Blogs Bolivia Frappr Map

It is apparent that those who make up the Bolivian blogosphere reside in all parts of the world. There are those who live in Europe, the Middle East and in other parts of the Americas. I am still waiting on the first Bolivian blog written from Africa. In order to get a better sense of where this community is located, I’ve created a Bolivian Blogger Frappr Map. Please feel free to add yourself.

Two Persons and a Bolivian

While cleaning my email inbox, I ran across this picture that my friend David sent me awhile back. As you can see, it’s quite odd. (English Translation: Fatal Accident in Flores, Two Persons and a Bolivian Die)

Apparently, Cronica TV is a sensationalist television channel in Argentina, which makes a habit of flashing bizarre headlines.

Double Standard

The U.S. ambassador at the time, Manuel Rocha, has been blamed for the surprising finish by Evo Morales in the 2002 elections. When he claimed that the Bolivia would risk their foreign aid if Morales were elected, many denounced his statements as interventionist and meddlesome. For some, those comments provided a little extra incentive to vote for the MAS candidate.

This time around the current ambassador, David Greenlee has been forced to hold his tongue, although recently his open-ended statement was left open for interpretation. Many wondered and others opined when he said, “I hope that there will not be any negative changes (in drug policies) because Bolivia would be the country that would suffer.” Critics would say that this statement constitutes as a threat from the country to the north. But others would simply say that radical changes to the drug control policy may bring about unknown results including less pressure on the real criminals.

It’s hard to not get caught in these types of no-win situations, when the U.S. ambassador has its place firmly in the political arena in Bolivia. Whenever something comes up, the press rushes to the embassy for some public comment or reaction. Ideally, the embassy should continue the vague neutral and boring statements that the State Department makes and say “we’ll work with whoever becomes the next President” and stay out of the public spotlight over the next month. The majority of Bolivians would say that the U.S. should “publicly” stay out of internal matters, even they all know that behind-the-scenes there must be some maneuvering.

Now that much of South America has made a move towards the left, other countries are starting to have some influence in Bolivia. So it’s no wonder that foreign officials are beginning to make a pronouncement about these upcoming Bolivian elections. A diplomat from Venezuela, Azael Galero, made a faux pas by pulling a Rocha, on a much larger scale, which others criticized the U.S. for doing.

Venezuelan diplomat Azael Galero compared the Bolivian right-wing candidate for next month’s elections, Jorge Quiroga, to Pontius Pilate.

He said Mr Quiroga was defending the “interests of the empire”, adding: “you are either with Chavez or with Bush”.

Already the Bolivian government has reacted and will bring their concern to Venezuela’s attention. However, this is Morales chance to publicly denounce this similar interference. It would go a long way in proving or not that Morales does not blindly follow Hugo Chavez and can call him out on matters like this.

Update: 11.25 – Alvaro Garcia Linera, MAS VP Candidate said in a press conference: “We have always refused any interference from any embassy; we have always criticized meddling by the US embassy. Accordingly, we do reject interference by the Venezuelan chargé d’affaires.” As expected, Tuto Quiroga also condemned the comments.

Ban the Cell Phone

As seen on P.A.T. news, pills Mario Cossio (ex-MNR), health who is running for Prefect in Tarija will formally request that cell phones, especially those with built-in cameras be banned from the voting booth. Cossio is concerned that the phone could be utilized as a tool for voter fraud. According to Cossio, a person would receive a camera phone, enter the voting booth and take a picture of the completed ballot. With that image, they would exchange the picture and phone for payment for supporting a certain candidate.

Forget the cash reward, I think the voter would rather keep the camera phone.

Evo Morales in the New York Times

People outside of Bolivia know relatively little about Evo Morales. Some romanticize the movement as a faultless leftist utopia, while others demonize Morales by utilizing the same generalizations without truly seeing how the rhetoric has evolved. It’s fair to say that these inconsistencies (dare I say, “flip-flops”) cloud the reality of where the entire MAS movement stands in relation to policy proposals, ranging from the extreme radical left to something more towards the center. This New York Times magazine article by David Rieff should provide better clues to where the party stands, while hoping to draw attention to differences from Latin America’s public enemy No. 1 and No. 2.

Even though Morales calls Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro close friends, it is his admiration for Brazil’s Lula that may give a sign as to how he might govern.

Many Bolivian observers say they believe that MAS is nowhere near as radical as its rhetoric makes it appear. They note that conservative opponents of Brazil’s current leftist president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, also predicted disaster were he to be elected, but that in office Lula has proved to be a moderate social democrat. And MAS’s program is certainly much more moderate than many of its supporters would like. Washington, however, is not reassured. Administration officials are reluctant to speak on the record about Morales (the State Department and Pentagon press offices did not reply to repeated requests for an interview), but in private they link him both to narco-trafficking and to the two most militant Latin American leaders: Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s leftist populist military strongman, and Fidel Castro.

With over 75% of Bolivians favoring nationalization, it’s hard to say what contractual changes may be in store. Most agree that it is far from the Quispe model of confiscating everything without due compensation. It becomes more apparent that partnerships with the oil companies are still desired, but without the natural resource ownership by the foreign companies that has been the norm. This position suddenly doesn’t seem so radical, as it is duplicated around the world.

