Southern Exposure

Desde as Entranhas dos Labirintos Latinos.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Bolivian politics is usually rather odd. The last few months, of course, that's taken on greater proportions. A president was toppled, after all, in a populist coup. Now there's a popular joke about the new president, Carlos Mesa. Why is Mesa like Carnaval? Because you're not sure if he falls in February or March.

In two months, Mesa's gone from distant academic to populist to constitutional democrat. Immediately after taking power, Mesa decided to say "yes" to all the popular demands, but asked for time to consider all requests. At first this was troubling, he overly encouraged many of the populist dirigentes, who took full advantage of this to increase their pressure for such demands as 1,000 free tractors, shorter school years, indemnity for all who died in the guerra del gas, immediate land grants, nationalization of the oil & gas industry, legalization of coca, elimination of the tax code, etc.

Just over a week ago, Mesa decided to (using a Bolivian expression) "put his pants on" and start negotiating w/in the framework of the constitution. If Quispe wants to call his ministers "bitches" and walk out on meetings before they even begin, then he won't deal w/ Quispe anymore. Things like that.

Since Mesa took office, two police officers were killed and almost a dozen wounded by land mines in the Chapare (where Evo's followers grow coca). While Bolivia's human rights organizations never denounce these acts (which leads to their lack of credibility among much of the population), Mesa finally declared those acts (along w/ the torturing & killing of campesinos who choose not to grow coca) exactly what they are: terrorism. And so, Evo and the rest of the cocalero movement was put on notice that they can't pretend to negotiate w/ clean hands on the issue of narcotrafficking.

Meanwhile, in parliament, Evo's right-hand-man, Filemon Escobar (a MAS senator) attacked a fellow member of parliament. Escobar was upset that former cabinet members who were elected to parliament in 2002 were returning to their seats. A regular hothead (this isn't the first time he's done something like this) threw a glass at the head of Hugo Carvajal (an MNR senator). The broohaha made the front page of most papers today.

And at the main university (UMSA), the fight between sectarian groups ended yesterday w/ a Trostkyite victory after they seized the head of the student assembly (Diego Salazar), stripped him of his clothes, beat him, and forced him to read a confession of his misdeeds while blood poured from his head. Of course, Salazar today launched a formal suit for assault & battery against the Trostkyites. So the fight continues.

A group of campesinos from Warisata & Sorata have camped out in front of the Ministry of Justice, demanding that the families of those killed or wounded in the gunfight between soldiers & campesinos (who ambushed the army in October) receive indemnities, as Mesa promised. Problem: the government (which is broke) promised a sum that displeases the families. Of course, you can't put a price on a human life. But. The government can't even afford the Bs. 5,000 set aside. So. Who knows how long the campesinos will sit in front of the ministry.

At least a group of police are escorting them and keeping them from blocking the Prado. Good thing they're there, too. Because pace├▒os are so angry at protesters these days, that the poor campesinos have to hear constant whistles, taunts, and insults (such as "Why don't you ask Quispe for money?!") from passersby.

Hunger strikes "until the ultimate consequences" continue throughout the city. A recent editorial chided that this must be the most popular passtime in La Paz. If you're fired from your job, you can go on hunger strike to demand your job, the resignation of your boss, and "┬бel gas no se vende!"



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