Waiting in La Paz - Evo’s Request for Reelection

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, May 29, 2007

La Paz - In March of this year, with just over a year in office, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced his intention to cut short his own term. He began calling for 2008 elections to replace the 2010 scheduled vote: the newly written constitution (which a 255 delegate assembly is projected to finish in August) should be accompanied by newly elected political leaders and Morales deserves a chance to lead again, says the ruling party.

It is said here that the poor and indigenous majority have waited 500 years for one of their own to hold power. Ascending to the presidency on a wave of protests starting in the 90’s, indigenous llama-herder turned coca-farmer Evo (as he is universally known here) was to be, for many, the gift worth waiting for.

From India to Argentina, waiting is an omnipresent part of life in developing countries. Bolivia is no exception. In La Paz, blocks-long lines to enter the municipal notary’s office or a micro-credit loan center twist and turn throughout the city on any given day. Visitors from the U.S. and Europe often comment, with frustration, that delay is Bolivia’s only sure thing.

What makes waiting here unique, is that here patience has become political strategy.

There’s waiting as sabotage. In the country home to South America’s second largest natural gas reserves, fuel shortages are frequent because energy agreements have always prioritized export over supplying internal demand.

So when the gas goes scarce, groups of up to 200 men and women sit perched atop yellow empty steel gas canisters waiting for police escorted re-supply trucks to make their delivery. But instead of lining up on the sidewalk, people plant themselves in major intersections. The message is simple: Not enough gas for me to cook for my family? Well, then I’ll wait right in the middle of the street so that you understand what it means to have your daily life disrupted.

There’s waiting as governance, like in the Andean highlands where local decision-making is still consensus based. Indigenous Aymara villagers will wait for months for their leaders to come to a consensual agreement about where a road should be built or how much money ought to be allocated for a school’s repair. To a westernized mind, it’s inefficient politics. But to the Aymara, majority vote seems illogical. “Why would we make decisions through a process that could leave almost one half of our community in total opposition to the result?” an Aymara elder once asked me.

That’s not to say that Bolivians aren’t quick to act; they are, especially when there’s clear urgency, like in October 2003. After months of proposed tax hikes and gas export schemes, then-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada fell victim to Bolivians’ decision be patient no longer. “Goni must go,” the people said and after 4 weeks of rapidly planned protest, go he did.

This combination of waiting and action ushered Evo onto the world stage. And he is hoping his nation’s penchant for patience can help him stay there.

Like any good politician, Evo knows that his constituency wants results and quick. So within his first 100 days in office, he halved all government salaries (including his own), initiated a massive literacy program, and nationalized the gas and oil sector.

But the most destitute have seen little tangible change in their lives since December 2005. Bolivians continue to wait for Evo to fulfill his central promise: namely, to obliterate the economic and power inequality created by half a millennium of rule by outsiders (and their descendents).

With this objective still far off, Evo wants re-election badly. Give me more time—starting from the enactment of the new constitution that includes your indigenous voices—to turn this country around, he’s now pleading near and far.

While the result of the Constitutional Assembly remains in doubt (the delegates spent the first five months arguing over procedural rules and have not yet agreed on a single article), that fact that the MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) is lobbying hard for Evo’s reelection privileges is not. And, if given the chance it’s likely that Bolivians will give their President an extension, re-electing him in 2008, and maybe in 2013 too. But how long before their patience runs out? And if Evo has not fulfilled the expectations by then, what will happen to the gift worth waiting for?

I couldn’t say. We’ll just have to wait and see.

First published by Ukhampacha

On tour with Bolivia's president

Lola Almudevar, Sucre

The helicopter touches down on the bare plains of the Chuquisaca region in southern Bolivia and a casually clad man steps out into the dust.

There is nothing for miles, just vast open space, dotted with dusty brick houses.

In the distance, the villagers of Chuqui Chuqui run with banners and coloured flags to meet the new arrival.

Police try to ward off the crowds as he pushes through to the stage. But everyone wants to shake his hand. They shower him in confetti and chant "Evo Evo Evo."

This is Evo Morales - an Aymara Indian and the first indigenous president of Bolivia. But for these villagers he is more than that. They are hoping he is their saviour.

By the time President Morales addresses the people he is weighed down by gifts: garlands of flowers, a traditional poncho and hand-stitched bag.

It is an uncomfortable get-up and the flowers make him sneeze, but Mr Morales is at home with this crowd.

Trademark slogan

These people are among thousands, mainly from indigenous backgrounds, who gave Mr Morales 54% of the vote and brought him to power 18 months ago.

It was the biggest show of support for any presidential candidate since Bolivia began moves towards democracy in the mid-1980s.

"'I am like you," cries Morales. "I never thought I'd be president. Maybe leader of a union but never President of the Republic. I am from a poor background, parents who had very little economically. But here I am and every day I meet ministers and we get a little further."

But Mr Morales still has a long way to go. Bolivia is the poorest country in Latin America.

On day two, he is in Lajastambo, a ramshackle village where people have no access to safe drinking water and no light.

On every leg of this tour you see posters with the trademark slogan: "Bolivia deserves, Evo delivers". President Morales wants to convince people that that is true.

Communication is key. He needs people on side if his radical programme of nationalisation and redistribution is to succeed.

It is a year since Morales put the energy industry under state control; a policy which he says has made Bolivia richer. Now he plans to go further.

"Until we have recovered every national resource and renationalised every company that was privatised the fight goes on. But we have to be organised. We have to mobilise," he warns agricultural workers at a football stadium in Sucre, Bolivia's official capital.

"No more land will be sold. Land will be returned to poor farmers who can work it and profit from it."

These farmers are the beneficiaries of 30 tractors, paid for by Venezuela.

As the day draws to an end, Mr Morales exits the stadium at the helm of a tractor, with streams of Bolivia's once marginalised masses running at its wheels.


But away from the excitement, there are new groups waiting nervously to see what Mr Morales does next.

In the space of one week, he spoke out against the Church, branded the Supreme Court corrupt, and described journalists as enemies.

Attacks like these worry Mariela Salazar, a qualified lawyer who cannot find work in her profession.

"I don't think he's helping Bolivia," she says anxiously. "I don't even think he's helping people from his own side because he isn't prepared and he doesn't have a realistic work policy. All he's done is create enemies for Bolivia. He's all talk."

Mariela feels the middle class is being excluded, a concern shared by civil society groups.

She agrees with critics who accuse Mr Morales of drifting towards totalitarianism and dancing to the anti-American tune of Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez.

On his third day in Chuquisaca, Mr Morales is dressed in a suit to mark the anniversary of the first uprising against Spanish colonial rule. The cry for freedom came from here in Sucre in 1809 and gave rise to the push for independence across Latin America.

It is one of the most important dates in the Bolivian calendar and should be a proud day for Mr Morales, but the president appears on edge.

Surrounded by the clergy and Bolivia's elite, he searches for a familiar face in the crowd.

Heavy burden

The band plays and the parade marches on in stiff ceremony. Mr Morales waves as his eyes meet with worn-faced farmers in caps, wide-rimmed hats and coloured shawls.

They all feel they know him.

"Evo Morales has always been with us in our fight," says Galixto Garvaso, a lorry driver who has travelled seven hours to be here.

"Before indigenous people had no rights. Now institutions that were closed to us are open doors. That's because of Mr Morales, because he's one of us."

Perhaps that is why the president seems uncomfortable with his celebrity status.

He has come a long way since his youth herding llamas in the Bolivian mountains.

But when the crowds disperse and he leaves for his next destination he carries with him the heavy burden of their hopes and dreams.

First published at BBC News

Morales demands 4 Supreme Court justices resign

Martin Arostegui, Washington Times, May 25, 2007

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia -- President Evo Morales demanded the resignation of four Supreme Court justices this week in a growing campaign against Bolivia's judicial system, which he accuses of hampering his efforts to nationalize key parts of the economy and remake Bolivia as a socialist state.

"We must clear corruption from our justice system, which is a national embarrassment," Mr. Morales said in a speech Monday.

He also accused the judicial system of stealing $300 million and of "liberating delinquents, thieves and narcotraffickers."

Supreme Court Justice Juan Jose Gonzales Osio resigned this week, citing "reiterated questioning of the work of the judicial power."

Chief Justice Hector Sandoval accused Mr. Morales of "persecuting" courts, and the Supreme Court issued a statement calling the president's latest attacks "slanderous."

Tensions with the courts have been simmering since last year when Mr. Morales appointed four temporary Supreme Court justices to fill vacancies.

Earlier this month, the Constitutional Court, a separate judicial body, ruled the appointments unconstitutional.

The showdown between Mr. Morales and the courts has spilled over onto the streets, with Morales supporters throwing red paint on the Supreme Court and a group of miners using dynamite to blast their way into the Constitutional Court to protest a ruling against a government nationalization effort.

