Bolivia: Governors Defect, Bill Gates and Evo

Your semi-regular Bolivia update.  The governors from six of the nine departments (states) have cut all communications with the federal government.  The six represent the economically strongest regions of the country.  MAS, Morales political party, amended the rules of the Constituent Assembly to require a simple majority, instead of 2/3 majority, to amend the Constitution.  Also last week, the House of Representatives approved a land reform bill.

Morales angered the region’s leaders by advocating putting the
governors under congressional oversight and giving himself the power to
fire them if they do not operate transparently or honestly.

On a more "huh?" note, Bill Gates wants to meet Morales, its a PR opportunity related to the Quechua localized build of Windows that I wrote about at the end of August.  If Bill goes to Bolivia, I hope his tour includes a stop at the Mercado Negro, where he can see what price market forces have set for his OS and Applications.

In the letter, Gates offered Microsoft’s help "in the goal of providing
all of Bolivia’s people access" to the Internet and modern technology,
La Razon reported.

Unsettling times in Bolivia

The excellent MABB tells us that Things are Getting Ugly in Bolivia.  My native country is in the midst of rewriting the Consitution and it is turning into a divisive process.

The main message is that the Constitutional Assembly is in serious
crisis. There are calls from the separatists in Santa Cruz (la nacion
camba) to form a regional assembly. The people in the Andes, are so
worried that they decided to go to Sucre to make sure the assembly
continues its work. They have threatened the assembly members with
community justice if they don’t do what the "people" want. The assembly
itself is having trouble meeting and doing its work.

Meanwhile, the government is violating civil liberties and dur process as it cracks down on opponents and high ranking figures from previous governments.

To date, the Morales team has announced
plans to prosecute some 150 people who held high-level jobs in previous
governments including five ex-presidents for crimes ranging from
"genocide" to "espionage" and "destruction or deterioration of state
assets."

Yet the government has provided scant evidence to back the
accusations, relying instead on news conferences and public harangues.
In the Nogales case, an ambiguous video of people removing stacks of
money from a bank vault was leaked to TV networks in June and broadcast
widely.

Windows in Quechua

Blue Screen of Death is "Anqas Toqu millay" – Filthy Blue Window is the best I could do. Microsoft releases language support for Quechua, one of the native languages spoken in Bolivia. Probably to less fanfare than they expected.

"We congratulate Microsoft for having facilitated the use of computers
in our own languages, but we have to advance towards systems that are
more open because we still have to pay a license fee (to use the
software) to Microsoft," Bolivia’s Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca
said.

Curiously, there are also efforts to make translations available for linux and gnome.

Energy nationalization suspended

Talk about putting the cart before the horse!  Bolivia’s Hyrdocarbons Ministry aanounced that the nationalization of oil and gas industries will be temporarily suspended.  Seems the state company does not have the fund or operating capacity to take over production.  Morale’s nationalization program could end up as nothing more than a populist stunt if YPFB can’t secure $180 million in financing.  How much will failure here hurt the Morales adminstration, especially now as they are in the midst of rewriting the Bolivian consitution?  We will see…

An association of Bolivian oil and gas companies announced that since
May 1 more than 30 foreign and domestic petroleum businesses have
ceased operations or taken their business to other South American
countries.

Morales injured in futbol match

Sometimes, the things I post about have a strange way of intersecting.  This past weekend, Bolivian president suffered a broken nose during a football match.  Take note that while the BBC describes the game as "an indoor footbal match", based on the picture, it looks more like Futsal.  Futsal is a small-sided (5 a side I think) variant on soccer, wholly different than indoor soccer, that is meant to played on a smaller court, equivalent of a basketball court.  It can be played both indoors and out and uses a smaller, heavier ball.

The injury means he might not be able to take part in a
match next Sunday between government representatives and special guests
invited to the inauguration of the Constituent Assembly, who are
expected to include Brazilian President Lula and Venezuelan President
Hugo Chavez.
 

Bolivian referendum and constituent assembly results

On Sunday July 2, Bolivians went to the polls to elect representatives to a Constituent Assembly which will meet to rewrite the Boilvian constitution. MABB has collected reactions of the world press. There is a suspicion that the assembly will used by Evo Morales to strengthen his grip on power following Hugo Chavez. According to the Washington Post,
Morales’ supporters won only 132 of the 255 seats in the Assembly, much
less than the 170 seats needed to secure a dominant two-thirds majority.

Bolivians also voted on a Referendum to grant each Departnment, the equivalent of a US State, Autonomy. From speaking with my aunt who is visiting us from Bolivia, Autonomy would essentially make each Department live off of its own tax revenues, instead of sending all taxes to the federal government to be redistributed among the 9 departments. Four departments voted in favor of autonomy. The wealthier eastern half of the country endorsed autonomy, based on the perception that more taxes are taken out than what they receive back in government services. We’ll have to see how the central government now approaches the revenues associated with nationalized industries, primarily the natural gas fields recently siezed.

On Sunday, each state voted on whether they wanted more
self-government, but how regional autonomy actually works won’t be
sorted until the constituent assembly convenes on Aug. 6. Still to be
decided is whether autonomy will apply only to those four states that
approved it or to all nine — and exactly what form it will take.

