Archive for September, 2007

Whispering and hiding

September 27, 2007

The Bolivian Armed Forces will commemorate this Oct 8 the 40th anniversary of the biggest military operation undertaken since the Chaco War (1932-35) with Paraguay. But there will be no victory speeches like in Oct 1967, when they erratically announced the defeat of a Cuban-led guerrilla movement and the death of its commander, Ernesto Che Guevara.

The anniversary will go on without any fanfare and almost in whispers.  The official commemoration, if any, will be carried out just in the barracks and strictly among soldiers, according to sources consulted by this blog.

Che´s guerrilla was the most serious challenge faced by the Bolivian army in the second half of the 20th century.  Hundreds of soldiers were mobilized and in the end managed to crush it after over six months campaigning in the country´s eastern tropical jungle.

Some key actors in the victorious campaign don´t feel happy about the quiet way the Armed Forces want to commemorate it. Or rather its unwillingness to commemorate anything at all.

The country´s Armed Forces command “have authorized only private ceremonies within the barracks. To this, I say, “go to hell. I am not interested in ceremonies in the barracks, as though we were ashamed of our victory. It would look like a clandestine ceremony”, told me Gen. (r)  Gary Prado Salmon, whose regiment fought Che´s guerrilla column capturing the Argentine-Cuban guerrilla in El Churo battle.

He said Cuba and Venezuela, Bolivian President Evo Morales´ closest allies, coupled with Bolivian leftist parties, want to pay homage to Guevara in Vallegrande, a few miles off La Higuera, the little, humble village where Che was executed.  “Hundreds, probably as many as thousands of Cubans and Venezuelans would  go to Vallegrande to participate in ceremonies Oct. 8.”

Those homage ceremonies, he said, would be possible because of “the political process under which Bolivia is living these times.”

Mr. Morales, the first Bolivian Indian president, sees Cuba´s leader Fidel Castro as his main mentor. Since swearing in the country´s presidency in January 2006 he has traveled to Cuba several times looking for advice. And he often meets with Venezuela´s Hugo Chavez. Officially sponsoring commemoration of he 1967 military victory would be at least embarassing for him. But for the Armed Forces not commemorating the 40th anniversary would be embarassing too.  

“We would have liked to hold ceremonies commemorating the most important events of the campaign, including the decisive battles (that led) up to El Churo,” where Che as captured, Gen. (r) Lucio Anez Ribera. “But orders from above say the commemoration should have a very low profile.”

Gen. Prado told me that a few days ago he received a call from a lieutenant former colleague, also retired, wondering what to they should do on Oct. 8. “We have to do something”, he said he was told.

Gen. Prado said he replied, “It ´s not up to us.  It is up to the Armed Forces. We are not supposed to pay homage to ourselves.”

Prado has written in a book about the guerrilla and his role fighting it. The third edition of the original Spanish version of La Guerrilla Inmolada, is sold at all major bookstores in Bolivia. It is rich in details of the anti-guerrilla campaign and its epilogue. I strongly recommend it.


Evo in the U.S.

September 23, 2007

As he meets this week some U.S. leaders in the United States President Evo Morales will look for support in his uphill campaign to improve relations with the superpower. In truth, he is trying to get in a house through a side door. After a few weeks ago he showed the country´s exit gate to the top U.S. representative, irritated because the diplomat said coca production has been steadily growing in Bolivia, and after Mr. Morales Chief Cabinet Staff, Mr. Quintana, charged U.S. financial aid of buttressing political opposition, the Bolivian leader wants to display a broad smile in Washington and New York. He is scheduled to meet with Democrat leaders at a symposium on environment. He will have to explain how come coca output has shot up in recent months from a top 20,000 hectares (already 60-plus % above the legally authorized plantation area of up to 12,000 hectares), to 28.000-plus hectares. The mathematics Mr. Morales will have to explain the reason for the increase, and how he comes to view a proposed cut down to 20,000 hectares as a reduction. It is like the case of an unscrupulous merchant selling his merchandise at such an exorbitant price that the previous one (20,000 hectares), already a flagrantly inflated price, should appear like an appealing bargain. His hosts might show good will towards Latin America and towards popular leaders like Mr. Morales. But they are not fools. Mr. Morales will be talking mainly with Democrat leaders, on the belief that they will win presidential elections next year. He rather be cautious and learn from history. Last time Bolivian leaders bet on a political changeover in hopes the new administration would be benevolent, they crashed their noses into a slamming door. Gen. Garcia Meza and his chief aide Col. Luis Arce Gomez thought that a Republican administration would buy their claims that all they were doing favored the cause of anti-communism. Wrong. Rather than anti-communism the U.S. foreign policy was interested in promoting human rights. The U.S. these days (Democrats and Republicans) wants to stem the flow of cocaine in their country. And expanding coca plantations doesn´t help.

