Saturday, May 31, 2008

Cochabamba Grabs U.S. Headlines

I first heard the news from my nephew, while visiting here in California. "Hey, I heard Cochabamba on the news, on the radio last week!"

Did I miss something? Had the city broken out in new protest since I left – over water bills, the price of bread, Manfred's facial hair? Has there been an accident? Maybe the world's largest Jesus had tipped over and landed on its right arm on a parked taxi. Or perhaps some enterprising restaurant had prepared and served the world's largest pique, on a plate the size of Plaza Colon. Would that have made the U.S. news?

Nope, it was this honor that thrust my adopted town into the U.S. headlines. The question that decided that the 2008 U.S. National Geography Bee a week ago was the following:

Cochabamba is the third-largest conurbation in what country?

My nephew says he was screaming at the radio in his car as he drove through the Arizona desert, "Bolivia, Bolivia, Bolivia!" Imagine, he thought, I actually know the answer.

So did the winner of the national competition, 11-year-old Akshay Rajagopal of Lincoln, Nebraska. And as a result, he won a $25,000 scholarship.

I don't know if the question and the competition made headlines in Cochabamba – I am away after all – but I think it should have. Imagine, La Llajta in the news over something other than protest or pique. Actually, I am shocked that Manfred didn’t take credit. Maybe he didn't know what 'conurbation' meant. I didn't. But I probably could have guessed Bolivia anyway.

And, for those who think that young Akshay's fete was not worthy of so prestigious a prize; consider that to even get to Cochabamba the Conurbation, he first had to identify, among other things, the nation in which the well-known metropolis of Tillya Tepe sits. Try naming that one without Google.

Meanwhile, way to go Akshay!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Comments Section is on a Break

Dear Readers:

The Comments section of this Blog has been, for more than three years, an uncensored space where people of all points of view are free to post as they wish, without any screening by us. However, as I explained again recently, it is not a space where people will be allowed to make physical threats (or even pretend to make them) against me, my family or others associated with The Democracy Center, and if such a threat was posted one more time I would shut down the comments. Well, as those threats have continued, and as recent comments have degenerated into a juvenile battle of anonymous insults, I am keeping my pledge.

We'll open up the comments section again soon, after all those who think that insult and analysis are the same thing have had a chance to calm down and the anonymous threat makers have lost interest and gone back to sending hate mail to someone else.

The comments section here has often been a place of genuine and intelligent exchange, and we look forward to it becoming that once again in the near future.

Jim Shultz
The Democracy Center

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mothers Day in Bolivia


Even in times of political conflict, in Bolivia as in most places, regular life goes on. And this week that means Mother's Day in Bolivia. Here's a Blog from Leny Olivera and Aldo Orellana on what that looks like.

Jim Shultz

May 27th, Mother’s Day in Bolivia

Mother’s day in Bolivia is remembered and celebrated by many in different places of the city and the countryside. Typically kids in elementary schools invite their mothers to the school and for a few hours dedicate tender songs and typical Bolivian dances to their mothers. All of this is done with a lot of happiness and delight, a characteristic of the “wawas,” which in Quechua means kids. High schools also celebrate mother’s day, but in a different manner, usually with a present and a meal, according to the economic possibilities of the students. Traditional dances are also performed to please the mothers.

In the streets near the markets and schools, flower venders spread their posts all over the place. One finds not only flowers but also greeting cards, and small gifts at discounts as well as for all wallet sizes. A traditional area where one finds in abundance all of those mentioned above is the famous “Correo,” an area adjacent to the Bolivian Post Office building, thus the name “Correo.” Here one finds traditional handicrafts, books of all subjects, and on dates such as today, a profusion of gifts from dirt-cheap to exceedingly expensive.

This place is located in the center of the city, in the important intersection of Ayacucho Avenue and Heroínas de la Coronilla Avenue, names in honor of May 27th and Mother’s Day. Of course these are not random names since Mother’s Day in Bolivia comes with it a historical root.

A Little Bit of History

Back in 1812, when Latin America found itself in the full process of liberation from the Spanish Crown, in Cochabamba, Bolivia, important events took place. History tells us that General Goyeneche, sent by the King of Spain to crush armed uprisings of the revolution, after defeating in two occasions the rebellion army in the valley of Cochabamba, on his way South, came across one last army.

But on this occasion, the army was a group of women with their kids and elders that were organized under the command of Josefa Manueal Gandarillas, a blind woman beyond her 60s. The slogan of the resistance was “For the Defense of Our Homes.” This army armed with sticks, saucepans, and other small weapons positioned themselves on the hill of San Sebastián, from where in those times one was able to observe the small city of Cochabamba. And it was there that the predictable happened. On May 27th, 1812, Goyeneche’s army massacred hundreds of women leaving behind a path of pain and grief, but also hope. A heroic seed was sown by these women. The “Heroinas de la Coronilla” (Heroines of the Hill) would be the legacy that today permits the celebration of Mother’s Day in Bolivia.

On this hill in 1926, after more than 100 years, a monument was mounted in honor of the Heroines of the Hill. A year later, a law was made to formally recognize May 27th as mother’s day in Bolivia. For many, especially those in Cochabamba, it is a very special day.

Today the hill of San Sebastián as well as the monument atop it are both abandoned. Various municipal administrations have given more importance to things other than historical restoration. Last Saturday a resident of the area spoke through popular radio CEPRA:

“No one remembers the Hill, the mayors, the prefects have focused on paving residential roads and embellishing other places such as the Cristo de la Concordia monument located on the San Pedro hill. That place even has a cable car and is very well maintained...while the San Sebastián hill, maybe because of discrimination for being in a humble zone, but where the Heroines are, nothing is done...a lot of indigenous people live in the area and already many important pieces (of the monument) have been stolen from this cultural heritage.”

Certainly the demands of many citizens is not without reason, historical memory is important and ever more so when it relates to women’s struggles, since generally such struggles are not mentioned in history.

Different views of mother’s day

With the desire to capture voices directly from the mothers, for a few minutes we ventured out to streets nearby our office in Cochabamba.

On the corner we came across Mrs. Rosalía Condori, whom for two years along with her kids, has been selling sweets from a small cart. Mrs. Rosalía live with her partner and have two kids.

What does Mother’s Day, May 27th, mean for you?

Well, May 27th is a day for all the mothers and there are some that celebrate it but not me...we live it just like any other day. We don’t do anything special, we work just like normal.

What would you like to see happen on that day?

I don’t know, everything is expensive, one can’t do anything in this life. Everything has gone up (prices), one can’t buy anything. If I didn’t work that day, I wouldn’t be able to bring home (food) for my kids, it’s the only income I have, I have to go out to sell even on holidays. We only rest on Sundays in order to take my kids for a walk, but all the other days, Monday through Saturday, I work from 8am to 8pm.

After talking with Mrs. Rosalía, we walked a few steps until we arrived at a salteña (a very delicious type of salty pie typical of Cochabamba) and confectioner’s shop. We came across María Teresa Vaca Reza, a student of Business Administration at the local university. Together with her mother, the two make and sell all kinds of baked goods.

What does Mother’s Day, May 27th, mean for you?

For me, it is a day where one pays homage to all the mothers for the sacrifice they make on behalf of their sons and daughters, for all the things they have given, etc.

And what do you do on this special day?

I try to make her feel the best that I can, not just this day but everyday of the year. And always show her that we love her very much and that she will always be in our lives and that we will never leave her. On that day we cook for her, we give her a gift, we try to take her out for a walk. But not just that day, but it is important to always show the mothers that we love them very much, every day.

And does your mom take a break from work that day?

Well, on mother’s day there is always a lot of orders for cakes and other things...on the contrary, there’s more work that day...

Afterwards, turning the corner to another street, we find ourselves in front of an institute that teaches English. Entering the institute, we stopped to talk with Mrs. Patricia Matamoros, who works as the cashier at the institute.

What does Mother’s Day mean for you?

For me it is like any other day because in reality everyday we should always be with the mothers and not just that day, give her all the affection, help her in everything....Make her feel good about everything, I do that with my mother and hope that my kids would do the same with me.

And what do you do on this day?

At all costs I request a leave from my work, obviously it is a bit hard because they don’t give it to you easily, so then I request it as a vacation much insisting that they give us a few hours in order to unite with the family and to all be together.

And are you coming to work tomorrow (May 27th)?

Here at the institute on mother’s day, we have to come to work for at least 3.5 hours, minimum...before we used to not have to come...

So, that’s Mother’s Day here in Bolivia, celebrated and remembered with much jubilation. Though just like any other holiday such as Christmas and New Years, this day is marked with an intense bombardment of commercial products such as gifts and services such as lunches or concerts. Which in turn delineates a big economic difference between the distinct realities of the mothers here in Bolivia. While some mothers, without a doubt deserving it, celebrate with her husband and all her kids in their country home out on the patio enjoying a delicious BBQ accompanied by red wine, others take advantage of the day to sell a little bit more on the streets of Cochabamba, and make a few extra cents in order to buy a few extra pieces of bread for their kids.

