Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Nobel Peace Prize comes with responsability, Mr. Perez Esquivel

In another interesting article in CADAL, Cuban Economist and Periodist Oscar Espinosa Chepe unmasks the Nobel Laureate as a two-faced activist. Read the following paragraph (in Spanish) to see Espinosa's point.
A diferencia de Carter, Usted ha visitado muchas veces Cuba, y como hemos visto por nuestra televisión se ha alojado en hoteles lujosos, donde a los cubanos no se nos permite la estancia. Usted ha sido testigo del apartheid existente en nuestro país, sin que nunca se haya atrevido a denunciar tan bochornoso estado de cosas. No se ha interesado por conocer la situación de la población, la falta de libertad imperante y la continuada violación de los derechos humanos. Por el contrario, en todos sus planteamientos se observa una completa sumisión al totalitarismo, soslayando su alta responsabilidad ante el mundo en su condición de Premio Nóbel de la Paz.
I wonder how is it possible for a regime known for its brutality keep on getting the support of allegedly intelligent and concerned people. Maybe it's because of the fact that too many people are so concerned with seeing GWB/the US fail, that they don't care how this is achieved. One clear example is the civil war in Iraq. So many anti-war bloggers just want to see the US/UK humiliated, that they actually are welcoming these horrible events.

In this well-written letter, Espinosa also notes that Perez Esquivel is quick to denounce Guantanamo and the death penalty in the US, while at the same time show the most expressive of silences when it comes to Cuba's gulags or fire squads.

Mr Perez Esquivel, that prize you hold comes with a certain responsibility, you know?

For a good, intelligent open letter, go here.

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Monday, February 27, 2006

Interesting Article

In this article, López Göttig notes the reigning hipocrisy in Fidel Castro's newsragg Granma. This hardly comes as news: In order to survive its lack of coherence, this regime has usually turned to censorship, missinformation and persecution.

The interesting thing about the article, though, is that it notes that Fidel's regime has become so anachronistic that its points of reference are now other dictatorships that once were considered antagonistic. The case in point is Iran.

If you want, you can complement the read with this report (pdf file) on free press indicators for Latin America. Any guesses as to which country is the only one in the region that prohibits this freedom by law?

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

More on Evo's Double Standards

Evo has just demanded social groups in Bolivia not to be involved in strikes and road blockades. He pointed out that it is not the way. Please bear in mind that this comes from the guy who has paralized Bolivia on several ocassions in the last few years and has used fear tactics to win the election.

The article from La Prensa, reads:
El presidente Evo Morales demandó que los movimientos sociales no realicen paros ni huelgas. “No es el camino”, aseguró al referirse a que el incremeto salarial del siete por ciento destinado al magisterio no es negociable.

Somehow, talking about Evo's double standards reminds me of yesterday's news, which showed that Evo's plan against corruption is nepotism (here).

Each time I read the newspaper I get more alarmed of this guy's shamelessness.

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Technical Problems

It seems my site feeds are not working. I tried using the Atom and RSS feeds to no avail. On the other hand, the direct feeds for My Yahoo!, Google Reader and Bloglines still can handle the feeds. I hope that My AOL and solo-sub feeds are working as well.

I will try to solve the situation as soon as possible, although I have no idea what is going on. I do not know if it is a Blogger thing or not, but noticed the same problem with "The Latin Americanist". Please contact me if you know what may be going on.

Really sorry.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Great New Bolivian Blog!

Diego Escobari has started a great new blog called Viva Bolivia! and his inaugural post shows razor sharp insights into Bolivian economics. As an economics doctoral student, it seems that Diego is also a bit worried about the course of economic policy under Evo. It is must-read material for anybody interested in Bolivia.

Diego, we can't wait for your next post!

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February 2006: International Month of Offended Obscurantist Religions

Of course, as of now, there is not a single soul in this world who has not heard about the riots and deaths caused in protests on the publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed. This, however, has not been the only religion-fueled attack to free speech.

