Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Preview of Coming Attractions


I am back from my work in humid Bangkok and back to a welcome downpour of rain in Cochabamba. We haven’t forgotten you and the Democracy Center team is madly at work on a host of projects coming up shortly on the Blog. Here’s a preview:

Elections Once More!

Next April Bolivians head back to the polls yet again, this time to elect Mayors and Governors across the country. What’s at stake? Who is running? What are the issues?

Four Former Presidents on Trial

Last week the Bolivian government announced that it wants to step up prosecution efforts against four recent Bolivian Presidents. We’ll look into one of these cases with some facts that may surprise you.

The Cochabamba Climate Change Summit

In April thousands of climate change activists from around the world will descend on Cochabamba for a global climate change meeting called by President Evo Morales. In a series of Blog posts we’ll look at plans for the conference, the issues to be discussed, and efforts by Bolivian environmental groups to draw attention to the serious, unattended environmental issues right here at home.

Entel vs. Bolivia

The European telecommunications giant that until recently was the owner of the Bolivian communications firm Entel, is changing its strategy in its legal attack on Bolivia over the government’s re-nationalization of the company. We’ll have an analysis of what’s behind the case.

In addition to that the Democracy Center is wrapping up work on a major paper on lithium in Bolivia, based on extensive fieldwork across the country over the past two months.

So stay tuned!


Anonymous AJ La Paz said...

Welcome back! Lots of fun things on the horizon. I'm particularly interested in info about the April elections. Keep up the good work.

10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim, just heard your radio interview. Congrats on such clear depiction of the events. Thank you so much for your hard work.

7:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think one needs to reflect on this. Is there a need for a "Third Way" in Latin America with regards to the ideological discourse of the continent? Assuming one can take Colombia on one hand, Venezuela, Bolvia, et al on the other as representing the two "extremes"?

Clearly, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay all seem to have found a happy medium, where you have centre-right and centre-left parties pursuing pragmatic, middle-ground policies rather than radical or reactionary ones. And maybe it figures that they are healthier democracies than Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia and, yes, the United States. Even in El Salvador, the "left shift" electing Mauricio Funes has seen a moderate, pragmatic candidate who has both restored ties with Cuba and preserve a close relationship with the US.

We won't even mention Nicaragua in this- it is a corrupt, clientelist, sectarian state and Ortega and Aleman have succeeded in perpetuating this with a level of corruption and impunity remarkable even by the standards of the region.

The tragedy of Bolivia is, that we are seeing two extremes at odds: on one side the forces of reform and radicalism represented by Evo Morales and MAS, on the other side the forces of reaction represented by Manfred Reyes Villa and the old elite/parties.

Samuel Doria Medina, on the other hand, claims that he represents the third force (albeit a distant third in elections), but also claims that a moderate opposition force is what Bolivia needs. Evidently that means supporting some of Morales' policies and objecting to others, which seems to be the discourse taken. Keep in mind that he did praise the more inclusive nature of the Constituent Assembly (vis a vis previous regimes) and indigenous participation in it (see here:

Revolutions, whether bloodless or not, simply wipe out one party system and replace it with another. In some countries, the pattern of party politics and party dynamics has not changed for decades, even over a century, desptite the dramatic changes the country may undergo. The pattern of party politics in the UK and other Commonwealth countries, and of much of Europe, is a case in point. Even totalitarian rule in Germany and Eastern Europe only "temporarily" broke this pattern, and the end of Communism led Eastern European nations to rediscover their true callings. In Latin America, party systems have been wiped out and replaced over and over again with a few notable exceptions.

After all, the US Democratic/Republican two-party cleavage has itself only existed for approximately 150 years, out of some 230. The US party system of today is thus not the same as it was in the early 19th century (and the Era of Good Feelings, where the US was almost a one-party state in practice).

