Friday, October 17, 2008

Venezuelan Blogger Martha Colmenares Threatened by Basque Terrorist Supporter


The Six Most Wanted ETA Terrorists, Left to Right, Top to Bottom:
Aitzol Etxaburu, Ander Múgica, Eneko Zarrabeitia,
Joseba Mikel Olza, Leire López and Saoia Sánchez.

It is with considerable anger that I must report that my very good friend and fellow Freedom Blogger Martha Colmenares has been threatened at her web site by an individual claiming to support the Basque terrorist group known as the ETA.

The threat, which was sent as a commentary response to Martha's post "Photos of the Most Sought-After ETA Terrorists," stated "walk carefully, the gun may be pointing towards you one day."

Intimidation is ugly under any circumstances, but especially so when it occurs in full view of the public.  Martha Colmenares has contacted French authorities, given that the IP address of the user who made the threat was traced to France, and she has forwarded all necessary information.

If anything should develop from this, I will post more.

In the meantime, I express my full support for and solidarity with Martha Colmenares, a true Freedom Blogger.


Read More. . . .

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Anti-Israeli Censorship in Spain:  El Pais Closes "Stop Islamisation" Blog

I have not written much about the causes of freedom outside of Latin America, given that so much of my focus is fixated upon the threat I see closest to home, but I am going to take this moment to show my support for the preservation of Israel as a Jewish state and to dedicate this brief space within my blog to express my outrage at the closure of a pro-Israeli blog in Spain as an act of censorship by the daily newspaper El Pais.  I have only just learned of this development at the Martha Colmenares site and I am responding to her request for a show of support among bloggers everywhere to stand up and express their righteous outrage at the marginalization of pro-Israeli speech within a modern western European nation.

The issue at hand is the closure of the "Stop Islamisation" blog at the El Pais online community after the blog accepted a prize for showing "Solidarity with Israel."  It is an act of censorship which I regard as wholly unwarranted, given that there was no hateful speech, incitement to immoral conduct, or what could in any way be construed as a violation of the norms of conduct El Pais posts on its community site.  No; this was an act of silencing pro-Israeli speech within Spain and on the web.  That is an outrage.

By way of a personal note I wish to add, the "Stop Islamisation" movement in Europe represents a multi-national effort to oppose actions among Muslims residing on the continent to take advantage of the tolerant attitudes of a multi-cultural Europe to implement Sharia law within their communities, which frequently results in gross and overt violations of national law, constitutional rights, and what can only be described as human dignity.  Just check out the Google search returns on "Stop Islamisation" if you want an idea as to the extent of this popular response among Europeans.  It is widely-expressed speech that deserves its place within the popular consciousness.

I will choose another moment to make my own statement of my desire for continued American support for Israel, a cause I advocate wholeheartedly, whenever I have sufficient time to address the delicate points with the level of sensitivity the topic merits.

For now I stand by Israel and its supporters and I demand that their voices be heard.


********************** UPDATE, Monday, October 13, 8:15 p.m. **********************

El Pais has closed a second blog on its site for showing solidarity with the "Stop Islamisation" blog.  According to a new entry up at the Martha Colmenares site, a second site for Pinceladas de Cuba (I have the site linked in my sidebar at the right) posted an entry with a show of support for "Stop Islamisation" and was also pulled down by El Pais.

I think it is time to state the obvious.  Since El Pais will not give an explanation for its conduct -- not that there is a sensible explanation that can be given -- and it takes further action against a second blog which only raises the issue of censorship, there are but three possible conclusions we can draw upon as explaining the conduct of El Pais:

1.  El Pais is Anti-Semitic.

2.  El Pais is Anti-Israeli.

3.  Both 1 and 2 are true.

The hatred of Anti-Semitism is returning to Europe and El Pais is at the forefront of this terrible new development for western civilization.


Read More. . . .

Friday, October 10, 2008

Human Rights Foundation Blasts Evo Morales for Promoting 'War' and 'Racial Hatred'


On numerous occasions over the past few years I have watched as many so-called "Human Rights Organizations" active in Latin America acted with near complicity to provide cover for leftist regimes, political movements, and even narco-guerrilla bands who repeatedly violated international human rights standards.  In order to diminish international public pressure to curtail the excesses of these leftist agitators, and therefore to provide a breathing space for the fulfillment of their political aims, many of these Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have betrayed the cause for which they ostensibly stand and have instead carried out a veiled program of concealment that places real support for human rights below that of a leftist-oriented political and cultural agenda.  Some of the best examples of this complicity can be seen in the actions and attitudes of NGOs towards the FARC in Colombia, though there are others.  In light of all this, I take pleasure in stating that the work of the Human Rights Foundation this year with respect to Latin America is a genuine breath of fresh air.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Human Rights Foundation is the real thing.

On August 9, I posted on the HRF's Tell Chavez campaign for the freedom of Venezuela's political prisoners, which is a worthwhile cause deserving of the support of lovers of freedom and democracy everywhere.  In that effort the HRF set themselves apart from many other NGOs in their decision to cut Chavez no slack for his repeated human rights abuses and political skullduggery.  The HRF also has been on top of recent events in Bolivia.  In January they released an almost-forgotten critique of the inclusion of clauses establishing the constitutional legitimacy of what is referred to as "communitarian justice" within the Oruro Draft of the proposed constitution Evo Morales and the MAS are promoting as I write.  If adopted, mob rule within some of the indigenous communities in Bolivia's west would become legal and we could expect to see crucifixions, lashing, corporal punishment, stoning and live burial of women for adultery, lynchings, and more become established constitutional practice under Bolivian law.  And the HRF can proudly take credit for assuming the lead role in publicizing the case of Ecuadoran dissident Guadalupe Llori, recently released from prison for false charges of terrorism, sabotage, and embezzlement.

With respect to other NGOs active in Latin America, even though there have been indications that Human Rights Watch has been undergoing a change of heart with respect to Chavez recently -- two of their representatives were expelled from Venezuela last month -- the HRF has stood nearly alone among foreign NGOs monitoring the cause of human rights in Latin America in its consistent condemnation of the widespread abuses of the Bolivarian regimes in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia.  It is worth pointing out here that the organization's efforts in Venezuela have been especially dangerous.  In January, Venezuelan jurist and HRF activist Monica Fernandez survived an assassination attempt that left her fiancé severely wounded with three gunshot wounds, one day after the Chavez regime declared her an enemy of the state.  Not surprisingly, the Venezuelan government dropped the investigation into the attack.

When you put it all together, the Human Rights Foundation's record of true human rights advocacy, achieved at the cost of facing down intimidation and violence, marks the organization as an exemplary undertaking of the human spirit that gives us hope that there may be a liveable future for humanity.

The Bolivia Report

Yesterday the HRF published its Informe sobre la situación de los Derechos Humanos en Bolivia (Report on the Human Rights Situation in Bolivia).  The text of the report was released only in Spanish, and it was sent to Bolivian President Evo Morales along with an accompanying letter, which I intend to excerpt in part, as it provides a brief overview of the highlights of the report itself.

