Archive for the ‘Morales’ Category

Soap opera or reality show?

July 31, 2010

All the ingredients for a soap opera at a sordid and thrilling point emerged in the last few days in Bolivia. Dirk Schmidt, a German who has been living for two decades in Bolivia was arrested by, as his lawyer says, police agents who not so long ago were friends and acquaintances with whom he used to work with and went on fishing and hunting as a supposed intelligence official of the Ministry of Interior.  Now he is accused of conspiracy and armed uprising, a charge quite common in Bolivia these days, and is held in custody in a local prison in Santa Cruz. Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti does not believe his allegations that he worked for the Government although in his service file he claims he provided critical help defusing some of the most serious threats showdowns faced by the Indian-social government of President Evo Morales. The German’s wife, Bolivian Karina Flores Villa, presents documents supporting his claim that he was appointed as a direct “informer” (euphemism for spy) of former deputy Interior Minister Gustavo Torrico, fired just a few days ago for unknown reasons. The belief that there is a power struggle going on within the government and that the fired deputy Minister is just one of  the casualties flares up. But the current Interior Ministry Sacha Llorenti denies the German has been ever appointed to anything, that documents produced trying to prove Schmidt’s point are a forgery. Schmidt, in short, was a dangerous element. In his home police found seven shotguns, two revolvers, and powerful caliber ammunition, which the German claims were all duly registered at the government’s arms control agency. The official story crashes as  ousted deputy minister Torrico discloses that the German really was an officer under his command as an “informer”—and not only recently but since the onset of President Morales’ government, that is over five years now. Now Torrico is likely to face a legal process himself.

The atmosphere is still boiling with conjectures as another scandal breaks. The amauta leader Valentin Mejillones Acarapi (55), who handed Morales the Indian sacred command baton when he was anointed president in January 2006 amid the stone ruins of Tiwanaku, had police searching his home in El Alto, the Andean plateau city that sprawls from the edges of  La Paz. Police found up to 250 kilos of liquid cocaine being processed for crystallization. Mejillones was arrested along with two Colombians who were with him, and his own son, Javier Alvaro Mejillones. Cocaine production has set foot for years in Bolivia and its trafficking, mostly smuggling it into Brazil, the U.S. and Europe, accounts for a significant slice of the country’s economy. The finding brings up questions about the illegal links of people very close to President Morales, Bolivia’s most popular president in recent decades and winner of a chain of elections and plebiscites by landslides. People now are wondering if the man who anointed Morales in an ancient colorful rite that filmmakers and TV celebrated worldwide was arrested with such a big amount of cocaine in his own home, what could be expected from other levels in the government and the official party MAS, for Movimiento al Socialismo.  The finding and imprisonment of Mejillones has coined a new term that has quickly spread across the country: Narco-amauta. Amauta is the name given since immemorial times to savvy and outstanding community Indians.  In a country which reportedly has drug cartels from Mexico and Brazil actively and clandestinely operating, it was only time for that activity to contaminate Indian leaders like Mejillones, analysts say. Cochabamba, the province (department) to which the coca-growing Chapare region belongs, reportedly holds more than two dozens of “narco-communities”, that is rural areas where Indians work on the production of cocaine.

Yet the government denies drug-trafficking has been increasing in Bolivia. But it admits an increase in coca plantation areas, as studies from the United Nations and the U.S. show. And some reaction was needed to prove the government commitment against trafficking.  It left Mejillones and its accomplices to defend by themselves alone before the justice. They remained in custody until a judge decides on the case.

