Archive for December, 2007

A growing fast

December 8, 2007

People staging a hunger strike since Monday evening across four out of nine departments (states) in Bolivia have said they may now be counted by the hundreds, making their movement the biggest political fast in Bolivia´s 25 years of democratic rule. Close to 400 are fasting in Santa Cruz alone, according to Branko Marinkovic, presidentof Santa Cruz´s Civic Committe and one of the movement´s leaders.

The movement is a struggle “for democracy and full respect to the rule of law”, told me Cynthia Nallar Antelo as she and three other women lay on mattresses in a tent right within the city´s main plaza. “Reason, she said, must be reinstated in Bolivia”.

Reason seems in a very short supply in this country nowadays. Three weeks ago, the official party MAS approved a constitutional chart draft all alone. It was just one-sided project of 405 articles. 

But one of the weirdest episodes took place when  the government party assembly members convened in a militiary school.  Four miles away, around  their official venue the population of Sucre, where the assembly was being held, was enraged protesting the government decision to withdraw from the draft chart Sucre´s demand to became a fully vested capital (today it is just “legal” capital; the Executive and Legislative branches are in La Paz). 

Then, since time was getting short and the protest was growing, (there were hundres of injuries and, as later was known, three people had died) they chose to approve whatever was left for approval by just reading the subtitles. When an assembly member asked why, Vicepresident Roberto Aguilar told him: “Don´t worry. That (reading and discussing each article) is a mere formality.” 

After approving the draft,  the 138 members (out of a total of 255) vanished. They run away from Sucre. Now it is said they will reconvene this coming week in Oruro, a windy, cold mining western city to give the final approval to the document.  But a small town in Chapare, the coca plantations area, was originally considered as the right place. It fitted the draft chart which upgrades coca leave, the raw material for cocaine, to the condition of Bolivia´s “cultural patrimony.”

On Wednesday President Evo Morales declared he would accept a plebiscite to decide whether he remains in power. But the next day a close aide said if the verdict turns against the president, he would abide by it only if disapproval is higher than the vote he won in December 2005, when he was elected by 1,544.37 votes, or 53.7 percent. It was the highest percentage since Bolivia returned to democracy in the early 1980s, but the new rule made many people raise the eyebrows asaking: Populational data has changed since. More people were born, more have entered voting age.  

That formula, one concedes, was entirley new for a plebisicite.

Morales said Wednesday evening he was ready to submit his presidency to the approval or rejection of the people. “If the people says, ´Evo should leave´, I have no problem. I am a democratic person”, he said on a TV address. His announcement was expected to clear up the thick environment hanging over the country with growing opposition against the Aymara Indian leader in Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando,Tarija, Chuquisaca and Cochabamba. The fast is held in the first four departments.

He said “in the next few hours” he would send for Congressional approval a bill to instate the referendum. All nine governors said they accepted the challenge.

But by Friday the proposal had not been publicly disclosed. It was thightly shrouded in mistery. 

Presidential spokesman Alex Contreras said that for the president to leave the vote against him should be higher than the total he got two years ago.

“That is preposterous,” said Nallar Antelo. “He always plays tricks. But we don´t believe him anymore. He lies all the time. The go-away plebiscite should have no conditions attached. There are many population variables since 2005 election. Santa Cruz alone may have 110,000 more votes since. He is just trying to show to the world that he is a democrat, which is not true.  Now his real face is emerging.”

All nine governors who accepted the challenge were also waiting for the proposed law for the referendum.

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Coming to terms – A photo affair

December 6, 2007

It is over a month since President Evo Morales in an interview with an Italian daily denounced there was a rightwing conspiracy against him and his indigenous government. Active members of the conspiracy were allegedly U.S. Ambassdor to Bolivia Philip Goldberg, Industry and Commerce Chamber president Mr. Gabriel Dabdoub, and John Jairo Banegas, hitherto an unknown Colombian first charged with leading a gang in Santa Cruz then escalated to a paramilitary condition.

Now Interpol has ended  the probe about alleged paramilitary activities in Colombia. Interpol chief, Col. Miguel Estremadoiro, told Fides news agency that Banegas is clear in his native country. He has no guerrillas or any criminal record in Colombia, he said. Fides report was published by La Razon website.

One tends to believe that the presidential word when denouncing a conspiracy is something too serious to be treated lightly or ignored. It was, at least by some leading Bolivian dailies which apparently decided it wasn´t worth their time and space.

But the President didn´t. At the “why-don´t-you-shut-up” Ibero-American summit in Santiago, he flaunted the picture he considered the supreme evidence of his allegation. The picture shows Goldberg, Dabdoub and Banegas at the Santa Cruz main fair held last September. Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Dabdoub have denied the president´s allegation. But Banegas hasn´t been given a chance to say a word. He is in the Palmasola prison, in Santa Cruz´s outskirts, since early October under charges of leading a gang of street assailants. And one would think he is held incomunicado since no direct word from him has appeared on the dailies.

A couple of weeks ago I was watching a TV news program and almost by pure coincidence heard a prosecutor stating that neither the Interior Ministry nor the Presidency had officially asked for a probe on the allegation and that the case had been dismissed. But the news wasn´t fit to print, apparently. I saw nothing in several dailies the following days. Tonight, another TV news cast said the Bolivian police had no information whatsoever that Banegas had a criminal background in Colombia. That is, he´s not a paramilitary as the Interior Ministry had charged him. Then came Fides news agency report.

If this is the end of the affair, then President Morales owes several explanations…and apologies. To the alleged conspirators, to begin with. And to his Latin American colleagues and King Juan Carlos. A special apology should be given his friend Hugo Chavez. Because it were some complaints against Spain presented by President Morales while addressing the summit that triggered Chavez storming loquacity, which in turn triggered the now-famous “por qué no te callas” of the usually quiet King.