Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Happy Mothers Day

Happy Mothers Day to all our Mom's in Bolivia. Today, May 27, is Mothers Day in Bolivia.

Grade schools across Cochabamba held special events today in honor of Moms and children have been at work all week on all manner of cards and trinkets – Hallmark, stand aside.

This morning at the Tiquipaya market the women were wandering from one vegetable and fruit stall to another sprinkling mixtura (confetti) on one another's heads, and passing around saltenas and I assume a tutumba of chicha or two as the day wore on. When I called the electric company this evening to share the happy news that our entire neighborhood had no lights (it's back on now, thank you) the operator and I had a very nice chat about the event in her twins' kindergarten earlier in the day. Even the airlines have joined in, letting all women in the country, mothers or not, fly around half price this month.

In Bolivia, Mothers Day is a big deal.

In our family the choice trinket made with a child's hands was a bookmark decorated with colored pencils, and carefully "plastificado" by Daddy at a local libreria. The outing involved two dogs, mothers both, and a climb to a river in the hills.

Below is an additional report on Mothers Day in Bolivia from the newest member of the Democracy Center team in Bolivia, Kris Hannigan-Luther, a transplanted Mom of three from Idaho. You can expect to see more writing from Kris in the coming months.

So, to all Moms, Happy Mothers Day. And to all our Bolivian readers abroad – don't forget that today is the day. Call your Mom.

A Cochabamba Mother’s Day

Wriiten by Kris Hannigan-Luther

On Mother’s Day in the United States we barely made a respectable nod to the day this year, with my husband and I phoning our mothers to wish them a happy day. We took advantage of Skype, not of the international postal system. We weren’t in tune with the U.S. calendar holidays- we planned to celebrate Mother’s Day on May 27th, with the rest of Bolivia.

As we moved our family to Cochabamba in January, this was my first Bolivian Mother’s Day. I feel the weight of motherhood more intensely this year. Making a decision to transplant my children into a foreign culture and language is not something I take lightly. I watch them closely. I hold my breath, waiting to see whether this experience will be the life-enriching gift that I hope it to be, or a form of slow torture. In the short term, it appears to be a mixture of the two.

On my morning commute into the city center, I didn’t notice much out of the ordinary on May 27th. Arranged flowers were for sale on a small table in front of a hardware store, there was a stand of flowers and unidentifiable pink and purple items in front of the stadium. Women on my bus seemed to be smiling at and acknowledging each other in a different manner- almost a secret code in the language of motherhood.

My kids have been rehearsing for their school’s Mother’s Day program for weeks. They haven’t filled me in on the details (yes- they’re at that age), but I gather there is to be a time-machine and dancing. My children’s teachers have also been discussing the history of Mother’s Day in Bolivia. Through my kids, I learned about the significance of May 27th as a day Bolivian women fought for independence. The school program is scheduled to begin at 10:00 a.m., so I play it safe and arrive at the school around 10:20. I am among the first to arrive- obviously still learning to navigate the cultural norms.

My son is at home, slightly sick with what I hope is not a case of swine flu. My daughter is not dressed in the poodle skirts the rest of the girls in her class have donned. “I guess we were supposed to wear something special after all,” she comments to me when I arrive. I’m not sure if this attire mandate was something she missed in the context of foreign language difficulty or something she chose to ignore purposefully. She dances with her class of third graders and sings songs with the school in English and Spanish. Afterwards she joins some classmates eating Salchipapas with lots of ketchup and mayonnaise.

I snap pictures, like the other mothers and grandmothers around me. We smile at each other and share knowing looks in the language of motherhood.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The U.S. and Bolivia Seek a Peace Agreement

The trajectory of recent U.S. Bolivian relations is a bit like the Space Mountain ride at Disneyland. It isn't that the roller coaster within the darkened mountain is any more curvy or extreme than the average roller coaster. It's just that, because you don't have a clue where you're headed, it seems more dramatic.

The underlying conflicts between Bolivian and the U.S. governments aren't that difficult to understand. It is the unpredictability of U.S./Bolivia relations that makes for most of the drama.

And so it is that the drama-averse Obama administration came to La Paz last week to see if it could infuse a little diplomatic normalcy into its relations with the government of Evo Morales.

Following Up on the Sour Note of the Americas Summit

The timing of the U.S. mission to La Paz was not an accident.

The unofficial word after President Obama's trip to Tobago last month for the Summit of the Americas was that relations between the new administration and its Latin American neighbors looked almost universally warm and fuzzy – with everyone but Morales.

While Cuba and the U.S. were making tentative overtures to one another, and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez was cheerily adding a book to the White House library, Morales was demanding that Obama publicly declare that the U.S. had nothing to do with an alleged assassination plot against him, despite the absence of any evidence that the U.S. was involved.

At the summit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (who during the campaign last year had warm and fuzzy things to say about Morales) and her Bolivian counterpart, Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, agreed to send a U.S. delegation to La Paz to see if the two governments couldn't get off to a new start with one another.

On the U.S. side, President Obama seemed to have a political interest in seeing the new diplomatic love in the Americas fill in the last piece of the map. With two Middle East wars to deal with and nuclear Pakistan facing a meltdown it would be handy for the U.S. to have relations with Latin America run on auto-pilot for a while. On the Bolivian side Morales very much wants Obama to reverse President Bush's move last year, axing Bolivia from trade preferences with the U.S. That put more than 20,000 Bolivian jobs in jeopardy.

So a high level dialog between the two governments seemed to be something of strong mutual interest.

The Return of Mr. Shannon

The Obama administration's emissary to La Paz last week was not a fresh face, but a familiar one. Thomas Shannon, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs is a career diplomat who has held the post since 2005. He was the Bush administration's official representative to Morales's inauguration in January 2006 and came back again last year to try to patch things up when relations between the two countries went deeply sour under U.S. Ambassador Phillip Goldberg.