Written by Aldo Orellana and Leny Olivera and translated by Yi-Ching Hwang

Bolivian Racism Runs Amok in Sucre


Racism is a disease that usually hides in dark corners. In most cultures the shame of racism makes denial its common companion, the light of day is its usual enemy. But not in Sucre. Not this weekend. The rampant anti-indigenous racism known well by anyone who has lived in this culture was released full throttle and in public on Saturday in the streets of the nation's judicial capital. Indigenous men were rounded up and abused by racist thugs for the crime of their ethnicity and desire to witness a public appearance by their country's first indigenous President.

Below is a report by The Democracy Center's staff in Bolivia. The politicians who have fed this thugery for their own purposes will be quick to disassociate themselves from it now, but those denials too are disingenuous. This is the fruit of the same attitudes expressed in the dark corners of political offices and around private dinner tables for many years.

This is the unvarnished face of Bolivian racism, and it is neither an isolated incident nor an accident of the moment. It is a political tactic that stains a nation.

Jim Shultz

Racism Run Amok

On Saturday May 24th President Evo Morales was scheduled to visit the city of Sucre on the commemoration of the 199th anniversary of Latin America’s first steps of independence from Spain, General Sucre's "first shout of liberty (May 25, 1809)." The President planned on delivering ambulances for Chuquisaca’s rural communities and to announce development projects for the region, all actions typical of what Presidents do here on such dates. The events were to take place in the “Patriotic” Stadium, surrounded by and under the protection of indigenous people from different parts of the province.

However, the night before the event, organized groups antagonistic to Morales began to provoke disturbances around the stadium and stoned a house where a fundraising dinner was taking place for a MAS candidate for Governor, Walter Valda.

Then on Saturday, the day of the anniversary, the anti-Morales violence went into racist overdrive. Mobs armed with sticks and dynamites confronted the police and military. The government retreated the public's armed forces, cancelled all scheduled parades (of the military and police), and President Morales’ visit.

With the police and military presence gone, the indigenous peasants who had come to see the President were left face-to-face with armed civilians from urban Sucre, among them university students of the public University of San Francisco Xavier. More than two dozen indigenous peasants were beaten and captured, their few possessions were taken away and they were forced to walk for three miles and then kneel shirtless in front of Sucre’s House of Liberty. Sucre mobs humiliated their indigenous captives in a repeat of a ritual from the most brutal pages of colonialism. Under threat of violence, and half naked in a public square the captives were forced to apologize for the offense of coming to the city to receive President Morales. "Llamas, ask forgiveness," the mob ordered. Among the captives was the mayor of the rural town of Mojocoya.

Video footage of the abuse can be seen here.

Journalists in Sucre who bore witness to the racism unleashed also became targets. Yesterday, Red Erbol, a prominent association of radios and various institutions of communication denounced the attack of Red Erbol affiliated journalist María Elena Paco Durán of ACLO. Ms. Durán was attacked and insulted, prevented from carrying out her work as a reporter. According to Ms. Durán, at one point, the aggressors threatened to drench her with alcohol and set her on fire.

The Campesino Federation of Chuquisaca demanded the resignation of Jaime Barrón, Vice-Chancellor of the University, and of the President of Sucre's Interinstitutional Committee, a civic group that has been a leading force in anti-Morales protests. Threatening to block roads and close off valves of gas pipelines (if Barrón didn't resign), the Campesino Federation accused Barrón of promoting violence and racism.

Leaders of the Inter-institutional Committee, though denying any role in the violence inflicted upon the campesinos, have pleaded forgiveness for the degrading act committed in front of the House of Liberty.

Government Minister Alfredo Rada accused the Inter-institutional Committee for these acts and declared the day as a “Day of National Shame.”

Yesterday in Sucre was not a usual Sunday, a time of family, church-going, and tranquility. Instead, Sucre smelled of the aftermath of an outrageous and shameful act.

The Capital of Bolivian Racism

What was once known as the white city for its elegant architecture, Sucre is now something different. Since the beginning of the Constituent Assembly, when civic leaders held the process hostage to force their demands that it be named the nation's capital, Sucre has been showing the world a face few knew before, one where indigenous and campesinos are thrown out of the public university and spit on in public, one where at the moment there is fear of racial conflicts and violent outbreaks. Sucre is now the capital of Bolivian racism.

The Bolivian government, through Sacha Llorenti, Vice-minister of Coordination with Social Movements, asked the Catholic and Methodist Church to start a campaign against racism, intolerance, and discrimination in Sucre.

“It can’t be that almost 200 years into the founding of Bolivia we are still tolerating this kind of acts,” declared Llorenti. “Why are people racist? Why does one person think s/he is superior just because of his skin color, last name, or the language s/he speaks? This is nothing other than an inferiority complex.”

President Morales spoke yesterday from the department of Pando, urging university students to regain their ethics, morals, and respect for the indigenous, peasant, and impoverished population.

“What kind of university education do we is important to improve those ethics, those morals of a respectful youth and his/her solidarity, so that s/he will always be conscious of social problems.”

Sucre, where supposedly liberty was born, this past Saturday became a prison for the indigenous and peasantry. Reminding us of the oppression and racism during the colonial times, once again, the indigenous have been given ample reason to come to the judicial capital.

Written by: Aldo Orellana and Yi-Ching Hwang

Friday, May 23, 2008

Back on the Road

From winter approaching to almost summer. From fields of chewing cows and freshly cut corn, to airports, freeways, and long-awaited reunions with family, friends and Thai food. From south to north. I'm on my way to the road once again.

In the next four weeks I will pass my way through California, Washington, London, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Madrid. I'll miss the eucalyptus grove where the dogs and I take our morning tea just after sunrise. What am I doing? Well, depending on which conspiracy theory you believe, I am either paving the way for Hugo, Evo, Fidel and George Soros to seek world domination, or helping Ambassador Goldberg and the Santa Cruz Civic Committee organize an anti-Evo insurrection. The truth is not nearly so interesting as either, so I'll leak it out bit by bit along the way, for those who care (and few do).

I read the latest political news as I headed to the airport. I love Manfred Reyes Villa. In a world so full of politicians who go to great pains to fake consistency, Governor Bon-Bom doesn't even make the effort.

Two weeks ago when Evo-foes pushed the national recall vote for President, Vice-President and the Governors out of the Congress, and Evo approved it, Manfred not only embraced it but also proclaimed that it had been his original idea and that it should have been adopted a year ago. "How many lives and confrontations would have been avoided if in that moment we had approved the law?" he told CNN.

Well, now there is a new poll out that the newspapers have declared to spell worrisome news for Manfred (more on that in a bit) and Reyes Villa is trashing the idea of a recall vote. Today's Los Tiempos quotes the Cochabamba Governor's spokesman saying that the vote is a waste of taxpayer dollars and that instead Bolivia should just have a new national vote to refill all the offices. What a difference two weeks makes? Was it the polling? Is Reyes Villa just trying to keep us confused? Or is this another side effect, like the flu, of "el cambio de clima."

Like I said, you have to like a guy who thinks that consistency isn't even worth faking.

Reyes Villa is also reportedly threatening to sit out the vote if the President of the National Electoral Court doesn't resign (Manfred says he's an Evo partisan). Though it remains unclear how one sits out an election approved legally and with support from both MAS and the opposition.

Okay, to that poll. Los Tiempos declared, based on the survey of 800 people in Bolivia's four largest cities (La Paz, El Alto, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba) that Morales and Santa Cruz governor Costas are in good shape, that Reyes Villa is in trouble and that "Pepe Lucho" in La Paz is toast. But, having been a student of polling, I think the results (if they are accurate, and Bolivian polling rarely is) say something slightly different.

Remember now, that the vote here is not based on winning a simple majority but to have No votes against you greater than what each of these folks were elected with in 2005. Read that complicated explanation here.

Evo, says the poll, currently enjoys a 48% vote in his favor, a 38% vote against him, and 14% undecided or unwilling to say. To be ousted in August, 54% of those voting would have to give him a thumbs down. So, even if every single one of the undeclared goes against Evo, he would still come out on top.

Manfred, says the survey has 49% in his favor, 37% against and 15% undeclared. To be removed from office that 37% would need to leap to 48%. That means that almost all the undecideds would have to vote to nuke their Governor, which seems unlikely. But polls like these always underreport the rural vote and in Cochabamba that vote, a MAS stronghold, is Manfred's nightmare. That may be why suddenly the Manfred camp doesn't think the whole voting idea looks so good.

And yes, "Pepe Lucho" is toast. Only 38% of the voters there need to vote to remove him in order to do so, and the poll says that 50% have already decided to do so.

