Bolivia: Election Results Reveal Emergence of New Opposition Force

originally posted at Global Voices

Soon after the final vote was cast in the April 4th municipal and departmental elections and the official results began pouring in, many bloggers started to provide their analysis and interpretation of the results. On that day, Bolivians would set out to elect local mayors and members of the city council in 327 municipalities, as well as governors and departmental assembly members in the 9 departments.

After winning re-election in December 2009, President Evo Morales and his party Movement Towards Socialism (MAS for its initials in Spanish) sought to consolidate power by maintaining those regions in which they traditionally had strong support, but also to put forth “invited” candidates in opposition regions that may provide them with different results from previous losses.

Citizen casting a vote in the city of La Paz by @patojv and used with permission.

Citizen casting a vote in the city of La Paz by @patojv and used with permission.

Mario Durán of the blog Palabras Libres [es] notes that the MAS won 6 of 9 governor seats, but only the mayorship of 2 of the 9 departmental capitals. This he notes, leaves the victory with a “taste of ash.” Duran’s brother, Jaime, also chimes in with some questions and answers about the results:

¿Qué significan estos resultados? ¿Se puede hablar de una derrota del masismo?

Cómo siempre no hay una respuesta única a estas preguntas. Es una derrota porque no se colmaron las expectativas. Perder tres alcaldías en Occidente no son buenas noticias. No es una derrota porque el nivel meso (las gobernaciones departamentales) está bajo control del partido azul y es en ese nivel que se construirán las autonomías. Aunque debe matizarse que los departamentos en los que se encuentra la riqueza hidrocarburifera no están bajo las alas del oficialismo. Esto generará problemas y se lo verá dentro de poco.

What do these results mean? Can we talk about a defeat for the MAS?

As always, there is not only one answer for these questions. It is a defeat because they did not meet expectations. To lose 3 mayorships in the West (traditionally strong support for MAS) is not good news. It is not a defeat because at the mid-level (departmental governments) they are under control of the blue party (MAS) and at that level the autonomies are constructed. Even though it must be noted that in the departments in which the hydrocarbon wealth can be found, they are not under the control of the government party. This will create problems and will soon be seen.

Blogger Pablo Andrés Rivero of Purple Fire [es] writes that, “it is clear that the MAS-IPSP is the outright winner, but… there are many ‘buts'”

One of these “buts” took place in the city of La Paz, which is also the seat of government and where the MAS has enjoyed considerable support. However, its mayoral candidate Elizabeth Salguero, who had been leading in the polls, was defeated by Luis Revilla from the party Without Fear Movement (MSM for its initials in Spanish). It was this result that attracted the most attention in the Bolivian blogosphere, as many bloggers provided their thoughts on why the MAS lost in La Paz and what this means for the party and its party chief for the future.

Juan del Granado, who founded the MSM, had been mayor of La Paz for a decade before deciding not to run for a 3rd term in the 2010 elections. As a former human-rights lawyer, del Granado had successfully prosecuted the first Latin American dictator in the courts when he placed Luis García Meza behind bars in the mid 1990s.

During his 2nd term in office, the MSM became allies with the MAS party. However, for the 2010 elections, the MSM chose to put forth its own candidate, rather than support Salguero in the municipal elections. This led to a war of words from President Morales and many of his supporters, which included threats of placing del Granado into the Chonchocoro maximum security prison and warnings that the central government would not work with elected leaders from opposition party. This rhetoric was something which the bloggers and evidently the voters noted, as Revilla was elected. Some voters like Alberto Canedo (@betocomics) captured the image of their vote for Revilla in this Twitpic photo, as well as Patricio Javier Vera (@patojv):

Photo of vote cast by @patojv and used with permission.

Photo of vote cast by @patojv and used with permission.

Daniela Otero of the blog Dejando Huella [es] writes:

La guerra sucia emprendida contra el Movimiento Sin Miedo, uno de los más importantes aliados del proceso de cambio en occidente, fue interpretada por los ciudadanos como una sucesión de actos de deslealtad y arbitrariedad.

The dirty war set upon the Without Fear Movement, one of the most important allies in the process of change in the Occident, was interpreted by the citizenry as a succession of acts of disloyalty and arbitrariness.