To Mejillones’ chagrin -but not so much for those more familiar with human nature- his friends and colleagues are now turning away from him. Mejillones was an icon among Indians and is said to have participated in ceremonies abroad, particularly in neighboring Peru, on behalf of leftist leaders. The government’s decision of not interfering with justice not even in favor of someone as emblematic as Mejillones is hailed as a dignified move. Rarely any among Morales’ predecessors has been so harsh with people in the government. But there are some who do not give this attitude so much credit. Several times in the past the government has promised to enforce law severely, even on those who have been part of the government. One of the most outstanding cases is the summary dismissal of a president of YPFB, the country’s leading state-owned company, who hasn’t been tried yet, and that of an anti-corruption minister suspected of involvement in a corruption case. All this goes to the credit of Morales, whose anti-corruption policy means quickly acting, at the onset of any case. But in contrast there are other cases that opponents and critics remember because they remain unpunished. For instance, sisters Juana and Elba Terán González, caught with 147.5 kilos of cocaine, have not been tried yet. There also is a case of sixteen people who were killed, including two women, shortly after Morales took over, in a clash between workers of a state-owned mining company and members of a mining cooperative. There has been a series of recurrent violence situations, including the riots against a Constituent Assembly in Sucre that police quelled harshly. Three people were killed and hundreds were injured, as official members of the assembly ended up approving the current main law in a military garrison.  Many people still consider unsolved a deadly clash that left more than 15 dead in Pando, two years ago. Back then, a South American group of nations (UNASUR) issued a declaration supporting Morales and blaming the whole incident on opposition leaders. More recently, a violent incident took place in Caranavi, north of La Paz, where two people members of a group protesting against the government were killed. Something even worse happened in “ayllus”, clusters of indigenous communities in Potosí, near the Chilean border, where four police were arrested by community members in late May. They were supposedly investigating car-smuggling crimes and became victims of a brutal form of a wrongly called “community justice.” Indians executed the group and buried each in bags placing heads down, superstitiously believing that otherwise the spirits of the dead would run away and haunt their executors. Since the incident no one has been arrested and police reportedly were not allowed to enter those communities.

The incidents with the German Schmidt and Mejillones have been banners on the dailies front pages throughout the week but Bolivians still don’t have a detailed account  of what really happened. What role did actually Schmidt play? In an interview with daily El Dia he said he feared being killed “as Eduardo Rózsa”, the Bolivian-Croatian-Hungarian militant now dead and accused of leading a presumed movement that allegedly would try to kill Morales, unleash a terrorist campaign and split the country. In a desperate cry as he was been arrested by police, Schmidt called on Morales to help him. “The only thing I did was to take care of his back”, he cried aloud.

Rózsa died in a controversial episode sixteen months ago in Santa Cruz. Schmidt allusion to the case has sparked speculation that the government could have been no stranger to the presence of Rózsa in Bolivia. And Mejillones said he was a victim of his own “good faith” as he became partner of the two Colombians captured with him,   Javier Patiño Morales y Nubia Estela Garvizu Rico. He believed, he said, they were going to make some food. His son Javier Alvaro Mejillones Mamani has been indicted as an accomplice and also remains in custody. Young Mejillones was in charge of staking out the house, but he did not stake out anything. He was found sleeping and heavily drunk.

All this may be just the first chapter of long story on politics, corruption and leaders in Bolivia.

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United in baldness

April 21, 2010

President Evo Morales on Tuesday displayed before thousands of environmental activists his ecological and environmental knowledge. He stated that in fifty more years the whole human race will be made up of bald people. The hairdressing salons, he said, will be shut down, its employees summarily fired. This apocalyptic scenario of a humanity of equals in baldness, will become real because of the poultry-based food and the widespread custom of eating food  containing large amounts of female hormones.

Welcome to the world of the bald.

His charge against the poultry industry went on further. He said that chicken meat induces homosexuality and girls have grown breasts prematurely.

President Morales, he himself owner of a thick, carefully groomed black hair, was seen worldwide addressing his audience of activists from everywhere, mainly from Europe and the U.S.  To them he made a display of knowledge with a conviction a far-west peddler of the 19th century would genuinely envy. He stated that the one to blame on baldness were chicken, genetically modified chicken feed, to be precise. He was opening the World Conference on Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth, in Cochabamba. The conference convened about 20,000 participants in the picturesque town of Tiquipaya, known for its healthy weather and pristine natural water streaming from nearby mountains.

Throughout a great deal of his speech he lambasted capitalism as responsible for the injuries caused on the Pachamama, or Mother Earth, and humanity.

