sucre citizens by arbitrarily removing the motion to debate the move of the seat of government, are getting ready to go ahead an approve their proposed constitution using their majority votes. An action which is widely repudiated, not only by the opposition, but also by the citizens of Sucre.

The move is supposed to come late in the afternoon, after having considered two additional commission reports, in an item described only with the word, 'various'. The opposition fears that MAS will attempt to pass its proposal, which then would have to be considered by the CA in detail.

Meanwhile, the situation in Sucre has also gone up a notch. As of yesterday, there were 32 hunger strike groups with around 269 people fasting. A 200 member strong anti-riot police group arrived to the city, inspiring deep distrust and skepticism among the people. The Ponchos Rojos militia group sent 50 of their men to 'defend the assembly' and a group of the Santa Cruz civic committee is also due to arrive in the City.

The fear of violent confrontation is always there, when you have antagonist groups coming together. However, if we consider what happen recently in Santa Cruz, it could be argued that the tensions will just be only that, tensions. Although, it is important to keep in mind, these types of things are very volatile, specially in Bolivia.

August 20, 2007

The Bolivian Blogsphere: An Explosive Reaction

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With much happiness I am observing the explosive development of the Bolivian blogsphere. In a matter of four years (roughly) the number of Bolivian bloggers has increased tremendously and blogging has been adopted as an innovative form of expression. Initiatives are springing everywhere and participation is incredible.

I remember back in 2003, there were just a handful of blogs about Bolivia, mine, Ciao! (now Pronto* and Barrio Flores, for example. Most of them, were written by Bolivians living outside Bolivia (such as myself). One day I discover a way to search blogger profiles by country. I tried it and worked. From that search I found another handful of bloggers, but this time, the authors were Bolivians living in Bolivia. It was then when I decided to start collecting links to Bolivian blogs. That way, I thought, I could contribute to the growth of what I called the boli-blogsphere. People interested in blogging, especially Bolivian pioneers such as Joe and La vida en una fotografia would have the opportunity to have the list available to them, see who else was blogging and perhaps get in touch with each other. But most importantly, they would provide a window into Bolivia through their writing. This was one important aspect, since at the time there wasn't much information about Bolivia in the Internet.

After that initial search, I rapidly discovered more blogs, such as El Forastero and Rocko. Thereafter, there was a rapid development in the boli-blogsphere. El Forastero wrote an article in October 2004 listing various Bolivian blogs. This was going to be the birth hour of the first blog about Bolivian blogs. On July 2005, El Forastero and Almada de Noche started Blogsbolivia. Since then, this site has become one of the premier sites to find Bolivian bloggers. 2005, was the explosive year for the boli-blogsphere. At the hand of Blogsbolivia, Bolivia started to be interested on this phenomenon. There were articles published in the local press and some attention was given by Radio.

From this point on, the Bolivian bloggers themselves started to claim ownership of the blogsphere. Many events were planned and initiatives started, such as Pacena, Fricachos y Blogs with the help of Quintacho and Rocko, which promoted the first meet between Bolivian bloggers. The Libro Libre initiative, which was organized by the people at Mundo al Revez (if I am not mistaken). This initiative sought to support, promote and give incentives for people to read books. The idea was interesting, taken I think from Bookcrossing, people were supposed to 'liberate' a book in any place and at any time.

At the moment the boli-blogsphere has become an exciting place. I have read that blogs like Blogsbolivia or Boliviaweb blogs have more than 500 blogs in their databases. Considering that just a few years ago there were just a handful, it is amazing to see how much the boli-blogsphere has grown.

The latest initiative is Bloguivianos, the first national convention of Bolivian bloggers. It is supposed to take part in Santa Cruz on September 1, 2007. According to the organizers, they are expecting more than a hundred participants. Additionally, another project, Voces Bolivianas is offering stipends to people who want to attend the conference. Voces Bolivianas is another exciting project supported by Global Voices through its Rising Voices initiative. The project is led by our long time friend, Eddie Avila of Barrio Flores.