During his brief Bolivian tenure, Ambassador Goldberg demonstrated a genuine mastery of ineptness. Members of his staff imported bullets in a relative's suitcase and asked Peace Corps volunteers and a Fulbright Scholar to gather intelligence for the Embassy. In Cochabamba Goldberg made a joke about a woman in El Alto being lynched. Then last September, when governors hostile to Morales started amping up their rhetoric against the government and their supporters were readying to torch government buildings, Goldberg visited Morales's adversaries for a smiling photo-op.

It was that move by Mr. Goldberg that led Morales to send the U.S. Ambassador home, charging that he was deliberately trying to undermine his presidency.

To be clear, almost any Ambassador from the U.S. is going to run into conflicts with the Morales government, but Goldberg seemed to eagerly look for them.

In contrast, Mr. Shannon is a diplomatic 'grown-up'. He is a man who chooses his words and his moves carefully and who has seemed genuinely committed to decent U.S./Bolivia relations even as other actors in the Bush administration were pushing hard in the other direction.

In comparison to several of his most notable predecessors in the post, Shannon seems almost a progressive. President Bush's first appointee to the position, Otto Reich, was a behind the scenes booster of the 2002 attempted coup against Hugo Chavez. In the Reagan years the post was held by the infamous Elliot Abrams, whose participation in secret arms deliveries to the Nicaraguan Contras ended in a plea bargain to escape jail (and a Presidential pardon).

Mr. Shannon's trip to Bolivia last week was also likely to be his last, as an Obama-appointed successor readies to take over his position next month, with Mr. Shannon likely headed to Brazil to be the new U.S. Ambassador there.

Drugs, Jobs, Meddling, Ambassadors, and 'Goni'

What precisely was discussed in meetings between Mr. Morales and Mr. Shannon during the two-day visit last week is still hidden behind the vague diplomatic pronouncements each side made afterwards.

President Morales told reporters, "After having problems in the past few years ... the government and I hope bilateral relations with the United States will improve." Secretary Shannon weighed in with the equally vague declaration, "What the U.S. delegation has found here in La Paz is a strong willingness from the Bolivian government ... to find a way to write a new chapter in the relations between the United States and Bolivia."

However, it doesn't take much guesswork to know that five topics dominated those conversations: drugs, jobs, meddling, ambassadors, and 'Goni'.

Drugs

The U.S. basically has one diplomatic objective in Bolivia, and that is its long-standing and much-questioned "War on Drugs" aimed at Bolivia's coca crop. Mr. Shannon no doubt complained to Bolivian officials about Morales' ouster of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) last year – its Cochabamba headquarters is now a spiffy new Toyota dealership. Morales no doubt restated a commitment to fighting cocaine production and to defending the growing of coca.

Meanwhile, as drug labs continue to expand in the hills above Cochabamba's outskirts, it remains unclear what practical effect the coca conversation last week in La Paz will have on anything.

Jobs

The Obama administration will need to make a decision at some point soon on whether it intends to reverse or continue the Bush administration's suspension of the ATPDEA trade preferences for Bolivia. Mr. Bush yanked those preferences in September in retaliation for the ouster of Washington's ambassador, but blamed it on Bolivia's lack of cooperation in the War on Drugs.

Reversing that decision is an obvious part of the package of restoring friendly relations and it will be made at a political level in the administration not by bureaucrats in the office of the Trade Representative. So watch this issue as a litmus test of how Secretary of State Clinton plans to handle her relations with Morales.

Meddling

One of the issues most often mentioned from the Bolivian side is the various charges of U.S. meddling in Bolivia's domestic politics. The Morales government has charged a broad conspiracy of interference involving USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy, the DEA and others.

Mr. Shannon most likely reiterated the U.S. position that U.S. assistance is benign and aimed at legitimate development goals including 'democracy building.' President Morales probably said in private what he and other members of the government have said in public, that aid from the U.S. should be funneled through the national government (which Morales controls) and not rival governors or NGOs. Bolivian officials have also suggested that funds for so-called "democracy building" projects be re-directed to straight development projects like building roads. Keep an eye out to see if there are any changes in how U.S. funding comes into the country.

Ambassadors

The first sign of return to normalcy in relations between the two countries will be a new exchange of ambassadors. The posts in both countries have been vacant since last September. For now Bolivian relations in the U.S. are being handled by its representative to the U.N. Pablo Solon, one of the more competent members of the Morales government. Even with a new Ambassador in place in Washington, Mr. Solon will probably still be directing things (he just recently met with Secretary Clinton in Washington). I'd bet that Washington's new Ambassador to La Paz will be a career diplomat and one with a cooler demeanor that Mr. Goldberg. I also bet that the exchange will happen soon to follow-up on the momentary goodwill left from last week's visit.

Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada

The 'wild card' in the diplomatic road ahead is the pending Bolivian criminal case against former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. The former President, charged with murder in connection with his repression of protests in 2003, lives under U.S. political protection in suburban Maryland.

This is where the timing of the U.S. visit is particularly strange. By either coincidence or bad diplomatic planning by the U.S., Secretary Shannon landed in La Paz just as the nation's Supreme Court was opening its hearings in the historic trial of Sanchez de Lozada and his top Ministers. That in turn elevated the profile of one of the diplomatic disputes between the two countries that seems least likely to be resolved – Bolivia's demand that 'Goni' be returned for trial.