Translated Excerpts from Letter of Human Rights Foundation
to Bolivian President Evo Morales.
Accompanies "Report on the Human Rights Situation in Bolivia,"
08 October 2008

From the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) we respectfully address ourselves to you, in your capacity as head of state, to express to you our profound preoccupation for the growing wave of killings for political motives that is occurring in your country and for the continuous pronouncements emitted by you and by high functionaries of your government, whose content advertises war, defends racial hatred, threatens freedom of the press and tends to worsen the human rights situation in Bolivia.
It is widely known that a great political polarization exists in Bolivia which was evidenced by the results of the referendums carried out over the last few months . . .
. . . This political polarization in Bolivia has heightened over the last weeks, bringing as a consequence manifestations of violence which up to now have left at least 21 dead and hundreds injured.  Facing this situation, we view with preoccupation that the response of the government comes in the form of speech that incites more violence and which openly defends groups of civilians armed against persons and cities of the opposition.  This speech continues fully charged with degrading adjectives such as "racists," "fascists," "separatists," "sellers of the country," "anti-patriots," "oligarchs," and "rightists."
First, your constant verbal attacks are generating aggressions against the press on the part of your followers.  During the protests for the devolution of the [revenues from the] Direct Hydrocarbons Tax, several journalists who covered the events were assaulted.  Instead of condemning these aggressions, you and the spokesman of your government, Ivan Canelas, accused the PAT and Unitel television networks and the El Mundo newspaper of being "dirty" and "irresponsible."
Second, President Morales, your consistent speech calling upon your political supporters "to die" so as "to defend the revolution" from the actions of the "coup supporters" constitutes propaganda in favor of war and incites political violence and puts the life of every person in Bolivia in danger.  Finally, the official speech with which you disqualify those persons who are not in agreement with the policies of your government seeks to silence the political leaders of the opposing departments, threatening the right of political participation. . . .
. . . the use your government makes of the language in your speech gives rise to a much more serious connotation than the merely political.  In effect, President Morales, the HRF also wishes to express its preoccupation because your political speech disqualifying the opponents of your government would also promote racial hatred on the part of the national majority of Bolivia's west, namely, persons of "Aymara" or "Quechua" origin, against the national minorities of Bolivia's east and south, namely, "Cambas" (Indians or Mestizos of Bolivia's east) or "Chapacos" (of the Department of Tarija) who live in the majority in the departments opposed to the government . . . We have seen the signs of racial hatred against the "Cambas," such as in the city of El Alto in the Department of La Paz (, as in Internet sites which support your government (, and we fear that this is reflected in your speech. . . .

The report itself presents the evidence substantiating the charges made above in much greater detail.  It is sixteen pages long and is divided into five main parts: "Antecedents," which gives an overview of the recent background to the political polarization that now exists in the country, primarily related to the autonomy referendums, the proposed constitution, and the results of the revocatory referendum votes; "Passing Events Between August and September, 2008," which examines the inter-departmental strike of the five eastern departments to force the devolution of the revenues of the Direct Hydrocarbons Tax, coupled with Morales's failed attempt to convene a national referendum on his constitution by executive decree, including the manner in which the protests degenerated into the forcible takeover of government offices, actions which the HRF disapproved of in its own statements; "Violations of the Right of Freedom of Expression," in which the HRF reviews the numerous attacks against the press, including the encitement to violence against the media on the part of the government, as well as the official promotion of racial hatred; "Deaths in Confrontations for Political Motives and the Danger of Larger Violence," where the HRF presents the story of the violence of September 11-13 in Pando, especially with reference to Porvenir, as well as the armed march of Morales supporters against Santa Cruz de la Sierra, which came to a head between the 23rd and 25th of September.  And finally, a concluding section containing the HRF's recommendations for a restoration of the observance of human rights in Bolivia, which are largely reflected in the excerpts quoted above.


There has not been any official reaction as of yet coming from the Morales regime, and I expect they will chose simply to ignore the report.  Its major impact may be that some discussion will ensue within Bolivia and the region.  The La Paz daily newspaper La Razón did publish news of the report, which does make its overall content known to the Bolivian people, but without a public discussion of its particulars it may not go very far.  But what may be most important is that there is a documented version of the events in Porvenir and the armed march against Santa Cruz that can now be cited as a credible source of information.  This may not seem like very much, but some of the most important work human rights organizations perform lies within the documentation they provide of significant events which are not always covered in the major media to the full extent they deserve.  Reports such as this one are circulated among many international organizations and the list one can see attached to the cover letter sent to Evo Morales makes this clear.  It is at least one small step out of the darkness.

Within the blogosphere there is a little reaction.  The MABB blog has posted news of the report with the unusual comment that the report is "amusing," which I take to be a reference to the unlikelihood that it will have any effect upon Evo Morales, who is not known for responsible conduct.  MABB has also pointed to Morales's desire to rid himself of international contacts as a necessary step towards the achievement of his program, so this would seem to fit.  Bolivia Confidencial merely published the cover letter I excerpted above with the comment, as I translate, that it is "an important document" that "was not wasted."  And Martha Colmenares presents the HRF's own case to Spanish language readers on her site, which has followed recent events in Bolivia much more closely than many others and which I must recognize as presenting me with the very best coverage I have found thus far.


*********************** Update: October 10, 12:00 p.m. ************************

I have one new item to add on the HRF, which I would like to include here as important information by way of an update.

One very important part of the HRF's work is their attempt to remain apolitical when engaging in human rights advocacy and I have two examples to hold in comparison which make the point.  The case of Guadalupe Llori, which I cite and link above is an instance in which the HRF stood up on behalf of a political activist one would place within the left of the political spectrum.  In contrast, their advocacy on behalf of the Caracas Nine -- who are a group of nine Venezuelan dissidents from various walks of life who have suffered persecution at the hands of the Chavez regime in numerous ways, from imprisonment to torture to public intimidation -- might generally be considered advocacy on behalf of activists one would place on the political right.

I really ought to do an entry on the Caracas Nine.

I think this point is significant enough to require an update.


Read More. . . .

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bolivia Takes a Step Back from the Brink:  Victory and Defeat for Both Sides


President Evo Morales and the Eastern Department Prefects Begin Dialog in Cochabamba

A Calming Situation?

The news out of Bolivia seems to indicate an improvement of the situation as conflicts between pro-autonomy activists and supporters of the government have moved away from a civil disobedience campaign that morphed into violent resistance in the eastern departments of the so-called Media Luna and towards a negotiated solution through dialog.  The talks, which largely resulted from apparent international pressure on Morales from other Latin American leaders at the recent UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) summit, are being mediated by a group of international observers that includes official representatives from the UN, the OAS, and UNASUR; as well as the Catholic Church.

As of last Friday, September 19, those brief talks in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba produced no tangible results, though a framework for pursuing a lasting agreement to stabilize the country was reached.  A future road map for the process has been laid out in which the two sides agreed to joint participation in three commissions: one to deal with the distribution of the Direct Hydrocarbons Tax revenues to the departments and the support for old age pensions those departments will distribute -- rather than the national government, which was the original complaint of the Media Luna that produced the Paro (general stoppage) protests; a second to legitimize the constitutional validity of the autonomous status of the eastern departments; and a third to reestablish the nomination and approval process to fill vacancies in the judicial branch of the government, especially with reference to the National Electoral Court.  Direct talks between the Morales government and the Prefects have ended for the moment, and attention will now turn to the work of the commissions, which is where any agreement that is acceptable to both sides will have to be negotiated.