His repeated example was baldness, which he considered “an illness” caused by bad eating habits. He said baldness was the fate of, specially, Europeans.

His audience appeared mesmerized. Some did welcome his words with whispers and laughter. But nobody could tell whether people laughed because they could not believe what they were hearing or because they felt they were being told a joke, or something they hadn’t thought at all. He added that food based on chicken induced to homosexuality and had girls developing breasts faster than normal. Chickens, he stated, were fed with food containing large amounts of female hormones. Unluckily, no reporters were checking how in the audience planned to have chicken in their next meals. I did not hear any comment form poultry industry either, or from restaurants.

But because of the presidential verbiage it would be likely that wigs industry may have years of bonanza coming up while the aviary entrepreneurs might have to look into different business.

Morales also charged against the Netherland potato industry, based on genetically modified seed. Bolivia grows thousands of tons of that potato: bigger and heavier than the mostly puny potato from its valleys.

Even Coca Cola was lambasted. Morales said it contained plenty of acids that made it a handy help for plumbers cleaning up dirty pipes.

It was a pity that TV reporters would have not focused also on what the audience thought about the president’s claims. But the only plausible response could be seen during the remaining two days of the conference, whether the consumption of chicken is stable or has declined in the restaurants.

The president’s lecture doesn’t find historical back up. On the contrary. Had his advisers been careful, they would have consulted specialists or at least to the internet. On a site there I learned that prophet Elisha (Kings 2:23) cursed young people who made fun of his baldness. The curse must have produced immediate effect, because two gigantic bears showed up beating badly forty of them.

Smiles and paranoia

April 26, 2009

Wednesday night 4/21 was time of laughter and amusement for viewers watching TV programs. At least two news shows took the brunt of the Bolivian audience by staging the individuals who appeared in a photograph which, the night before, had been shown by Interior Minister Alfredo Rada as the smoking gun of an alleged conspiracy. It was an all local Adrian Monk episode.

As it turned out, the picture was real and so were the people dressing military uniforms that it showed. But they were not the individuals Minister Rada claimed they were. The guns seen in the picture were toys. Actually, it was a wrong interpretation of a picture. And the mistake was a further embarassment fo a government that, at least regarding the bloody episode of April 16, is losing credibility. At predawn hours that day, three people whom the government claims were plotting to kill President Evo Morales were shot dead during a police operation. Those in the picture were a group of players of two popular games, soft air and paint game. Teenagers –and not-too-young- go crazy for them. Four of those in the photograph went to TV to deny the official allegation that the group was a sort of ultra-rightist militia. They surprised an audience that didn’t know much about these games.

Furthermore, an alleged member of the team in the photo the Minister showed was someone resembling an arch-enemy, Mauricio Iturri, of the rightwing Cruceño Youth Union. Rada claimed the alleged presence of Iturri in the group proved it was mischievous. But, for the Minister’s surprise, the person was not Iturri.

Iturri himself shoveled the last bunch of dirt in the plot/militia theory by calling himself to the station from Miami, where he has taken refuge since the government is after him. “I am not that person”, he said dryly on the telephone. In reality, by direct information of one of those –positively yes- in the photo, Pedro Sandoval, the alleged Mauricio Iturri was Pedro Álvarez. A quick conclusion: The Minister played Sherlock Holmes and ended up in a mess. If prior to the fiasco it was difficult for the government to convince Bolivians about the veracity of its allegations, now it was worse.

Defense Minister Walker San Miguel fueled the fire when he said use of military-like gear and playing war games were illegal. But no Bolivian legal code includes such bans. Probably he didn’t know that shortly after the first military coup attempt led by then Col. Hugo Chavez there were lots of children dressing sort of military uniforms similtar to the rebel colonel’s during carnival days that year (1992). It was a gesture of sympathy toward the Venezuelan army commander and nobody told the kids’ parents that was illegal. More simply, Minister San Miguel probably didn’t play as a child the “pam pam” game, in which children simulate killing an enemy shouting “pam pam” when the rival appears on sight.

