August 29, 2008

The Next Steps to Follow by the Government of Bolivia

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After a 10 hour MAS summit, President Evo Morales issued Supreme Decree No. 29691. With it, he sets the new date to submit his constitution to the vote.

As the decree says, December 7, 2008 will be the date when Bolivians once again go to the ballot boxes to vote for:

1. Approval of the Oruro Constitution (Decembre 9, 2007)
2. Approval of the maximum extension of land that can be under private hands
3. The election of the La Paz and Cochabamba Prefects
4. The election of Sub-prefects and Departmental Assemblies


The decree is based on laws 3836 y 3837 from February 29, 2008, which norm the simultaneous elections and the date of the election, respectively. In addition, Law 3364 (Convocatoria a la Asamblea Constituyente) provides additional framework, according to the government.

More on La Razón.

The opposition has immediately responded, they will not accept the referendum to take place.
So far there are individual reactions, but I think a coordinated continuation of the opposition will get more radical now.

August 23, 2008

Civil War in Bolivia?

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For the first time in this long crisis, I see, with fear, how the Beniano civic leader, Alberto Melgar seriously warns Bolivia and the government of civil war.

Melgar said:

“La situación en el departamento del Beni es insostenible, esto se nos está yendo cada vez más de las manos; nosotros estamos abogando para que no existan focos de violencia porque inclusive hay gente que quiere empuñar las armas, yo quiero decirle eso con mucha precisión: hay gente que quiere empuñar las armas para armar una revolución” (The situation in Beni is unsustainable, this is progressively going out of our hands, I want to say that with precision: there are people who want to raise arms to start a revolution).

This serious and public warning has to be taken as is by the government.

If the government keeps on trying on forcing its constitution, the situation can easily turn violent.

August 22, 2008

The Last Battle?

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The Bolivian newspapers are prognosticating the last battle is coming. The central government is emphatic on passing its Oruro constituton, it seems, regardless of the consequences. The opposition departments who want autonomy are equally determined to stop the government from approving its constitution and to recovering tax intakes from the export of natural gas.

I am afraid the government's intentions are somewhat now ideologically driven. President Morales, some say (F. Patzi, for example), is surrounded by what they call the traditional left. They go on further and allege the traditional left has hijacked the MAS. I heard Patzi in an interview in Bolivian television saying that Morales had left the indigenist wing aside and had embraced the leftist groups by encircling himself, and in the process enclosing himself, with leftists in his cabinet (starting with his Vicepresident). I mention this, because if this were true, one could interpret some leftist readings of the doctrine. When the talk about change is raised, it is always accompanied by revolution. And, this revolution cannot happen without discarding the old system to 'impose' a new one. Violence is just an effect (necessary, some might say). Without having to delve into communist ideology, of for that matter any other kind of leftist ideology (the Bolivian left is diverse in this respect), I argue that seen from this point of view, the Morales government makes more sense. Especially, when one pays attention to the words.

Taking this into account, it makes sense that the government will continue with its 'revolution', i.e. the passing of its own constitution. Morales himself has explained what he is pursuing by remembering what Castro once told him. He said, the Comandante told us (Morales) don't do what I did. Do what Chavez has done in Venezuela. And so, Morales, I think, is following these words truly. His revolution in democracy, is just that, to take control of the most important posts of government and to pass a new constitution. All this, should be done through the ballot box.

That is why I think Morales is close to achieving his goal. He has control of the lower chamber, where he can pass many laws. The Senate, as seen already, is very vulnerable and thus prone to make decisions that some times might not make sense.

With the latest agreement between the opposition and the MAS, the Vicepresident has gained power to move ahead with the selection process for judges and electoral court officials. According to some reports, Garcia has received a blank check (negotiated with the opposition in the Senate) to select and appoint judges for the district courts, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court and officials at the National Electoral Court (CNE). This would mean that if everything goes according to Garcia, all these people will be 'compromised' with the change in Bolivia. That means support the government.

And, if these people are in place, the decisions the government will take will be much easier and legitimate. The acceptance of the Oruro constitution will be the crowning of the struggle and will indeed cement the changes Morales wants to put in place.