Bodies of Some of the Victims of the September 11 Violence in Pando
Source:  El Deber

Behind the International Pressure:  Violence, Refugees, and Gas Exports

The Paro civil disobedience campaign that began in the third week of August in the five departments of Bolivia's east continued unabated, albeit with steadily-escalating tensions, until the second week of September, when very serious violence erupted in the Department of Pando on Thursday, September 11.  According to the first reports from the Santa Cruz, Bolivia newspaper El Deber, at least eight persons died and 39 were injured in what appeared to be something of a scheduled clash between autonomists and MAS activists, though differing versions were offered as to how the violence erupted.  President Evo Morales then responded by declaring a state of siege in Pando, which is the Bolivian equivalent of martial law, and ordered in troops from the army, who retook the airport in the departmental capital of Cobija.  Control was reasserted in a manner that cannot be described as entirely "peaceful," though again details as to the particulars are difficult to grasp given the conflicting reports circulating from government and pro-autonomy sources.  It is known that others died in the violence in Pando, perhaps bringing the total to as many as thirty, and that a refugee problem began to develop as frightened locals fled to Brazil for safety, most fearing retaliation from the MAS, who began to take out their frustrations against many Pandinos after the arrival of the army, according to first-hand accounts taken from refugees in Brazil.

Edgar Balcazar, a Pandino Refugee in Brazil, Shows Evidence of Torture by the MAS
Source:  El Deber

The Pando situation was only the worst example of what went wrong with the Paro protest.  Before the violence began, numerous recognizable instances of a degenerating situation already indicated events were spinning out of control.  Confrontations between protest supporters and MAS activists became increasingly tense everywhere.  Pro-autonomy leaders of the civic committees throughout the Gran Chaco region of Bolivia's southeast acted to shut down the country's gas production and exports -- important to Brazil and absolutely vital to Argentina -- when they seized producing fields and closed pipelines and at least one bombing attack on a pipeline caused serious damage.  The pro-autonomy seizures of national government offices throughout the Media Luna continued in an ever-escalating upward spiral of confrontation with both police and military units.  MAS activists began to undertake their own "counter-encirclements" of several key cities in Bolivia's east, creating what we might describe as a "Paro within a Paro" and which was exactly the kind of confrontation that produced the violence in Pando.

There was also evidence that the protest succeeded in creating food and gasoline shortages in Bolivia's western departments, which was the Media Luna's goal from the beginning.  La Paz's La Razón newspaper reported meat shortages in the city, where some markets closed altogether and rising prices for meat exemplified the economic effect of scarcity.  Gasoline shortages forced the closure of some filling stations there as well, though the shortfall was experienced throughout the country.  It would go too far to claim that the Paro achieved its goal through economic pressure, but it cannot be denied that its effects had an impact.

UNASUR Presses for a Settlement through Dialog

With the eruption of violence in Pando making the humanitarian case for action self-evident, though perhaps also influenced by Brazilian anxiety over a developing refugee exodus and larger regional concerns over the possible cessation of Bolivian exports of natural gas, UNASUR President Pro-Tempore Michelle Bachelet of Chile called for an emergency summit to address the crisis on September 13.  Ostensibly coming together to show continental support for Morales, which the conferees demonstrated in their public utterances, UNASUR nonetheless produced a result on the ground not in keeping with the entirety of the public posture Morales had maintained within his own country. 

Though in their public statements the UNASUR members voiced their support for Evo Morales's "plan" for a dialog process to end the Paro, return national institutions to the control of the government in La Paz, and restore domestic tranquility, the real impetus for the proposals may have originated with Tarija Prefect Mario Cossio.  After seeking approval within the CONALDE group -- Spanish acronym for the National Democratic Council, an organizational entity dominated by the Media Luna departments -- Cossio met with Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linares in La Paz and negotiated an agreement to end the protest and begin a dialog with the Morales government by the early a.m. hours of Saturday, September 13.  UNASUR's announcement of the agreement later in the day represented a major success for the group and offered Evo Morales an opportunity to save face with the Bolivian people given some of the details which the plan included.

The Dialog Process Agreement

On Tuesday, September 16 representatives of the CONALDE signed an agreement with the Morales government setting terms for the dialog process, one might more accurately describe these as "parameters" given that the specifics are not spelled out very clearly, but which began an end-game for the Paro, calmed tensions, and invariably moved popular attention towards negotiation.  The details of the agreement were published as follows:

Details of National Agreement to End the Paro and Begin Dialog
IDH and royalties.  The Government recognizes the right of the departments to receive the IDH [revenue shares]; payment of the Dignity Pension [renta Dignidad] and its sustainability from established funding sources provided by law must be guaranteed.  The government also expressed its decision to respect and maintain the current distribution of [oil and gas] royalties to the departments.
Autonomies and statutes.  The government expresses its respect for the right to autonomy of [the departments of] Pando, Beni, Tarija and Santa Cruz.  It also dealt with the new Political Constitution of the State and there will be an institutional settlement for the appointment of vacant congressional seats, the [examination of the] electoral roll, the program of national identity cards and the Civil Registry; [all] the electoral processes will be covered.
Dialog.  Facilitators and witnesses will be relied upon; those invited are: UNASUR, the Church, the European Union, the OAS, and the UN.
Pacification.  There is an agreement to the lifting of all blockades and the handing over of public institutions that were taken, moreover there will be a halt to the violence all over the country.
Truce.  The government will suspend the summoning of a referendum for the text of the constitution for one month; at that time, the deadline could be extended, in accordance with the progress of dialog.  There will be no political persecution of the regional leaders and they will investigate the events of Pando.
Source:  El Deber:  17 September 2008

Cardinal Julio Terrazas (seated with Evo Morales), at the Dialog Talks
Securing the participation of Catholic Church observers was a key demand of the opposition.

The particulars of the above agreement appear at first glance to pronounce a near-complete victory for the Media Luna, but a closer examination of the terms coupled with an expanded knowledge of recent events associated with the Morales presidency makes clear that Evo retained the one thing that is still paramount in his political program; an opportunity to pursue approval of the MAS-authored Oruro Draft of a new constitution for Bolivia.  By no means has he received the certain guarantee of a national vote in a constitutionally-legitimate referendum on the document, but he is given the opportunity to put it on the table and there is the larger implication that a meaningful dialog must address the issues associated with the new framework for the Bolivian state, a process that cuts both ways, in light of the specific language in the final clause which mentions "progress" in dialog.

From the perspective of the Media Luna, their protest has been justified by the specific statement in the agreement that the Direct Hydrocarbons Tax revenues (IDH in its Spanish acronym) will be distributed to the departments.  There is no mention as to the origin of the "right" of the departments to individual shares of the IDH revenues, they derive from a popular referendum passed in a national vote, which now gives it constitutional support; language one must suspect the departments wished to see included.  There is instead a general statement from the government that the revenues must be paid to the departments.  But even here Morales gets to save face because there is specific language requiring the use of at least some portion of the funds for the payment of the renta Dignidad, which is a pension for seniors Morales wanted to disburse from the national treasury funded by his seizure of the IDH revenues.  And furthermore, there is additional language promising the departments their receipt of royalties on oil and gas production, which is a separate matter from the IDH revenues, though this is not recognized as a "right," but rather as the result of a government "decision" instead.  There is more than enough real financial gain for the departmental governments in this document to permit them to claim a victory, though by no means can they consider it complete.