First, we also have Catholics in New Zealand urging to boycott an episode of South Park. In the episode, called Bloody Mary, a bleeding statue of the Virgin Mary plays a fundamental role. For those of you familiar to South Park humor, it is enough to say that the statue is not crying blood and it is not because of our sins.

Then, Hindus expressed deep offense about a French film, Les Bronzes 3 - Amis pour la vie. I have not seen the film, but it seems that it shows Goddes Durga carrying alcohol. According to the BBC article, the film is supposed to be a comedy, just like English Carry On films.

Finally, a historian has been jailed for 3 years in Austria for denying the Holocaust. This denial is deeply offensive to Jews. It seems that denying the Holocaust is punishable by law in 10 European countries. Read more here.

Of course there are some differences in regard to the method of these protests. Last time I saw something about the Muhammad cartoons, 10 persons were killed in Pakistan and 18 in Nigeria. Embassies were burnt and diplomatic relations strained. No such thing happened with either South Park or Bronzes 3. New Zealand is not burning the American embassy and has not called for the death of Trey Parker or Matt Stone. Also, neither the director nor the actor of Les Bronzes 3 has been jailed. The consequences, however, are the same for all: Self-censorship.

Now, it also seems that there huge double standards in place, here in Europe. When the protests for the cartoons started, it just prompted more newspapers to print them and allege free speech. When the historian was jailed, everybody just looked the other way, without even mentioning the right we have of say whatever we want, however stupid it may be. The Times is the only exception I am aware of. They have been encouraging a debate, which is always healthy. Kudos for them.

Denying the Holocaust is plain stupid, as we know it did happen. As a historian, the guy would probably starve. We have the testimony of survivors and concentration camps still standing, for everybody to see what happened there. So, I am not defending what the historian said. But I am defending his right to say so (remember Voltaire). In this day and age, I would suppose that we had enough evidence to show him wrong and prove his claims ludicrous without turning to medieval measures.

If supposedly advanced democracies start jailing people for saying things they do not like, are they really democracies? 'Fraid not. What guarantee we do have that we will not be jailed for saying other things? None. If we persecute people for saying what they feel like saying, how long will it be until we start burning books and people again?

It seems that we live in an age where obscurantism is taking all over again. Self-censorship is not free speech.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

And Now, For Something Completely Different

Yesterday evening, I saw Monty Python's excellent movie Life of Brian for the first time since I started blogging and could not help noticing how perfectly it depicts the stupidity of current events in Bolivia.

The movie deals with the life of Brian Cohen, also known as Brian of Nazareth or Brian that is called Brian, a person born in the same day, and right down the street, as Jesus Christ. When it was released, it was the subject of a heated controversy because of its alleged blasphemy and not one, but three different religious denominations expressed their disgust with this movie: Christians, Jews and (Palestinian) Muslims. So, you know there must be something right with it.

Indeed, this is same movie that was voted as the greatest comedy of all time by both UK's Total Film magazine in 2000 and Channel 4 in 2005. It is also ranked 136 in the IMDB top 250 and 85 in Empire Magazine top 201.

On the surface, Life of Brian is a cheaply-produced farce of Biblical epics, but underneath, a much more complex and humanistic portrait emerges. This movie offends because it dares to question. And, most important, it does not question religion, but (religious) fanatism and intolerance. It also shows the idiocy of political interest groups more concerned in passing resolutions than actually doing what they are supposed to be doing -COB, anyone? But things do not stop there, as the movie has something for oppresive systems and catch-22 justice systems -remember the stoning scene- too.

Thus, inspired by the Pythons, I have decided to write Life of Evo. Life of Evo will be an account of Bolivian politics tied to specific scenes in Life of Brian and will, hopefully, show the risible state of affairs that led to the election of the would-be authoritarian politician and his intent to destroy Bolivian democracy.

I will write a chapter of Life of Evo every weekend, for your reading pleasure. So, expect for this weekend Life of Evo, Chapter 1: Birth of Evo.