After the Shannon visit Morales' top Minister, Juan Ramón Quintana declared that the U.S. had committed to process the papers required for the ex-President's extradition. But I think there is a good chance that this is a wildly inflated version of some lesser bureaucratic commitment made by the U.S. representatives. Watch for Goni's protection under Obama to continue (President Obama's White House Counsel, Greg Craig was formerly Sanchez de Lozada's defense lawyer on the case).

Getting Off the Roller Coaster

The thing about roller coaster rides is that while some people find them exciting, they make other people ill. So it is that while the twists and turns of the diplomatic battles between Washington and La Paz make for great material to write about, most Bolivians and U.S. citizens would be better off if the two countries could resolve their differences. Bolivia needs the jobs that U.S. trade preferences provide. The U.S. gains if Bolivia becomes more politically stable. Bolivian orphans need the door re-opened for adoption to U.S. families.

Each of the issues outlined above deserves a much fuller discussion that I can offer in this Blog post (though I have included links to past writings we have published). Each is complicated, some more than others. What is new however is that the overtures from the Obama administration should be taken as genuine. Under President Bush the U.S. was always internally at conflict and often hostile.

However, as I have written before -- U.S./Bolivia relations can't just be defined as the relationship between two governments. It is a relationship between two peoples who have no quarrel with one another and have much to gain from getting along. Leaving that relationship to the diplomats to sort out, even if they are good ones, is not enough. And that is where the rest of us come in.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Trial of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada

Readers:

Several times over the past few years I and others have written in this space about both the criminal and civil legal cases against former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in connection with the government killings that took place under his command in September and October 2003. In the nearly six years since, the families of those killed and wounded in that repression have sought justice from the deposed president and his chief ministers, with little result. Sanchez de Lozada himself remains in self-imposed exile in suburban Maryland, enjoying the political protection of the U.S. government.

This week begins the historic trial of the President and those top aides before the Bolivian Supreme Court. In the U.S. people concerned with this case have been engaged in a series of activities to draw attention to U.S. support for Sanchez de Lozada, including pamphleting his Maryland neighborhood last night to let their neighbors know that a man charged with murder lives, politically protected, in their midst.

To explain more about the trial and what U.S. citizens can do to pressure the Obama Administration to revisit President Bush's protection of the deposed Bolivian leader, we have invited a Democracy Center alumnus, Gretchen Gordon, to offer the Blog post below. Gretchen is co-author of the chapter on gas and oil politics in the Democracy Center's new book on Bolivia, Dignity and Defiance, which includes a thoughtful history of Sanchez de Lozada's handover of the country's oil and gas to foreign corporations and the protests over those policies that forced him to leave the country, leaving a trail of blood in his wake.

Jim Shultz



The Trial of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada
Written by Gretchen Gordon

This Monday, the Bolivian Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in the trial of former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and members of his administration for human rights abuses in 2003, including the deaths of 67 people and the wounding of over 400. The “Trial of Responsibilities” is the country’s most high profile case since the 1995 trial of former dictator Luis García Meza. While the trial likely won’t make U.S. headlines, the U.S. government, and consequently U.S. citizens, have a vital role to play in determining its success or failure. This is because the most important defendants, including Sanchez de Lozada and several of his former ministers, are currently in the U.S., evading trial.

The essence of the case of the Trial of Responsibilities is as follows: During his presidency Sanchez de Lozada presided over a radical economic restructuring involving deregulation and privatization of the country’s industries and public services. In 2003, the popular discontent over these policies erupted into mass protests when Lozada announced a plan to export Bolivian gas at a bargain basement price. Sanchez de Lozada authorized the use of lethal force, leaving 67 dead and over 400 wounded.

After breaking with the Sanchez de Lozada government over the use of force, Vice President Carlos Mesa assumed the presidency and eventually initiated the proceedings for a Trial of Responsibility. While Sanchez de Lozada claims the trial is a political maneuver by the current administration, it was in fact initiated by Sanchez de Lozada’s own Vice President with the backing of a requisite 2/3 Congressional majority, in a Congress controlled by Lozada’s own party.

In 2005, the Bolivian government submitted a notification to the U.S. regarding the extradition of Sanchez de Lozada and two of his former ministers, Jorge Berindoague Alcocer and Carlos Sanchez Berzain so that they could stand trial. However, the Bush Adminsitration ignored the notice. In 2008, the Bolivian embassy submitted the formal extradition request. Now, with a new Obama Administration, there is hope that the U.S. will respond to the request and stop obstructing the Bolivian judicial process.

This trial is a crucial step in transforming a history of impunity for government abuses. U.S. citizens can help by urging the Department of Justice and the Department of State to grant the request and to stop providing safe harbor to human rights abusers and fugitives of justice. Below is an action alert that you can join to Attorney General Holden and Secretary of State Clinton.

Help the Bolivian people in their struggle to hold human rights abusers accountable

This week brings an important opportunity to be in solidarity with the Bolivian people. In October 2003, Bolivian President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (Goni) and two of his former ministers fled to the U.S. after being involved in a massacre in which military personnel killed 67 people and injured over 400. Though Bolivia has sent an official request to extradite these officials so as to try them on nine charges including homicide, torture and crimes against freedom of the press, the Obama administration has yet to give a response.

On May 18th, the Bolivian Supreme Court began hearings related to the case, but without the participation of Sanchez de Lozada and several of his Ministers.

Tell the Department of Justice to Stand for Justice

This week, please fax and email a short message to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder encouraging them to cease the political protection of Bolivia's deposed President:

To contact Secretary Clinton:
Fax: 202-647-8947
Email: secretary@state.gov

To contact Attorney General Holder:
Fax: 202-307-6777
Email: askdoj@usdoj.gov

For more information, e-mail Dave Kane at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Bolivian Battle Over Used Clothes



Readers:

Those of you living in the U.S. might occasionally wonder – What happens to all those used clothes I left at the Goodwill or to a local collection drive? Well, at lest some of those clothes have ended up in the middle of a political firestorm here in Bolivia, where sellers of used clothing and local manufacturers are locked in heated battle over proposals to limit or ban used clothing imports. Just this week another large march of angry clothing makers wound its way through the streets of Cochabamba.

