Monday, December 19, 2005

And now Bolivia

Rarely do I write on something outside of Venezuela but I have already heard so much nonsense on the Bolivian results that I feel compelled to add my kernel.

To begin with the only surprise was the margin of victory for Evo Morales, not that he won. But in fact, was even that margin a surprise? I am not so sure. We should have all seen it coming, and not even thanks to Chavez, no matter what amount of money for Morales campaign he might have managed to smuggle in. Not that there is anything particularly wrong, I am sure that Quiroga did receive a few fat checks too, it is just the hypocrisy of Chavez trying to jail Sumate leaders for a few thousand NED dollars while he has probably spend much more for Morales. Or does anyone seriously think that Morales recent trip to Argentina was from his savings account? Since there is no Freedom of Information act in Venezuela, what can we do? But I digress.

I think I will address a few key points. I would not dare to make a comprehensive article about Bolivia.

Who lost Bolivia? The US blame of a game

To say that the US policies on Boliva in this last couple of decades have been a failure, a general sequence of blunders is being charitable. Going against a millennial culture of coca leaves chewers just because the US is unwilling to punish the real users of cocaine (read: movie stars, big time lawyers, show biz miscellaneous, petit bourgeois that can afford it, etc…) has always been a misplaced target. When I was living in the US I was sick and tired of hearing all the time “those nasty Colombians sending us their filth”. I mean, doesn’t the US know of supply and demand? As long as there will be a demand for dope in NYC, there will Aymara peasant growing coca and Colombian traffickers. You can replace Aymara by Peruvian, Quechua, Colombian, and soon Venezuelan if you wish. You can replace Colombian by Puerto Rican, Mexican, Chinese, Venezuela and even US-american. The market will be always provided.

The only thing that resulted from the crop eradication program was a deeply alienated native population that ambitious leaders such as Evo Morales could use to raise to the top. One of the failures was of course not really helping enough the substitution crops programs. But then again the US has a long series of failures on this regard, such as abortion. Wanting to ban abortion with the pious excuse of adoption without covering by the sate all the expenses of education, and health care of the mother and unwanted child is just not going to work. It is the same principle. Either you pay for it all, or you forget about it. Halfway measures will only bring expensive failures. Pardon my un-PCness

But to add insult to injury, Evo Morales got an unexpected boost in his career when in the previous elections a few days before the vote the US ambassador complained bitterly about a possible Morales victory when he was fighting hard to be in second. That of course not only made sure Morales would get the second post, but he became even competitive for the top billing!

Bolivian racial and class division

But if the US did aggravate Bolivian problems and helped in creating a new problem for themselves, Evo Morales cannot be blamed from benefiting of the conditions reigning in Bolivia.

This is the country of the Patiño, those tin barons that enslaved the natives to extract tin and spent the earnings in European splendors. And the Patiños have not been the only ones, it started in Inca times, as people seem to forget that the Aymaras were conquered people. It kept breathtakingly apace under colonial Spanish domination and the silver mines of Potosi. It was not solved by Bolivar who limited himself in creating from “el alto Peru” a country that no one was quite sure what to make of it. To make sure that exploitation kept going, instead of trying to establish a semi serious government where some election could have given a voice to the natives, Bolivians upper classes decided to go from coup to coup until they got the record for all of Latin America in governmental instability. Along the way they managed to lose the access to the Pacific Ocean, El Acre to Brazil and half of El Chaco. Bolivia shares with Mexico the dubious title of having been nearly halved since independence.

Lo and behold! The arrival (not return, arrival) of democracy about 20 years ago was bound to awake a large mass of natives that had mixed very little with the Incas, the Spaniards, the British or whatever came along. A mass of people who kept colorful customs and even their precious language which I read somewhere years ago that it would be a great language to use in computing. Or something of the sort.

It was a mass of people that had lived for centuries in grinding poverty. Little by little they flexed their muscles. They were poor but many managed to get radios, and a few even TV.

The rest you have seen it. If we have not many images of the ferocious miner strikes, we did see the gritted determination of El Alto and the fall of two presidents in 3 years.

No one should be surprised that one day a Bolivian native would reach the presidency, and form a strong protest platform.