Whoa, okay I am headed to a place where elections are more simple. You know, where Super delegates decide things after six months of popular voting, where voting in Michigan and Florida may or may not matter, and where you can still be elected President while losing the popular vote. So clean compared to Bolivia.

Don't fret, the rest of The Democracy Center team will be on hand to keep Blog readers up to date as things change in Bolivia. I'm still betting that Santa Cruz will be annexed by Croatia or Belgium, but this is, of course, conjecture.

As for me, don't eat all the corn before I get home, smell the eucalyptus every chance you get, and stop by Casablanca for a cappuccino from time to time. Elio is going to lose a lot of business in my absence.

And oh yes, I'll look for something interesting to write while on the road.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Episodes in Bad Journalism Part II

In my last post I chided my cohorts on the left about the story making the rounds that the U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia is the real power behind the Santa Cruz autonomy movement, with Phillip Goldberg having been sent here specifically for that task after pulling off the same fete in Kosovo. I suggested that, if the story is true, it might be handy if those writing it published the evidence – and offered to do so right here if they sent it along.

Well today we turn to the right for Episodes in Bad Journalism Part II. This is the magnificent tale of a new book about Bolivian politics entitled: Ciudadno X (Citizen X) by transplanted Uruguayan Emilio Martinez. The book, excerpted on the Web, begins with this daring journalistic declaration:

In these recent turbulent times I had the opportunity to speak with politicians, intellectuals, industrialists and social leaders, on different aspects of the situation in the country. The most attractive part of those conversations was that they produced abundant and valuable ‘off the record’ information that could only be made public if their sources could remain in anonymity.

You know what else is really "attractive" about basing an entire book on “off-the-record” material? You can make up anything you want. Fiction after all, is more fun and a lot less work. To be sure, letting some sources stay anonymous is something many writers do, me included, but sparingly. When you make it your point of pride, you also invite a little scrutiny. And as it turns out, Mr. Martinez work doesn't hold up so well.

So it is the case that when I read in a newspaper this morning that I earned a mention in the book, I thought I would check out what Mr. Martinez had to say. As it turns out, I had a whole new job I never even knew about!

“Shultz,’ writes Martinez, “was also an advisor to MAS in the Constituent Assembly.”

Now, I knew I was really busy this last year, getting a book finished, doing some advocacy training for UNICEF in the Balkans, and reading copious amounts of Curious George to my daughter’s kindergarten class on Wednesday mornings. But I just can’t remember ever advising MAS on the Constituent Assembly. Is this early Alzheimer’s? Actually, truth be told, I haven’t been to Sucre since 1991 and I’ve never met any of the Assembly members, for MAS or any other party. Perhaps I did my advising telepathically. Wow, if that was the case then Mr. Martinez must have some really amazing sources, no?

As a writer, I don’t take kindly to writers who make things up and peddle it as fact, be it for the service of the left, the right, or good dental hygiene. Ask any of the young writers who suffered through being edited by me as we wrote Dignity and Defiance. “We write defensively,” I kept hammering away around the round table in our office. “We assume that our critics will pick away at everything we write, so everything we write has to be fact-based and impervious to those attacks.”

If any of them had pulled a stunt like Mr. Martinez’s, he or she would have been an ex-member of The Democracy Center team.

Ahh, but in fairness, Mr. Martinez’ real point is not that I provided telepathic advice to MAS delegates to the Constituent Assembly. His point is that I am one of a handful of secret emissaries for the billionaire George Soros, situated with the aim of doing Soros’ bidding with the Morales government. The basis for this is that in June 2006 The Democracy Center received, along with several thousand other organizations worldwide, a grant from the Open Society Institute, a Soros-backed foundation. Only a real journalistic sleuth could have found this out, since we post all our donors on our Web site.

How I Became a Secret Agent for George Soros

So, having been outed in this way I am ready to come clean and explain exactly how George Soros used me to manipulate the Bolivia government. It went basically like this.

It was January 2006, my best friend Evo Morales had just been sworn in as President and revolution was in the air. Walking down the Prado in Cochabamba I was trying desperately not to spill saltena juice on my one clean shirt for the week. I failed. Suddenly my Nokia rang. I said, “Buenos Dias,” and a deep voice in deeply accented Hungarian came through the line:

Mr. Jim Shultz?


Is this a secure line?

Well, I think the saltena lady is listening, but she probably doesn’t speak English.

But you can never tell, can you? Speak low.

Uhh, okay.

I have a proposition for you. I am prepared to provide you with one million dollars if you will agree to help me influence the Morales government to do my economic and political bidding.

Who is this? Aaron, geeze, cut this out, I’ve got saltena spilling all over me.

This is not anyone named Aaron. This is George Soros.

The rich guy? Really? How did you get my cell number?

Rich guys can do a lot of things Mr. Shultz.

Suddenly my antiquated Nokia was buzzing with a second call. I told George Soros that I would have to put him on hold.


Jaime, hermano, es Evo, que pasa?

I told him in Spanish that I was spilling saltena juice all over myself and then told him George Soros was on the other line.

“Well, if he is willing to give you a million dollars, I’d do it,” Evo told me in perfectly accented English. Evo hides his English so his indigenous backers won’t become wise to his secret life as a George Soros agent.

And that is exactly how it happened. This is all off-the-record okay? You didn’t here it from me.

Okay, How I Really Became a Pawn of George Soros

I wish it had gone that way. It is a way better story and The Democracy Center wouldn't be about to run out of money. But, actually, it went more like this.

The Democracy Center was trying to write a book. Now I am sure that John Grisham makes a lot of money from his books, but not the books we write. I think our fat royalty check this year from Rutgers University Press for The Democracy Owners’ Manual was $356. If a book we write sells retail for $20, The Center generally gets $1. Multiply that times sales of 5,000 books, not 500,000, and you get the picture.

And so, as executive director of a nonprofit organization I do what nonprofit directors do, I troll the foundation world and grovel for grant support. This is a task roughly as enjoyable as a root canal, and it takes longer. Ninety percent of the time, if we actually get far enough to talk to someone who works at a foundation, we hear:

Bolivia really isn’t an interest of ours.

We’re getting out of supporting research.

All our funds are allocated until the middle of next year.

We don’t see an angle related to global climate change.

But always followed by:

We wish you well in your work.

The nice ones tell you this before you invest a week of work writing a 25-page funding proposal. The others are going to hell, I am sure of it.

The Open Society Institute (OSI) was one of the foundations where we had long-tried to get into the door. Its politics were left-of-center (like ours), they funded other groups we worked with, and I had once written a citizens guide on gas and oil issues that OSI published. But my entreaties to OSI’s Latin America program were always rebuffed with some variation on the rejections described above.

But it January 2006, while I was on a visit to Washington on other matters (my covert work for the CIA) the head of OSI’s projects south of the border agreed to meet me for bagels. It seemed that George Soros himself had called my bagel partner after having been wowed by watching Evo’s inaugural on CNN. The Latin America Program went searching for grants to make in Bolivia and The Democracy Center, by fluke, ended up in the right place at the right time.

I will leave it to conspiracy theorists to determine whether Soros was aiming to cozy up to Evo to protect his mining interests in Bolivia, or if he was just caught up in the Evo-mania of the time along with many others. In either case, the mood swing at the top of the Soros Empire translated into a one year grant to The Democracy Center, which we used to pay researchers, writers, painters, photographers and a few airlines and bus companies toward the end of researching, writing and publishing our new book: Dignity and Defiance, Stories from Bolivia’s Challenge to Globalization.

If the Soros people thought that financing us was a way to get to Evo, they certainly didn’t bet that one too well.

So, the natural follow-up question is: Did George Soros tell us what to write? It is not an unreasonable question to ask.

First, lets be clear that the chances that George Soros has ever actually heard of The Democracy Center or Jim Shultz are about as likely as George Bush putting on a ballet tutu at the Democratic National Convention this summer and asking Hillary Clinton to marry him. It’s a nice image, but unlikely. The Soros Empire is huge, giving out thousands of grants each year in every region of the world. Grants to organizations like The Democracy Center don’t exactly rise up too far on the radar screen of a man who spends his time with heads of state, not big-footed gringos living in Cochabamba.

But did Soros underlings try to tell The Democracy Center what to write? Well, sort of, once. But it didn’t work.

We had also tried courting another wing of the Soros Empire for funding, an outfit called Revenue Watch. We pitched staff there the idea of funding our research on the oil and gas issue, a key chapter in our new book and a pivotal issue in Bolivia. The staff liked the idea a lot, but came back with a caveat. Any writing we were going to publish with support from Revenue Watch would have to be run by them first. It took us all of 30 seconds to tell them no. The Democracy Center’s credibility relies on our independence, and no one, especially funders, is ever given review and approval power over what we write or say. We turned down the money, which we really could have used, by the way.

