Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Morales Ups Political Capital with Referendum Results

La Paz & Lima - Aug 13 (digitalwarriormedia) - On Sunday night preliminary voting results of the recall referendum led political analysts to state that Morales suffered a regional defeat; the prefects (governors) of Cochabamba, La Paz and Oruro were out of a job; and recalled Cochabamba prefect Manfred Reyes Villa vowed to stay in his post until 2009.

Three days later, the political landscape in Bolivia proves that patience truly is a virtue, even in the nefarious game of politics.

Contrary to reports that the president lost voter confidence in five regions, Evo’s approval ratings continue to climb as the outcome from Sunday’s referendum is finalized.

With 94% of votes counted as of Wednesday, Morales’ ratification stands at 67%, which is at least 4 percentage points higher than the results announced on Sunday.

Voter confidence grew in all but the opposition stronghold of Santa Cruz. Most interestingly Morales received more than 53% of “Yes” votes in Chuquisaca and currently is in a position to finish slightly above 50% in Tarija.

If these percentages hold or increase, Morales stands to be ratified in six of the eight departments that participated.

Despite his initial defiance, former Cochabamba prefect Manfred Reyes Villa was forced to relinquish his post. And although he continues to claim that the recall referendum vote was unconstitutional and illegal, Reyes Villa had to respect the decision of the people by resigning on Tuesday.

He experienced the most resounding defeat of the regional governors that were recalled, with 64% of Cochabambinos saying “No” to Manfred. Statements from Reyes Villa that Morales supporters wanted to "storm the regional government building" in the city of Cochabamba remain unfounded.

Meanwhile, with 99.1% of the votes counted in Oruro, Roberto Aguilar holds on to his post with a slim margin of victory as his ratification stands at 50.74%. Initial results from Sunday indicated that Aguilar was recalled, but as of Wednesday, the MAS party member and supporter of Morales, just might keep his office.

These ongoing results indicate that only two prefects were recalled – Reyes Villa (Cochabamba) and Jose Luis Paredes (La Paz).

The shifting outcome may also be influencing the stance of the opposition. During a press conference held in Santa Cruz yesterday, the National Democratic Council (CONALDE) group – made up of the five opposition prefects and civic leaders - issued a statement refusing to dialogue until the central government reinstituted funds from the hydrocarbon revenues.

Then today, Leopoldo Fernandez (Pando), Ernesto Suarez (Beni), Mario Cossío (Tarija) and Savina Cuellar (Chuquisaca) agreed to talk unconditionally with the president. It is a major turn-about from the statement made by the group of five yesterday.

Fresh from a CONALDE meeting that commenced Wednesday morning, the four opposition governors traveled to La Paz to meet with President Morales this afternoon.

Ruben Costas, governor of Santa Cruz and the unabated regional leader most vocally opposed to the central government, declined to travel to La Paz, sending a delegation instead. Costas is in the seventh day of a hunger strike aimed at forcing the Morales administration to concede to relinquish funds from the Direct Hydrocarbon Tax (IDH).

Prior to the prefects’ journey to La Paz today, President Morales announced that five of his ministers will travel to each of the five opposition departments in order to set an agenda for dialogue with the governors.

Morales seeks to bring together the draft Constitution of the State with the autonomic statutes sought by regional departments.

According to Bolivia's La Prensa, the Confederación Sindical de Colonizadores de Bolivia (CNCB), the Coordinadora Nacional por el Cambio de Bolivia (CONALCAM) and the Consejo Nacional De Ayllus Y Markas Del Qullasuyu (CONAMAQ) are commencing campaigns to educate and mobilize their members in support of the new constitutional text.

