Monday, August 11, 2008

Recall Referendum in Bolivia:  Morales Survives, "Catatrosphic Tie" Continues


Bolivian President Evo Morales

Though we may have reason to doubt the accuracy of some of the early returns, it appears clear that the overall results of Sunday's National Recall Referendum in Bolivia will maintain Evo Morales in power as the country's President and the "Catastrophic Tie" (as described by his Vice President Alavaro Garcia Linares) that has left one of Latin America's poorest countries in a state of complete political stalemate will continue into the near future.  In the Quick Count results of Sunday's vote, Morales received approximately 62% approval nationwide for continuing to serve out his presidential term, though four of Bolivia's nine departments returned negative votes calling for the revocation of his presidential mandate.  These included three of the four departments of the Media Luna, Santa Cruz, Beni, and Tarija; while the fourth, Pando, was split right down the middle with only 51% voting against the recall, though a conflicting report states that Morales lost there.  A similar vote was returned in the department of Chuquisaca, which went narrowly against Morales.  And simultaneously, three of the country's departmental Prefects, i.e. "Governors," were recalled.  These include one from the Podemos opposition in the capital department of La Paz, Jose Luis Paredes; one from Evo Morales's MAS party in the Department of Oruro, Luis Alberto Aguilar; and a third Prefect in the Department of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes Villa, who announced that he will fight to maintain his position as he considers the referendum illegal.

Increased Polarization?

It may be that the result of the referendum will be one of increased polarization within Bolivia, which runs contrary to the intent to use the vote to break the political stalemate that has frozen the country's political and legal system for almost the entirety of this year.  As it now stands, Evo Morales and his MAS Party hold solid support in the four western departments of La Paz, Oruro, and Potosi -- since it is likely that a new MAS Prefect will be elected in Oruro, a MAS stronghold; and they appear poised to take control of Cochabamba with the recall of Reyes Villa.  The four departments of the Media Luna all returned strong votes ratifying their Prefects, which puts a final stamp of approval upon their recently-passed autonomy statutes; effectively fortifying Podemos and their associated groups in a unified opposition to Morales.  Chuquisaca, which is something of a unique case having elected a former MAS supporter Sabina Cuellar as its Prefect earlier this year, seems to stand somewhere in the middle.  Cuellar has broken with Morales and the MAS for their rough handling of the opposition during the Constituent Assembly which, supposedly, completed its work earlier this year.  At the beginning of this month she prevented the Morales government from organizing Bolivian Independence Day festivities in the Chuquisacan Capital of Sucre when the Morales administration refused to give an official apology for MAS-initiated violence in the city last year which left three dead and 60 injured.  Chuquisaca's rejection of Morales in Sunday's vote provides even more evidence that the five departments of the eastern section of the country, which now includes more than just the four of the Media Luna, have now thoroughly aligned themselves against the central government.  And as was the case earlier this year, it is the Department of Santa Cruz which is taking the lead in increasing its confrontational posture vis-a-vis the central government.

Bolivia's Nine Departments

Accelerating the Autonomy Process in Santa Cruz

Among all the executives who faced recall referenda Sunday, the second largest approval vote went to Santa Cruz's Ruben Costas, who received approximately 66.6% of the vote for continuing his mandate.  Santa Cruz has led the autonomic movement in the country and the province's leaders have wasted no time in capitalizing upon the moment.  Immediately following the announcement of the results, a celebratory festival began in the capital city of Santa Cruz where pro-autonomy speakers lashed out at Morales, his centralist policies, and the leftist political bent of the MAS, as well as deriding far-right conservative politicians:

"[We attack the] opportunism of the partisan and political interests of the governing left, who allied themselves with the right to give rise to the law that validated yesterday's recall vote and with the referendum they sought to destroy departmental autonomy. . . . Today, the trap for liberty and autonomy has been defeated with its own weapon.  The referendum has defeated the remnants of centralism.  It has crushed the manipulations of the enemies of true change. . . ."
Santa Cruz Prefect Ruben Costas
Post-Referendum Speech

The triumphant tone also extended to near-incendiary rhetoric directed against Evo Morales.  It was declared that because the Department of Santa Cruz had voted so overwhelmingly for his recall, that Morales would not be welcome there and Costas pointedly warned the President against attempting "to impose his illegal and racist Constitutional project because he will then have entered a blind alley with no way out."

There was no mention of dialog with the Morales government in the speech, but it did announce concrete actions to be taken immediately.  Costas informed his audience that a taxing authority would be implemented immediately to create a "Solidarity Fund" intended "to aid other departments" in addition to Santa Cruz.  Finally; he made clear that his department will form a police organization that would parallel the National Police.

