Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Report: Distribution of Bolivia's Resources & Autonomy Conflicts

Bolivia's opposition leads a charge against the agrarian reform of the Morales administration and redistribution of the country's wealth through the taxing of regional oil and gas revenues for national social initiatives such as the Renta Dignidad - a social security program for the elderly and the Bono “Juancito Pinto” - a payment program that helps young students.

In the following report, the Center for Economic Policy Research looks at the wide distribution of Bolivia's hydrocarbon revenue and the rate of inequality in land ownership within the Eastern lowland states.

The Distribution of Bolivia’s Most Important Natural Resources and the Autonomy Conflicts - by Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval


The Looming Political Gamble

(digitalwarriormedia) July 29 - In less than two weeks, a nation-wide recall referendum will determine another turning point in Bolivia’s transformation to a socialist democracy under the leadership of its first indigenous president, Evo Morales.

On August 10, President Morales, Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera and eight regional prefects (governors) will face a “Yes” or “No” vote at the ballot box.

The referendum vote will allow the Bolivian people to decide which of their political leaders deserve to remain in their respective positions.

The vote is the end result of an ongoing tug-of-war between the power structures of the central government in La Paz and the regional governments in the eastern part of the country.

Since his election in December 2005 on a platform of land reform, nationalization of Bolivia’s gas and oil industries and the rewriting of the nation’s constitution, Morales has faced an ever-intensifying opposition from political and civic leaders in the wealthier regions of Bolivia.

Commonly referred to as the Media Luna, or Half Moon, the four departments of Beni, Pando, Tarija and Santa Cruz are the richest bloc within the nation; possessing agricultural land as well as gas and oil reserves.

Morales and his supporters charge that the opposition is made up of a racist, neoliberal oligarchy who are fighting against a redistribution of Bolivia’s wealth and political power that will finally include the nation's historically marginalized indigenous majority.

Joined by a fifth governor, Manfred Reyes Villa, from the department of Cochabamba, and most recently, Savina Cuéllar, the newly elected governor of Chuquisaca, these regional governments are leading a strong resistance against the Morales administration.

Santa Cruz, the nation's wealthiest region and an opposition strong-hold, held the first inter-departmental autonomy referendum vote on May 4. Beni, Pando, Tarija and Chuquisaca followed suit as each department tries to wrestle greater independence from the central government in La Paz.

Unsanctioned by the Bolivian legislature and the nation's highest electoral court, the autonomy referendums are considered illegal and unconstitutional. Each department claimed overwhelming support for autonomy even as the government noted high rates of abstention.

Last December at the height of tensions over the drafting of a new Bolivian constitution when opposition governors announced their future plans to hold autonomy votes, Morales held out the recall referendum as a way to move past the political stalemate.

The idea gained little traction and was lost in the political chess game between La Paz and the regional leadership, but it was revisited as dialogue between both sides broke down completely in the lead up to the autonomy votes.

The recall bill was passed by the opposition-controlled Congress on May 8 with Morales signing it into law on May 12.

According to the Revocation Law, in order to be recalled, the president, vice president and governors must receive both a higher percentage and higher number of “No” votes than what they received to win their position in the 2005 election.

The voting structure puts Morales at an advantage since he won the Presidency with 53.4% of the vote. As such, in order for Morales to be recalled, 54% of the Bolivian electorate AND 1.54 million voters must say “No” to remove Evo from office.

The prefects, however, do not enjoy such a margin, with most being elected to office with somewhere between 38 -49% of the vote.

Realizing their potential disadvantage after the opposition-led Senate pushed the law through Congress, the five opposition prefects from Beni, Pando, Tarija, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba determined they did not want to sit for the recall referendum and in June they threatened a boycott of the vote.

The Morales administration condemned the governors as "cowards" and said they must abide by the law.

Earlier this month, the Media Luna governors pulled a turnabout announcing that they would stand for the August vote, but Cochabamba’s Manfred Reyes Villa insists that he will not abide by a recall referendum. On July 18 the opposition issued three demands and threatened to go on a hunger strike on August 4 if their demands are not addressed.

They want the voting structure of the Revocation Law to be changed, a redirection of regional tax income from the central government back to the individual departments and a referendum vote to determine Bolivia's capital city.