It is because of that that I am not so optimistic now because the opposition will try to influence these plans and, of course, will try to march ahead with its own plans. That would mean to finish putting in place the autonomic statutes and start implementing them. In the latter, Santa Cruz is very advanced.

Just wanted to think out loud!

August 11, 2008

Morales Wins and so do the Prefects

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The latest projections, which are taken as semi official in Bolivia and the world, show Morales being re-confirmed in office by 63% of the people (graphs are from La Razon). In addition, five of the eight Prefects are confirmed as well and three are recalled. As exit polls indicated, the Prefects who will keep their jobs are: Costas (with 67%), Cossio (with 64%), Virreira (with 76%), Suarez (with 61%) and Fernandez (with 56%). The recalled Prefects are: Paredes (with 42%), Aguilar (with 45%) and Reyes (with 39%).



It is interesting to highlight that Morales was recalled in four out of nine regions: Sucre, Beni, Tarija and Santa Cruz.



And also, Morales lost support in urban areas versus rural areas, where the core of his support is strong. What is surprising in the above graph is that the urban recall vote in Cochabamba wasn't higher. The rest I could have imagined it myself.


Just out of curiosity, the last graph shows how Paredes was recalled. He was so confident he would be reconfirmed because of his work for La Paz. I saw him in Coroico in May and he said people know he is making a lot of improvements for La Paz and people will recognize that. At the same time, the government was beginning a massive campaign against him. Did that work?

When you look at the graph, you notice he was just barely approved in urban areas. I think here El Alto played a decisive role in recalling him. Even though he is from El Alto, people there have little sympathy for him.

Now, what does this all mean? Here are my two cents...

I agree with the majority of verdicts, this result is a draw. The referendum changed very little of the situation. Yes, the President came out with some more support, but so did the Prefects in the opposition. Some of them came out swinging. This means the two sides will keep on pressing their agendas. The President will keep on trying to approve his constitution and the Prefects will keep on deepening their autonomic processes. They have already said so.

What will change is that the departments of La Paz and Cochabamba will be on Morales' side now. Since he can appoint the new Prefects, until there is a new elections at least, I imagine he will be appointing bold supporters. The prefecture of La Paz I see going to someone from the El Alto supporting organizations, and in Cochabamba will be someone from the coca growers union, I take.

Aside from that, the two sides will have to do what they should have done from the beginning: talk. Morales has to be prepared to compromise in some aspects and forget about trying to push the changes he is trying to push. The deeper the differences, the harder it will be for Morales to drive through his revolution.

August 10, 2008

Morales is Confirmed in Office

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Exit polls are being reported already by television station ATB and Red Unitel.

According to Red Unitel (video):

Morales was approved by the 60.12% of the vote at the national level.

The Prefects who were approved were: Costas (Santa Cruz) with 69.46% of the vote, Suares (Beni) with 67.72%, Cossio (Tarija) got 57.83%, Virreira (Potosi) 70.78%, and Fernandez (Pando) with 57.36%.

Prefects who will be recalled are: Paredes (La Paz) with 35.72%, Reyes Villa (Cochabamba) with 33.93%, and too close to call is the vote for Aguilar (Oruro) with 49.19%.

Repeat, this are exit polls and not official.

The question is what will happen with the vacant offices. The answer is that the government is already picking people to appoint. Let's remember that according to the constitution, the President still has the competency to appoint the Prefects. This is what will happen, until, that is, the next elections. So the result is that the opposition has lost two important players in Paredes and Reyes Villa. Aguilar was a MAS supporter, there is no problem there, but in La Paz and Cochabamba, the government is most likely to appoint someone sympathetic to it.

The other question will be if these Prefects will be accepted by the population. This, for sure, will drive to more confrontations between opponents in each department and the government.

In another result, the President was seeking an approval vote of 80%. What will happen now that he only got 60%? Will this make him a looser in the eyes of the population?

Of course he is prone to call victory because his result is above of what he got in 2005 (53.7%).

The Prefects who were ratified have said they will continue with the implementation of their autonomic statutes. I imagine, now more than ever, they will push ahead if the opposition is weaker. Although, La Paz and Cochabamba was never clear they wanted autonomy. In any case, all the departments who voted for autonomy reconfirmed their Prefects.

More to follow...... stay tuned!