Blogger and political scientist Miguel Centellas of Pronto* adds that there was a bit of hypocrisy in these accusations:

During the campaign, the rhetoric intensified to the point where Evo and others threatened to jail the popular La Paz mayor (and democratization-era hero) Juan Del Granado. Apparently, after more than four years as close working allies, Evo suddenly discovered that Juan “Sin Miedo” (as he & his party are called) was “corrupt” due to his previous participation in pre-2005 governments. Of course, this didn’t stop MAS from recruiting Roberto Fernandez, the son of populist Max Fernandez of UCS (both of whom actively took part in the worst of the patron-client relationships of the 1990s “neoliberal” era). Roberto was recruited to run for the mayorship of Santa Cruz against Percy Fernandez (no relationship) and Johnny (Roberto’s brother). Percy looks to have won an easy reelection.

Richard Sánchez of the digital magazine La Mala Palabra [es] was especially tough on the MAS and clearly stated his intention to not vote for Salguero, and encouraged his readers to refrain from casting a ballot for the MAS candidate. He writes the following, 3 days prior to the elections, why people should not vote for the MAS:

Porque ese empleado a quien le dimos pega en Palacio por segunda vez, ahora amenaza. Se da el lujo de amenazar diciendo que no trabajará con alcaldes o gobernadores que ganen y que no sean del MAS. ¿No se da cuenta que es presidente de TODOS los bolivianos, le guste o no? Un embajador gringo también nos amenazó hace tiempo para que no votemos por Evo y todos votamos por Evo. Ahora Evo cae en las mismas amenazas. LMP y ninguno tiene ni debe ser amenazado. NO VOTES POR EL MAS CARAJO.

Because that employee (President Morales) who we placed in the Palace for the second time, is now giving threats. He gives himself the luxury of giving threats saying that he will not work with mayors or governors who win and who are not from the MAS. Does he not realize that he is the President of ALL Bolivians, whether he likes it or not? A U.S. ambassador also warned us awhile ago (1997) to not vote for Evo and then we all voted for Evo. Now Evo is falling into giving the same threats. LMP (La Mala Palabra) and no one else should be threatened. DON’T VOTE FOR MAS, DAMMIT.

Even though del Granado did not participate in the local elections as a candidate, many have been calling him one of the day’s winners, partly due to the errors committed by Morales and the MAS party. Otero summarizes this [es]:

Quizá, la lección más importante de estas elecciones es que los errores políticos siempre pasan altas facturas y que los que se cometieron en el caso específico de La Paz sólo contribuyeron al surgimiento de una nueva fuerza política nacional: el Movimiento Sin Miedo.

Maybe, the most important lesson in these elections is that the political errors always come with consequences and those that committed these errors in La Paz cause the rise of a new national political force: the Without Fear Movement.

Jaime Durán, writes that at the head of this new political force is del Granado, and it is a different kind of opposition [es], because it is also an left-wing opposition, as opposed to the traditional right-wing opposition to the MAS. Victories by the MSM also were recorded in the city of Oruro, another traditional MAS stronghold, and strong finishes in other parts of the country.

At the victory press conference appearing with the mayor-elect Revilla, MSM supporters greeted del Granado with calls for him to run for President in 2014. Despite the springboard to the national scene based on these results, del Granado said that “2014 is still very far away.”

Bolivia at the UN

President Evo Morales is scheduled to address the General Assembly this week in New York and he may be attracting quite a following. The two previous Bolivian presidents, Eduardo Rodriguez and Carlos Mesa both spoke in 2005 and 2004, respectively. The sea revindication issue was usually at the top of the list of topics for Mesa, where he said:

Finally, I would like to mention an issue that we continue to insist upon during our presentations in front of the world here in the heart of the international community – the fact that Bolivia is landlocked has been a factor that has halted our development.

Two years later and Bolivia is no closer to gaining soverign access to the sea. Many hope that the UN is the vehicle to acheive this feat, but no one is holding their breath.

Many more eyes will be on Evo as he makes his first address at the UN. One has to wonder whether he will come with prepared speech in hand or whether he will wing it. According to La Razon, the subject of his talk will be the rights of indigenous communities for self-determination.