It is not only a Bolivian game. Italian singer Iva Zanicchi popularized it in a catchy song of the late 1960s: “Mi ricordo quando tu ed io eravamo due bambini e gioccavamo bang bang”, etc. (I remember when you and I were little kids and played bang bang).

As a result of this paranoia panic is widespread among lovers of both air soft and paint game. “We are concerned because friends and relatives have called us warning with heads up that we were being indicted of holding bonds with people we not even know. We are sportsmen”, Jose Miguel Sandoval was heard saying almost crying on TV. The picture shows him and the minister said he and others were part of a “fascist militia.”

Ernesto Justiniano, another of those photographed, said he was with the group only because he likes sports. “We have been playing for at least four years. We use game arms with compressed air”, he said as he was trying to avoid going to La Paz to be heard by a judge. People fear La Paz because it is the government’s stronghold and several of those arrested because of alleged anti-government activities are held in the city’s jail, awaiting trial.

As of this week of late April, the group was ready to travel to La Paz escorted by Santa Cruz congressmen. They were expected to appear before a judge and explain details of the two games.

Law by force

October 19, 2008

 

This is a weird congressional season. Lawmakers are convening since 10/18 in the Legislative Palace under a threatening march of thousands of peasants who want, by their own or by subrogate will, Congress giving green light to a law calling for a referendum on a constitution draft issued a year ago after violent street riots in Sucre, Bolivia’s capital, that left three people dead and, by unofficial figures, more than 300 injured.

Lawmakers are supposed to convene free of pressure, especially if they are to discuss calling for a plebiscite on a new constitution mainly drafted by the government that opposition, almost unanimously, considers illegal. President Evo Morales, whose alleged Indian condition is blatantly disputed by his mix-race lastname Morales, has told marchers and lawmakers: “Pass the law (to call for a referendum on the official draft) or else.”

What the meaning of that ‘else’ partly would be has been shown by the sticks and stone-tipped whips flaunted –and often used- by leaders of the march to keep order among peasants. On Sunday he said those opposing his new chart project would be considered “traitors to the country.”  The march is expected to end Monday, after walking over 80 miles on a paved road between La Paz and Oruro.

“They may overwhelm us or they may not. We are all ready to fight this battle to the end”, told me Javier Limpias, a former Constituent Assembly member and dissident from Podemos, the main opposition party.

The problems with the government chart starts from its inception. It was approved by the government-dominated Constitutent Assembly, which functioned for 16 months dismissing some basic democratic rules. Most assembly legislators, especially those from the government party Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) were not prepared to write a new fundamental set of laws. Many had not completed primary or secondary school and their knowledge of law was zero, or almost. The first draft was approved in a military academy building in Sucre’s outskirts, where the assembly reconvened almost in hiding while riots flared in the city and areas surrounding the army academy. After the first draft was approved, the MAS assembly members moved subrepticiously out of Sucre, fleeing from mobs infuriated by the casualties and police violence to repress protesters. They reappeared in Oruro, 200 miles away, in order to get approval of the text “in detail”, as the Bolivian norms dictate. There was no clear verification of the quorum (legislators’ turnout) required to vote (two thirds of the 255 assembly members). And the approval “in detail” was more symbolic than real. Because of the nervous hurry to put an end to the process, even out of its loegal venue, Sucre, only the text’s index was read. Legislators were simply asked to say yes by raising hands. In case that was not enough, or there were not enough hands up to sanction the draft, government leaders told them when they should raise hands because many voters appeared not to have a hint of what they were voting about.

Besides, opposition cried they were not called to the meeting within the legal notice (two or three days), and the text to be approved was not distributed in advance among attends, as rules dictate. In reality, not even all the official assembly members had a copy of it. Some claimed the draft had actually been written long before and far from the assembly. An opposition assembly member quoted some time ago a sister of President Evo Morales, Esther Morales, as having said in a private meeting that while the Constituent Assembly was still convening, there was already a written Constitution. Many thought the draft came from abroad, but without pointing at any specific place. It has vaguely mentioned Venezuela and European NGOs.    