Recall Referendum in Bolivia

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Update (1730 hours Bolivian time):

Voting precincts are slowly closing down after 8 hours of voting. Very early and sporadic results are starting to come out reporting some results. In some urban places in La Paz, Morales was recalled and Paredes was confirmed in office. But, that has no meaning until some of the totals start arriving to the CNE.

However, reports of massive purging of voters has been flooding the airwaves through radio and television. Many others protested that they could not vote because someone else had voted with their names.

A preliminary assessment from the part of the government says that the referendum was a success for the Bolivian democratic process.

In Buenos Aires Bolivian immigrants are voting symbolically. No results yet!

Update (1600 hours Bolivian time):

The main problem being reported is the purging of the voting registry. Many citizens are upset because they were not able to vote.

In La Paz, there has been a department wide confusion with electoral officials. These officials did not show up to their respective polling places.

Another complaint is that MAS supporters are still giving out political propaganda.

Some ballot boxes did not get to the place they had to get. In El Alto, there is a hospital that was supposed to receive a ballot box so the hospital personnel and the patients could vote, but as said, the ballot box never arrived. People are upset because if they don't have a proof they issued their vote, they cannot do many bureaucratic paper work.

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It is about 1500 hours in Bolivia and the recall referendum seems to be going on without major problems. There are no reports of major disturbances, in contrast to the referenda in May and June, but the process is not without incidents.

In La Paz, Oruro and other parts of the country there are sporadic reports of alleged fraud. Many people are not able to vote, either because they have been purged from the voting registry (for unclear reasons) or confusion because they have been told by the electoral court they can vote but officials in the polling stations say they are not in the lists and therefore are unable to vote. This is spreading confusion and frustration among the population. As times goes on, reports of this kind of irregularities constinues spreading.

Other reports say the government is still campaigning, when the last official day for campaigning was on Friday. People in La Paz have reported private cars driving around and handing out government propaganda. These same people are giving propaganda and 'explaining' voters 'how' to vote.

In Potosi, some organizations backing the government have said any vote against Morales would not be accepted. On the back of this statement, there have been reports in La Paz and Potosi of MAS groups trying to control poll stations and not permitting other groups to observe and control the voting process.

For the most part, however, the reports are saying that voting is going according to the plan and peaceful. This is also true in problem regions such as Yapacani, San Julian and Plan 3000, which were problem spots in the departmental referendum in Santa Cruz or Huanuni, which was the focus of another problem in Oruro.

Reports are saying that about 50% of the voting has already taken place and that shortly after 1800 hours, when polls will be closing, people should be expecting primary results.

There was another report of a high OAS official saying that the organization supports the CNE's formula to get results. This way, the text of the law would not be the measure bar but the CNE's resolution.

I also wanted to place this table (own elaboration) below which shows a poll conducted by Captura Consulting for La Prensa, La Paz.



Approval of candidate, national and per department in percentage















Natl Suc LP Cbb SC Pot Tar Ben Pan Oru
E Morales 54 41 77
30 67 39 43 51 75
A Garcia 54 41 77
30 67 39 43 51 75
R Costas



74




LFernandez







48
M Cossio





58


JL Paredes

42






E Suarez






64

M Reyes


48





L Agular








48
M Virreira




46




If you look at the table above, you can see that Morales and his VP will be confirmed in office. On the case of the Prefects, you can also see that Costas, Cossio, and Suarez are as optimist as Morales. On the contrary, Paredes and Virreira have to be worried. Difficult to say is on the cases of Reyes Villa, Fernandez and Aguilar, who are close to 50%, within the margin of error. Notice that those Prefects who receive a 51% of supporting votes will continue in office.

The picture is not surprising and tell us that nothing will change after August 10. Maybe the opposition will not be as strong as before, but it won't be as if they cannot continue their fight. Reyes Villa, for his part, has expressed his decision to run for president in the next elections.

Sources: La Presa, here and here.

Also I wanted to suggest you to visit Pronto*. You can find there interesting conversations on the recall vote, the government system that is approaching, and analysis on the whole situation.

The August 10 Recall Referendum in Bolivia

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Once again Bolivians return to the ballot boxes, this time to recall or reconfirm Bolivia's President, Vicepresident and eight of the nine Prefects.