"We are not going to permit any wise man of the judicial power to plan the fall of our government" said Roberto Segovia, a leading representative of Bolivia's ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), which is also led by Mr. Morales.

"We request that the Constitutional Court be shut down until a new constitution is approved" said Rene Navarro, a MAS lawmaker in Bolivia's Congress.

Mr. Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, was elected in December 2005 on a radical platform to redistribute income from mining and energy, mainly natural gas, to the nation's poor. He is a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who shares a similar ideology.

Sen. Oscar Ortiz of the conservative Podemos party called Mr. Morales' latest attacks on the judiciary a "dirty war."

Another Morales opponent, Senate leader Jose Villavicencio, said the government was "pressuring" independent state powers in order to "destabilize" them.

The opposition appeared to be caught off guard this week -- not only by the flare-up over Supreme Court justices, but also by a number of other Morales initiatives, which followed a period of relative calm in which negotiations with the government appeared to be progressing.

Mr. Morales took steps this week to eliminate federal financing for political campaigns and divert the money to help the "handicapped." He also threatened to prosecute conservative Gov. Ruben Costas of the eastern district of Santa Cruz for financing opposition groups.

Mr. Ortiz charged, "those who use unlimited amounts of public funds for publicity and to attack the opposition are the government."

Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera insisted that the ban on federal financing would go ahead. "You cannot compare actions of the government with activities of a political party. Campaign financing for the parties will be suspended," he said.

Some analysts point to outside support Mr. Morales' MAS gets from Mr. Chavez, the Venezuelan president who is generous in sharing his nation's oil revenues with leftist governments in Latin America.

According to press reports, Venezuela has funded Bolivia's state-run television and radio to the tune of $2 million and given Mr. Morales $30 million to subsidize some municipalities.

Vicepresident García Linera assures that socialism of the 21st century will be built from the communities

Cochabamba, May 23 (ABI) - "The state will not create the socialism of the 21st century, rather it will be the communities and social movements" said vice president Álvaro García Linera tonight, during the forum called ‘Alternatives to neoliberalism’.

García declared that in Latin America a process of pluralism is in march, in which indigenous peoples and other social movements are the undisputable actors, and they will be the ones who build the socialism of 21st century.

"To imagine socialism is to think of the enormous capacities of those indigenous peoples, who have struggled to recuperate their natural resources and a better quality of life" he mentioned.

The vice president said that democracy is advancing towards a pluralism where everyone is an actor of change to live well.

"We are searching for exits out of neoliberalism. Capitalism is traversing one of its worst moments given the fact that indigenous peoples, communities and other social organisations have risen up to say enough", he explained.

At the same time, he asked everyone to be on alert because there is the latent threat of global militarisation by those who resist losing control over the running of the poorest countries.

"We have a process of change in which the people who are participating were previously not taken into account. Latin America is now the vanguard of changes and we are very happy for this" he signaled.

García Linera also explained that even though there is a society and continent which has begun to march and advance towards a better future and there exist grand possibilities, there are also enormous difficulties because the groups of power who always lived off the people are looking of thousands of ways to remain in power.

Translated from ABI

Morales condemns capitalism and says that Bolivia will renounce wars

La Paz (EFE), May 22 – The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, affirmed today that capitalism “is the worst enemy of humanity” because it feeds bellicose conflicts created by transnationals, and assured that his country would renounce wars in the new constitution.

“The transnationals always provoke conflicts in order to accumulate capital... and this is no solution for the poor of the world, that is why I have come to the conclusion that capitalism is the worst enemy of humanity” said Morales.

The speech was given at the inauguration of the “5th Gathering of the Global Network of Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Humanity”, in the central city of Cochabamba.

Amongst the participants at the event were the minister of culture from Venezuela, Francisco Sesto, from Cuba, Abel Prieto, from Ecuador Antonio Preciado and the Bolivian vice minister, Pablo Groux.

The head of state added that the world needed to analysis other types of societies, different to capitalism, and signaled that it is not possible for some countries and transnationals to “continue provoking humanity” and “thinking of hegemony”.

In the forum Morales also stated that his party, Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), would work to ensure that the new constitution, which is being written up in the constituent assembly, enshrined that the country “renounces any war”.

“It is not possible for us to continue thinking of war. If there is war, there is a need to produce more armaments to kill humanity” underlined Morales.

“Instead of thinking of armaments, in more bullets that kill humanity, we need to think of producing food, more medications” he added, stating that the group of intellectuals gathered in Cochabamba needed to discuss how to “save the world”.

The international gathering of the network of intellectuals will analysis until tomorrow the conduct of the mass media in the processes of change in Latin America and the world.

Translated from Los Tiempos

Mallku and Joaquino join forces for elections.

Los Tiempos, 21/05/07

Potosí - Felipe Quispe, el Mallku, announced that the possibility existed of uniting forces with the leader of the political party Alianza Social (AS- Social Alliance), René Joaquino, going into the national elections.

This possibility was admitted to after holding a meeting with Joaquino over the weekend in the office of the latter. “We can not remain with the status quo, we can not be witnesses and accomplices to the government of Evo Morales,” he affirmed, signalling that this was why he was obliged to unite forces in order to eliminate Yankee imperialism. He clarified that an alliance did not yet exit with Mayor Joaquino, but he affirmed that they would reach an ideological political agreement. They would also speak with other political leaders so that with a revolutionary school of the left they could improve the country.

“We carried Evo on our shoulders to the presidency. After more that a year it seems that we have received nothing. The Aymara, Quechua and Guarani are not being taken into account by the government, we have not even received 10 cents”, affirmed Quispe, protesting against the current government.

For the campesino leader, president Evo Morales obeys the right given that he is a “lapdog of neoliberalism” because he follows orders from the US and Venezuelan embassy.


El Deber, 21/05/07

The ex-deputy and leader of the Pachakuti Indigenous Movement, Felipe Quispe, reiterated yesterday that he wanted to form a front with the mayor of Potosi, René Joaquino, in order to participate in the general elections that were announced for 2008 by the president of the republic, Evo Morales.

Quispe assured that he met with Joaquino on Saturday, but not with the aim of assuming a position of leadership in the political front, but rather as “one more piece inside the Indian movement that aims to consolidate itself in the Bolivian electorate”. At the start of April, in Cochabamba, ex-MAS senator, Filemón Escóbar, proclaimed the mayor of Potosi as a presidential candidate. At the end of last month he participated in Santa Cruz in an event held by the citizens group Autonomia Para Bolivia (APB, Autonomy for Bolivia), lead by Mariano Aguilera.

According to Quispe, his political work is centred in the countryside, whilst Joaquino will dedicate himself to capturing votes in the cities. “We are looking for a united front to win government”, he indicated.

According to a poll presented last week by the international company Newlink Political, René Joaquino is one of the four political leaders who has a high enough profile to contest the national elections. The other three are: the president, Evo Morales; the vice president, Alvaro Garcia Linera and the prefect of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes Villa.

Is Evo an evil enemy of the people?

Guillermo Almeyra, 20/05/07

For some there is no doubt. There are those that say “there is no reason to look at Bolivia” and who instead declare that Evo Morales “will never decolonise the country”, that the nationalisations that have been announced are no such thing and, forgetting that support for the indigenous and popular government surpasses 75%, say, without flinching, that all the social movements are against the government.

It is not necessary to explain that Bolivia is a country which, like the rest of the world, continues to be capitalist but, like Venezuela, Cuba and Ecuador, is experiencing a dynamic anti-imperialist process, which in some cases takes an objectively anti-capitalist form and helps to build embryos of popular power that confront the logic of capitalism. There is no single party in Bolivia identified with the state apparatus that could strangle a fragile but multiform civil society which is in permanent agitation, and which could therefore run the risk of a rapid bureaucratisation of the current rampant revolutionary process underway. What's more, the social relations on which the state is based on have never allow it to consolidate and, at least since the truncated revolution of July 1952, this has been the country which has offered the clearest example of the construction of dual power (Bolivian Workers Central- Nationalist Revolutionary Movement cogovernment, worker and campesino militias, the red mining zones etc).

As well as this, the Evo government does not rest on a party that could transmit the pressure of the state apparatus downwards, but rather, rests on a pool of social movements and unions - the Movement Towards Socialism - that in a partial and deformed way applies a continuous pressure from all sectors of the oppressed and exploited population onto the state, a pressure which is concentrated in the forms and objectives of a diffuse working class culture (syndicalism, classism, socialist aspirations), which are still mixed up - for historical reasons it could not be any other way - with corporative interests, caudillismo, localism and campesino anarchism. The very important decision made by Evo of ending state financial contributions to parties will undoubtably give a greater wieght to the social movements, local power and their independence in front of the government, that is, to the process of decolonisation occurring at the movement, and the political reconstruction of the country.