Miners and coca growers: Evo Morales rise to the top

Bolivia has been rich in social movements and protest. Hard edged trade unions, dogged peasant fighting not for land but for life as even the land they owned was quite often a miser in its gifts. Evo Morales bio reads well as what would be a success story in such an environment. Poor upbringing from the Altiplano, moving to warmer climes in Yungas of Cochabamba. Eventually he started managing some of the local chapters of the coca growers union and eventually made it to the top, now virtual president elect.

But who is this Evo Morales. That he is, and should be, from the left is not the question. But is he a democrat? Is he seeking revenge for the past? Is he really a big anti US, anti Chile, anti whatever has at one time or another exploited the Bolivian lower classes. Too early to say, but he has definitely built his leadership around those perceptions and he will have to deliver something. Rough times ahead for former Bolivian trading partners and associates.

But here I beg to stake a difference. Morales did reach the top because, well, he was able to swim within shark infested waters. If you think for a second that anyone can make it to leader of the Coca leaves grower, you are in for a big disappointment. And if you think that managing to get together all Bolivian trade unions, social groups and agrarian poor communities is easier, well… Evo Morales has a lot of enemies and to make it to the top he has to have learned the art of compromise, the art of dealing. Is this positive and even enough to run a country? We will see. But one thing I sense is that Morales is not Chavez. He is certainly more skilled than Chavez who was never able to negotiate anything, preferring to shoot first whenever possible. On the other hand not only will Morales have a real opposition with Quiroga and the local leaders, but inside his camp there is no love lost with, for example, Felipe Quispe who might soon enough send El Alto to block La Paz streets if necessary.

Chavez, el tonto util (the useful fool)

This brings us to discuss what role did Chavez had in Morales rise to the top. The frequent trips of Morales to Havana and Caracas are certainly in part to seek funds. But the fact is that Castro failed in stirring the so called nexus of Latin America. The Che found a well deserved and ignominious death in Bolivia. My bet is that Morales will not start by building a memorial at the place even if Chavez presses for one.

Morales had no problem in having his picture taken with Chavez. What other South America leader looks like a native of sorts? Morales has been working very hard at uniting Aymara and Quechua, a coalition required for a native to reach the top office. And if Chavez was also giving handouts to help, even better. But I suspect that Morales will never be the toy of Chavez or Castro: he has suffered much more than Castro or Chavez and I cannot see him donning fancy suits and Cartier watches. It will never play at El Alto, the natives do not seem to be the fools that Chavez has found so easily to adulate his mediocre career which was surprisingly boosted by a one minute TV announcement some 1992 evening where he showed that he was rather a coward and a failed coup monger. Morales had to work hard at it, and if grateful for the help received, I do not see him becoming the willing pawn. Something that the US and other would be well advised to consider before putting Chavez and Morales in the same bag as ignorant media seems only too willign to do.

What next for Bolivia?

It will have to go through a “revolution” that it has been postponing for now three centuries. Hopefully the presence of gas and a good deal with Brazil energy guzzler should allow Morales to deliver some. He has to overcome the regional divisions of a country near break up, the tri-racial division, the poor education of the country and the great expectations as his surprising margin implies. He can choose adventure like Chavez and be assured of a speedy failure (he does not have the bottomless pockets of Chavez to buy his way out of trouble) or he can be a new Lula even if more to the left than Lula. Morales is a civilian, a tested leader, my bet is that he will look from El Alto to Planalto.

But I might be dead wrong.

Notes on Bolivian elections

The Bolivian CNE web page works much better and is much more informative than the Venezuelan CNE. Obviously the Bolivian CNE is not hiding as much as the Venezuelan CNE.

Considering that Bolivia is much bigger than Venezuela with not even half its population and a road network not even comparable, the local CNE is doing a great job at getting results. Today EL Nacional announces that there are still dozens of voting tables unaccounted for in Venezuela from last elections, with the “most modern voting system in the world” or some similar B.S.

People voted “en masse” in Bolivia, just like in Chile or in Iraq. No empty lines there!

Exit polls are wacky, just like in Venezuela. They indicate that Morales won by more than 50% something which does not seem to appear in the CNE page where a more modest 48% is seen. I doubt that pollsters were able, or even willing, to go deep in El Alto and probably overestimated for safety. Just as Venezuelan pollsters give Chavez 70% of preferences just to see 15% go and vote. Imagine that! That does not mean that the non voting people would vote for the opposition but it sure means that Venezuelan pollsters are not adjusting their instrument to a post Tascon list atmosphere.

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