Monday, March 24, 2008

Keeping It Together (mantenimiento juntos)

(digitalwarriormedia) A third round of talks is set to begin between Bolivia’s central government and opposition departmental governors as both sides try to resolve issues around the country’s new constitution and departmental autonomy.

The Catholic Church will act as a mediator after dialogue meetings in January and February, failed to bridge the two sides.

Over the weekend, the church issued an ultimatum to both parties and warned that it would not sponsor the dialogue if there is no prior agreement between the central government and the opposition governors of the “Media Luna”.

Secretary General of the Bolivian Episcopal Conference, Jesus Juarez, stated that both sides must agree to develop an agenda of concrete dialogue before sitting down to negotiate. He also called for an end to the escalation in political attacks.

The major actors in the coming dialogue are expected to be Cardinal Julio Terrazas, President Morales and Ruben Costas, departmental governor of Santa Cruz.

Dialogue meetings led by President Morales in January and Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera in February had no effect in stemming the ongoing political conflict that erupted after the Constituent Assembly adopted a draft constitution in December 2007.

Initially the central government resisted the opposition’s demand to involve an international organization or Church as a mediator. But after almost three months without any progress, the situation grows more difficult in the country.

As of March 14, the Bolivian Catholic Church agreed to mediate between the parties, but to date there are no breakthroughs as the opposition has soundly rejected the draft constitution, demanded more autonomy and control over departmental oil and gas revenue.

Recent statements by the opposition have escalated the severity of intentions to separate from the central government in La Paz.

In February, President Morales signed into law a measure making illegal all autonomy measures not directed from Bolivia’s Congress. This law gained greater support in early March when Bolivia’s highest electoral court ruled that autonomy referendums put forth by the individual departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija could not move forward.

Despite this ruling and the congressional law, plans to hold autonomy votes in these departments continue.

According to statements made last week by opposition senator Roberto Ruiz Bass Werner, the departmental prefects and civic opposition of the “Media Luna” plan to formalize a "Federation of Autonomous Departments", with seven of the nine provinces.

The federation will consist of seven regions: Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, Pando, Chuquisaca, Cochabamba, and possibly Potosi.

The PODEMOS senator from Tarija explained that the new federation will be formed once autonomist statues are adopted in four regions through referendums. According to Ruiz, once the autonomist statues are approved by popular vote, they will be adopted, usurping the Bolivian constitution.

Senator Ruiz’s statements indicate that the federation plans to isolate the two remaining departments of La Paz and Oruro.

“What will make {the central government} at that time?” asked Ruiz, stating that La Paz will not be able to impose its Constitution on the national territory which will be beyond its power.

Meanwhile, the central government agreed to observe the March ruling of Bolivia’s National Electoral Court that suspended nation-wide voting on the country’s new constitution on May 4. However, the electoral bodies of the departments of Santa Cruz, Beni and Pando rejected the court’s decision.

President Morales has claimed that the opposition’s schemes for autonomy are acts of "separatism" promoted to destabilize the government in La Paz.

Felix Rojas, head of the Movimiento Al Socialismo party in the Senate, said Congress is ready to review all 411 articles adopted by the Constituent Assembly in December.

Congressional MAS members have claimed that the legislative body is empowered to make the necessary adjustments in the proposed new Constitution in order to end the impasse.
Several MAS members have expressed a desire to explore any proposals that will continue the dialogue between the government and the departmental governors.

"We are looking for all sorts of proposals for giving life to dialogue," said Gustavo Torrico. He also indicated the need to thoroughly explain the dangers of the proposal of Senator Roberto Ruiz to create a federation of autonomous departments.

Torrico stated that the central government accepts autonomies but with solidarity, not those that intend to split the country. He called such a strategy extremely dangerous for Bolivian unity.

On Saturday, residents in Chuquisaca demonstrated in support of the government. Around 45,000 people gathered in a soccer field in the city of Tarabuco to express their rejection of the attempted separatism. Peasants, university students, workers and native people gathered to defend the unity of Chuquisaca and Bolivia, stating their support for the new Bolivian Constitution.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Bolivian Court Suspends Referendum Vote

One week to the day that Bolivia’s National Congress passed legislation authorizing a May 4 referendum vote on the draft constitution, a major pillar of the central government’s reform agenda was pushed back.

The nation-wide referendums on Bolivia’s new constitution are postponed indefinitely, following a ruling by the country’s highest electoral court.

Last Thursday, the National Electoral Court (CNE) announced that referendum legislation passed by the National Congress on February 28 cannot be implemented as originally planned.

