Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

¿Una nueva COB?

May 11, 2013

Leo en los medios que sectores del partido de gobierno han planteado una “refundación” de la COB. Cuidado. Se trata de algo que ya trataron de hacer otros gobiernos. Las iniciativas acabaron en un fracaso estrepitoso y en la caída de los gobiernos bajo los cuales se hizo el intento. Se lo intentó durante las dictaduras militares de las décadas de 1970-1980. Una iniciativa de cierto aliento ocurrió en las postrimerías del segundo mandato de Víctor Paz Estenssoro. Delegados oficialistas fundaron la Central Obrera Boliviana de Unidad Revolucionaria (COBUR), de escasa duración. No tuvo oportunidad de mostrar mayor fuerza, pues Paz Estenssoro fue derrocado al poco tiempo por su vicepresidente René Barrientos. Todas las iniciativas de suplantar a la vieja COB tuvieron muerte súbita.


A boomerang hits back

April 18, 2013

Annals for history (and for those unfamiliar with Bolivia’s recent history)

Santa Cruz, BOLIVIA – The five men were sound asleep at a downtown four-star hotel after busy hours likely reviewing plans and messaging relatives in Hungary, Ireland, Croatia and Romania. All stayed in their individual rooms, except for brief meal breaks and petty errands like going outside for cigarettes and returning a rented car nearby. They looked like rather bored visitors about to travel back home. But destiny had pushed them into a tragic corner of one of the most brutal cases in Bolivia’s recent crime history.

At predawn hours, a deafening explosion knocked down the door of the group’s chief and a ra-ta-ta-ta of submachine gunfire echoed accompanied by screams and shouting.

Three of the men—a Hungarian, an Irishman and a Bolivian of Hungarian and Croatian heritage–lay dead, their bodies riddled with bullets. Four years later, the episode still haunts Bolivians, most used to tear gas explosions than to elite police raiding hotels shooting and killing guests.

No witnesses offered any details. Hotel guests scurried away from the scene, including a Bolivian Interior Ministry official who left the premises as the episode took place. Prosecutors came to the crime scene hours later and talked with the hotel manager and a receptionist who provided no clues worth investigating further.

Bolivian officials maintained the five men were part of a plot to kill President Evo Morales and trigger a Balkan-style secession movement in eastern Bolivia, the country’s the most prosperous region. The survivors, a Romanian citizen and a dual Bolivian-Croatian national, were arrested and tortured and are still held in prison. Bolivian authorities also unleashed waves of arrests and questioning of political opponents and conservative business leaders during eighteen months before filing official charges against 39 people, about a dozen of them exiled in neighboring Brazil and Paraguay. Others fled as far as the United States. Nine remain in Bolivian jails while others are under house arrest.

The Hotel Las Américas affair, as it is known, has been a traumatic landmark for Morales. As Bolivia’s first Aymara Indian President, Morales came to power pledging full respect of law and human rights. He used to say there would be not even one violent death during his government. But during his seven years as president, dozens of people have been killed in police actions.

With Hotel Las Américas, extra-judicial execution emerges as a new accusation that might account heavily on the Bolivian leader’s record.

Within hours of the killings Morales arrived in Venezuela, where he told reporters he had known of the alleged conspiracy beforehand and had ordered his Vice-president to take action. “I had intelligence that international mercenaries were in Santa Cruz…preparing to kill me and other authorities,” he said.

The statement raises a disturbing question oft repeated: If the President knew of a conspiracy, why were the alleged conspirators not arrested instead of what now appears to be a merciless execution?

Chief prosecutor Marcelo Soza says the police were attacked and soldiers fired

back, killing three. But no soldier was hurt in the attack, which occurred while the

five men were sleeping and either naked or wearing only underwear.

When Irish, Hungarian and Rumanian diplomats first expressed concern for their citizens, Morales furiously retorted with a threat to sue the diplomats “for sending mercenaries to kill us”.

These countries (Ireland, Hungary and Romania) have also filed complaints to international courts.The Inter-American Human Rights Commission is studying the case, while Human Rights Watch noted that an Irish state pathologist who examined the body of Michael Dwyer, the Irish citizen killed in the attack, concluded he had been shot dead by a single bullet in the heart, fired by someone standing over him, “most likely as he was sitting up in bed.”

One of the victims, Rózsa Flores, was well known in Central Europe. Decorated by the Croatian government, his life was the subject of a film, “Chico,” which received a prize in an international film festival.

Seven bullets hit Rózsa Flores. One blew his brain; each shoulder showed one shot, three other shots hit his thorax right side; a seventh bullet hit his right inch, apparently while he was on a crawling position.

Hungarian musician Magyarosi got six bullets, one through his trachea that asfixiated him in blood, Hungarian experts said.

More recently tape recordings have surfaced, allegedly with the voice of chief prosecutor Soza admitting that the police set up the supposed crime scene.

They had planted weapons in the rooms of those killed, even shooting at the walls to

simulate cross fire.

