Guilty By Association?

Almost every new poll released in Bolivia, such as the one that states that 6 out of 10 Bolivians want to leave the country and the one that states the Armed Forces and Catholic Church have high favorable ratings, has been conducted by the polling firm Apoyo, Opinión y Mercado Bolivia.

Sure one might want to question the timing of some of the polls, which reinforces public opinion that the mobilizations may actually be doing more harm than good. One doesn’t need a poll to know that the opportunities in Bolivia are shrinking by the day.

However, this BolPress article tries to link the firm to Henry Kissinger and to George Bush in order to turn public opinion against the results. The current President of Apoyo was a “colleague” of Kissinger. The article also states that the founder is on the Advisory Council of the Eisenhower Fellowship Program, which has honored George Bush!

Instead of trying to discredit the firm by stretching the association with Kissinger or Bush, why not ask who is paying for the polls?

Putting 2 + 2 Together?

There seems to not have been even a peep to come from the self-described “Frente Nacional Anticorrupción” since they claimed responsibility for the dynamite blast in Santa Cruz on May 14. Were they a bunch of amateurs wanting to make some national noise or have they been in the spotlight all along?

The broadcasted video which outlined their demands gave the government 15 days to act. Priority was given to the full nationalization of the Hydrocarbons. Coincidentally, site this deadline has coincided with a D-day announced by one of the 2 Lt. Colonels which recently called for a military-civic government to take charge.

Even thought the Armed Forces acted swiftly by “forcibly retiring” the two junior officers, Julio Herrera and Julio Cesar Galindo, it does not seem like a huge consequence for the two who claimed to be part of a larger plot to replace the government.

Herrera gave an exclusive interview with the Mexican newspaper “Reforma” where the date May 31 was a key historical reference. Next Tuesday, which comes, give or take 15 days, after the initial dynamite blast in Santa Cruz, may or may not seem strictly coincidental.

The interview was covered by a Peruvian newspaper, where Herrera talked a bit of the impending change in government.

Some clips:

“We have had advanced conversations with 3 Latin American countries, Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela, that have known about this project for the past 30 days.”

“The international community will not isolate us because our government will work with honesty, hard work and human sensibility towards the dispossessed class”

He reiterated that one of the first measures the military movement will take is the “nationalization of the hydrocarbons”, because with that they will recuperate “the sovereignty and dignity of its natural resources”, dissolve Parliament and the convocation of the Constituent Assembly.

It’s hard to say whether the two are bluffing and whether or not they have the support they claim. Nevertheless, one of the 2, Galindo has a shady past as outlined in the website: FAB Extraoficial. Among their indiscretions include 36 arrests including being arrested for 24 hours a whopping 21 times. Both are still wanted by the government for immediate arrest.

Four Named in Lawsuit

It appears that the government of Carlos Mesa has taken the route of working within the existing democratic institutions to put a halt to the marches and protests that have paralyzed the city of La Paz. Instead of using force to stop the violent marches, rx a series of lawsuits has been placed on COB leader Jaime Solares and El Alto councilman Roberto de la Cruz. Also named in these lawsuits were the 2 Lt. Colonels who called for the resignation of Mesa and an installation of a military-civic government.
Continue reading

Our Brand is Crisis

Finally! Every week I have been scouring the movie listings to see when the movie “Our Brand is Crisis” will hit the area. Apparently it is so obscure that it didn’t land a place in the IMDB. The documentary’s subject matter goes hand-in-hand with this website’s main focus: Bolivia. This movie directed by Rachel Boynton takes a look at Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada’s 2002 Presidential campaign where he hired a Washington DC-based political consulting firm to assist him. The movie will be shown at SilverDocs on June 16 as part of the AFI/Discovery Channel’s Documentary Festival.

A movie description from Yahoo! Movies:

Rachel Boynton’s excellent, probing documentary goes behind-the-scenes to show the manipulation and orchestration that is involved in big-time political campaigning. OUR BRAND IS CRISIS follows members of the consulting firm of Greenberg Carville Shrum to Bolivia, where they have been hired to help controversial candidate Gonzalo “Goni” Sanchez de Lozada reclaim the presidency. With only a few weeks left before the election, consultants Jeremy Rosner, Stan Greenberg, and James Carville work their magic, softening Goni’s liberal image and shaping his message to appeal to the masses. In his typically audacious fashion, Carville delivers some of the film’s most unforgettable quips. Meanwhile, the unemployment situation is threatening to spark a full-fledged national riot, raising the stakes even higher. Boynton’s film is edited at a brisk, taut pace, adding drama to the already tense proceedings. An insightful after-the-fact interview with Rosner provides even greater context for the horrific situation that unfolded a year later and which, in fact, opens the film with a bang. Enlightening, engaging, and thought provoking, OUR BRAND IS CRISIS is a vital, profound work of nonfiction cinema.

