January 6, 2015
Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz said yesterday in a press conference that the country rejected any possible mediation from the Pope in a dispute with Bolivia over sovereign access through Chile to the Pacific Ocean that dates back to the nineteenth century.
Muñoz’s comments came after Bolivian President Evo Morales’ statement on Sunday that Pope Francis had requested documentation about the border dispute. On Monday, after a meeting with the advisory committee for the legal case, Muñoz said, “Chile has not accepted in the past, does not accept and will not accept any mediation in a matter that is absolutely bilateral, that concerns only Chile and Bolivia. Chile will never consider, does not accept nor will accept ceding territory under pressure or through any form of mediation. This is crystal clear for us, even more so as there is a case in The Hague.”
Bolivia decided to bring its case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on April 24, 2013, with the goal of forcing Chile to negotiate a point of sovereign access to the ocean—which Bolivia lost after the War of the Pacific, when it signed a peace treaty with Chile in 1904 that Morales says was forcefully imposed on his country. On July 15, 2014, Chile filed a preliminary objection to the ICJ’s jurisdiction in the matter. In November 2014, Bolivia filed a declaration claiming that the ICJ did have jurisdiction to rule on the case.
There have been heightened tensions recently regarding the longstanding conflict, with Morales asserting at the end of December 2014 that Bolivia would recover its access to the sea. Meanwhile, Muñoz published a piece in the Brazilian publication Folha de São Paulo entitled “What the Bolivian Lawsuit is Hiding.”
December 9, 2014
The leaders of Latin American and Iberian countries were on hand for the opening of the 24th Cumbre Iberoamericana (Ibero-American Summit) in Veracruz, Mexico yesterday. Just as notable as who was present, however, was the long list of absences. A block of six presidents—representing Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba—snubbed the two-day summit, which Bolivian President Evo Morales dismissed as a platform for “Spain’s monarchs [to discuss] their own interests.” The president of El Salvador, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, reportedly had to withdraw from the summit to due health issues.
The summit’s focus—“Education, Culture and Innovation”—was reportedly calculated to avoid ideologically charged territory. Yet the summit has faced flagging interest in the face of newer regional fora such as the Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States—CELAC) and the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (Union of South American Nations—UNASUR). As a result, after this year, the summit will transition towards a biyearly schedule.
Nonetheless, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation José Manuel García-Margallo qualified the summit as a success. “We are reflecting on a renewed relationship between Latin American and the Ibero-American countries […] we are achieving concrete results, and we are creating important synergies,” he said.
By the end of the first session, the attendees had reportedly reached five agreements due to be included in summit’s concluding declaration. Among them are an agreement to share information and present a more united front in international fora such as the G20 or the OECD, an agreement on arbitration practices for small and medium-sized enterprises, and an agreement to foster increased talent mobility among the participating nations.
October 15, 2014
On Tuesday, Bolivian President Evo Morales—fresh from his reelection to a third term on Sunday—moved to strengthen legal measures that would help reduce domestic violence against women in the Andean country. Law 348, titled Ley Integral para Garantizar a las Mujeres una Vida Libre de Violencia (Comprehensive Law to Guarantee Women a Life Free of Violence) was enacted on March 9, 2013, but lacked a regulatory provision causing the implementation process to stall.
The regulation, which President Morales enacted Tuesday, creates mechanisms and policies for the prevention of domestic violence and violence against women and care for victims and provides much needed funds for the creation of domestic violence shelters and enhancement of the Fuerza Esdpecial de Lucha contra la Violencia (Task Force to Combat Violence—FELCV). The president acknowledged that the law alone would not curb violence against women and advocated for education, which he sees as a major contributing factor to the violence.
A 2013 report from the World Health Organization found that more than half of Bolivian women had experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. While justices have been criticized for their handling of domestic violence cases, District Attorney José Ponce drew attention to the lack of resources and the caseloads of overburdened districts. In the Max Paredes district of La Paz alone, each prosecutor has more than 500 cases a year, with only 10 prosecutors who are specially trained for domestic violence cases available.
