Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Opposition Disintegrating

Five days before registration for the CA ends, Podemos is fighting for its survival. Podemos is the second political force in Bolivia, after Evo's MAS, and is an umbrella of nearly one hundred political groups. The organization is registered by the citizen's groups Alianza Siglo XXI (21st Century Alliance, ASXXI), which is at the centre of it all. In fact, presidential candidate Tuto Quiroga is suposed to be a member of ASXXI. Also, this means that Podemos' colours and symbols are property of ASXXI.

Well, it seems that since the December elections, Podemos has suffered several desertions, among which is ADN, the former Tuto vehicle. Now, it seems that ASXXI has had it with Quiroga and is considering parting ways. Members of ASXXI expressed their dissatisfaction with the way things were conducted. One of the reasons is that, while Podemos was supposed to be about a new beginning, it were the same old people that ended up in the decision-making posts. That led to a feeling of exclusion for the people who started ASXXI, which presumably was the cause for the resignation of a former candidate for Senator. Therefore, Podemos (ASXXI) is considering getting rid of all this political debris for the Constituent Assembly.

This would not be an easy ride for anybody. First, we have Tuto & Co., who would be left in the cold, without a party. Then, for ASXXII, which probably would end up devoid of funds. And finally, Evo would probably get more and more constituents and an extra 26 years in power.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Just a Useful Idiot? (Update 2)

Two plastic bombs went off in downtown La Paz, both of them in hotels. There were 2 dead and 11 injured. The suspects are an American man and an Uruguayan woman.

Read more at Publius Pundit, MABB , La Ventanita and Barrio Flores (1, 2) for detailed accounts of the event. Everything indicates this will be one of the weirdest events taking place in Bolivia in a long time.

Now, I don't want to concentrate on the weirdness of the event -it seems that the American they arrested is a Wicca High Priest, had several names (one of them is Lestat, just like Ann Rice's vampire) on several IDs and a criminal record in Argentina and Uruguay. I want to concentrate on the reactions.

according to news agency EFE, Morales is blaming the US government for the American suspect. In a speech, Morales wondered whether the US was inciting terrorist activity in Bolivia and then accused 'businessmen' and 'oligarchs' of being the brains behind the attack. Their purpose would be trying to stop the Constituent Assembly (CA) from taking place (why anybody wanting to stop the CA would bomb hotels rather than government buildings is anybody's guess). Mora y Leon at Publius Pundit wonders if the American was set up and notices that during the 1970s, explosions usually preceded coups. Well, reactions to the explosions tend to agree with Mora's suspicion: In order to avoid further attacks, Evo rallied the people to start creating 'committees for the defense of the democracy' --an idea that sounds awfully similar to the Bolivarian Circles. "We don't have a choice but an organized, united and mobilized people to defend democracy" Evo said. A government official stated that the purpose of these defense committees would be to defend "democracy, the CA and the government" (emphasis added).

Moreover, during a press conference, the suspect wanted to make an statement but a General didn't allow it (here). Why didn't he allow the suspect to speak? It is also noteworthy that the suspect's wife asked for his husband to be killed.

Can it be possible that Evo has found a way of consolidating power without burning the parliament?

Update 1: Bomb suspect Lestat says in an interview that his confession was the product of torture and that the belongings that Bolivian Police attributed to him didn't actually belong to him. This would include explosives and a notebook with all of Lestat's alleged international contacts. The US has expressed concern about Evo's reaction to the bombings.

Update 2: Another interview of Lestat with La Razon. There are interesting discrepancies with the previous interview in Update 1. First, the accused does not mention anything about torture, although he makes it clear that he was set up and believes that the government may be behind the attacks. He also believes that he was arrested because he was at hand and that he will not have a fair trial under Evo's government.

Meanwhile, the US, Venezuela and other government officials have started to react to Evo's statements. The US called the business aggregate of the Bolivian embassy in the US to explain the comments and their embassy cancelled an appointment with Garcia Linera to talk about soy. Garcia Linera denies this appointment was even scheluded (here).

On other fronts, Evo has been left in the cold. First, Chavez said that these attacks were probably incited by people against the government, but that they do not have any evidence that points to the American government (here). Then, the foreign minister said that they are fully aware that they deal with an American citizen but do not agree with Evo in respect to the US government role and are waiting for investigations to take place before making statements.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Ollanta Humala in First Place: Latest Polls and Vargas Llosa's Opinion

In the latest electoral polls in Peru, presidential candidate for Union por el Peru (UPP), Ollanta Humala, appears as the frontrunner with 31.6% of the intention of vote. In second place, Lourdes Flores, candidate for Unidad Nacional (UN) is capturing 29.1% of the intention of vote. On the other hand, it was Flores who would receive most support in the second round. She would get 41.5% of the votes as opposed to 36.6% for Humala. The poll was conducted by CPI and took place between the 15th and the 19th of March. 2127 persons from 280 electoral districts in 20 departments were consulted and the poll is expected to have a 1.86% of error. Read more here.