In the meanwhile, there is one thing I can assure you about Evo: He's not the Messiah. He's a very naughty boy!

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Bolivian Weekend News: The Unbelievable and the Vendetta

The Unbelievable

In yesterday's edition of La Prensa, an interview with the chancellor reveals the shameful state of the current government. The interviewer notices that the Bolivian foreign policy supremo is just starting to find out why Bolivia and Chile have poor relations since 1879. The article notes that
David Choquehuanca is a diferent guy from his predecessors who lead Bolivia's international relations until January 22nd [sic]. He speaks aymara and not English, does not finish reading books and is just starting to find out why Bolivia and Chile have a conflict since 1879.(Emphasis added)

If the chancellor does not know the root of the conflict, what can we make of MAS politics so far? Take the gas war, for example, when a president was ousted because MAS staged massive protests in order avoid gas being exported through Chile, without having any clues as to why there was a conflict with Chile in the first place. One can only hope that the chancellor will soon start to find out that Fidel Castro is not that committed to democracy, as some in the administration believe.

But this is just the beginning. Other things one can realize by reading this interview alone is the lack of cohesion in the administration. When the interviewer asks him if it was a mistake to say that the most important task of the new ambassador to the USA would be to seek the extradition of Sanchez de Lozada, he replies that because of the whippala (the indigenous flag), there would not be priorities so that all tasks are equally important (what he meant by that is beyond my understanding). But then, when the reporter reminded him that Evo himself said that, the chancellor bluntly replied, "What did he say?". Perhaps events like this prompted the MAS administration to start curbing the access of periodists to the palace, effectively affecting the freedom of press.

And finally, in the midst of the Battle for the Constituent Assembly, the chancellor admitted that they are planning a 26-year government plan. In the same sentence, strangely, he added "Contrary to other plans and leftist thinking, we do not speak of living better; all development plans speak of living better, we don't".

If somebody can understand what he was trying to say, please take a minute and explain it to the rest of us.

The Vendetta

According to one editorial comment, Evo's comment on the banana exporters was just a vendetta against anybody in the Chapare who dared to follow the strategies of alternative development and stop growing coca. Manfredo Kempff also notes that it is difficult to expect something else if the president himself is the representant of the Coca Growers.

Cayetano Llobet, on the other hand, notes that this comment arose from the need of the president to create enemies against his administration and quoted J. Freund -there are no possibilities of doing politics without enemies. He also notes that it is unconstitutional for the president to be the leader of an interest group. One more reason for an Assembly with unlimited power.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Constituent Assembly Update

In a post on Tuesday, I stated that MAS may have spoken too soon about their intentions regarding the Constituent Assembly. Yesterday's reactions, which seem to confirm this statement, are all over the news: three departments, maybe four, stated that they will not participate in a MAS-dominated constituent assembly. The departments in question are Pando, Beni and Tarija, and Chuquisaca may be joining them. Moreover, today, La Razon reports that only two regions -La Paz and Potosi- support Evo's plans for the Assembly. It is interesting to note that even Cochabamba, MAS' stronghold, would rather go for an egalitarian Assembly.

Evo, on the other hand, has been playing the wrong game. So far, he believes that he can just bully the opposition into complying with his wishes, but that has only united them. So, we see that while we had 3 regions threatening with not going to the Assembly yesterday, today we have 7 (of 9) regions opposing Evo's plans. Moreover, comments like the one against banana exporters do not serve any other purpose than creating more and more enemies to his administration. What was the purpose of that comment, really? Why does Evo want to avoid a $500 million/year business? In the end, when we take into account that internal conflict may be rife in his administration (here), signs point to Cayetano Llobet's prediction hitting the bull's-eye: the MAS administration will probably end up having more in common with the UDP administration (1982-1985) than with Chavez's.

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Evo going crazy?