As you can see, the boli-blogsphere is taking shape and, as I believe, conscience as well. The fact that Bolivians, specially the youth, have received blogging with open arms is encouraging. As I said earlier, this does not only gives a medium for average Bolivians to express themselves, but it also has built a window from where the world can look into Bolivian culture, politics, society and economy. The only factor that might be hindering this development is the language barrier. Granted that the Bolivian blogsphere has grown at an incredible rate, it is mainly in Spanish. My take is, if more languages would be included, the reach would be enormous. I know there are countless of people in the world interested in what is going on in Bolivia, but the majority of them do not speak the language, so they have to rely on people like me to get their information. If the range of languages would increase, it would only expand the access from other parts of the world and the exposure of Bolivian bloggers would be larger as well. With anxiety and hope I am waiting for the first bi-lingual blog.

August 18, 2007

Former Presidents of Bolivia

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La Razón published a rare photo of a meeting between former presidents of Bolivia. They met to ponder on the last 25 years and the democratic experience.

I tried to recognize all of them, but could not. So, those of you who know, please help me. Starting from top left to right, you can find Guido Vildoso?, Carlos Mesa, Tuto Quiroga, Eduardo Rodriguez Velze, Luis Ossio Sanjines (was he a president? I thought he was VP). Sitting, from left to right, we have Jaime Paz Zamora, Lidia Gueiler and ???

August 16, 2007

The Constitutional Assembly Reaches Critical Level

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New Developments: The fight over the possible move of the seat of government to Sucre is Elmo hot. The situation is reaching meltdown levels. Yesterday, the entire city of Sucre was practically paralyzed due to the general strike. Even though the organization leading the efforts to bring back the government to Sucre did not organize any marches or demonstrations, spontaneous marches and massive demonstrations did gather on the streets. In addition, they blocked the city and laid siege to the place where the CA meets. Many assembly members, specially those from La Paz and the ones making up the presidency, had to remain there because of security reasons. Other members of the La Paz faction had to go underground, again because of security reasons.

During the marches, Sucre showed its hostility towards the government, the President and MAS. Some protesters burned Morales' photos and Whiphalas (the indigenous flags). Moreover, this will have a backlash on MAS support in the next elections. Sucre was one of the five departments where MAS won in 2005.

So far the consequences have been: the 24 hour general strike (which was successful), the withdrawal of the entire Sucre faction from the CA (23 members), the withdrawal of the entire opposition faction from the CA (54 members), the total paralyzation of the CA, seven assembly members are in hunger strike at the CA, 31 other people have started hunger strike in five other places, at least three more hunger strikes are planned to start in the next days, in Santa Cruz 20 Sucre citizens have started hunger strike, the Santa Cruz civic committee sent a group of people to Sucre to bring support, and the autonomic movement gained Sucre as new member.

The situation is critical. The paralyzation of the CA is a fact for the time being. There is a demand from Santa Cruz to postpone it until these problematic issues are solved. There are even calls to suspend altogether the CA. One thing is clear though, the way the CA presidency is handling these problems is not appropriate. The division is even deeper.

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The Constitutional Assembly (CA) has reached the Elmo level of alarm. Yes, it's Elmo alright!

In yesterday's long session, and at the very end, the President, Silvia Lazarte, took up the voting of a resolution removing from the CA's agenda the issue of moving the seat of government to Sucre. There were 234 assembly members present; 134 voted to remove the controversial item and 73 voted to keep it. In what it seemed to be a coordinated maneuver, MAS along with the La Paz faction, successfully voted to remove the item from the table.

Already in the afternoon assembly members from Sucre had publicly warned of the maneuver on the works. After the vote, the protest was loud and clear. People of all walks of life gathered around the building where the CA assembles to protest. The group coordinating Sucre's demand to move the seat of government back to Sucre announced a halt to negotiations and an immediate state of alert.