Santa Cruz Prefect Ruben Costas Kisses the
Departmental Flag During Yesterday's Celebration

From the Bolivian Blogs

There are some varying opinions in the early blogging from the "Bolivia watchers" in the blogosphere.  The more moderate MABB Blog sees the outcome as essentially a draw that will not change the current stalemate -- ". . . The referendum changed very little of the situation. . . . This means the two sides will keep on pressing their agendas. . . ."  The harder-hitting Bolivia Confidencial put the matter as a setback for Morales, stating that he "did not do well," and that "the results do not strengthen the perspective of imposing a new constitution."  They also charged that "Evo's Pyrrhic Victory" was the "fruit of a grand fraud," charging that there were massive voting irregularities in which the country's electoral courts were complicit for their inaction.  There is no word up yet on the Santa Cruz-Bolivia blog, which we might expect to be the hardest-hitting of all.

My Analysis

I think it matters much less to hear what people, and especially political leaders, say about the results of an election.  What really counts is what they do in the wake of a vote.  The two most important pieces of information I have gleaned from the aftermath of the recall referendum in Bolivia are both taken from the speech of Santa Cruz Prefect Ruben Costas; the foundation of a new taxing authority and the creation of a parallel police force that will compete with Bolivia's National Police.  These are significant steps that represent a restructuring of the state, in terms a political scientist would use, since the former implies a new use for police power and the second implies a new police body.  This tells me that the autonomy movement is not ready for dialog at this point but instead intends to continue with its project for creating new institutions within its own departmental borders and, perhaps even more dangerously, outside of its territory as evidenced in its offer to share the tax revenues with the other departments seeking autonomy.  We are not merely witnessing one department moving to erect its own autonomous institutions; these are steps designed to create a trans-departmental governing authority that will only move to divide Bolivia further.  The question is, does Evo Morales understand all of this?  That test will come when and if he recognizes that his very undemocratically-written constitution must be scrapped if he is to have any chance of holding his country together.  Without that decision, I believe we are witnessing the beginning of the division of Bolivia into a democratic eastern and a non-democratic -- I hesitate to write "Socialist" because so much of the MAS program seems to embody racial and corporate statist policies -- western section whose unification may only exist at the most abstract levels of authority.  I think Bolivia is on the verge of splitting in two and what that portends for the future may be troubling.


******************** Update:  Tuesday August 12 ********************

More from the Blogosphere

I have two other worthy blog entries to direct everyone's attention to at this time, which I only discovered after posting this entry Monday evening.

At Daniel's Venezuela Blog you will find a very interesting discussion "Of the uselesness of recall elections," which not only asserts that the situation in Bolivia may have worsened as a result of the referendum -- I agree as you can read above -- but it may be that Bolivia is at the brink of secession and possible civil war.  Daniel draws some very interesting and thoughtful parallels with the American Civil War, but his conclusion is most valuable: ". . . Now, they all have only one option, to climb down from their mutual arrogant positions, no matter how valid those ones are, and renegotiate the constitution project to send it to referendum. If this does not happen then the most probable outcome will be the break up of Bolivia. . . ."  I think that is spot on the mark.  I highly recommend this post.  And finally, Bloggings by Boz has a short post -- aren't they all? -- in which he also sees the stalemate continuing into the near future.



Martha Colmenares said...

Muy bueno tu análisis, fiel reflejo de una catástrofe que continuará. Que se extiende en el continente, liderado por Hugo Chávez, que cuenta con tiranillos para imponer en sus países, la mal llamada "revolución bolivariana", por cuanto el nombre que debe dársele, en honor y desagravio de nuestro Libertador, es el de revolución chavista.
Un abrazo, Martha

StJacques said...

Sí Martha, y los Cruceños que hablaron domingo por la noche específicamente afirmaron que Chávez está manipulando la situación en Bolivia. Este es un punto importante porque los partidarios de la autonomía no quieren dialogar con Morales y su gobierno, mientras que ellos creen que Chávez está involucrado.

Me pongo más convencido cada día de que la situación en Bolivia se está deteriorando hasta el punto en que un conflicto violento es inevitable.

Un abrazo,


The Matrix said...

This is a great blog! Keep up the good work!

StJacques said...

Thank you Matrix.

And may I say that I really enjoy the Neoconexpress blog as well.


El Duderino said...

