Monday, November 30, 2009

Bolivians Race to Guarantee the Vote

(digitalwarriormedia) LA PAZ – Six days remain before Bolivia’s national elections on December 6 and the immediate hot button issue is the National Electoral Court’s (CNE) decision to “suspend” the voting rights of just over 400,000 individuals.

Last week the CNE ruled that 400,671 citizens would not be allowed to vote unless they matched their voter records by presenting a copy of their birth certificate to the Civil Registry by December 3.

Departmental electoral courts extended hours and worked over the weekend in an effort to confirm the registration of those affected before the deadline.

The CNE has drawn criticism from both the government and the opposition, but for distinctly different reasons.

The Morales administration and government supporters expressed concern over the possible disenfranchisement of voters - many of whom voted in previous elections without incident.

Meanwhile the opposition parties stated concern about election fraud and have demanded that these individuals be purged from the voter rolls altogether.

CNE Moves on Ruling

On Sunday, CNE president, Antonio Costa, responded to criticism from President Morales. At a press conference, Costa said the electoral body is “doing its job impartially” and will continue to do its job despite the avalanche of complaints against the electoral body.

Reports from the CNE and from electoral courts in the nine departments throughout Bolivia indicate that the number of those affected has already dropped by at least 120,000.

Firstly the CNE moved on its decision, exempting those born before 1943 when Bolivia did not regularly issue birth certificates, which immediately re-instated 50,000 voters.

And the CNE also exempted women who had been widowed or taken their husband’s surname. Many women were unfairly impacted, being identified as two different people due to confusion over their given and married name.

According to a CNE official, these are cases where the nation’s new biometric voter registration system has rejected individuals and incorrectly indicated that they are a different person.

Thousands headed to departmental offices since Thursday, offering documentation in support of their registration.

Roxana Ybarnegaray, head of public education for the CNE, said she anticipated that at least 50 percent of those affected would be confirmed to vote by the December 3 deadline.

While eight of the nine electoral courts have agreed to honor the controversial ruling, Chief Justice of Oruro, David Apaza, has refused to abide by a CNE decision that he considers a violation of fundamental individual rights.

Head of the Court of Pando, Jorge Valdez, expressed concern about rural areas where he believes many people are unaware of whether or not they will be able to vote. According to the CNE about 110,000 of those affected live in rural areas.

Election Transparency

President Evo Morales spent the weekend crisscrossing the country, attending campaign rallies for his Movement Toward Socialism party (MAS) in the departments of Cochabamba, Chuquisaca, Potosi and Oruro.

During public statements made at the Governmental Palace and at campaign stops, Morales claimed the CNE was aiding the right-wing opposition. The president recalled the sacrifices made in the national budget in order to meet the opposition’s demands earlier this year to institute a new biometric registration system ahead of the December elections.

It is the implementation of this system that is creating registration problems at an unprecedented level in a country that has opened its electoral process to international observers for more than three decades.

A record number of 300 international observers from the European Union, Organization of American States (OAS) and the Carter Center will be on hand next Sunday to monitor Bolivia's national elections for president, vice president and representatives of the Plurinational Legislative Assembly.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bolivian Court Ruling Rejects 400,000 Voters

(digitalwarriormedia) LA PAZ - Long lines snaked outside the Departmental Court of La Paz on Friday afternoon as hundreds of potential voters sought to verify their right to vote in the upcoming national elections on December 6.

Local papers report similar scenes throughout the country as thousands rush to the departmental courts in search of information and to clarify their voting status.

A ruling issued on Thursday by the National Electoral Court (CNE) determined that more than 400,000 voters lacked a birth certificate and thereby were not properly registered to vote. Citizens would be ineligible to cast their ballots unless they submit a copy of their birth certificate by December 3.

The ruling by the CNE has been criticized by the Morales administration, the opposition and the general public.

On Friday, MAS campaign spokesperson Jorge Silva called the move a violation of the constitution, stating that neither the Constitution nor electoral law support such a decision.

In a country where lack of official documentation has historically been a part of life, previously persons were able to use baptism certificates, military service records and identification cards from government-run programs.

Silva expressed concern that this ruling would fall unfairly upon those living in the rural areas - where obtaining documentation is more difficult - and for those born before 1940 when the government issued baptism certificates instead of birth certificates.

CNE President Antonio Costas stood by the court’s decision stating that they have launched a project to swiftly match citizens and their birth certificates against the Civil Registry. Provisions will be made for those born before 1940.

With just over a week before the election and five days before the December 3 deadline, these assurances mean little to the 400,000 people in danger of being disenfranchised.

Social organizations have taken to the streets in protest. And the Morales administration threatened possible legal action to prevent the ruling from standing.

The upcoming presidential election will be the first time that Bolivia uses a new biometric voter registration program aimed at lessening chances of fraud. The new system was a firm demand of the opposition which refused to pass an electoral bill earlier this year without the implementation of a biometric voter standard.

From August 1 to October 15, the Bolivian government electronically registered more than 5.1 million voters. But the CNE’s ruling reduces that number to 4.7 million eligible voters. The final eligible voter count will not be known until three days before the election.

Photos: Digital Warrior Media


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Goni, Going, Gone?

(digitalwarriormedia) A U.S. court of appeals ruled that former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and one of his former deputies could face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for their role in the deaths of 60 Bolivians in October 2003.