The measures to follow are a total cease of activities for 24 hours and several assembly members from the Sucre faction have started a hunger strike. Several more are to join them in the next days.

With this, Bolivia has, in effect, divided into two parts. On the one side are La Paz, Cochabamba, Potosi and Oruro. On the other side are Pando, Beni, Santa Cruz, Tarija and now Sucre (the complete media luna).

August 12, 2007

One Year Evaluation of the Constituent Assembly

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830 articles have been produced by the Constituent Assembly (CA) in one year. The problem is that no decisions have come out on the most important issues, such as the county's vision or the autonomies. These, are the tasks for the next four months, until December 14.

La Razón reports on some of the experiences of the assembly members during the stressful process. For example, there was a woman in Pando who crying asked the assembly to help her with her problem, someone had stolen her bike days before. Or the other funny example is that the association of clowns asked their association to be included in the constitution. Rightfully, they asked, "are we not all equal and have the same rights?"

On to more serious examples, an assembly member tells La Razón that distrust between MAS and the opposition was the rule of the day. In the structure of state commission, MAS had presented an article on the official language. The opposition thought the article was better written and decided to support MAS' article. MAS then, as the majority, voted to remove its own article because the opposition was supporting it.

In the committees of autonomy and on the executive, debate was missing. In the later committee there was no debate at all. The groups worked in separate. No point was discussed and arrived at in consensus.

Another problem, according to La Razòn's article was the lack of experience and basic knowledge on the specific themes of each commission. Some assembly members did not even know how to read and write. For example, on the nations and nation committee, some members had to lecture on the meaning of concepts like nation, nations and state. The assembly members who were not 'up to date' on the issues, had to learn in the process or just miss the sessions or even do what others told them to do. Other problems slowing the process down was the constant interference of consultants advising the members. According to some people, these consultants would interrupt the debate, and even change agreements between the assembly members.

An additional issue was absenteeism. Apparently, the members would take days to go back home. Some others would just take sessions free. Finally, other commissions would debate who would have what job, such as assistants and helpers.

What these article reflects is the many problems such an endeavor means. The lack of expertise has weighed heavily on the assembly, I would say. It has cost it precious time. The lack of seriousness from the part of some members was another factor and the lack of trust, was another factor. Hopefully, this time around, things will improve.

August 10, 2007

Problems in MAS-IP: Its Structure and Future

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As you know MAS-IP is not a traditional political party, per se. It is, what its supporters call, a political instrument. This means it is an instrument being used by the various ethnic organizations to take over power in Bolivia. An interesting concept and, up to now, rather successful. However, as with many coalitions, over the long run, it is difficult to maintain unity. It seems as though the MAS is in a crucial moment because public ruptures are starting to come up, specially in the Constitutional Assembly.

To understand these ruptures, it is convenient first to go over the composition of MAS. The 'party' rests on a 'unity pact' made by many ethnic organizations. These organizations represent mainly indigenous peoples and are: The Unique Syndicate Confederation of Bolivian Peasant Workers (CSUTCB), Bartolina Sisa Federation of Peasant Women, the National Council of Markas and Ayllus of Qullasuyu (Conamaq, high lands), and the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples (CIDOB, low lands). In addition, MAS has a series of allies: the Without Fear Movement (MSM), the Cochabamba civic organizations, United Citizens (CIU) and Total Change, and the Pando civic organization Amazonic Movement for Democratic Renovation (MAR) together with Amazonic and Social Power (PASO) (info on the last two).

From these organizations, the CIDOB (5 votes) and Conamaq (5) have recently announced their withdrawal from the pact. This withdrawal has added to also recent efforts of some dissidents to form a third way to counter the weight of MAS. The third way includes all the micro forces in the assembly: MOP (3), AS (3), CN (2), AYRA (2), ASP (2), Lindo Fernández y Edilberto Arispe (Podemos), Loyola Guzmán (MAS) y Juan Zubieta (MCSFA). A possible addition is MBL (1). The dissident movement rests MAS important votes and makes its goal to control 2/3 of the votes an impossibility. MAS controls 142 votes and would need 170 votes to control the assembly. It has been reported that MAS stands to lose around 30 votes. It's looking as an uphill battle for MAS.