Bolivian National Lawyers College has called the draft ilegal and called for a new constitutional asssembly as the only way for the nation’s reconciliation. “A referendum on a project born out of violence and imposition shall not take place,” it said in a statement this week.

A widespread criticism lies on the mention of 36 indigenous tribes in Bolivia, all considered as individual nations, without any scientific evidence of the existence of some of them, particularly the tiny ones. Some of them hardly represent more than a few tens. I myself wrote a story 30 years ago about the apparently irreversible extinction of one of them. Back then, there were only seven tribe members, as counted by the Summer Linguistic Institute. All surviving men were beyond reproductive age. But a recent census said there were more than 30 Pacahuara people. A conclusion seems pretty clear: either the Pacahuara tribe did not disappear and found the way for the surviving women to meet with men of other tribes,  or we are talking of different tribe. In any case, it is no longer the original group.

It is disquieting, anyway, to think that these small tribes have been counted without the necessary precautions to protect them. Who conducted this census and under whose authorization?  

Anthropologists would be eager to know.

The fact is that all these tribes might win the rights over their “ancestors” lands. Since a lot of them are nomads, I doubt it would be easy to measure the extension and bounds of their original land.

All this confusion explain, at least partially, the controversy surrounding the Constitution the government wants to be approved.  

State of the Press

September 4, 2008

Declaration of the Bolivian Tribunal of Ethics in Journalism 


 A Threatened Nation     


Bolivia has just experienced a traumatic and legally controversial recall plebiscite. Nonetheless, the behavior of the Bolivian people was remarkable. Bolivians went to vote both massively and peacefully, determined to express their right to choose.


But now we are seeing with concern that the worst forecasts about this plebiscite are becoming a tragic reality. The recent riots in Santa Cruz, Sucre, Yacuiba and a painful etcetera, are only a first sample, likely to be followed by even worse events unless the leaders of the Nation change their attitude.


 A new series of events is beginning to unroll with a recent package of government decrees calling Bolivians to vote on a Constitution draft widely considered as irregular. This move requires a law, but it ignores the Legislative Branch.


The journalists are among the first casualties in the brutal combat that covering news has become in Bolivia. They are threatened, insulted and brutally hit without the slightest respect for the role they accomplish for the society.


This is why, anguished by the down-hill way our country is getting at, under the complacent attitude of those who should look for unity and not confrontation, justice and not illegality, righteousness and not complicity with a widespread intolerance that is beginning to surpass its limits, the members of the National Tribunal of Ethics in Journalism, as it kicks off its public activities as a body of self-regulation in journalism,


 


DECLARE



  1. In Bolivia, free press and the safety of journalists are in a serious danger. They have become victims of situations of anarchy tolerated and – worse – instigated, by authorities and groups favoring authoritarianism.

  2. Bolivia offers a desolate legal landscape. The country seems living in a desert where any illegality may happen due to the induced failure of the rule of law by institutions and individuals whose mission is rather to preserve it. 

  3. This landscape is compounded by a situation of moral failure in which corruptors and corrupted work hand in hand.  

  4. Tolerance seems lost smashed by the years-old pernicious practice of disqualifying those that think differently.

  5. The country has fractionalized dangerously. The regions are forced to confrontation as opposing political and economic models promote division wherever they act.

  6. The Government should be a factor of unity, but instead it seems committed to division instead of uniting; it accentuates disagreements instead of genuinely searching to overcome them, It commits illegalities and boasts its power to “legalize” them. Several regions are moving in a direction contrary to the Government’s. Thus the country is strained by forces working for its disintegration rather than its unity. Political opposition forces show no coherence with democracy nor offers believable and convincing hope to citizens.

  7. The condition of fragile legality affecting the nation leaves it paralyzed and citizens unprotected and scared, their hopes diminished.  Uncertainty prevails equally over institutions defending individual and collective freedoms, including the freedom of press.

