Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Picture's worth a thousand words... (Update 1)

Sergio Candia just sent me a picture from La Paz.

The three amigos appear to be having a great time. This is probably the only thing that Bolivia got out of the ALBA deal with the dictatorships of Cuba and Venezuela.

Thanks Sergio!

Update 1: La Razon reports that the piece of propaganda you see in the picture has already been replaced.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Evo Against the Empire

During a Che Guevara celebration, Evo said that he was willing to take arms in order to defend himself, Cuba and Venezuela from the empire. According to La Razon, he said
It is not the people that rises against the empire anymore. What we are having
is the empire rising against the people. And, if it did so in Cuba, Venezuela,
in Bolivia we are willing to face and defend, also with arms, the motherland,
the natural resources, and those social transformations. (sic)

He also said that some 10 years ago he said that in time there would not be only one Cuba, but several. He said that he was not wrong, and that now we have two commanders of the freedom forces of America [Fidel and Chavez].

Ok. So, let's start in the beginning. What was Evo doing celebrating Che Guevara? Che Guevara was nothing but an assassin and a tyrant. I know that Che Guevara followers always say that he died for his ideals and that that is always very commendable. But in reality, what he did was more like kill for his ideals. And were we to stick to history and not to the romantic notion of Motorcycle Diaries and the like, we have in Che Guevara a foremost example of human garbage (read about the real Che here). So, the fact that Evo was celebrating him already says much. Also, people who follow what is going on in Bolivia should not really be surprised about Evo just replicating Chavez's rethoric. He has followed in whatever his master has dictated, what's wrong with yet another one? The US probably has not even heard about this. Plus, we know where at least some part of the 100.000 AK-47s will end up.

What worries me about this celebration is not Che or Evo following his master's voice. Perhaps we should have seen that coming. What worries me is the fact that Evo defiantly implied that he wants to create a new Cuba in Bolivia. And the fact he will probably get armed up to the teeth. Everything indicates that this tale will not have a happy ending. I wrote about a month ago that
Future generations of Bolivians, when MAS is (hopefully) long gone, will judge us and unanimously agree our stupidity. After all, we have had all possible warnings. We have seen what happened in Venezuela and we can be sure Evo is nothing but a puppet. We could also have resorted to our own history, when decades of dictatorships and left-wing governments destroyed the country's economic apparatus. But no, we did not hear anything, we remembered nothing. Lame excuses will probably mushroom all over the place -"we didn't know", "we didn't think it would be like this", etc. But do not get confused. Evo never hid his intentions. We knew. We just chose to look the other way until it was too late.

And it is already too late.

PS: Told you so.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Industrializing Coca

After a week of relative calm in Bolivia, there is a piece of news that catched my attention. Evo's government will start coca industrialization this Saturday. The plan is to start three factories -one in Chulumani, one in Coripata and the last in the Chapare- with Venezuelan and Cuban financing. While the Venezuelan financing does not really surprise -it may even be useful if you want to view it in light of Venezuela's increasing importance in international drug trafficking (read these posts on VCrisis: 1, 2), that is not the objective of this post.

What puzzles me most is the objective of these factories: Get coca legalized. According to the article, these factories would manufacture coca tea, liquor and coca flour -I know. On January 2007, the plan is to start with the production of food, cosmetics and medicine.

Now... The rationale behind this Evo venture is showing that coca can be used for something different than cocaine and should therefore be legalized. But there is a very important question Evo is not taking in consideration: markets. First, Evo will have a problem just getting into new markets. What real medicine does use coca, for example? None. But let's assume for a moment that such a medicine has been developed in MAS' headquearters and exists allright. If this medicine is manufactured, will it get the seal of approval outside Bolivia? No. Same thing for food and cosmetics.

So, Evo will end up with a market comprising Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela. In the last two countries, their dictators will probably find a way to stick this production to their people, even though some studies have found plenty of evidence about how harmful regular coca consumption can be (if you can find it, the study is at CEDRO). In Bolivia, the market's too small (and already has legal coca) to make a difference in the plant's legal status. So, will these factories change something? Probably not. At least as far as the legal status of the plant goes.