Is it just me, or accusing the banana producers of drug trafficking (here), while allowing each member of the coca federation to grow one cato (1600 square meters) of the illegal crop (here) is nothing but a savage hipocrisy?

ps: more on the Constituent Assembly later.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

MAS' Intentions and Their First Purge

I guess today's news came as no surprise to anybody: MAS admitted that their plan is to get the hegemony in the Constituent Assembly, and because of that, they will seek to approve their proposed Call for Constituent Assembly Law. They clearly stated that they want to reform Bolivia at all levels, including the name, if they deem necessary (in other words, start making way for the Bolivarian, Tawantinsuyan or Originary Republic of Bolivia).

To reach their objective, they have also opened a new front against the CNE (Corte Nacional Electoral). What MAS wants to do here is force the current officials to resign. They have found two ways to achieve this objective: A no-confidence vote or a trial against CNE officials. Their preferred way is the first one, as the other would take longer than they are willing to make. Read the story here.

Now, it seems to me that MAS officials may have spoken too soon. The first piece of news, as I stated, probably did not surprise anybody. On the other hand, it probably did raise the alert levels at Podemos, UN and MNR. The reason is simple: until now, the constituent assembly was contemplated by all fronts and all the observations the opposition had had to do with the possibility of MAS extending its mandate a la Chavez. However, one could give them the benefit of doubt: perhaps they were really interested in changing the superstructure. So, what this statement means is that there is no room for doubt anymore: MAS will try to extend their mandate and design the new Constitution according to Evo's wishes (otherwise, they would be more concerned in having fair represenation rather than hegemony). Hopefully, this piece of news will serve as a wake-up call for the opposition to start working together. Remember that MAS alone can not get the necessary votes to approve their Law, they need 21 more votes. That means that neither UN or MNR is good for them, so they will have to lure Podemos. If Quiroga still has any political ambitions, this will not be the easiest of tasks.

The second piece of news is more worrying, though. By seeking the resignation of the electoral body in Bolivia, MAS is effectively purging the system of any elements they consider antagonistic to their interests. With the appointment of favourable elements in the Electoral Court, MAS will have room not only for fraud, but for the provision of computerized voting systems that will allow them to separate voters according to their preferences, as in Venezuela (probably Chavez will be keen to give Evo "fraternal" aid in this respect).

Evo is starting to unleash all his power against Bolivian democracy.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

More on the Constituent Assembly

Regarding the Constituent Assembly, Doria Medina's UN is the first opposition group to present a different law for the call of constituent assembly members. The move is intended to put a halt to Evo's notion of an assembly with 'unlimited power' that may end up extending his mandate. Thus, UN proposes that the new constitution be approved by absolute majority and, in case of modifying the length of the mandate and the clause on the reelection of officials, to be applied from the next constitutional period onwards. PODEMOS coincided with this vision and their senator Vasquez Villamor said that any changes should look into the future and should not favor any parties trying to take advantage in the short run. In a more radical tone, MNR MP Justiniano proposed that the new Constitution should define that any person should be allowed to be president only once, thus avoiding the reelection of elected officials and the candidacy of ex-presidents. Read it here.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Chavez Turns his Anger Against the UK

Hugo Chavez kicked his presidential campaign recently, and now that he needs to take the attention away from his authoritarian regime and try to unite the people against outside threats, he turned against Tony Blair, the BBC reports here.

Yesterday, a labour MP asked Blair if the UK should take a "right-wing US agenda" towards Venezuela, to which the Prime Minister replied "It is rather important that the government of Venezuela realise that if they want to be respected members of the international community they should abide by the rules of the international community." He also added "I also have to say with the greatest respect to the president of Venezuela that when he forms an alliance with Cuba I would prefer to see Cuba a proper functioning democracy."

Chavez responded by calling Mr. Blair a "pawn of imperialism, trying now to attack us from Europe", and "the main ally of Hitler". He then went on and on, saying that Blair does not have any moral right to say what he did, being an ally of Mr. Danger [GW Bush] in the Iraq war.

