The mess

February 12, 2009

 

The owner and manager of a small company takes on a delicate mission: to personally deliver a ¨recognition¨ to those who facilitated his awarding of a juicy contract for $86.3 million to built an oil-and-gas separation plant in Santa Cruz. The prize is carefully stacked in a briefcase__$450,000. This was exactly ten percent of the amount his firm just days before had cashed as an advance for the oil plant. But as he reaches the house of his alleged destination, he is intercepted by motorcycle-riding hitmen.

Industrialist Jorge O´Connor struggled to keep hold of the briefcase with the money as he was fatally wounded. The briefcase vanishes. Hours later police agents, alerted of the assault and the assassination, arrested the gang (two men and a woman) in Cochabamba, 400 Kms. from La Paz. During interrogation they quickly confessed their crime. Coincidentally, in the house where the attack took place lives a brother-in-law of a national authority: the president of YPF Bolivianos, Santos Ramírez. The criminals said they had been contracted by Ramírez´s wife brothers.

Ramírez rose to Bolivia´s political zenith from his position of humble rural teacher and lawyer to the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) position Number Two, only after president Evo Morales.

This is what is the press has so far published about the episode, which has many Bolivians stuck to their radios, TV sets and dailies as details unravel knocking down the notion that President Morales´regime, because of his Aymara Indian base, would be immune to corruption. As some elements in the plot were still unknown by the public, the bloody episode showed a frivolous angle__ Ramirez, who has been Senate President and, for a very few days, interim President of the Republic (with the new constitution one doubts whether it is correct to call it Republic of Bolivia), disclosed on TV that he had decided to file for divorce of his wife, whom he had married just 40 days earlier and is pregnant with twins. ¨I have not married my wife´s brothers. I am filing for divorce,¨ he said. Opposition representative Carlos Klinsky called him ¨a coward¨, implying the former executive wanted to unload over his wife the burden of the whole affair because the money supposedly would have been delivered to a brother-in law. No word has been heard from militant feminists of the government party MAS.

So far it is still unknown the name of those who would have benefitted from the bribe. Only $80,000 have been found. But it seems clear that Cutler-Uniservice has no infrastructure to build the plant. As Ramirez spent the first evenings in a police cell, he still claimed innocence. At the beginning, President Morales refused to admit any guilt of his closest aide and blamed ¨opposition¨of a plot to tarnish Ramirez´s reputation. But in the end, before what appeared as overwhelming evidence, he had no choice but to fire him.

Ramirez´s allegations of innocence have not been able to clear up the dense atmosphere of suspicion hanging over Morales’ regime. Ramírez was a prime suspect in various other affairs, including selling for $1,000 a recommendation letter to obtain for a MAS party pal a job in the administration.

How come Ramírez reached his prominent position? He emerged as a political leader next to Morales (which makes plausible questioning how much Morales knew about Ramirez alleged wrongdoings). He was part of the very few MAS leaders who in early 2006 moved, along with Morales, to the Presidential Residence ¨in order to work more and better¨ and also better occupy the spacious mansion in a neighborhood of southern La Paz. Morales, who allegedly only finished primary school, had no administrative skills and looked after Ramirez for administrative support. Ramirez had no skills other than been a school teacher and only a limited-experience in his law career, but Morales gave him chart blanch to administer state-owned companies. From his powerful position, Ramirez got appointed Guillermo Aruquipa as head of YPFB, the state-owned company re-assembled in the wake of the takeover of oil fields from Brazilian Petrobras in May 2006. Opposition congressmen claimed that Aruquipa worked with Ramirez as just an administrative assistant.  His limitations surfaced pretty soon __gasoline, domestic gas and most fuels became scarce and long lines of patient customers were a daily occurence cross the country.  He was downgraded to Operational Manager of YPFB. TV news showed him carrying iron bottles of domestic gas at dawn hours in a personal physical effort to improve gas distribution in La Paz. TV news anchor Carlos Valverde said Aruquipa was ¨the world´ best paid gas bellboy¨.

These days Aruquipa is charged with negligence, because he was among the officials who led the Argentine company Cutler-Uniservice contract pass without completing most legal provisions. The plant was supposed to show the efforts by Morales to industrialize Bolivia´s natural gas making sure production would meet Bolivia´s domestic demand.

No bureaucrats are improvised, let alone executive bureaucrats. Otherwise sooner or later a society -and the improvisers- pay a high price.

P.S. Late in the afternoon a judge sent Ramirez to the San Pedro prison in La Paz.

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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.  

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.  

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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.)

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 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.

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!