In a related piece of news, Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa expressed his concern of Humala receiving so much support for the elections. "What is going on in our country for such a cultural, moral and political blindness to take over?", he asked. He also recognized that Peru's democracy is mediocre at best, but that it nevertheless constitutes the only chance for a better future, as opposed to demagoguery, resentment and anger.
He said
We will regret it (if Humala becomes president), as we Peruvians have done throughout our history whenever we opened our arms to dictators. (...) How is it possible that after 10 years of shame with Alberto Fujimori, where there was robbery and sacking, we want to go back to dictatorship, authoritanism, contrained press, a manipulated judiciary and the sistematic removal of human rights?.
He finished by urging Peruvians not to be amnesiac.

Is it just me, or one could have said the exact same thing of Evo, before the Bolivian elections?

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bolivia News Roundup: Polls and Coca

During the last few days there has been a myriad of Bolivian news that I have not had the time to post --until now.


In an interesting poll, results indicate that Vice-President Garcia Linera has more support among the urban middle class than Evo. According to the poll, Garcia Linera has an approval rate of 54,3%, while Evo has 48,6%. Disapproval rates are 22,4% for the Vice President and 25,8% for the President. According to the article, Evo is confortable with those numbers and suggested that it was part of their (MAS') strategy. On the other hand, in February we posted news on alleged internal conflict in the current administration. The reason was precisely Garcia Linera's popularity, which caused a feeling of abbandonment in MAS' Old Guard. If there was some substance after those reports --it was denied by the govenrment, but then again, this is not something they would freely admit--, this poll is not going to fare well with them and may possibly deepen the conflict. The poll was conducted with a sample of 800 persons in La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz.

Another poll in Los Tiempos shows that Spaniards consider Bolivia the worst country to invest in. This is directly related to the arrest of Repsol's representatives in Bolivia. They were later released on bail, but was apparently enough to give Bolivia a bad image. Repsol is accussed of the government of smuggling gas out of the country. So far, the government has not presented any evidence. The next country in the list of worst places to invest is --surprise, surprise-- Venezuela. Am I the only one noticing a pattern here?


Sunday's edition of La Razon had an special report on coca. According to this article, there is no scientific proof that coca has any nutrtional value at all. Also, the article reports that the Foreign Minister is fully aware of this fact (interestingly, this did not stop him of suggesting feeding schoolchildren with it (here) on grounds of its nutritional value). Now, according to the article, the Latin American Centre for Scientific Research (CELIN) found that
after several tests to orine samples from consumers of coca in form of herbal tea, acullico (coca chewing) and cocaine, it was evident that all had similar quantities of benzoilecgonina, which is the drug's (cocaine) metabolite.
Coca is cocaine, it seems.

In addition, Peru's Centre of Information and Education for the Prevention of Substance Abuse (CEDRO), after a study of their own, concluded that coca has no nutritional value whatsoever and that it should not be recommended as a dietary supplement.

Evo's govenrment replied through Silvia Rivera, the government's assessor for coca issues, saying that none of those studies are valid, as they are hiding other interests behind. Thus, the second article in the report shows the arguments that are used by coca proponents. The first one is "Culture and Sovereignity". This argument will probably not be very convincing, since Bolivia can legally grow and consume a limited amount on cultural grounds. It is the excedent, that goes into cocaine, that is the issue. The second argument is "Nutrition". However, as we have seen, coca has been scientifically proven not to be nutritional. The third argument is "Health". Mrs. Rivera argues that she has seen with her own eyes how coca helps people suffering from diabetes, headaches, stomach pain and even AIDS --yes, AIDS. Mrs. Rivera's testimony does not count as scientific evidence, though. The final argument is the "Social Role" it has for indigenous communities. Again, nobody is prohibiting the traditional use of coca in Bolivia. This argument is just argument 1 revisited. These arguments, however, were not necessary: Mrs. Rivera, you had me at "hidden interests".

The question here is why the UN should take coca out of the list of prohibited items for cultural grounds, if the the only country that has a cultural use for coca already allows its legal consumption on tradition grounds.