Note: See also an article on the same topic on Pronto*

August 06, 2007

August 04, 2007

Congress Extends the Constitutional Assembly and the Government's Military Parade in Santa Cruz

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The Bolivian Congress approved the extension of the Constitutional Assembly until December 14th of this year. This gives more time to an overstretched assembly which could not agree on the issues. Erbol, has the text of the new law, which I reproduce below:

In short though, in addition to extending the assembly, it defines two referendums (instead of one originally) to, one approve or disapprove of the contentious issues, and two, approve the entire text of the new constitution. In reality the assembly will be active an additional nine months period due to the time given towards the referendums. The opposition made sure the issues will be approved in detail with a 2/3 majority (super majority). There is a mechanism prohibiting the split of the factions to prevent situations like the one in the Country Visions commission (Comision Vision de Pais). Finally, the results of the autonomic referendum will have to be included as they are.

VP, Garcia commented: “Las mayorías tienen que aprender a consensuar con las minorías, sino no vamos a sobrevivir” (the majority has to learn to seek consensus with the minorities, otherwise we will not survive).

ARTÍCULO PRIMERO.-

Se modifica el artículo 24 de la Ley Nº 3364, ampliándose el plazo para la Asamblea Constituyente hasta el 14 de Diciembre de 2007.conforme al siguiente procedimiento:

1) En caso de que todos los artículos sean aprobados en detalle por el voto de los dos tercios de los miembros presentes, el texto final de la Nueva Constitución Política del Estado será aprobado mediante el voto de dos tercios del total de los miembros de la Asamblea Constituyente. Este texto se remitirá al Presidente de la República de conformidad a lo establecido por el artículo 26 de la Ley de Convocatoria a la Asamblea Constituyente.

2) En caso de no lograrse los dos tercios de votos en uno o más artículos en la etapa de detalle, se procederá conforme a lo establecido en los artículos tercero y cuarto de la presente ley

ARTÍCULO SEGUNDO.-

1) Al concluir su trabajo y en caso de disenso las comisiones elaborarán dos informes, uno por mayoría, aprobado por mayoría absoluta de los miembros, y otro por minoría que será la segunda propuesta más votada a condición de que ésta no sea presentada o apoyada por constituyentes pertenecientes a la bancada responsable de la propuesta de mayoría .

La Asamblea en sesión plenaria aprobará ambos informes conjuntamente.

2) El proyecto de la Nueva Constitución Política del Estado será aprobado en grande por la plenaria, por mayoría absoluta de sus miembros presentes. Los informes de minoría pararán para su consideración a la fase de detalle.

3) El proyecto de la Nueva Constitución Política del Estado será aprobado en detalle por dos tercios de votos de los miembros presentes en la plenaria.

En caso de existir artículos que no alcancen la aprobación de dos tercios, esos artículos de los informes de mayorías y minorías, pasarán a la Comisión de Concertación a objeto de buscar consensos. En esta Comisión de Concertación se tomará en cuenta tanto el informe de mayoría como el informe de minoría. El informe resultante será remitido a la plenaria para la aprobación por dos tercios de los votos de los miembros presentes.

4) Los artículos que no alcancen la votación de dos tercios de votos de los miembros presentes de la plenaria serán puestos a consideración del pueblo soberano. Para la redacción de la consulta se tomarán en cuenta los artículos aprobados por mayoría y minoría en los informes de comisión aprobados en la plenaria.