After four days of meetings with heads of the country’s regional agencies in charge of monitoring elections, Jose Luis Exeni, President of the CNE, announced suspension of the constitutional referendums due to a lack of time.

Exeni delivered the CNE ruling saying it is unfeasible to ensure "legal guarantees, sufficient time and an adequate electoral environment," on such short notice for the referendum.

The CNE resolution also suspended autonomy referendums planned in four of Bolivia’s nine departments. Exeni warned that the regions which announced departmental referendums are acting illegally because those powers rest with the legislature and the National Electoral Court.

"We assume that the departmental prefects cannot convene referendum on autonomy statutes. This is the responsibility of Congress…the Departmental Electoral Courts (CDE) cannot manage referendum processes. This is the responsibility of the National Electoral Court,” stated Exeni.

Despite the latest ruling of the higher court, Departmental Electoral Courts of Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, Beni, Pando and Tarija said they will continue with preparations to declare autonomy and warned that the CNE is overstepping its power.

Opposition leaders dispute the legality of the draft constitution passed in December 2007, as well as the congressional legislation setting referendum votes for May.

No Political Compromise

The congressional vote that authorized the referendum came after two months of tense talks between President Morales and departmental prefects.

Initially both sides stated a commitment to finding compromise through dialogue. Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera headed up an ad hoc body charged with finding consensus among the opposing sides but the it failed to make any progress.

In order to protect their collective interests, the departmental governors of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Pando and Beni, Cochabamba and Chuquisaca, formed the National Democratic Council (CONALDE).

Opposition leaders, have accused President Morales of making a power grab, claiming that the new constitution does not recognize the demands of the country's eastern provinces.

A major setback occurred when the central government moved ahead with the Dignity Income pension on February 1st. The social program, which grants a monthly stipend to elderly Bolivians over 60, is partly funded with departmental gas and oil revenues.

In response, the opposition prefects declared the dialogue suspended, pressed ahead with their own resolutions for autonomy and rejected the government’s funding structure of the Dignity Income.

With dialogue between the opposition prefects and the Morales administration at a standstill, the Legislature stepped in to move forward three referendums.

In a turbulent and hurried Congressional session on February 28, legislators met for less than an hour, but managed to pass the new legislation by a majority of more than two-thirds.

One PODEMOS (We Can) party senator from Cochabama, jumped on a table to shout that the legislature’s decisions were illegal. Other opposition members claimed that government supporters physically prevented them from entering the Congressional building.

During the meeting, hundreds of campesinos stood outside of Congress. They had demonstrated for three days in support of the referendum.

The laws permitted referendums addressing the new constitutional text and the amount of private landholdings to be held in May. The legislative body also passed a law declaring that departmental autonomy referendums can only be convened by Congress.

This action signaled a major blow to the opposition. The Santa Cruz department was to vote on their autonomy referendum on May 4, with Beni and Tarija announcing plans to conduct autonomy votes on June 1.

The Struggle Will Continue

On February 29, when President Morales signed the legislation into law, it appeared as though a long-awaited reform was finally on its way to the people.

President Morales announced that in the absence of an agreement between the country’s different political factions on the new draft Constitution, the most democratic action was to let the people decide the future direction of Bolivia.

But the opposition will not be deterred. While meeting with the CNE last week, to define the electoral timetable of the constitutional referendums approved by Congress, the opposition continued to press the legality of the laws.

This oppositional pressure caused the three-person CNE to determine that the country needs more time to prepare for the referendums. Despite its ruling on the departmental autonomies, the CNE is still seeking to conduct consultations with the government and the opposition in hopes of still reaching a compromise.

However the opposition is a formidable collective, whose members, Vice President Garcia Linera described as, "a very hard group.”

“No matter what you do, they do not want to change the constitution because they know that if we adopt it, they will no longer be able to privatize hydrocarbons, and not be able to distribute land as it was divided before, and that is the point of substance."


Saturday, March 01, 2008

Washington Promotes Bolivia’s Balkanization

THE theft of Kosovo, as some political observers have begun to call the secession of this Serbian territory with the support and encouragement of the United States, constitutes, as was expected, a dangerous move by the empire to undermine the territorial integrity of other countries and weaken national unity.

Its objective is to obstruct the viability of processes that provide an alternative to the political model imposed by the North, but it could also be opening, as some experts have warned, a Pandora’s box of unpredictable consequences in a volatile world.

Similar intentions can be noted in the increasingly forceful interventionist activities of Phillip Goldberg, the U.S. ambassador in Bolivia, in support of and to stimulate the separatist stance of the so-called eastern Media Luna governors who, in the specific case of Santa Cruz, have proposed the approval of an autonomous status outside the margin of the law.