I am trying to maintain an open mind and not pass judgment on the consultants. One might think that they would be operating under a “one size fits all” mentality, where Bolivian politics are fundamentally different than working on a U.S. election. Although these guys are pretty smart to be in the position where they are, but how much insight to the Bolivian psyche can be obtained in such a small time period? With the presence of James Carville, who doesn’t give a damn what you think, there is quite the possibility of some condescending attitude toward Bolivia and its system.

After the film, members of the firm will be answering questions to an invitation-only reception. I am hoping to score an invite to that, so we’ll see. But I bought my ticket already to the screening of the movie that first premiered at the SXSW festival in Austin, TX earlier this year.

Who is Financing the Marches?

Blah blah blah Chavez, stuff blah blah Castro, ask blah blah Marxist red-bellied Communists! Language and labels like this cannot be constructive when talking about the current situation in Bolivia. Too much is being made of Hugo Chavez in regards to the protests and marches in Bolivia. As Boz writes, Chavez is not Darth Sidious. And most likely, Chavez has very little to do with the mobilizations from El Alto and the COB.

While it is true that Chavez and Evo Morales, head of the MAS party, are close chums, there still has not been any published evidence that Chavez is financing mobilizations. Evo has admitted that Chavez has paid for educational trainings and some infrastructure programs, but any link to bankrolling entire city-wide shutdowns still is not there.

As most would recognize, Evo does not equal every single social movement and campesino group. At times, Evo has been called a traitor by these groups who think he has gone soft and only rolls with the political elite.

Of course, someone is paying for the per diems, transport costs and other everyday items needed to fuel a week-long of protests. However, I’m not convinced that it is Chavez in the case of FEJUVE or COB.

Today, Government Minister Saul Lara said that there is documentation that “external elements” have been financing these mobilizations. He pointed to a “political organization” and a telecommunications company, Cotel (the cooperative telephone company in La Paz). Lara indicated that there is video evidence of protestors receiving sums of money following their role in the protests. One report suggested that each receive between 20 – 200 Bs.

Some cynics might even suggest that the political parties and business groups are funneling money to the protests in order to make the divisions even larger. It is in their best interest to see more violence and blockades, because that gives them even more reason to declare themselves autonomous/independent. (Okay, I admit I am said cynic).

Again, this is unfortunate because this will further discredit these movements. Instead of talking about the issues at hand, we are talking about protest means and questionable motives. Most of those involved have nothing to lose, and a lot to gain if they can receive payment, which helps feed their children. Most are poor campesino with a bleak future, and are not disciples of Chavez or Castro, who tune in every weekend for Alo, Presidente!

Update 1: Bolpress has an article about external financing and Cotel.

Embedded With the Marches

After a week-long back and forth struggle between police and groups of marchers who tried to enter Plaza Murillo and literally shut it down, most of the groups have decided to take a break. They will wait until Tuesday to see what Congress does as it reconvenes to decide on the Constituent Assembly and Referendum on Autonomies. Supporters for both issues are pushing for a definite date.

As more and more media focuses on Bolivia, documentation of what happens in these marches are coming to light.

One source of firsthand information comes from Narco News. This is another very important source of information that one needs to draw on to get the complete picture. Their correspondents have very good access and connections within the social sectors in Bolivia. However, I find it troubling to continue to see a romanticizing of these marches, but in actuality these articles show the awful truth of these street protests.

From Jean Friedsky:

As the march strategically segmented itself to encircle all sides of the police guarded Plaza, sexagenarian campesino women ran ahead, whipping everything in their path: taxis, mini-buses and the occasional street vendor unfortunate enough to have been still operating in the vicinity. Rocks followed, shattering the windows of the transportation vehicles that couldn’t maneuver out fast enough.

It is amazing to see the blame placed on vendors who are still trying to earn a living and vehicles that couldn’t get out of the way.

From Luis Gomez:

The police then covered every street leading to the center of power. At one block from the plaza, at least fifty riot police – armed with gas grenades and low-caliber guns – took up position at each intersection and installed metal barricades to stop the marchers. At the intersection of Comercio Street (a busy pedestrian corridor) and Yanacocha Street, the peasant farmer leadership stopped at one meter from the repressive forces and demanded to pass. Some leaders began minor scuffles to provoke police and advance further.