The social movements pressure the government to get concessions out of it, but not only do they not oppose the government, they constitute its only social base of support. Within the government there is, without doubt, those that want to give life to a mixture of embryos of popular power and the prehispanic ayllus on one hand, and the capitalism of the pymes [small and medium companies] on the other, and baptize this brainchild of a cholo imagination "Andean capitalism". They want, from their perspective, to “tidy up”the revolution, to channel and put a brake on the social movements, strengthen the state apparatus. They are one tendency, but they are not the majority, and Evo Morales and the campesino unions follow an opposing line. Even though they sometimes fill their ideological gaps with ideas imported from Cuba and Venezuela, that at the same time they brought with them, modifying them somewhat, from the anti-socialist bureaucracy from the countries that where misnamed "real socialism" (single party, state capitalism, planning from above, suppression of the autonomous popular organs -councils- and of the autonomy of the workers' movement).

Bolivia is very small and poor, it is in a region dominated by three governments dedicate to developing the capitalism of “its” bourgeoisies (Chile, Argentina, Brazil) and lives in an international context (and national, given the successionist intents of the oligarchy) that is hostile, all of which limits the margin of maneuver of his government. What is therefore surprising is not that Morales has not eradicated capitalism in the barren lands of the altiplano within a year, instead it is everything that he has done on its path of decolonisation, national independence and anti-capitalism, such as the recuperation of strategic industries despite the pressure of the transnationals or the beginnings of an agrarian reform. Because in Bolivia there is the coming together and mixing up of three revolutions: ethnic and cultural, for equality of indigenous people with cholos and whites and for the construction of a state for all peoples and the development of cultures, power and the rights and ways of life of the originarios peoples; national, for independence in the face of transnational capital and the United States; and social, for equality, fraternity, liberty, development.

Clearly, In Bolivia, a democratic revolution can only culminate with the taking of power by the workers which certainly MAS cannot assure, but which will be impossible without this transitory experience with MAS, the embryos of dual power and the actual Constituent Assembly. Of course, constitutions, said Lassalle, are pieces of paper on the mouth of a cannon, and without a “cannon”, that is, without a relationship of forces that allows it to be implemented, they become little more than nice dreams. But this does not mean that neither the constituent assemblies nor the constitutions have no political importance, rather, it is necessary to develop popular power in order to make them reality, parting from the democratic struggle. Because as you try to change the class base of a country, and create another state power, many gradually begin, through their own experience acquired in the school of combat and in the development of their intellectual capacities, to move from a simple democratic stance to a class, pro-council, or even socialist position. Or do we have to instead wait, for the oppressed to mature, aquire consciousness and become politicised thanks to a sudden aparition or the Word of some Saviour?

Guillermo Almeyra is a member of the editorial council of Sin Permiso

Translated from Sin Permiso

Regarding the Recent Actions Taken by Bolivia’s Constitutional Tribunal

From the Steering Committee for the Trial Against Ex-President Sánchez de Lozada

Dr. Rogelio Mayta Mayta, May 21, 2007

1. On the 9th of May, Bolivia’s Constitutional Tribunal emitted an illegal sentence—more arbitrary and political than judicial—declaring that the designation of the four interim magistrates named to the Supreme Judicial Court by the President of the Republic, last December was constitutional but that the interim period of the magistrates concludes 90 days from its initiation. This last declaration is both contradictory and an example of the court over-stepping its own legal constraints.

2. The Constitutional Tribunal’s sentence contains at least four serious legal transgressions:

It is based on the Law of October 20, 1911 that was nullified (made invalid) with the State Political Constitution of 1938.

It is based on the Statute Law of Public Officials of 1999, which expressly excludes judicial branch officials including magistrates of the Supreme Court to be subject to this law. Furthermore, the Statute Law of Public Officials only applies to Officials at or below the fourth level and thus does not apply to the Maximum Executive Authority as an institution as in the case of the Supreme Court Magistrates.

Additionally, the Constitutional Tribunal should have but did not apply the law of November 20, 1883—a special norm that concerns judicial branch officials which expressly establishes that interim periods of the magistrates of the Supreme Court are not subject to a time limits but rather expire when the legislative branch names new magistrates.

Finally, the Constitutional Tribunal failed to adhere to its designated duties, making a pronouncement on an issue that no one put before its consideration. By issuing this ruling, the Tribunal is practically legislating—a power corresponding to the legislative branch, not to the Constitutional Tribunal.

3. The sentence was handed down after the magistrates authorized the search of ex-President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada’s home in La Paz, and when it was imminent that they would allow the request for his extradition from the United States.

4. This sentence has grave consequences for the administration of justice in the country in general, and especially for the Trial of Responsibilities. A tribunal is no longer guaranteed because no actions or investigation related to the case can be carried out until new Supreme Court magistrates are named. The extreme situation could arise in which an accusation exists without anyone to try the case because a sentence must be emitted by two-thirds of the total members of the Supreme Court: 8 magistrates. Currently, only 6 are available to sit on the case (of the 8 that remain two cannot serve because of their previous relationship to the case).

5. Considering these circumstances, two actions can be taken:

It is our citizen duty to denounce the members of the Constitutional Tribunal for having committed the crime of breaching of their corresponding responsibilities, specifically their failure to follow the law.

Ask the Vice President of the Republic, Alvaro Garcia Linera, and all politicians in Parliament to quickly name new magistrates so that the Trial of Responsibilities can carry forward.

Republished from Ukhampacha Bolivia

Alvaro Garcia Linera: “We want a capitalism with a big state presence”

Pablo Stefanoni, May 18

Almost as soon as he starts to talk, Bolivian vice president Álvaro García Linera allows on to see his previous profession as university lecture in sociology come through. Nearly 16 months after the arrival to government of Evo Morales, he is an authorised spokesperson on the strategic objectives of the process in march. In this role he affirms that his government aims for “a capitalism with a big state presence”. In this interview he reveals that the objective to “get to 30% to 40% of the GDP being in state hands”.

Pablo Stefanoni - What type of state is your government aspiring to?

Alvaro Garcia Linera - When we assumed power, we received a state that did not own a single enterprise. Our aim is for the state to assume an active role. In one year we have recuperated state control over hydrocarbons, mining and telecommunications. From 6% of the GDP, the state now controls 19%, and is today the principal economic actor in Bolivia. The objective is to reach, at least, 30% or 40%.

PS - Is this a return to the developmentalism of the 1950s?

AGL - No. We are thinking about a pluralist modernisation, not that of a single road like in the ‘40s and ‘50s. There exist different dynamics of modernisation: that of the modern industrial economy, of urban family micro-enterprises and that of the communitarian campesino economy.

PS - And how do you achieve that?

AGL - Widening the working class base, with the state playing a very strong role in the development of new industries, and in supporting communitarian economic forms. I don’t believe, like the archaic and vanguardist left do, that socialism can be imposed by decree or by pure voluntarism, rather, it comes through the real movement of society. That is what I mean by the concept of “Andean capitalism” as a stage of transition. It might be something frustrating for those with a radical and idealist discourse, but it is being theoretically honest.

PS - What changes have occurred for the indigenous peoples up until now?

AGL - There is an image that sums it all up: recently, in Pocoata, Evo Morales asked an indigenous child what he was going to do with his Juancito Pinto bonus (aimed at tackling the problem of children not finishing schooling). The child responded with a ferocious forcefulness: “I am going to prepare myself to be like you”. Before the indigenous people viewed themselves as bricklayers or easy targets for the police.

PS - But certain sectors continue to talk of the same old government of the “blancoides” [white] middle classes….

AGL - It is clear that the star programs of this government are directed towards the indigenous and campesino sectors. But it is true that the predominant colonialism in our country left indigenous people out of the areas necessary to run the state. Decolonise the country means to reverse this. Evo recently asked rural professors: “teach our brothers mathematics, physics and chemistry, it is your fault that I do not have indigenous functionaries in my government”. The indigenous peoples, in their own way, are searching for modernity and social inclusion. I don’t agree with the romantic and essentialist discourse of some intellectuals and NGOs about the indigenous world.

Evo Morales: Indigenous Power

Jubenal Quispe, YES Magazine, Summer 2007 edition

New President, New Power

Juan Evo Morales Ayma was born on October 26th, 1959, in the rural community of Orinoca, in the province of Sud Carangas, Oruro, in the midst of uncertainty and misery. He was born under the polleras (traditional skirts) of his mother by the light of a kerosene lamp. Of the seven children born to his mother, only three survived. This is the reality in extremely impoverished areas with few health services: death is a constant companion.

Evo recalls: “When I was four or five years old, my father, who was a sugar cane worker, took me with him to harvest cane in Argentina. There was no work to be found, so we walked for four or five days. There was nothing to eat except toasted macaroni with tea. That’s when I got my first job selling popsicles and earned a little money to help my family.”

“I first became acquainted with school in the middle of the Galilea sugar cane fields, in Jujuy (Argentina), but because I spoke only Aymara (an indigenous Andean language) and barely understood Spanish, I sat and watched, but was finally forced to quit school.”

