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Political Crisis in Bolivia

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By Maximiliano Borches (for Safe Democracy)

Maximiliano Borches explains how Evo Morales‘ government has come under attack by both the left and the right for its project to nationalize hydrocarbon in Bolivia. With separatist threats from several regions of the country, and growing dissatisfaction over the Constituent Assembly, the opposition has begun attacking the administration with increasing confidence. In Borches‘ opinion, Evo Morales must confront this political crisis by lowering his own objectives, proving to his country that he still has popular support, allowing open dialogue with the opposition, and strengthening democracy in Bolivia.


[2] Maximiliano Borches is a journalist and international analyst. He collaborates with many channels of Latin American press and is the director of the journal Horizonte.

THE BOLIVIAN GOVERNMENT UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF SOCIALIST EVO MORALES is under attack from both the left and the right.

The sectors belonging to the Bolivian right have maneuvered forcefully against Morales’ decree to nationalize Bolivia’s hydrocarbon. And despite attempts to ignore this maneuvering, the government has been forced to acknowledge the mounting pressure by accepting the resignation of the now ex-President of YPFB (the Fiscal Oilfields of Bolivia Company), Jorge Alvarado.

Alvarado was a trusted member of the administration before turning his back on Morales’ leadership. Add to that a wave of national protests, and it becomes clear that the seven month long romance that the government maintained with its syndicates has all but ended.

EDUCATION AND TRANSPORTATION
The syndicate strikes, led by the confrontational teacher’s union –that refused the education project and has demanded the resignation of the minister of Education– started slowly at first, but have now stretched throughout all of Bolivia. Some rumors are even spreading that all public schools, private schools, and universities will close their doors until the government abandons the official plan.

Another organization that surprised the government was the transportation union. An agreement was reached, but tensions are still high.

DISSATISFACTION WITH GOVERNMENT

Aside from dealing with the dissatisfaction of the syndicates, the government also has had to confront open hostility from Santa Cruz and Tarija, two of Bolivia’s wealthiest regions in natural resources.

The regional conflicts have joined the offensive led by the conservative sectors of Bolivian society to lobby in favor of transnational corporations. They refuse the nationalizing measures taken by Evo Morales’ administration and the project of expropriation of fiscal lands not in use for the poor majority living in Bolivia.

OBSTACLES FOR THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY

To add to the conflict over hydrocarbon, last July 2nd, a double election was held to elect a constituent assembly to rewrite the Bolivian constitution and decide the autonomous future of nine regions of Bolivia. Morales’ Movement for Socialism Party (MAS) achieved excellent results, winning almost 53 percent of the votes, and maintaining the same support that Morales received in the Presidential elections.

But the dialogue has already begun horribly. It will be a rocky path to begin debates and put the rewriting of the Bolivian constitution up for a plebiscite. Add just one more chapter to Bolivia’s political crisis.

THE REGULATIONS OF THE DEBATES
The majority block, MAS is divided to the point of breaking over the regulations for the debates of the Constituent Assembly. The central argument has been over whether the deciding vote should be based on an absolute majority, a simple majority, or if a system of mixed approval should be in place to legitimize the decision-making of the Constituent Assembly.

The indigenous sector of MAS supports the more radical stance of an absolute majority, while the rightist opposition party PODEMOS, along with the rest of the minority parties have been asking for a simple majority. The less radical sector of MAS, meanwhile, hopes for a system of mixed approval.

MAS ASSERTS ITSELF

After huge arguments, MAS succeeded in pushing forward its demand. The only vote dictated by a simple majority will be enough to approve the definitive version of the constitutional text.

The internal crisis within MAS, the mounting attacks of the opposition, and the about-face of syndicates who were once stalwart supporters of Morales, are having a very frustrating effect on the good intentions of the current government. If MAS wants to continue to lead, it must moderate some of the pretensions that are making it blind.

THE CHALLENGES FACING EVO MORALES
The lack of political, administrative, and technical officials is the major Achilles heel of Bolivia’s socialist government, which gained power in a moment in which the majority of intellectuals had adopted neo-liberalism as their guiding philosophy.

This dearth of leaders has put tension on the government in this stage of the political crisis. The growing stagnation of the move to nationalize hydrocarbon led the government to create a team of ministers from the Treasury, Planning, and Defense Departments, and the Presidency.

INVESTMENT, WITHOUT BOSSES OR PROPRIETORS

YPFB has yet to participate in the productive chain, and commercialize hydrocarbon in the internal and external market, as was obliged in the decree of May 1st. The reestablishment of the decree has still not gone into effect.

Negotiations, meanwhile, for a loan of 180 million dollars from the Central Bank and auditors are running behind schedule, making it impossible to sign new contracts with transnational businesses within the established timeframe.

The time has come, therefore, to give clear signals to Brazil and Spain of Bolivia’s commitment to continue negotiations, despite Evo Morales’ statement that what we need is investment, not bosses or proprietors.

BRAZIL AND SPAIN

Negotiations with Brazil to give credibility to the increase announced by the Bolivian government from four to seven dollars per million BTU (gas measurements) have stopped for now, due to the pre-election anxiety of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The trip of Bolivian Vice-President Garcia Linera to the country, accomplished nothing more than a promise to reopen conversations.

With Spain, on the other hand, the fight will be somewhat tougher. Garcia Linera has a trip to Madrid planned for October in order to work out new agreements and slow the pressure that the Spanish company Repsol-YPF is exerting on the Bolivian government.

Until now, Evo Morales has won all of his public battles. It is up to him now to show his country and the entire world that he has maintained the popular support that he won upon being elected. And what is more, Morales must prove that he is a leader open to dialogue with the opposition, and dedicated to deepening and strengthening democracy in Bolivia, where it has been squashed so many times.

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