  8. The President adds to the uncertainty as he announces he will “deepen” a socialism he cannot explain. However, he leads the country to think it is on the brink of a system that failed wherever it was experienced and under which one of the biggest victims was the freedom of expression. It was sunk with no exceptions in an immense Gulag.

  9. It does not comfort citizens to watch their President treated like a pariah within his own country, for he cannot move freely within it.  It is not democratic that after two and a half years as President he has not been able to respond to the press’ legitimate questions in thorough and clarifying press conferences as any democratic leader should.

  10. We watch with awe and fear the recurrent attacks against the media and the multiplication of verbal and physical aggressions on journalists working on news coverage.

  11. The Legislative branch approves decisions that confuse the population, eroding the credibility regarding lawmakers. The claim that the Legislative branch lives under threatening blackmail from extra-legal forces is not enough to dispel that erosion, nor to dissipate suspicions about the integrity of some of its members.

  12. Before this succession of events that have already caused dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries, and a year practically lost in clashes ever more violent, we want to urge the society, especially journalists, to be alert against the storms that still threaten all of us in Bolivia.

  13. We call upon the President that, out of respect of his Presidential dignity and of those who elected him, he stops insulting journalists. And if he accuses anyone of us, he should do it submitting real evidence, as any President – or any citizen for that matter – should.

  14. Imbued by these motivations, we call upon the Legislative Branch to immediately start designating, for the sake of its own redemption, an honest and reliable Constitutional Tribunal, committed to Justice, as the first step to put again the nation on a firm institutional path.

  15. We reiterate to journalists that their best defense is their professional integrity and the persisting search of true, balanced and full information, thus helping the Bolivian society to better see its horizons and find civilized ways of overcoming its present difficulties.

 


La Paz, September 1,  2008

Kamikazes

July 21, 2008

Sixty three years ago, across Japan still resonated a battle cry:  “A people of one hundred million united and ready to die for the nation.” In fact, military and civilian Japanese were dying in growing numbers. The immolation created by Vice Admiral Takijiro Onishi of dying but destroying, and causing widespread damage was a highly lethal weapon. Taking control of Okinawa had already proved deadly for the Americans. One third of their war casualties had happened as a result of the fierce Japanese defense. Going all the way to the heart of Japan would cost around 300,000 additional lives just during the first days of battle, strategists estimated. U.S. leaders were well aware that Japan’s fight ability was collapsing, but the most interested parties, the Japanese, didn’t see it the same way.

“It did seem that the whole island nation was being mobilized for a suicidal battle to death; even young school children were ordered to start sharpening bamboo shoots with which to kill Americans, ” says oil historian Daniel Yerguin in “The Prize” (Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, p. 365)

 Even after two atomic bombs, Japan was split between surrender and collective death. In the evening of August 14, a soldiers command tried to seize a message recorded by the Emperor to be aired hours later. They were overcome, recalls Yerguin, but not before the Imperial Guard chief was killed.

I dare to mention these episodes because President Evo Morales doesn’t seem to realize that his social and political experiment has limits and if he wants to save it he has to steer course. The latter seems impossible, because it would run against his own stubborn nature. The men surrounding him, ever since he planted coca leaves, have led him to create an image of himself far from reality. They make him believe that almost the whole Bolivia is on his side and that those who oppose him are just a few. But he is only a representation of the Andean Bolivia, on which are necessary gargantuan efforts to move on harmonically as a nation. Look at his limitations, his international gaffes and blunders, his primary stammering language. All in a leader who has managed to move ahead from a lost barren town in the interior of Oruro, in western Bolivia, become a leader and, backed up by monumental road blockages, to conquer the Presidency. One can hardly imagine the efforts that his country will have commit to promote living conditions of hundreds of thousands, the same or worst than his.