I wonder how Chavez would react if Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten were to publish cartoons about him.

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The Three Options for the Call for Constituent Assembly Law

The three different options from which Bolivian MPs are choosing how the members of the constituent assebly will be elected are:

Evo Morales (MAS) proposal
: Three members are chosen from each electoral district. Two of them come from the majority party and the third one comes from the runner-up, unless the majority party wins with 50% or more votes, in which case all three members come from the majority party. Members should not be accountable to anybody and should also have unlimited powers to redesign the institutional framework from scratch.

This plan has been criticized from several fronts, including MAS MPs who believe that the current constitution should be ammended and not discarded (read it here). Several other groups, among which we have entrepreneur, civic and indigenous groups, also echoed these concerns (here) and went further into asking guarantees against potential breaches to the current institutional framework. Smaller departments have also raised concerns, arguing that their interests could not be protected if this project is approved.

CECAC (The Parliament's Special Comission for the Constituent Assembly): Two members are elected from each electoral district, summing up 136 constituents. Two more members are elected for each department (making a total 18) and 26 more members will come from special indigenous districts, giving a total of 180 members for the assembly. The members coming from the departments and electoral districts would be elected by voting and the members coming from indigenous districts would be chosen according to customs and traditions.

As of yet, I have not been aware of any reactions to this proposal.

Beni's Parliamentary Brigade: Benis proposes 116 members to the assembly. Each department would chose 10 representatives (90) and 26 would come from the indigenous districts. Members from the departments would simply be the 10 candidates who obtain the most votes. Indigenous districts are free to choose their representatives by customs and traditions.

The objective of this proposal is to give all regions equal representation.

No reactions to this proposal either.

(Read the last two proposals here)

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Battle for the Constituent Assembly Begins

Today, President Evo Morales will send his Call for Constituent Assembly Law to the parliament. As stated in a previous post, the law proposes the election of three Constituent Members for every zone. Two of them would go for the winner and the third one for the second place, unless the winner gets more than 50% of the vote, in which case all three members from that zone would come from the winner.

Evo is clearly hoping to repeat his December success with this vote, as MAS won 44 of 70 electoral zones in the general elections. Without taking into account zones where he may win with more than 50%, this law would translate in at least 88 (of 210) members going for MAS. Some estimates, taking the 50% rule into account, give Morales 108 members.

Moreover, yesterday Evo warned to the heads of social movements about the risk of movilizations taking place if this law is not approved by the end of the month, while Garcia Linera called them to protect the president and change (read it here).

In fact, Evo has already started rallying his supporters by talking publicly about alleged conspiracies from the energy sector. According to Los Tiempos, Morales talked with a peasants' association about the transnationals conspiring against him and the association's protection being paramount for the government's well-being. Garcia Linera, using the twisted logic of authoritarian governments, linked the US with the transnational conspiracy and the constituent assembly: "[This time], the movilizations will not go against the president, but to protect him, to defend nationalization, to defend us from the Gringos, to defend the Constituent Assembly."

With this speech, Evo and Garcia Linera have set their charge against Bolivian democracy in motion. But still more worrying is the fact that after that inflamatory speech, Morales went to the Military and asked them directly to protect the Constituent Assembly and hidrocarbon nationalization, for which tasks he promised to revitalize the institution. "A country is strong when their Armed Forces are strong", he added. It is important to remember that Evo skipped three generations of officers when he appointed the military's high command. This probably served the purpose of winning loyalties among the armed forces, and here is why. Perhaps Evo learned how to act democraticly from his democratic friend Fidel Castro (read it here).