ARTICULO TERCERO.-

Con la finalidad de convocar a Referéndum dirimidor, la Asamblea Constituyente deberá remitir al Congreso Nacional los artículos que no hubiesen sido aprobados en detalle por dos tercios de votos de sus miembros, informando lo siguiente:

1) Los artículos que no hubieren alcanzado la aprobación por dos tercios de votos de los miembros presentes de la Asamblea en la fase de detalle, especificando:

a) Los artículos redactados y propuestos por mayoría de los miembros de la Asamblea, es decir, la primera opción más votada.

b) Los artículos redactados y propuestos por minoría, es decir, la segunda opción más votada.

2) Las concordancias de estos artículos con el resto del texto aprobado.

ARTICULO CUARTO.-

El Congreso de la República convocará, mediante Ley de la República, aprobada por dos tercios de los miembros presentes, a Referéndum dirimidor con carácter vinculante en un plazo no mayor a 120 días, computables a partir de la publicación de la norma para que mediante sufragio universal el pueblo boliviano dirima los artículos en controversia por mayoría absoluta de votos.

El Congreso de la República formulará las preguntas, en base a los informes redactados y textos redactados de los artículos de mayoría y minoría aprobados por la Asamblea Constituyente.

Las preguntas deberán ser formuladas con claridad y precisión abarcando todos los artículos y temas motivo de la consulta y las concordancias necesarias con el texto completo de la nueva Constitución.

El Congreso de la República no podrá modificar el texto de los artículos a ser sometidos a consulta ni las concordancias de los mismos.

ARTICULO QUINTO.-

La Corte Nacional Electoral organizará y ejecutará el Referéndum, conforme a las leyes que regulan la materia. Concluido el proceso, la Corte Nacional Electoral remitirá los resultados finales al Presidente del Congreso Nacional.

ARTICULO SEXTO.-

El Presidente del Congreso Nacional remitirá los resultados finales de Referéndum dirimidor a la Directiva de la Asamblea Constituyente, la que convocará a sesiones de manera inmediata, para que los artículos dirimidos en la Consulta Popular sean incorporados al texto de la Nueva Constitución Política del Estado; artículos que no podrán ser modificados ni interpretados, respetando la decisión del pueblo soberano.

La Asamblea Constituyente, por dos tercios de sus miembros presentes, aprobará el texto final de la Nueva Constitución Política del Estado, en un plazo no mayor a 30 días, computable a partir de la fecha de convocatoria.

ARTICULO SÉPTIMO.-

La Asamblea Constituyente en la redacción de la Nueva Constitución Política del Estado, de manera obligatoria cumplirá los resultados del Referéndum convocado mediante Ley de Convocatoria a Referéndum Nacional Vinculante a la Asamblea Constituyente para las Autonomías Departamentales de 6 de marzo de 2006 Nº 3365, aplicando lo dispuesto en los artículos 4º y 5º de la mencionada Ley.

ARTÍCULO OCTAVO.-

Concluido el proceso de aprobación, la Presidencia de la Asamblea Constituyente remitirá el texto final de la Nueva Constitución Política del Estado al Poder Ejecutivo, el que convocará a Referéndum Constituyente, a ser realizada en un plazo no mayor a 120 días computables a partir de la publicación del Decreto de Convocatoria.

En el Referéndum Constituyente, el pueblo boliviano refrendará por mayoría absoluta de votos, el proyecto de la nueva Constitución en su totalidad.

El resultado del referéndum es vinculante, en consecuencia de cumplimiento obligatorio e inexcusable por todos los bolivianos.

ARTICULO NOVENO.-

Se prohíbe el uso de recursos de cualquier entidad del sector público en sus niveles Nacional, Departamental y Municipal para los dos Referéndum previstos en la presente Ley. La Corte Nacional Electoral es la única encargada de difundir publicidad con recursos públicos para fines informativos y educativos, velando por el respeto a los principios de imparcialidad y transparencia.

ARTÍCULO DÉCIMO.-

1) En el marco de lo dispuesto la Ley Nº 3364, el Tesoro General de la Nación adoptará las previsiones respectivas para atender los requerimientos financieros de la Asamblea Constituyente.