But his blindness in recognizing reality leads him to act like kamikazes. The socialist project they embody is an ill-conceived illusion. First of all, history cannot go back 500 year searching an idyllic socialism that, in truth, never existed. The one that did exist since 1917 crumbled twenty years ago squeezed by its despotic inefficiency. Save for its military complex it was never a real competition for capitalism (or neo-liberalism, to use that fashionable neologism). The advent of microelectronics marked the end of communism, without capitalist nations shooting a single missile. The Cuban process looks like a museum of socialism. The one Venezuela wants to impose orients by the dying Cuban model. There still remain North Korea and Iran.  I know no citizens lining up to travel to those countries, not even as tourists. Those leaving Bolivia go to Italy, Spain, England, the United States, from the “neoliberal” area so much cursed by President Morales. They are injecting hundreds of millions of dollars into the Bolivian economy and indirectly help Mr. Morales boast about the country’s bulging foreign monetary reserves.

It is still possible an honorable peace, that would preserve the equalitarian principles that gave way to the government of Mr. Morales. But insisting on current course is tantamount to a kamikaze flight, which obviously has no return ticket because there was no gas for a comeback.

The Singer and the Song

April 14, 2008

A 1960s movie starring Mylene Demongeot and Dirk Bogarde showed a religious battle between a Catholic priest and an atheist bandit whom the former tried to convert. The priest is a good preacher and an outstanding soul redeemer. But the bandit dodges the priest’s faith charges with an argument, “Your ideas are like a song which I don’t like. But you are a good singer and make it sound pretty well”. At last the priest reaches the bandit’s heart and seems close to win his soul. But then a shootout breaks and the bandit is deadly wounded. The priest rushes to help and eventually baptize the dying man. The bandit, touched more by the priest’s desperation than by honest conviction, agrees to baptism. As both grip hands, the outlaw grins in a supreme effort only to say: “It is the singer, not the song.”

I have thought about this passage to introduce a brief reference to President Evo Morales insisting claim about a rejection of his Indian government out of ethnic prejudice.

Mr. Morales claims at every corner that “oligarchs”, whites and “the rich” conspire to overthrow him because they “despise Indians and do not want change.” With this he also wants to disguise the growing dissatisfaction with his 2-year old administration. But that ritornello is wearing out, even beyond Bolivian borders because of recurrent errors by his government. It used to receive wide attention and was sympathetically understood at the beginning of his regime. The outcry of 500 years of slavery (under the colonial rule) and neglect (after independence) spurs solidarity, especially in Europe, aware of the human cost of colonialism. As I wrote once, President Evo Morales received the government on a golden tray, because he was an Indian (just a mixed-race leader, to be sure, but one from very humble origins) the opportunity to involve all Bolivians in a moral and educational crusade that would result in a giant leap ahead towards modernity.

But he recklessly began piling up enemies inside and abroad without care for his political assets. To begin with, he unleashed a hard-to-understand wrath over the Catholic Church, whose action was key in the survival of hundreds of thousands of native Indians and their culture. Most likely he did not read (he claims proudly that rather than learning in books he reads on the wrinkles of his ancestors) about the visit to Cuba and its leader Fidel Castro in early 1998. And now he is besieged by opposition movements, his government has dived in its worst crisis. He has lost support of the middle class almost entirely. He hesitates about a recall referendum he himself proposed because of he is no longer sure of its outcome. Politically he is badly wounded. The illegalities and abuses that marked the passing of his party’s Movimiento al Socialismo new Constitution draft overshadow arguments over the alleged illegality of the statues of autonomies that four –and soon maybe six out of nine Bolivian states- are campaigning to win popular approval via a string of plebiscites starting May 4.

President Morales now calls for the intervention of the Catholic Church to stop the coming up referenda and to open a channel for talks with the autonomist departments. Not so many weeks ago he ruled out a request to call foreign facilitators the governors suggested to help dealing with the crisis. But now he welcomes them. And the economy, which could be leap-frogging thanks to the high prices of natural gas and minerals, is staggering. Inflation is within the two digits after years of recording respectable 4%-6% levels. Ironically those worse hit are the poor, from who Morales’ main support comes from.

