Saturday, May 31, 2008
Monday, May 26, 2008
Violence Erupts in Sucre, Dialogue Uncertain
Photos: Patrick Vanier
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Morales Signs Recall Referendum Bill, Crisis Continues
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Putting it all out there with a vote of confidence in Bolivia
"We politicians can't forget that the people decide the destiny of the country, the presidents, the prefects," he said in a televised address from the presidential palace in La Paz.
"Democracy is to be defined at the ballot box, not through violence," he said. "How many times have we said yes to the ballot box, no to the arms?"
The announcement came shortly after the National Congress passed the call for a vote, and a few days after a referendum on autonomy passed in Santa Cruz, the nation's richest of nine departments.Congress on Thursday passed a bill ordering the recall be held within 90 days. Morales said he will sign the measure.
Morales rejected the Santa Cruz vote as illegal, and therefore nonbinding, and criticized its supporters as opposed to his plan to share the wealth of their communities with the rest of the country, which is the poorest in Latin America.
The legislation would require Morales and Bolivia's nine state governors to win both more votes and a greater percentage of support than they did on a 2005 ballot. If they fall short, they will have to run again in a new general election.
Bolivian state governors did not immediately react to the president's announcement, but most have previously said they would participate in such a vote.
Morales first proposed a nationwide recall referendum to shore up support last December amid a fierce political battle over his draft constitution, which would give Bolivia's long-oppressed indigenous population greater power.
The idea seemed to have been forgotten until Thursday, when an opposition-controlled Senate revived it. The tactic come on the heel of Vice-resident Garcia's meeting with the United States Bolivian Ambassador.
Morales, as Bolivia's first indigenous president, would face recall at arguably the most difficult moment of his young presidency of 2 years, 3 months and 15 days.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
United States maneuvers to carve up Bolivia with autonomy vote
Morales has aligned Bolivia with the nemesis of the United States, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Along with President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, who is closing down the largest US military base on the continent, the three presidents constitute what can be called a radical axis in South America.
All three countries have convened constituent assemblies to draft new constitutions and to "refound" their nations. It is Bolivia's new constitution that is to be voted on in a national referendum that has sparked the separatist opposition of the wealthy oligarchs in Santa Cruz. It grants autonomous rights to Bolivia's majority indigenous population, places the country's abundant mineral, gas and petroleum resources under greater national control, and sets limits on the size of the large landed estates that are heavily concentrated in Santa Cruz.
The Podemos (We Are Able) Party, which is strongest in Santa Cruz, first tried to use its control of just over one third of the votes in the constituent assembly to block its actions by insisting that a majority vote was not sufficient to approve statutes to the new constitution. When that failed, it resorted to helping stir up violence against assembly members, targeting its indigenous members and its woman president, Silvia Lazarte Flores. At the turn of the year, Evo Morales, backed by popular mobilizations in the streets of La Paz, compelled the existent Congress to approve the call for a national referendum to vote on the new constitution. It was then that the Santa Cruz elite launched its referendum for autonomy, which the country's National Electoral Court has declared unconstitutional. The referendum voted for on Sunday grants the provincial government the power to tax and collect revenues, to set up its own police force and to block any efforts by the national gover! nment to carry out agrarian reform.
The US ambassador, Philip Goldberg, who was appointed by the Bush administration in September 2006, has maneuvered behind the scenes to support the political forces opposed to Morales and his governing party, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS). It is notable that Goldberg came to Bolivia from Pristina, Kosovo, where as the US Chief of Mission, he played a central role in orchestrating Kosovo's independence from Serbia, which it had been a province of for centuries.
Last year Goldberg was photographed in Santa Cruz with a leading right-wing business magnate and a well-known Colombian narco-trafficker who had been detained by the local police. Then in late January of this year, the Embassy was caught giving aid to a special intelligence unit of the Bolivian police force. The embassy rationalized its aid by saying "the US government has a long history of helping the National Police of Bolivia in diverse programs." US-Bolivian relations were next roiled in February when it was revealed that Peace Corps volunteers and a Fulbright scholar had been pressured by an Embassy official to keep tabs on "Venezuelans and Cubans" in the country. Since Morales took office over two years ago, more than $4 million has been provided by the US Agency for International Development to the political opposition.