This is how life was for Evo Morales, today the president of Bolivia, and this helps explain his sensitivity to the poor and excluded of his country. Indigenous children, like Evo and his brothers and sisters, continue to be born in poverty and continue to die before their time. Some years later, back in his home community, Evo began to herd llamas and accompanied his father on trips from the high plains, the Altiplano, to the valleys to barter agricultural products.

“We walked for days behind the llamas. I always remember the huge buses that roared down the highways, full of people who threw orange and banana peels out the windows. I gathered up those peels to eat them.”

Evo began to explore and cultivate his leadership abilities. Those who knew him then remember him as a restless youth, playing soccer and organizing tournaments among the various rural villages. To pay for his high school studies, he worked as a bricklayer, a baker, and a trumpet player.

Then in the 1980s, Evo Morales was forced to abandon the bone-chilling high-altitude existence of the Altiplano due to an acute drought. He moved down to the Chapare, a tropical region of Cochabamba Department, where he worked in the sweltering coca fields. Here is where he began his life as a union leader and a political leader.

He began as secretary of sports of the syndicate of San Francisco, a union of coca growers, and then in 1996 was elected head of the six coca grower federations of the Chapare. One year later, he was elected to the National Congress, and from that post he proclaimed to the world, “Coca is not cocaine!” He defended this sacred leaf until its meaning was restored as a symbol of the dignity and sovereignty of the people of Bolivia.

From that point, he was branded by the U.S. government.

Evo recalls: “I went through a difficult time in 1997 in Eterazama (a community in the Chapare), when a helicopter of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency strafed us, and five persons were killed in minutes. Then in the headquarters of the Human Rights office in Villa Tunari in 2000, there was a failed attempt to shoot me, but the bullet only grazed me.”

In 2002, under pressure from the U.S. Embassy, the National Congress expelled Evo for having defended the right of the people to resist “militarily,” in the name of democracy, a bloody massacre of civilians by the government. (Years later, this expulsion was found by the Constitutional Tribunal to have been unconstitutional). As he left the chambers of Congress, he pronounced, “I’m being thrown out, but I shall return!”

Galvanizing Social Movements

Evo’s speeches on national dignity and sovereignty, in the face of the continuous exploitation of Bolivia’s natural resources, brought together the social, indigenous, rural, and worker movements of Bolivia.

These were further fortified with support from professional sectors as well as leftist intellectuals and businesspeople who were dissatisfied with the failure of the neoliberal economic system. Thus many sectors were united, shirts and ties and ponchos, polleras and pants, Indians and mestizos, leftists and Christians, united in a single goal—to build a sovereign, multicultural Bolivia with dignity, so that all could live well together.

In the general elections of 2002, the MAS party (“Movement Towards Socialism”) won a surprising second place, with Evo as their presidential candidate. Then in 2005, Juan Evo Morales Ayma was elected president of Bolivia by a vote of 53.7 percent, with 84.5 percent of the electorate voting.

This was, and continues to be, the hardest blow dealt to the traditional political organizations, the kleptocrats of the country. They find it difficult to accept that an Indian (for them, the scum of the country) has conquered them politically, even when they had the open support of the U.S. government.

This blow hurts all the more as the victories continue to add up, not only in the political arena, but morally and intellectually as well. The opposition, allied with the mass media, and thus with a kind of monopoly on official discourse and official culture, cannot reverse the popularity of Morales, because he governs by obeying the will of the social movements.

On an economic level, the government of Evo Morales is teaching a lesson to all of his predecessors. In 2006, Bolivia’s economy ended the year with a record surplus. With the nationalization of the gas and oil industries, Bolivia now receives hundreds of millions in additional revenue that Morales is putting to work to help the poor.

With the cooperation of Venezuela and Cuba, he commenced an all-out attack on illiteracy and health deficits, motivated by his own personal experience of the darkness of illiteracy and ill health. Those who have lost their eyesight due to cataracts are receiving vision-restoring surgeries. The homeless are beginning to receive houses. Families with young children in school receive direct assistance from the government.

With his austere lifestyle, Morales has by force of example made public administration into a form of service, and led the initiative to lower the salaries of government functionaries by 50 percent.

Indigenous Power

Now that he has been elected president, life has changed for the indigenous people of Bolivia. Our renewed awareness and pride in our indigenous and intercultural identity is irreversible. This is invaluable psychological capital for the sustainable development of Bolivia, together with the work ethic and discipline he imparts by example.

Now our Evo has moved beyond just a national symbol, to being an example throughout the region and around the world. The unfounded accusations that he was a communist, terrorist, or a narco-terrorist have been left behind. The empire of the North could not face down an Aymara Indian who came into the world under the skirts of his mother, to show the world that another Bolivia, another world, is possible.

In this short, 14-month process of historic change there have been political errors. And there are still many dreams to be realized, among them, rewriting the Bolivian Constitution, applying the agrarian reform laws that have already passed, continuing the struggle against poverty, illiteracy and corruption, and reversing the exploitation of Bolivia’s natural resources through the application of a sustainable national mining policy, and much more. All this so that all of us can live well.

Jubenal Quispe is a lawyer, theologian, and writer in Spanish and Quechua (an indigenous language). He is a university lecturer and researcher at the Maryknoll Center in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Translated by Julia Dunsmore.

Quotes attributed to Evo Morales come from Pablo Stefanoni and Hervé Do Alto’s book La revolución de Evo Morales: de la Coca al Palacio, La Paz: CI Capital Intelectual (2006/08)

First published at YES Magazine

Bolivia’s New Style Work Force

Bernarda Claure

LA PAZ, Apr 30 (IPS) - The May 1 Labour Day marches in the Bolivian capital were a memorable sight two decades ago, a real celebration of workers' unity, led by thousands of helmeted miners carrying their drills. But today the workers' movement is a shadow of its former self, and the present generation of workers, out of necessity, are dispersed in new kinds of occupations.

Self-employed workers, small and micro businesses, workers in illegal sweatshops, garbage-pickers who classify and sell whatever can be recovered, street vendors -- in short, all the components of the informal sector of the economy are now a major part of the work force which Bolivia's leftist government is endeavouring to learn about and support.

Figures from the National Institute of Statistics (INE) indicate that in the 1970s, Bolivia's state-owned mining company (COMIBOL), then the country's main employer, had up to 60,000 employees. Today, mining companies employ no more than 15,000 workers.

The informal sector, on the other hand, where workers are unregistered and neither contribute to nor receive social benefits, currently employs 83 percent of the working population. The public and private sectors employ the remaining 17 percent of workers, the deputy minister of micro and small business, Ramiro Uchani, told IPS.

The hugely important informal sector mushroomed as a result of mass unemployment generated in the 1980s by the free-market economic policies espoused by the final administration of the late Víctor Paz Estenssoro (1952-1956, 1960-1964, 1964, 1985-1989), and by privatisations in the 1990s.

Today the results of that process can be clearly seen, said sociologist Jiovanny Samanamud, of the Bolivian Strategic Research Programme (PIEB), who has studied micro businesses in El Alto. About 20 minutes by car from La Paz, El Alto depends almost entirely on the informal economy and is Bolivia's second largest industrial centre.

"For the last 20 years, Bolivians have not only had to find work, but basically create their own jobs within the margin of opportunity allowed by our country's economic and employment structure," he told IPS.

That structure is based on free hiring and firing, measures introduced in 1985 by Paz Estenssoro in line with the free-market "neoliberal" model.

Consequently, even in the formal sector wages are between 60 and 100 dollars a month, and few employees see more than five years' service in any given job. Most contracts are short-term, usually for three months, so 45 percent of the urban population of working age are essentially casual jobbers, according to the non-governmental Study Centre for Agrarian and Labour Development (CEDLA).

"Given the tendency to dispense with people under the terms of free hiring and firing conditions, with the failure to respect workers' rights that this implies, it's not surprising that the vast majority of the population unable to secure formal employment should have created other forms of work as their only option," Samanamud said.

An estimated 800,000 productive units are now operating informally. "Given that they employ on average three or four people each, we think it is time they were given official support," said Deputy Minister Uchani.

The urban unemployment rate for 2007 is forecast at 9.5 percent, according to CEDLA. This is lower than the rate for 2006, when it stood at 11.8 percent, and the similar figures for 2004 and 2005.

Although unemployment is therefore expected to fall this year, Bolivia still has one of the highest rates in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the average unemployment rate is eight percent, according to the International Labour Organisation's report on Global Employment Trends 2007, published in January.

And it still means that 261,000 people living in cities will be out of work in Bolivia, which has a total population of nine million.

The government of Evo Morales wants to support small and micro businesses so that they continue to create jobs. To that end, the Ministry of Production and Microenterprise was established.

It would seem reasonable to stop thinking of the informal economy as an economy "of the poor, for the poor," said Thomas Kruse, an economic analyst.

To lump together such a wide range of productive activities and social relations under the one heading of "informal economy" obscures more than it reveals, said Kruse.

