Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Morales Charges U.S. Conspiracy to Force Bolivia onto Daylight Savings Time

President Evo Morales, equipped with a wall clock as a prop, charged Tuesday that the U.S. Embassy in La Paz is engaged in clandestine effort to coerce Bolivia to adopt Daylight Savings Time, moving the nation's clocks forward and backward an hour in coordination with the U.S.

To back his claim Morales released a set of intercepted e-mail messages between the Embassy and State Department officials in Washington.

"We have seen the government of the U.S. try to undermine our democracy, block us from the lawful export of coca products, and smuggle in munitions. But now we see that these conspirators also have their sights set on changing our clocks. We denounce this before the world community."

Morales also declared an Embassy clerical worker, Lindsey Phillips, to be persona-non-grata, making her the fourth Embassy official to be sent home by the Bolivian government. Citing the intercepted e-mails, Morales charged that Phillips was leading the effort to change his nation's clocks, and that she had "clear and ongoing contact" with regional opposition groups to gain their support to promote the plan.

Morales also charged that USIAD was using its funding to engineer support for the change from domestic political organizations, and demanded a full accounting from Embassy officials.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Susan Richards denied the charge. "The United States has always maintained that the decision of what time to keep is a sovereign one that must be made by each nation according to its own values."

She added that the latest charge by Morales seemed to be an attempt by the Bolivian government to distract public attention from recent charges of corruption against his administration, as well as a potential loss Wednesday by the Bolivian national soccer team in a World Cup qualifying match against Argentina. "The Morales government's proclivity to link these charges to key sporting events, unfortunately, is well-known."

Intercepted Embassy E-mails

While Bolivian officials have yet to publicly release the intercepted e-mails cited, through an anonymous source the Democracy Center was able to secure excerpts from three of them.

One of the e-mails, dated last September, is from Ms. Phillips to a State Department colleague, Rachel Larson, in which Phillips blamed Bolivia's refusal to adopt Daylight Savings Time for a missed teleconference with Washington.

Subject: wednesadayssuck
Date: Wed, 24 Sep 2008 14:20:44 -0400

Ugggh, I am so utterly bummed. I was supposed to do a video Skype today with my boyfriend, Ronnie, you remember the one – so hot, that clerk in legal affairs with the biceps. We set it for noon when that %&*hole I work for is off for one of his looooong Bolivian lunches and can't see me using the computer for "personal business." And geeeeze, this dumb country isn’t even on the same time as Washington. It is like an entire hour ahead, so I missed him completely. $%it, forget all this War on Drugs stuff. Let's change that, no?


The second e-mail excerpt secured by the Democracy Center includes an exchange between Phillips and a State Department employee, Ronald Duncan, that according to Morales demonstrates the Embassy's collaboration with regional opposition groups:


Subject: Mr. Santa Cruz
Date: Fri, 13 Mar 2009 10:38:51 -0500

So, I hear from Rachel that you are still seeing that guy in Santa Cruz. What's with that? She says you were all over his arm at Epocruz, and got so trashed at his house on Carnival that you thought Alexanders was a disco! I saw his ugly mug on your Facebook page. So maybe I'll still come for spring break or maybe I won't. Not if I hear you're still seeing that guy."


The source of the USAID charge is a December 2008 e-mail from Lawrence Fordham, a USAID accountant in La Paz, to the accounting manager at a Bolivian non-governmental organization, RECIBIMOS:

Subject: Re: December receipts
Date: Thu, 18 Dec 2008 11:17:23 -0400

Thank you for the prompt reply to my request for receipts, and your kind wishes for my family. We are enjoying the warm summer days now, a welcome break from the freezing cold out first months here. But my children, especially little Eric, really miss the long summer days we used to have in Virginia. Especially with the clocks set forward, my kids could stay out until 9pm playing and it would still be light. Hey, you ought to try out Daylight Savings Time here, no?


When pressed by reporters at his La Paz news conference about how his government obtained the e-mails, Morales explained that his intelligence services had infiltrated the Embassy's computer system through the technicians brought in to address a series of problems created by the Embassy's switchover last month to Windows Vista.

"The North Americans, it turns out, aren't so smart after all. We sent in my cousin Luis with a flash drive and he got everything. That's why in our government we have used revenue from the new taxes on foreign oil companies to switch everyone over to Macs."

Reaction to Charges is Widespread

In Caracas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced his country's solidarity against "the conspiracy by the empire to manipulate the comings and goings of our Bolivian brothers and sisters." Chavez then issued an executive decree setting all of the nation's clocks forward by 37 minutes, "to demonstrate our refusal to be a party to the U.S. government's iron-handed attempt to force other nations to synchronize themselves to U.S. time and U.S. policies."

Following the Morales announcement, Democracy Center staff interviewed a handful of Cochabamba residents on Calle Heroinas, to sample local reaction the news.

"Que lio es esto!" replied nut seller Oscar Nunez. "Change our clocks, I don't understand."

Lidia Flores, a marketing student at the University of San Simon, seemed puzzled at first, but then added. "If the U.S. is going to buy me a watch then okay. I don't mind it so much. What kind of watch are they going to buy me? A good one, no?"

Labor leader Ronaldo Quispe declared that the move by the U.S. was an outrageous intrusion against Bolivian rights. "La hora Boliviana is very important in our culture. We talk about it all the time. 'Oh I am late, I am on la hora Boliviana." He announced an immediate blockade of the highway between Cochabamba and La Paz to protest the plan.