Bolivia's neighbors are strongly opposed to the separatist movement and its destabilizing impact on the region. Brazil and Argentina are both dependent on natural gas from Bolivia and fear that an internal conflict would interrupt their supplies. Argentinean David Caputo came to Bolivia as head of a mission of the Organization of American States to try set up a dialogue between the government and the opposition. He found the government willing to engage in discussions, but the opposition vehemently opposed. The United States has provided no support to these regional diplomatic efforts to avoid civil strife in Bolivia.
Monday, May 05, 2008
Cruceños Hold Autonomy Vote, Unity Threatened
Final results will not be available for a few days, but preliminary exit polls released by Bolivian media outlets suggest that 80-86 percent of Santa Cruz’s residents voted in favor of greater autonomy.
President Morales said he will ignore the results, which are a violation of Bolivia’s legislative and electoral laws. In an address from the Governmental Palace in La Paz on Sunday night, Morales called for unity of the country.
Amid scattered incidents of isolated violence, dozens of people were injured in clashes between supporters and critics of the measure, including one march were opposing sides hurled rocks at each other.
The numbers may vary according to sources, but somewhere between 18 and 30 people were hurt, including one demonstrator who was hit by a dynamite blast in the town of Montero. This casualty has not been confirmed by authorities.
In Plan 3000, the mostly indigenous Santa Cruz neighborhood where residents were against the autonomy referendum, ballot boxes were burned in protest of the vote. There were also reports of groups blocking roads in the districts of San Julian and Yapacani.
Meanwhile in Santa Cruz, as the preliminary results were released thousands of autonomy vote supporters rejoiced in the streets of the capital city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra.
Governmental minister Alfredo Rada offered caution when looking at the numbers. He indicated that of the 930,000 Cruceños who were eligible to vote today, nearly 40 percent failed to show up.
Examining these statistics, Minister Rada says the legitimacy of the vote is called into question.
Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca Cespedes noted that the referendum is not compatible with either Bolivia’s current constitution or the draft constitution still awaiting its own national referendum vote.
However, members of Morales’ Cabinet indicated that he is ready to negotiate on the issues of concern with the opposition, but the Media Luna governors remain unyielding.
Morales and his supporters have always charged that the opposition is only seeking autonomy in an effort to keep the land and resources in the hands of a few.
Morales’ government has been criticized by the opposition for its agrarian land reform and redirection of taxes into social programs.
The eastern lowland state is the wealthiest province in Bolivia - home to vast natural resources, large landowners, agribusinesses and some of the country’s richest families.
The opposition has remained immobile in their political and economic agenda.
On the other hand, even today President Morales asked for a continuation of dialogue with the departmental governors of the “Media Luna” opposition.
President Morales called on the Media Luna to work together with the central government in order to guarantee autonomy for all people, not just the oligarchy.
His administration has not rejected autonomy outright and ministers expressed support for a legitimate sub-state model of autonomy.
Morales accused the United States of supporting the opposition’s moves toward greater autonomy from the central government. US officials have rejected this accusation.
The U.S. government has been noticeably muted in its response to the autonomy demands, while other international organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union have affirmed support for the Bolivian government.
The vote in Santa Cruz is the first of four autonomy referendums being planned by eastern provinces. It is expected that Beni, Pando and Tarija will hold autonomy votes next month.
Sunday’s outcome could play a pivotal role in whether these departments continue with their autonomy plans, according to Hugo Siles Alvarado, Bolivian Ambassador to the United Nations.
Friday, May 02, 2008
Evo Morales in the Words of Joseph Stiglitz
Evo Morales is considered one of the world's 100 Most Influential People by Time Magazine
When union organizer Evo Morales was elected President of Bolivia in 2005, it was the first time in the country's history that the indigenous people, who make up roughly 60% of the population, had one of their own as President. He moved quickly away from the neoliberal policies of his predecessors to try to help his community, the vast majority of whom live below the poverty line.
In a time of skyrocketing commodity prices, Morales, 48, earned the ire of the oil companies and the envy of other Presidents in the region by renegotiating outdated energy contracts to earn more money for the country's coffers — a portion of which he put toward increased health-care and social spending. He has resisted the temptations of his high position in favor of a low-key manner that includes an appreciation of simple food — a meat-and-potatoes man, he once took me for lunch at a local BBQ joint — and a taste for wearing his favorite old sweaters.
His government has been unable to accomplish much of what it set out to do. The bureaucrats have dug in their heels, and the country's élites hate his populist rhetoric and close ties to Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez. But Morales remains popular with his people. Although he will continue to find that delivering on his campaign promises is hard, his presence in the presidential palace will inspire indigenous people throughout Latin America.
Stiglitz is a Nobel laureate.