Now that the recall referendum vote has concluded peacefully, the MAS party and social organizations will press forward to reach the next major chapter in Bolivia’s political transformation, a referendum on the nation’s new constitution.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Manfred’s new agenda, Vote Constitutional maybe, “fraud” is the new tact

(Cochabamba & New York) Governor Manfred Reyes Villa of the department of Cochabamba may have lost more than just this election. In an interview with Karah Woodward of Digital Warrior Media & WBAI-FM of New York, Reyes Villa said he would pursue actions to discredit international observers & claim the vote of Sunday the 10th of August was terribly “fraudulent”.

While observing the election taking place in Cochabamba, Ms. Woodward sought also to find reactions away from a stronghold of Morales in La Paz, in a province headed up by such a vociferous opponent. The people spoke freely off camera, but on camera they were slightly more self-edited in their words. The talk of the town was of political feelings running high & Sunday was seemingly a day to evacuate the past months of political tensions through the simple yet basic act of voting.

Despite local press reports that Morales supporters were aiming to take over the prefecture's office last night, Cochabamba's Plaza 14 de Septiembre was peaceful.

Governor Reyes Villa left his office before mid-morning and throughout the day, groups of Cochabambinos met around the plaza in spirited debate, expressing their opinons and discussing the larger issues facing the country.

And the military police built a cordon with their shields, blocking the entrance to the prefect's building after a slight confrontation in the foyer.

The vote has exposed Manfred (as he is called in this tropical Amazonian urban enclave) more so because the other regional Governor displaced by the vote has agreed to abide by it. The results were then reinforced by those Governors reaffirmed in the vote who are opposed to the central government’s reforms & pushed for autonomy.

As solitary as the Governor of Cochabamba is politically, the media in the United States sees greater potential conflict with Reyes Villa’s resistance to the vote of the people of his province.

The reporting by the Wall Street Journal sees it as:

  • There are other potential flashpoints for conflict in the wake of the vote. The governor of Cochabamba, the scene of fierce street battles last year, was voted out of office in the referendum. Yet, he has vowed not to step down since he views the vote as unconstitutional. Observers are bracing for more clashes when the Morales government seeks to replace him.

Simon Romero, of the New York Times writes

  • Signaling how the referendum may reignite tensions, the governor of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes, said the referendum itself was unconstitutional. “I go on being prefect of Cochabamba,” said Mr. Reyes on Sunday night.”

The Governor seemed to change that tactic as his comments were more to address the mechanics of the process more then the actual legality of it. The sourcing @ WSJ & NYT may be outdated, if not incorrect information, still most western media outlets are seemingly projecting a conflict without the full facts. His power base is shrinking by the minute, and he still has a difficult time finding successful allies left over from the infamous School of the Americas.

Manfred Reyes Villa may wish for major media to correct themselves, and likely western media may well placate him in his pursuit of maintaining a viable political life. This from a man who was a conservative three-time presidential candidate & has a political career that is at best difficult when denouncing the system that brought him to power.

Should Manfred Reyes Villa assert himself, he may very well be doing it by himself with few options and even fewer supporters willing to challenge Morales’ mandate. A better motivation could be that all sides would wish to escape further turmoil than waste Bolivia’s most valuable resource, the beautiful people of the Bolivian Diaspora.

In Cochabamba, during the election the voting was orderly, the political discussion was adept, and Bolivia again showed the world an outstanding example of democracy.

Karah Woodward From Cochabamba & La Paz Bolivia,

Troy O'Dend'Hal From New York City.

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That "F#$king" Indian Won!

Evo Morales won a resounding victory in a recall vote yesterday after calling a referendum to break a political impasse and revive his campaign to advance prosperity for all Bolivianos.

Some reports have listed more then than 63 percent of voters in this divided Andean nation ratified the mandate of Mr Morales, the country's first indigenous Leader in 500 years and his vice president, the intellectual Alvaro Garcia.

Morales had proposed the referendum in an attempt to topple opposing governors who want autonomy in their resource rich provinces & have frustrated his attempts to improve the lot of the country's impoverished indigenous majority.

With the false idea that the native people are either too ignorant or not civilized enough to stand as president, the term "the only good Indian is a dead fucking Indian" was used predominately on television and in the various regional campaigns against Morales.