It seems that Evo is not leaving anything to chance. The pressure to accept his Law will come from all sides and I wonder how long the opposition MPs can hold against it with their "one voter, one vote" discourse. Does not look good, though.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Internal Conflict and Petty Jealousy Mar MAS Administration

During the presidential race, it was easy to note that the fronturunner parties were not really cohesive political parties but conglomerates of interest groups. Both Podemos and MAS were boasting about having more than 40 social groups backing them. Even if they thought that that showed the extent of their reach, in reality it sent the message of them being an easy prey to interest groups.
Now, it is starting to happen in MAS. According to this article in Los Tiempos, even Evo is starting to lose his calm with all the pettiness behind curtains. The article mentions not only the delay in the approval of Evo's austerity plans, but plain jealousy towards vice-president Garcia Linera.
The article says
La Prensa even found out that there were quarrels between the vice-president, Alvaro Garcia Linera, and Morales' entourage. Most of them were generated by jealousy from old militants of MAS, because of the "excessive public appearances" of the Vice president in exterior policy matters.
According to sources, Garcia Linera was the mastermind behind Morales' advances towards the USA and Chile's Ricardo Lagos. This caused sorrow in the Executive, not because of the acts themselves, but because it was the vice-president who expressed them.

Also, the fight for positions is on. MAS deputies "demanded angrily" more power quotas, arguing that they had expensive campaign costs and, obviously, now want their investment to yield some profits. Evo answered that he could not make everybody happy.

Jealousy towards Garcia Linera may be a decisive factor in the success of MAS. In the run to the elections I read several articles stating that Garcia Linera was the brain, while Morales was only the facade. Also, Garcia Linera was critical to capture the vote of the middle classes. Old militants probably did not like it, but stayed calm as long as his presence captured the necessary votes. Now that everything is said and done, things are bound to change.
The old guard feels it is being ousted by this newcomer and now that they finally got to power, they are not going to let it go easily. So, there is a chance that they will start blocking the vicepresident in everything they can just to show him who has the power. In addition, if Morales is really planning to pull a Chavez and consolidate power through the Constituent Assembly, he needs to create a cult around his person and the last thing he needs is the vice president to steal his thunder. So, he may, in time, add his efforts to those of the old guard.
Garcia Linera, on the other hand, knows his worth and is not likely to let the old guard push him around. The confrontation against the Chancellor is the perfect example: One day, the Chancellor says one thing, five days later Garcia Linera says that what the Chancellor said will not take immediate effect and finally, the Chancellor had to change his position and accept Garcia Linera's line.
What is bound to happen, if Morales is not able to control the old guard, is that MAS could split right down the middle. The fact the Morales is not keeping his deputies happy can only add wood to the flames.

On the matter of the deputies protecting their investments, it can only mean that if they are not able to get it back legally, corruption will run uncontrolled through the parliament.

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Friday, February 03, 2006

The Beginning of the End for Bolivian Democracy? (Update 1)

Ever since I started this blog and first posted, I referred to Evo as being harmful to democracy, and therefore, as the worst that could happen to Bolivia. Now, less than two weeks after assuming his mandate, Evo has sent the first signals of his anti-democratic tendencies. In today's La Prensa, Evo publicly announced that he will resort to popular pressure (read: marches and blockades) if the congress does not approve of his Call for Constituent Assembly Law (Ley de Convocatoría a la Asamblea Constituyente).

He also pointed out that the Constituent Assembly should have unlimited power and not be accountable to either the Legislature or the Executive (he did not mention the Judiciary), as it would write an entirely new consitution, not just reform the current one.

Finally, he made clear that the new Constitution would be the engine for reform, because "his enemies" will be quick to run to the Constitutional Court in order to neutralize his decrees (as they would be violating the current constitution) until a new constitution is in place.

What decrees Evo, who thinks of Fidel Castro as a democrat, may have in mind is anyone's guess.

Update 1: Accodring to Los Tiempos, the opposition reacted promptly by stating that Evo's intentions did not show respect for either the Constitution or the laws. UN put things in their place when their Deputy Chief stated that the constituent assembly will not be a social movement meeting, and will not be made according to MAS or Morales' wishes, but according to those of the country. "The election [of constituents] will take place with one man, one vote", he added. The reactions of Morales after the backlash are not reported.

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