One also has to wonder whether Evo, fresh off of his visit to Cuba and the Non-Aligned Countries conference, will rail against the United States and neoliberalism. However, there is also some hope that the pragmatic and conciliatory Evo will show up. The (forced?) resignation of the Minister of Hydrocarbons Andres Soliz Rada because he was a little too radical for the government’s tastes may show a little more realism by this adminstration. Already, Evo has met with former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and is an invited guest at the Clinton Global Initiative.

This upcoming speech is one of the most important of Evo’s tenure as President. Just today, the U.S. released a report criticizing Bolivia’s cooperation on the “War on Drugs”. Even though, as the CIP reports, that the amount of cocaine seized has increased, the control on erradication continues to be lacking. Will the world continue to be fascinated by this phenomenon or will a potentially aggressive address cause many more doubters?
tag: gv-un

Goni Got "Served" in Washington DC

Surreal would be a fairly descriptive word for Tuesday evening’s events. It wasn’t so much seeing a former Bolivian President live and in color, speak so frankly about Bolivia and its current state of affairs that seemed unusual, but rather it was the odd, and possibly historic occurrences throughout the night.

Invited by a friend to the event hosted by the organization Princeton in Latin America where Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada was on hand in Washington, DC to speak about the current state of South America. Quite rarely does “Goni” appear in public as he still remains very much on the minds of Bolivians for some unanswered questions.

His talk took a back seat to the pre-game festivities. I found a place near the front giving me time to come up with some sort of heavy-duty question (I failed, but more on that later). Near the back of the room, a young man with a digital camera would flash repeated pictures of Goni, as another man handed him a brown envelope. Piecing together the turn of events was difficult from my vantage point, but I would learn later what had transpired.

Apparently he was served with legal papers. From a Press Release from those involved with this event:

November 1, 2005, Washington, DC – Former Bolivian president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (1991-1997, 2002-2003) was served with legal documents today by U.S. citizens acting on behalf of Bolivian human rights organizations. Mr. Sanchez de Lozada is being summoned to testify in an investigation undertaken by the Bolivian Office of the Attorney General where he is accused of the wrongful deaths, injuries, illegal imprisonment and other crimes against Bolivian citizens.

Goni attempted to remove himself from the situation as all the parties involved were escorted from the event. The ex-President tried to laugh it off, but when I glanced over my shoulder, I saw him standing alone in the hallway, he appeared visibly shaken and disturbed at the surprise.

After all of that was out of the way, Goni’s 30 minute talk would begin. The title of his speech was “Quo Vadis South America,” although it ended up concentrating heavily on the events in Bolivia. It’s hard to say whether he shuffled things up and purposely focused on Bolivia, and in a way, to defend himself because of the incident prior to the speech. He didn’t appear to be operating off of notes. Those in attendance all had varying degrees of knowledge and interest in Bolivian politics. There were some officials from the Bolivian embassy present, as well as some students who spent time in the country.

The main problem in South America, and especially Bolivia, in Goni’s eyes was the unholy alliance between drug money and radical social movements. He didn’t hesitate to specifically mention Evo Morales as a beneficiary of coca money. He made it clear that Evo wasn’t involved in the shipping, Goni indicated that Evo was a recipient of tax revenue from coca, which helps funds the MAS political machine. There was hardly a mention of Hugo Chavez, in regards to funds for Bolivia. However, it may be logical to think that Evo has some idea of what’s going on in the Chapare area, but probably is not directly involved with illegal activities. If he was involved directly, with so many enemies within the country, surely someone somewhere could make a link if he wanted to, but so far there has been no proof. Yet, this was the first time I have heard of this coca tax.
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Prefect Elections – August 12

The Bolivian Electoral Court has confirmed that the next round of elections are scheduled for August 12. This first step towards more local government participation will be another test of the strength of the citizens’ groups and political parties. These should be interesting to gauge progress from the various political parties and to find out whether the citizens’ groups have more influence outside of their municipalities.

Will Evo’s MAS party fall on its face after its policy of blockades and blackmail caused a lot of disfavor in the cities? Now that the elections will be department-wide, the rural progress and support will likely be squashed by the disdain in the cities. Will Evo be able to claim to be the number one political force in the country? Or will it be the continued emergence of citizens’ groups and possible alliances that become this new force?

El Alto’s Mayor Jose Luis Paredes (PP) has confirmed that they will participate in the Department of La Paz’s elections and possibly even in Oruro and Potosi. The popular La Paz Mayor Juan del Granado (MSM) will also branch out.