The Latin American Program, on the other hand, never asked to see any of our writings in advance, and never did. In fact, we have yet to send them the English manuscript of the book, but I promise, if they are reading this, we will.


We had a lot to show for our work backed by the OSI grant. Our book manuscript was done and accepted by a prestigious academic publisher, the University of California Press. We had produced a set of well-received and well-done briefing papers. The Blog from Bolivia was booming with nearly 3,000 readers a day. The Center had helped support a number of important journalists with their coverage of Bolivia. For an amount that many U.S. groups drop on a single salary in Washington or New York, we’d supported a whole organization.

But when we asked for another year of support, OSI turned us down.

Bolivia really isn’t an interest of ours.

We’re getting out of supporting research.

All our funds are allocated until the middle of next year.

Or in other words, George Soros had lost interest in Bolivia and gone on to other things. That’s how it with some funders. Something captures their interest for a nanosecond, and then it is on to the next new thing. We spent our last OSI funds a year ago and haven’t seen a dime from them since.

So, if all that spells c-o-n-s-p-i-r-a-c-y to you, well gosh, you’ll just have to go on and believe it.

As for Mr. Martinez and his active imagination, I wish he would at least have attacked our book, you know the one we actually researched. We could use the attention.

Oh yeah, I am going to sends this to the staff at the Open Society Institute and tell them that if we are going to get attacked as Soros pawns, they at least ought to give us a new grant. Only seems fair, no?

Friday, May 16, 2008

That Kosovo, Goldberg, Bolivia Thing

It seems that about once a week or so I get another article launched into my in-box written based on the same theme:

The U.S. government has set out on a deliberate mission to carve Bolivia into separate pieces (a.k.a. "the Balkanization of Bolivia") and to lead that task the Bush administration sent in a man tailor-made for the job, the former Chief of U.S. Mission in Kosovo, U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia Phillip Goldberg.

The logic used to back the claim is usually the same. The U.S. is looking for ways to undercut its leftist foe, Evo Morales, and promoting Santa Cruz autonomy is the plan. The U.S. is the reason that socialist Yugoslavia fragmented into pieces. It is the U.S. that is secretly behind the Bolivian autonomy movement. The C.I.A. is running the show. The real U.S. agenda is to seize control of the oil and gas resources located in Bolivia's rebellious eastern provinces.

That's usually how it goes, with a few moderations and variations depending on the writer.

Okay, let's be clear about a few things up front.

Does the U.S. government have a record of overtly and covertly intervening in Latin American politics? Well, take your pick of examples:

Chile in 1973: Courtesy of the Nixon administration, a nation that had been a democracy for many decades was plunged into the horror of dictatorship, leaving thousands of people tortured, dead and disappeared for the crime of their political beliefs.

Nicaragua in the 1980s: Even after the U.S. Congress had formally cutoff funding, the Reagan administration fueled the bloody war between the Contras and the Sandanistas, financed in part from secret arms sales to Iran.

El Salvador in the 1980s: For a decade the U.S. sent billions of dollars to support a regime so extreme in its right wing ideology that death squads associated with it were sent to kill the Catholic Archbishop, for the crime of speaking for peace.

Has the U.S. intervened in Bolivian politics?

Well, you could cite decades of conservative economic reforms pressed on Bolivia by Washington's economic missionaries, the World Bank and IMF. You could cite the fact that, until President Morales suspended the practice, the U.S. provided direct salary bonuses to 'War on Drugs' prosecutors here who met their end of the deal by putting thousands of innocents in jail. You could recall when one of Ambassador Goldberg's predecessors, Manuel Rocha, warned Bolivians publicly in 2002 not to vote for Morales.

So, it is with good reason that people are on the lookout for similar U.S. conspiracies in the current battlefields of Bolivian politics. The problem is that this particular conspiracy theory seems to lack real evidence to back it up. And promoting conspiracy theories based on weak or non-existent evidence doesn't make the U.S. more accountable for its interventions in Latin America. It discredits the charges of political intervention that are based on evidence.

So, let's take a closer look at: Goldberg + Bolivia =Yugoslavia Act II.

Let's begin by remembering a little Balkan history. I have been to the region four times in four years, to Croatia, Kosovo and Montenegro. I return again in June. My work there is with UNICEF and the United Nations Development Program, helping their staffs learn the finer arts of public advocacy on children's and environmental issues.

Everywhere I have been in the region, people do speak fondly of their lives during the Yugoslavia era. There was peace and there was a good deal of freedom. Citizens there were unique among people in the eastern block in their ability to travel abroad. But there is also wide recognition that deep ethnic divisions, going back well before the U.S. was even a nation, were also held in check by an authoritarian regime. When that regime ended with the death of Josip Tito in 1980 the ethnic conflicts erupted in a variety of separatist movements that split the nation apart.

Now it is certainly true that the U.S., which backed Kosovo independence, is mighty happy to have a massive new military base smack in the middle of a Muslim majority nation that likes the U.S. But saying that the U.S. engineered the disillusion of the Balkans is like blaming an onlooker for an automobile crash. The U.S. may have been present and may have had opinions, but it was not the force behind the wheel. Ethnic division took care of that.

And, in the 'Santa Cruz is Kosovo' rap, Slobodan Milosevic gets painted as the Morales of the Balkans, a President just trying to keep a fractured nation together in the face of foreign intervention. If Evo backers think that comparing him to Milosevic is some kind of favor, they might want to think again. Milosevic, by almost any standard you can conjure, was a tyrant and a human rights abuser of the first order. Evo's backers who tout the conspiracy and make the comparison should give Morales a little more credit. Evo has not, for example, sent Aymara and Quechua paramilitaries on an ethnic cleansing expedition into Santa Cruz to force the non-indigenous population across the border into Brazil.

Even if people are deeply critical of U.S. policy, especially under President Bush, should we then act as if any adversary of the U.S. is an honorable ally? Are people really going to lift Milosovic or Ahmadinejad onto a pedestal solely because they are critics of Washington? Shall we ask Iranian feminists what they think of that?

Then there is the Goldberg question.

Readers of this Blog know that I am not a fan of the current U.S. Ambassador. I confess, my opinion was largely shaped by watching him up close last year in a public forum for U.S. citizens in Cochabamba. His condescension toward Bolivians peppered his entire presentation. At one point he even made a joke out a woman being lynched in El Alto.

His diplomatic skills are also substandard. His own staff complained to me off-the-record of how he let the 'Ammo at the Airport' scandal fester into a national uproar, because he didn't see why a U.S. Army Colonel should apologize for bringing in 500 rounds via a relative's suitcase.

But is he the U.S.' secret weapon to divide Bolivia in half?

Goldberg certainly did serve in Kosovo, just as he did in South Africa. But the real item on his diplomatic resume that more likely led to his Bolivian appointment was not one of those. It was his stint in Colombia. For two decades the issue that U.S. governments have cared about in Bolivia has not been gas, or oil, or autonomy, or high altitude soccer. It's been coca. Conspiracy theorists don't need to look for hidden agendas in the U.S. plans for Bolivia. They can look at the issue that stands out right in public – the War on Drugs. Is it really a surprise that, in looking for an anti-coca warrior for Bolivia, the Bush administration looked for someone with experience at ground zero of that war, Colombia?

And finally there is the question; does the autonomy movement really need Uncle Sam as a patron to exist?

To be sure, there are plenty of legitimate governance issues wrapped up in the autonomy debate. Does anyone outside of La Paz really like the idea that his or her tax monies flow first to Plaza Murillo and then get sent back after a big bureaucratic bite is taken out? My Tiquipaya neighbors (a MAS stronghold) were complaining abut the same thing last Sunday at a neighborhood meeting held in the middle of a soccer field surrounded by cows.

But the furnace underneath the demands for autonomy in eastern Bolivia isn't imported from Washington. It is fully homegrown. When the big landowners in Santa Cruz see Evo they see 'land reform' and they see their land as the target. Autonomy is the vast block wall they are constructing to keep the Morales government out of their business. They didn't get the idea from Kosovo, or Phillip Goldberg, or the C.I.A. and they haven't needed help to promote it.

I don't believe that either bashing or cheerleading the U.S. has any real value as a sport. The U.S. is the most politically and militarily powerful nation on the planet (economically is now a question). Many of its actions have done and continue to do great harm in the word. The U.S. has done and is doing good things in the world as well.

That means it is crucial that we be able to tell the difference and put the public spotlight on what the U.S. does in the world that undermines democracy, fosters needless war, and diminishes social justice. If there is evidence more solid than conjecture that the U.S. is behind the autonomy movement in Santa Cruz, that it has Kosovo on its mind, and that Goldberg is the man on that mission – put it forward. We'll publish it here. We'll link to it here. We'll give it all the attention it deserves.