October 9, 2014
Bolivian President Evo Morales is expected to be elected to a third term in office on October 12—and not by a small margin. A September 30 poll conducted by French global market research company Ipsos predicts that the incumbent will receive a comfortable 59 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, opposition candidates Samuel Doria Medina of the Unidad Demócrata (Democratic Unity—UD), Jorge Quiroga of the Partido Demócrata Cristiano (Democratic Christian Party—PDC), Juan del Granado of the Movimiento Sin Miedo (Movement without Fear—MSM) and Fernando Vargas of the Partido Verde de Bolivia (Bolivian Green Party—PVB) are each expected to receive less than 15 percent of the vote individually.
Among opposition circles, speculation is rife that the increased number of eligible Bolivian voters (totaling 6.5 million) and the alleged pro-Morales bias of the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (Supreme Electoral Tribunal) indicate a fraudulent electoral process. Doria Medina, earning an estimated 13 percent of the vote in the recent Ipsos poll, has also claimed that the ruling Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement for Socialism—MAS) government is manipulating television advertising allocation in favor of the president.
“They have aired up to 60 negative spots on television against us, and when we tried to respond to them with our own spots, the Electoral Tribunal denied us permission,” Doria Medina told Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald in September. “Likewise, we put campaign signs on the streets, and the government ordered police to remove them. The government has a monopoly of public signs,” Medina said.
However, opposition members attempting to make sense of Morales’ expected win should look no further than the president’s overwhelming support from the country’s historically marginalized Aymara and Quechua populations, which form an important percentage of Bolivia’s population. Morales’ presidency has been marked by mass Indigenous political participation in government affairs, an achievement unheard of in previous administrations.
October 2, 2014
An election poll released on Wednesday—conducted by Ipsos, a France-based global market research company—showed that Bolivian President Evo Morales is on course to be elected to a third term on October 12. Morales is predicted to receive 59 percent of the vote—over 40 points more than his closest opponent, Samuel Doria Medina, a business man representing Unidad Demócrata (Democratic Unity—UD) party, who followed with 13 percent. Of the remaining three candidates vying for the office, Jorge Quiroga of the Partido Demócrata Cristiano (Democratic Christian Party—PDC) is predicted to receive 8 percent of the vote, Juan del Granado, leader of the Movimiento Sin Miedo (Movement without Fear—MSM) to receive 3 percent and Fernando Vargas of the Partido Verde de Bolivia (Bolivian Green Party—PVB) to receive 1 percent, according to the poll.
Despite the predicted victory, opposition candidates have accused the election process of being highly fraudulent—with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal being biased in favor of the incumbent, and the government favoring Morales propaganda and television air time over the opposition. Moreover, Doria Medina accused Bolivian polls of being biased and having a margin of error of over 30 percent. Morales would need to win at least 50 percent of the vote, or 40 percent of the vote if the margin is at least 10 points above his closest opponent.
The survey was conducted between September 8 and 23, interviewing 3,000 men and women 18 years or older across the nine departments of the country. The margin of error was +/- 1.79.
Monday Memo: Inauguration Day in Venezuela – Morales Accuses U.S. Embassy – Brazil’s Energy Budget Crisis – and more
January 7, 2013
Top stories this week are likely to include: Uncertainty surrounding Hugo Chávez’ inauguration in Venezuela; Evo Morales alleges U.S. plot to destabilize his government; Brazil weighs electricity measures; and Canada deepens ties with Africa.
Inauguration Day in Venezuela: After his re-election last October, President Hugo Chávez is scheduled to be inaugurated this Thursday per the constitution that he helped write when he first rose to office in 1999. However, with Chávez recovering in Havana, Cuba, after his surgery last month on an undisclosed form of cancer, many Venezuelans are questioning his fitness for office as well as if or how he will assume another six-year term in three days. The constitution stipulates that the National Assembly President—Diosdado Cabello, who was re-elected to the post over the weekend—act as president if Chávez is declared incapacitated before Thursday and that Vice President Nicolás Maduro would become head of state if Chávez is declared incapacitated after Thursday. However, there are no indications that the executive branch intends to abide by these rules. Maduro claimed that the Supreme Court could swear in Chávez at a later date—a statement that was supported by Attorney General Cilia Flores, who is also Maduro’s wife. Calls from the political opposition for greater transparency have been repeatedly rebuffed. Stay tuned for updates on what will be the top issue in the hemisphere this week.