The only regional leader who will not face the recall vote is Savina Cuéllar, who was elected as Chuquisaca’s governor on June 29. She replaced former governor and MAS party member David Sanchez who resigned from his position in the wake of violent clashes within the city of Sucre that left 3 dead and hundreds wounded last November.

Her election has been a symbolic and strategic blow to the MAS Party. A former MAS member and representative to the Constituent Assembly, Cuéllar is an indigenous Quechua woman who switched parties and defeated MAS candidate Wálter Valda, gaining 55.5% to Valda’s 40.5% of the electorate.

Cuéllar's alignment with the opposition, including her support of autonomy, has further demonstrated the political complexity and polarization that exists within the country.

If any of the eight governors are recalled, they will lose their position immediately and an interim governor will be appointed until the next elections. If Morales and vice president Garcia Linera lose, they are required to hold new elections within 90-120 days. The law does not bar them from running for office again and both are considered to be strong candidates for re-election.

Although the outcome of the August vote is uncertain, according to a recent poll by Captura Consulting SRL and published in La Prensa, only 18 per cent of respondents would vote to oust Morales, 49% would vote for him to remain in office and 33% were undecided.

More uncertain is how the vote will affect the political environment within the nation. Morales and his supporters could gain a boost or the prefects - who have thus far demonstrated a willingness to charter their own course - could cause an even further rift between the regional departments and the central government.

At the behest of central government, international observers will descend upon Bolivia to guarantee the transparency of the recall vote. And the world will be watching the latest exercise in Bolivian democracy.


Friday, July 25, 2008

It’s All about the Gas Revenues

by Franz Chávez for Inter Press Service

LA PAZ, Jul 24 (IPS) - Revenues from Bolivia’s sales of natural gas, which have ballooned in the last few years, are now at the center of the tense political polarization threatening to tear the country apart and are a main motivation in the opposition’s attempt to undermine the left-wing government of Evo Morales.

Gas revenues soared from $188 million in late 2001 to $1.57 billion in 2007, after the Morales administration forced foreign oil companies to renegotiate the terms of their contracts, thus increasing the royalties and taxes paid by the companies.

The revenues now represent one-seventh of Bolivia’s gross domestic product (GDP) of $11 billion, and have become the main source of income for the governments of the country’s nine provinces.

In 2007, the government distributed $737 million in natural gas taxes to the nine provinces, according to figures provided to IPS by the Energy Ministry. That figure was $446 million dollars higher than the first distribution of the new Direct Hydrocarbons Tax (IDH), in 2005, when the then government of interim president Eduardo Rodríguez created the tax aimed at transferring money to the provincial governments.

Today the pie to be carved up is enormous. Senator Fernando Rodríguez of the right-wing opposition PODEMOS coalition told IPS that the total gas revenues taken in by the state will easily reach $4 billion this year, based on natural gas exports to Brazil and Argentina and domestic fuel sales.

The seemingly unstoppable rise in the international price of oil has also boosted the country’s gas income, despite the fact that gas sales to Brazil and Argentina have declined due to growing domestic demand for gas in Bolivia. This country has the largest natural gas reserves in South America -- 47 trillion cubic feet -- after Venezuela’s.

Rodríguez said that under the current law on the distribution of natural gas revenues, $440 million should go to the gas-producing regions of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Chuquisaca and Tarija, and $160 million to the remaining five provinces.

But the huge windfall profits prompted Morales to divert a substantial portion of the transfers to the provinces into a universal pension fund for people over 60, which expanded the number of eligible elderly people from 489,000 to 676,000, providing them with the equivalent of $27 a month.

A source with the provincial government of Tarija, the country’s most natural gas-rich province, told IPS that this year, the transfers to the provincial governments will be $260 million less than in 2007, as a result of the pension program.

José Antonio Aruquipa of PODEMOS, a member of the Constituent Assembly that is rewriting Bolivia’s constitution, told IPS that the movement for autonomy in the provinces of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija is fuelled by the aim of gaining greater provincial control over gas revenues.

"Without the IDH, autonomy is a vehicle without gasoline," he said.

Bolivia, South America’s poorest country, is basically divided between the western highlands, home to the impoverished indigenous majority, and the much wealthier eastern provinces, which account for most of the country's natural gas production, industry, agribusiness and GDP.

The population of eastern Bolivia tends to be of more European (mainly Spanish) and mixed-race descent.

The right-wing opposition argues that the national government only needs $200 million, rather than the $260 million that it currently retains from the natural gas revenues for the pension for the elderly.