But in the absence of that, let's focus the attention of those watching on what the U.S. is doing in Bolivia. And there is plenty there to be told, evidence included.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Let's Play Bolivian Political Chess

Game metaphors abound this week as political junkies and journalists try to sort out the blockbuster announcement of recall elections in August for the eleven most powerful elected officials in Bolivia.

In my Friday post I called it poker, and it is, all chips pushed out on the table. There has been some effort to find a good soccer metaphor in all of this, because it is Bolivia after all. But the game that really fits at this point is chess. A high stakes game of chess in which, if the political actors involved haven’t looked a good four to five moves ahead, they aren’t very smart.

Not that I’m very smart, but I do like politics, so lets have a guess at some scenarios.

First, let’s talk about whose political futures are really in play. Up front I will confess that I have no where near the knowledge needed to make educated guesses about what happens to the Governors in Tarija, the Beni, Potosi, Oruro, Chuquisaca, or the Pando. I’ll let others guess at that. And Santa Cruz seems like a slam dunk win for Ruben Costas.

So, let’s talk about three very ambitious politicians in Bolivia who do have their heads in the political guillotine in August – Evo Morales, Manfred Ryes Villa, and José Luis Paredes.

Starting with Evo, remember, to oust Morales from office his adversaries have to rack up two things: a percentage vote against him of 54% of those who vote and a total vote of at least 1.544.375. One of those milestones alone won’t do it. My guess is that the battleground over Evo takes place in three departments.

In La Paz, Evo will try turn the heavy tide of anti-Santa Cruz sentiment into a vote in his favor even higher than the 67% of the vote he got in 2005. Hmmm, maybe. In Santa Cruz civic leaders will aim to pile on new votes against Evo that can help cancel out his support elsewhere. But he only has to win 33% in his favor there to hold his position steady from 2005. So it likely comes down to Cochabamba, where Morales’ 65% win in 2005 is going to be hard to match without him winning back a large number of the urban middle class voters he has lost since his election.

But do keep in mind, anytime you see a public opinion poll in Bolivia tracking Evo’s popularity, you can reasonably assume it is utterly inaccurate. These polls are almost always urban-centered and miss Evo’s formidable support in the countryside.

Second, we come to Manfred, who has to keep the vote against him under 48% and under 246,417 votes. I’ll take pretty much any bet that Manfred wins, mainly because he will do anything he has to do be sure he does. The former Cochabamba Mayor’s political career is marked by two highlights. When he runs in Cochabamba he is a powerhouse and when he sticks his nose into national politics he is inept (joining with Goni after Febrero Negro was like buying tickets on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg). In a new Cochabamba fight, he’ll win.

Do take note, however, that MAS’ second major objective, the first being Evo’s continuation as President, will be to dispense with Manfred. Evo and Manfred hate each other, enough to unleash January 11, 2007, and they share a political backyard. That is a recipe for political warfare.

[Note to reporters: When you come to freezing Bolivia in July to cover the race, come to Cochabamba. Both the campaign and the weather will be hotter.]

And finally Paredes, the Governor of La Paz (a.k.a. ‘Pepe Lucho’). It will take only 38% of the voters to oust him, against the backdrop of a Morales vote there in 2005 of 67%. Those aren’t happy odds for any politician to face. If Paredes survives the vote (and he could) then he should be officially recognized as both the most capable and the luckiest campaigner in the nation.

So that is how it looks headed toward the August vote. But good chess players should have looked well beyond August. Imagine this scenario for example:

Evo loses, say with 45% supporting him, 55% against. Does he run in the replacement election 90 days later? You bet he does. Does the opposition split into its usual encampments of ambition? Yup. Among those who would likely run – Ryes Villa, Jorge Quiroga, Samuel Doria Medina, former Army head Alvin Anaya, and at least a surprise or two (Carlos Mesa?) all from Evo’s right. Does Evo finish first, but with less than 51%? Pretty likely. Who decides the election? The Bolivian Congress, which will have the same political complexion as today – MAS control of the lower house and MAS in need of just one additional vote in the Senate. Who has that vote? Samuel Doria Medina and the UN party.

A Morales/Medina governing coalition?

Okay, that completes my personal capacity for political speculation. Now let’s get to the business of seeing what Bolivians have to ay about all this, those that aren’t politicians and political junkies. That’s where the Blog is headed next.

But meanwhile, a little something extra:

Advice to Evo: Five Things You Can do to Enhance Your Chances of Winning

1. "Dear Hugo, As a favor, from now until August, if you do happen to mention Bolivia, just comment on how good the pique is in Cochabamba and leave it at that. Yours, Evo."

2. Get former U.S. Ambassador Manuel Rocha to come back and denounce you, as he did in the run up to the 2002 vote. For extra points, get Ambassador Goldberg to stand next to him with some boxes of ammo marked USAID.

3. Get married, to one of Las Magnificas. Have the wedding in Santa Cruz. Invite everyone in the department to attend. Don't run out of beer until day three.

4. Run full-page ads in all the Sunday dailies denouncing you, but make them look like they were paid for by Goni. Be sure to run Goni's picture with them, the one where Manfred is at his side.

5. Get your picture taken as often as possible with small children and puppies.

Friday, May 09, 2008

And Next for Bolivia, Elections Once More!

The price of bread is rising faster than yeast – sixty cents for a morning maraqueta now in Cochabamba. The national government is talking about a multi-million stock buyout of the national telecommunications company (Entel). And the nation is divided after a lopsided vote Sunday in Santa Cruz on the issue of autonomy.

But now Bolivia's political leaders have a new plan – elections once more. If the political promises made in La Paz yesterday are kept, sometime around August Bolivians will go back to the polls nationwide to decide whether to boot the President, Vice-President and nine regional Governors from office.

Welcome to high stakes political poker, Bolivian style.

Putting all the Chips on a Slanted Table

The odd path toward a national recall vote of the country's top eleven elected officials began in the immediate aftermath of the January 2007 political violence that left three men dead in Cochabamba. President Morales, in a political duel with Cochabamba Governor Manfred Reyes Villa, publicly endorsed a national recall vote on he and his Vice President along with the governors.

But when the details of his proposal were announced, they came with a twist. Rather than each of the officials having their political fate sealed by a straight up majority vote, Morales declared that the recall should be based on the vote that each official won office with in December 2005.

Translated into numbers, that means that to be removed from office, the vote against each would have to surpass both the percentage of the vote won in 2005 and the raw vote total (I'll get to the details of what that means in just a bit). Translated into politics, that means that Morales, who won election with almost 54% of the vote, will be much tougher to toss from office than his Governor rivals, none of whom passed 50% in 2005. Not a bad advantage, if you are Evo and Alvaro.

That plan, however, languished in the Bolivian Congress until yesterday, when it shot out of the Senate on a move spearheaded by the opposition. Then Evo announced to much surprise that he would approve the recall vote legislation and was ready for an election rumble with his adversaries. "I am very content that the law that was sleeping in the Senate has been approved," said Morales. "This completes one of my dreams and the request of the people."

Once approval of the law becomes official, national election authorities will have 90 days to organize the vote.

Reaction from Around the Political Poker Table

The other main players at the recall table, the Governors, were quick to signal their support for the vote, but not without noting their disadvantage. Cochabamba's Governor, Reyes Villa, was in the U.S. and told CNN that he supported the vote even though the rules weren't equal for all the officials. Cochabamba's once-Mayor was elected Governor in 2005 with just more than 47% of the vote. That means that he could win a slim majority in the recall and still be ousted from office.

He compared the vote to making the politicians involved play soccer with two different goals, but then took credit for being the first to propose such a vote a year and a half ago. "How many lives and confrontations would have been avoided if in that moment we had approved the law?" he told CNN's Spanish language affiliate.

The Governor of La Paz, José Luis Paredes, who faces an even steeper uphill climb against the recall vote, also said he would accept the plan but was quick to cite his political disadvantage. Paredes, a former El Alto mayor more popularly known as Pepe Lucho, was elected in 2005 with just 38% of the vote. His constituency also overlaps with Morales' and MAS' strongest base of support in the nation. Evo carried 67% of the vote in the department in 2005.

"It creates a distinction that is unfair," the La Paz governor told reporters. "With just 39% of the vote they can take away my office. I would need to win 64% of the vote to remain Governor. To remove Evo Morales it will take 55% of the vote which is much harder." Paredes added however that he thought the national vote was still "a good way to leave the standoff in which we find ourselves."

Scenarios and Strategies

So, what does all this mean?

First, it launches Bolivia back into election season. That usually means that street conflicts come to and end for a while as the political players go on their best behavior. It is also a great boon for t-shirt printers. Maybe this time around the parties will hand out free bread.

Second, it means that all the players are gambling, big time.