Irrevocably Revoking

September 17, 2007

It now turns out that “irrevocable” means anything but irrevocable. Governor David Sanchez, of Sucre (Chuquisaca), has revoked his irrevocable resignation and as of now is sititing back in his Prefect (Governor) chair in Sucre. He decided so after meeting with President Evo Morales in La Paz, where two weeks before Mr. Sánchez had desperately -and fruitlessly- tried to talk with Bolivia´s first authority. When de doors of the Government Palace were pratically slammed on his face, he threw in his irrevocable resignation letter. Mr. Morales might have held his head with both hands. Mr. Sánchez´s departure meant calling for new elections in Chuquisaca__ and a distinct possibility of losing the department to an opposition candidate. That would have been too much. Adding a fifth governor (a sixth, with Cochabamba, and a seventh, with Potosi) to the opposition ranks, out of the country´s nine departments, would have placed his government on a tightrope. Dialogue came in. And Mr. Sanchez decided to revoke the irrevocableness of his resignation. But in turn, his decision also revoked what had been proclaimed by Mr. Morales Government as an another irrevocable point: the Constituent Assembly should not discuss Sucre´s demand of getting back the Executive and Legislative branches it lost in a war with La Paz at the turn of the 19th century. It will debate that, ignoring a Cabildo of about 1.5 million Paceños that had sternly warned the Constituent Assembly should not discuss it at all. La Paz´s motto of “The Venue Doesn´t Move” (la sede no se mueve) against Sucre´s get-me-back-the full-capital move, has been irrevocably wounded. The thorny issue will be among the first points to be debated. Or so say executive members of the Assembly board. But it is still possible that La Paz will make the next move move. Meantime, the electrified political environment seems a bit quieter. Maybe it will help the contentious Constituent Assembly resume debates holding back sharpened tongues and stone-tipped whips, so far among its favorite argument tools. Let´s see.

A Massive No to Evo

September 2, 2007

The government has tried to play down, so far unsuccessfully, the impact of the 8-27 stoppage involving two thirds of the country.  With some sporadic and limited but unacceptable violence, mainly in Santa Cruz and Trinidad, six departments (states)  out of nine said No to the way President Evo Morales is ruling this land-locked country. Consequences of the stoppage, one of the most extensive national movements since democracy took hold in Bolivia in 1982 after years of military dictatorship, could be far-reaching.  The movement might be followed by other actions soon, with the purpose of  “defending democracy”, which opposition and civic leaders see seriously threatened by the country´s first Indian government. They say Mr. Morales, a close friend of Venezuela´s Hugo Chávez,  has systematically dismissed all non-Altiplano (highlands) ideas regarding a new Constitution. Official and opposition forces have clashed over their antagonistic views of Bolivia. The blend of Marxism, Trotskoysm and anti-Western Indian thought, which represents  the view of Mr. Morales government at the Constitutional Assembly convened in Sucre since August, 2006, proposes to declare Bolivia a “multi-nation” state, comprised of as many as 36 Indian nations.  Besides the mess of establishing such a state,  some of those Indian nations  are so tiny that could be counted with the fingers of two hands. Guasarawe tribe, for instance, is listed with just eight members by the country´s latest national census.  It is not known if those Indians have ever been contacted.( Anthropologists  would surely love to learn more about those tribes.) But white- and semi-white-dominated  Eastern lands, specially in the Amazon departments,  suspect the multiple-nation state is only a trick to prevent these departments, the country´s richest, from setting up autonomous regimes, less dependant from the asphyxiating control  from La Paz. As many as 32 of those Indian nations  live in the Eastern Amazon areas.  This point has been the main bone of contention at the Assembly which, after working for over a year, hasn´t been able to define what Bolivia would be. The six departments became furious as Deputy Chamber okayed a  Mr. Morales demand  to  impeach four magistrates of the Constitutional Tribunal, which oversees  the right appliance of the constitution. The magistrates had opposed Mr. Morales recurrently appointing temporary judges.  Opposition charged the government is trying to control justice and impose a regime a-la-Chavez. To this added a thorny dispute between La Paz and Sucre. Which city should the country´s capital?  Since a federal war by the turn of the 19th century, La Paz became  venue of the Executive and Legislative branches. Sucre remained with just the Supreme Court. When the city tried to debate the question at the Assembly, it was suddenly taken out of the Assembly agenda by the official party MAS´s majority.  The move outraged ”Sucrenses”  who went on to the streets to protest. Currently there are hundreds, probably over a thousand, “Sucrenses” on a hunger strike demanding reversal of the move. Sucre, of course, joined forces with the Amazon states of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija, all struggling to win autonomy.  To the group added Cochabamba, whose authorities are also at odds with Mr. Morales  government. In total as many as two thirds of the country´s nine departments are pressing Mr. Morales to change political paths.  The government claims that the six departments are moved by “oligarchs,” but the charge appeared weak against an increasing movement against Mr. Morales.  To make things even worse for Mr. Morales, La Paz has said it will not accept any change of its status of political capital and it will not allow any of the state branches to leave the city. It is, so far, the worst challenge faced by the Indian leader´s 19-month old government.