Under that heading we find many unregulated processes, connected or isolated, vigorous or at their last gasp; part-time or temporary labour relations and family relations; payment in kind, in money, in information, effort or prestige; mutual reciprocity and networks that sustain huge turnovers, hierarchical chains of production and marked inequalities, he said.

Antonia Rodríguez speaks with the voice of experience. A micro entrepreneur, she founded the Bolivian Artisanal Association "Señor de Mayo" (ASARBOLSEM), made up mainly of women breadwinners in El Alto. Today the organisation exports designer wear, textiles and other crafts worth up to 20,000 dollars a month to European and North American markets.

Rodríguez, born in Potosí, in the southeast of the country, gathered 300 spinners and weavers in this women's association and organised them into production groups, in a process that began in 1989. After much hard work over many years, each member now takes home between 2,500 and 3,000 dollars every three months, an achievement that is entirely theirs, as they have received no state backing or support from any other organisation.

Efforts like these have resulted in the spontaneous restructuring of production over the last two decades, which has changed both labour relations and the character of the Bolivian work force.

The government intends to remove the stigma from the informal sector, increase its visibility and encourage its growth, Deputy Minister Uchani said. The Morales administration's Strategic Plan for Small Producers' Holistic Development 2007-2011 comprises four stages.

The first step is to find out more about the informal sector: how many people are involved, and what, how, and how much they produce. The second stage is to strengthen it by increasing the producers' professionalism and expertise, through the recently created National Service for Productive Development.

The third stage will be to offer financial services to foment production. The brand-new Productive Development Bank will offer credit to small producers on favourable terms.

The fourth step is marketing and promotion.

The success or failure of these methods remains to be seen, but it is unlikely that the May 1 marches will ever return to their former glory.


Published at Inter Press Service

Gone, But Not Forgotten - Why Bolivians want the United States to extradite their exiled ex-president

Wes Enzinna

When, on Oct. 15, 2003, Filomena León was shot in the back by military soldiers in the Bolivian town of Patacamaya, near El Alto, she had no reason to believe hers would be anything other than an anonymous death in the Andes.

“I was in front of the soldiers and the bullet entered me from behind, into my spine,” León, an indigenous miner and mother of six, told Verónica Auza and Claudia Espinoza, editors of Gas War Memorial Testimony. The shot left her paralyzed, and she told Auza and Espinoza on April 20, 2004, “[After being shot] I wanted to die. … I still feel the same.” She died 10 days later from a lethal infection.

But three years later, as the country struggles to rebuild its economy and empower its large indigenous population, Bolivians are rallying to remember—and vindicate—the death of León as well as 66 others who were slain.

In October 2003, protests erupted in the impoverished and largely Aymara Indian city of El Alto over a government plan to export natural gas to the United States via Chile under economic terms protesters said would not benefit most Bolivians. The demonstrators filled El Alto and organized strategic blockades to stop gas from reaching the nearby capital of La Paz and later being exported. They also demanded nationalization of the country’s gas reserves.

President Gonzalo “Goni” Sánchez de Lozada, widely recognized as the architect of Bolivia’s neoliberal “shock therapy,” had orchestrated the gas deal, and on Oct. 11 he ordered the military into El Alto to quell the protests and break the blockades. By the end of October, more than 60 demonstrators were dead and 400 wounded—the result of soldiers firing “large-caliber weapons, including heavy machine guns,” into the crowd, as the Catholic Church testified in a public statement. León, stopped by troops along with four others, was unarmed when she was shot. Among the others killed were small children and a pregnant woman. In the wake of the massacres, Sánchez de Lozada fled the country for the United States, where he remains today.

On Feb. 1, the Bolivian Supreme Court issued an indictment for Sánchez de Lozada that paves the way for an extradition request to be sent to the United States (along with the extradition of two of his ministers, Carlos Sánchez Berzaín and Jorge Berindoague, who also fled to the United States in 2003). The request will likely arrive in the United States in May. For his role in the massacre, known in Bolivia as “Black October,” Sánchez de Lozada is wanted to stand trial for homicide, among other crimes, and faces a 30-year sentence if convicted.

Despite the uproar in Bolivia, U.S. officials appear ambivalent in the face of extradition efforts, which initially began in 2004. Bolivia’s ambassador to the United States, Gustavo Guzman, characterizes the response his government has received from the Bush administration as a “truly deafening silence.”

Both the State and Justice Departments declined to comment for this article. In what appears to be one of only two public statements on the case, a March 6 report by the State Department expressed concern that the Bolivian government’s attempts to bring criminal charges against the ex-president “appear to be politically motivated.” Beatrice Rangel, a Miami-based consultant and longtime friend of Sánchez de Lozada, told Time that the indictment is a “political trial … without legal grounds,” likely orchestrated by President Evo Morales and his MAS (Movement to Socialism) party.

Gregory Craig, one of the lawyers representing Sánchez de Lozada, says, “considering what is happening in Bolivia today, it seems difficult to conclude [Sánchez de Lozada] could get a fair trial,” referring to the presidency of Evo Morales. Craig also believes there is no evidence of homicide or related crimes.

Despite these claims, Michael Krinsky, a New York-based lawyer who specializes in international law, points out that according to the extradition treaty between the two countries, signed by Sánchez de Lozada himself in 1995, only probable cause is needed for extradition. The legal case for extradition appears particularly solid in light of Ordinola v. Hackman, a Feb. 22 ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that authorized the pending extradition of Wilmer Yarleque Ordinola, a former Peruvian general charged with leading two massacres in rural Peru in the early ’90s. This ruling, says Krinsky, “could raise problems for the argument that Sánchez de Lozada should not be extradited.”

Rogelio Mayta, the lawyer representing the families of the victims of the October massacre, says the claims of Sánchez de Lozada and his supporters have little substance. He points to a 2004 decision by the Bolivian Congress commonly known as the “Trial of Responsibility.”

“On October 14, [2004], the National Congress authorized that Goni should stand trial, with an absolute [two-thirds] majority vote,” says Mayta. “The majority of senators were from Goni’s own party, as well as from his ruling coalition; MAS were a minority party in Congress.” He adds, “Neither I nor the victims that I represent are MAS party members.”

The case against Sánchez de Lozada is criminal in nature, and the families of those killed in El Alto—where the average yearly wage is $650 (U.S.)—are not requesting financial compensation. Nonetheless, the families could potentially receive damages at a later date, were Sánchez de Lozada to be convicted.

To date, the Morales administration has given a total of approximately $6,000 to cover victims’ funeral and hospital costs. This sum, critics say, falls short of providing real assistance to the families and survivors of Black October.

Sánchez de Lozada has a fortune estimated at $50 million, largely garnered through the privatization of the country’s state-owned mines. Even if a trial and conviction were to occur, it remains uncertain that victims would see any money. Various sources, who wish to remain anonymous, believe Sánchez de Lozada has “hidden his assets so that victims cannot collect damages under any circumstances.”

A trial could also have larger repercussions. “With this case, people have both a fear and a hope,” says Mayta. “The fear is that if the guilty parties are not sanctioned today, tomorrow another authority will order another massacre. The hope is that if we can bring [Sánchez de Lozada] to justice, it will serve as an inhibitor of future abuse and arbitrary violence.”

For a country where Indians were banned from walking on the sidewalk until 1952 and where neoliberal policies were typically carried out at gunpoint, Sánchez de Lozada’s trial would give the nation’s indigenous majority something they’ve always been denied. Says Guzman, “The extradition of Mr. Sánchez de Lozada, as part of a process that is in strict accordance with Bolivian laws, has only one meaning for the Bolivian people, and that meaning can be summarized with a single word: justice.”

First published at In These Times

Bolivia's president must deal with anger, distrust from miners as he tries to increase state control

Dan Keane, May 14, Associated Press

Potosi, Bolivia — The silver, zinc and other metals under Bolivian soil are fetching their highest prices in decades, and Evo Morales has dedicated his presidency to claiming a larger share of the money for his country's people.

But first he'll have to deal with miners like Marco Taboada.

Swinging a sledgehammer, a plug of coca leaves in his cheek, Taboada is a formidable sight and one of about 60,000 independent Bolivian miners organized into small cooperatives.

These men mostly backed Morales' 2005 landslide election, but are ready to fight his efforts to impose more state control over their industry.

"We're like a time bomb," Taboada said. "Throw it and you'll see."

Bolivia is the world's fourth-largest tin producer and a significant source of silver and zinc, but kept less than 5 percent of the profits from mining last year.

Morales aims to change that by raising taxes and seizing the occasional foreign-owned business, such as the smelter he took back from Swiss mining giant Glencore in February.

But going after foreign interests is an easier sell than challenging the independents, proud workers willing to risk their short, hard lives defending their piece of the mineral boom.

"We don't have much of a life. It's not like outside," Taboada, 23, said during an interview deep inside the Cerro Rico, a rust-colored peak looming over Bolivia's historic mining city of Potosi.