Why is Evo putting his hard-won historic Presidency on the table? Well, there is the 'let's let the people decide," argument echoed by almost all of the threatened politicians. But no one plays this kind of poker without some confidence in his or her hand. My bet is that Evo and his allies see the situation like this. The opposition has battled his government to a near standstill. The autonomy vote in Santa Cruz has galvanized his political base in way it hasn’t been since his election win – witness the massive march in Cochabamba last Sunday. And he has cornered his opponents into playing at a table tipped distinctly to his mathematic advantage.

On top of this, if Evo survives and any of his Governor adversaries, like Reyes Villa, do not, he not only loses some of the political thorns in his side but also gets to appoint, as President, their successors. Evo and friends may see in this vote a 'two-fer', a shot at both a second mandate and a chance to remove some adversaries from the picture. It also sets the autonomy issue aside nicely as well, for now.

On the other side, Evo's adversaries in the Governorships may feel like they know how to handle elections on their home turf and that Evo will have a much harder time at getting 54% than he thinks. His victory in December 2005 relied not only on his natural base among the indigenous, rural voters, and the most impoverished. His historic majority also owed itself to a substantial vote from the country's urban middle class in places like Cochabamba – MAS polled 65% of the vote in the department – and a lot of those votes he is not likely to win again. In addition, while in 2005 the opposition to Morales was divided among several parties on the right competing for the Presidency, this time the 'No Evo' vote will be unified.

And here is yet another scenario to contemplate. Even if he loses the recall vote, Evo will remain President for at least 90 days until follow-up elections are organized to select a new one. This, in theory, means he can still appoint replacements for any of the Governors that lose. In addition, nothing in the recall law or the Constitution, to my knowledge, prohibits Evo from running in the election to fill the Presidency if he loses that recall vote. This means potentially that Evo could run again in the replacement vote and, in an election likely to be filled by many Presidential wannabes, he could easily come in first.

There is certainly a slim chance that someone here is bluffing and some last minute political deal will scuttle the plan. But tonight it doesn't look that way.

All this is great news for Bloggers and journalists and fans of political intrigue, and those t-shirt printers. What remains to be seen is whether it will end up being good news for Bolivians, who this week seem markedly more concerned about the price of bread than politics.

Stay tuned.

Who Got Elected by How Much in 2005

Here are the official numbers, courtesy of Radio Erbol. To recall any of these officials the vote against them would have to surpass both the total vote each won and the percentage of the vote each won in 2005.

Evo Morales and Alvaro Garcia Linera (raw vote / %)

1.544.374 / 53,740%

The Governors (raw vote / %)

La Paz: 361.055 / 37.988%
Chuquisaca: 66.999 / 42.306%
Pando: 9.958 / 48.032%
Beni: 46.842 / 44.637%
Santa Cruz: 299.730 / 47.877%
Oruro: 63.630 / 40.954%
Potosí: 79.710 / 40.690%
Tarija 64.098 45.646%
Cochabamba 246.417 47.641%

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Democracy Now Interview, and a Comment on Comments

For those interested, I did an interview on Democracy Now yesterday regarding the vote in Santa Cruz on Sunday and what it means more broadly for Bolivia. You can find that interview (both transcribed and broadcast) here. I find the Pacifica news program hosted by Amy Goodman to be a solid source of news and analysis, one that goes much deeper than other media. For readers who aren't acquainted with Democracy Now, I encourage you to take a regular look at it.

A Comment on Comments

Every now and then I find it useful to explain our position towards the 'comments' section of the Blog from Bolivia. Since we have many new readers I think it is worth repeating a few points I have made in the past.

First, we offer the comments section of the Blog as an uncensored space where people of all persuasions are free to cast whatever opinions they like. We believe in free speech and that includes making room for opinions contrary to our own and even to people who think their mission in life is to insult others. All comments are posted automatically; we don't even see them (hence the arrival of some spam comments in the mix). From time to time people have asked us to moderate comments and filter out those that, in their view, are inappropriate. Sorry, we have never done that and we never will. Free speech is free speech, even if we object to what's being said.

Second, we do not respond to comments, despite many eager requests that we jump into debates in the comments section. Personally, I don't think that back and forth rantings by people who choose to remain anonymous is really a space of debate. The Democracy Center prefers to deal in substantiated and researched facts, ones that we are willing to put our names on in public. We have between 2,500 and 3,000 readers a day on the Blog and the comments section is basically dominated by about five or six of them. They are free to enjoy their party, but we decline the invitation to join it, as do about 99% of our readers. Perhaps if the space weren't so filled with insults in place of facts, others might join in.

We thank all those who read the Blog and have made it a success since we began it just over three years ago. I know many of you enjoy the comments section, either as a place of debate or entertainment. It will continue as it is, an uncensored space where people can speak or fume as they like. And on occasion, thanks to the efforts of a few, it is also a space where one can find valuable analysis, be it left, right, or center.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Behind Today’s Autonomy Vote, and Reports from the Street


Preliminary returns report that 86% of those who participated in the controversial vote yesterday supported autonomy for the Santa Cruz region. Approximately 40% of Santa Cruz voters chose not to participate at all.

In adition, a 69-year-old man has been reported dead by the Bolivian press, asphyxiated from tear gas used by police on a crowd in Santa Cruz today. Several others are injured. This was the human cost of today’s Santa Cruz autonomy vote.

This extended post primarily features reports from the street, from four major Bolivian cities with a major stake in today’s Santa Cruz vote – Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, La Paz and Potosi. You’ll find those below. However, because we will have many readers today who are not so familiar with Bolivian politics, we precede those reports with some analysis. For those readers who just came for the reports from the street, feel free to skip on down.

Jim Shultz

Behind Today’s Autonomy Vote

Today there was a vote here in Bolivia. I call it a “vote” rather than an election because, while thousands of people in Santa Cruz today did go to the polls, the legitimacy of that vote is in real dispute. National election authorities have called it illegal. It is as if Arnold Schwarzenegger convened a vote, without national authorization, to exempt California from the U.S. Constitution – say, in the name of higher fuel efficiency standards. How should we interpret its validity or its democratic-ness? So it is with Santa Cruz.

However, even before Santa Cruz officials deliver their numbers, the result that really matters is clear. Bolivia today is a nation deeply divided.

The core of that division is not about the more concrete topics fueling the Santa Cruz autonomy vote – matters such as land reform, gas revenue distribution, or the export of cooking oil. The division here is over a historic process of political and economic change that many people believe in deeply and that others despise with full force. It is also a process of change represented, but by no means begun or owned, by Evo Morales.

Millions of Bolivians identify deeply with the process of change underway in their country. They believe it is aimed directly at lifting up their difficult lives and they have fought for that change for decades, against dictators and ‘democrats’ alike. Today by the tens of thousands – in Cochabamba, La Paz, El Alto, Potosi and elsewhere – they returned to the streets to remind those watching, and themselves, that they are still willing to fight for a ‘revolution’. Even if that revolution has become muddled for two years in the rocky complexities of governing.

On the other side are many other Bolivians dead set against those changes. Some are driven out of direct economic self-interest and they see Morales as an Aymara Robin Hood and themselves as the vulnerable wealthy of Nottingham. Some oppose Morales out of ideology, a defense of smart business against weak-headed socialism. Others come to their opposition out of politics. Evo and his allies stand in the way recovering power they held for a very long time and lost in a windstorm in 2005. And there are absolutely others who oppose Bolivia’s first indigenous president out of thinly-veiled racism against “un indio de mierda.”

And then there is the up-for-grabs middle.

Today’s twin events – the vote in Santa Cruz and the anti-autonomy mass rallies elsewhere – make three things clear:

First, in Santa Cruz, the wealthy elite that pressed the autonomy drive has demonstrated their ability to capture much of that middle and solidify a powerful sense of ‘regional interest’ that identifies Evo as its enemy. Others can debate whether Santa Cruz’s vehemence was manipulated or natural. There is plenty of evidence both ways. It is sufficient to say, however, that deep opposition to MAS in the department is a reality. This not only solidifies Santa Cruz as a huge anti-Morales block but it will intensify the desire of other MAS opponents in other regions to try to repeat the autonomy formula. Regional interest will now become the key weapon in stopping Morales and what he represents.

Second, the autonomy vote has unified progressive social movements in a way that they have not been since Evo’s election. After Morales took office those movements went through a quiet separation. Some, such as the cocaleros and the powerful national irrigators union (regantes) went into the government. Others, such as the factory workers union here in Cochabamba, stayed on the outside and leveled criticism in private but rarely took on Morales in public. Santa Cruz’ challenge has put them all back together in the streets. Today’s Cochabamba march was the city’s largest in years (see photo above and report below).

And the third thing that is clear is that what happens next is not clear. Bolivian politics has become a chessboard marked by wild moves yet no real change in who has the advantage.