The national head of the Movimiento Sin Miedo and La Paz Mayor said that his party will participate in the prefect elections and did not rule out presenting candidates in the nine departments, with possible alliances with the citizens’ groups or with political parties that identify themselves with the transformation of the left, but “never with the traditional parties.”

These alliances could be key as there has not been any real change in the way politics and elections are carried out. In the end, no one candidate is likely to achieve the 50% + 1 to win outright. As we have seen at the national and municipal levels, backdoor wheeling and dealing and the exchange of patronage will likely be the norm, which would a shame. These elections should have been a clear victory for democracy and local autonomy, but as it has been all along, it’s about the battle and struggle for power and how that power is gained.

It Worked

The pressures from the Civic Committee in Santa Cruz convinced Ricardo Paz to resign his post as coordinator of the Unidad de Coordinación de la Asamblea Constituyente.

From El Deber:

ED: ¿Hubo presiones para que usted deje el cargo de coordinador de la Unidad de Coordinación de la Asamblea Constituyente?

RP: La resistencia en los últimos días, especialmente de parte del Comité pro Santa Cruz, hace que yo dé un paso al costado, no quiero ser un pretexto para que este proceso no se realice. Espero que ésta mi salida, si es que resultaba ser un problema, lo viabilice, sin que le presenten más cortapisas.

So basically Paz resigned so he wouldn’t be used as an excuse in order to derail the process. Good for him, as he clearly knows the Constituent Assembly is not about him or his position.

Let's Get the Constituent Assembly Rolling

As one of the five priorities set by Carlos Mesa after the latest political crisis, the Constituent Assembly is gathering steam. There are many things to decide long before the Assembly convenes to rewrite the Constitution, including timeframe, number of delegates, and the timing of the Referendum on autonomies.

However, any move made by the President or the Unidad de Coordinación para la Asamblea Constituyente (UCAC), a special commission headed by delegate Ricardo Paz, will sure to draw a watchful eye.

This is a monumental task that requires concessions from both the left and the right, even though each side believes their ideas are the only ones that count. Paz will work closely with Senator Carlos Sandy (MAS – Oruro), head of the Comisión Especial de Congeso (CECAC), with the objective of “opening a the most democratic and participative process in the republican history of the country: the Constituent Assembly.”

Easier said than done.

The leaders of the Civic Committees in Santa Cruz are already crying foul. They’ve apparently found a new public enemy no. 1 in Paz, who they accuse of being a “anti-Cruceño manipulator

Pointing to a visit by Paz to San Julian, a small town in the Santa Cruz Department. The newspaper El Nuevo Dia decided to interpret Paz’s words for him.

Ricardo Paz Ballivián, coordinador para la Asamblea Constituyente y hombre de confianza de Carlos Mesa, fue duramente criticado por la dirigencia cívica y un analista cruceño. Ambos consideraron que su actuación en el desbloqueo de San Julián sólo perjudicará las negociaciones entre Santa Cruz y el Gobierno. Paz felicitó a los campesinos por el bloqueo de tres días “en defensa de la democracia”,

Notice how the newspaper managed only to quote “in defense of democracy” and not the words where Paz supposedly congratulated the campesinos for blockading the road. Even in other news sources, there was no sign of the exact quote. Most likely Paz congratulated the campesinos for standing up for autonomies within the context of a new Constitution, and not through a populist mega-propaganda-fueled party that took place last month.

The commission is studying proposals regarding the number of delegates to the Assembly. Based on Census numbers from 2001, the Department with the highest population (because it has two of the top four cities in terms of population) is La Paz, with the highest number of delegates, followed by Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. Their proposal will sure to draw criticisms from minority groups, who may have more economic power but clearly do not have the comparable numbers.

Mesa Shakes Up Cabinet

As expected, remedy President Carlos Mesa has reshaped his cabinet for the third time since assuming the Presidency. Also, as expected, new cabinet members represent sectors of the country that have opposed Mesa or recently came out in public support for him.

For example, Walter Kreidler, who has strong ties to the Santa Cruz businessmen, has been named Minister of Economic Development.

Also, individuals closely tied with members of the bancada patriótica and newly elected mayors were given Cabinet positions.