The "right" of the Media Luna departments to "autonomy" is recognized, but there is no clear identification as to what autonomy means, which leaves the inclusion of the autonomic statutes -- the Media Luna at least got that term in the document -- in doubt, at least in so far as it might entail including them in their current form.  For those who have not followed Bolivia closely, be advised that this leaves open the possibility of a redefinition of autonomy that would look very different from what the Media Luna referenda have pursued.  Morales has pushed for the restructuring of the internal political processes of departments throughout the country, in his own proposal for "decentralization," which would strip the departmental prefects of their power to appoint numerous provincial "sub-prefects" and thus open the way for a rewriting of local laws within those few areas of the eastern departments where the MAS can gain control.  The real purpose of this objective for the MAS is to gain such local control where possible and then open Bolivia's east to "colonization" by western Bolivians in need of land who would receive such grants under Morales's land redistribution proposals.  On the surface this sounds quite democratic and socially just, but in practice it means giving land to coca farmers who will expand production of the narcotic-producing crop, bringing all sorts of attendant difficulties along in trail.  The Media Luna departments have fought this plan by writing their own laws to prohibit the cultivation of coca -- this was very much at the root of the violent confrontation in Pando, since the MAS activists involved were colonizadores cocaleros -- and Morales intends to use land redistribution to effect a restructuring of political power along with it.

"Decentralization" as Morales uses the term only refers to decentralizing the power of the departmental prefects; its actual result would be a much more centralized Bolivian national state, since the prefects have been the only effective check upon the power of the national government.

The agreement thus can be viewed as offering both victory and defeat for both sides and its significance for the future remains very much in doubt, given that no final settlement of the outstanding issues has been reached.

Some Analytical Comments

I think the word "Truce" contained within the published text of the agreement gives us an accurate description of where things stand at present.  The IDH revenues must be distributed among the eastern departments, as they demanded, but that only removes an initial obstacle that has prevented Bolivians from getting to the real work of making the political peace.  There has been no settlement of the major underlying issues in Bolivian political life, but a breathing space has been created within which the dialog participants might construct one.  They still must address Evo Morales's constitutional project and that will not be an easy matter.

I have written before that I believe that unless the Oruro Draft for a new constitution is either reworked significantly or scrapped altogether that there will be no internal political peace in Bolivia.  I remain convinced this is so today, though I do think something positive has emerged from the conclusion of the Paro, which is quite simply that Evo Morales and the MAS can no longer do their dirty work in the dark.  The presence of the international observers at the dialog is in my opinion significant because, especially with respect to UNASUR, they are exercising a public relations role in their pronouncements and media releases on the process that makes it impossible for Evo Morales to present a distorted interpretation of events to the Bolivian people and the world while discounting the differing version coming from the opposition as reflecting some selfish, obstructionist, or vile intent on their part to prevent the realization of the MAS program.

The recent public stance UNASUR has taken towards a solution of Bolivia's internal difficulties reflects a dichotomy between an outward expression of support for Evo Morales as the legitimate President of Bolivia and what appears to be a subtle, but noticeable, effort to use dialog to reestablish the institutions of Bolivian democracy within the negotiating process, as the Media Luna desires, rather than as a consequence of negotiations, as Morales has intended with his persistent attempts to force the adoption of the MAS-authored constitution.  In its public pronouncements UNASUR has emphasized institucionalidad (institutionality) in Bolivian political life and, in the Latin American political context, this represents a significant change for the country.  Institucionalidad means observation of and adherence to the Neoliberal goals of achieving the orderly preservation of domestic political and social stability through laws enforced by competent and legitimate institutions of the state, rather than overthrowing them by popular revolutionary agitation or illegally substituting the rule of a simple majority (popular referenda or single-party legislative sessions) where an absolute majority (two-thirds of the Congress) is required.  Morales has repeatedly and contemptuously referred to the "Neoliberal Model" as a failure in speeches to his supporters and public utterances, which goes a long way towards explaining his undermining of the Bolivian Senate and the National Electoral Court, among other institutions, which have stood in the way of his attempts to impose the Oruro Draft document outside the precepts of Bolivian constitutional law.  The terms of the agreement to begin dialog specifically state that a means will be negotiated to reestablish the legitimacy of the National Electoral Court and to fill other judicial and legislative vacancies, which obviously was a key opposition demand.

It is also worth noting that the role UNASUR has played in reestablishing internal political dialog in Bolivia qualifies the previous effort of Jose Miguel Insulza and the Organization of American States to provide international leadership and support as a failure.  The OAS is now only one of several observers to the process, whereas they previously had been considered the principal option for international mediation of the Bolivian political crisis going back to at least last November, when the violence in Sucre associated with the constituent assembly began the downward slide into what eventually became the near civil war of the Paro.  Insulza has been criticized for the failure of his organization to provide leadership in the Bolivian crisis, and justifiably so, in my opinion.  I have written earlier that he and his organization have undermined the primacy of constitutional law in Bolivia by supporting the settlement of all questions in Bolivia at the ballot box, where the MAS would only need a simple majority to pass its constitution.  This would have rubber-stamped their de facto disinstitutionalization of Bolivia's Congress and National Electoral Court, which Morales and the MAS have either ignored or delegitimized over the course of their handling of and participation in the constituent assembly through the end of February of this year.  Later, in the late spring and early summer, Insulza attempted to start a dialog process with the Media Luna prefects, but the effort came to naught, as they openly stated that Insulza was in their opinion too close to Morales and Hugo Chavez to earn their trust.  Obviously the autonomists paid attention to the OAS's handling of the Colombian incursion across the Ecuadoran border on March 1 to get FARC leader Raul Reyes, as well as Insulza's refusal to open an investigation into the contents of the Reyes laptops after the release of the Interpol report weeks later.  The OAS has been a debilitating factor in the Bolivian dialog process to date.  And Insulza's tenure as Secretary General has been nothing less than an unmitigated disaster and we can at least in part lay the responsibility for the downward slide into violence in the second week of this month at his feet.  Sí -- ¡Yo acuso!

Finally; there is the matter of who is not participating in the negotiations, by which I refer to the Bolivian Congress, which is especially important with reference to the Senate, where the opposition holds majority control.  In their history of dealing with Morales, the opposition in the Bolivian Congress has shown itself to be inept, incompetent, and perhaps even at times cowardly.  The prefects of the eastern departments have been far more politically acute and successful, as they are the ones who led the Paro that has forced Morales to come to the table.  If the terms of the agreement are completed in full, then a reconstituted National Electoral Court, coupled with a new and legitimate judiciary capable of enforcing the electoral court's decisions, should emerge from the process.  In that event Morales will then have to initiate a dialog with the Congress he has delegitimized because, under current Bolivian constitutional law, he cannot get a national referendum for his constitution unless the Congress calls for one, and opposition leaders in the Senate have recently made clear they will not call for a vote on the Oruro Draft unless changes are made to the document.  Morales, and especially his Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, have made public statements to the effect that once the dialog with the prefects is completed, the constitution will come up for a vote.  If there is anything that can bring the whole process crashing down, it will be a possible attempt by Morales to ignore the role of the Bolivian Congress.  And it will be up to the observers in the UNASUR process to guarantee that he does not get away with it if and when he attempts it.


Read More. . . .

The Causes of Our Economic Crisis

The Matrix at the Neocon Express has requested that the following video be circulated in the blogosphere and I am only too happy to oblige.

By request ...


Read More. . . .