Morales Accuses U.S. Embassy: Bolivian President Evo Morales claims he has “irrefutable evidence” that the U.S. Embassy in La Paz is plotting to destabilize his government, claims Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramon Quintana. Quintana continued that the Morales administration will present the evidence to U.S. President Barack Obama and “tell him [to] cease all hostilities against the Bolivian government, stop the political ambush of our government.” U.S.-Bolivian relations have been tenuous since Morales assumed office in 2006, hitting a nadir when Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador in 2008.
Brazil’s Energy Budget Crisis: After water levels in hydroelectric dams dropped considerably—in some areas reaching a two-thirds decrease—Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called an emergency meeting with energy representatives to shore up electricity reserves. Rousseff tasked her Minister of Mines and Energy, Edison Lobão, to head the meeting, which Folha de São Paulo is reporting will occur on Wednesday. At issue: Brazilian cities have experienced blackouts in recent months, and some private-sector analysts are projecting a rationing of electricity in the world’s sixth-largest economy—recalling a similar scenario in 2001. Pay attention to see if Rousseff’s government announces any measures for 2013 as a result of the meeting.
Canada Discusses Africa Policy: Beninese President Thomas Yayi Boni, also the head of the African Union, will visit Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa tomorrow. A central focus of the meeting is anticipated to be the growing instability in Mali; last month the United Nations Security Council agreed to an African-led counter-assault against Islamist rebels. Boni’s visit could include a request for Canadian involvement. According to Defense Minister Peter MacKay, the Canadian government is “contemplating what contribution Canada could make.” International Cooperation Minister added that “Canada remains very concerned about the situation in Mali, [but] we do not anticipate going there.” More concrete details will likely surface after tomorrow’s meeting.
November 21, 2012
A national population and housing census will take place in Bolivia today, the first in the country in 11 years. Ahead of the survey, President Evo Morales has imposed a general curfew, which restricts private traffic, bans alcohol and closes the country's borders during the day. Exceptions to the curfew include government officials, diplomats, journalists and medical personnel.
The objective of the measure is to recount the country's population to better assess its needs. "The census is not for the government, it is for the people, especially for the future generations,” Morales said. Under the current Bolivian constitution, a census must take place every 10 years. The country has held 10 such surveys since independence in 1826.
According to the National Institute of Statistics (Instituto Nacional de Estadistica⎯INE) Bolivia’s population was of 8,274,325 inhabitants for the 2001 census. Estimates indicate that the population has grown to nearly 11 million.
The results from the census will lead to changes in the number of representatives in the legislative body. At the same time, some communities fear that they may be underrepresented in this year’s count, which will restrict their access to resources in the future. Given the important implications for years to come, the census has triggered more than 80 disagreements over the municipal borders that will help to define specific population areas. On Monday, Morales clarified that the objective of the census is not to solve territorial conflicts but to update information on the number of inhabitants and their needs.
Today the INE will mobilize 217,000 canvassers and will have the support of 36,000 police officers and the armed forces to carry out the national census. All Bolivians, including foreigners who reside in the country or are visiting, must remain at home and participate. Those who fail to abide by the curfew will be subject to a fine.
September 13, 2012
Hundreds of Bolivian miners are continuing to block road access to La Paz in an escalating standoff between miners and the Bolivian government over access to the Colquiri tin and zinc mine. The Bolivian government expropriated the Colquiri mine from the Swiss company Glencore in June, leading to a dispute over which Bolivian mining groups should take over.
On Monday, a group of protesting miners set up blockades on three major roads leading into La Paz. The protesters, from the Federación Departamental de Cooperativas Mineras de La Paz (Fedecomin), are protesting their exclusion from the Colquiri mine by a rival group.
At the same time, miners employed by the state-run Bolivian Mining Corporation (Comibol) are currently blocking access to Colquiri. They have announced plans to march to La Paz to demand that the government prevent other mining groups from tapping into the mine’s richest vein, known as the Rosario vein.
Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero urged the rival groups to remain peaceful, saying that they “can’t deny each other’s rights and exclude each other as if they were irreconcilable enemies.” Romero unsuccessfully attempted to organize a dialogue with the protesting miners on Tuesday, but the Fedecomin miners said that they would only consent to negotiate with Bolivian President Evo Morales himself, with whom they have requested a meeting.
“We will only talk with President Evo Morales. Anything less makes no sense because the Minister does not have decision-making power,” said Fedecomin President Miguel Manuel Cañaja.