"What happened today is important not only for Bolivians but for all Latin Americans," Mr Morales, a former coca leaf farmer, told several thousand cheering supporters last night from the balcony of the presidential palace. "I dedicate this victory to all the revolutionaries in the world."

Karah Woodward of the Bolivia Transition Project is in La Paz and visited Cochabamba to observe the elections and report accordingly.. Troy O'Dend'Hal is in New York coordinating news information and logistical support - -

Photo via Dado Galdieri/Associated Press

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bolivia Decides

Cochabamba – Aug 10 - More than 4 million Bolivians are expected to decide the future leadership of the country today by voting “Si” or “No” for the president, vice president and eight regional prefects (governors).

In the final days leading up to the recall referendum vote of August 10, tension within the country reached a level that leaves much of the general public concerned about peace.

Restrictions were issued by the government throughout the country presumably in the anticipation of potential acts of violence. No alcoholic beverages may be consumed in public, transportation within cities has been suspended and public demonstrations have been restricted.

Hunger strikes are taking place within parts of the country as regional leaders demand that the central government return a greater share of Direct Hydrocarbon Tax (IDH) revenue to local governments. Earlier this week the governors of Beni, Pando and Santa Cruz joined the hunger strikes which started last Sunday.

On Tuesday Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner were forced to cancel a summit meeting with Morales due to anti-government protests that shut down the airport in Tarija. And on Wednesday, Morales canceled trips to two cities due to sabotage at a stadium in Trinidad, Beni and the blockage of the road from the airport in Cobija, Pando.

The opposition blamed the level of confrontation on the Morales government, in particular the deaths of two miners when they clashed with the military police near the Huanuni tin mine, in an incident that also left at least 30 injured on Tuesday. The miners, protesting for a reformed pension law, attempted to discharge dynamite in order to destroy the main bridge connecting Cochabamba with La Paz and successfully blew up a bus.

The Organization of American States (OAS) issued two separate calls for peace and cooperation this week and even UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon chimed in. The referendum will be monitored by 300 international observers from the European Union, United States, Mercosur and the OAS in order to observe Sunday’s vote and guarantee its validity.

A journalist with Telemundo observed that usually in the days before elections, life in Bolivia remains calm as people prepare for voting, but this Referéndum Revocatorio is very different. In particular the fact that the president cannot travel to five cities; in addition to the cities of Trinidad, Cobija and Tarija, Evo’s presence in Santa Cruz de la Sierra or Sucre would undoubtedly provoke confrontation and violence.

On the streets of La Paz for most of the week, life went about as normal, with a wide spectrum of opinions about the government of Evo Morales and what the Referéndum Revocatorio will accomplish.

Many seem to agree that the economy and employment are the most important areas that the government should focus its attention, but that peace and tranquilidad is what Bolivia really needs right now.

Americo Pandones, a taxi driver from El Alto is critical of right-wing propaganda against the Morales government and he points to the social programs that are now available for the elderly and schoolchildren.

“The journalists in Bolivia don’t interview the poor people,” said Pandones, “and the Western media only interview the rich classes. The majority of the Bolivian people support Evo Morales.”

He explained that because of Morales’ negotiations and nationalization of the hydrocarbon sector, the regional governors now have more money from the IDH tax than ever before in Bolivian history.

According to Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic Policy Research, who recently studied Bolivia’s land and hydrocarbon distribution, the amount that the regional governors receive from the central government is unlike any other developing country in the world.

“Bolivia is unusual. It’s the only developing country in the world that I know of where you have about half of the revenue from hydrocarbons going to the provinces and the local government,” says Weisbrot.

At the heart of the recall referendum is the stalemate that the central government and regional governors experienced over revenue from the hydrocarbon sector, land reform and the rewriting of the nation’s constitution.

