November 24, 2008

Approval for the New Constitution

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Angus Reid has a poll that asks if Bolivians approve the new constitution.

The majority of people in Bolivia agree with the revised version of a new Constitution, according to a poll by Equipos MORI. 56% of respondents support the changes to the new charter agreed upon by government officials and members of the opposition.
The data can be found here.


The above graph is from La Prensa and presents a more condensed situation. Perhaps more to the reality. As you can see the black bars represent approval of the constitution and the white bars represent disapproval. In Santa Cruz, Trinidad, Tarija and Sucre, the people will not accept the new document as the new constitution. While, clearly, La Paz, El Alto, Oruro and Potosi will vote to accept the new constitution. The battle-ground is (to use an American elections term) Cochabamba. Three percentage points separates the yes from the no, in favor of the yes.

According to the simple average I took based on the above data, the constitution has an approval rate of 43%, while 39% of the people disapproves of it. This is a significantly different number from the number I quoted from Angus Reid above. I don't know whether they use a different source, but it seems they base their numbers on the same Mori survey.

One more thing to observe is the percentage of undecided, the gray bar. According to the numbers above around 19% of the electorate are not sure they'll support the new constitution. What is more interesting is that in the departments where the no-vote is higher, the undecided seem to be higher. In the departments where the yes-vote is higher there seems to be less undecided, with perhaps the exception of La Paz, where the undecided vote makes 33%.

One thing seems to be clear, if the vote would be now, it looks like the new constitution would be approved. The campaigns have started and it seems it will be a hard fought battle. I expect the government to continue bombarding people with adds through radio and TV. Likewise, I expect the opposition to do the same, but at a more local level. In the end, I think the difference will be that the government has a national strategy and the opposition doesn't. If the opposition will coordinate at a national level perhaps it will have a chance. That is, provided they have the same funds the government will have at its disposal.

November 23, 2008

Evo Morales in my Alma Mater

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Morales, in his recent visit to Washington, DC, chose to hold a speech at my Alma Mater, American University. AU, has been an important place for politicians (international and national) to express their views, when it was important for them that their words would resound inside the Beltway.

In recent history, people like John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter (who's no stranger to AU) and Bill Clinton, to cite a few, have used their time at AU to make important speeches. I personally, profited from this while at AU and heard the Dalai Lama, Bill Clinton (1997), Shimon Perez, and others that scape my memory.

Morales was a natural to speak at AU, where progressive (meaning left leaning) ideas are the order of the day. Not to say that conservative ideas are not present. For what I remember, there is a lively debate between these two camps in campus.

But, as far a Morales is concerned, his speech was well received by the people. He got cheered when he entered the room and people laughed at his jokes.

Morales used this speech to try to convey, what it seems to me, a contradictory message to the future US government. He said he was expecting to have a better relationship with Obama and at the same time he kept attacking the DEA, USAID, the US Embassy in Bolivia, etc. I say contradictory because for the US government, if you attack the mechanisms that build that relationship, what kind of relationship will be built?

If you are interested to watch his speech, you can visit AU's speeches page. There you can download the video and watch it.

November 16, 2008

Possible Contenders in Next Year's Elections

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If the new Constitution is approved next year in January, which is expected to happen, the next step will be to pass laws to start implementing the new system. After that, the other significant event will be the general elections in December 2009.

For the latter, there are already groups trying to get together to offer an alternative to MAS.

For example, Samuel Doria Medina, leader of the political party UN, wants to start a group called National Alliance. For that he invited all leaders who want to participate. He also wants to directly elect the person who will lead this front into the elections.

The Santa Cruz Prefect, Ruben Costas, also wants to create an alternative, the National Ample Front. His idea is to group together regional parties to promote autonomy as a central issue.

In addition, in Santa Cruz there are two other groups wanting to organize. One group will be an initiative from the Santa Cruz faction in Congress. Those Senators and Deputies who once represented PODEMOS, which, as of today, it seems destined to extinction. The other project is denominated Equalitarian Collective, which will have a leftist leaning.

In the Andes, as it was to be expected, Felipe Quispe wants to make a comeback with his party, Pachakuti Indigenous Movement. He wants to dispute the leadership with Evo Morales.

Also, former leader of FSUTCB and CSUTCB, activist Alejo Veliz, has created Pulso (Peoples for Liberty and Sovereignty). It is believed he will be taking part on the next elections.

Another front from the Altiplano (high plateau) is the Potosi Alianza Social (Social Alliance) lead by Mayor Rene Joaquino. He has already taken part in the last elections. It is also to be expected for him to take part in the oncomong elections. He has a commanding lead in Potosi.

On the side of the traditional political parties, the MNR is currently trying to clean up house and get ready for next year. I am expecting also that MIR, to a most regional level, will be taking part in next years elections.

There is an unconfirmed rumor that former Presidents Carlos Mesa and Rodriguez Velze, together with former Vicepresident Victor Hugo Cardenas, will be organizing a group to participate in the elections next year. The rumor is going on strong because neither party, especially Mesa, wants to deny it.

Of course, MAS will be taking part as the current major political force to reckon with.

That seems to be the future political landscape. Notice that there are few political parties and lots of alliances. This is attributed to the still going on crisis in the Bolivian political party system. A new animal has appeared, the civic alliance.