It is a complex issue and a "poor vs. poor" battle that is taking place not just in Bolivia but in other impovershed nations around the world, over clothes and other basic needs as well.

In this special Blog post we bring you both a written report on the issue and a video featuring testimonies from the various perspectives. You can see that video (5 minutes in length) by clicking the screen here. The video is part of a new series the Democracy Center will be producing: Five Minute Documentaries. We hope you will share this post with friends.

You can see it by clicking the screen on this post or at YouTube here. The Blog post was written by two Democracy Center volunteers, Liza Minno Bloom and Derek Minno Bloom. The video was produced by the Democracy Center's Aldo Orellana along with Liza (narrating) and Derek.

Jim Shultz


The Bolivian Battle Over Used Clothes

Written by Liza Minno Bloom and Derek Minno Bloom

Across much of Bolivia the streets are filled with protests and counter protests over an issue that pits one group of low-income workers against another – the sale of cheap used clothing from abroad.

There have been protests and counter-protests in the cities of La Paz, El Alto and Cochabamba, over the last few months, since President Evo Morales announced that the government will start to enforce a decree that severely restricts the import and sale of used clothing. The decree by the President is similar to one Morales issued last year limiting the import of older used cars.

On one side, manufacturers of new clothing and many of their workers are protesting to demand that the decree come sooner and be more severe – an all-out ban with severe penalties. They argue that the flood of imported used clothing is destroying an important local industry, and with it badly-needed jobs.

On the other side vendors of used clothing are protesting the decree, one that virtually guarantees to put them out of work in an economy where jobs are scarce. Tensions between the two are high.

With U.S. trade preferences under the ATPDEA agreement with Washington, for more than two decades Bolivia has benefited from access to U.S. markets. And the industry that has benefited most has been textiles. Last year, in the midst of political battles between the Bush administration and Morales, President Bush suspended Bolivia’s participation in those trade preferences, bringing to new pressures to bear on Bolivia’s domestic market for those products. Domestic makers of clothing that that market is being choked by the ever growing practices of importing, smuggling and selling used clothing here.

A recent study by the Bolivian Institute of Foreign Trade (IBCE)-confirms that Bolivia lost $512 million—that could have stimulated the internal production market—between 2000-2005 as a result of the import and sale of used clothing. The Federation of Factory Workers reported, additionally, that this activity has resulted in the loss of 56,000 jobs in the textile and clothing industries.

Since the used clothing market is essentially “grey”, an informal sector, there are no official records of sales, however, an estimated 35,000 tons of used clothing cross the Bolivian border annually, representing $34 million in sales. A remarkable 93% of that used clothing is contraband and crosses the border without paying a tax—the vast majority entering through the Chilean border.

To ease the transition away from those imports, the Bolivian government is offering a 650 boliviano monthly stipend (the equivalent of $90) for used clothing vendors to live off of while they shut down their operations. The vendors have, by and large, rejected the offer, calling it insulting, and have even threatened to withdraw their support for Morales in December’s general election.’

The government tried the same plan last year—giving money to vendors of used clothing to transform their businesses into new productions. The plan failed miserably: “Very few actually benefited from the program,” said Ramiro Lizondo, Deputy Minister of Micro and Small Businesses, “85 percent of the vendors took the loan to continue marketing used clothes; only 15 percent converted their businesses into productive activities.”

But so far the government is standing firm in its plan. In 2007 Morales “banned” used clothing from being imported into Bolivia—becoming the 32nd country to do so in order to protect native industry and later issued a decree aimed at implementing that ban. Lax enforcement, however, has done little to diminish the stockpiles of imported clothes – which from nearly new designer jeans to stained and tattered t-shirts that sell for under a dollar. Now Morales has pledged to start enforcing the ban, catalyzing the intensified protests on both sides.

The micro clothing manufacturers, many of whom work out of their homes or small factories, are appealing to Morales´ idea of a “Dignified Bolivia”, a cover-all phrase that he’s used since his electoral campaign.

“It's impossible to think that we can be dignified if, in the name of poverty, we wear clothing that has been thrown out in another country,” a Bolivian vice-minister told the Associated Press back in 2007

Morales himself is Aymara, an indigenous culture in which it is considered bad luck to wear someone else’s clothes. In discussing the ban he has called on memories of Bolivia’s rich history of textile weaving and craft and urged more national production. In his first meeting with world leaders after being elected in 2005, he sported a (now infamous) Bolivian-made, striped sweater, in place of the conventional suit.

The reality remains, however, that the sale of used clothing accounts for an estimated 250,000 jobs in a country constantly battling climbing unemployment rates, and helps to keep the majority of Bolivians clothed. A Bolivian-made shirt may sell for around $8.00, while it’s possible to buy its used U.S. equivalent for about 60 cents. In the poorest country in South America, where 40 percent of the inhabitants live on less than $1.25 a day, most people simply cannot afford the “dignity” of new clothing, as much as they may want to. Ironically, that sweater that Morales wore was made from acrylic, not the traditional alpaca, which is too expensive for most Bolivians, and is now sold mainly to tourists.

Yet, according to the IBCE, the majority of people who buy used clothing (2/3) are middle class; 30 percent are poor and four percent are wealthy. Manufacturers point to this as evidence that used clothing is stealing costumers, people who could potentially afford new clothes.