This time, at one day of the referendum, I will try to provide the rules of the process. For example, I can tell you that the referendum had a detailed schedule of what is to happen. After the referendum takes place, tomorrow August 10, the counting of the ballots will start at 1800 hours. By Saturday 30th, the counting of the departmental votes should be finished. The national count should be ready by September 4, and official results should be anywhere after September 8, after the results are presented to Congress.

However, there is a real confusion as the recall referendum law (very slow to load ) stipulates how the President and Vicepresident and the eight Prefects are to be recalled and the National Electoral Court (CNE) has decided to issue its own interpretation of how the official are to be recalled.

Let's remember from prior conversations that the law says the officials will be recalled if they receive one more negative vote than what they got in the last election. That means, for Morales and Garcia, for example, they have to get 55% negative votes to be recalled. But, these formulation and the formula stipulated in the law was heavily criticized because it was confusing. Some Prefects could have been recalled with less than 50% of the votes, that is, from a minority. For that reason, the CNE, which was formally asked to resolve this problem, recently issued a resolution determining they would declare any Prefect recalled if any of them would get more than 50% of the votes against them. The President's and Vicepresident's percentages would stay the same.

This decision brought the CNE in direct confrontation with the government, which was happy with the old formula. Now, the government is set on following the law and the CNE has said it will follow its own formula.

In addition, I wanted to publish the table below which shows Evo Morales' chances to be recalled or re-elected (taken from Angus Reid).


Jul. 29

Jul. 15

Yes (For Morales to stay on as president)

54%

49%

No (To recall Morales)

41%

38%

Blank ballot / Void ballot

3%

5%

Not sure

2%

7%

Source: Captura Consulting SRL / El Deber
Methodology: Interviews with 2,100 adult Bolivians in La Paz, El Alto, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba, conducted from Jul. 26 to Jul. 29, 2008. Margin of error is 2.1 per cent.

As far as I can see, it looks pretty tight for Morales. The intention vote is close to the danger zone. There was a slight jump. But, if you look at the people who want to recall him, you can see he can breath better, but the disturbing thing is that there was also a jump upwards.

August 09, 2008

It's All About Strategy

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The latest events going on in Bolivia are nothing more than strategic moves from the two antagonist parties to attain the upper hand in this power struggle.

The crisis Bolivia is undergoing can also be explained (in my opinion) in terms of political strategies.
The central government and the opposition are playing a dangerous game. On the one side, the government is betting all its cards on the recall referendum. The strategy was, according to my analysis, to take full advantage of this 'mistake' from the part of the opposition in Congress and so consolidate, if not power, at least support and legitimacy for its plans.

The first step was going to be passing of the recall referendum law. As this suddenly happen in May, the Morales government readily accepted the 'challenge' and embarked on step two. What was to follow is pretty much logical. The government started its massive campaign by first filling the party's coffers with funds. These funds were primarily collected by way of mandatory contributions from party members. In addition, the government machinery tapped on the bureaucratic mass (be it MAS supporter or not, people had to contribute to keep their jobs). Also, as if that was not enough, Morales made no effort to conceal the use of the Chavez checks for campaigning purposes.

At the same time, Morales was working on a new bill that was going to cut state funding for political campaign purposes for political parties (a sort of campaign reform). That, in addition, to having cut funding for the departamental prefectures by eliminating the natural gas taxes (IDH in Spanish), which benefited these regional governments. This way, he has going to leave the opposition without funding, while he had a coffer full of bills.

The next step was going to be the campaign. This, a mixture of political proselytism and presidential obligations, was going to take (and did take him) Morales all over Bolivia to spread his message and seek support for re-election by speaking and giving away not only money but also projects, ambulances, schools, police cars, etc.

The effect was going to be to create an image of a dynamic president who is in touch with Bolivians and knew all their problems. At the same time, he would have brought material solutions and hope for his re-election.

On the other side, the opposition played its cards pretty well too and it even showed it had a couple of jokers on hand.

The first thing the opposition did was to put in doubt the legality of the recall referendum. In a seemingly coordinated attack, some deputies started legal actions against the bill and took these claims to the highest court, the Constitutional Tribunal. This knowing there was not possiblity for this instance to give a solution to the problem. However, these attacks were effective insofar as to really call to attention the legal weaknesses of the law. This was to the extent to forcing the national electoral court (CNE) to change the bill.