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bolivian Crisis Worsens:  Violent Takeover of National Government Offices by Opposition Begins


Smoke Rises from Plaza 24 in Santa Cruz de la Sierra on Tuesday
Source:  La Razón

Over the past three days the Paro (i.e. "stoppage") protest underway in the four eastern departments of Bolivia's Media Luna region and Chuquisaca has taken a substantial turn to open conflict with Evo Morales's national government as protestors throughout the region have begun the forceful takeover of the local offices of national government institutions and, perhaps more ominously, some petroleum producing and exporting facilities.  Additionally, the Morales government has accused the United States of encouraging what they described as the "divisionist" movement underway in the country's eastern departments and they have expelled American Ambassador Philip Goldberg, thus cutting formal diplomatic relations with the U.S.

Defeat for Morales:  Executive Decree of National Referendum on Constitution Withdrawn

Almost lost amid the escalating tensions in the eastern departments of the country is the fact that the Morales government backed down from its attempt to convene a national referendum vote on the MAS-authored Oruro Draft of a new constitution by executive decree, which Bolivia's National Electoral Court rejected and even some of his own supporters questioned.  All of the five departments engaged in the Paro promised they would not hold the referendum votes if summoned to the polls by any means other than a joint congressional resolution, as required by the Bolivian Constitution, and it looked as though the about-face might open room for dialog between Morales and his opposition.  But Morales has since refused in subsequent public statements to accept any dialog on possible amendments to the Oruro Draft and there is now talk circulating that the MAS may attempt another Cerco (siege) of the national congress when it comes up for a vote to submit it, possibly later this month on the 23rd.  The head of the police in La Paz has stated that his forces will be prepared to safeguard the legislative precincts of the Plaza Murillo in La Paz that day, but there are doubts remaining as to whether this will suffice in the event the MAS shows up in strength.

Youths in Santa Cruz Use Jeep for Assault on Government Office on Wednesday
Source:  El Deber

De Facto Autonomy?  Forcible Takeover of National Government Institutional Offices in Media Luna

Beginning last week as isolated incidents which proceeded without much in the way of serious confrontation, pro-autonomy activists in the four departments of Bolivia's Media Luna region have stepped up their pressure upon the national government to restore to the departments the revenues Evo Morales has seized from the collections of the Direct Hydrocarbons Tax with the forcible seizure of numerous local offices of national government institutions.  Included among the usual targets have been offices of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA in its Spanish abbreviation), the National Revenue Service (Bolivia's tax collection bureau), the nationalized telecommunications offices of ENTEL, along with Migration and Customs offices.  These seizures have usually been carried out by youth groups such as the Union Juvenil Cruceñista and the Federación Universitaria Local in Santa Cruz, and similar organizations in the departments of Beni, Pando, and Tarija.

Masked National Police Agent Pulls Pistol in Confrontation in Santa Cruz on Wednesday
Source:  El Deber

Injured Youth in Santa Cruz Hold Empty Shotgun Shell While Undergoing Treatment
Source:  El Deber

Though the nature of the violence reported in the Bolivian press thus far has not included reports of deaths, there has nonetheless been serious violent confrontation between pro-autonomy activists and members of the national police and, in a few instances, units of the Bolivian armed forces.  In the city of Tarija, capital of the department of the same name, local civic committee members acting together with university youths seized the customs and migration offices of the national government in separate confrontations with police agents that left a few injured on both sides, though none seriously.  In nearby Villamontes a similar scene unfolded with the takeover of the customs and revenue service offices; an action in which a local women's group joined protestors.  And there were dynamite explosions reported in the city of Tarija near other offices which were accompanied by a warning from Reynaldo Bayard, President of the Tarija Civic Committee, that "we are going to radicalize measures little by little over the course of the next few hours and days" in the continuation of their mobilization.  A protest just yesterday proved the point, as some 50 were injured, including 25 farmers demonstrating against the continuance of the blockade and eight policemen who attempted to halt the collision of a pro-autonomy group who arrived to confront them.

Mass Confrontation in Tarija on Wednesday
Source:  La Razón

In the Department of Pando, in the extreme northwestern section of the Media Luna, the takeovers of national government offices have also proceeded with an emphasis upon reversing the land use and redistribution policies the Morales government has pushed on behalf of expanding coca production in the entity, an initiative local residents have opposed strongly for what they perceive to be an increase in criminal activity associated with the narcotic-producing crop.  Not only have local pro-autonomy activists seized the INRA offices, but departmental Prefect Leopoldo Fernandez has named a replacement for the former head of the agency in the city of Cobija.  And among several demands put forth by the protestors, a noticeable one is their plea for the return of a joint task force to combat contraband activity in the department.  The Pando protestors have also seized the offices of the Bolivian Highways Administration, Customs, Migration, and the Forestry Superintendency; as well as taking over the local airport, which they encircled and prevented some 85 national police officers sent by the national government from leaving the site on September 5.

The Four Departments of the Media Luna with Chuquisaca

One of the more serious confrontations to date occurred in the city of Trinidad, capital of the Department of Beni, where a violent confrontation between autonomists and military police that lasted for ten hours on September 3rd ended with no result, as the intent of the locals to force the withdrawal of the military did not succeed.  The national government has responded by issuing warrants for the arrest of local leaders of the prefecture.  But yesterday the confrontations continued, this time with local MAS activists taking to the streets to confront pro-autonomy supporters and over 70 were injured in the ensuing conflict.

A More Ominous Development?  Takeover of Petroleum Producing and Exporting Facilities

Events in the Departments of Tarija and Chuquisaca may have more ominous portents for the future course of events surrounding the expansion of the scope of the Paro in Bolivia's east, given that they touch the national economic infrastructure more deeply than the consumer-targeted aims of the stoppage of mass transit embodied in most of the protest's activities.  Civic leaders in Tarija, acting with the cooperation of others in Chuquisaca, have seized control of some of the vital pipelines which export natural gas to Argentina and Brazil and have closed them down.  Reports indicate that the export of gas to Argentina from the Vuelta Grande field in Chuquisaca, which produces some 83 million cubic feet of gas per day, have ceased after its closure, a development which also impacts supplies destined for Brazil.  But news of the seizure and closure of the Villamontes field on the Tarija-Chuquisaca border appears to indicate much more serious actions taken, perhaps by rogue protestors or others.  According to one news release, an explosion has destroyed a section of the Yacuiba - Rio Grande gas pipeline which exports some three million cubic meters of gas per day to Brazil and damage estimates for its lost revenues may reach U.S. $8 million per day and repairs may cost U.S. $100 million.  The head of the Tarija Civic Committee Reynaldo Bayard denied that the explosion resulted from activists working with the organized protest and it may be worthwhile to point out that the Civic Committee already had control of the pipeline and had shut it down when the explosion occurred.

Civic Committee Leaders in Tarija and Chuquisaca Turn Off Villamontes Gas Pipeline
Source:  La Razón

International Reaction

There seems to be very little anyone outside of Bolivia can do to help calm the situation.  As mentioned in a previous post on this site, the Organization of American States has alienated itself from the autonomy protestors by reason of its refusal to recognize the obvious violations of constitutional law on the part of Evo Morales and the MAS that have pushed the protest forward.  Tuesday's reaction from the OAS showed no sign of promise for the future as Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza only condemned the protest and praised the national government for its restraint.  It may be that Brazil, which has spoken publicly about the need for the central government in La Paz to come to terms with the autonomy movements, will have to be the first nation to undertake some kind of initiative if there is to be any movement towards a calming of the situation within the country in which outside parties can play a mediating role.