As long as there are cheap used clothes available, however, the market share for Bolivian-made clothes will continue to suffer. Manufacturers are forced to fire employees for lack of business and they attempt to leverage losses by raising prices—essentially forcing people, even middle class people, into the cycle of opting for cheaper used clothing.

The government has its work cut out for it in terms of finding a solution that meets the needs of the citizens: those who manufacture new clothing for a living, those who sell used clothing for a living and those who buy used clothing out of necessity.

The accompanying video was produced by Aldo Orellana, Liza Minno Bloom and Derek Minno Bloom.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Charges of U.S. Funding to Violent Opposition Groups in Bolivia: the National Endowment for Democracy Responds

Readers:

This week we have been putting the spotlight on the ongoing debate, a fierce one, regarding the role of U.S. funding in Bolivia, through agencies such as USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and others. To begin that debate we published
a post from Dan Beeton of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, an article which openly charges that the U.S. is “funding violent opposition groups” in Bolivia. Among the facts cited as evidence in the CEPR article is funding NED has given to the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce and others.

As noted in my introduction to the CEPR article, the Democracy Center has invited both the U.S. Embassy and NED to offer their own comments on this issue and to publish those comments here on the Blog unedited.

We have yet to hear back from the Embassy in La Paz but the NED has accepted our invitation and below is the reply by Jane Riley Jacobsen, the NED’s Director of Public Affairs. We appreciate the NED’s willingness to engage in this discussion and we hope our readers will as well.

We look forward to reading your comments.

Jim Shultz



Charges of U.S. Funding to Violent Opposition Groups in Bolivia: the National Endowment for Democracy Responds

May 8, 2009

Thank you, Jim, for the invitation to share with your readers the facts about the work of the National Endowment for Democracy’s (NED) in Bolivia. NED’s work in Bolivia is absolutely non-violent and non-partisan, contrary to the careless suggestion made by Mr. Beeton, which you so rightly questioned.

First, your readers should understand that NED is not a US Government agency, but rather, a private, nonprofit foundation that makes more than 1,000 grants each year to support the development of democratic institutions and the defense fundamental human rights in more than 90 countries worldwide.

While the Endowment does receive an annual appropriation from the US Congress, NED is governed by an independent, bipartisan board of directors, who make all the decisions about what groups we support.

NED is also transparent – publishing summaries of our grants each year in our annual report, and on our website. In Mr. Beeton’s response, he cites the NED grant to CAINCO as the “one grant Jeremy Bigwood was able to get a hold of.” That is not because NED withheld any information – it was our only grant in 2004 in Bolivia; a one-time grant through the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE, one of NED’s four core grantees) to CAINCO to increase the transparency of the public procurement process and improve corporate transparency. The grant was active from May 2004 to April 2005, before President Morales was elected as noted in Beeton’s article.

Since 2004, NED’s grants program in Bolivia has grown substantially, supporting programs aimed at averting conflict and trying to bridge the polarization that plagues Bolivia today. In Bolivia, as elsewhere in the region, NED provides funding to nonpartisan organizations that work across political, socio-economic, ethnic and regional divides. Whether working at the local level or with underrepresented groups, NED grants seek to bring citizens together on issues of common concern, facilitate dialogue, provide objective information and encourage Bolivians to make their own informed decisions. NED grantees have fielded citizen observers to monitor the recent referendums; have worked with pro-government and opposition mayors to increase transparency and accountability; and have provided civic education to women, youth and indigenous peoples.

In Bolivia and elsewhere in the world, NED funding cannot be used to advocate for or finance campaigns of candidates for public office, for activities that involve or advocate violence, bribes, payoffs, and must be consistent with democratic principles and procedures. This is clearly stated in our Statement of Principles and Objectives, in our grant agreements, and is communicated to all grantees.

I hope that this information gives your readers a more straightforward picture of what NED does in Bolivia and around the world.

Sincerely,

Jane Riley Jacobsen
Director, Public Affairs
National Endowment for Democracy

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Is the United States Funding Violent Opposition Groups in Bolivia?

Dear Readers:

Earlier this week I received an article in my e-mail from a U.S. organization whose research work I generally respect a good deal, the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). CEPR is a prolific producer of research and commentary on a wide range of economic issues, and from time to time it writes about events in Bolivia.

The article in my in-box was titled, The Fun House Mirror: Distortions and Omissions in the News on Bolivia, and was published by the solid NACLA Reporter. But what caught my eye in the CEPR article was this declaration:

"Just a day before the [September 2008 Pando] massacre, at the height of opposition violence, the Bolivian government expelled U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg, following revelations that the U.S. Embassy in La Paz had asked Peace Corps volunteers and a Fulbright scholar to spy inside Bolivia, together with growing evidence, amid official secrecy, of U.S. funding for violent opposition groups [emphasis added]. "

The debate over what the U.S. government is and is not funding in Bolivia and with what actual intent has been hotly debated, especially since President Morales declared in 2007 that USAID was directly funding efforts to undermine his government. The U.S. Embassy and organizations such as USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) insist that they are merely supporting efforts to strengthen government administration. Critics, in both Bolivia and the U.S. have charged these U.S. enterprises with directly trying to topple Morales.

Nevertheless, the charge by CEPR seemed to go a good deal farther, "… growing evidence, amid official secrecy, of U.S. funding for violent opposition groups."

I wrote to the article's author, Dan Beeton. I told him that I have heard plenty of evidence that recipients of USAID and NED funding are involved in activities such as writing anti-Evo opinion articles in newspapers and the like, but had yet to see convincing evidence that the U.S. was directly funding "violent opposition groups." The footnote in the article on that point, instead of offering such documentation, led only back to another CEPR news release. In response, Dan wrote back that there was plenty of evidence to back the charge, and I invited him to present it here on the Blog.