While this was going on, the opposition prefects agreed and refused to participate in the referendum, adding thus an element of confusion to the whole process. For example, Ruben Costas and Mario Cossio, change opinion more than once. The newly elected Sucre prefect, Savina Cuellar, said she was against the referendum, even though she was not going to participate.

There was also a coordinated attack to the process. Many opposition actors alleged the voting registration process to be prone to fraud. There were a number of people who publically called attention to the participation of Venezuelans in the process to give free ids and that the lists were fraudulent by having a number of irregularities. For example, it was alleged that in thousand of cases, one person had many id numbers. Of course, the government tried to defend its free id program, but the publicity left a shadow over the whole affair.

Finally, few weeks before the recall referendum on August 10, the opposition mobilized, if not coodinated, it was surprisingly at the same time. A wave of protests placed the government on the defense and disrupted all its plans. The protests included the opposition prefects, the civic committees, and to much surprise some organizations supporters of MAS. For example, the worker's union, the union for handicapped people, and miners staged protests and road blocks against the government.

This wave of protests disrupted the government plans and its campaign, and it also managed to tarnish Morales' image. As you may already know, last Tuesday there were confrontations between miners in Oruro and police foreces. The result was two people dead and over 40 people injured. Also, Morales could not get to some cities in Beni, Pando, and Tarija. In the latter, he was going to meet with the presidents of Venezuela and Argentina to sign some cooperation agreements and give some gifts. Disturbances forced the cancelation of this meeting and provided a draw back for his campaign.

Now, one day before the recall referendum, Morales is looking weaker and, at times, defeated.

At this point in time, I can say, however, that this will not change much the outcome of the referendum nor what will follow afterwards. I think, Morales will not get recalled. He still has more than enough support to survive. Now, some prefects might get recalled, such as Jose Luis Paredes from La Paz. But, the main opposition actors, Costas, Cossio, Fernandez and Cuellar, will still be there. I even think Manfred Reyes Villa will survive. If these people are still there, not much will be changed. They have said, they will continue with the opposition for Morales.

One indication is what has just happened in Santa Cruz. The province has just approved a law (regional law) allowing for elections of the newly created departmental assembly (also known as departmental council). This is significant, because it shows that Santa Cruz WILL continue moving towards autonomy, whether Morales and his supporters want it or not. And, if one province does it, why not the other ones?

It all points out to a further polarization of the situation and, what is more, a further radicalization of actions from the part of the opposition. Do they have any other choice?

August 06, 2008

Sometimes August Can Get Hot in Bolivia

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As I wrote on my July 30 post, August was marked to be a hot month in Bolivia. Well, now I can say, Bolivia is burning.

The wave of protests I called attention to have intensified to the point where there are two dead and more than 40 injured.

The worst happened on the road La Paz-Oruro-Cochabamba. The miners there decided to block the connecting road. The government decided to try an open the road. I am guessing there were two reasons, because lately it did not trust itself setting neither police nor military forces against these groups. The first reason could have been due to a large contingent of military personnel going to La Paz and Sucre to take part in the August 6 (Bolivia's independence day) celebrations. The second reason could be due to the need to have open roads for the official yes campaign to get through without delay.

In any case, things turned out really sour for Morales and his government because as a result of the clash between police forces and demonstrators, there were two dead and over 40 civilians injured. This is really bad for the government.

At the same time, a group of handicapped demonstrators was repressed on the streets of La Paz. Many tv cameras were present. The scenes of police officers pushing down handicapped people will not fare well for the government. In Cochabamba, there were confrontations between school teachers and MAS supporters. At times, there were physical.

Meanwhile, a group of bus drivers, who are demonstrating to be able to raise tariffs, also had some contact with police.

Lastly, the civic committees, along with the departmental governments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, Tarija and Sucre, have started a hunger strike asking the government to reinstate the natural gas taxes which flowed into their coffers.

So the government has the most conflicting week its ever had, and that five days before the recall referendum. All these puts the referendum into question. However, the government seems strong and determined to go through with the referendum.