[Note from Jim Shultz: Hey folks, I just noticed that a handful of Blogs have cross-posted this item as genuine news. FYI, this is an April Fool's joke, though I can see how the authenticity of the Embassy e-mails may have fooled people (okay, that's a joke too). But many thanks to Lindsey Phillips at the Embassy for her cooperation. And by the way, space aliens are on their way to Earth tonight -- either to Cincinatti or Sucre. They haven't decided yet, or so my alien sources tell me. Happy April Fools!]


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Morales and Cheney Announce Halliburton to Takeover Santa Cruz

In a stunning move, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced Monday that Halliburton Corp. the Texas-based firm managing U.S. civilian operations in Iraq, will take over administration of the department of Santa Cruz. The move was widely seen as an effort to diffuse the explosive political crisis over demands by Santa Cruz that it be granted political autonomy.

“This is an opportunity for Bolivia to put the regional autonomy issue behind us,” said Morales at a packed La Paz news conference. Under a deal negotiated in secret by Bolivian and Santa Cruz officials, at the corporation’s Houston offices, Halliburton will begin administration all of the department’s key public services, as well as its tax collection and interactions with foreign oil firms.

“This step will allow us to move on to the other pressing challenges we face as a people, such as the development of our oil and gas resources, and securing the right to play soccer at 5,000 meters,” said Morales.

Santa Cruz governor Ruben Costas appeared side-by-side with the President to endorse the plan. “Santa Cruz is a hard working region and a prosperous one. We believe that by merging that eagerness to work with Halliburton’s well-established management expertise, we can bring new growth and efficiency across the department.”

Under the agreement the position of Governor will be abolished in Santa Cruz and Costas will assume the title of “Regional Director” under the supervision of a Halliburton management committee based in Houston. Santa Cruz civic leaders also announced that they would drop plans for a May 4 vote on the autonomy issue.

Cheney Makes Surprise Visit to Bolivia

Adding to the drama, U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney, en route to a previously scheduled trip to Brazil and Argentina, made an unannounced stopover in Bolivia to support the plan. The Vice President was CEO of Halliburton prior to joining the Republican ticket in 2000 and has played a controversial role in steering U.S. government projects, in Iraq and elsewhere, to his former company.

“This agreement is a landmark in the global effort to bring private sector expertise into public administration,” said Cheney in a brief La Paz appearance with Morales and Costas. “This is also the first time that a private company, from the U.S. or elsewhere, has ever taken over an entire state. This will help Halliburton develop the on-the-ground expertise it needs to eventually take over administration of an entire nation.”

A Cheney assistant, speaking off the record, told the Associated Press that two nations under current consideration for a complete Halliburton takeover are Romania and Malawi, sometime in late 2009.

Deal also Includes “Las Magnificas” and New Flag

According to a Halliburton news release (available here), effective July 1, the company will assume operating responsibility for a range of services, including public schools, water service, administration of the Santa Cruz airport, as well as oversight of the region’s popular beauty pageants. Under the deal, the Santa Cruz beauty queens known as “Las Magnificas” will change their official name to “Those Halliburton Gals” and will make a minimum of two goodwill tours to Texas each year for the duration of the 25-year contract.

Also unveiled Monday was a new Santa Cruz flag. Emblazoned across its traditional green and white stripes will be the Halliburton corporate logo of a $100 bill. This will be the first time that U.S. currency will appear on any government flag. Reuters quoted U.S. representatives here saying that they expected the new flag to help boost the fortunes of the sagging dollar.

“Every time people in Santa Cruz look up, they are going to see Benjamin Franklin smiling down on them,” said a U.S. Embassy official quoted by the news service. “Let’s see the Euro compete with that!”

Political Reaction Mixed

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) representative in Bolivia, Robert Landhom, told La Razon, “We always believed that the Morales government would eventually come around to the inherent wisdom of privatization but frankly, we never expected this. On the basis of this turnaround we think the door is wide open to approach the government about going into heavy foreign debt again as well.”

In El Alto, Felipe Mamani, leader of the left-wing Movement for the Defense of Sovereignty (MDS), said his group was prepared to resort to extremes to block the privatization move. He declared “We cannot allow our Camba brothers and sisters be taken hostage by a U.S. corporation.” MDS leaders threatened to seize the popular mascot of the Fino Cooking Oil Company – the eight-foot-tall Fino Man – until the agreement is rescinded.

In Cochabamba, Governor Manfred Reyes Villa, dismissed the move as, “a transparent act of cowardice by the Morales government to attempt to split our departments.” Reyes Villa told reporters, “Obviously the Halliburton deal was dictated directly from Caracas. But Cochabamba will not be left behind.”

The Cochabamba governor released a letter he sent Monday to Riley Bechtel, CEO of the San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation, inviting the Corporation to return to Cochabamba and begin administration of the region. The Governor urged Bechtel officials to forget their ousting during the 2000 Water Revolt. “Everyone here loves you guys now. We even have plans to rename our local soccer team Bechtelman,” Reyes Villa wrote company officials.

But Santa Cruz civic leaders quickly embraced the move. Civic Committee member Silvia Brocovic told the newspaper El Dia, “Halliburton has promised to deliver smooth administration, modest amounts of corruption spread evenly, and a very large supply of big hats. We see this as a win/win for everyone.”

President Morales’ spokesman, Alex Contreras explained to reporters how the Santa Cruz/ Halliburton deal came about. “These guys came down here and asked to see the President. Naturally we were quite suspicious at first. But after hearing about progress with public works under Halliburton management in Iraq, Evo finally turned to the rest of us and said, ‘Compañeros, isn’t that exactly what we want for Santa Cruz?”

“After that,” said Contreras, it was really just a matter of a few phone calls and working out the details."

“And by the way,” he added, “Did you know that Vice President Cheney likes to chew coca? Who knew?”

Happy April Fools Day from The Democracy Center!