Southern Exposure

Desde as Entranhas dos Labirintos Latinos.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Samuel Doria Medina's — the richest man in Bolivia — officially left MIR (Movimiento Izquierdista Revolucionario) after 17 years, citing his objections to the party's participation in Goni's government. Of course, Doria Medina's rivalry w/ MIR chief, Jaime Paz Zamora, has been long & complicated. W/ most "traditional" parties in disarray (especially MNR & MIR) after October, many predicted Doria Medina's break w/ MIR — his public participation in a hunger strike along w/ other public figures/celebrities in October was a clear indication.

So. W/ much fanfare, Doria Medina officially formed a new political party — Frente de Unidad Nacional (FUN) — on Friday. Nation-wide municipal elections are less than a year away. And Doria Medina's a multi-millionaire. But despite his one-hour speech at the party's founding, the party's ideological platform was left unclear. There's widespread skepticism that this'll be yet another personalist, populist party.

DATOSs (Bolivia's US News & World Report) recently ran lengthy interviews w/ Doria Medina (published before launching his new party), Tuto Quiroga, and Juan Carlos Durсn. All three players are back in the political arena in the post-October realignment.

Jorge Quiroga Ramirez (aka Tuto Quiroga) was vice-president, until Banzer stepped down a year early (2001) due to health reasons. After a carefully managed re-entry into the country following the October revolt, Tuto began making his presence felt in the media. It's unclear whether he'll also form a new party or try to rebuild the shattered remains of ADN (Acciѓn Democrсtica Nationalista) — which polled less than 5% of the 2002 vote.

In the late 1990s, ADN split into two factions: the dinosaurios (the old guard) and the pitufos (the young turks). Banzer, who'd retired from political life after several unsuccessful presidential campaigns, returned to restore order and run as ADN's presidential candidate in 1997. Tuto Quiroga (a pitufo) was there to "balance the ticket."

Accused by Doria Medina of being "more rightwing than Bush", the mild-mannered Tuto Quiroga's a 21st century technocrat who believes, on the whole, in neoliberal economics. In his rhetoric, however, Tuto has more in common w/ center-right European proponents of "capitalism w/ a human face". Early October polls showed Tuto the most popular Bolivian political figure.

Juan Carlos Durсn, on the other hand, clearly wants to rebuild his party, MNR (Movimiento Nationalista Revolucionario). He argues that Goni's principal mistake was transforming MNR into a party of encorbatados, a middle-class "tie-wearing" organization. Durсn, a popular ex-mayor of Santa Cruz (Bolivia's largest city) argues that MNR should focus on competing for the electoral space occupied by Evo Morales' MAS, engaging in a direct debate. He also places much of the blame for the October crisis on Tuto, claiming his presidency contributed to the economic crisis that fueled the 2003 political meltdown.

Ironically, the MNR (Goni's party) has the best chance of surviving. Not only is MNR the oldest party, but most analysts have long considered it the most modern, programatic, institutionalized, and disciplined party. Along w/ the unpopular Executive Decree 21060 (the foundation for the nation's neoliberal economy since 1985), the MNR's also responsible for such progressive reforms as the Law of Popular Participation (which created municipal elections) and the Bonosol (a nationwide pension fund for the elderly). The MNR still retains strong support in the country's oriental provinces — especially Santa Cruz & Tarija — the economic "engines" of the country. Few forget the cruceёa deputy, Roxana Sandoval, boldly standing in parliament, rejecting Goni's resignation, and proclaiming "God save us from these narco-terrorists!" while staring across the aisle at Filemon Escobar.

The post-October political landscape's clearly uncertain. The Bolivian party system's taken a tremendous beating (especially the traditional "systemic" parties). The lack, for too long, of the links between political parties & civil society necessary to produce a public sense of representativeness & legitimacy were clear. Disdain for "crooked politicians" is a worldwide phenomenon. But it acutely increased in Bolivia for years. Worse yet, the parties did little change that image. That has to change. And soon. After all, liberal, representative democracy is impossible w/o political parties.

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