Archive for August, 2007

Countdown

August 26, 2007

Six departments out of the country´s nine have scheduled a general stoppage for this Tuesday, Aug. 27. It is the worst challenge in twenty months of rule for Indian President Evo Morales. Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, Chuquisaca, Tarija and Cochabamba are all expected to go on a 24-hour strike demanding the government and its Movement Toward Socialism party full respect for the judiciary (the government-controlled Deputy Chamber voted last Wednesday to impeech four judges) and for the democratic rule they believe is threatened at the politically ailing Constituent Assembly.

The six departments comprise as much as 80 percent of Bolivia´s territory. No Bolivian government in recent years has faced such a widespread protest led by the Comite Civicos (made up of most institutional groups, from unions to business). The action was announced last Friday and by Sunday leaders of all six had said their departments were ready to come to a halt. The movement was triggered by a decision of government legislators at the Deputy Chamber to impeech four judges of the Constitutional Tribunal who had ruled against Mr. Morales´s temporarily appointing of other judges early this year. The government accused the four judges of breaking the law and trespassing presidential authority. His party moved to sack the tribunes. But opposition said the judges´ rule was legal and what Mr. Morales and his government really wanted was to subdue the judiciary appointing judges they could control. Opposition leaders have also recalled that it was the same Constitutional Tribune, which in Bolivia protects constitutional rights, that three years ago ordered Congress readmission of Mr. Morales, who had been expelled by his colleagues when he was a deputy, in 2002.

Mr. Morales is a staunch ally of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. The Venezuelan leader has given away millions of dollars to Bolivia, for Mr. Morales to distribute among mayors across the country to buttress his “indigenous socialism.” He has repeatedly said Venezuela is ready to support Morales, who is facing a political turbulence very similar to that which brought down his predecessors. But there is a fundamental difference: Morales was the most visible opposition leader in those recent times.  These days opposition has no charismatic leader up to counterbalance Morales.  

The six departments also demand the Constituent Assembly to respect the rule of passing the articles and provisions in the new Chart by two thirds of its representatives. The government and its party wanted to pass the new rules by the majority it enjoys in the Assembly, well over 50 percent but far from 67 percent or two thirds. The assembly spent eight months just debating these opposing views. When its term ended August 6 it had approved not even the introduction of the Chart. Then the government and the oposittion agreed to extend its term through Dec. 14. Meantime another dispute over which city -La Paz or Sucre- should be the venue of the three branches was brewing. Sucre is only the venue of the Supreme Court ever since 1899, whewn a civil war moved the Executive and Legislative branches to La Paz. The government, out of political instinct for La Paz is its main stroinghold, decided to support La Paz´s claim that “the venue doesn´t move.” The Assembly two weeks ago passed a resolution eliminating Sucre´s demand from its debates. Since then Sucre is in turmoil and the Assembly has been forced to suspend deliberations with no date to reconvene till its functioning and security of its members is fully guaranteed by local authorities.

Bank secrecy at stake

August 8, 2007

The Bolivian President, Mr. Evo Morales, on August 6 announced a universal crusade to put an end to the bank secret protecting account holders. The plan would mean a total exposure of account movements to anybody´s eyes. The idea came during a 3-plus hour long State of the Nation address in Sucre, the country´s constitutional capital, at an extraordinary congress session to pay homage to Bolivia´s national day. It won an outstanding applause from Mr. Morales followers but others in the congress audience raised brows. Mr. Morales grinned: “I don´t want to think that those who do not applaud me surely have bank accounts,” he said. Had somebody advised Mr. Morales properly, he would have known that no bank on earth would accept his supremely non sense initiative__ assuming he will propose it formally (where? And to who? What about a trip to Switzerland to meet UBS board?). No bank will shoot in its own heart. They should have told him that existing laws allow judges to order disclosing accounts under specific reasons. But that is far from making it universal. However, if Mr. Morales insists, it would be good to start at home: let´s have all Bolivian state-owned agencies to became transparent all the way. Let´s have chief holders (Comibol, YPFB, Central Bank, Ministries, Armed Forces, India´s Jindal etc.), including authorities and all government-paid officers, to open their accounts with no restrictions. Even better: let´s create and make public usernames and passwords of institutions and officials so that anyone could see them. How do you think they will react? Things get a little confused when one recalls that, only a few days before, Mr. Morales had said he expected Bolivia would equal Switzerland in about 15 years. Or that by 2022 Bolivians would enjoy at least similar standard of living of Swiss citizens, education, healthcare, punctuality in all public transportation networks, etc. And, of course, would also become adamant defenders of bank secrecy. The idea is baseless but it has the merit of at least showing Mr. Morales´ financial expertise. And, overall, that of his aides. Because if Mr. Morales has no financial education, his aides should know better. Supposedly the move would help detecting money-laundering, drug-trafficking originated money, but aides should know there are international treaties to fight money-laundering and eventually disclosing accounts. As to drugs, most reliable reports say coca plantations areas are expanding and illegal coca processing is increasing.