October 27, 2007

The Political Battle on the Constitutional Assembly and on the Constitutional Court

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Two things to highlight in this post, the fight to keep the Constitutional Assembly (CA) alive and the other fight to control the Constitutional Court (in Spanish, Tribunal Constitucional, TC). I'll start with the latter.

Yesterday, two of the TC magistrates resigned from their posts. The current President, Elizabeth Iniguez and the Decana (the oldest member), Martha Rojas sent their resignation letters to the Vice-president of Bolivia. They argued they took this drastic decision due to the constant harassment they were subject to by a member of the lower chamber, Gustavo Torrico (MAS). Earlier, four of the five magistrates were accused by President Morales of prevarication and the MAS faction tried to bring a legal action against them in Congress. The action passed in the lower chamber but was stopped by the opposition in the Senate.

It has been speculated that the government is trying to vacate the five posts in the TC so it can place its own people. If the government would be successful in it, it would gain important support for its agenda. The current TC has ruled in several occasions against the interests of the government and thus it has indeed been branded as biased and corrupt by President Morales.

The two resignations has plunged the TC into a severe institutional crisis. There are three magistrates left, of which two are ill. The TC, technically, only needs three judges of five to function. However, the institution is stretched to the limit. Two of the three remaining magistrates are substitute magistrates who took over the posts after the last round of resignations.

I guess I don't have to remind anybody how important it is the independence of the TC. If that wasn't the case, the whole constitutional process would politicize greatly. Justice would not be blind anymore.

The second development is the struggle over the moving of the capital which is having a severe impact on the viability of the CA.

The Consejo Politico (Political Council), as we know, is trying to forge agreements to the most difficult problems affecting the CA to find consensus. The latest decision was to offer Sucre the seat of the Judicial branch and a new branch called Electoral Power. The counter proposal came shortly thereafter reaffirming Sucre's contention to take the Legislative and Executive powers to Sucre.

This situation has, once again, placed the CA in danger. If there is no agreement, the CA cannot continue.

The Political Council is now wanting to move the CA to the department of Oruro, where they say the CA can continue without interruption.

The situation in the TC is important because it might have important consequences later on on constitutional matters that might arise. The situation with the CA and Sucre's demand is highly destabilizing and fares not well for the health of the CA.

October 19, 2007

Cross-post: The Newest Dispute Between Santa Cruz and the Government

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Miguel from Pronto* has the update on the situation in Santa Cruz. Apparently, the government has militarily taken control of the international airport of Viru Viru in Santa Cruz. As a result, there were confrontations between crucenos and military guards. More violence is expected. Read more here.

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As I write this, it seems that the situation has been de-escalated by the government by withdrawing the troops from the Viru Viru airport (read here and here). It also seems that the Santa Cruz Prefect, Ruben Costas, has made Hugo Chavez the culprit. He has insulted him and said Santa Cruz was not afraid of Chavez. He accused Chavez of wanting to turn Santa Cruz into a Vietnam. Costas also declared Chavez a persona non grata and prohibited him from setting foot in Santa Cruz.

Is this the end or there is more?

October 18, 2007

A Video on Bolivia and Morales Online

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Sorry! Thanks to Jorge, I just realized people who live outside Europe cannot access the video. Thanks to the 'infinite wisdom' of the French and the Germans (Arte is a joint venture), anyone who lives in the US cannot access the video. The message you get literally asks for understanding. Gee, and I thought this type of thing was just happening in the US. Last time I tried to access one republican party's blog (don't remember exactly which one) I got the same message!

So, once again, sorry for the mistake and I will try to keep an eye if the film shows up in Youtube or Google videos. If anyone else finds it, I'll be grateful if you let me know.
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I want to point to this documentary film on Bolivia about the so called "indigenous revolution". The film was aired in German TV in the last couple of days. It was filmed and directed by Rodrigo Vasquez, a young Argentinian director, and aired in the French-German channel Arte.

Of all the renditions of the Evo revolution I saw, I thought this one was worth pointing out. It is not the expected romanticized approach of the indigenous leader who fights against neoliberalism and imperialism to become the President of Bolivia. Hmm...yes, it has a bit of that, but it also shows a somewhat more balanced approach to what is going on. He gets himself a heroine and follows her through her rise from a project leader to a Deputy for MAS. In this way he brings to light the complexities of the indigenous movement, which is by many seen as a monolith.