I think this is a very important debate, and one which needs to be argued out based on the facts and with evidence not just charges. I don't agree with all the points in his analysis, but I do hope that Dan Beeton's correspondence below will help provoke a solid and intelligent debate among our readers on this issue. In addition, I am inviting both the U.S. Embassy in La Paz and the NED to draft any response they would be willing to offer on this topic and have offered to publish it here, unedited, as I am doing with Dan Beeton's analysis below.

I look forward to your comments.

Jim Shultz

Is the United States Funding Violent Opposition Groups in Bolivia?

Written by Dan Beeton, Center for Economic and Policy Research

There's a fair amount of evidence that the U.S. has already funded violent actors among the Bolivian opposition, even from the relatively little that we know about recent grants through USAID and so on:We know that since President Morales’ election, the U.S. government has sent millions of dollars in aid to departmental prefects and municipal governments in Bolivia. See e.g.:

USAID DATA Sheet: Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance

USAID/OTI Bolivia Field Report

"OTI has approved 101 grants for $4,066,131 to help departmental governments operate more strategically." We know that Leopoldo Fernandez, as a prefect, received some of this money. As you know, he is not someone who has merely written "anti-Evo op.eds," he was found by the UNASUR commission that investigated the September violence in Porvenir to have led a "chain of command” of perpetrators who acted "in an organized fashion” to commit a "massacre."

From the "USAID/OTI Bolivia Field Report July - September 2006": "OTI activities are aimed at building the capacity of prefect-led departmental governments to help them better respond to the constituencies they govern.…During the third quarter, OTI has continued to build on its activities designed to enhance the capacity of departmental governments. OTI isimplementing projects in coordination with all nine departmental governments, most recently collaborating with the prefectures of Beni,Pando, and Oruro. The projects provide technical support and training for prefecture staff in the areas of strategic planning, budgeting andproject management. They also build institutional capacity related to financial and administrative systems, transparency mechanisms,communications and outreach. In addition, OTI approved new projects designed to help prefectures more efficiently and strategicallyapproach their responsibilities in regional economic development, departmental infrastructure and social services.”

We also know that USAID has similarly funded and worked with Ruben Costas in his capacity as prefect of Santa Cruz. To take one example, again from the "USAID/OTI Bolivia Field Report July - September 2006":

“During the third quarter, OTI approved a total of 24 projects for $913,000. Thirteen of the new projects, totaling $465,800, are being implemented in support of the decentralization process through strengthened departmental governments. One newly-approved set of activities in the departments of Pando, Tarija, Potosí and Santa Cruz will facilitate the transparent, efficient flow of information between the various offices and divisions within prefectures. Its goal is to improve communication between departmental governments and stakeholders
at the local government and community levels.”

Ruben Costas has most recently been in the news again after witnesses told prosecutor Marcelo Sosa that Costas had offered “a house and land” to Eduardo Rozsa Flores and the other plotters in the terrorist cell broken up by Bolivian authorities on April 16, 2009. Whether this accusation turns out to be true or not, I would argue that Costas has clearly supported violence against both the Bolivian government and indigenous people in Bolivia in other ways.

Costas made numerous statements supporting the violence as it unfolded in September 2008. On September 9, 2008, the Andean Information Network reported that “In response to the day’s violence, Santa Cruz Prefect Ruben Costas claimed that these outbursts reflected the 86% of people in his prefect who voted for departmental autonomy.” Costas did not mince his words, according to AIN: “This is not a coup d’état, nor a civic-prefectural coup,” but rather a response “to the violence and repression of a fascist Government.”[. . .]“What happened today in Santa Cruz is the consequence of State terrorism that the government exercises, of the blindness that impedes them from recognizing the peoples’ right, the free determination and sovereignty of the departmental autonomy.”

Costas has also stirred up racial hatred by calling Morales “a monkey,” which is not trivial considering the ongoing racial violence against indigenous Bolivians by the UJC, Camba Nation, and various other groups.

Was Phillip Goldberg really surprised to be expelled after being caught having a clandestine meeting with this man?

I noted some of the prefects' encouragement of the September violence and sabotage in my article, citing AFP: “the conservative governors are . . . encouraging the protesters in their actions” and “Militants linked to the opposition group set up road blocks to add pressure to the governors' demands for more control over gas revenues.”

We know - if Inter Press Service's report of September 4, 2008 (referenced in my article) is correct, that the August/September 2008 violence was a planned campaign engineered by the CONALDE, which, as you know, includes “five provincial governors, business associations, conservative civic groups, and legislators of the rightwing Podemos party led by former president Jorge Quiroga.” Funding of anyone in CONALDE is the same as the funding of violent groups, when they're the ones coordinating campaigns of violence.

We also know that the NED has given money to the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce (CAINCO) (this is one grant that Jeremy Bigwood was able to get hold of). The Chamber has been tied to violent groups such as “the Movement for the Liberation of the Camba Nation" in press reports, and the Santa Cruz Civic Committee. (This 2005 article in Mercopress also quoted the head of the Chamber as promoting secessionism: “What we should do is simply and smoothly separate ourselves from Bolivia.") It's significant, I think, that the press was reporting these connections back in 2005 before Morales was elected. While the NED grant that Jeremy retrieved was from 2004, one would certainly hope that connections to the "Camba Nation" and such groups would make the NED and any other US-based group or government agency reconsider giving more funds to CAINCOS.

So, in short, of course I'm not suggesting that the U.S. is funding the UJC, the Santa Cruz Civic Committee, or any similar such groups directly. And I'm not saying there's evidence that the U.S. gave money to people like Fernandez to be used for violent ends. But they've nevertheless given money to prefects like Fernandez, Costas and other actors who have conspired to commit violence and have encouraged violence when it occurred, and who in all likelihood passed money on to the guys with baseball bats and guns.