My Comments

It is all spinning out of control.  I did not even get into a discussion of the food shortages in La Paz and elsewhere which are demonstrating that the Paro is having a serious effect upon the rest of the country, not to mention the difficulties created within the dissenting departments themselves.

Bolivia is quite simply on the verge of civil war and possibly revolution.

Unless and until Evo Morales and the MAS come to grips with the necessity of obeisance to constitutional law and its enforcement, there will be no way to get the eastern departments even to begin negotiations.  The issues of the seizure/devolution of the IDH tax revenues and the new constitution both reflect the same problem; constitutional law has ceased to exist in Bolivia and the eastern departments are determined to reassert some measure of control over their own destiny in its absence.  If this process continues for too long a period of time it will inevitably result in some degree of separation from the remainder of the country, though not necessarily by secession.  But between now and then a lot could happen and much of it could portend for tragedy if saner minds do not prevail in La Paz.

It may be that the upcoming congressional sessions to consider the submission of the MAS constitution to a possible referendum, perhaps taking place on the 23rd of this month, will give us some idea of the future course of events.  If the opposition is permitted to vote in the Senate, Morales's plan will most certainly be defeated.  Since we have yet to see any significant action by the Bolivian military to move against the autonomists, it may be that they are holding out for this critical moment when they believe Evo can be brought to his senses by the rejection of his constitutional project.  But if that awakening does not take place, or if Evo Morales and the MAS successfully intimidate their opposition once again and use violence to prevent their participation in the legislative process everything could come undone.

Bolivia is a very serious situation right now.


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Friday, September 5, 2008

Is the OAS Undermining Constitutional Law in Bolivia?


Jose Miguel Insulza and Evo Morales

Last Friday the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Jose Miguel Insulza, made the following statement to the press on the situation in Bolivia:

"One can say a lot about Bolivia, one can write a lot; they can say many things in the press, but the democratic vocation of the Bolivian people never will be written about enough.  This is a government that is disposed, as President Evo Morales said, to settle all subjects by the ballot box and not by arms.  And it is that everyone who wants to vote is going to vote; everyone who wants to express their opinion is going to express it. . . ."

". . . Understanding is then the only way that Bolivia can come out elegantly, not only for approving its Constitution -which is something so necessary, so good- but also to be able to put limits on inequality, and to be able to have peace and harmony in a society in which all Bolivians can have a place. . . ."

At first glance, Secretary General Insulza appears to speak for the cause of democracy in Latin America and we can view his statement as a policy that deserves our support.  But there could be more to his easy generalizations about democracy that we should take into account.  It is not so much what Insulza said as what he did not say that should give us pause to look more closely at his statement.

Insulza only mentions democracy and elections, he said nothing about constitutional law in Bolivia, and that is a major failing on his part, because the underlying problem that is impelling the current crisis in that country is the total absence of constitutional law, not the security of elections nor the will of the people to accept the results of voting.  The central complaint of the four departments of the so-called Media Luna, which were joined recently by the Department of Chuquisaca, is that Evo Morales and the MAS party have governed outside the norms of the Bolivian constitution, especially with respect to their virtual abolition of the power of the Bolivian Senate, which is the principal legislative body in which the five departments have political weight.  And what is most disconcerting about these actions on the part of Morales and his government, and which Insulza ignored in his statement, is that they were carried out by means of the exercise of violence and intimidation of their opponents.

While there are important ideological differences between Morales and his opponents that are contributing to the tension in Bolivia, the opposition has presented two principal charges against his governance that are of immediate importance, and which refer to the use of the violent intimidation and obstruction of the Bolivian Senate as a means of the achievement of the political program of the MAS.  In November, 2007, by means of a surprise maneuver in the Bolivian Congress that required opposition delegates to rush at full speed to the legislative precincts at the Plaza Murillo in La Paz, MAS delegates and their allies began a special and unexpected session to examine their legislation designed to repeal part of the Hydrocarbons Law of 2004.  In the original form of this law, which Bolivians approved in a national referendum that same year, producing departments, which include the Media Luna and Chuquisaca, were guaranteed a level of revenues from the Direct Hydrocarbons Tax (IDH in its Spanish abbreviation) equal to the revenues of the non-producing departments of the west of the country, something which the MAS intended to change in order to dedicate these revenues to the renta Dignidad, a pension that would be paid to Bolivians over 60 years of age.  But when the opposition delegates arrived, they were denied entry into the special session by a large number of MAS supporters, who surrounded the legislative precincts and used intimidation and some small acts of violence so as to permit only MAS delegates and their allies to participate in the legislative deliberations.  The La Paz daily newspaper La Razón reported that the head of the Podemos opposition party, which controls the Bolivian Senate, requested guarantees for the security of their delegates to enter the building and join the special session, which proceeded with only MAS members and their allies present, who voted to approve the legislation.  It was not legal and the Constitutional Tribunal of Bolivia, which was already weakened by the resignations of some of its members, was unable to force Morales and the MAS to change course.

The second and much more serious charge the opposing departments make against Evo Morales and the MAS for their delegitimization of the Bolivian Senate relates to the violence of the last days of February of this year in the Plaza Murillo in La Paz that is associated with the voting in the Congress on Morales's project for a new constitution, an event now known in the country as El Cerco (the siege).  During three days between the 27th and 29th of that month MAS supporters, including many mobilized from labor unions and other organizations known as the Sectores Sociales (Social Sectors), occupied the Plaza Murillo in the center of the seat of government in La Paz, a mobilization begun as a manifestation of political support for Morales and his Political Constitution of the State (CPE by its Spanish abbreviation).  But the MAS legislators in the Bolivian Congress transformed the process on the 28th when they moved to present their version of the new charter, commonly known as the Oruro Draft for a new constitution, which the MAS wrote without opposing delegates present in the sessions of the constituent assembly in the department of the same name.

Again La Razón informs us of the details of what occurred in the Plaza Murillo during the legislative session of the 28th of February.  Though the day began with no more than a few hundred protesters participating in the demonstration, the situation changed in the afternoon.  After midday groups of miners began arriving, announcing their presence with dynamite explosions, and later the local capital police, who were present up to this point, were pushed aside and replaced by representatives of the unions who acted as policemen in their place.  In the legislature a MAS deputy brought some 50 of the "Ponchos Rojos" -- a farmers organization known for their intimidation of MAS opponents -- into the interior of the building to serve as "Official Deputies," who were joined later by a group of miners accompanied by another MAS deputy and who exercised strict control over the proceedings.  The opposing Podemos Party pleaded from the seat of the vice presidency that they not try to pass the constitution by means of an illegal session, but without result.  While a Bolivian television audience watched as events unfolded live before their eyes, two female opposition deputies who tried to enter the building were beaten and they were denied the opportunity to participate in the session.  Only the delegates and representatives allied with the MAS were permitted to enter and, naturally, in the absence of opposition in the Senate, the Oruro Draft was approved through acts of violence, and moreover it can be said, without legitimacy.

The two above-mentioned controversies can be found at the heart of the charges the opposition makes against Evo Morales and his MAS party.  Morales's opponents have presented their case before the Bolivian people and the world as a plea for the invocation of constitutional law in their country.  And their argument is easy to understand.  If they must accept the results of elections that have awarded the presidency to Evo Morales and have converted the MAS into the prime political force in the country, is it not so that Evo Morales and the MAS must accept the results of those elections for seats in the Chamber of Deputies and especially the Senate that were decided in favor of opposition candidates? The two issues of the refusal of Evo Morales and the MAS to permit opposition delegates to the Congress to participate in the deliberations on modifications to the Hydrocarbons Law of 2004 and the approval of the presentation of the new constitution to the people suggest that it is officialdom that will not accept the results of elections in Bolivia, not their opponents.