At a practical level, the Morales government and Santa Cruz leaders remain in a stalemate. Those things that Santa Cruz leaders can do without national government permission they will likely do, such as creating a state-level police force and blocking Morales’ efforts at land reform. Morales, who spent today playing soccer in La Paz, will not send in the Bolivian army to stop them. That would actually bring civil war.

Those things that Santa Cruz leaders need national cooperation to do, like win a bigger share of gas and oil revenue, they will continue to just dream of. Morales and his backers will now become even more intransient.

Underneath today’s banners and calls for national unity is the reality of nation more deeply divided today that it was a week ago. The unity called for in the streets of Cochabamba was really a unity of forces opposed to Santa Cruz, not a unity with Santa Cruz. And in the region where autonomy was voted on today, the words “national unity” didn’t even make it on to a banner.

Bolivia’s next move is now anyone’s guess.


A day of combative voting has left behind one person dead, others injured, scores of ballot boxes torched and a nation absorbing the results. Thanks to a handful of friends around Bolivia today, we are able to bring you on-the- street reports from four different cities: Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, La Paz and Potosi. We have many readers in those cities and elsewhere around the country. We hope you will add your eyewitness reports as well.

Santa Cruz: High Heels and Slingshots at Ground Zero (Annie Murphy)

Depending on whom you talk to, taking place in Santa Cruz today is a historic vote to give this department it's dues, or an illegal bid to keep the status quo.

The national electoral court declared the vote to accept or reject the Santa Cruz autonomy statute illegal, and the national government also refuses to acknowledge it. As such, it's not the police but normal citizens who are running today's activities. At five a.m. cars were already being stopped and checked by those who'd taken it on themselves to block major streets. The same was true at polling stations, with citizen guards in headsets keeping watch while Civic Committee President Branko Marinkovich cast his vote in the upscale Las Palmas neighborhood.

In an elite neighborhood like Las Palmas, this "citizen guard" seems nothing more than odd and vaguely discomfiting. Little challenge is posed by a housewife in heels and her coiffed lapdog, or agribusiness executives, both of whom believe that prosperous Santa Cruz should have greater power not only in the administration of resources, but over their legislation and distribution. As Eliana Jaldin said, "It would be nice if we could give more to the poor, but you can't just make everything nice... Why should they get a break? The importance of Santa Cruz has been ignored long enough. We need to determine our own future."

Las Palmas passionately supports the autonomy statute, and with little to do, informal security passed the morning eating empanadas and yucca bread.

But in Plan 3000 many of the city's indigenous and campesino immigrants pushed for abstention and even impeded voting in some cases. The "citizen guard" isn't snacking on pastries in here. Truckloads of pro-autonomy men in their teens and early twenties carrying clubs, slingshots, and rocks arrived, with armed groups of ten to twenty each patrolling the streets. Meanwhile a group of several hundred MAS supporters -- some also with sticks in hand -- had taken up the main roundabout, with the two sides scuffling at intervals.

"We want autonomy, but not the sort of autonomy outlined in the statute," says Ninoska Murillo, a recent immigrant from Oruro and resident of Plan 3000. "This statute keeps the same people in power that have always run this country, while the public watches from the bleachers."

Yet both sides say that they don't want or expect this autonomy statute to divide Bolivia, and that today's vote, legal or not, is just a way for Santa Cruz to increase its bargaining power in eventual negotiations. And, it's a reminder of the common demand across political and social classes for decentralization. From Las Palmas elites to the working class from Plan 3000, there's a clear need in Santa Cruz for law and order at the local level. The city may be Bolivia's economic engine, but today it feels like a forgotten frontier town.

Update: 10pm

The scuffles of earlier in the day turned into full-out acts of violence. The percentages of voter abstention are also striking. Almost 40% across the whole dept seems very high, and 62% in Montero more striking still. There are now reports of one possibly two people dead, and an Erbol headline says that this is the most violent vote in 25 years of democracy. I went to a celebration rally at Plaza Principal. Santa Cruz’s governor, Ruben Costas talked about "the creation of a new republic and modern state," while the head of the Civic Committee said now the MAS government has no choice but to respect the vote; "that we've put a face to autonomy, and now must give it force." This was punctuated by cheers of “Autonomy!” and “No more fear, goddammit!”

Annie Murphy is a freelance journalist in Santa Cruz.

Cochabamba: Tens of Thousands Take to the Streets (Leny Olivera and Aldo Orellana)

Today’s march began at 9am from several different points of the Department of Cochabamba.

The most active movements participating included factory workers, irrigators, youth and cultural organizations, rural teachers, farmer associations from rural communities such as Tapacari, Aiquile, Bolivar, and Colomi. Also present were many students, music groups, and other sectors of the city.

All the sectors displayed clear messages on the banners they carried – such as "United Bolivia, Never Divided", carried next to Bolivian flags of all size and indigenous whipalas. The slogans shouted by those marching also spoke of their desire for the recognition of Bolivia’s diversity. One group of young people conveyed that message very well, marching together dressed in nine different forms of dress associated with each of the nation’s departments.

Something else that characterized the diversity and unity of the huge march was the presence of so many kinds of musical groups – from bands, to folkloric music, to indigenous songs played with wind instruments, an expression of cultural resistance. The music played at the beginning and throughout the Cochabamba march demonstrated an intention to build and fight for change without violent confrontations. It was also striking yesterday, the day before the march how the number of Bolivian flags for sale in the marketplace was as many as for Bolivian Independence Day the 6th of August.

Leny Olivera

Tens of thousands of people turned out in the streets of Cochabamba today. Never in the history of the department have so many taken to the streets under a single slogan, “Bolivia united.” The march began from at least 8 different points around the Cochabamba Valley, converging at a steel and concrete bridge an Avenida Blanco Galindo, three kilometers from the city center.

The factory workers marched in first, followed by a wide variety of rural and urban social movements, including both old and young. From far away one could see an ocean of Bolivian flags, in red, yellow and green, along with wiphalas and the blue flag of Cochabamba. As noon arrived social movements continued to arrive. Leaders began speaking at 1pm, after the singing of the Bolivian national anthem. Leaders from farmer groups, the irrigators, and some elements of the MAS party spoke to the march, as did Isaac Avalos, a prominent farmer leader from Santa Cruz.

At the conclusion of the rally, marchers shouted their support for a variety of points including a call for Bolivian unity, the bringing to trial of the governors of the four departments of the “media luna” and Manfred Reyes Villa of Cochabamba for trying to break up Bolivia, the convening of a national vote on the proposed new constitution, and the expulsion of U.S. Ambassador Phillip Goldberg. The crowd also rejected Santa Cruz’s autonomy statutes and declared an ongoing mobilization to re-found the nation.

Aldo Orellana

Leny Olivera and Aldo Orellana, both social movement activists in Cochabamba, work for The Democracy Center.

La Paz: A Quiet Sunday Morphs into a Day of Protest (Julia McDowell)

Near the university, La Paz seems its usual, sleepy Sunday-self. Few stores are open, and only a fraction of the usually chaotic flocks of mini-busses and taxis are making their rounds. Families and couples stroll the quiet streets, eating ice cream and enjoying the morning sun. A few dozen students stand in atrium, some holding flags and signs, congregating for a march, a popular weekend activity. Small charges of dynamite explode somewhere, echoing against La Paz’s valley walls. No one flinches, or even looks up from their conversations and sign painting endeavors.

As stragglers arrive to fill in gaps at the university, the marchers form their ranks, holding up signs that say “No to Autonomy!” and “Bolivia United!” They march down La Paz’s vacant thoroughfare, the Prado, to the U.S. Embassy, chanting their desire for Ambassador Goldberg’s untimely death. The Americans, one professor explains, have always supported fascism in Bolivia.

Heading north, the rumble of a crowd is audible. The scant assortment of passersby begins to thicken, as vendors sell popsicles, flags, and other parade-type accessories. Turning the bend, the city’s main artery suddenly opens out onto a massive concentration of thousands of indigenous peasants in the Plaza de los Heroes, a traditional meeting point for protests. Indigenous groups have come from provinces all over the Department of La Paz, representing cocaleros, agrarian unions, and ayllus. City-dwellers have joined in, as well.

Today, there are more Bolivian flags than wiphalas, the indigenous rainbow checkered flag that has come to symbolize the fight for social justice of indigenous peoples and peasants. Women sit on the curbs and pull oca, chuño, and habas out of their woven aguayo packs. They eat and share with their neighbors. The plaza begins to look like an enormous picnic. Then, representatives of the various unions and indigenous communities begin to speak in Aymara and Spanish over a scratchy loudspeaker to the plaza, a sea of heads frequently topped with derby hats or floppy denim. Some of the leaders threaten violence, should Santa Cruz decide to press their separatist agenda. Most speak of the unity of the Bolivian people.

Julie McDowell, a former U.S. Fulbright scholar now works on water project development in La Paz.