2) Se autoriza al Tesoro General de la Nación la asignación de una partida extraordinaria para atender los requerimientos financieros de la Corte Nacional Electoral para la organización y ejecución de los dos Referéndum establecidos en la presente Ley.

ARTÍCULO DÉCIMO PRIMERO.-

Todos los países, organismos oficiales y no gubernamentales, nacionales o extranjeros, deberán registrar, ante la Directiva de la Asamblea Constituyente los datos del personal, montos erogados e informe de actividades que realizaron en apoyo a la Asamblea Constituyente; información que tendrá carácter público.

ARTÍCULO DÉCIMO SEGUNDO.-

Quedan derogados los artículos 26, 30 y 31 de la Ley No 3364 de 6 de marzo de 2006 y modificado el artículo 24 en los términos establecidos en la presente Ley.

DISPOSICIÓN FINAL PRIMERA.-

Las y los Constituyentes cumpliendo el plazo establecido en el primer parágrafo del artículo primero, conservan su mandato hasta la entrega del texto final de la Nueva Constitución Política del Estado para el Referéndum Constituyente.

DISPOSICIÓN FINAL SEGUNDA.-

El Ministerio de Gobierno tiene la responsabilidad de garantizar la integridad física de los Constituyentes, así como el libre ingreso al hemiciclo y las comisiones que integran la Asamblea.

En caso de existir riesgo de agresiones o actos de violencia que pongan en peligro la integridad física de los Constituyentes, que impidan su libre acceso al hemiciclo, la presidencia en coordinación con los miembros de la Directiva, suspenderá la Sesión hasta que existan las condiciones de seguridad necesarias que garanticen el acceso de quienes se encuentran impedidos de ingresar a los recintos de la A.C.

At the same time, the country's independence day is on August 6th. The government has decided to organize a military parade in Santa Cruz, which will include indigenous groups from the Andes. If you follow events in Bolivia, I don't have to tell you what is the problem here. The parade will include 4.000 military personnel and another 4.000 indigenous groups, and 'only' the military personnel will be allowed to carry arms, said the government. Among the indigenous groups are the MAS militia, Ponchos Rojos.

In Santa Cruz, there is high scepticism, to say the least. They see this as a provocation from the part of the government. Especially contentious, they see the participation of the militia Ponchos Rojos.

FYI:
Here you can read the military agreement between Bolivia and Venezuela and a report on Bolivia's military forces.

August 01, 2007

Optimism Reigns in the Bolivian Mining Idustry

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After all the talk about the nationalization of the mining industry in Bolivia, to my surprise, most of the companies doing business there choose to have optimism. We just saw the signing of the contract between the Indian Jindal company and the Bolivian government. This is supposed to be one of the biggest and most important deals the government has made to date. As for the already operating companies, they also have a positive attitude.

Eaglecresst Explorations, for example, describes in its website that the situation in Bolivia "continues to be challenging, particularly regarding the latest headlines regarding the “nationalization” of mineral assets. But according to the Bolivian government, they will not expropriate mines that are being actively worked and that are following all laws and tax rules. Eaglecrest was inspected this Fall and found to be “in complete compliance with all Bolivian laws and regulations, including mining and environmental regulations and tax laws.”
The Minister of Mining has said that there will be an increase in the royalty tax on the production of metals (currently 4%). But Eaglecrest does not anticipate the government’s new proposed laws will jeopardized the exploration or development of San Simon. Our good neighbors seem to agree. Several international mining companies have announced investments of US$35M to US$700M along with their plans to move forward with projects in Bolivia. The largest foreign investment is coming from the joint Apex/Sumitomo development of the world-class San Cristobal silver-lead-zinc deposit."

It is striking with what optimism these companies are continuing to operate in Bolivia. I guess they don't have choice. Once they are committed, they have to look forward and hope for the best. Or are they so sure the government will not expropriate anything?