Blame

February 10, 2008

President Evo Morales has blamed capitalism for the series of environment disastres wrought over South America by the Niño and the Niña phenomena. This is not the first time Mr. Morales attacks capitalism and the free market. He charged against capitalism during his speech at the United Nations last September, although without offering any valid alternative. Washington and capitalists are is already prepared for critics like Mr. Morales, Mr. Chavez and others anti free-market leaders . But now Mr. Morales should also and aim his verbal artillery towards China, which shares with the United States the top ranking of polluters, and Japan, from which, according to an ABI (Agencia Boliviana de Información) he had just received a donation worth US$ 8.1 million in heavy machinery to work on destroyed road s and over flooding rivers.

“The climatic phenomena is not the guilt of any authority, but … the guilt of an economic model _capitalism_ that brings climatic consequences, climatic changes, that in the end of the chain poor people must pay”, he said, quoted by ABI as he was receiving the donation.

TV cameras did not show the expressio s on te face of the Japanese donors. But it is very likely the machinery he received was produced by the Japanese capitalistic system.

No further comment.

Discordances

January 2, 2008

 As many people in Bolivia, I disagree with the MAS constitutional draft because it was brought to life ilegally. It will still be a draft as long as a plebiscite does not confirm it. But it was sanctioned out of its legal matrix, Sucre, and in a venue totally unfit for a country that has suffered the atrocities of military dictatorships__  in a military academy. Adding offense to the wound, the government assembly members vanished at down Nov. 24 as though aware of having committed something illegal. They reconvened in Oruro where, assisted by colleagues who acted like orchestra directors, they passed the draft in one single night (over 400 articles). Besides, it happened without calling members within agreed notice and without distributing the text to discuss and approve. Conclusion: False and tortuous the beginning, false and tortuous the end.

This should be known by those who believe the Bolivian process has been pristine.

A constitution is a pact that a whole country subscribes to rule itself. In this game there should not be majorities imposing their will over a minority. Assumingly it was not a war (or was it?).  Besides, the six percentage points of Mr. Morales and his party victory two years ago (53.7% vs. 47.3%) might have well have vanished by now.

MAS CPE included not a single article from opposing forces. It was all plainly ready for MAS yes-members.  At this stage, I would love to know if Sen. Peredo or the government leader at the assembly Santos Ramirez would be able to recite Art. 1 by memory, and explain it to their audience.

I like even less arts.107 and 108 regarding freedom of expression and freedom of the press. The draft I have (it is said the real original has been altered many times__ which makes it even more illegal, if that is possible), seems a minestrone of concepts that I am not sure it does exist displayed in that way in any democratic country.

Both articles are written on a lethally vague way (or was it deliberate?). Thwarting free expression means crippling democracy.  As a journalist I feel outraged by those articles.

I would like to know also in which countries it is stated by constitution that the media must “promote  the ethical, moral and civic values of the diverse cultures in the country with the production and publication of educational pluri-lingual programs…” (Poor multi-ethnic India, Canada or Brazil, I would say.)

If this is the kind of change that will be imposed in Bolivia, it is better to stick to the old 1925 press law.

What other changes? Oil nationalization hasn´t happened, according to technical criteria, although nobody denies that the drastic change in percentages benefitting Bolivia has been positive. But it wasn´t necessary to withstand eighteen months of tribulations without knowing where would Bolivia get investments to meet current export agreements with Brazil and Argentina.

What else? The bonuses for elders and primary school students? Nobody would honestly oppose them, but I wonder about their sustainability over time.

Let´s agree there are good points in the MAS draft, but to propose them it wasn´t necessary irrigating gasoline all over the country.

One also disagrees with the government insistence in placing autonomy and separatism on the same level.  I don´t like a bit the cynical statement by a high government official  saying that Dec.15 rally of Santa Cruz cívicos consisted or “five or ten families”. Maybe all he wanted was to hide the fact that there were by far much more attendants in Santa Cruz (tens of thousands, easily) to approve autonomic statutes than in La Paz to approve the MAS draft. His was a blatant lie.

On the other hand, I don´t like the Autonomous statutes because I don´t think they had been debated enough in forums, university campuses, academy groups, labor unions, etc. It was a matter of setting a difference with MAS. On one side, they are at least clear and articulated. But they should have been born fully legally. There are no specific laws dealing with autonomy. Then it would have had to wait. But over all they should have shown superiority not only in their conceptualization but in their moral consistency throughout open debate across all society segments. That would have shown a difference with MAS´s draft. 

As many other people, I don’t like “ponchos rojos”  brutality reminiscent of the blind violence Shining Path. I don´t like either the clash militia-like groups of the Santa Cruz Civic Committee.

It is a pity that President Morales had accused US Ambassador of conspiring against his government presenting as a proof a color photo of him and a Colombian citizen at a Fair in Santa Cruz. Nobody had enough political clout to tell him: “That picture is no proof at all. Stop showing it. Let´s be serious.”  

A country cannot go on under a who-makes- it- worse dynamics. Let´s hope for a brighter political interaction in 2008.

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.