Morales, for his part has said if he is not victorious, that he will return to the Chapare. This area of the Cochabamba department is where he maintains land from his days as a farmer and the place where Morales will cast his vote.

However the latest poll results indicate that Morales will win enough support to remain in office.

Besides President Morales and Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, the governors facing the recall vote are: Ruben Costas (Santa Cruz), Mario Cossio (Tarija), Ernesto Suarez (Beni), Leopoldo Fernandez (Pando), Jose Luis Paredes (La Paz), Manfred Reyes Villa (Cochabamba), Luis Alberto Aguilar (Oruro) and Mario Virreira (Potosi).

Savina Cuellar, Chuquisaca’s recently elected governor is not subject to the recall vote.

According to surveys, the governors from the four Media Luna provinces of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Pando and Beni have a high chance of being ratified, but the positions of the governors from Cochabamba and La Paz are not as secure.

Reyes Villa from Cochabamba warned that he will not observe the results of the referendum and will refuse to leave his position until the term he was originally elected to comes to a conclusion in 2009.

Voting stations opened at 8:00 a.m. and will remain open until 4:00 p.m. with the official final results unknown for a few days.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Turbulent Actions Before Sunday's Vote

Aug 6 (digitalwarriormedia) - With four days until the recall referendum vote, protests within Bolivia have turned violent, sparking clashes with the police, and forcing President Morales to change his official schedule for the last two days.

The government is taking some political heat from critics within the country as Tuesday witnessed violence near the cities of Tarija and Oruro when demonstrators forcibly fought against government plans.

Yesterday 2 people were killed, and several others injured in Caihuasi village (43 miles from Oruro city) after miners clashed with police. Unrest has been mounting at the Huanuni tin mine - the largest in Bolivia -with workers striking indefinitely on August 1 as they attempt to get the government to pass pension reform.

Leaders of the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB) have been pushing for a pension that will provide a more generous benefit and lower the retirement age to 55. The miners rejected a plan that President Morales sent to Congress saying it was not generous enough and too “pro-business”.

According to police, the miners tried to activate dynamite charges in order to destroy the main bridge on the road that links Cochabamba to La Paz, effectively connecting the east and west of Bolivia, but only a small part of the bridge was damaged yesterday.

The police employed tear gas to disperse the crowd, but government officials were quick to announce that no firearms were used on the protestors. Interior Minister Alfredo Rada stated that an investigation would be initiated to determine how these individuals were killed.

The leaders of the COB clearly lay the blame for the deaths at the feet of the Morales administration. According to Reuters, COB Secretary General Felipe Machaca told Radio Erbol, "This is a massacre and the only one to blame is Evo Morales".

President Morales charged that Bolivia’s right-wing opposition was manipulating the miners actions, which in recent weeks have involved demonstrations, road blockades and strikes.

He cautioned them against being used by the opposition to help derail the referendum vote, which Morales has vowed will continue forward regardless of what happens in the coming days.

The COB is the chief trade union federation in Bolivia, representing about 2 million workers. The main crux of their pension demands involves a government takeover of the nation’s private pension funds, a move that so far Morales has resisted.

The organization has a long history of aggressive protests against governmental policies and clearly the COB will not let its demands go unanswered.

Also on Tuesday an aggressive protest by groups of civic organizations forced President Morales to cancel a meeting with Presidents Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Cristina Kirchner of Argentina.

The heads of state were set to meet at an energy summit and sign future development agreements but hundreds of demonstrators abruptly changed those plans.

About 200 people gathered outside Tarija’s Oriel Lea Plaza airport to protest the arrival of Chavez who was to be accompanied by Kirchner.

The demonstrators burned tires, attempting to break through the security gates of the airport that was being guarded by policemen and soldiers. The military closed the airport after the protest.

Tarija is one of five provinces that have held illegal autonomy votes seeking to lessen the central government’s control over the department’s resources and tax revenue. Tarija has the largest gas reserves in Bolivia and its residents enjoy the highest GDP per capita among Bolivia’s nine provinces.