Spin this how you want but Evo won big time on Sunday. With 96% of the count in Evo is at 68%, winning in six departments and splitting Tarija. Tell yourself it's all do to fraud, except this election was monitored by international observers who characterized it as spotless. Much in contrast to the Autonomy Statute referendums that had zero observers or legitimacy.

StJacques said...

Duderino, I would like to see your source for the figures you give.

I just checked La Razon (La Paz), El Deber (Santa Cruz), and El Mundo (Santa Cruz) and the figures they post are either 63.1% (up from 62% when I posted) for Morales with the departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Tarija, and Chuquisaca voting against him and Pando at 51% for him -- as posted in La Razon.  And by the way, La Razon says Tarija voted 59.1% against Morales, hardly split down the middle.  I see no update to the El Deber figures, which say 62.4% for Morales and the above-mentioned four departments plus Pando (which would make five) voting against Morales.  Since the La Razon figures have been updated since I posted I suspect they are more accurate, since the El Deber figures reamin the same.

But 68% for Morales and six departments approving his mandate?  No, I cannot accept that as accurate and I must request that you identify a source where it can be viewed.  You have my sources to examine in contrast.  And that's not spin, it's fact.

And no election observer report I have read posted, and I have seen several, including that of the OAS; says the election was "spotless."  There was definitely violence in western Santa Cruz and rural Cochabamba, poll boxes were stolen in Tarija, and reports of fraudulent casting of votes in La Paz.  But I do not believe the sum total of all of these irregularities casts any doubt on the outcome.


El Duderino said...

Hey Stjacques,
How about checking with the CNE website? It's all fairly transparent unlike the autonomy votes.

You will notice that there is one irregularity. Santa Cruz has yet to report 12% of their votes. What are they hiding?

StJacques said...

The CNE no longer functions under the watchful authority of the Constitutional Tribunal, which is the court designed to oversee its handling of vote counting and its administration of Bolivian electoral law.  The tribunal has literally ceased to exist as four of its five members have resigned this year due to their charges of illegal and violent interference with the electoral and constitutional process by Morales and the MAS and/or intimidation of them.  So since there is no oversight of the CNE at the national level -- there is local oversight of the CNE offices within the departments where departmental electoral tribunals still function -- the CNE cannot be regarded as transparent.

For this reason the departmental totals released earlier still hold more validity than the reporting of the CNE nationally, which is likely to give the spin of the MAS on the vote.  By way of example, on the evening of the Santa Cruz referendum Evo Morales told the Bolivian people that the autonomy proposal had lost, which was the most ridiculous statement he has made all year.

The counting of the CNE at the national level cannot be viewed as authoritative until it is ratified by the press in Bolivia, which still has some independence.  The important source here is La Razon in the capital of La Paz, which is not supportive of the autonomy movements.  As of this moment La Razon's reporting does not validate the CNE's published totals.  But we will wait and see.

And by comparison, the autonomy process has been much more open than that of the referendum.  There were instances of MAS-initiated violence which marred it somewhat, as I reported (with pics), but that is to be expected.


El Duderino said...

"But I do not believe the sum total of all of these irregularities casts any doubt on the outcome."

Why the sudden turn of face? Don't like the results? Spread as much disinfo as you want it doesn't make it true. Sooner or later you are going to have to face up to the fact that Evo is popular has a democratic mandate and is exercising authority in constitutional limits. If you want to check out some people engaged in violent intimidation and unlawful acts, type Union Juvenil Crucenista in google and see what comes up.

StJacques said...

What do you mean "sudden turn of face"?

Did you read what I wrote in the blog entry?

From my first paragraph:

". . . it appears clear that the overall results of Sunday's National Recall Referendum in Bolivia will maintain Evo Morales in power as the country's President . . . Morales received approximately 62% approval nationwide for continuing to serve out his presidential term . . ."

So how does my statement "I do not believe the sum total of all of these irregularities casts any doubt on the outcome" represent a "turn of face"?

If I write "it appears clear" that Morales won a renewal of his presidential mandate, that means he clearly won.

Now; you also wrote that Evo Morales "is exercising authority in constitutional limits."

That is a crock!

Are you familiar with El Cerco and its political and institutional impact within Bolivia?  I am referring to the forcible and violent prevention of opposition delegates from voting on the final text of the new constitution that was written at a secluded military base after violent clashes between the National Police, backed by MAS demonstrators, and Chuquisacan protestors (not autonomy supporters at the time) in Sucre in late 2007 resulted in the 3 dead and 60 injured (see this link in Spanish, last paragraph of article).