I have already argued that Evo Morales' coca policy is nothing but a catch-22 trap (here). And my opinion since then has not changed. These factories are probably nothing but a way to justify his coca policy to the international community and a get-rich-quick scheme: I think we can safely conclude that these factories will be nothing but a way of transferring the little tax money that the government is able to get to the coca federations -which incidentally have Evo as their president. In other words, these factories will be the cow from which Evo and his hardcore followers get the milk.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Mexican Debate Resources

The Mexican presidential candidates had their last televised debate yesterday. The importance of this debate lies in that Calderon, PAN's candidate, and Lopez Obrador, PRD's candidate, are going neck-to-neck and the debate could be decisive. The themes discussed were security, governance, migration and foreign policy, federalism and regional development and state reform. Accusations between the two leading candidates were not uncommon.

The debate was also surrounded by an assassination attempt on the family of a businessman involved in a corruption scandal with Lopez Obrador. The businessman was going to show videos involving Lopez Obrador's collaborators in corruption scandals. Nobody mentioned this when security and crime were discussed.

According to EFE, the leading candidates ignored the other candidates, were involved in a war of words and basically said that they were the only ones with chances to win. Calderon said that Mexico has to choose between two projects -his, which is the sensible option and will work inside the law, and Lopez Obrador's, which is not only bad, but is also not viable.

Bloomberg focuses on the fact that Lopez Obrador was first in the polls until a series of ads compared him to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. So, the debate was a forum for Obrador to show he is not a Chavista. On a second article, Bloomberg notes the opposed models behind Calderon and Lopez Obrador. Calderon's view is that of promoting growth with private investment and increasing competitiveness. Lopez Obrador's view is that state spending should curb poverty and inequality.

The reactions to the debate are mixed. While some analysts say that Calderon got the advantage because Lopez Obrador took too much time to answer questions and others go for Lopez Obrador, based on his self-confidence, many conclude that it was a goalless draw.

The Scotsman, however, reports that Calderon tore Lopez Obrador apart. From the article, there should be little doubt. This article confirms the Scotsman's impressions.

Finally, you can read a minute-by-minute report on the debate here, here and here (all three in Spanish).

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Monday, June 05, 2006

Peru Elections: Garcia wins

Alan Garcia has won the second round of the Peruvian presidential elections. These are good news.
This election was of paramount importance not only for Peru but for South America. Peru was deciding the future of its democracy and its prospects for development. It was important for South America as well, as Peru was the next country under the shadow of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez (Chavez publicly supported far-left candidate Ollanta Humala and threatened to cut all ties with Peru in case Garcia won -for the sake of Peru, I hope he holds to his word). It is great to see Peru not following the same path Bolivia chose.

Thus, by choosing Garcia Peruvians have shown that they will not be bought off with a couple of populist slogans and half-truths. They have decided what was best (the lesser of two evils, actually) for them and their future. Contrary to other bloggers, however, if Garcia's previous term is something to go by, I am not very optimistic. While Garcia is certainly the better choice, a mediocre/bad term would only serve to give Humala momentum for the next election. So, thinking in the longer term, I do not think that the Chavez/Humala threat is completely gone.

The following sites have great coverage on the elections:
Publius Pundit has a great roundup, with a great collection of images.

Peru election 2006 has the news on Humala conceding the election to Garcia (here), results as they appear, quick counts and everything related to the election.

Inka's great new blog on Peru, Journal Peru, has a minute-by-minute coverage of the elections.

Peru's Electoral Processes National Office (ONPE) has the official count of the ballots.

Peru's main newspapers El Comercio and La Republica (both in Spanish).

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Bolivian News Roundup: Land, Lies and Economic Policies

La Razon reports that the dialogue between the government and the Eastern landowners is broken. As no consensus could be agreed, Evo's administration has decided to go on an approve seven decrees in order to continue with his land reform.

In any case, it seems that the dialogue was nothing but an empty promise: The landowners found out that vice president Garcia Linera had announced that the decrees would be approved and land would be granted to the indigenous communities today, while the dialogue was still going on. So, they [the landowners] realized the futility of their actions and stopped the negotiation.

According to Confeagro (the Agro Confederation), it was useless to go with the government over the text of the decrees if they would not accept revisions. Also, they say that the decree is in direct contradiction with the current laws and constitution.

Once again, it seems that this may be the spark that ignites the fire.

