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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Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Bolivia pantomime: bottom rail on top?

[Scroll down for half a dozen pieces on Bolivia in the last few days.]

The excellent Miguel of La Paz has a couple of thoughtful pieces on new President Carlos Mesa's problems with legitimacy and authority - the perils of populism as a substitute for both - and on the victorious extraparliamentary groups racheting up their demands:
El Alto [La Paz's slum city twin] wants a new international airport. Evo [Morales] demands an immediate end to coca eradication. [Jaime] Solares (leader of the COB, the Bolivian Workers Federation) demands an abrogation of a constitutional provision that allows workers to join or not join unions. Essentially, he'd turn the country into a closed-shop, w/ all workers answering directly to the COB.

The cocaleros under Morales, the peasants under Felipe Quispe, the workers under Solares - they've got the Big Mo, it seems, and Mesa - having decided that to cut himself off from party political allegiance, and hold the pols at arm's length - has only one place to turn.

A CNN Español piece describes a scene pretty close to a real-live English pantomime (rather than the metaphorical kind rather commoner in politics in the Mother Country):
En un masivo acto en la Plaza San Francisco, en el centro de La Paz, en el que sorpresivamente se presentó el mandatario para escuchar las demandas indígenas, varios de los principales dirigentes del reciente alzamiento popular dejaron claro que si no se cumplían sus reivindicaciones volverían a las calles.

I suspect that Mesa (bio) was not exactly in his element: here, pretty much, was the manpower equivalent of tanks on his lawn. And Felipe Quispe was on hand to drive the point home:
El presidente puede ser nuestro amigo. Pero puede ser nuestro amigo si cumple todo lo que le pedimos.

And he had some wily-peasant shtick to wow the crowd and put quintessentially middle-class professional man Mesa one down:
Quispe pidió a los manifestantes que se quitaran los sombreros y en tono muy ceremonial intentó hacer jurar al presidente que iba a cumplir con sus demandas, pero el mandatario, un ex periodista e historiador de gran capacidad oratoria, esquivó el desafío entre sonrisas y, a cambio, habló ante los manifestantes.

With one word from Quispe, the massed ranks doff their hats and Mesa swears to love, honour and obey (chiefly the latter) [1].

The Prez, to judge from his reply, has cojones:
Yo les mentiría si les prometo cosas que no voy a cumplir.

Which, being translated, is, I should coco! He won the crowd round, it says, from whistling to applauding him.

And then he played the big, fat race card (and to think I was getting to like the guy's style!):
Soy un mestizo que quiere a Bolivia. Por eso he venido a pedirles que pacifiquemos al país.

(For the record, the guy's face is mostly hidden by a great, partly white beard [2].)

I get the impression of a Mr Smith Goes To Washington with a salsa beat: a guy with no party political background who thinks politics is usual is both corrupt and dispensable, and chooses to go amongst the people, cutting out the pesky middle-man of constitutions and elections, and such.

Miguel says that
One by one, vice ministers, prefects, ambassadors, and bureaucrats are resigning, despite appeals for them to stay.
Unsurprising, perhaps, given Mesa's apparent MO.

Res novae indeed in La Paz. He points to a piece in La Razón of La Paz in which
El líder del movimiento indigenista "etnocacerista" de Perú, el mayor en retiro Antauro Humala, aseguró ayer, desde Lima, que un número no precisado de reservistas del Ejército viajó a Bolivia para "apoyar" al movimiento que terminó con el gobierno de Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada.

I've no idea what the movimiento indigenista "etnocacerista" is - I can't even make head or tail of the word etnocacerista [3]. But the intervention must be cause for concern - even if it's only a handful of Peruvian 'jihadis' crossing the border for an activity holiday.

The Razón piece refers to the confrontation on September 20 at Warisata (which I mentioned on October 20) and says the Peruvian's story calls into question the Bolivian governments version of events at the confrontation it's not explict, but, if there were Peruvian army revolution tourists at Warisata (presumably with firearms), that would tend to explain the use of live ammo by Bolivian security forces. No comprendo.

Humala also mentions the magic words Sendero Luminoso - to whose current position in Peru I plead total ignorance. Is this like in the 1960s young guys from Liverpool pretending to live in the same street as the Beatles? Or are there serious links now forged between peasant organisations in Bolivia (like Quispe's CSUTCB) and Sendero?

Meanwhile, Al Giordano discusses
the proposal by coca growers that families be allowed to grow one "cato" (a 40-by-40 meter plot) of coca without being persecuted by police or invaded by the military.

Under Ley 1008, areas where coca has been traditionally grown (in Chaparé and the Yungas) for chewing or use as tea, a limited acreage is, or was, legally permitted - this summary dating from 1995 says 12,000 hectares.

Giordano quotes a piece suggesting that Mesa is prepared to negotiate on a cato for everyone. Miguel's pieces suggest Morales has racheted up to a full moratorium on eradication.

Which leads to the obvious question, what are the links between the Bolivian narcos and all these tribunes of the people: Morales, Quispe, Solares and co? Unlike, say, Cruz Bustamante, their campaigns don't have expensive TV spots to pay for. On the other hand, the organised crime/politics combo is utterly traditional all over (yet another field in which the norteamericanos led the world!).

And how far are these peasants groups in de facto control of rural areas? For instance, half of Colombia - more or less, dependent on the military situation - is outside the control of the government in Bogotá: how wide, and how deep, is the La Paz government's authority over areas of Bolivia out of easy reach of the main urban centres?

How is USG dealing with the new dispensation? A couple of sentences of boilerplate from the stand-in State Department spokesman (October 21) - otherwise, silence radio, so far as I can tell.

Finally, well worthwhile keeping an eye on Newley Purnell blogging from Ecuador, but with plenty of Bolivian goodness - and saying, I blush to say it, nice things about mine!

About Giordano's claim that President Luci Gutierrez of Ecuador could be next to go, he is sceptical.

  1. Another piece on what looks like the same meeting.
    Rechazó amablemente haber sido comparado previamente por el líder campesino Felipe Quispe con el conquistador español Francisco Pizarro, y dijo que prefiere compararse con el Marical Andrés de Santa Cruz, de madre indígena y fundador de la Confederación Bolivia-Perú en el siglo XIX, y se declaró "un mestizo que ama a Bolivia".
    Pizzaro! Another piece of peasant humour, surely?

  2. I've mentioned before - can't trace - the Mexican fetish of adoring all things Indian, embracing mestizaje (how unlike their nothern cousins!) but not being terribly keen on actual Indians. I'm not sure what the political dynamics of race are in Bolivia - beyond the cartoon Indians poor, whites rich. It's yet another thing on the To Watch Out For checklist.

  3. Cacerista is not in the RAE Dictionary.

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