Potosi: Miners and Dynamite (Lily Whitesell)

The morning of May 4, a campesino march wound its way through the streets of Potosi, filling the air with the scent of dynamite sticks and interrupting the otherwise quiet Sunday morning with their energetic chants. 'Bolivia, unida, jamas sera vencida' was their message of choice, waving wiphalas and Bolivian flags. As one group reached the main plaza, they broke out with, 'Kausachun constituyente, wañuchun oligarcas' expressing support for the Constituent Assembly and their disdain for Bolivia's wealthy elite. The crowd totaled roughly 2,000, gathering in front of the mayor's office to hear speeches given over loudspeakers into the early afternoon.

Why did they come to Potosi? One demonstrator carrying a wiphala said: Nuqayku kayman jamunku... Nuqayku kayku de la provincia linares distrito 7. Separatismo Boliviata mana munaykuchu. Chayrayku noqayku jamuyku kaypaqchaman kay Potosiman. (We came here... from the Linares province. We don't want separatism in Bolivia. That's why we came here today to Potosi.)

Lily Whitesell, a social justice activist from Maryland has lived in Bolivia for two years and works for The Democracy Center.

[A special note to our readers in La Paz. Thanks to so many of you who turned out and help ed make the event Friday such a huge success. The auditorium was packed, including the balcony, about 400 people.]

Photo Credit: Aldo Orellana

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Santa Cruz Autonomy Vote: What People are Saying


The attention of most people in Bolivia this weekend, and thousands of others who watch Bolivia from afar, will be on the vote Sunday in the department of Santa Cruz on a proposed ‘autonomy’ plan. We’ve taken our turn at analyzing this situation more than once (including this post earlier in the week). So, on the eve of the vote we bring you a diversity of points of view on the topic, excerpted from various sources and gathered here on the streets of Cochabamba. This gathering of quotes and views was compiled by Democracy Center team members Aldo Orellana, Leny Olivera, and Yi-Ching Hwang.

On Sunday we’ll have correspondents all around the country to offer up first hand reports of how Bolivia reacts to the vote. Look for that here late in the day Sunday.

Meanwhile, one more reminder to our La Paz readers. Friday night I’ll be in La Paz with Naomi Klein for a joint event presenting Dignity and Defiance, from the Democracy Center, and Naomi’s book, Shock Treatment. Here again are the details:

Book Presentation: Dignity and Defiance and Shock Doctrine

When: Friday, May 2 – 6:30pm
Where: Palacio de Comunicaciones, Ave. Mariscal Santa Cruz, isq. Calle Oruro
Admission: Free
Presenters: Jim Shultz and Naomi Klein (with commentary by other guests)
Hosts: The Democracy Center, Fundación Solon, Editoriales Plural

Jim Shultz


Quotes from Some of the Key Actors and Analysts

...the “catastrophic tie” that the country has been in since 2003, continues. Neither of the political sectors were able to impose their vision of the country and neither reached a consensus in order to achieve an agreed solution.

-- Pablo Stefanoni, Director of Bolivia’s Le Monde Diplomatique magazine

The May 4th referendum is not about Autonomy, contrary to what is published in order to manipulate the Cruceño’s (Bolivians from Santa Cruz) feelings. It is a PROJECT OF STATUTE, therefore, it is the responsibility of all citizens to cast a responsible vote and be conscious of what is being legalized, because the statute will affect and impact the present and the future of the country and the department of Santa Cruz. However, the current Statute project does not have any constitutional framework and in its entire text there is not a single mention of the “Political Constitution of the State.

-- “Santa Cruz We are All” (“Santa Cruz Somos Todos”), an independent Santa Cruz movement, quote taken from an April 2008 publication.

The Santa Cruz statute of autonomy, initially driven by those in power during the neo-liberal governments, has been described by various governmental sectors as “illegal” and “anti-constitutional,” but can we deny its “legitimacy”?

-- Alex Contreras Baspineiro, ex spokesman for President Evo Morales

History shows with ample eloquence, the terrible consequences that the divisionary and separatist processes supported and induced by foreign interests have had for humanity.

-- Excerpt from a letter signed by a lengthy list of left-leaning intellectuals, artists, and institutions, from around the world ("The conspiracy to divide Bolivia must be denounced")

We believe in and we defend democracy, the Constitution, [Bolivian] laws, and we do not manipulate them for our convenience like the hegemonic and totalitarian central government does ... [The government] has tried to intimidate us and crush us with force.... They threatened civil war, planted the seeds of hate, manipulated their followers saying that autonomy would divide the country. Lies and perversities... [They squandered] public resources in a national and international campaign never before seen, lying, false, dirty...

-- Santa Cruz regional governor Ruben Costas, April 30

The La Paz Residents' Committee, which unites La Paz union leaders, business owners, and workers, reported that they have received all kinds of threats and insults from youth acting under the name "Unión Juvenil Cruceñista" (Santa Cruz Youth Union), and that this intimidation has been more intense in the period leading up to the autonomy referendum.

--Residents of La Paz receive threats of ethnic cleansing after May 4

Other Important Declarations

Organization of American States, European Union and several other neighboring countries have manifested that they recognize the national institution and that they will not recognize any expressions that put [the national institution] at risk.

Special spokes person of United Nations, (UN) believes that the Santa Cruz Autonomy Statute project violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in respect to the indigenous peoples of the department.

The episcopal conference of the Catholic Church: “The approval procedure of the new constitutional laws and the departmental autonomy should occur within a honorable fulfillment of the established laws....”

The National Electoral Court sent a resolution suspending all referendums.

The Superintedent of Banks and Financial Entities (newspaper El Deber, April 16, 2008) informs that no banks, cooperatives, or financial institutions can demand a proof of vote for any financial transactions (Article 152, Electoral code), given that the referendum of May 4th “does not fit into the Political Constitution of the State, the Electoral Code, nor any of the laws of the Republic written by the National Electoral Court.”

Senator from the opposing Social Democratic Power (Poder Democrático Social- Podemos) party, Carlos Bohrt, assured that the statutes of autonomy of Santa Cruz, Pando, Tarija, and Beni will not be applied immediately after the results of each popular consultation due to the lack of constitutional backing.

And Opinions from the Street in Cochabamba

I hope that there are no violent confrontations between the two sectors, the opposition and the government. I would like [politicians on both sides] to put aside their self-absorbed, stingy attitudes so they can open their hearts and see just one Bolivia. This is a unique country where we have all the diversity to build a new country.

-- Anonymous Woman, Business Administrator

It is an important date, without any doubt, for the country’s democracy. Unfortunately the autonomy statutes as well as the political constitution of the state both have certain defects with respect to their legal approval. But without any doubt, [May 4] represents a reflection of what is democracy and the opinions of the population, in this case, of [the people of] Santa Cruz. I approve of it, in principle, even with all its susceptibilities and the threats from one sector to another. It is the people, a sector of the people that is making it known, and showing their wishes for the vote, and the other sectors, the opposition, well, in this case the government, they should accept it (the referendum). I would give [leaders on both sides] the advice of patience, patience and wisdom. Governing a country with so many different ethnic groups and cultural differences is very difficult....and dialog, a lot of dialog. Sometimes it is difficult to converse, it is bothersome, but one has to do it, it is necessary to communicate.

-- Jorge Uberhuaga, civil engineer

It is a date where there should be celebrations for Bolivia, because in reality autonomy, independent of whether there is campaign for a NO, will not stop. You will see that even in those departments that voted for a NO, there will be autonomy as well. It is not something that can be stopped. I think that the topic of autonomy is a celebration for Bolivia. [Politicians on both sides should] stop throwing more firewood in the reality in Bolivia we don’t need anymore provocations, what we need is that all the politicians, sincerely both the current administration and the opposition, go to the polls. Let’s go to the ballot boxes and trust that if they [the current administration] have done a good job, they will return to their positions, and that [voting] is the only way Bolivia is going to avoid deaths.

-- Alex Brañez, lawyer

First we should recognize that the May 4 referendum is going to happen de facto. I think there are people who support it based on just the slogans. There is going to be some absenteeism and people who criticize it. I think that May 4 will be just another election where symbolically the people are consulted in a fictitious democracy. I think that the moment of tension will be when the Regional General Assembly is created, which is what the statutes that they are voting on call for, because they are going to have to discuss what the competencies they will have. I would tell [leaders on both sides] not to fight racism with racism, to not deepen the differences between cambas and collas [people from the lowlands and highlands, respectively], that when they put forth ideas they should think about whether what they say could cause division and ethnic confrontations, which are hard to control and in which rationality does not exist. The causes can be traced to the media and the politicians who repeat these ideas. I think we should look at the things that unite us, not the things that make us different. I think that is the way.

-- Gary Rojas, Communications student from Santa Cruz, who resides in Cochabamba

This gathering of quotes and views was compiled by Democracy Center team members Aldo Orellana, Leny Olivera, and Yi-Ching Hwang.