"If we all went up there (to the capital of La Paz), all the miners, we could kill all the police with dynamite."

It's no empty threat.

In October, miners from the cooperatives stormed the state-operated Huanuni mine demanding more access to its rich tin deposits. State-employed miners fought back, and the two sides exchanged gunfire and threw dynamite. Sixteen died before police restored order.

And when Morales announced a tax increase on mineral revenue in February, 20,000 cooperative miners converged on La Paz, hurling dynamite through the streets.

The government quickly made peace, freezing taxes at current levels and pledging $20 million in badly needed new technology for the cooperatives.

Months later, Morales is still eyeing a tax hike — and hoping the miners have outgrown their dynamite displays.

Cooperatives produce roughly a third of the nation's mineral ore and employ more than 80 percent of its miners — an immense bloc with a record of squeezing concessions from Bolivian leaders.

And mistrust of the government runs deep in the cooperatives, many of which formed after the state mining company Comibol laid off 27,000 miners during a 1980s crash in global mineral prices. Determined to survive where the state failed, many banded together.

Working conditions in the cooperatives are often grim, with miners chasing narrow veins through asbestos-choked wormholes in the rock. Most still work with hammer and chisel, and use wheelbarrows to haul the ore out to trucks.

Many cooperatives pay minimal wages and treat employees like slaves, Morales says. The salaries have jumped with today's high mineral prices, to between $9 and $20 per day. But for all the inefficiency and danger — no one keeps count of the injuries and deaths — the cooperatives provide jobs that South America's poorest country can hardly replace.

Published at Houston Chronicle

Literacy Drive on Full Steam

Bernarda Claure

La Paz, May 10 (Inter Press Service) - Coipasa is ahead, with Chipaya on its heels. Right behind them are Urubichá and Guarayos. The competitors are not race horses but rural villages and towns in Bolivia racing to declare themselves free of illiteracy.

The starting shot was fired last year by the government's national literacy programme, which is using the Cuban literacy teaching method "Yo sí puedo" (Yes I Can).

The target is to eradicate illiteracy, along the lines established by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the international community in 2000, and the objectives of the Education for All movement led by UNESCO, which aims to meet the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015.

Some 1.2 million of Bolivia's 9.2 million people do not know how to read or write.

In Bolivia, South America's poorest country, 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. A similar proportion of the population is made up of indigenous people, the great majority of whom are poor.

Adult illiteracy is high among Bolivians living in impoverished rural communities and the slums ringing the country's cities. Most slumdwellers have no access to basic services like electricity, clean water or sanitation, much less schooling, according to the Ministry of Education and Culture.

The leftist government of President Evo Morales, who is himself indigenous, has poured funds into efforts to reach this segment of the population, offering university scholarships, incentives for teachers who join the literacy drive, free eyeglasses, TV sets and VCRs as teaching tools, and solar panels for communities without electricity, to enable them to use the new equipment for the videotaped adult literacy classes.

Those involved in the literacy drive have their work cut out for them. For example, the coordinators of the campaign in the western province of Oruro identified 25 illiterate people in a specific municipality, with whom they began the course in April 2006.

Five moved away or dropped out for different reasons. And to get the other 20 to complete the course, which is made up of 65 half-hour videotaped lessons, the literacy instructors and their supervisors had to actually knock on the students' doors and convince them of the benefits that the eradication of illiteracy would bring the community.

"Sometimes we had to actually chase down students to keep them in class," said Octavio Colque, the literacy coordinator in that area, where Coipasa and Chipaya are located.

Moreover, he told IPS, "it was very difficult to teach them basic reading and writing skills, which is why it took us a whole year."

The incentives offered by the government have helped. For instance, the top adult literacy students who go on to complete their primary and secondary school studies can win scholarships to attend university in Cuba.

And in Chipaya, Cuban optometrists visited the village as part of their aim to distribute 200,000 pairs of eyeglasses to newly literate Bolivians. In just under a year, 226 Chipaya Indians learned to read and write with the Yo Sí Puedo method, which will soon begin to be applied in Bolivia's cities as well.

A big challenge is that not all of Bolivia's indigenous people are fluent in Spanish, while for now, the majority of adult literacy lessons are given in Spanish. Of the 15,000 literacy posts throughout the country, only 88 provide teaching in Quechua or Aymara, the main indigenous languages spoken in Bolivia.

The government is addressing the problem, however. Minister of Education and Culture Víctor Cáceres told IPS that "We are overcoming these details. In Cuba, we taped 65 classes in Aymara and Quechua, using Bolivian actors and situations, with which we launched bilingual literacy classes in March. By the middle of the year we should also be teaching literacy skills in Guaraní."

Nevertheless, the depth of the results has been questioned. Professor Mario Yapu, who has carried out research on the educational reforms adopted in Bolivia in 1994, told IPS that "It would appear that the results -- in this case, the eradication of illiteracy -- are more important than the people themselves, because what this method would seem to be creating is functionally illiterate people."

The functionally illiterate technically know how to read and write, but are unable to perform even the most basic tasks using language.

In the Yo Sí Puedo method, students learn to read by establishing an association between letters and numbers, since even illiterate people work with numbers every day, selling or buying products in the market, for example. Thus, the classes move from the familiar (numbers) to the unfamiliar (letters).

Despite the difficulties and obstacles, the race is on. Coipasa and Chipaya -- near the border with Chile, in one of Bolivia's poorest regions -- are competing for second and third place.

The first town to declare itself free of illiteracy was Tolata, in the central province of Cochabamba, where a white flag was raised on Apr. 12 to declare victory in a contest with 27 other villages that are also in the final stretch.

This year, the programme will be extended to a total of 329 municipalities.

The Yo Sí Puedo method has also been implemented in Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Paraguay. Venezuela declared itself to be "illiteracy-free" last October 2005, when it announced that nearly 1.5 million adults had learned to read and write over the previous two years.

Bolivia has the sad distinction of being the South American country with the highest illiteracy rate. The fourth national progress report on the MDGs, released in December 2006, indicated that 13 out of 100 people over the age of 15 do not even know how to write their name.

That is not much higher than Peru's adult illiteracy rate of 12.3 percent and Brazil's 11.4 percent, but is a far cry from Chile's 4.3 percent or Argentina's 2.8 percent -- the statistics presented in the U.N. Development Programme's (UNDP) Human Development Report 2006.

Limited progress had already been made in Bolivia in recent years, as indicated by the fact that illiteracy among adults between the ages of 15 and 44 declined by 1.5 percent from 1999 to 2004.

The national progress report on the MDGs says the goal is to reduce the illiteracy rate to 2.2 percent by 2015, since completely eradicating illiteracy is a nearly impossible task, given the country's geography, characterised by remote mountain and jungle areas.

According to population projections, that would mean around 122,000 illiterate adults in 2015, the deadline set by the MDGs, whose scope includes the fight against poverty, hunger and illiteracy.

First published at Inter Press Service

Under Pressure: Bolivian Assembly Struggles to Draft Constitution

Thursday, 26 April 2007, Written by Andean Information Network

Bolivia’s Constitutional Assembly has been charged with a huge task, not just to rewrite the nation’s constitution but also to ‘refound’ Bolivia. This includes restructuring the government, reforming education, dealing with natural resources and deciding what the constitution will say on controversial issues such as coca and autonomy. The Assembly’s decisions could greatly affect all Bolivians’ lives, but after taking seven months to decide on voting procedures, its ability to approve a pragmatic and inclusive constitution and resolve many deep-seated, nationwide controversies in the next four months remains unclear. It is even less clear, though, what would occur if efforts to formulate a new constitution fail. Consequently, it is crucial that all parties work together to successfully draft a functional document representing the rights of all citizens.

Perceptions of Progress Differ

Despite the controversies and time constraints, the head of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) majority in the Assembly, Román Loayza, remains positive about their work and believes that if each commission keeps working, “we can achieve the completion of the new text of the constitution,” in the time allotted. He added that his colleagues need to act responsibly because if they don’t, “the people will be the ones who judge the assembly representatives.”[1]

However Podemos, the largest opposition group in the MAS dominated Assembly, expressed doubts that the Assembly will succeed. “The management of land and natural resources, the presidential reelection, the use of community justice and even the broad structure of the State could be themes which the Constitutional Assembly will not reach a consensus on, nor achieve the 2/3 requirement to directly approve them.”[2] While some of the opposition representatives are fully engaged in the process, there are others who do not appear interested in trying to reach a consensus nor a compromise. If the 255 members of the Assembly can not resolve these issues, then a national referendum will be held for the voters to decide.

Assembly Attempts to Resolve National Controversies

Morales’s mid-March announcement that there will be elections in 2008 and his subsequent declaration that he would campaign in those elections has sparked a controversy. For the new constitution to take effect, elections must be held. Under the current constitution presidents may only serve one five year term and then are not eligible for immediate reelection. In order for Morales to be eligible to run in the next elections, the Assembly would need to approve consecutive presidential terms.