This was one reason I wanted to write this article - to make clear to readers that there sometimes isn't much difference between the "respectable" opposition figures like Marinkovic and some of the prefects, and the UJC and their ilk. But despite that Reuters, AFP, and Inter Press have described the ways in which these groups are connected and they've worked together in a coordinated fashion, this still is not reported as a central part of the narrative in most U.S. press reports

It is possible that USAID et al have cut off funding to violent actors in Bolivia, that the funding of these groups was only before they became increasingly nasty last autumn. But we don't know this due to ongoing U.S. government secrecy, despite Obama's pledges of increased transparency. Whether or not all the grant recipients "need" this money from the U.S., I don't know, but the fact is that departmental and municipal governments have been receiving it. For details, I would consult with Jeremy Bigwood - he probably has more documentation on all this than anyone, and he can update you on the latest FOIA's that USAID declines to respond to.
Response to Comments: May 12, 2009
This is a response to the few more reasonable comments questioning what I wrote. There are some racist, hate-mongering comments that don’t deserve a response, and others that are off-topic.

Some of the comments have suggested I’m making accusations or insinuations that I’m not. My points in my note to Jim, as posted above, are simply this:

1). The U.S. government has given funds to, and worked with, people such as Leopoldo Fernandez and Ruben Costas in the past. (Highlights of grants that I cited above explaining some of the details of USAID’s work with the prefects are from USAID/OTI Bolivia Field Reports from 2006. Click here for information on activities in Pando and other prefects. Click here for information on activities in Santa Cruz, Pando, and other prefects.)

2). Some of these people have since actively encouraged violence by others (such as Costas, Marinkovic), and there is evidence that Fernandez, at least, coordinated campaigns of violence in September 2008. In Fernandez’s case, an international commission stated, after investigation, that he was the leader of such a coordinated campaign of violence, one that resulted in a “massacre.”

3). We do not know whether the U.S. has broken off its financial and other partnerships (i.e. such as training and networking activities) with these people, because USAID is not complying with FOIA requests, despite that it is not supposed to be a clandestine organization.

4). The burden of proof is on the U.S. to demonstrate that it has stopped any support for these people, in light of their actions during the September 2008 violence, and/or any other violent activities.

In addition, the U.S. clearly did nothing to make the Bolivian government – or the international community – think at the time that it was going to break off these relationships, or that it opposed these people’s activities, when it failed to condemn the violence in September, and when the U.S. Ambassador was caught by a TV journalist going to a private meeting with Ruben Costas. (I would argue that it was unwise, as Dan Moriarty says, for Goldberg to meet with Costas at all in this manner, in the midst of a wave of violence that Costas at the time was loudly defending and encouraging in public statements, and only weeks after he had publicly called Morales “a monkey.”)

This actually understates the U.S.’ connection to violent groups in Bolivia, since as I also noted above, the NED made grants to CAINCO in 2004 despite knowing of CAINCO’s connections to extremists such as the “Camba Nation”. (See my comment in response to the NED in the above entry.)

In response to Dan’s comments on the nature of USAID activities in collaboration with prefectures in Bolivia, USAID’s own reports suggest these were considerable projects – e.g., “OTI is now implementing projects in coordination with all nine departmental governments, most recently collaborating with the prefectures of Beni, Pando, and Oruro. OTI has approved 77 grants for $2.9 million to help departmental governments operate more strategically, improve service delivery and outreach to both urban and rural indigenous communities, and help prefects become successful promoters of regional economic development.”

We do not know the full extent of these or other projects. Also, money is fungible. It’s possible that some of the recipients of USAID assistance in these and other projects did not simply use these funds for technical training and support and the like. That’s why it is important for USAID and other U.S. government agencies (and the NED) to be careful not to partner with anyone who’s shown a proclivity towards violence or hatred.

Perhaps the U.S. has ended all funding and partnerships with these people. That would be great. The way to demonstrate this is with transparency. Anyone who is interested in knowing whether U.S. support for violent extremists in Bolivia continues should do as we did and call on USAID – and other government agencies, as Dan points out - to comply with FOIA requests and reveal whom they are funding in Bolivia and why. (Whether or not USAID is “currently the epicenter of US involvement in Bolivia aimed at countering or destabilizing the Morales government,” as Dan put it, I suppose we cannot be sure, but USAID’s spending in Bolivia is, relative to Bolivia’s economy, equivalent to what the U.S. spends on the Iraq war.) We might not be having this debate over whether there is sufficient evidence to support my assertion that there is “growing evidence, amid official secrecy, of U.S. funding for violent opposition groups” if USAID and other U.S. government agencies would comply with the many FOIA requests that have been filed over the past several years. Keep in mind that Jeremy Bigwood has sued for access to documents he requested through FOIA’s years ago, but which USAID refuses to release.
It’s disappointing that unlike the NED, the U.S. Embassy has not chosen to respond to Jim’s invitation to debate these points, and help shed light on the nature of U.S. activities in Bolivia. I hope this is not another indication of official silence on this matter.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Notes on the Craft of Writing

Dear Readers:

All life is not politics.

I find myself, too often, trapped by inertia and expectations into writing about whatever new political development crosses the screen here. And I am trying to get away from that. So today, if you want to wade once more into Bolivian politics, look elsewhere. If you want to read the story of how a MAS founder is accusing Evo Morales of heading a government of thieves,
read here. If you want to read about the weekend meeting between Morales and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, go here. If you want the latest AP report on the "were they assassins or were they assassinated" story, here you go.