But there is still more to the actions of Evo Morales and the MAS that confirms the accusation that they intend to abolish the power of the Bolivian Senate, where the opposition can exercise an influence over the country's political process.  The Bolivian Constitution requires the approval of the Congress for nominations to the Constitutional Tribunal of the country.  As of today, of the five positions on this body, four are unfilled owing to resignations and Evo Morales has not presented new candidates to the Congress to fill these vacancies, because he will have to obtain the approval of the Senate.  What has resulted is an institutional vacuum that has permitted Morales to proceed with the restructuring of the Bolivian state, without laws or judicial bodies to restrain his actions.

More than anything, it is this institutional vacuum that has impelled today's crisis in Bolivia, and opposition leaders in the Media Luna and Chuquisaca have made a call to have their pleas for its restoration heard, but with little success.  A recent statement of the Prefect of the Department of Pando, one of the four of the Media Luna, makes the case that the world is not paying attention at this moment:

“With an illegitimate constitution one will not be able to govern.  They have broken institutionality in the country since we no longer have a Constitutional Tribunal.  [Evo Morales] swears that the Constituent Assembly is legal and we have sworn from the first day that it is illegal.  Who can decide whether you or we are right? We have not advanced a millimeter.  I am so disappointed. . . .”

Leopoldo Fernandez
Prefect, Departament of Pando

As of this moment, the importance of reinforcing constitutional law in Bolivia grows each day.  After the recent revocatory referendums, both Evo Morales and the prefects of the Media Luna believe their positions have been strengthened.  The five eastern departments have launched a full-scale shutdown of important transit routes so as to put economic pressure on Morales and his government to return the fiscal revenues of the IDH tax.  Evo Morales has responded by throwing constitutional law to the ground once and for all.  He now claims that he has the power to convene a national referendum on his constitution by presidential decree and he has fixed December 7 as the date of the voting, while the five eastern departments have pledged they will not recognize the call to go to the polling places that day.  This week the National Electoral Court declared that the referendum can only be called by an act of the Congress, a decision Morales has chosen to ignore  And without a Constitutional Tribunal to resolve the controversy, chaos does not appear to be very far away for the country.

And what does Jose Miguel Insulza offer Bolivians as a means of bringing the crisis to an end through dialog? Nothing more than a statement that does not mention the crisis in the exercise of constitutional law in Bolivia and which instead of that solution opts for an endorsement of the position of Evo Morales -- everything should be submitted to the will of a simple majority of voters.

In the absence of constitutional law the exercise of the will of the majority can be converted into tyranny.  But the tyranny of the majority is still tyranny.  The support for constitutional law, at the very least, apportions a degree of control to this tyranny.  But if a people is stripped of their access to constitutional law, they have few other recourses at their disposition to protect their liberties.

One of these recourses is the right of revolution.

Let us hope that Jose Miguel Insulza learns this lesson with all due speed and that it is manifested in the support of the OAS for constitutional law in Bolivia with the same fervor they show for supporting democracy, because the two are inseparable.


NOTE:  A Spanish version of this article is available at

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Crisis in Bolivia:  The Paro in the Media Luna and Chuquisaca


Bolivian Cameraman is Assaulted by MAS Supporters in Santa Cruz
Source:  El Deber

It is no longer just the Morales government versus the four departments of the Media Luna, all of whom have passed autonomy referenda seeking to distance themselves from the centralized control of the MAS regime in La Paz.  Now the conflict has expanded to include the Department of Chuquisaca, which has joined, at least in part, its sister departments of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, and Pando in a confrontation with Morales and the MAS.  The four Media Luna departments all have imposed a full-scale Paro (shutdown) of major road transit within their borders, demanding the redistribution of the equivalent of $166 million U.S. collected as the Direct Hydrocarbons Tax, or Impuesto Directo a los Hidrocarburos, a.k.a. the "IDH."  The departments are demanding a return of these tax revenues to local authorities because earlier this year, Evo Morales unilaterally cut off their distribution without the approval of the Bolivian Congress, ostensibly to use the funds to pay old age pensions (La Renta Dignidad), but also as a means of punishing the departments for pursuing their individual agendas for establishing autonomy.  The situation is tense and there are confirmed reports of violent attacks in the Department of Santa Cruz launched against news reporters by MAS activists. 

It appears that the conflict between Evo Morales and his opposition may be coming to a head.

The Four Departments of the Media Luna with Chuquisaca

Blockades in the Media Luna, Government and MAS Response, Podemos Declared Illegal

A general stoppage of transit activity in the four departments of the Media Luna began Monday in Santa Cruz as a protest manned by some 5,000 unionists, local fraternal organizations, carnival workers, and neighborhood groups to put pressure on the Morales government to accept the distribution among the departments of previously-shared IDH revenues.  The local commitment to support the effort was widespread, even extending to the point of supermarkets opening for special hours late Sunday night to permit residents to stock up on necessities in anticipation of a long struggle.  The other three departments of the Media Luna; Beni, Pando, and Tarija, also followed suit and Chuquisaca joined in supporting the demands.  Most of the first day's activities were peaceful.

Morales government officials and MAS supporters both within the five protesting departments and in the capital of La Paz immediately announced their intent to oppose the Paro.  In what may have been the most significant act, the National Electoral Court declared the opposition Podemos Party, which predominates in the Media Luna, to be an illegal organization and stripped it of official recognition under Bolivian law.  MAS activists and organizations also began organizing their own actions within the five eastern departments, often acting in concert with government organs, such as in their takeover of the offices of telecommunications provider ENTEL in Tarija, which gives them control over telephone and internet use throughout the department.  And in the municipality of San Julian, a MAS stronghold in the Department of Santa Cruz, Morales allies announced their own stoppage in protest against the Paro and, perhaps ludicrously, threatened to encircle the departmental capital of Santa Cruz de la Sierra if the protest against the central government continued.

MAS Supporters in Santa Cruz Turn to Violence on Tuesday

On Tuesday tensions began to surface in a neighborhood within the city of Santa Cruz known as Plan Tres Mil (Plan Three Thousand), a social development project organized over 24 years ago for what was originally intended to house some 3,000 families, but which has since grown to become a satellite city of tens of thousands in its own right.  The chronology of the day began at about 4:00 a.m. with initial assaults by MAS supporters against the press and the destruction of vehicles, which they later continued in a walkthrough of the vicinity terrifying local residents.  By 1:00 p.m. bands of MAS supporters roaming the Plan Tres Mil barrio were confronted by pro-autonomy activists, including members of the Union Juvenil Cruceñista, the youth group who led the violent confrontation the previous Friday against National Police units in Santa Cruz after the police roughed up handicapped demonstrators seeking government relief.  When new police units arrived on the scene, a stone-throwing confrontation ensued with the Union Juvenil and only the use of tear gas dispersed them.  By 3:00 p.m. the MAS bands in the area had begun new assaults against journalists, forcing them to abandon the scene after several of their number were injured.  And in the aftermath of this withdrawal, which evidently coincided with the retirement of the police, the MAS supporters virtually sacked the local stores adjacent to the barrio.