In the case of Mexico, the Mexican Revolution ended the dominance of one elite, and instead put in a "radical" regime that morphed into a new ruling group, whose hegemony was only broken in the last decade by the institution of more genuine democracy. And even then, the party in question (PRI) is still a potent force that can even reclaim its mantle.

A similar revolution occurred in Bolivia in 1952, where an old oligarchy and party system was effectively wiped out and the MNR seemed to follow the same course as Mexico's PRI. Of course, with military rule puncturing this, a new party system developed on a return to democracy around the MNR, ADN, MIR, etc. The rise of Morales and MAS sees a shift that is dramatic yet not without precedent- the "old" parties fading to irrelevence as new forces emerge.

So maybe this is the challenge to moderate oppositionsits, to try and find a happy medium between Morales and his reactionary opponents, if that's even possible. So maybe then we will see a new party system fully crystallise.

9:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No 3rd way.
The only way is capitalism and free markets!

8:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think a third way is an intresting point, but it seems impossible with the new govt. who is as selfish and radical as previous ones. A govt. who is only intrested on how much they can make/steal. A govt. who closes factories then wonders why the prices of the products from these factories are going up. I am sure MAS is a One man Party like CONDEPA and UCS were. Without Evo Mas is just a bunch of thieves looking for the next big break. I wonder how all these suporters in la cancha and uyustus will react when they start closing their shops becuase they never pay taxes.

10:12 AM  
Anonymous David V said...

Having written the long essay above, I do admit I'm a pretty conservative person socially, albeit not particularly "right-wing" economically (more "social market" traditional of European conservative/christian democrat movements), but one has to attempt being pragmatic and non-confrontational.

What I was explaining above is more or less the "revolutionary cycle" where an old order, party system, etc is destroyed either by a coup, revolution or whatever, or a seismic shift through the political process as what's happened in Venezuela and Bolivia. I think, of Latin American countries, only Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Paraguay have preserved the "old" party system to some degree or another (dating back to the 19th century liberal/conservative and later liberal/conservative/social-democratic cleavage that persists in Europe).

Both Chavez and Morales have tried to create "broad left" parties, but Chavez does have right-wing, non-socialist supporters (who presumably support him for nationalist reasons, or for business opportunities- thus perpetuating corruption).

Ecuador has to be viewed in a different category. Correa may be an ally of the above two, and he may talk "leftist" with rhetoric about a "citizens' revolution" but he is not nearly as radical as Chavez or Morales. He hasn't implemented anything particularly radical domestically, and he is now seeing his popularity sink as he finds himself at odds with indigenous groups and unions, the very sort of movements that have backed Morales.

Furthermore, Ecuador has always been politically volatile and "majorities" circumstantial. This is re-enforced by a weak party system and extreme personalisation. Correa and his rivals Gutierrez and Noboa may be different ideologically, but they're three sides of a triangle- all are populists whose parties are not crystallised structures, but mere personal vehicles. Such people don't want party structures to solidify because of the potential threat it poses to them.

Nicaragua, again, Ortega and other caudillos skillfully exploit the sectarian nature of party politics. They build alliances that cross along ideological lines (Ortega built a coalition including smaller rightist parties, and an ex-Contra as his VP), to cater to sectarian interests in a frankly bizarrely fragmented party system. Notice how many parties call themselves "conservative", "liberal", "Christian", "socialist", etc etc.

Maybe the crux of the matter is that Morales, like Chavez, Uribe, Bush and Obama, are all polarising figures who provoke extreme feelings of love and hate among large sectors of the populace. As some have been keen to point out, any country where that happens cannot be classified as a healthy democracy, or a healthy country in any case- all are sick countries in their own particular way, but all suffer equally from the sickness of love/hate polarisation.