When the new pension, known as the Renta Dignidad, went into effect in January this year, Morales argued that the country’s natural gas income should benefit the entire population.

For most of the recipients, the Renta Dignidad is the only pension income that they receive, as they worked in the informal sector of the economy and are not eligible for social security. Nearly 60 percent of elderly people in Bolivia live on less than one dollar a day.

The provinces that have passed autonomy statutes that run counter to the constitution have designed a political strategy, backed by PODEMOS, aimed at recuperating the natural gas income that they accuse Morales of "confiscating" -- even though many of the elderly benefited by the universal pension live in those provinces.

In the eastern city of Santa Cruz, the radical right-wing president of the Santa Cruz Civic Committee, Branko Marinkovic, announced street marches and hunger strikes in the pro-autonomy provinces to demand the return of the funds collected by means of the IDH.

The new political battle is being waged just ahead of an August 10 recall referendum for Morales, Vice President Álvaro García Linera and the country’s provincial governors. The polls indicate that both the president and vice president stand a good chance of being confirmed in office.

However, a top judge, Constitutional Court magistrate Silvia Salame, recently ordered the suspension of the recall referendum.

In the tussle over natural gas revenues, Morales announced that the pension scheme would be put to a public referendum, so that voters could decide whether a portion of the IDH transfers to the provinces should go towards the universal monthly pension for the elderly.

In the coca-growing region of Chapare in the central province of Cochabamba, rural union leader Julio Salazar questioned the credentials of the right-wing opposition governors in their defense of keeping the IDH gas revenues entirely for the provinces.

He pointed out to IPS that most of them were allies of president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (1993-1997 and 2002-2003), who was overthrown in his second term by a popular uprising against a plan for foreign oil companies to export natural gas at low prices to the United States and Mexico.

Salazar accused the governors of promoting the 1990's privatization of natural gas, overturned since May 2006 by Morales’ renationalization process, which has generated much greater resources for the state.

"The social movements are seeking dignity for the country, so we can stop being beggars," said the rural leader.

Tarija Senator Roberto Ruiz of Podemos is demanding compliance with the hydrocarbons law that was amended in 2005, and which earmarks 14 percent of natural gas revenues for the provinces.

He complained to IPS that as a result of decrees, which have less authority than national laws, the share of revenues taken in by the provinces has decreased. Ruiz also criticised the government’s failure to live up to the terms of the agreement for exporting natural gas to Argentina.

According to government figures, the growth in domestic demand for natural gas has brought exports to Argentina down to one million cubic metres a day, instead of the 7.7 million agreed in a deal between the two countries. Brazil, meanwhile, purchases 32 million cubic metres a day of gas from Bolivia.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Presidential Helicopter Crashes, Morales Safe

July 22 – Yesterday President Evo Morales offered his condolences to the relatives of the four Venezuelan soldiers and one Bolivian soldier killed in a helicopter accident in Bolivia.

Morales said, "Brothers and sisters really, (we express) a bitter pain of the Government Palace for the families of those who died in the helicopter accident."

Condolences were also offered by the Bolivian government to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for the deaths of the four Venezuelan soldiers.

The military officers were killed on Sunday when a Super Puma helicopter, donated to Bolivia by the Venezuelan government, crashed in the department of Cochabamba. The helicopter was used to transport President Morales and high ranking officials.

The accident occurred mid-afternoon Sunday, a couple of hours after President Morales used the same aircraft in a trip on the Western plateau, said Defense Minister Walker San Miguel in a phone interview with radio network Patria Nueva.

"President Morales used the same helicopter on Sunday when he was traveling from the Huanuni tin mine to the city of Oruro. We are deeply concerned because, according to the first report of a witness, the helicopter blew up upon reaching the ground," said San Miguel according to Reuters.

The aircraft, with a capacity for more than 20 people, took off around 3:00 p.m. from Bolivia's central city of Cochabamba and headed for the northern Amazon city of Cobija, San Miguel explained.

At 3:13 p.m. the Bolivian authorities made last contact with the crew. They reported that the helicopter was overflying the Colomí village, at an altitude of some 14,500 to 15,500 feet. The Airport Administration and Auxiliary Services to Air Navigation (AASANA) in La Paz contacted the Bolivian Air Force (FAB) at 7:10 p.m. on Sunday to report that the helicopter had not reached its destination.