How did it happen? Excluding “communitary justice” and “Ayllu Communitarism,” nobody who is not blind and fanatic would disagree with the notion that Bolivia has plenty to reform, likewise with the notions of equality and social and economic promotion f the peasants, especially Indians at the quickest speed. These postulates constitute a universal song. Its achievement depends a great deal on honesty and efficiency, always in short supply__and not only in Bolivia. But in Bolivia the singer and most in the orchestra are out of tune and perform poorly.

Unlike the above-mentioned movie, the audience now stands up and cry loud in despair: the plot may be good, but the director and the whole cast leave too much to desire!

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.

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.

Crossing the Rubicon

November 26, 2007

President Evo Morales and his MAS party have undertaken their most daring political step in 22 months in the government. Morales 138 constituent assembly followers convened alone, without opposition, in a military academy on Saturday to produce a Constitutional Text whose yes-members approved speedily . Outside, in Sucre´s outskirts, a battle between unarmed civilians and tear gas shooting-police was raging. And it was getting closer to the military academy where they met. At least four dead (including one police) and about two hundred injuries have been counted in two days of riots.

The 138 constituents (136, since two conspicuously did not raise hands) who approved the first draft melted away from Sucre at pre dawn hours Sunday.  It was as if they were not the winners who only hours before had hailed the chart. They were like the real losers who trudged away from a shameful defeat. They ran away as they could. A military bus gave them a ride till about 10 miles off Potosí. And they walked to the city.

All this after they had approved a chart that allegedly, as a year ago was said,  would reshape Bolivia, politically and socially. The chart approved Saturday by MAS alone (over a hundred assembly members did not attend) had a very unusual venue: an army academy. To date, it was the first chart approved, even in principle, within a military academy. The army, and primarily the police, protected the meeting, which had been removed from its original place, the Mariscal de Ayacucho center, in downtown Sucre, where it had been besieged for months by civilian population demanding the Assembly debated the thorny issue of the capital of the nation. The MAS majority refused to tackle the matter under the understanding that doing so would mean losing support from La Paz, the political capital for over a century, where lies the backbone of its political support. It would have been, understandably, a hara-kiri. MAS is aware that as time has gone by, La Paz has been isolating itself from most of the country and an eventual referendum over which city should be Bolivia´s capital could bring embarrassing results for both La Paz and MAS.

As of this hour – midday Monday- the whereabouts of the official assembly members are unknown.  People wonder ¿where are those who represent Chuquisaca from the ranks of MAS and what they will do next. ¿Will they continue supporting a chart that has triggered the worst wave of violence during a government supposed to change things the right way  __peacefully, since President Morales always says he represents “the culture of peace”?

Regarding the fast-track approved constitution, a question still lingering is if a first step has been undertaken, ¿what about the next? Let´s explain.  The approval “ en grande,” that is just in principle and still subject to a thorough review, happened in a dramatic way: the board of the meeting read just the subtitles __no content at all. And the chorus raised hands in approval. (When news was heard that one person had been killed and to adjourn the meeting was necessary, it has been said the reaction from Board Chairwoman Silvia Lazarte was icy cold, “There is one dead. May he enjoy Paradise. We have to continue working.”  Then, because of the heavy environment hanging over the meeting after the news,  she agreed on a 15 minute break.)

That was it. After saying yes, assembly members rushed to pack and run away.  Now the review should come, although Presdident Morales hinted yesterday that step would be dismissed.  Assuming the “headline-only draft” is OK, where the review will take place?      

This constitutional experiment has been always controversial. I shuddered when I was told about the unusually high number of illiterate members in the Assembly. But I used to look at this argument suspiciously, thinking that even illiterate people would do better than many of the rapacious politicians who ruled the country over almost two centuries. But as months went by, I began questioning myself. Drafting a constitutional chart, I said, is like holding the wheel of a bus riding over bumpy paths. In order to succeed one would choose the very best and most experienced drivers. This was not the case with the Bolivian Constitutional Experiment.  ¿Would I put my children in that bus? ¿Would I tell my wife to board that bus? I agonized over this point. 

As this official-only assembly ordered the approval of the first step Evo Morales has crossed the Rubicon. As Julius Caesar. A time of uncertainty lies ahead.