The ruling by the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida is a major victory for the victims of “Black October”.

The court upheld that plaintiffs have a viable claim against “Goni” and his former Defense Minister Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, according to a press release posted on Juicio a Goni (Justice For Goni).

The cases, Mamani, et al. v. Sánchez Berzaín, and Mamani, et al. v. Sánchez de Lozada, seek compensatory and punitive damages under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS).

Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín are accused of ordering and using deadly force during a military crackdown against a civilian demonstration in the city of El Alto. Residents of the city were protesting the Bolivian government’s export of natural gas to the United States through ports in Chile. At least 60 people were killed and 400 wounded.
“This judgment reaffirms that U.S. courts can hear actions brought against those who abuse human rights,” said Judith Brown Chomsky a cooperating attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights.

“It’s a powerful example of how international law is making it harder for those who violate human rights to escape accountability simply by fleeing to another country,” said James Cavallaro, the Executive Director of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School and a Clinical Professor of Law.

Both men fled to the U.S. on October 17, 2003 as Goni resigned his presidency.
Agencia Boliviana de Información (ABI) reports that Miami federal judge, Adalberto Jordan, accepted three of the seven lawsuits filed by the victims.
And although the cases will proceed, requests by the Bolivian government to seek the extradition of Goni are still unresolved.
Earlier in the week, Bolivia’s Foreign Minister David Choquehuanaca announced that in December the U.S. will determine if an extradition request for Goni shall be honored, thereby allowing the former head of state to stand trial on Bolivian soil.

The extradition of Goni and his former deputy remains one of several complex issues that lie between the U.S. and Bolivian governments as both nations attempt to re-establish normal diplomatic relations.

Diplomatic Immunity?

Concerns abound that political connections to powerful players within the Obama Administration may hinder the accountability that victims’ families have been seeking for the past six years. Coming to Goni’s defense in the past are Arturo Valenzuela and Greg Craig.

On November 5, Arturo Valenzuela was confirmed as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs. Previously Valenzuela – who served during the Clinton Administration - had tried to stop the civil suit against Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín’s.
Craig, a high-profile Washington attorney and partner at Williams & Connelly, served as one of Berzaín’s lawyers. He was White House counsel to President Obama until his abrupt resignation on Friday.

As time passes, justice for the perpetrators of “Black October” is getting closer. And despite the outcome, the results of this case will have far-reaching implications for the future prosecution of human rights violations within domestic and international law.


Monday, November 02, 2009

Rapproachement as Morales Challenges Obama

(digitalwarriormedia) A Bolivian delegation was in Washington D.C. last week to meet with U.S. State Department representatives as both countries negotiate a framework for reestablishing diplomatic ties.

It was the second meeting between the governments, whom have maintained fragile relations since the expulsion of their respective ambassadors in September 2008.

On Tuesday during a post-meeting press conference, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanaca told reporters, “We are close to reaching a framework agreement to achieve a constructive relationship."

Undersecretary for Democracy and International Affairs, Maria Otero called the ongoing talks a mechanism for seeking common ground in all areas of shared interest. “I am pleased with the progress,” said Otero, indicating that she looked forward to an agreement between the two countries in the near future.

The Bolivian government showed optimism for an improved relationship under the Obama administration. "Not everyone thinks alike. We all think differently. The challenge is to build good relations while accepting our differences," said Choquehuanca.

Despite these steps forward, Bolivia maintained its skepticism of U.S. policies within Bolivia and the Latin American region.

Over the weekend, President Morales rejected the military agreement signed between the U.S. and Colombia on Friday that grants the U.S. access to seven military bases and an increase of 1,400 personnel to fight local drug trafficking and “terrorists”.

Morales said this agreement is contrary to the progressive governments in South America and will not “guarantee security in the region.”

He questioned how President Obama could justify his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize while operating military bases in foreign countries such as Colombia. He criticized the U.S. supported military bases in Honduras that are empowering the coup instead of reinstating the democratically elected government.

Morales said Latin America is no longer “in the time of kings” and that “we cannot be in the time of American military bases.” He called on Obama to adjust the U.S. attitude towards Latin America as the region is living in a time of profound – yet democratic – change.

Nonetheless, while addressing specifically the meetings that took place in Washington, Morales expressed expectations that Bolivia and the U.S. will reach a “Draft Framework” and the normalization of the U.S. Embassy in La Paz in the coming months. "If the U.S. Embassy is meeting for diplomatic work and not for political work," said Morales, then his country can afford to have a U.S. embassy in Bolivia again.

The Bolivian government has long maintained that the U.S. meddled in Bolivia’s domestic affairs, even going as far as to operate an elite unit within Bolivia’s military and maintaining an "unofficial" office within the governmental palace in La Paz.

U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg was expelled in September 2008 following meetings held with the political opposition in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Morales declared Goldberg a “persona non grata” under suspicion that he was collaborating with opposition forces during a time of intense and sometimes violent political clashes. In retaliation, Bolivian Ambassador to the U.S. Gustavo Guzman was expelled.

Beyond normalizing diplomatic relations, other areas that will be addressed in the upcoming agreement are cooperation on drug trafficking and Bolivia’s status under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA). Bolivia’s trade benefits under ATPDEA were suspended by the Bush Administration in December 2008.

A U.S. delegation will travel to La Paz in November as talks on both sides continue.

Sources: ABI, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, MultiVu, Telesur