MAS Assembly member Carlos Romero declared that Morales will be able to run in the next election because there will be a new constitutional mandate and “the Assembly will change the rules of the game.”[3] The opposition disagrees and complained that MAS will use the Assembly to enable Morales to stay in power longer. The opposition has also complained about the MAS proposal to lower the voting age to sixteen and the government’s ongoing drive to provide citizens with identification cards, claiming that these actions are an attempt to increase the ranks of MAS supporters.

The autonomy issue is another highly contentious question that the Assembly must resolve. Autonomy is often over-simplified as a poor, indigenous West versus wealthier, whiter East battle over the control of natural gas. The debate in the Commission on Autonomy, Decentralization and Territorial Organization in the Assembly is far more complex, with over a 100 proposals dealing with six levels of autonomy: regional, departmental (similar to U.S. states), provincial, municipal, federal and indigenous.

Autonomy has been a battle cry for the opposition movement and the concept, with a myriad of vague and sometimes conflicting definitions, has exacerbated extreme political regional and ethnic polarization in the country. While the drafting of a constitutional article satisfactory to a majority of the nation on this topic appears to be an insurmountable obstacle, if they fail to do just that then the entire nation will have to vote on proposals in a national referendum. Manfred Bravo of Podemos doubts the capacity of the people to decide on the issue and warns that, “A national referendum could generate divisions and greater confusion in the country.”[4] Civil leaders of lowland departments have threatened to independently declare autonomy on their own terms if they dislike the Assembly’s conclusions.

Countdown to the August 6th Deadline

The 255 members of the Assembly, divided into twenty-one commissions, are facing the daunting task of synthesizing over 7,000 proposals into a coherent constitution and approving it. With just four more months to produce a final product, acceptable to the Bolivian public, some Assembly members are pleading for more time while others claim that any further delay would lower the moral of the representatives and further shake the faith of Bolivians in the process. Even the Assembly’s vice president, Roberto Aguilar, asserted that “we need to make an adjustment in the terms of the timeline.”[5]

The technical secretary of the National Vision commission questioned the lack of a unified methodology in the work of the commissions. He stated, “It’s my obligation as an official to warn that, we are progressing in a very chaotic and disorderly way.”[6]

Current Timeline

August 6, 2006 - The Assembly convened – the culmination of seventeen years of a grassroots struggle for constitutional change – and after the initial fanfare, did virtually nothing except debate voting procedures for six months.

February 14, 2007 - The Assembly adopted a voting process as well as a timeline.

April 23, 2007 - After a six week national tour to gather proposals, the commissions returned to work April 23rd in Sucre, to synthesize the proposals into constitutional articles. Some commissions continue to accept proposals though the deadline for the articles in April 30th. Many commissions have received over 200 proposals and only five had submitted their final drafts as of April 26th.[7]

May 1 – June 15, 2007 - Assembly-wide plenary sessions to debate and approve these articles will begin.

June 15 - July 2, 2007 - Articles approved by 2/3 of the plenary will pass to the Editorial Committee and will be included in the new constitution. If, after June 15th, there are articles that have not received 2/3 approval they will pass to a separate coordinating committee which will attempt to reach consensus on those articles, before July 2nd.

July 3 – 25, 2007 - Approval of the final text of the Constitution will be sought in plenary sessions. The text needs a 2/3 approval from all the assembly members to be finalized by the August 6th deadline.

August 6, 2007 and beyond - A popular referendum will be held for citizens to vote on the text of the new constitution as well as any articles that did not receive 2/3 approval in a plenary session. The date for the referendum has not been set, nor has it been decided whether there will first be a referendum to vote on the unapproved articles and then a separate referendum to approve the constitution, or just one referendum for both.

Overcoming Resentment Essential for Progress

With such a tight schedule, it is vital that all Assembly members work together diligently to meet their deadlines. However, MAS and opposition parties continue to clash within the Assembly distracting representatives from the work at hand. Party politics stalled the initial work of the Assembly for seven months over a debate on voting procedures. The assembly eventually ratified a compromise which requires 2/3 approval for each article, while unapproved articles will be presented to the Bolivian public in the national referendum.

The Catholic Church Bishops’ Council recently sent a letter to the Assembly stating that “The confidence that the people initially placed in the Constitutional Assembly has been lost,” and that, “The conflicts and the inefficiency have sown doubts in different social sectors that this event of much importance for the country’s future can end happily.” They affirmed that assembly representatives have a “grave responsibility to overcome tensions and to work in an open climate of dialogue, respect and unity.”[8]

If the Assembly members fail to overcome those tensions and refuse to make mutual concessions this process could deepen the current political crisis and intensify regional and ethnic polarization. Yet in spite of continuing conflicts, the potential for representatives to put aside their political resentment and personal biases to create a balanced, inclusive constitution could be the best solution to many of the nation’s ongoing controversies and lead to a positive political transformation.


1 Foro Constituyente. “Asamblea Constituyente debe acelerar su trabajo.” April 25, 2007.
2 Foro Constituyente. “PODEMOS mantiene visión pesimista sobre la Asamblea Constituyente.” April 25, 2007.
3 La Razón. “Gobierno pide que Evo vuelva de cero el 2008.” March 21, 2007.
4 Foro Constituyente. “PODEMOS mantiene visión pesimista sobre la Asamblea Constituyente.” April 25, 2007.
5 La Razón. “La Asamblea improvisa y le falta tiempo.” April 24, 2007.
6 Ibid.
7 Foro Constituyente. “Mañana comisiones deben presentar sus sistematizaciones.” April 25, 2007.
8 La Razón.
“La Asamblea siembra dudas, según la Iglesia.” April 25, 2007.

First published by Andean Information Network

Bolivian May Day Brings Higher Hydrocarbons Revenues and Higher Expectations

Friday, 04 May 2007, Written by Andean Information Network

On May 1, 2006, Bolivian president Evo Morales announced the ‘nationalization’ of the nation’s natural gas resources with a symbolic military takeover of many installations throughout the country. One year later the administration celebrated the first anniversary of the nationalization decree by announcing that Bolivia will triple its hydrocarbons revenues. The President explained, rather vaguely, the creation of new programs funded by this income intended to create jobs, encourage micro-enterprises and reaffirm the nation’s ownership of all hydrocarbon and mineral wealth. Morales also repeated his intentions to “nationalize” the privatized long distance company, the mining industry as well two foreign-owned natural gas refineries. During the preceding weeks the administration announced a much-needed plan to fund housing for low income Bolivians, which has received broad support.

Of course the successful implementation of these initiatives depends on many factors. Past reform announcements, such as universal healthcare for most Bolivians, have sometimes faltered or been delegated to departmental or municipal governments, while others, like the nationalization of hydrocarbons faced innumerable delays and impediments. Planning and launching social reform initiatives represents an important first step in a challenging process to build consensus and implement policies. However, it remains to be seen to what degree this administration will be able to transparently and equitably follow through on these plans.

Implementation lags behind expectations

While some of these projects have the potential to work well and help Bolivian citizens to lead better lives, the administration’s emphasis on the benefits of the nationalization of the hydrocarbons industry have heightened the expectations of many social groups. The signing of 44 renegotiated hydrocarbons contracts with twelve transnational companies finally occurred on May 2, 2007, one year after the initial nationalization decree. Increased hydrocarbons revenue during 2006 was primarily a result of the Direct Hydrocarbons Tax, approved by the Bolivian Congress in 2005 before the nationalization decree took effect. After the signing of the contracts, the president of YPFB, the national gas and oil company, announced “The [foreign] oil companies accept that they are simply YPFB’s partners and no longer owners of the hydrocarbons production.”[1]

According to the Morales administration, in 2006 hydrocarbons revenues increased to $1.65 billion, 40% over 2005 levels, and YPFB predicts that the revenues may reach $2 billion in 2007.[2] The government is using part of this the revenue to increase the nation’s foreign reserves from $1.7 billion in 2005 to $3.4 billion in 2007[3] and is investing at least $3 billion over the next five years in further exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons.[4] However, in spite of these announcements and promises for reform, some Bolivians feel that the government’s social reforms are not broad enough given amount of additional state income it has publicized.

For example, healthcare workers and teachers have been on strike demanding a one percent increase in salary over the government offer of a six percent raise. The government has claimed that it does not have sufficient funds to give a pension to the disabled or to pay the existing yearly pension to the elderly beyond 2007. In contrast, the Defense Minister recently announced that the armed forces will receive 100 new vehicles, four helicopters, three planes and other equipment during 2007.