The film is narrated in German, but there is enough Spanish to know what is going on. For "Bolivianists" it will be easier to understand.

October 17, 2007

Bolivian Government Issues Decree Increasing Control of NGOs

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The Morales government has issued decree number 29308 to increase state control over the financing of NGOs.

This decree, among other things, will require NGOs to register and make available to the government their source of financing. It also prohibits the financing of projects with ideological or political conditions. Also, it states that no government official will be able to take a leading post in any of these NGOs until two years after they stop working for the government.

Two counter arguments are put forward. The first is that as a result of the decree, the amount of foreign aid or international cooperation will diminish. The second argument cites the right to work that citizens have when leaving government posts.

According to the graph, there are 434 NGOs operating in Bolivia. Of those, 183 in La Paz and 76 in Cochabamba. The countries where these organizations come from are: Germany, Belgium, Canada, Spain, USA, France, Great Britain, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, and Venezuela. The areas in which they are active are: agriculture, education, strengthening of institutions and health.

October 13, 2007

“¡causachun coca, wañuchun yanki!“

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The diplomatic relations between the US and Bolivia is deteriorating to the point that it might be time to change Ambassadors, once again.

As the title of this post demonstrates, it is no secret that the Bolivian President, Evo Morales, is not really interested in maintaining a good relationship with the US government. The title of this post cites Evo Morales' slogan as he spoke it from the coca grower's union leadership, a position he still holds even now. It is in Quechua and means, "viva coca, death to the Yankees".

The latest development in this diplomatic row are Morales' words declaring Phillip Goldberg (the US Ambassador) as an invalid middle-man or representative against the Bolivian government. In fact, short of declaring him persona non grata, he banned him from entering the government building.

These words come against the backdrop of more diplomatic nuances. It started when Morales was arriving to the US to speak in the UN. His plane was diverted to NJ and he and his people had to wait more than an hour before they were even let out of the airplane. Morales then, feeling not welcomed, decided to start a campaign to move the seat of the UN away from the US. Goldberg, when asked about those declarations, replied that it wouldn't surprise him if the Bolivian government would start a campaign to move Disney World.

The reaction of the Bolivian government was harsh against Goldberg. The Bolivian Department of State asked for a formal apology. Goldberg then sent, a few days ago, a letter apologizing for the faux pas. Now it seems as though, the Bolivian President is not happy with it and wants more.

It seems absurd, but it is happening. First, it seems poorly thought out, the fact that in times like these, the American Ambassador would make a joke like this. Granted, it is not a terribly bad joke, but he should have considered the delicate times the US-Bolivia relationship is going through and specifically the nature of the current Bolivian government (touchy, I mean, not afraid to use the race card). It was just not to be expected from a professional diplomat.

Secondly, it is clear the Bolivian government profits more from antagonizing the US and "fighting imperialism" than being best friends. On the one side, it fits well Morales' image of rebel. This image is even liked among some Americans. On the other side, Morales stands to gain more from his friendship with Chavez and Ahmadinejad, that with his friendship with Bush.

Is is time to recall Ambassador Goldberg home? You bet. Even if he is an outstanding diplomat and has achieved much on his career for the US, he is of no use in Bolivia any more. The only thing that would help him is to apologize publically to the Bolivian people and to Morales himself. Now, the US cannot afford to loose any contact with Bolivia, yet another country in its "back yard". As we've seen before, these things tend to have a certain domino motion, and might spread to other countries. Ecuador, perhaps?

October 03, 2007

The Bolivian Constituent Assembly Process

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Update: It was decided, by the Consejo Politico, to keep the CA in recess for two more weeks until October 22. Council members agree that the process needs two more weeks to arrive at an agreement. One failure the council is making is to leave aside the issue of the moving of the capital. And, for all intents and purposes, it is the council that which is writing the new constitution in the end and not the CA.

Update: This is the denominated Consejo Politico (Political Council). They also call it supranational organism. It is mainly a group of politicians from all political forces and the Vicepresidency, who try to negotiate and build consensus.