Cameraman José Luis Ledezma is Down
Source:  El Deber
Clash in Streets in Santa Cruz
Source:  El Mundo

It is worth noting that when the National Press Association of Bolivia denounced the violence against journalists later that day that they specifically affixed responsibility for most of the attacks upon Evo Morales and his MAS party.  A newspaper didaction of their statement said "that the head of state makes the most of every national and international occasion to present himself denigrating and demeaning the media, the [National Press Association] interprets this attitude as reflecting a government strategy."  They also criticized opposition groups for attacks on the press on various occasions, though the complaint was more subdued.

Events in Chuquisaca

From the first day of the stoppage begun in the Media Luna, Bolivian farmers affiliated with the MAS in Chuquisaca began to organize their own counter-blockades, reportedly in protest against recently-elected Prefect Savina Cuellar's refusal to accede to their demands for the naming of provincial authorities within the department, though the intent to distract her from assisting the Paro in the four Media Luna departments is obvious.  Cuellar faces an unusual situation.  Her department is mostly of Quechua ethnic origin, which distinguishes them from the largely Aymaran majority of Bolivia's west.  She is a former MAS ally who broke with the party during the deliberations of the constituent assembly last year when MAS supporters roughed up Chuquisacan protestors, three were killed, who demonstrated for the transfer of the nation's capital to the city of Sucre, in her department.  She then helped form the Interinstitutional Committee of Chuquisaca as a challenge to the MAS, which enabled her election as Prefect on June 29, making the committee the principal political power in the department.  She originally sought an accommodation with the central government, because her department is sorely in need of funds to build major highways, which she announced as her principal policy goal during the campaign.  But Morales did not act to develop a working relationship and Cuellar has since gravitated much closer to the Media Luna and she has even announced plans to schedule an autonomy referendum for Chuquisaca for November 23, following the pattern of her neighboring departments.

Chuqisacan Prefect Savina Cuellar Shares a Toast with
Prefects of the Media Luna Departments at her Inauguration Last Month

It is within Chuquisaca that the MAS appears to be focusing its primary effort to undermine the inter-departmental Paro, apparently believing that their strength among the Chuquisaqueño farmers gives them a sufficient base to act and perhaps believing that Cuellar is more vulnerable than the prefects of the Media Luna.  They have imposed a virtual blockade of the departmental capital of Sucre, which is now beginning to create a shortage of meat, and prices are beginning to rise there.  Cuellar has asked for dialog with the MAS activists and they have thus far refused and tensions appear to be running high.

The Crisis Continues

As of this moment, Saturday, August 23, it is difficult to see an end to the conflict.  In Tarija the prefect has led a closure of the main highways connecting Bolivia to Argentina, which has implications for commerce in foodstuffs destined for La Paz, and he is demanding the withdrawal of officials of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform, a MAS-dominated arm of the bureaucracy, as well as a "leveling" of the price of natural gas exported from the Chaco gas fields of the department.  MAS activists in La Paz are calling for a second Cerco (siege) of the national congress to force it to submit the Morales constitution to popular referendum vote, an exceptionally dangerous idea that most certainly will aggravate tensions with the eastern departments, given that their elected representatives were violently prevented from voting against the text of the document when it was submitted in the constituent assembly in late February.  And there are significant anxieties throughout the country over the long-term consequences of the conflict for the availability of foodstuffs, since most of what the western departments consume, especially meat, either originates in or is transported through the five eastern departments of the Media Luna and Chuquisaca.

And calls for dialog seem to emanate from all parties, but the strident political positions held by those concerned are not leading to negotiations as of this moment.

El Cerco:  February, 2008
The Death of Constitutional Law in Bolivia?

My Analysis:  Imposition of Morales's Constitution, Underfunded Autonomous Government

While there are geographical, historical, demographic, and ethnic factors that form the basis for the distinct attitudes among Bolivians towards the future course of their country, the immediate underlying issues defining Bolivia's political crisis are the manner in which Evo Morales and his MAS party have attempted to rewrite and impose a new constitution outside the framework of Bolivian constitutional law and the equally unconstitutional response of the eastern departments to form autonomous governments with only limited control from La Paz, a course of action that now appears institutionally weak without the simultaneous creation of a revenue base.  Morales and his MAS allies found themselves unable to write the new constitution according to their own wishes during the constitutional assembly in 2007 as they lacked the two-thirds majority necessary to pass their proposals above opposition objections.  They then decided to move the proceedings to a military base and, at the end of February this year, they presented the final document for the assembly's approval, still not possessing the two-thirds majority required to pass it.  On the day of the vote, in an event now known as El Cerco (the siege), MAS demonstrators encircled the assembly building and violently prevented opposition delegates from entering the hall to cast their vote, thus assuring its passage, which was the penultimate stage prior to its submission as a popular referendum, whose outcome would likely favor its approval.

As a response to Morales's decision to circumvent the regular proceedings of the constituent assembly, the four eastern departments of the Media Luna began to undertake their own independent initiatives to pass referenda establishing their autonomy from the central government in La Paz.  This followed a failed attempt to secure this recognition by national referendum earlier in 2006, a procedure whose outcome would have been recognized under Bolivian constitutional law.  In December, 2007 Santa Cruz announced that it would schedule its own autonomy referendum vote within its borders and the other three departments followed suit after the MAS violently secured passage of their constitution at the constituent assembly in late February.  In a series of votes conducted between May 4 and June 22 of this year, each of the Media Luna departments approved its individual autonomy referendums, though Bolivia's constitutional tribunal -- whose authority was seriously undermined by the resignations of four of its five members -- declared the procedures illegal.  They also pronounced the MAS constitution illegal and Morales refrained from submitting it to a national referendum vote, though he has refused to take it off the table and still seeks to negotiate acquiescence to its submission to a popular referendum vote from the dissenting eastern departments.  It is precisely the possibility that Morales may be able to force a vote on a constitution that cleared the constituent assembly by means of street violence that is pushing the autonomy process ahead.

I see three possibilities for the future:  1.  Negotiate Mutual Acceptance of the Status Quo - Evo Morales and the eastern departments can sit down and negotiate a revised constitution that incorporates both the autonomy referenda and the new MAS constitution.  This is the proposal discussed most often in the press outside of Bolivia and it is what Morales is requesting, but I believe this is a highly unlikely outcome because the eastern departments have no trust in Morales to keep his word on any arrangement that will be negotiated.  They have good reason to fear this approach since Morales and the MAS have ignored the current system of constitutional law and it is therefore not unreasonable to expect that they would repeat such behavior in the future.  2.  Restart or Rollback the Constituent Assembly Process - The constituent assembly can reconvene and either begin from scratch respecting the procedures of Bolivian constitutional law as they now exist or they can simply return to the process as it existed prior to El Cerco and hold the vote on the submitted document a second time with all delegates permitted to vote.  This option would negate the relevance of the autonomy referenda and would force the constituent assembly to create a compromise document.  It has no appeal to Morales and the MAS but it is the only option that can form the basis for real dialog.  The MAS constitution only made it out of the assembly by virtue of revolutionary violence and it must be rejected if there is to be any chance of reassuring the eastern departments that they will have a future under enforceable constitutional law.  3.  Let the Current Process Play Itself Out - The present process can play itself out to determine a final victor.  This is a very dangerous route and it almost certainly will lead to widespread and tragic violence.  And it could mean the end of the nation of Bolivia as a viable state within its current borders.  I dearly hope this does not come to pass, but as of this moment it is the chosen alternative.


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