Latino Immigrants and Assimilation

Latino assimilate quite well into American society, more so than the anti-immigration conservative right would have you believe. Tyler Cowen and Daniel M. Rothschild have a data-packed column in the Washington Post looking at this issue. Throughout the article, I couldn’t help but pick parts where I felt like they were writing about me.

Most Latino immigrants want to become U.S. citizens. This process takes
years, so recent immigrants are not a good barometer. But according to
the 2000 Census, the majority of Latinos who entered the United States
before 1980 have become citizens. And second-generation immigrants are
more likely to marry natives than immigrants, further assimilating
their children. The majority of immigrants also own their own homes, a
key part of the American dream.

Check on all three there, even though technically I’m a first generation immigrant born in Bolivia

Morales begins land redistribution

An agrarian reform program redistributes 18,600 square miles of land to indigenous communities. Even private land that is not in "productive use" is subject to government seizure as part of the plan to redistribute one-fifth of Bolivia’s total land area. The current situation has the potential to increase civil strife and pit indigenous farmers squarely against wealthier land interests and may follow the so-called reforrms Hugo Chavez used in Venezuela.

Landowners’ groups have pledged to resist the programme. José
Cespedes, president of the Eastern Agricultural Chamber, said
landowners would form committees to defend their property.

Land in the western areas of the country, virtually untouched by the agrarian reform in 1953, is concentrated in a few families, according the UNDP 100 families own 25 million hectares. The current agrarian reform is a fairly populist attempt to curry favor but alone will do little to address the causes of indigenous poverty.

 


Sociologist Joaquín Saravia, a professor at the Universidad Mayor de
San Andrés, believes that land distribution on its own will not solve
the problem of poverty. Instead, he proposes a development plan based
on sound economic, environmental, political and administrative
criteria, linked to the creation of large producing regions.

DC United season assesment and thoughts on Jaime Moreno

The MASR today ltalks to Coach Nowak, Eskandarian, and Bryan Namoff about United’s season so far. As a fan, you have to be happy with the best start ever, and being in 2nd place this early should pay off later in the season, barring a devastating losing streak.

They also discuss Moreno’s form, which after a promising start has slumped.  I’m a bit confused about what to make of some statements made by Nowak who says of the Bolivian international “I think sometimes he needs to play the ball a
little faster and simple.  He needs to use the options around him and
create space for other people, like our second line players, such as Christian [Gomez] and Freddy”, and later says the biggest weakness on the team is the coaching “That’s mainly me”.

So, he’s asking Moreno to sort of play against his nature.  Moreno has always been prone to dribble a bit much and pass up what look like decent shots on goals.  So Peter’s critique that he needs to play faster and use the options around him are valid. But then he goes on to say he should play more like Gomez and Freddy, who are midfield players, not forwards.  Talk about confusing – maybe that’s one of the coaching weaknesses?  Is Moreno being asked to play a game much different than what he’s used to? 

A better writer than me would go back and recollect on Moreno’s stellar 2004 season to see what he was doing right.  Definitely toward the end of that season, it seemed Gomez, Eskandarian, and Moreno had a near perfect understanding of how each of them could be dangerous.  They may need to sort that out again.

Evo nationalizes Bolivia’s Natural Gas

In case you missed it, earlier this week, President Evo Morales nationalized Bolivia’s natural gas reserves sending soldiers in to secure the gas fields. He also gave an ultimatum to foreign investors to renegotiate the terms of their contracts and wants to audit their financial records. The government’s justification for the takeover is that the contracts given to the oil companies are not constituional since they were not individually approved by Congress as required.

Under
the terms of the decree, some 25 private gas companies have six months to renegotiate
their contracts with the Bolivian government or be expelled, and they will be
forced to sell at least 51 percent of their holdings to the state.

This has prompted oil companies to reasses their investment plans and pleased Evo’s indigenous supporters. Although foreign oil companies might pull out, Venezuela is already stepping in to help.

Chavez and Morales emerged from a three-hour meeting to
announce a "strategic alliance" between Bolivia’s state-owned
YPFB and Venezuela’s PDVSA to develop gas industrialization
projects, a partnership to be formalized later this month.

Jefferson Marley of the Washington Post recommends reading the Financial Times of London to get a fair picture of waht is going on but laments having to pay for such "centrist coverage".

Today’s FT reports:
"The government says it will purchase a majority stake [in privatized
natural gas operations] without expropriation. Andrés Soliz Rada,
hydrocarbons minister, plans to create a special government auditor to
determine the value of any compensation."

In other words, this isn’t war. This is let’s have a meeting.

Finally, Aleksander Boyd remarks that this is just Morales following the Chavez’s example, and Americans and Europeans shouldn’t be so shocked by this move.

It is also true that he’s following the chavista booklet: i.e. win the
presidency, purge institutions whilst waiting on the National
Constituent Assembly that will do away with all elected powers, govern
by decree, shred contracts… How can anyone be surprised, we have seen
this movie before, haven’t we?