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Once again the Bolivian Constituent Assembly (CA) process is on the verge of collapsing due to the deep divisions concerning the kind of state to create. At present time there are two possibilities, one of which was unacceptable up until three weeks ago. The first possibility would be to solve the outstanding issues and continue with the process. The other possibility would be to close the assembly. This brief post tries make a brief overview of the process until today.

A brief reconsideration of recent events

In August 6, 2007, the CA should have had a draft of a new Constitution, and with that finish its work. That was the intention, at least, of the conclave itself, the government, the political forces and the people. However, it was not possible. The CA arrived at this date with empty hands and much controversy. Among the most controversial topics were the approval of the internal regulations, where the vote threshold of 2/3 to approve articles won and the vision of what kind of country to create (kind of state) divided even more the CA. This last topic proved to be the most problematic.

A second topic, which was raised shortly before the August 6th deadline, to move the seat of government back to Sucre, proved to be the next insurmountable obstacle. But, before tackling this new obstacle, the CA had to extend its existence. It did just that, on August 3, 2007, by passing the piece of legislation extending its life to December 14, 2007.

Hardly was the first week of August gone, the CA was again stuck on trying to deal with the issue the department of Sucre had raised. Sucre argued that since the CA is "foundational", it was appropriate for it to deal with the long standing issue of moving the seat of government back to Sucre. The CA, or rather, the political forces within the CA tried to bring the issue to debate. After several attempts by supporters of Sucre to debate, the presidency of the CA, along with the La Paz faction, MAS faction and others against this idea, forced a vote in the CA to take out altogether the issue at hand. This vote, in August 15, was carried out with a quorum of 234, in which 134 assembly members (most from MAS and La Paz) voted to remove the issue from any debate in the CA. They argued that there was no commission to treat such an issue and that the decision was taken to guard the country's unity. On the other hand, the opposing group decried that the La Paz removal proposal was not included in the agenda 48 hours before the debate, the way the regulations call for, and thus it was illegal.

The result could not have been more contrary. The radicalization of the groups supporting the capital issue followed. In August 16th, Sucre (a.k.a. Chuquisaca, Ciudad Blanca), begins a general hunger strike, which was going to last around 24 days, and demonstrations and marches or protests. Masses of people march to where the CA was meeting and force the closing of the conclave. Several assembly members of La Paz are attacked and clashes between police and demonstrators intensify. In August 22nd, the CA's presidency declares an indefinite recess due to lack of security.

At the same time, several civic committees (Santa Cruz, Tarija, Sucre, Pando and Beni), prefects and other groups, declare themselves supporters of the Sucre demand and start mobilizing to implement general strikes in their respective departments. The general strike is executed on the 28th of August in the departments of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, Pando, Sucre and Cochabamba.

For its part, the government announces a march in Sucre with 100,000 indigenous and military participants. This march, according to the President, is to show its support for the continuation of the CA. Days later, the Sucre Prefect resigns his post alluding to the potential for violence if this march were to take place. On September 8th, the Sucre Supreme Court repeals the CA decision to remove the issue of the capital from the debate. Sucre stops the strikes and the government and its supporters (around 10,000) march in support of the CA.

On September 7, the CA President, Silvia Lazarte and six of her colleagues, met and decided to call for a one month recess. This recess, said the President, should allow for dialogue and resolution of the main problems preventing the CA to come up with a new Constitution.

The state of the CA

As I am writing this post, the CA is in recess. In this month, all the problems preventing the assembly to go forward should be debated and resolved. Four days before the month is over, solutions are hardly discernible.

On September 20th, 14 of the 16 political forces signed an accord to make the CA viable. They agreed to discuss all the problematic issues within the framework of three task forces. One committee would be created, Special Committee for Dialogue and Consensus, to do just that until September 30th. The committee in charge of resolving any differences within the CA is called, Concertation Committee. This committee will provide another space to debate and to come to agreement. The third and last space where differences can be resolved would be the denominated Supraparty organism. This task force stems from the same consensus seeking organism this agreement came out of and is integrated by senators, government officials and politicians.