A telltale sign of this is the way Morales and MAS, while not repudiating previous statements about the changes they want to make in the Bolivian economy, seem to be leaving the door open to a more moderate approach. Increasingly in speeches and interviews, Morales has taken to emphasizing that when, for example, he speaks of nationalization, he is mainly speaking of Bolivia’s reassertion of sovereignty over its natural resources and of partnership with multinational corporations, not, à la Fidel Castro, of the systematic expropriation of the multinationals’ interests in Bolivia. Morales commented to me that “Brazil is an interesting model” for cooperation between the state and the private sector, and, he added, “so is China.”

There are many who feel that MAS is so ill-equipped to govern a nation and that they might blow the potential treasure of natural gas reserves. However, there have been some prominent economists who think that their proposals aren’t so wacky after all, which may prove important in legitimizing their position.

Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel laureate who was formerly the chief economist of the World Bank and is now a professor of economics at Columbia University and a stern critic of many international lending institutions, put it to me this way: “They could do it.” If Bolivia abrogated its existing contracts, he said, some of the non-Western oil giants would gladly negotiate new deals on better terms. “Petronas” – the Malaysian state oil company – “would come in, China would come in, India would come in.” If Morales did nationalize the country’s oil and gas, the multinational oil companies that currently hold the Bolivian concessions, including Repsol, a Spanish company, and British Gas, would probably sue Bolivia in an international court and try to organize an international boycott. But Stiglitz dismisses that threat: “If you had three, four, five first-rate companies around the world willing to compete for Bolivia’s resources, no boycott would work.”

When most people talk about Morales, phrases that come to the forefront always are associated with drug trafficking. Yet, with the number of political enemies he has, no one has yet to find proof that he teams up with the drug dealers. Without this proof, it seems difficult to place one’s finger on why Morales is so dangerous to the region.

Publicly, Thomas A. Shannon, Noriega’s successor, has taken a more low-key approach. But the Bush administration’s view of Morales does not appear to have changed significantly. Michael Shifter, a senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy group in Washington, and one of the shrewdest and most experienced American observers of Latin America, told me that he has been struck by the depth of conviction in Washington that Morales is dangerous. “People talk about him as if he were the Osama bin Laden of Latin America,” Shifter told me, adding that, after a recent lecture Shifter gave at a military institution, two American officers came up to him and said that Morales “was a terrorist, a murderer, the worst thing ever.” Shifter replied that he had seen no evidence of this. “They told me: ‘You should. We have classified information: this guy is the worst thing to happen in Latin America in a long time.”‘ In Shifter’s view, there is now a tremendous sense of hysteria about Morales within the administration and especially at the Pentagon.

It’s easy to lump Morales into the camp of Castro, where individual freedoms have been severely curtailed and with Chavez, who has overstepped his bounds on many occasions. However, Morales seems to want to distance himself from many of the extremes that both men employ.

But he is at some pains to make the point that neither Venezuela nor Cuba is a model for the kind of society he wants Bolivia to become. Castro and Chávez, he told me, are his friends, but so are Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations, President Jacques Chirac of France and Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain. Morales also makes a point of emphasizing that the era of “state socialism” is past. Even when he is talking about the nationalization of Bolivia’s natural resources, which with the depenalization of coca cultivation is the central plank of his campaign, Morales is at pains to point out that the model he has in mind is closer to Brazil’s state-owned oil giant, Petrobras, than to anything Castro would endorse.

Lofty Expectations

Evo Morales seems to be promising the moon during this election season. In reality, some think Morales isn’t as radical as his rhetoric. He needs to secure the campesino vote and hope that Felipe Quispe’s MIP does not steal support from the Altiplano and some areas of El Alto. But his campaign promises, which will not be easy to implement with a strong opposition in Congress (assuming he wins the Presidency, which is far from certain), may be a bigger headache than first realized. A recent Financial Times article sees the pressure from the social movements (such as Cochabamba activist Oscar Olivera) as being a key actor in the day after the inauguration.

But ultimately, a Morales administration could be brought down by failing to satisfy its supporters. Asked how long the social movements would grant Mr Morales to nationalise the gas industry, Mr Olivera is unequivocal: “We will give him one day.”

We have to remember that Morales originally supported a 50-50% split on the controversial hydrocarbons issue, but politically it was in his best interests to push for full nationalization. I imagine that his team of advisors prefer the moderate and centrist model, but the overwhelming pressure from the radical left is too much to ignore.

OAS to Monitor Elections

A group of election observers, headed up by Colombian Horacio Serpa, from the Organization of American States arrived in Bolivia. They have set up shop and will remain in the country through the December 18 elections. Currently they are meeting with the different candidates. President Eduardo Rodriguez has also requested the presence of the United Nations and the Carter Center. In addition to the various international organizations, MAS candidate Evo Morales would like to see Brazil’s Worker’s Party (PT) observe the elections as well. No word on whether President Lula’s party will formally participate in the observation process.