Protestors lashed out at the arrival of Chavez as political jockeying before the referendum vote. Rather than add fuel to the fire, Chávez and Kirchner canceled the meeting for fear that the protests would lead to further unrest.

Chavez blamed the United States for allegedly destabilizing actions in Bolivia before the referendum vote.

And finally in Sucre, Morales canceled a planned August 6 trip to the nation’s constitutional capital - a hotbed of anti-Morales sentiment since last year when clashes erupted between government supporters and opposition over the future capital city of Bolivia and the Constituent Assembly.

Morales skipped his customary National Independence Day speech before Congress due to a lack of security guarantees on the part of the local civic committee and Chuquisaca governor Sabina Cuellar.

The governor and opposition members refused Morales' scheduled appearance, demanding that he apologize for the deaths of three persons caused by political clashes in November 2007. These events will make this the first time in Bolivia’s democratic history that the president has not delivered his Independence Day speech before Congress.


Saturday, August 02, 2008

Keeping Score: Bolivia - 2, Telecom Italia - 0

Aug 2 - The Bolivian government scored two major wins against multinational company Telecom Italia in recent days as courts in the United States and United Kingdom handed down rulings in favor of Bolivia's nationalization plans.

Last week the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York determined that $36 million in assets that are being held in four separate U.S. bank accounts, no longer belong to Telecom Italia.

This ruling was on the heels of a recent decision by three appeal court judges in the British Court of Appeals. Those judges unanimously voted against an injunction filed by Entel that would freeze $49 million of Telecom Italia assets being held in a British bank.

Telecom Italia’s attempts to freeze these assets were the latest move by the company to wrestle compensation from the Bolivian government by filing injunctions that would lock up company bank accounts. Entel transferred the funds from Bolivia into U.S. and British bank accounts in 2007.

On May 1, President Evo Morales announced that Entel (Empresa Nacional de Telecomunicaciones) – a subsidiary of Telecom Italia – would finally be brought under government control.

Morales claimed Entel failed to meet its investment commitments and owed the Bolivian government $645 million in fines and taxes.

Telecom Italia owned a 50 percent share of Entel which is the biggest telephone and internet provider in Bolivia. The company controls 80 percent of the long distance market and 70 percent of mobile telephone services.

Entel failed to expand services into rural communities and its monopoly power enabled the company to charge users exorbitant long distance and internet rates. The company’s practices were called “technological colonialism” by some critics.

Negotiations for Bolivia to buy Telecom Italia’s majority stake in Entel commenced last year, and Morales formed a commission to study the full nationalization of Entel to create a new company – Entelbo.

The two sides disagreed upon the value of Telecom Italia’s shares and the company requested that negotiations for its majority stake be moved to a neutral country, citing pressure from local media and a ‘lack of guarantees” in Bolivia.

The government rejected the request saying it would not negotiate behind the backs of the Bolivian people. Unfruitful talks continued to drag on, with President Morales finally announcing the full nationalization of the company in May of this year.

Initially Telecom ltalia tried to fight the Bolivian government’s plans by filing a plea for arbitration with the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in April 2007.

Bolivia withdrew from ICSID in the previous year and said it was immune from the jurisdiction of the World Bank dispute court.

Morales has been a long-time critic of ICSID, claiming the court is biased against developing nations and unfairly ruled in favor of multinational companies.

On May 1, 2006 the Bolivian government sent a formal notice to the World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz announcing its withdrawal from the ICSID convention, making it the first country to attempt such a move.

The U.S. and British court rulings signify that the nationalization plan of Entel is valid and within the boundaries of international law.

Morales repeatedly pronounced his plans to recover state control of all public companies privatized between 1993 and 1997, during the presidency of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada.

Nationalization of the country's oil and gas resources catapulted Bolivia's annual hydrocarbon revenue from $300 million in 2005 to $2 billion in 2007.