November 09, 2008

On the January 2009 Referendum - The Ballot

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This is the ballot to be used in the January 2009 referendum, when Bolivians are supposed to decide over the text article number 398 is supposed to have and approve or reject the newly negotiated constitution (click on the image to see a larger version).

The first part asks voters to decide whether article 398 should read, in its final sentence, 10,000 (24 710 acres) or 5,000 hectares (12 355 acres). The article pretends to regulate the private property of large pieces of "productive" land. Productive here, is defined as land that has a social function. Please, don't ask me what social function is, because it is not defined.

The second part asks voters to approve or disapprove the new constitution, which was written by the Constituent Assembly, agreed upon with the Prefects and amended by the Special Committee on Concertation in Congress.

This referendum is the next milestone Bolivia, Bolivians, the government and the political leadership have to go through in order to bring Bolivia away from the current crisis.

The bloodiest constitution writing process

While most constitution writing processes are prone to social unrest, political polemic, long and heated debates and full of accusations and even insults, the latest Bolivian attempt to write a new constitution was one of the bloodiest in recent history.

According to a report in La Razon, there were 25 deaths product of the intolerance and intransigence the opposition and the government negotiated the document.

The process started on August 6, 2006, as Evo Morales sought to drive his political agenda ahead.
Six months later, and after serious delays on the constitutional assembly process, the first 3 victims fell. On January 11, 2007 government followers and supporters of the then Cochabamba Prefect, Manfred Reyes, clashed without control and without the presence of the police. Reyes had announced he would push through autonomy for Cochabamba.

Eight months later, on September 24 - 26, 2007, police forces and protesters clashed on the streets of the city of Sucre (a.k.a. Chuquisaca), with 3 more people dead. The civic organizations had called supporters to action to force the Constituent Assembly to include the moving of the capital to Sucre in the debate.

But September 11 - 12, 2008 were the bloodiest of days of all. In one of the most violent confrontations between government supporters and opposition forces, 18 died in the small town of Porvernir, in Pando department. The conflict grew out of protests from the opposition departments (Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija) in response to the government's efforts to impose its constitution and the reduction of the department's intake from natural gas exports (IDH). In the same month, September 17, one young opposition supporter, member of the UCJ (in Spanish Union Juvenil Crucenista) died beaten by government supporters.

The calculations on how much money was spent in this process are still being made. However, no matter how expensive it was, the loss of one life was too much.


November 05, 2008

Latinos Surrounding Obama

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Here is an article, in Spanish, talking about the Latinos surrounding Obama. Obama himself admitted he does not much about the region and thus it is important to get to know the people with whom he intends to associate in order to get advice.

One guy, Dan Restrepo, was already mentioned in the prior post but the rest not. I only know Arturo Valenzuela from his academic work. The rest of the guys are: Riordan Roett, Gregory Craig and Frank Sanchez (I am not sure about the link).

And, here is an article in Times magazine about why Bolivia is quiting the US war on drugs.

November 03, 2008

Possible US Approaches to Latin America and Bolivia

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Update:
Ok, here is a brief summary of the interview with Dan Restrepo, Obama adviser on Latin America.

Obama's approach
  • 1. Meetings with leaders (Chavez and Castro) (with conditions) to convey democratic values
  • 2. Cooperation on Democracy and security
  • 3. The establishment of a Latin America office (in the White House?)
  • 4. Revision of NAFTA
  • 5. Support of TLC with Peru
  • 6. Critical of CAFTA
  • 7. Support Colombian on security
  • 8. Critical of Colombian action against union leaders and ONGs
  • 9. Skeptical of TLC with Colombia (wants to make it conditional upon the criticism)
  • 10. Will focus more on Mexico-US border control and domestic reduction of use of drugs
  • 11. Allow Cubans in Miami to visit family in Cuba and send money
  • 12. Continuation of the embargo
A commenter asked, does it really make a difference if we get to know McCain's approach to Latin America? At this point in time, I tend to make myself the same question.

Also, in July this year I have taken a look at this same question and looked for some clarity on Obama's and McCain's approach to Latin America.

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Otto, a friend of mine, told me about this BBC Mundo article where the two foreign policy advisers from Obama and McCain speak about their own approach to Latin America. This is an interesting article that could shed some light on future policy towards the hemisphere.

I am posting this before I read them, and therefore without commentary.

PS. The article is in Spanish only. Hopefully those of us who read the article will have a discussion so people who cannot read Spanish are able to know what is going on. Otherwise, I will summarize the articles in the next days. Enjoy!

November 01, 2008

DEA Suspended

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Morales announced today the indefinite suspension of DEA operations in Bolivia. He accused the DEA of political activities, such as financing the opposition in 'rebel' departments, spying and transporting unknown cargo in and out of Pando, Beni and Santa Cruz.

In addition to that, Morales announced he will wait for the next administration to ask for Bolivia to be placed back into the beneficiary countries list.

The big question is, what will Obama do in the case of Bolivia? (is there any doubt now that Obama will be the next president of the US?) Judging from his willingness to speak to Raul Castro, his inclination to lift the long standing Cuba embargo and his willingness to dialog with Hugo Chavez, it is very probable that Obama will put back Bolivia on the list.

Or, will Obama stick to the American line of foreign policy towards Latin America?

Big question!

Sources:

http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSTRE4A01IW20081101
http://www.erbol.com.bo/noticia1.php?id=1&identificador=740&bdatos=notiportada1