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I completly agree with what you explain and I agree that democracy in Bolivia is currently sick and I don't see any kind of healthy situation any time soon. I really wish People like Samuel could bring that middle ground stabilty and peace to Bolivia. Unfortunetly the damage made by crooks like Manfred is so bad that the majority of bolivia still have a problem trusting Business Men (even though manfred wasnt one). I really dont trust most of the Govt. oficials because most of them are out for money or vengance, and neither of those goals are going to help Bolivia as a COuntry. We need people who are prepared and actually know what they're dealing with not ex-sindicalistas, who are getting a job to pay favors or political debts. I am so frustrated with how this govt is exactly like the previous screwing people over for a favor or a coima, when will we start doing things the right way, when will all these people start paying taxes getting their permits and s top using money to buy what ever they want. I dont care who is in power as long as they do things honestly and that hasnt happened yet.

La misma chola otra pollera!

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Viva martir Cuba Zapata!

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to see some level of sanity returning to the forum. Unfortunately, in Bolivia the vitriolic bipartisanship that has paralyzed Washington would be a welcome change, because it would mean that at least there is some diversity of ideas. Bolivia only has the MAS as a viable political party and, as some of you have pointed out, it has become apparent that they have nothing new or good to offer. They probably have more than enough support to win the next round, but while this will be a win for the MAS, it will be a terrible loss for the country.

I can only hope that Evo will stop hating and start being a President for all Bolivians. But I see nothing that can help me hope.

4:42 PM  
Anonymous David V said...

We can only make broad comparisons but the historical realities and makeup of each country are so different, so their current evolution will be too.

One can speculate Chavez is under more threat than Morales, because Venezuela are faced with an economic downturn and shortages. But the opposition is as divergent as the groups supporting Chavez- and maybe from there some "third way" can emerge that supports many of his policies while still opposing him. The legislative elections later this year will be a good indicator.

11:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Vitriolic bipartisanship?" Ah?

11:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

evo's new slogan "country or death, we will win" the same slogan of the dictators of cuba...this idiot (evo) is planning to be the new dictator of Bolivia...

2:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

patria,socialismo o muerte?

evo ain't even original.
he copied it from the venezuelans who copied it from the cubans who copied it from the soviets.
So sad and boring!

6:44 PM  
Anonymous David V said...

And as we know, the same ideology that kept Eastern Europe under almost half a century of Communist oppression, overthrown ultimately because of grassroots movements in countries like Poland. But I wouldn't put Chavez or Morales in the same category as Stalinist dictators who gave people no choices in life.

But now to tackle a couple of issues-

Coca and the cocaine trade:
Legal uses for coca is something I wholly support. Morales has said that cocaine demand and consumption has to be tackled, but the problem IS solving itself anyway- because cocaine is losing favour in the US since the rise of metamphetamine.

Actually, the coca-to-cocaine and pseudoephedrine-to-methhamphetamine issue opens up the can of worms of a legitimate product being turned into an illegal substance. Already restrictions are placed on purchasing types of cough medicines due to this problem. Cocaine can only be produced through a complicated process that most people don't have the financial or technical means to do. The meth problem is now a much bigger problem because it is much easier to make, and the drug has even more devastating effects to its users.

Meth is a much easier drug to make than cocaine, we all know that. It can be done in suburban backyard laboratories, thus "democratising" the drug trade like never before, since it's now a mum-and-dad kind of business. And that's why methamphetamine is replacing cocaine as the drug of choice in the US. It hasn't taken off in Europe (yet), where cocaine still seems to be in vogue among those types of users.

It takes a lot of coca leaf to make a saleable amount of cocaine. It doesn't take a lot of pseudoephedrine to make crystal meth.

And increasingly, Latin American countries themselves (including Bolivia) do have problems with internal drug consumption, that itself has to be tackled by governments.

Indigenous autonomy:
What competencies will autonomous indigenous authorities have?

In the US, Native American communities do enjoy a large degree of self-government, known as "tribal sovereignty"- isn't it already established in US law that state and local laws don't apply to Native American lands, even with regards to collection of taxes, etc? Would indigenous autonomy follow a similar pattern in Bolivia?

7:58 PM  

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