Why are marchers trying to provoke police? Are they hoping that one death will spiral things out of control like in October 2003?

In Slate, Ryan Grim wrote about his experiences “embedded” with a group of marchers. It’s amazing that he didn’t lose a limb with the dynamite scattered about.

While marching with indigenous Aymara campesinos, I watched as they took pains to smash as many car and bus windows as they could, often with the drivers and passengers still inside.

and

About 5 feet in front of me, an Aymara man tossed dynamite at the police line facing us. The stick exploded in the middle of three officers, who protected themselves with their riot shields. Rocks and bottles were lofted from the crowd, followed by a massive explosion behind us. Police reacted by firing tear gas canisters and rubber bullets into the crowd, which turned and fled.

also

All day Wednesday police clashed with protesters. On one corner near the presidential palace, I watched as cops frantically scattered to avoid a massive bomb rolled in our direction. It exploded before reaching us, shattering windows up and down Calle Yancoha. Police regrouped and responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Protesters followed with another glass-shattering bomb.

Those are frigthening descriptions. It begs the question, “who is repressing who?” Yes, it is true that the Bolivian police are not the most gentle group of law enforcers. However, these scenes of war demonstrates that this is not a one-sided affair, where marchers are always the victim. Often these young policemen are reacting and fighting for their lives against these homemade weapons of destruction. Let us hope that no firearms are thrown into the equation.

By now, the marchers do not care whether they win in the court of public opinion. As of yesterday, La Paz was out of gasoline and diesel because of the blockades. When ordinary men, women and children are terrorized when their public transport mini-van has its windows shattered, the real issue no longer becomes indigenous exclusion and socio-economic inequalities. All that is left is a scene of violence, insecurity and frustration.

Two Lt. Colonels

On Channel 4 Radio Popular, two Lt. Colonels Julio Herrera and Julio Cesar Galindo called for the toppling of President Carlos Mesa’s government, nationalization of hydrocarbons, convocating the Constituent Assembly and to implement a military-civil government.

The head of the Armed Forces, Luis Aranda, stressed that these were isolated voices within the Armed Forces. Both Herrera and Galindo reiterated that they were pacifists, and were not part of military coup.

It took a lot of guts to use their own real names, though.

Meanwhile, the Bolivian Information Agency reported that a dynamite explosion damaged a Congressional building where commission meeting are held.

Update 1: Bloomberg and Reuters have picked up on the opinionated junior officers.

Update 2: Yahoo! Photos provides a snapshot of the two officers.

Armed Forces Chime In

Yesterday, Evo Morales and the MAS march reached its final destination of La Paz where they met up with his “on-again” ally, Jaime Solares (COB). Again, some participants attempted to enter Plaza Murillo and once again, they did not heed the plea to stay away and not follow through on their threat to close down Congress. Police dispersed the crowd with tear gas and the anti-riot police water truck. There was also reckless use of dynamite by some marchers, which threatened some businesses and bystanders.

One of the demands that Morales is pushing for is an immediate convocation of the Constituent Assembly. There was some talk that they too would auto-convocar the Assembly, much in the same manner which the Civic Committee of Santa Cruz have insinuated that they would call their own Referendum for Autonomies.

Because of this initiative from both sectors, the Armed Forces decided release a statement letting everyone know where they stand:

Concerned with the growing situation in this country, caused by various sectors that is generating public uncertainty, with no solution in sight, and which is also increasing the risk of confrontation between regions, the Armed Forces wish to inform the public that we will be attentive to these developments in order to guarantee order and a legitimate government. The Armed Forces are convinced that only through unity will the country obtain better living conditions for everyone.

Because of this, we wish to invite all of the actors to push for their legitimate demands through dialogue and discussion, always through mutual respect as an indispensable condition, in order to advance the process of structural changes that is needed in the country, and which should only be obtained through the laws of the state and the Constitution.

Any decision that violates these principles, as legitimate as they may be, will not be accepted by this Institution. However, any de facto measures from the Constitutional process, will also be closely watched. We will allow for the will of the majority expressed through legal mechanisms be which decides the future of the country.

Rumors of a military coup are also heating back up. Government intelligence sources say that there have been attempts from some sectors to contact members in the Armed Forces to gain some allies. It would seem that there would be a distinct possibility that both the social sectors and business sectors would try to reach the Armed Forces, hoping that they would side with them.