Bolivia Inaugurates Solidarity Housing Plan

In April 2007 the government presented a plan to give to low interest housing loans to low income and middle class Bolivians. The “Social and Solidarity Housing Program” is designed to help build over 14,000 homes and improve 26,000 residences. The Minister of Public Works, Services and Housing says that the plan will “directly and indirectly generate thousands of jobs and stimulate the national economy.” [5]

Housing crisis exacerbated by high interest rates

A consensus exists that this assistance is tremendously needed as, according to Habitat for Humanity, “58% of Bolivian families live in huts that do not meet the minimum living conditions, lacking basic services and sanitation. 32% of homes accommodate three or more people per bedroom.” The Ministry of Public Works estimates that there is a need for 300,000 houses in the country and that the housing plan should be able to close this housing deficit within 20 years by giving zero to three percent interest loans to workers. Furthermore, existing interest rates for mortgages run an average of 18% - 24% interest annually, with high penalties and fines for noncompliance.

The long list of bureaucratic prerequisites to obtain credit in the formal banking system, such as formal employment and property as collateral, make it almost impossible for most citizens to obtain a loan. Savings and Loan cooperatives, which have less strict requirements, accept a third person to guarantee loans or collateral, have higher interest rates, and largely unregulated fines and penalties. This system has lead to skyrocketing debt for poor families and frequent foreclosures on properties. For instance, one family that was unable to pay back a $3,000 debt found that the cooperative planned to sue them for over $19,000 in back payments, interest and fines. This common situation has led to the formation of a “small debtors” defense movement in recent years.

Accessible low interest loans

The bulk of the approximately $90 million available for the program comes from the pre-existing housing fund. Bolivian law requires all formal employers to pay the equivalent of two percent of each of their employees’ salaries to this fund. Only twelve percent of the loans to be granted under the new plan will be exclusively for these workers. This has led some private enterprise interests to protest the plan, because those who have contributed to the governmental housing fund will not receive preferential treatment in the loan process. MAS representatives counter that previous administrations mismanaged the housing fund so badly that employees could not benefit from it and that the new program can more effectively serve them.

In a nation where 67 percent of the population works in the informal sector, the government feels that all workers, whether they have contributed to the fund or not, should be eligible for housing loans. The Vice Minister of Housing, Marcelo Zurita, replied that, “The law…says that the State administers these resources…We seek the best form of investment instead of squandering them like in former administrations.” Zurita referred to the idea that private businesses and banks were the only ones who benefited from past housing programs.

As a result of these difficulties, the application process for the new program is relatively straightforward and free. Thirteen financial organizations have authorization to make loans through the plan. As both the loan and repayment amounts for urban workers are based on family income, applicants must show proof of work, identification and credit history and prove that they have no pending loans or are already homeowners.

For example, the lowest loan available is $2,500 dollars and accrues no interest. To secure this loan, a worker would need to demonstrate a family income of $46 dollars a month and the monthly repayment would be about $11 dollars, approximately 25% of the monthly income, over 20 years. Up to 20% of the loan can be used to purchase land on which to build the home.

The majority of the applications to participate in the program are from the three major cities, La Paz, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. The plan will divide up the money regionally so that 41% goes to the western highlands, 32% to the east and 27% to construct homes in valleys, such as Cochabamba.

Plan enjoys widespread support

Praise and support for the plan came from unexpected sources. The president of the Cochabamba Private Enterprise Federation, a staunch adversary of the Morales administration, agreed that the housing plan was a badly needed development. An editorial in La Razón, a newspaper generally critical of Morales initiatives affirmed,

“The housing plan proposed by the government has characteristics that similar social programs didn’t include or could not achieve. The plan is flexible, accessible, possible and realistic. The plan stimulates the economy and generates employment and [addresses] social expectations that have not been met in the country for a long time. President Morales’s government deserves recognition for social housing [policy], as it is presented in the plan.” [6]

Beyond improving housing conditions in the nation, according to the Ministry of Public Works the plan will provide employment for 73,000 people. In anticipation of a construction boom, SOBOCE (Bolivian Cement Society) has thrown their weight behind the plan. The company, owned by opposition UN party leader Samuel Doria Medina, announced a 25% discount in the price of cement for beneficiaries of the program. In Bolivia one bag of cement costs over $6, while the workers who pour the cement earn about the same amount per workday. According to the SOBOCE director, “In a low income home, between 7 and 10% of the total cost is cement and…Soboce’s business philosophy is to support the country’s development.”

Other Morales Administration Initiatives:

Minimum Wage Increase - The government decreed a five percent increase in the formal sector minimum wage from $63 to $67, retroactive to the first of January. The Morales administration raised the minimum wage last year by 13.6%.

The measure has drawn criticism from both representatives of private business owners and the Bolivian Workers Union (COB). According to the secretary of the Private Enterprise Federation, “The raise is small; it’s more a political move than it is effective.” He complained that the government needs to take steps to prevent contraband if they expect business owners to raise wages. The COB stated that the increase was too small given the large increase in state revenues that the government has been celebrating.

In contrast, the governor of the Santa Cruz Department announced an agreement between some private businesses and the Regional Workers Union (COD) to increase the state minimum wage to $89 a month with an additional $38 in bonuses. Santa Cruz businesses have been asked to pay this “dignified wage,” but are not legally obligated to pay more than the new national minimum wage.

Job Creation - The government announced the creation of 230,000 jobs by the end of the year, 160,000 of those will be temporary jobs. The government also unveiled three new programs designed to create 22,900 permanent jobs in addition to the promised 70,000 jobs the administration plans to generate with the housing plan. The Center for the Study of Labor and Agrarian Development (CEDLA) estimates that there are 261,000 jobless people in the nation’s cities.

Production Development Bank - Small business owners and entrepreneurs are eligible to apply for a $3,000 - $10,000 loan from the Production Development Bank, which is making available $60 million. The loan program is designed to increase investments in textiles, leather, and wood production and in the food and tourism industries. Bank funds will also be used to build infrastructure and fund technical assistance programs throughout the nation. One-sixth of the funds will be available to medium and larger businesses affected by El Niño flooding in the first part of the year.

Further “Nationalization” on the Horizon

Long Distance and Mobile Phone Company - The Morales administration announced the nationalization of Bolivia’s largest long distance telephone company, Entel, which was privatized in 1995. The MAS government claims that co-owner Euro Telecom Italia (ETI) has violated its contractual obligation to invest sufficiently and owes back taxes, totaling $82.2 million. The government now wants to buy ETI’s 50% share of the company’s stocks to make it a state-owned company again. ETI has stated that the government’s actions are damaging Bolivia’s image in the European Union and the nation will be seen as having an unstable investment climate.

Refineries - The Bolivian government is negotiating the buy back of two natural gas refineries from the Brazilian gas company Petrobras. The company acquired the Guillermo Elder (Santa Cruz) and Gualberto Villarroel (Cochabamba) refineries in 1999 for $104 million. The plants have a refining capacity of 60,000 barrels a day and are worth $180 million. Despite rumors of moving the negotiations to international arbitration, a Petrobras executive said the ownership of the refineries does not matter to the company, only securing a good price for the sale, stating, “We will reach an agreement, we always do.”[7]

Mining Industry - Morales announced on May 1 that the Bolivian Mining Corporation (Comibol) would also soon be “refounded.” The president affirmed that all mineral resources are owned by the state and suspended any new mining activity until a national survey can be completed to find out how much mineral wealth exists in the country.

ICSID Withdrawal - Bolivia, along with Venezuela and Nicaragua, announced plans to withdraw from the ICSID, the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, an organization for international arbitration, citing the need to have greater control over foreign investment in their respective countries.


Clearly, enacting lasting social change in Bolivia is a formidable task. Planning a government program and announcing its creation are merely the initial, and most straightforward, steps of a long uphill battle to achieve successful implementation. For these initiatives to prosper, they must achieve broad political acceptance and develop effective mechanisms to transparently administer and equitably distribute program resources to citizens in all regions of the nation. In spite of a stated zero tolerance policy for corruption, denunciations of impropriety have complicated MAS’s efforts to enact its policies. Efforts to continue the nationalization process will also depend on the government’s ability to successfully redefine its relationship with international investors. Perhaps the most significant challenge for the Morales government is juggling the multiple, and sometimes conflicting, demands of diverse social sectors who have heightened expectations for long postponed changes.


1. ABI. “Yacimientos asumió control de la producción de hidrocarburos tras protocolización de contratos.” May 2, 2007.
2. ABI. “Nacionalización logra $US 1.321 millones más de lo que el país recibía al año con la capitalización.” May 1, 2007.
3. Banco Central de Bolivia. “Reservas Internacionales.” March 20, 2007.
4. ABI. “Las empresas petroleras proyectan invertir $US 3.000 millones en cinco años.” May 2, 2007.
5. ABI. “El Programa de Vivienda Social dará empleo a miles de bolivianos directa e indirectamente.” April 20, 2007.
6. La Razón. Editorial. “Aciertos en el plan de vivienda.” April 7, 2007.
7. ABI. “Petrobras expresa optimismo por éxito de las negociaciones con Bolivia sobre las refinerías.” April 28, 2007.

First published by Andean Information Network
Bolivia Rising