January 30, 2008

The Ugly Face of Communal Justice

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Update: Here is an article from the Washington Post about Bolivian communal justice.

I am glad that the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is speaking out against the practice of Communal Justice in Bolivia. As you can see in these reports by HRF, it has a very ugly face:

Here is what HRF's 2007 Country Report has to say:

SYNOPSIS: Bolivia is undergoing an unprecedented process of constitutional reform driven by the executive branch. President Evo Morales, elected in December of 2005, along with supporting political parties, has proposed replacing the constitution with a national constituent assembly. Bolivia’s Constituent Assembly began its work on August 6, 2006, following the election of its deputies on July 2, 2006. Assembly deputies approved the new, 408-article constitution on December 9, 2007.1 However, opposing political parties and leaders dispute the validity of the vote, arguing that the proposed constitution was not approved by the requisite two-thirds majority. They also took issue with the fact that the text was approved not in the seat of the Assembly itself, in the city of Sucre, but in the city of Oruro, and objected that no opposition deputies from the Constituent Assembly were present at the vote. While some articles in the new constitution’s approved text guarantee due process rights, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is profoundly concerned that the new constitution grants equal standing to an alternative system of justice known as justicia comunitaria (“communal justice”). Enshrining this system within the Bolivian constitution would hinder individual rights otherwise guaranteed by both the existing constitution and international treaties to which Bolivia is signatory.

Here is a recent press release where HRF even speaks against the new MAS constitution:

Enshrining Mob Rule in Bolivia: Communal Justice and the New Constitution

LA PAZ, Bolivia (January 15, 2008) -- Lashing, crucifixion and other forms of corporal punishment would be legal in a new constitution proposed by the government of Bolivian President Evo Morales. Since 2005, Bolivia has seen a dramatic increase in such disturbing practices, including lynchings and torture, meted out under an informal system known as “communal justice.” Cases include death sentences for women accused of adultery and the beating, stoning, hanging, and burning of an elected official accused of corruption.

And if you didn't get enough, here is a video.

January 20, 2008

The New Man in the Senate

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This is Senator Oscar Ortiz (PODEMOS) from Santa Cruz, former president of CAINCO and now the newly elected president of the Senate chamber. He is also the man that could (most likely will) turn into a thorn in Morales' side. It seems as though, out of the 27 seats in the chamber, the opposition has 15 votes, the government has only 10 votes and there are two dissidents from the government's party, MAS, Guido Guardia (Sta. Cruz, former ADN and UCS) y Gerald Ortiz (Sucre). Ortiz's presidency will run for the 2008-2009 legislative period.

His Vice president is the outgoing president, Jose Villavicencio (UN), and the second Vice president is the MAS Senator, Antonio Peredo.This means the government has come out significantly weaker from this new election, and the opposition has gained in strength.

According to some press reports, Ortiz (along with Senators Jorge Aguilera, Walter Guiteras, Roger Pinto y Roberto Ruiz) represents the most conservative wing within PODEMOS, which is under the leadership of Senator Walter Guiteras. The moderate wing is led by Senator from Oruro, Carlos Böhrt. This is significant because it means the Senate is likely to pursue a harder line against the government, and therefore there is a greater likelihood of colliding with it. In addition, in order to maintain the majority within the chamber, PODEMOS (with 13 seats) has to secure the support of the Senators from MNR, Miguel Majluf and UN, Jose Villavicencio. This latter Senator or party, has the tendency to swing, at times, towards MAS in certain issues. The argument is "to balance" the decisions. The fear is that a hard liner like Ortiz could drive the Senator of UN towards MAS.

No one knows, of course, how will this play in the next year, but all bets within Bolivian observers are for a stronger polarization and collision between the Senate and the government.

January 19, 2008

The Balance of Power in Bolivia

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The quest for the consolidation of power for the Morales government seems to go on, with visible results, but not without difficulties. The Morales government has been, since its coming to power, visibly trying to consolidate its grip on power by securing the support of important institutions within the government. As a result of the December 2005 general elections, not only there was a new president, but also an almost complete new lower chamber in Congress. The government now firmly has the control of the Chamber of Deputies, where MAS, Morales' party, has the majority of votes. The result is that the president has no trouble passing legislation through the lower chamber. Already there are critics that say the lower chamber is just a rubber stamp for the government.

The Senate, on the other hand, is firmly in control of the opposition. This is the reason why it is still problematic for Morales to pass his legislative initiatives without being observed. In effect, there are also critics, among those from the government, that say the Senate deliberately stops governmental initiatives to try to brake the government's plans. In recent days, the Senate has chosen a new president. To the delight of the opposition and the disgust of the government, he is from the opposition too.