Read why Morales' coca policy is nothing but a catch-22 trap here.

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Bolivia: Venezuela Revisited?

I think that by this stage, nobody can seriously argue that Venezuela's Constituent Assembly was nothing but a sham designed to increase Chavez's hold on power. Moreover, we also know that during these harsh times, the best thing the opposition could have done is unite against the common enemy rather than fight among themselves. The lack of coordination costed the Venezuelan opposition not just an election, but their democracy.

Well, news in Bolivia for the last couple of days seem to indicate that Bolivia is following Venezuela's footsteps in more than one way.

First, we have a president -Evo- trying to neutralize the opposition through legal means. Yesterday, he announced plans to try to cut state financing to registered political parties The argument is that this is part of the government's austerity plans (funny how Evo wants to double the minimum wage and does not think about austerity then). However, in the wake of a Constituent Assembly, this move is specifically designed to curb the opposition's chances of getting Constituents. Evo wants a clear majority in the Assembly in order to rubber stamp his hold in power (remember there are still Chavista advisors in Bolivia telling Evo what to do). The story is here.

Then, we have a weak opposition that is not able to unite. ADN has announced that they will participate on their own (rather than with Podemos) in the Elections for Constituents. Podemos has been left out in the cold and is now revising its strategy and renewing its alliances. According to this article, Podemos has to renew alliances with 80 different groups. What this means is that Podemos -the largest opposition group- will run in the Elections for Constituents with a heterogeneous (and therefore unconvincing) mass of candidates. Being such a heterogeneous mass means that even if they won enough seats, there is a risk the a group could break up from Podemos and pursue their own interests. In the end, it all just plays into Evo's wishes.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

The best advice Evo ever got ...

came from Uribe, who told Evo to start negotiating an FTA (Free Trade Agreement) with the US. Today, Evo answered: There is no chance whatsoever of him negotiating a FTA.

The roots of the news deal with Colombia's own FTA with the US. The US and Colombia agreed a Free Trade Agreement, which would allow Colombia to buy cheap soy from the US. Before the FTA, Colombia was the biggest market for Bolivian soy, as Bolivia was able to take advantage of the Andean Community's protective barriers. With these barriers in place, Bolivia was able to sell huge amounts of soy to Colombia at a cheaper price than its competitors. Obviously, with an FTA, American soy no longer has to pay tariffs to enter into Colombia and Bolivian producers will almost surely lose their market. The answer? Seeing how things work in Bolivia, nobody thought of trying to produce soy more efficiently and competitively; efforts went to try to stop Colombia from gaining the benefits Free Trade would create.

Evo asked Uribe to keep on buying Bolivian soy (read it here). Uribe, who is probably the only thinking president in the Andean Community, told Evo that the deal was closed and that it would benefit his country. He also suggested that he should do the same and bring the same benefits to Bolivians.

Evo, however, doesn't want to know about FTAs (read it here). In yet anoher case of the government giving mixed signals, Evo said that he would never ever negotiatie a Free Trade Agreement, just one day after Vice President Garcia Linera spoke of concentrating efforts on it. On the other hand, he spoke of an Agreement of Trade of the People (Tratado de Comercio de los Pueblos, or TCP).

Now, nobody knows much about what the difference betweem the FTA and the TCP are. Evo is saying that a TCP would favour SMEs (small and medium enterprises), but it just sounds as a propaganda tool: In the end, Evo may be negotiating an FTA, but selling the Bolivian people the idea that he negotiated something completely different.

Update: Evo stated the importance of maintaining good relations with the US and has agreed to start talking about soy with both the US and Colombia. He is still talking in TCP rather than FTA terms, though. Read it here.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Maria Corina Machado Interview

The trial for Maria Corina Machado started a few days ago. She, of course, is a monster and, let's get this out of the way, she is guilty. She did receive the incredible amount of $31,000 from the US (I wonder how much Evo and Humala got from Chavez). She did try to improve the already weakened democratic institutions. She did act in accordance to a constitution designed to oppress. For those crimes against Venezuela and humanity at large, she must be tried. She's a traitor.

Read an interesting interview here. The interview dates from Monday, the same day the trial was set to start. Among other things, she notes the intimidation mechanisms used by Chavez and his thugs to get their way. It is good to know she knows her stuff. She also notes that, while Chavez has gotten $20 billion out of an impoverished Venezuela, she is being tried for doing something that is not punishable by law -namely receiving international cooperation.

The hopes of a nation lie with Maria.

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