These acts of piracy to appropriate the territories of others are not new in the history of U.S. expansionism and conquest. The case of Texas in the 1800’s, a rich and important part of Mexico stolen and converted into a state by the powerful northern neighbor via the massive introduction and later insubordination of U.S. colonists, is a clear example that reminds us of the empire’s voracious appetite.

Throughout their more than 200 years of existence, U.S. governments have encouraged and supported secession and the territorial disintegration of countries that do not share their politics or interests.

Now they are applying the strategy in Kosovo and doing so openly in Bolivia, while they have yet to desist in their efforts in Venezuela and Ecuador, where they are encouraging separatism in regions such as Zulia and Guayaquil.

One does not need to be highly informed on international politics to recognize that the appointment of Phillip Goldberg as U.S. ambassador in Bolivia was in line with Washington’s old, and never abandoned, secessionist policy.

It is no accident that during the days immediately following his appointment, several headlines in the press warned, "From Kosovo to Bolivia", alluding to the consul in question’s participation in the Yugoslav conflict as a diplomat during the 1990’s, during the fall and trial of President Slobodan Milosevic.

Goldberg, as head of the U.S. mission in Pristina, capital of Kosovo, was one of the architects of Milosevic’s trial in International Court in The Hague, never recognized by the deposed leader who mysteriously died in his sleep in his cell and whose jailers ruled his death a suicide.

The diplomat’s experience in questions of "decentralization" and "autonomy," was no doubt the best guarantee for sending him to La Paz, where just three months after his arrival he had established links with businessman Branco Marinkovic, of Croatian origin, who not only leads the so-called Civic Committee of Santa Cruz, but was also one of the architects of the racist and elitist movement known as Nación Camba, devoted to the division of Bolivians into whites and Indians, the underlying ideology of which was to identify those who can, and must, lead the country and those who only have the right to obey.

This is the position likewise taken by the governors and oligarchy of the departments of Benin, Pando and Tarija, where "by the way," the country’s largest oil and gas reserves are to be found.

The Nación Camba has as its strong arm the so-called Comando Camba, composed of the Bolivian business elite, large landowners and the fascist youth of the Juventud Cruceña, responsible for the worst attacks on the indigenous population in this department.

All of this has been taken into account by those who have enriched themselves in the shadows of the transnational companies, who for more than two years now, since the government of President Evo Morales and the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) came to power, fear the loss of their privileges and have done every thing they can, with the support of the U.S. embassy, to obstruct the revolutionary process and disrupt internal order, so as to make the country ungovernable.

In this fight, the ambassador Goldberg, the Balkanization expert, is playing a leading role, even though he is so enthusiastic about implementing Washington’s orders that he has committed several gaffes, such as the one exposed by U.S. student John Van Schaick, who informed the Bolivian Foreign Office that Vincent Cooper, security advisor to the U.S. diplomatic delegation, had asked him to provide addresses and information about Cuban and Venezuelan citizens working in solidarity with Bolivia.

Likewise, relations have been disclosed between the U.S. embassy in La Paz, the CIA and an irregular group within Bolivian intelligence that is operating outside the margin of the law with U.S. funding.

And these are not the only subversive activities being carried out under the protection of the embassy. Marko Lewis, a U.S. citizen resident in Bolivia, recently denounced the financing by the U.S. Aid for International Development (USAID) of trips for youth linked to the Bolivian right wing, the purpose of which is unknown, but easy to imagine.

With this same budget, the USAID, conspiring with former functionaries of the Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada regime, is funding trips by the governors of the eastern Media Luna to Washington where they are engaging in campaigns against the Evo Morales government and garnering support to prevent the prosecution of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada for his responsibility in the deaths of 68 Bolivians. All of this without counting the millions of dollars handed over to opposition groups through intermediaries.

While Phillip Goldberg is working undercover promoting the Balkanization of Bolivia, President Evo Morales is not only maintaining his position of open dialogue with the separatist governors but is willing to submit his mandate, as well as that of the governors, to a popular recall referendum vote. "Let the people decide who goes and who stays," Evo has said and 2008 will be decisive in this context.

The MAS government will be playing for keeps with this decision if we take into account the powerful mass media that has never relented its campaign against the administration and the million-dollar power of those who will not rest until they see the defeat of a process that seeks to re-found Bolivia and repay the debt owed its people.

Preventing at all costs the implementation of the separatist plans, encouraged and financed by the U.S. embassy and the pro-consul Phillip Goldberg, constitutes today a new front and the greatest challenge facing President Evo Morales, who is convinced that his people’s unity and territorial integrity are the best weapons against the oligarchy and the empire’s sedition.