La bancada patriótica que es afín al Gobierno tiene tres representantes en el Ejecutivo: el ministro de Servicios y Obras Públicas, René Gómez García; el de Asuntos Campesinos y Agropecuarios, Víctor Gabriel Barrios; y el de Asuntos Indígenas, Pedro Ticona. Barrios es hijo del senador emebelista Franz Barrios; y Ticona responde a la corriente de Filemón Escóbar (MAS).

Los alcaldes, que apoyaron a Mesa mientras duró el conflicto con Santa Cruz, también tienen presencia en la nueva estructura. El ministro de Minería y Metalurgia (cartera creada), Jorge Espinoza, fue propuesto por el burgomaestre potosino, René Joaquino.

All this is an effort to increase backing in Congress, something he had not received in his 1+ year in office. Of the 16 cabinet positions (ratificado” and remained in their positions.

René Joaquin, Potosí Mayor

Last month, El Deber published a nice profile piece about the recently elected Potosí mayor. René Joaquino, the “phenomenon” that pulled in 58% of the vote, is considered one of the up-and-coming mayors in the country and is making a name for himself on the national scene. His citizens’ group Alianza Social (AS) currently has ten of the eleven council seats in Potosi. Joaquino was a former member of Nueva Fuerza Republicana (NFR), but broke ranks as did countless others.

Potosí maneja ahora dos veces más dinero que en las gestiones anteriores. Un gran porcentaje llega de programas de cooperación. Aspira a convertir a Potosí en un municipio modelo de Bolivia. Ha reducido la contaminación de las minas. Exige sacrificio y puntualidad a los 471 empleados ediles. Fue portero, albañil y lamparero

Due to his past manual labor professions, many Potosinos readily identify with him. Sometimes he has been very visible helping unload bags of cement or other construction materials at public works sites. However, he is also a lawyer, which has helped in future aspirations.

Soñaba con ser Presidente de Bolivia. “René Joaquino, futuro Presidente”, firmaba en las notas que enviaba a sus compañeros. Ellos bromeaban, pero, en el fondo, él no. Claro, quién iba a tomar en serio a un pastor de ovejas y luego lamparero en las minas que trabajaba su tío en Chorolque.

Potosi has been the birthplace of two Bolivian Presidents, Jose Maria Linares Lizarazu and Gregorio Pacheco Leyes.

La ejecución eficiente de las obras hizo que la cooperación ofrezca su ayuda. Cada fin de semana, el municipio recibía embajadores de varios países, interesados en visitar la legendaria ciudad y ver de cerca el fenómeno Joaquino. Casi la mitad de los Bs 130 millones que se administran cada año vienen de recursos externos. Japón, Dinamarca, España, Cuba y otros programas han entregado créditos a la Alcaldía por casi Bs 61 millones.

Foot in the Door Technique?

Last Thursday, the Bolivian Foreign Minister announced that Bolivia will no longer seek access to the sea through multi-lateral means. You may remember President Carlos Mesa’s obsession with bringing up the subject at every international forum, conference, and at the United Nations. Per the request of Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, which Mesa previously discounted, these discussions will take place on a bi-lateral basis. Bolivia took one step towards Chile, and now Mesa is counting on Lagos to reciprocate with the same.

Lema Quits City Council

In a unexpected turn of events, MAS candidate for the Cochabamba mayorship, Gonzalo Lema resigned his position and is formally leaving MAS.

After pledging to respect the top vote getter, he was criticized by MAS leader Evo Morales. Lema, as the 2nd place vote getter, legally could have sought the mayor chair. Then, he clarified that respecting and supporting Chaly Terceros (the top vote getter) is different than providing him with the sufficient votes to be mayor. As a result, Terceros made an alliance with UCS candidate Edwin Mallon. It is unclear what was exchanged in order for this alliance to happen.

Lema was formally censured by MAS in a meeting last Saturday. All of this left the famous national novelist very bitter.

“No puedo creer que sea algo utópico el contar con un Concejo libre de camarillas y en alianzas basadas en un mero interés político.”

Whether or not politics will be in Lema’s future is still unknown. It’s hard to say whether Lema received less votes because of his association with MAS or more votes because of that party affiliation. I am guessing that he received all the votes associated with MAS no matter who the candidate was, although I have heard many people from Cochabamba say that they like Lema, but would never vote for MAS.