The Fedecomin miners said they will not end their blockade of Bolivia’s roads until the “salaried” miners employed by the government agree to lift their blockade of the Colquiri mine and let other groups in.
The government has asked the miners to cease their respective blockades, citing concerns that some of the protesters on both sides of the dispute have dynamite in their possession. Meanwhile, transport workers have begun to clash with the protesters, who are blocking their routes.
President Morales has asked the warring factions to respect each other’s rights: “Both sectors…have constitutional rights and have an obligation to understand each other and work together to exploit the natural resources that are so important for Bolivians.”
July 11, 2012
El año 2009 visité Yungas de Vandiola en Cochabamba, Bolivia, colindante por el costado sur con el Chapare, el mayor centro de producción de hoja coca en Bolivia. Allí vivía Silvia, dirigente cocalera.
Silvia me contó que el ahora gobernador de Cochabamba, Edmundo Novillo, paisano de la zona y miembro del partido de Evo Morales había prometido tierras a nuevos cocaleros como parte de la campaña política del MAS. Promesa cumplida. Porque esos colonos ingresaron a Yungas de Vandiola a plantar coca y el año 2006 se armó la grande dejando como saldo dos muertos. Lugareños contra colonizadores. Pero como Yungas de Vandiola es extraña -y sospechosamente diría yo- un lugar casi olvidado, nadie hizo demasiado caso.
Ahora que el centro de atención es el Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Sécure (TIPNIS) pienso en Silvia y en Yungas de Vandiola. Porque lo que ocurre con el TIPNIS es básicamente lo mismo. Aunque detrás del TIPNIS hay todavía mucho más que desatar pero eso vendrá después. Ahora sucede que los cocaleros del Chapare y nuevos colonos afines al presidente Evo Morales, esperan -como en Yungas de Vandiola- ampliar la frontera para el cultivo de hoja coca invadiendo cada vez más el TIPNIS.
Esos cocaleros, ingresados al TIPNIS como hormiguitas, poco a poco, durante los últimos 40 años, han conformado lo que se llama el Polígono 7. A estos nuevos habitantes, los indígenas “originarios” del TIPNIS no los reconocen como miembros de su territorio. Pero es a ellos a quienes el gobierno de Morales quiere incluir sí o sí, como condición para “negociar” con los indígenas del TIPNIS que hace 15 días llegaron a La Paz en su IX marcha luego de más de dos meses de caminata para hablar con el Presidente Morales que finalmente no los recibió. ¿Qué pedían los indígenas? Que el gobierno desista de su intención de construir una carretera que pase por el medio del TIPNIS para lo cual busca realizar una consulta “previa” a todos sus habitantes -originarios y cocaleros recién llegados- ¿Para qué? Depende. Desde la versión del gobierno, para llevar desarrollo a la región. Y desde la versión de los indígenas del TIPNIS para posibilitar el desarrollo de la coca destinada al narcotráfico.
May 2, 2012
Bolivian President Evo Morales on Tuesday announced his intention to nationalize a majority of the country’s electricity transmission system, which is currently administered by a number of private-sector companies. Transportadora de Electricidad S.A., part of the Spanish multinational, Grupo Red Electrica de España, holds a 74 percent stake in Bolivia’s electric grid and administers approximately 1,720 miles of high voltage lines. The remaining 26 percent of the grid is owned by individual domestic and foreign companies serving specific regions of the country.
The government justified this decision by characterizing as insufficient the $81 million that firms have spent on maintaining and expanding the grid over the past 16 years. In a press conference in La Paz’ Palacio Quemado, Morales said, “we are nationalizing the Transportadora de Electricidad in the name of the Bolivian people as homage to the workers who fought for the recovery of our natural resources and basic services.” The decree also said that the shareholders of the affected companies will be compensated, but did not specify exactly how.
This latest move is part of a larger trend in Bolivia toward nationalization that began in 2006 and has affected numerous sections, including hydrocarbons, telecommunications and agriculture. The Morales government considers certain “basic services”—energy, water and telecommunications—to be strategically vital and subject to state ownership.
There is likely to be swift condemnation by foreign investors in the region, particularly in light of recent moves to by the Cristinia Fernández de Kirchner government in Argentina to nationalize that country’s largest energy firm, YFP.