The most important task for any of these committees was to bring about an agreement between the La Paz and Sucre factions over the capital issue. So far, there have been several dialogues and meetings, but no consensus on the issue. The two parts have irreconcilable positions. La Paz, wants to keep the seat of government and Sucre wants to move it back to Sucre, where it once stood.

As a result, 10 of the 16 political forces taking part in the CA have decided to go on to the next step and seek a political consensus. Those remaining in La Paz to seek a political dialogue include MAS, AYRA, AS, ASP, CN, MBL, MNR, MCSFA, MOP, and UN. They want to try to save the CA. The other group of political forces, including PODEMOS, MNR-A3, APB, AAI, and MIR, have gone back to Sucre. They argue that a political solution is out of the scope of the CA and this would undermine the assembly.

The thing is that the block in La Paz has around 180 votes of the 170 needed to get a super majority. This would mean that this group could potentially approve a new constitution without the input of the major opposition force, PODEMOS. A dangerous game for PODEMOS.

The debate over a suspension of the CA

Over the course of this difficult time, the idea of closing the CA has been gaining support slowly. The last signal was given by the impossibility of reconciling the La Paz - Sucre confrontation. Several prominent assembly members have expressed their sunk optimism if the situation could not be solved. Among these, the head of the MAS faction, Roman Loayza, and MAS assembly members Victor Borda, Marco Carrillo, Mirtha Jimenez. In the opposition, PODEMOS Senators, Carlos Böhrt and Fernando Messmer. And of course, leaders of the two antagonist groups.

Will it close or will it continue?

The desire from everyone involved is to continue with the CA process, at least I hope it is. However the prospects are dim. If the issue of the capital does not get resolved, it would mean the end of the assembly. Simply because people are loosing faith in it. Additionall, the issue of the capital is not the only pending issue. Other potentially conflicting issues are: the distribution of land, the kind of state, autonomy of departments, and natural resources (who controlls them). Tough issues to tackle.

On the other hand, the CA does not have to be closed. It has been extended until December 14th. What would prevent the government and the Bolivian people to agree to extend it one more time. After all, it would be a big loss if the CA is closed without any result. There have been other CA processes that went on longer (an example escapes my mind now).

PS. See Pronto* for more discussion on this topic.
Prior posts on this topic: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.
Sources:
Article one, two, three, four

October 02, 2007

Bolivian History Online

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It is always fascinating to find how much history is being placed online. This time I have found the website: American Memory from the Library of Congress. This website collects historical documents and images, mainly from American history. However, if you do a search, you can find some interesting documents on Bolivia, as well as many other countries in the world, I guess.

For instance, I found this report from a Lt. Gibbon, who traveled through Peru, Bolivia and a bit of Brazil and wrote his impressions on the places he saw and his experiences (pages 130 on). The report was presented to Congress in 1854.

Also, I found various interesting pictures. For example, I found three panoramic views, one of Sucre and two of La Paz (here and here), from 1915.

October 01, 2007

MABBlog Anyversary: Four Years, and Still On!

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Echoing Miguel Centellas of Pronto*, who just celebrated his five years of blogging, I am celebrating four years of continuous blogging. I started one September evening of 2003. The name changed from LatAm Central, to MABB to MABBlog, in search of individuality and, a little bit, pushed by the rankings in search engines.

Blogging has paid off big time for me. I have brought, as initially intended, a continuous flow of information about Bolivia to the English speaking world, whereas before there was very little. At the same time, saw the number of blogs such as mine increase over time, and cannot help of thinking I contributed to this growth. And, I met many people, some of them already in person, interested in Bolivia as I am.

There are plans for development in MABBlog's future. I would like to get my own domain and more room and control over the site. But, for now, Blogger is just perfect. It is free and the improvements they've made are pretty good. Oh, yea, did I mention it's free? :-) As long as Blogger remains functional, reliable and fast, I think it will be ok.

Thank you to all those who over the years, have come to MABBlog to read about a country, which is one of the most interesting countries in the region (own opinion). A country which four years ago would hardly make the news, and now is a headline maker (for the most part, thanks to Evo Morales). Thank you for that continuous interest in Bolivia.

Thank you also for the comments, which have not only enriched the blog itself, but through which I have learned a lot. The possibility of interaction is what makes a blog the more rewarding.

Finally, thank you just for visiting.