From Evo's Photo Album

The MAS campaign recently released some childhood photos of its Presidential candidate, Evo Morales. These photographs were published to Yahoo! Photos by Reuters. The one that stands out (pictured below) really captures the essence of next month’s elections. For the first time ever, an indigenous Bolivian citizen is on the verge of capturing the Presidency of the Republic of Bolivia.

In the middle of rural Orinoca in the Department of Oruro, 17 year-old Evo (in blue) timidly poses with his mother, father, brother and others from his family. On that day, surely in a million years, Evo would never imagine himself leading in the polls of an election, nearly three decades later. That picture places things in perspective and reminds us of the possibilities of different groups of Bolivians.

Like me, Tuto Quiroga and Samuel Doria Medina are minorities in Bolivian society. No one in my family wears polleras (skirts typical of campesina women). No one in my family works as an empleada (domestic house worker). No one in my family is discriminated against because of our last name (a luxury not afforded to members of a Mamani or Choque family).

This forgotten class of people, which makes up a large bulk of Bolivia’s population, would not believe beyond their wildest dreams that he/she would have a legitimate opportunity to become President of the country. I remember the clichéd phrase that schoolchildren from the U.S. are always told, “you could become President someday.” I’d be willing to bet little Evo’s teacher never uttered that phrase to him or any of his classmates. Sadly this is the pattern of marginalization throughout society.

That’s what this election is all about – counterbalancing this inequality.

While I haven’t always agreed with Evo’s tactics or use of rhetoric, any objective-minded person must admit that something must fundamentally be altered in the country. The only option for the left is far from perfect, but it resonates with a large part of the electorate and even with growing numbers of middle class, including many from my family in Cochabamba. That is why he is polling so high, because the old ways haven’t made a significant dent in these divisions.

Unfortunately, there has not been an effort by the middle class to reach out to the poorest of our Bolivian brothers and sisters. Even though many of the middle class still are not entirely on stable economic footing, there is a social safety net provided by the family structure is still a lot more than most count on. Those with the power have never been eager to share with others. The mess in Congress by the lame duck politicians are proof of this – they wanted to delay the elections as long as possible because it was the easiest job they ever loved.

These fundamental differences and wedges within Bolivian society will not diminish as long as we stay the course with the status quo. Trickle-down economic policies and a society that concentrates power and wealth in the hands of a select few won’t alter the fate of hundreds of thousands of Bolivians who have been left out. Will it be expropriating land from anyone who is not a member of an indigenous group? No way, although some want voters to believe that’s the country’s future.

It’s easy for us to criticize Evo because we don’t face the same life that many in Bolivia contend with everyday. If the traditional political parties had improved lives during their times in office, then would Evo Morales even be where he is?


More pictures after the jump.

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Bolivians Demand the External Vote

Bolivian residents in Argentina will begin a hunger strike in protest of the lack of voting rights abroad. According to the Constitution, online there is a provision that allow for Bolivians who live outside of the country to have the right to cast their vote. However, generic there is not a formal mechanism in place to allow that to happen. Logistical and financial obstacles are key issues to consider. It is far too late to implement something for the December elections, but there is hope that for the next elections (whenever that is) that this process would be defined.

This will also give the politicians time to determine who would actually benefit from the suffrage of an approximate a large portion of eligible voters. Some say that there are an approximate 2 million Bolivians who live outside of the country (which is about 25% of the total population).

A hunger strike in the U.S., especially Virginia, would be unheard of. Most Bolivians I have spoken with are strongly in favor of being able to cast a vote here in the U.S. This is something that I favor as well, as it would force Bolivians abroad to take a more active interest in what is happening back in Bolivia. We would probably expect some of the candidates to come to the area to do some campaigning and baby-kissing.

What Could Have Been

This weekend features the first leg of a series of home-and-home series between countries to qualify for the remaining five berths in the World Cup for next summer.

South America’s fifth place team plays the winner of the Oceania region for one of those slots. Saturday’s match is a replay of the same scenario with Uruguay meeting Australia for the coveted spot in 2001. Back when the qualifying process began in 2003, ed according to my calculations Bolivia had a legitimate shot at making the 5th place finish. Winning every single game at home with the psychological and physiological advantage of the high altitude stadium could have made these dreams a reality.

However, illness those calculations were off by a large margin. Not only did Bolivia not come anywhere close to 5th, discount it finished dead last, including several terrible losses and ties in La Paz. At the time, I remember daydreaming and vowing that if Bolivia were to have the opportunity to play in that playoff series, I would be in Bolivia for that week no matter what. Even if I had to fly to Bolivia for one day and fly back the next, it would be well worth it to be in an environment where a return to the World Cup was on a possibility.

There’s always 2009.

The five games slated for Saturday:

EUROPE:
• Czech Republic vs. Norway
• Spain vs. Slovakia
• Turkey vs. Switzerland

SOUTH AMERICA/OCEANIA
• Uruguay vs. Australia

NORTH, CENTRAL AMERICA & CARRIBBEAN/ASIA
• Trinidad & Tobago vs. Bahrain