The remains of the helicopter were found early Monday morning in Colomi, a mountainous area 155 miles east of La Paz.

Bolivian military personnel went to the scene in order to investigate the cause of the accident and recover the bodies of the victims, said San Miguel.

Minister San Miguel said the helicopter was fully operative, with proper maintenance and he did not know the cause of the accident.

Last year, another chopper donated by Venezuela crashed on the outskirts of the city of Cochabamba – killing three Bolivian soldiers and one Venezuelan soldier.

Sources: ABI, AP, El Universal and Xinhua

Photos: ABI and Associated Press


Monday, July 21, 2008

New Demands Before Recall Vote

The opposition stepped up its efforts to derail the recall referendum vote scheduled for August 10.

This past Friday in the city of Sucre, The National Democratic Party (CONALDE) - made up of opposition prefects and civic organizations - announced that campaigns against the policies of the central government will start on Monday.

After meeting for several hours, the CONALDE issued its three demands: replenishment of direct taxes from regional hydrocarbon revenue, amendment of the Revocation Law that established voting rules for the referendum vote and a referendum to determine Bolivia’s capital city.

They warned that if their demands are not met before August 1, they would begin a hunger strike three days later.

Opposition members complain that the current referendum is unfair since it offers a greater advantage to President Morales while discriminating against the departmental prefects (governors). The CONALDE is in support of a bill submitted to the National Congress on July 10 by PODEMOS Senator Roger Pinto. The bill would amend the voting structure to a 50% plus 1 vote in order to force a recall.

Currently the Revocation Law allows the president, vice president and regional prefects to be removed from office if they are rejected by a greater percentage and number of votes than they received when elected in December 2005.

For President Morales, who received 53.4% of the national vote, 54% of voters would have to vote “No” in order for him to be removed from office. Most departmental prefects were elected with a much lower percentage, for instance La Paz prefect José Luis Paredes was elected with just 37% of the vote.

The CONALDE announced plans to mobilize the collection of signatures in the departments of Beni, Pando, Tarija, Santa Cruz, Chuquisaca and Cochabamba in support of their demands to amend the Revocation Law.

The meeting also solidified the group’s relationship with newly elected prefect of Chuquisaca, Savina Cuellar, a former member of the MAS party. Her role as host of the gathering and also the location of the CONALDE meeting, indicate the importance that the capital issue will serve among the list of opposition demands.

At stake is the determination of whether Sucre or La Paz should be the capital city of Bolivia. Since 1899 La Paz has been the political capital of the country while Sucre remained the judicial capital.

This tactic was previously used by the opposition as the Constituent Assembly was gathering in Sucre to create a draft of the new constitution.

In November 2007, the ensuing protests over the capital issue led to violence in the streets of Sucre which resulted in three deaths and hundreds of injuries. It disrupted the work of the Constituent Assembly, forced the body to move its proceedings and set the stage for the resignation of MAS member and Chuquisaca prefect, David Sanchez.

These processes, which drew further divisions between the central government in La Paz and the department of Chuqiusaca, paved the way for the election of Cuellar.

The capital issue could prove to be a source of future clashes between the supporters of the central government and those of the opposition in the days leading up to the August 10 vote.

For several weeks, the government has accused the opposition of trying to boycott the referendum vote, and this message was re-iterated on Sunday by Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera.

The government is making ongoing announcements at the expected presence of thousands of observers to guarantee transparency of the electoral process and the election results.

The recall referendum will see a wave of election observers descend upon the country as more than 3,500 national and foreign individuals, including electoral judges from 14 countries, are expected. This past week Panama confirmed that it will send substitute electoral judge, Lourdes Gonzales Mendoza to act as an observer.

According to statements by the National Electoral Court (CNE), the electoral organization expects the attendance of authorities from the Latin American Electoral Experts Council, the Andean Electoral Council and the Carter Center. In addition Mercosur, Russia and European Union countries are expected to send representatives as well.

Geneviève des Rivières, Canada’s Ambassador to Bolivia, indicated that the Organization of American States seeks to gain the participation of 34 OAS member states for the referendum vote.

While speaking in Potosi earlier this month, Morales indicated that the repeal referendum will allow the people to decide which is stronger, the neoliberal model of the past or the process of change currently taking place in Bolivia.

The president expressed his willingness to take part in the repeal referendum unlike the Prefect of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes Villa, who thus far insists on refusing the electoral process.