What’s interesting about the Armed Forces statement was the last sentence of the third paragraph about allowing for “the will of the majority” determine the future of Bolivia. So the question is: what does the majority want and who represents this majority?

As we saw in October 03, a small minority of the country’s population determined the fate of the Constitutionally elected President. Does the majority of the country believe they are well represented by the marchers/MAS? Does the majority of the country believe they are well represented by their elected Congressmen/women? Or once again, the majority of the population is left voiceless, while allowing a small minority determine the country’s future.

My South American Top Five

Following the lead of one of my favorite newly-discovered blogs, check Juanson World,(his was more a post of observations) I marvel at how fortunate I have been to have had countless number of wonderful experiences in South America over the past five years. Here my Top 5 South American experiences (so far):

Playing semi-pro basketball in Cochabamba, Bolivia for a club team that my father played for when he was my age. This club was founded in 1937 a bit after the end of the Chaco War. The game of basketball in Bolivia is fundamentally different than what I am used to in the United States (no over-the-back, little emphasis on defense). My height at 6-foot-2 already made me one of the tallest players in the league, but the playground mentality of “me-first” frustrated me at times. One benefit was that I could curse at the refs in English and they would be oblivious to my disagreement with their lack of calls, something one couldn’t get away with in the U.S. My friendships with my teammates really made this experience worthwhile, as we would frequently grab some food after practice or I would be invited to their families’ baptisms, weddings and quinces in diverse neighborhoods in the outskirts of Cochabamba.

Discovering Buenos Aires for the first time, when barely five months had gone by after my grandfather passed away. He had always considered Buenos Aires to be his home away from home, spending five years there before the Chaco War, and following his service, he would head there on an almost annual basis, taking full advantage of his lifetime railroad pass. His best friend from Bolivia, who was also in Buenos Aires, decided to make that his permanent home. The grandchildren of this best friend would end up being some of my very good friends and would show me around. Walking through the neighborhoods, sitting in parks and loving the diverse bustle of this grand city were experiences that really made me feel closer to my late grandfather because of our common love for this city.

Taking an overland route from Bolivia to the state of Goias in Brazil where I got to know members of my extended family. There I was treated like a part of their immediate family, as I had only met my aunt prior, who had extended an open invitation for me to visit. My aunt kept me well fed with different kinds of peixe (my one and only true love) and two kinds of feijão at every meal. My cousin took me to eat coxinhas, sit at a car wash making me try every single kind of Brasilian beer in the store (I think Skol was my favorite) and to the local futebol stadium where the samba drummers would beat for 90 minutes straight. However, I bonded most with my four-year old niece, who didn’t know Spanish and I was still struggling with pronunciation of Portuguese, however we managed to communicate.

With only a backpack and a month, I wandered all over Peru on my first-ever extended solo trip. On this journey, I discovered the hidden disadvantages of traveling by one’s self. Prior to the trip, I had a rough idea of the different places I wanted to see, which included Nazca and Arequipa, as well as a second trip to Machu Picchu. Yet, I loved being able to spend one more day at a place, or head to another location where I received a tip from another solo traveler. My mind still can’t grasp of the uniqueness and wonder of the Nazca Lines as we received a bird’s eye view from a small four seat plane which circled the desert for a 20 minute flight.

Spending three days with an Afro-Bolivian family as part of my final project for my Cultural Anthropology course. Miscommunication almost derailed the entire visit, but we decided to go exploring anyway, where our hosts, who thought we were not coming anymore, graciously took us in. We accompanied them during their celebration of Todos Santos (All Saints/Souls Day) in their small 8-family village in the Yungas region. This tropical highlands valley region is known for its winding and narrow dangerous road, as well as the upsurge in coca production. Few think that there are many Bolivians of African descent, however, most of this population estimated at 20,000 live in the Yungas. The family we stayed with were very friendly and willing to share their customs with us. The head of the family was a notorious soccer fanatic, as evidenced at the names he gave his children: Edson, Leonardo and Bebeto (three of the most famous Brasilian football players and Edson is the real name of the greatest ever: Pele).

Bolivian Football Squad Named

As usual, drugs the webpage La Maquina Verde has a great summary of the newest list of players called up for the games against Chile and Paraguay. Both games will be played on the road, with the game in Santiago on June 4th followed by a trip to Asuncion on June 8th. This was the first team that did not include a member of the 1994 World Cup squad. Many seem to think that this marks the end of an era, with the team looking ahead to the qualifying for 2010. Although technically the team still has an outside shot of capturing the 5th slot, but no one expects that to happen.

Full squad list after the jump.
Continue reading