The voice warns that if the trial fell apart, “Evo (Morales) will fall too.”

Soza adamantly denies the voice is his, but experts in Spain and Brazil have determined otherwise.

Jimena Costa, a political analyst and professor at Bolivia’s Catholic University says that most Bolivians believe the killings were part of a strategy to subdue opposition to Morales’ government. “President Morales so far appeared not implicated. Now those tapes incriminate him,” she said.

Not the end of the world but the end Coca-Cola?

July 18, 2012

The indigenous leader stood before the cheering crowd,  Lake Titicaca on the cloudless horizon, and made the announcement of the year: The world will not end on Dec. 21, as Maya calendar believers say. Instead, that day will mark the end of Coca-Cola, replaced by Mocochinchi, a popular Bolivian beverage made of dried peaches, boiled in water and cooled overnight.

Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, speaking in Spanish rather than one of Bolivia’s 36 indigenous languages, added: “It will be the end of capitalism and the beginning of communitarianism. Dec. 21 will be the end of Coca-Cola and the beginning of  Mocochinchi…” A few women had Mocochinchi displayed on small tables, as though anticipating demand from newly Mocochinchi converted.

The Bolivian foreign minister, an Aymara Indian ideologist, is known for making  outlandish remarks.  In past speeches he has informed us that stones have sex and that Papalisa, an Andean tuber, is more powerful than Viagra (he boasted its benefits urging foreign colleagues to try it). And this statement, endorsed by President Evo Morales: it is not necessary to read books because studying the wrinkles of the elderly yields far greater knowledge. Ironically,  Choquehuanca’s speech was made near a landmark of the ancient Incas, whose empire conquered the foreign minister’s Aymara ancestors.

(On Dec. 21, he went on) “it will be the end of hate and selfishness, and the beginning of love; it is the end of capitalism and the beginning of communitarianism”, Choquehuanca stated to a crowd at the Copacabana resort, 80 miles west of La Paz, after Morales announced the construction of an airport. It was not clear the meaning of “communitarianism”, but it was thought to allude the way of life in poor Aymara communities known as “ayllus” where everything –or nearly- is shared.

Evoking ayllus is not pleasant these days, at least for foreign investors. A month ago, five local employees of Vancouver-based South American Silver Corp. were kidnapped by ayllu people angrily demanding cancelation of a contract under which the company was exploring the silver-rich Malku Khota mountainous region.

The hostages were released after ayllu judges applied a sort of community justice. The quintet, charged with spying on community customs, was sentenced to make 1.000 adobe bricks. The punishment seemed not enough and villagers upgraded it asking for outright nationalization of the company, which it says has already invested $16 million out of planned investments of $50 million.

Morales has been on an ambivalent campaign to attract foreign investments, badly needed in the mineral-rich country. He had nationalized 15 foreign firms from Brazil, England, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland as, in another step back, he gave in to the new demand. If any, it proved ayllus have a nationalizing clout.

Ayllus were already under scrutiny. Usually made up of a few hundred people, ayllus have been applying a “community justice” of their own, which has even meant a free license to kill. Two years ago, four policemen were brutally tortured, lynched and secretly buried. Police could not investigate the case, which came to light only under pressure of relatives of the victims.

Choquehuanca’s mix of astrology, culinary, botanics, and tuber roots-induced sexual vigor views were cheered as Morales announced construction of the airport, a long felt need in a traditional Bolivian Mecca for pilgrims coming in penance –some by foot. How an airport will contribute to the end of capitalism was not elaborated.

Both Choquehuanca’s and Morales’ display of news at the Titicaca lake sanctuary were viewed as an attempt to stem months of protests __and sharp dropping in approval rates (from 64% two years ago down to 28%-30% a few weeks ago, according to respected Catholic TV broadcast station Fides).

Earlier, Amazon Indians had completed an exhausting 400-mile long march to oppose building a road that would split their pristine land; in those days, thousands of doctors and nurses went on a country-wide strike and street protests defending their wages (the government wanted to increase schedules without increasing salaries); all was compounded by a nasty nation-wide police strike, reinforced by relatives and girlfriends staging riots demanding better pay for their men. An average police agent makes about $200 monthly. So, analysts concluded, it was good at least reassuring those gripped by predictions the world will finish soon, as they say is written on Maya calendars. It was like “don’t worry, be happy “ ritornello to many.

Political analysts also believe it will take more than an airport or reassurances about the world fate for Morales and his government to recover from ongoing political decline. The government is falling in public support since a December 2010 failed attempt to end costly oil subsidies. A liter of gasoline costs in Bolivia US$ 0.70, compared to $US 0.76 in the U.S., US$ 0.96 in Argentina, and US$ 1.58 in Brazil. Subsidies will cost national coffers about $800 million this year, or 3.5% of the country’s GDP. Morales rushed to calm down protests taking place even in his stronghold of Chapare, the humid subtropical valley where coca grows mostly for cocaine.

