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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
A Bolivian judge, Iván Córdova, on Thursday decided to postpone the planned arrest of opposition figure and Santa Cruz Governor Rubén Costas on contempt of court charges. Costas’ arrest warrant was issued after he failed to appear in court to face accusations brought earlier this year by Bolivian Vice President Alvaro García Linera that Costas has accepted illicit funding from drug trafficking groups while in office. In explaining his decision, Judge Córdova cited unspecified legal issues raised by Costas’ defense team.
Opponents of President Evo Morales claim that the charges against Costas are politically motivated and designed to prevent him from publicly denouncing Morales administration policies. They cite evidence of a similar strategy last year to unseat opposition governors in Tarija (southern Bolivia) and in the northeast region of Beni.
The government has denied accusations that the legal problems plaguing prominent opposition figures are politically motivated and are demanding that the case against Costas proceed.
Indigenous leaders who represent the Comité Técnico de la Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas de Bolivia (CIDOB) will meet with the Bolivian government today to discuss implementation of the ley corta, which cancelled construction of the controversial Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos road in the Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Sécure (TIPNIS). In October, President Evo Morales signed the ley corta—which declares TIPNIS a protected zone where no economic project can take place—after protesters and a congressional commission failed to solve their disagreement over construction of the road.
At the meeting, it is expected that Indigenous leaders will express their fear that President Morales will modify the ley corta and not respect its original structure. Rafael Quispe, representative of the Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Marcas del Qollasuyo (Conamaq) said Indigenous leaders will demand that President Morales and Vicepresident Álvaro García Linera step down if the ley corta is not respected. Quispe and other leaders reacted after César Navarro, the viceminister for coordination of social movements, said last week that the national government will “consider every request to modify the ley corta,” which leaves the door open to change the law. Navarro added that TIPNIS inhabitants do not represent the demands of other social groups that support building the road between the departments of Beni and Cochabamba.
The local government of Beni has designed an alternative project that would allow the road to be built without undermining the Amazonian territory’s environmental and social integrity. “The proposal suggests building the road around the TIPNIS,” said Yanine Añez, senator of Convergencia Nacional.
The Brazilian government—the main financial source of the project—has argued through its Ambassador in La Paz, Marcel Biato, that “it is in our [Brazil’s] interest to find an alternative that accommodates political, developmental, and environmental concerns.”
Bolivians appear to have delivered a sharp rebuke to President Evo Morales, according to unofficial, partial results from Sunday’s election to choose 56 top judicial officials. A preliminary count by the opinion polling firm Ipsos Apoyo found that 46 to 48 percent of voters had cast null votes, and an estimated 20 percent of Bolivians abstained, though voting is compulsory. Full results are unlikely to be known for several days.
Bolivian voters went to the polls to choose 28 national judges and 28 other members of the judiciary in the vote yesterday. Many of the candidates were female and/or Indigenous. Until now, these judges were chosen directly by Congress. Morales’ government said the elections were meant to reform the judicial system and give greater power to Bolivia’s Indigenous majority. The opposition contended that the election would result in diminished independence of the judiciary, since the candidates on the ballot were chosen by a Congress dominated by Morales’ Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party.
Opposition politicians also urged voters to boycott the elections as a sign of their general discontent with Morales’ recent policies. If the preliminary results hold, they would represent the Indigenous president’s first electoral defeat in his presidency of six years. Morales was re-elected by a landslide in 2009 and plans to run for a third term in 2014. However, his popularity has decreased since then. Last year, he attempted to end gasoline subsidies but had to reverse his decision after spurring nationwide protests. This year, discontent has risen. Police recently broke up a protest march over plans to build a $420 million highway through Indigenous lands in the Amazon; even now, more than 1,000 protesters are headed toward La Paz.
At a press conference Monday night, Morales said he was pleased with turnout in the election and blamed the high number of null votes on missing information. “Those who tried to boycott these elections failed,” he said.
After negotiations with a legislative dialogue commission failed over the weekend, Indigenous protesters from the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS) restarted their march toward La Paz today. A month ago the Amazonian natives started a 603-kilometer (375-mile) march from Trinidad to protest the construction of a 305-kilometer (190-mile) highway that would cut the TIPNIS territory in half. The protests emerged in response to concerns over the lack of prior consultation regarding the potential environmental and social impacts resulting from the $415 million-road—a project mainly financed by the Brazilian government. The protesters now demand that the entire contract be nullified.
The dialogue commission was proposed after September 25, when President Morales tried to end the march. Following orders from the government, around 500 police officers used tear gas and truncheons against marchers who were in the city of Yucumo, 350 kilometers (217 mile) from La Paz. Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti and his deputy resigned as a result. Yoriko Yasukawa, the UN local representative, lamented the events and made a call to resolve the conflict through dialogue.
The meeting between Mendoza and TIPNIS protesters resulted in a four-article bill that will suspend the construction of the second stretch of the road until the native communities are consulted. Unsatisfied over the bill—which needs to go to the Senate for approval—Indigenous protesters rejected the proposal and now demand that the contract be nullified through a law. “We want all laws that gave way to this project to be abolished; we want to start all over again,” said Fernando Vargas, an Indigenous leader.
This happens at the same time that more than 2,000 people—mainly coca growers—march from Calamarca (60 kilometers south from La Paz) to La Paz in support of President Morales and against the TIPNIS communities. César Navarro—vice minister for the coordination of social movements and the person who mediates the relationship between the government and pro-government unions—said the march “will deepen the process of change and tell President Evo he’s not alone.” In an interview with TeleSur, Navarro insisted that “behind the TIPNIS demonstrations there are other political interests from people in and outside Bolivia.”
Two of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ top cabinet officials have tendered their resignation after an aggressive national backlash resulted from Sunday’s police intervention of a protest by Indigenous groups. The crackdown by Bolivian riot police over the weekend, using tear gas and clubs, was classified as “violent repression” by witnesses and observers in the press.
On Monday, Defense Minister Cecilia Chacon stepped down from Morales’ cabinet because of her disagreement with the government’s decision to break up the protest—a 600-kilometer (375-mile) march from Trinidad to La Paz. Participants in the march protested a highway scheduled to be built through TIPNIS, the acronym for an Indigenous territory and protected nature reserve.
After the protest fallout on Sunday, a local referendum was called by the government where Amazonian groups could vote on the proposed highway. Still, dissatisfaction over the events was underscored when Sacha Llorenti, Bolivia’s interior minister and a fierce loyalist to the president, resigned yesterday. Llorenti denied that neither he nor Morales ordered the police action, despite originally defending it. Prior to leading the interior ministry, Llorenti had been the vice minister of coordination with social movements—Morales’ key liaison with Indigenous groups.
Wilfredo Chavez and Ruben Saavedra were sworn in yesterday at the government palace in La Paz to replace Llorenti and Chacon, respectively. Chavez was promoted from vice minister of government coordination, while Saavedra was the head of the Strategic Office of Maritime Access and a former defense minister.