Meanwhile, Evo will go to the Santa Cruz central bus station and start the 'agrarian revolution'. His 'revolution' is based on the following principles:
  • Redistribution: Evo will grant all available fiscal land to indigenous communities and original peoples with insufficient land or without land. All lands that does not fulfill a social and/or economic function will be expropriated.
  • Gender: The reorganization will give lands to social groups and productive associations, as well as entitle women to own the land.
  • Forestry: Forestal zones will be ignored. The decree approved by Mesa, that distinguished forestal zones from concession zones will be annuled.
  • INRA: It will require that workers working for the National Institute for Agrarian Reform (INRA) speak the native language of the region where they work.
  • Social control: It will improve access to land in three Santa Cruz municipalities
  • Annulment: It will annul Mesa's 28148 decree, which, as I understand, made certification of land less bureaucratic.
  • Value: It will serve to set the value of land
Evo and other MAS representatives said that they did not really care for reelection. They argued that reelection was an idea proposed by the organizations and social groups behind them. La Razon asked 11 social groups behind MAS whether they proposed the reelection of the president or not and 10 of them said they did not.

The ones that proposed reelection were the Colonists' Federation. From other 8 detailed answers in the article, two social groups were in favour of such a move, two were against it and 4 are undecided. Hardly what Evo and MAS told the people.

Economic Policies
La Razon reports a war currently under way between the entrepreneurs and Evo. The economic policies followed by the current government have not found support from the Bolivian entrepreneurs -and with good reason, I must add.

Seven federations of entrepreneurs got reunited on Thursday and it seems that they decided to make their concerns public by publishing a letter to Evo in all newspapers. The letter apparently asks for sound economic policies and questions Cuba's and Venezuela's interference in the country. Moreover, the president of the Private Entrepreneurs Confederation confirmed that they are seeking to change the wrong direction that policies are taking. He also expressed concern about the Executive ruling through decrees and getting too much power. Finally, he lamented that Evo is creating a poor image of Bolivia in the rest of the world.

Evo answered with another letter published in the newspapers. In typical populist fashion, the letter is full of demagoguery and never really answers the investors' concerns. Evo's letter rather scorns them and accuses them.

Evo's letter says that the 'democratic and cultural revolution' will not go even one step back. Then, he justifies everything he does with the 54% vote he got in the December elections and around 80% of current support. He then mentions several measures that should benefit 'honest and truly patriotic entrepreneurs'. He then accuses the private entrepreneurs of false nationalism, as they do not want the economy to go back to the hands of the state. Then, two questions ask the entrepreneurs why they did not react in previous administrations and to consider their role without political influence, before accusing them, once again, of supporting the multinational corporations that looted the country. Regarding Cuba and Venezuela, Evo defends the treaties with them and says that these pacts are not conditional on anything, as was the rule in the previous administrations. Finally, he also said that now everybody respects Bolivia.

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Friday, June 02, 2006

Democracy in Latin America

Read an excelent article by Dr. Walker, Democracia en America Latina, here (in Spanish). He correctly points out the dangers of populism. The abstract reads:

Tal vez el verdadero dilema que enfrenta América Latina, con esta nueva ola democratizadora y en el contexto más amplio de la globalización, es el que se da entre inclusión y exclusión social. No obstante, este dilema no es específico o privativo de la región por lo que indicamos que, así como en los años sesenta y comienzos de los setenta, el dilema por resolver en América Latina era aquel entre "reforma o revolución", y en los años ochenta y noventa aquel entre "dictadura o democracia", el verdadero dilema que enfrenta nuestra región en nuestros días es aquel entre "democracia o populismo" y que este último (neopopulismo), a diferencia del viejo populismo de los años treinta y cuarenta, aparece como uno de los principales obstáculos, tanto en términos de democratización como de modernización.


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Evo's American Strategy

Los Tiempos report yet another paradox of Evo's government: The administration has accused the US of conspiring to assassinate Evo and at the same time have asked to renew the ATPDEA (Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act).

The government say they have evidence of the conspiracy, which is provided by Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. So, they say that they have the obligation to denounce and not hide this information, although they have never, in 4 months of accusations against the US, provided a shred of evidence.

On the other hand, Evo defended his plea for the renewal of ATPDEA with his "0-cocaine policy". Please mind, this plea has nothing to do with trade: FTAs are wrong, you see, but the ATPDEA, that's the real deal. After all, there is no need in liberalizing all trade when just a couple of items will do.

Lots have been written about Evo's problem separating the union leader from the statesman. The problem is at its most evident here. The domestic strategy of Evo to gain the presidency has been simple and effective: denounce everything those oligarchs in power do, in order to rally the discontent masses behind him. Then, those oligarchs in power were forced to reach a compromise, in order to avoid further problems, thus giving Evo increasing amounts of power. Evo clearly thinks that he can work the US similarly. He probably believes that by accusing the US, he will affect their stability enough so that they jump in joy at the first sign of reconciliation from his part.


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