The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, October 27, 2003

Bolivia: more useful sources

The sort of moronic cartoon commentary in resolute opposition to which the Plawg stands is supplied by the photogenic and ubiquitous Naomi Klein in the Guardian today. Referring to the immediate past president, she says
Fortunately for Mr Sanchez de Lozada, there are plenty of other Miami residents who know just how shocking and shameful it feels to lose power to the leftwing resurgence in Latin America. So many, in fact, that he could form a local support group for sufferers of post-revolutionary stress disorder.

Clearly, the Catskills beckon!

Early indications from the preliminary copytasting I've managed on some of the (PDF) material online confirms that Bolivia as a fascinating subject (even absent the possibility of its spearheading a continent-wide Red Revolution!) is well worth the investment of time.

Take, for example, Herbert Klein's Concise History of Bolivia [1] - which sketches the unusual geography of the country and its effects on its development from prehistoric times to just before the arrival of the Spanish. It has a useful diagram showing a section through the country - showing the altiplano - the high plateau, between two Andean ranges, where La Paz is located, falling away to the tropical regions of the east. And gives a flavour of the Aymara civilisation that preceded that of the Incas (or Quechuas).

(The relationship between the these two main Indian groups [2] is clearly critical - though I can't pretend to have done much more than grasped that salient detail! Clearly - at a connect the dots level - the whole thing screams divide and rule. Earlier pieces here have noted the mutual antipathy between Indian leaders Felipe Quispe - identified with the Aymaras - and Evo Morales - identified with the Quechuas. (Clearly. that's a cartoon make-shift, pending a proper analysis!)

I've noted before the resentment of Bolivians towards Chile for having annexed the Atacama corridor - thereby depriving Bolivia of its Pacific coastline - following the Pacific War of 1879-84: I'm hypothesising that the fact that, five or six hundred years ago, the Ayamaras were conquered by the Incas/Quechuas (is Quechua some kind of euphemism?), there is a similar ill-feeling between the two - what do we call them? Tribes sounds wrong.

There might be a valid comparison to be made with the variety of anti-English sentiments to be found in the Celtic fringe: in the last two centuries (in general) it was only the Irish who found it necessary to express their loathing by actually killing Englishmen!), whereas the Scots nursed their hatred in peace, crying all the way to the bank to the proceeds of their imperial exploits - opportunities provided by the government in London.

Is Aymara-Quechua antipathy more like the Scots or the Irish attitude to the English?)

Klein's is a 2003 publication and a mere $14 from Amazon in paperback: to judge from the online extract, not a bad investment for those interested. (I see my local library has invested in a copy - here's to socialism!)

One of the issues one would expect to be critical in any sort of peasant insurrection would be what is euphemistically referred to as land reform. A useful summary of the history of land reform in Bolivia is in a World Bank paper Políticas de tierras: el caso de Bolivia. It seems that the haciendas were largely expropriated without compensation at the time of the 1952 revolution, but it seems to remain a live issue.

On the absurd War on Drugs, a July 2002 paper (PDF) Coca and Conflict in the Chapare from WOLA [3] has plenty of useful 5 Ws detail on the US-incited efforts of the Bolivian government to eradicate coca cultivation, and the reaction from the cocaleros.

There is a good deal of stuff on the Bolivian economy, but nothing close to being a primer. As always, the immediate problem is to get hold of aggregate statistics that are just detailed enough to be useful - and some studies not otherwise of immediate interest can be valuable for the statistical tables and charts they have.

For instance, there are a number of papers on the CAF site - use a Google filetype:pdf search to get at them. A paper [4] on indicators of competitivity in the Bolivian economy has tables, but also equations.

And there's a 2001 paper on foreign direct investment in Bolivia.

On the question of government institutions, the influence of Indian forms and methods on efforts to decentralise and devolve power is of interest: a 2000 paper and one from 2001 give a flavour. It seems at first glance that the existence of, and competition between, parallel structures of government at various levels may prove to be something of a theme: I can't be certain until I can move from surveying the material to actually reading some of the damned stuff!

On 'high politics', again there is some suggestive material: USAID's Modernizing Bolivia's Legislature paper [5]: useful recent history on Bol politics in this paper on relative stability since the last junta handed over to civilian rule in 1981 [6]. A paper on Gobernabilidad Democrática y Reforma Política en Bolivia and one entitled The Consolidation of Polyarchy in Bolivia, 1985-1997 dealing with much same period.

I can't pretend to have done much more with most of these papers than the equivalent of inspecting a tome on a visit to a secondhand bookshop [7]: they're just the most interesting of a pretty random selection produced by Mr Google, and warrant, if not deep study, then serious skimming!

  1. Actually, just the first 20 pages - it's just a sample!

  2. El Mundo of Madrid has a piece on the late unpleasantness (October 19) entitled La venganza de los incas - majoring on Quispe's contribution to events. It mentions that he is an Aymara - but, at first glance, seems to fail to point out that the Aymaras were not the Incas, but the folks they conquered.

  3. The Washington Office on Latin America - liberal-left but respectable, I surmise.

  4. Cordesman disease alert! Two versions of the same paper - here and here - they're different lengths, so you know that you miss stuff by looking only at one version!

  5. Other promising-looking stuff on this USAID page.

  6. As Gerry Adams once said about the IRA, they haven't gone away.

  7. Which is a knack which comes with practice, and can be remarkably effective in separating wheat from chaff in the space of a few seconds per volume.

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