Southern Exposure

Desde as Entranhas dos Labirintos Latinos.

Monday, November 17, 2003

It's been less than a month since Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada (aka Goni) resigned as Bolivia's president. Things went back to normal; Mesa was given a honeymoon period to try to govern and appease the myriad of social demands (such as the issue of gas exports) that drove Goni from office. That honeymoon clearly ended last week.

Despite Mesa's efforts to negotiate w/ (and even his praise for) some of the social forces that led the October protests, the usual syndicate leaders have only radicalized their positions. On Friday, Felipe Quispa (aka Mallku) disrupted a dialogue meeting between syndicate dirigentes and ministers — who were agreeing to almost all his demands — and stormed out shortly after publicly calling them "bitches" who were only in office because he put them there.

The main opposition groups are the same: Confederaci├│n Syndical Unica de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia (CSUTCB), the Movimiento Sin Tierra (MST), the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), and the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB). The MST is a rather new group; the main leaders are still Mallku (CSUTCB), Evo Morales (MAS), and Jaime Solares (COB). Last week they announced publicly and clearly that their goal is to topple Mesa and seize power.

Among their demands — most of which Mesa has tried to meet — they've now added that they want a new constitution that specifically excludes political parties. Ironic, of course, since Evo and Mallku both lead political parties that have significant representation in parliament (MAS and MIP). Also, no one seems to understand how national politics would function if political parties were deliberately forbidden. Or would it all depend on the syndicates?

The dirigentes are bitter that Mesa's not giving in to all of "society's" demands tout court. Never mind that the three represent only a section of the entire Bolivian population, most of which finds the majority of the COB-CSUTCB-MAS demands extremely radical. Goni's popularity upon his downfall was below 20%, which is still slightly higher than all the polls for Evo and Mallku.

Mesa's also beginning to feel pressure in the legislature. Of course, Mesa's a president w/ no political party. The "logic of presidentialism" sets in. The senators and deputies elected into parliament have their own agendas, and are able to craft coalitions that pass legislation that might not be exactly what Mesa wants. Bolivians may've been to quick to bury "pacted democracy" (essentially a parliamentary system), which guaranteed the president a parliamentary majority.

There's also much opposition in the legislature for the lack of an economic plan to pull Bolivia out of the crisis — and it was, essentially, and economic crisis fueled the malcontent that fed the anti-Goni protests in October. If Mesa wants to avoid Goni's fate, he'll have to figure out something to solve Bolivia's economic problems, which were only made worse after the October uprisings. He was successful in getting foreign aid to ensure the government can meet its bureaucratic payroll through December.

Mesa's also being criticized for not yet visiting Tarija. This small, southern Bolivian department (state) is where 85% of the nation's gas reserves are found (most of the rest are in Santa Cruz). Despite the "┬бel gas no se vende!" rhetoric of the October protests in La Paz, Tarija has insisted that A) the gas must be exported or B) they secede (possibly along w/ Santa Cruz and Beni). Mesa's spent much political capital courting Mallku, Evo, and Solares — and to no gain. He'd better start courting the Eastern regions of Bolivia, and soon.

Meanwhile, cocaleros loyal to Evo killed one soldier and wounded two other in Yungas w/ a landmine. It's become common for armed cocaleros to ambush soldiers and police who are controlling illegal coca fields in Yungas and Chapare. Of coures, no one expects any of the vocal human rights groups in the city to voice concern for the safety and right to life of the poor conscripts who're just doing their job.

There's also a referendum in the works for revisions to the Ley de Hidrocarburos (the law that regulates the gas/oil industry). Interestingly, it's not being done as a public referendum, but rather 229 civic organizations (including the COB, CSUTCB, MAS, etc.) were invited to write position papers on the issue. They have 15 days to send them to the Ministry of Government. I'm curious to see if Evo, Mallku, or Solares even turn in position papers or how they react if most of the other groups decide against their position. We'll have to waint and see.

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