As for me, I took a week off recently to head off to a secret spot in Bolivia where I go to from time to time to practice writing of a different sort, my half-crazed effort to write a novel. In the midst of that week immersed in a story that was born in my head and seeks to make its way onto a printed page, I took a moment to write a Blog post reflecting on the craft of writing. Here it is for you to either hate, enjoy, or skip altogether, as you like.


Jim Shultz

Notes on the Craft of Writing

I'm staring at the keyboard of a Dell laptop, waiting for my fingers to invent something. I am sitting in a hotel room carved out of a building that was already old a century ago, a former "mercantile house" (whatever that is) built in the 1800s. The ceiling is probably twenty feet tall. The wallpaper is gray and probably older than I am (I am old). It has tiny white flowers on it. The floor is made of painted red brick. The double bed sags in the middle, giving one an experience roughly akin to sleeping in a bowl. The shower is luke warm. Parrots occupy the overgrown courtyard. I have a small balcony that overlooks the street below. A woman has a small store there. Her apples are covered with a plastic sheet because it has rained all day. Mud coats the streets. Under the mud are stones cut in this shape ( I ) that fit together.

I pay $5 a night to stay here, cold shower but not breakfast included. That costs extra. I am not going to tell you where I am. If you guess right I'll deny it. I don't want you to come here. This is where I come to live out the lunacy of trying to write a novel. If you're a lunatic try it. If not, then don't.

Nonfiction, I know how to write. I have a process. It works. I teach it to other people. It works like this:

1. Gather all the information you'll need to write what you are going to write.

2. Organize the information in some way that seems coherent and understandable.

3. Write it a piece at a time.

4. When you are done with the writing, edit it. Edit the #$%& out of it. You've written too much.

5. When you are doing any one of the above don't try to do any of the others. It won't work. Do only one of them at a time and in that order.


This is my process. It has served me well through three full-length books, a half dozen major reports, and more short articles than I could possibly remember. There are other tips too, like having your audience in your head, but that's more detail than I want to get into here. That's not my point.

My point is this. Writing fiction is a whole other deal, a whole other deal together.

For that you need to sit in a $5 a night hotel room with no Internet or cell phone service. Then you need to stare at the keyboard of a Dell laptop (other brands work as well) and at your fingers and will them into creating something out of nothing. Try it. If you are a lunatic. I think that I mentioned that earlier.

Here's another fiction tip. Pick your reading material carefully. I brought one book to read when I am not writing. It is a book by Isabel Allende, one of her better ones. That might have been a mistake. It might be better not to bring a great book, or even a good book. It might be better to bring a crappy book. If you bring a great book then every five seconds you will say to yourself, "What am I doing? I am a lunatic. I can’t do this. I can't even come a little close to doing this. My writing sucks." If you bring a crappy book then the whole time maybe you'll say, "Hey, I can do this. I can do even better than this." Crappy books are easy to find. I think Amazon has a whole subsection dedicated to them. But I am not sure about that last part, the part about Amazon. It just seems logical.

Did I mention that it has been raining all day?

So here's the deal with writing fiction. Don't get in the way. Don't map it out. Invent some characters that you can really love, some for their goodness, some for their badness and especially ones trying to sort the difference in between. Then put them in some situations that seem interesting and see what they do. If they're good characters and if you love them they'll sort it all out without much help from you, the writer. They will either be noble or ghastly, stupid or smart, flamingly inspirational or deadly boring based on their own free will. You are the writer. You are blameless.

Your job is to bring the laptop, put your fingers on the keys and get the hell out of the way. And occasionally you should leave them alone for a while and get some coffee, maybe read a book (a crappy one, don't forget). Unless your hard disk crashes or someone breaks that little black padlock on your door, neither of which is likely, your characters will still be there when you get back. The really good ones will have jumped off the screen and typed something up for you while you were gone. Mine aren’t that good. I bet Isabel Allende's characters type for her. They seem like they might.

Okay, I cheated. Before I left to come here I laid down 15 Bolivianos for a bootlegged copy (don't tell anyone that part please) of a movie on DVD. It was called "The Day the Earth Stood Still". I watched it one night when I couldn't get my characters to do anything interesting. It's a remake of a movie from the 1950s that I liked, a science fiction classic about a well-dressed man from space who has a big robot with him. After he lands on the Washington Mall soldiers get nervous and shoot the man. The robot gets ticked off and shuts off all the electricity in the world, just to show off I think.

In the new version Keenau Reeves is the well-dressed man from space. He seems a little stiff. Could have been the long flight, or the acting, I'm not sure which. In this new version he lands in Central Park in New York instead of Washington. Maybe this was a statment about where aliens think the power is, or maybe it just looked cooler. Now the people from other planets are ticked off at us about global warming. Before they were ticked about the the Cold War. Aliens get ticked off by different things now than in the 1950s.

That's all I want to say about the movie. You might buy a bootlegged copy too and I don’t want to ruin it for you.

But I'm glad I watched it. Because it inspired me to get back to writing my novel. I thought, "Hey, I can write at least as good as this." Lots of movies are badly written. So if you want to get your confidence back up about writing fiction, watch a movie, especially a remake. It will help.

Okay, I have one last point that I want to make here. If you have read through this entire post and are feeling now that you have wasted ten minutes of your life that you will never get back, well I have no sympathy for you. You should have known what you were getting into back around, "I'm staring at the keyboard of a Dell laptop, waiting for my fingers to invent something."

When I finish my novel it will probably be on the New York Times bestsellers list for 57 weeks. Isabel Allende will probably give me a blurb for the back cover. It will read: "Better than the remake of 'The Day the Earth Stood Still".

You see, once you start writing fiction, you can invent anything. That's the beauty of it.