He said the main intention of the opposition is to halt his nationalization of Bolivia’s oil and gas sector and the redistribution of wealth accumulated during that process. Santa Cruz, home of the strongest opposition to the central government is also the nation’s richest province, contributing about 50% of Bolivia’s gross domestic product.

On Sunday, the Vice President urged prefects and civic leaders not to be afraid of repeal referendum because if the people do not support the Morales Administration and the prefects are reaffirmed, then the government would respect and celebrate the people's decision.


Monday, July 14, 2008

US Fed taking action against Economies like Bolivia's?


(New York-WSJ) For decades Latin America has been plagued by currency devaluations, inflation and lackluster growth. But just as some key countries have gotten serious about price stability and begun to reap the benefits through higher growth, the region is facing a new economic menace: the Federal Reserve.

The Fed is exporting inflation to the rest of the world as dollar-denominated commodity prices soar. The Latin American countries that keyed their currencies to an unofficial dollar standard are now finding that the standard is collapsing.

It hasn't been easy, but in recent years most Latin American central banks, excluding Venezuela and Argentina, have diligently battled inflation despite the higher-than-ideal interest rates required. To further tighten credit, Chile on Friday hiked its bank rate by 50 basis points to 7.25%, and Mexico is expected to take its rate to 8% before year's end. Brazil has raised its equivalent rate by 100 basis points in recent months to 12.25%. Peru and Colombia have also adopted hawkish stances.

These unpopular measures, however, have little effect on imported inflation. With oil and commodities priced in dollars and the dollar sinking in value, there is nowhere for prices of these globally traded goods to go but up, and no way for central bankers to avoid the effects on prices at home.

Two weeks ago, the world learned that the Fed is unlikely to take responsibility for dollar inflation any time soon. Worse, it now wants to blame the victims -- the emerging economies -- for the problem of rising food and energy prices. The finger pointing occurred on June 26 in Frankfurt, Germany. The finger pointer was the vice chairman of the Fed's Board of Governors, Don Kohn.

In a speech to the International Research Forum on Monetary Policy, Mr. Kohn laid out how he sees the problem: "It is clear," he said, "that the sharp increase in many commodity prices has given rise to highly coincident increases in inflation rates around the world."

Coincidental? Well, maybe not. He continued: "In industrialized economies, such as the United States, rising inflation has chiefly reflected the surge in energy prices, whereas in developing countries, for which food takes up more of household budgets, rising food costs have been a more important culprit." In other words, Americans driving SUVs and the masses in the rest of the world trying to feed themselves are the cause of inflation. The Fed's feckless dollar husbandry is not to be blamed.

Why inflation persists even when the global economy is no longer booming is apparently a mystery over at the Fed. Or as a puzzled Mr. Kohn put it: "The reasons for the trajectory and persistence of increases in prices of food and energy this year, as global growth has moderated, are not entirely clear."

Nonetheless, the vice chairman put forth a hypothesis. "The upward trend in prices of food and energy over the past several years importantly reflects the pressures posed by rapidly growing demand in developing economies against relatively inelastic global supplies of commodities." Translation: Developing countries are consuming too much and there is not enough to go around. Mr. Kohn did not mention another American blunder on top of the dollar: the massive corn-ethanol program, which has put additional pressure on grain supplies.

"For the moment," Mr. Kohn continued, "higher headline rates of inflation have shown only a few tentative signs of embedding themselves in core inflation or in longer-term inflation expectations." In other words, he doesn't think we have a problem. On the other hand, just to be on the safe side, he's happy to let someone else solve it. "In those countries where strong commodity demands are associated with rapid growth in aggregate demand that outstrips potential supply, actions to contain inflation by restraining aggregate demand would contribute to global price stability."

I thought that the "Phillips Curve" -- which alleges that inflation is a byproduct of growth -- had been discredited 30 years ago. Apparently not at the Fed. But it sure has been in Brazil, where expanding investment and growth have been byproducts of Brazil's success in currency stabilization.

It is not encouraging to learn that a Fed official thinks global inflation is caused by growth and has nothing to do with the weak dollar. The world knows better. It knows that the Fed is responding once more to a crisis in the American financial sector that it had a great deal to do with creating through its overly accommodative policies.