With in the last weeks, the government has appointed a new president to the National Electoral Court (CNE). The former president finished his term in January and could not (or did not want to) stand for re-election. Under his presidency, though, the CNE successfully conducted elections in the last five years, with international praise on transparency, efficiency and independence. The new president (Jose Luis Exeni), however, is a declared militant of MAS. He has already shown some masista tendencies by trying to stop the process for the referenda on the autonomy statutes in the cities controlled by the opposition. Some observers have pointed out to the fact that Exeni has worked, in the CNE, during the Sanchez de Lozada government. How much of a supporter of the Morales government and how much is he willing to comply with the government's intentions, will only be seen as time goes by. One thing has become clear in recent days though, the decentralization structure of the electoral court will work against any attempt from Exeni to partialize the institution, as recent events have shown. The Santa Cruz Electoral Court has disregarded the opinion and instructions from the central office, located in La Paz. This is a symbol of independent action by the Santa Cruz Electoral Court.

One more institution is still for grabs, the Judicial branch. There are two important courts in the Bolivian justice system, the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court. These two have the ultimate say on what is legal or not legal or what is constitutional and what is not. In addition, the Attorney General post is still unofficially occupied. The membership of both courts and that of the AG still need to be designated by the National Congress, with a 2/3 vote of the members from the two chambers. That is why is taking so long for the government to appoint its people in those important posts.

When the government successfully appoints people who are supporters of MAS to all these posts, it will have gained more control of what is to be decided in the country, when important decisions are to be made. I don't need to walk you through of the possibilities showing the importance of those posts. One example will have to suffice. As above already mentioned, Exeni, the new president of the CNE told the Santa Cruz Electoral Court to hold on to the revision of the signatures collected to start the referendum process to approve the autonomy statutes. The Santa Cruz Electoral Court should wait until the Congress issues a legal opinion of whether the revision of signatures is legal or not. In addition, it should wait until the Constitutional Court also issues an opinion regarding the same problem. If the Congress and the Constitutional Court declare the revision of signatures illegal, the referendum process has to be stopped and the statutes cannot be approved by the population.

The question is, is the Morales government on the verge of consolidating its power in the government? Unfortunately the answer is not that easy, as the decentralization of the electoral court has shown. It will only make sense to talk about consolidation of power when the government expressly and effectively controls these institutions and through them the rest of the nation, including the subsidiary institution in the opposing regions. Although, as seen on the example above, if the government controls the courts, it can theoretically declare anything illegal, and so stop the opposition.

January 17, 2008

One Side of a Complicated Situation

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The dilemma in which many altenos (citizens of El Alto) find themselves is the following:

"EL ALTO, Bolivia (Reuters) - Damiana Katari, who knits clothes for a living and wears long black braids, a bowler hat and layers of colored skirts, proudly voted to elect fellow Aymara Indian Evo Morales to the presidency of Bolivia.

But when the subject turns to Morales' trade policies, she tenses up, worried that her workshop for knitting wool in the Andean highlands will be hurt by his trade policies."
Currently, there is a growing small textile industry in El Alto, the city where Morales enjoys the highest support (upwards of 80%). This industry supplies many markets with its products, including the very important US market.

All the people who work in this industry are torn between supporting Morales all the way or supporting his rise to power only.

More in the article. Enjoy!

January 14, 2008

Tarija Autonomy Document (Draft)

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Here you'll find Tarija's autonomy document, where they make a proposal for a territorial reorganization of Bolivia.

Click here.

January 09, 2008

The Electoral Court on the Side of Morales?

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In recent days the Morales government has only willingly appointed Jose Luis Exeni to the National Electoral Court (CNE for its Spanish name). Exeni, a journalist and alleged MAS militant, has been chosen to replace Salvador Romero, whom has just finished his term as member and president of the CNE.

So, that doesn't need to mean anything, some might say. Exeni himself said he will work to guarantee the impartiallity, independence and autonomy of the electoral court. Under Romero, the CNE has carried out the last important elections with praise from the international community.

One example, I can think of that impressed me personally, is the website which has all kinds of useful information. This website stands for transparency. Nonetheless, I am still asking myself how will it be the work of the CNE with Exeni? Moreover, how will it look like after the missing three members are appointed?

There is no doubt that for a Latin American President, having the electoral court on his side is a tremendous advantage. After all, the CNE would make significantly important decisions on the electoral processes coming in 2008. Who can vote, is one decision that comes to mind.

January 04, 2008

More Polls: Is the Government's New Constitution Approved or Disapproved?

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Angus Reid has a poll showing the approval or disapproval of the government's new Constitution.
Angus Reid's Global Monitor says, "Bolivian adults are divided in their assessment of the country’s proposed body of law, according to a poll by Ipsos Apoyo, Opinión y Mercado. 39 per cent of respondents approve of the new Bolivian Constitution, while 41 per cent disapprove."

The numbers follow below.

Polling Data

Would you say you approve or disapprove of the new Bolivian Constitution?

Approve

39%

Disapprove

41%

Not sure

20%

Source: Ipsos Apoyo, Opinión y Mercado
Methodology: Interviews with 1,025 Bolivian adults in La Paz, El Alto, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz, conducted from Dec. 11 to Dec. 18, 2007. Margin of error is 3.1 per cent.

For more interesting polls, on Bolivia, as well as other parts of the world, pay AR a visit.