In late February when the text of the MAS-authored constitution was submitted to the assembly for approval by 2/3 majority vote according to Bolivian constitutional law, came "the seige" (El Cerco).  MAS demonstrators surrounded the building and used force and violence to prevent opposition delegates from entering the building and the session to vote against the document.  There was no semblance of democracy or respect for constitutional law involved.

Here is a translation of the first paragraph of one report on the vote:

The Congress approved Thursday the convening of two referendums in which they will submit the project of the new constitution to popular consult, in the midst of protests of organizations related to the government who prevented the access of the majority of the opposition legislators.

It's real easy to get a 2/3 majority vote to go your way when you can use violence to prevent the opposition from voting against you isn't it?  You can see a photo of that travesty of democracy and constitutional law at this link.

By April 4, just over a month later, when Artemio Arias Romano resigned from the Constitutional Tribunal, there was only one member remaining.  If the Bolivian constitution means anything to Morales, he certainly cannot say he has done anything to restore its legal oversight under Bolivian law.  But then, he would have to get 2/3 approval of an appointment in the Bolivian Senate to fill each of those vacancies and he's not about to try that, is he?

Even the CNE, who you hold up Duderino, ordered the suspension of the holding of the constitutional referendums (as well as the autonomy plebiscites) in March, citing the lack of a legal basis for preceding.  You can apply that as a legitimate argument against the legality of the autonomy referendums if you like, and even I question their de jure validity, but if they are illegal, so is the new constitution.

You can make a sound argument that Evo Morales has popular support Duderino.  But the last thing that can be said of him is that he is ruling within constitutional law.  He is in fact destroying the constitutional framework within which Bolivian democracy is meant to function.

One final comment, if I may.  I think you may be taking the fact that I reported that the Bolivia Confidencial blog alleged massive fraud as an assertion on my part that such was the case.  I only reported on what they posted and if you read that carefully you will see that I did not argue that their charge should be accepted.  In fact, I describe that blog as "harder-hitting" which I intended to be a statement on my part that there is a political bent to its content.


StJacques said...

One final comment Duderino ...

On the Union Juvenil Cruceñista -- I despise them, as I do anyone who attempts to use violence or the threat of violence within political discourse, as they clearly do.  I have reported on their violence before in this blog, so I do not ignore them.  But if you are among those who attempts to argue that they are a "militia arm" of the autonomy movement, I would disagree.  Their history dates back all the way to the 1950's when they were the militia arm of the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) in Bolivia and they have on occasion been very much at odds with Santa Cruz Prefect Ruben Costas, who has used the local police against them in Santa Cruz.

They are also choir boys when compared to the supporters of the MAS; who have committed murders, burned the homes of the rural peasantry, thrown dynamite into crowds, beaten voters attempting to reach polling places and more.


El Duderino said...

Sorry but the procedural short cuts used by MAS are not unconstitutional but legal loopholes, just take legal. Illegal would have been going ahead with the constitutional referendum after the CNE struck it down, like the Media Luna did with their "autonomy statutes" drafted by unelected "provisional autonomy assemblies". Or declaring you could simply ignore the results of a recall referendum, or change the rules for revocation in the middle of campaigning.

Your one sided characterizations of the Sucre Nov. 2007 violence and other wild accusations reveal that you've never lived in Bolivia for any substantial period of time. As you would know that the Bolivian press, dominated by corporate outlets, are some of the least trustworthy institutions in the country, as are the politicians and interests they defend. But this site looks like its a hang out for people who think the New York Times is a bastion of communists, so I'll leave my comments with this post. No need to waste time on a pointless "debate".

StJacques said...


I must make a quick correction to what I just wrote. The Union Juvenil was a militia arm organized against the MNR in the 1950's, not by it.

My bad. This is what I hate about writing quickly.


El Duderino said...

Wow Stjacques! You need to do your homework on the UJC. They were founded in 1957 as an activist arm of the Comite Pro Santa Cruz! Go to the Comite's website and look it up yourself. These guys are fascists and you need to realize they are using guys like you to defend their money, land, and power. Very simple.

StJacques said...

Thousands of people encircling a national legislative building beating up duly-elected representatives of the opposition is not a "legal loophole."  It's revolutionary violence.

And Evo is still trying to get approval of his constitution, so it's not over.

On the press, well; that gets us to conspiracy theories.  I never buy into them, go ahead and argue them if you want.

And though I have not lived in Bolivia, I have done so in South America for about a year as well as another six months or so in Mexico.  I know how to follow the news and I know my history as well.


StJacques said...

How do I defend the Union Juvenil when I criticize their violence in my blog?

And I gave you the link on their history.

You may have responded before I made my correction.