The world also knows that the Fed has given pressures from Wall Street and Congress priority over its responsibilities in managing the world's most important currency. If central bankers in Latin America resent the shifting of blame by a top Fed official, they are fully justified.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Opposition Agrees to Referendum Vote

July 6 - (digitalwarriormedia) With the unsanctioned autonomy referendum votes of Tarija, Santa Cruz, Beni and Pando behind the political consciousness of the nation, the next major milestone is the recall referendum votes set for August 10.

On Friday, Bolivian Interior Minister Alfredo Rada applauded the announcement from the departmental prefects (governors) of Tarija, Santa Cruz, and Beni that they will participate in the referendum vote.

Prior to the public announcement made by Ruben Costas, prefect of Santa Cruz, the opposition had said they would boycott the August voter referendums.

The prefect of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes Villa and the prefect of Pando, failed to join the other “Media Luna” (Half Moon/Crescent) prefects in their announcement on Friday.

According to Agencia Boliviana de Informacion, Defense Minister Walter San Miguel criticized Reyes Villa’s decision, stating that as an authority figure, the prefect had “vowed to uphold the Constitution and respect the law”.

The results of the referendums - to be held at the national and departmental levels - will determine the future of Bolivia’s central and regional leadership. The positions of President Evo Morales, Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera and eight of nine departmental governors hang in a precarious balance.

The referendum is viewed by the central government as a way to overcome the political impasse the keeps re-igniting between the government in La Paz and regional leaders over resources and social reforms.

Previously the President and Vice President had called the Media Luna opposition “cowards” for threatening to boycott the vote instead of submitting to the will of the people in a referendum that was sanctioned by the National Electoral Court (CNE) and the Congress.

Meanwhile Tarija, Beni, Santa Cruz and Pando each illegally held departmental-wide voter referendums to demand greater autonomy from the central government.

After announcing their boycott plans, several Bolivian unions noted that the Media Luna’s actions were hypocritical and insulted the Bolivian people. Even the Organization of American States (OAS) weighed in.

Before a session of the OAS Permanent Council, Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza stated that the repeal referendum was an agreement reached by the necessary representative forces of the Bolivian leadership and supported it as “as a way to overcome the political crisis through votes and legitimacy.”

The opposition has repeatedly pleaded its autonomy case before the OAS and sought the organization’s participation in the ongoing political crisis as an observer, negotiator and at times an advocate. However the OAS has proven more supportive of the democratic processes being carried out by the Morales administration, always recognizing the unique authority possessed by national governments over regional leadership.

On June 28, the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party began its campaign in support of President Morales and Vice President Garcia Linera and also to reject La Paz prefect Jose Luis Paredes. Government supporters in the La Paz department find Paredes too sympathetic to the opposition and will seek to revoke his position.

Only Chuquisaca's prefect, Savina Cuellar, will not be subject to the recall referendum, according to statements made by the CNE this week.

Ms. Cuellar was elected to her post on June 29, in what some consider a highly visible defeat to President Morales and the MAS party. Only those elected in December 2005 are eligible for the Revocation Law passed by Congress and approved by the CNE.

A former MAS supporter, Cuellar was elected on the Inter-institutional Committee Alliance (Alianza Comite Interinstitucional) ticket to a position that was originally filled by MAS member David Sánchez. He resigned after the violence and unrest over the Constituent Assembly that left three dead in Sucre last December.

An indigenous Quechua woman, she is the first female elected to the position of prefect in Bolivia. Cuellar won with 55.5 % of the vote, whereby MAS candidate Walter Valda received 40.5 %.

Her election calls into question where Chuquisaca will stand on the issue of regional autonomy. It also leaves the MAS party with support from only two prefects - in Oruro and Potosi - out of nine departmental governors.

Winning Hearts and Minds

The government’s campaign to win support in August began last weekend and the opposition has responded with its own slogan, “Just Say No to MAS”.

Sacha Llorenti, Deputy Minister of Coordination with Social Movements, warned about the development of an opposition-led right-wing media campaign against the central government in preparation for the August vote.

Llorenti warned that these media attacks will attempt to discredit President Morales through lies and misrepresentation, citing past occurrences where Morales was referred to as a terrorist or narco-trafficker for his role in the coca growers union of the Chapare.

He also asked that the Bolivian people consider the situation taking place in Bolivia right now and how that differs from their lives under the neoliberal policies of the past.

For its part the central government has said it will carry out a campaign based on the truth and has asked the opposition to run a clean campaign as well.