Subsidized fuels are among the ingredients to make drugs. Not surprisingly gasoline consumption has been on the rise in those places where soaring drug prices have created a boom not seen in other regions. The bonanza has turned Chapare towns into prime buyers of Hummers. Morales is also president of the union of coca growers, these days his staunchest supporters. When they joined in the protests saying they would remove support to the Indian leader if gas subsidies were removed, he backed off.

The end of Coca Cola Choquehuanca predicted would mean also the end of the strongest subliminal ally of coca leaf. It was out of it that American pharmacist John Styth Pemberton invented the drink in 1886 in Columbus, Georgia, starting one of the world’s richest capitalist empires, with up to 1.7 billion servings per day, as Wikipedia teaches us. The drink contains no cocaine since over a hundred years, Coca Cola executives claim, but its name persists. Morales has said he wants to amputate the word coca from the leaf’s namesake, but so far there has been no formal move in that direction.

Two years ago, the government announced plans to launch Coca Kolla, a soft drink that would come out of coca leaves. So far it is not known how successful the move was. And, importantly, nobody ever said if this brand contained any trace of cocaine. Attempts to emulate Coke success, although with other ingredients, have not trespassed national borders. Examples of Inkacola (Peru), Frescolita (Venezuela), or Guaraná (Brazil) come to mind. They never came close to Coke.

It is harder to ascertain the fate of the tea-colored Mocochinchi beyond Bolivian borders. A glass containing a small cauliflower-like seed costs about 2 pesos, or US$ 0.25. Choquehuanca implied it will take over Coca Cola, which rules unbeatable in 200 countries and territories. If the announcement was meant to boost culinary nationalism, it was at least a weak proposition. Peaches, most scholars say, did not originate anywhere in America but in Asia.

Morales and Choquehuanca spoke after a thousand trekkers from the Territorio Indígena Parque Nacional Isiboro-Sécure (TIPNIS) withdrew from La Paz, where they had arrived after 62 days of walk fighting heat, rain and cold. They demanded President Morales to stop construction of a road through their territory, one of the few mostly untouched natural reserves in South America. Also, they were part of the Indian tribes that helped Morales become the first Indian representative elected as President. The government did not allowed them even enter Plaza Murillo, where the Presidential palace sits. Morales claimed they were plotting to overthrow him.

Tear gas grenades were profusely shot on the column of Indians, including babies and elders, by police guarding the plaza. After over a week in the chilly environment of La Paz, they chose to go back to the jungle. “We will defend our territory with the weapons of our ancestors: bows and arrows”, said Amazon Indian leader Adolfo Chávez.

Unless the war-like atmosphere recedes and the government scraps the road project, it seems there will be a live Avatar version.

This time it would be real earthly native Indians against forces they once thought to be their own.

Untouchability (?)

October 29, 2011

Senator Isaac Avalos has explained the law recently signed by president Evo Morales declaring intangible the Territorio Indigena Parque Nacional isiboro Secure (better known as Tipnis). The law making the park untouchable was signed by president Morales a few days ago. “Nothing, nothing,” nothing can be done in the park. No hunting, no fishing. It is his word. I just heard him speaking on TV. Looks like a joke, but just in case, I dare to say: Beware you birds and capybaras; alert your neighbor lizards and crocodiles, jochis, snakes, especially pythons. They must understand and follow up what the honorable senator says. Or else. Big fish may not eat small ones, ants should be careful not to open holes for their homes or build trails. The Tipnis is untouchable. It is as if it had gone to the moon. It is in another dimension. Is it?

Odyssey of a cadaver

September 18, 2008


Under the headline of “Doubts surround death of an Evangelical pastor”, daily El Deber, Santa Cruz, published the following report I thought I should share with you.  


The remains of Luis Antonio Rivero, the Evangelical Pastor killed during the military take-over of the airport (Friday) of Cobija, were moved to his home town of Guayaramerín (on Sunday), after an oddyssey. The military did not allowed that an airplane left the airport with the body. The corpse was transported by land to a run strip  about three hours by car from Cobija. With the body in Guayaramerín (on the border with Brazil) Rivero was declared “martyr of autonomy.” According to his relatives, the military held the body along 18 hours before it was released. It was still warm.

Relatives obtained a legal authorization for an autopsy. The autopsy evidenced four holes caused by two bullets. One of the bullets was shot  ten or twelve hours after the first. After the second wound, he remained alive between four and six hours. All the (four) injuries were stuck with screws and glued in with the Gotita (an artificial glue). (The report does not say what caliber the bullets were nor it indicates the probable distance of the shots.)


 After reading this report one cannot but hope that the investigative commissions that should arrive in Cobija also go to Guayaramerin. This man was under an atrocious agony lasting 14 to 16 hours before he died. Many questions remain open. Why the military held a man in agony? Why he was murdered with a shot de grace?  Who is responsible or who gave the order to execute him? It was a painful example and a painful anticipation of what might lie ahead in Bolivia. Is this the kind of government of the so-called ”socialism of the 21st century”? If it is so, it is only a regression in time to Stalin, Beria and the Gulag era.