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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Saturday, November 08, 2003

Bolivia: some getting down to nuts and bolts...

As we get ready for more hoopla at the Ibero-American Summit and its Siamese twin, the Cumbre Social [1], the task of delivering on the promises made by Mesa - reminiscent of the infamous pledge card, Tony Blair's gimmick for the 1997 General Election - is, it seems, getting underway.

A couple of thoughtful pieces in La Epoca: firstly, on the binding referendum on the proposal to export natural gas to the US and Mexico (in liquefied form - LNG) via a pipeline running to a Chilean port. There are two schools of thought, it seems: one lot would prefer a comprehensive national oil and gas policy to be developed first. The suggestion is that the US-Mexico export scheme will require large investments, for high-volume, low-price sales. It may be better to look to neighbouring countries to take the gas.

[In my November 6 piece, I mentioned that gas had been discovered in Brazil. Quite what the potential export market is amongst Bolivia's neighbours, I have no idea.]

The other school sees the referendum as a political tool - to assuage Chile-ophobic opinion in the country. Rather than let in Morales and Co with arguments that the gringo-lovers were making the referendum complicated to bamboozle the Bolivian people in the service of their political masters up north, they want just two questions: export, yes or no; and, if yes, through Chile or Peru.

There is also the question of revising the (allegedly inadequate) tax and royalty regime I mentioned in the November 6 piece.

The second piece discusses areas to be deal with in the proposed constituent assembly which will consider revisions to the Bolivian constitution.

The definition of the nation in the constitution is problematic, given the degree of ethnic diversity, and the current Big Mo that the Indians have in the Bolivian polity. The piece picks up a quote which I've seen several times, from Bolivian writer René Zabaleta:
Bolivia es una nación no nación

Allied to the definition question is that of devolution. I've mentioned before (October 31) the desire in the departments of Santa Cruz (the (relatively) rich lowland agribusiness area) and Tarija (where most of the gas reserves are) for refundación of the republic, with the not so veiled threat of secession as an encouragement.

Meanwhile, Carlos Mesa enjoyed a phone call with George Bush on Thursday, according to Scott McClelland in his intro at the November 7 gaggle [2]. Reads to me like a friendly warning not to go native - as it were - and backslide on coca to work a divide and rule with Morales.

And the gaggle? On Bolivia, not a honk.

And on the lynching in Cochabamba department (my piece yesterday) there have been developments (here and here, for instance). I'll certainly not be giving a play-by-play; but it's worth noting that the security forces seem unhurried in rounding up suspects and breaking out the cattle-prods [3]; the police spokesman says semana próxima, cuando los ánimos estén más tranquilos, se intentará tomar entrevistas a los primeros testigos que se pueda hallar.

And a campesina is quoted as justifying the lynching as a response to rampant crime on the road in question - and suggesting that it was far from being the first in the locality:
Traen a empleadas y mujeres y las hacen gritar, a veces botan sus cuerpos al botadero de basura. Lloramos cuando vemos esas cosas y a veces la gente de Vinto o Sipe Sipe [villages close by] los persigue hasta aquí.

The rest of the piece suggests that she's a pretty unreliable witness - but it's another suggestion that there may be a culture of lynching in Bolivia - quod erat demonstrandum.

  1. President Carlos Mesa is planning to attend both, according to Reuters (November 8) - and cocalero leader Evo Morales is being invited to sit with the grownups at the main summit. Morales has promised to play nice - no globalofóbico stunts to embarrass the Prez - but, then, I dare say he has friends with plausible deniability.

  2. Who invented the word, I wonder? Scarcely flattering either to the geese doing the pecking or the guy getting pecked!

  3. British readers of a certain age may recall the Hancock's Half Hour 'threatening letters' episode; when told by Hancock that the latest letter said that he was next on the list of victims, the policeman - played by Kenneth Williams - was moved to suggest Hancock ask his correspondent to move him further down the list!


Someone really ought to send Mesa a copy of Somerville and Ross' Irish RM books. These minor classics of English literature retail the floundering of a well-meaning but uncomprehending Englishman sent as a sort of Gauleiter to a part of rural 19th century Ireland, whose charming yet determined residents proceed to run rings around him. They provide, in an entertaining way, a salutary warning to rulers everywhere not to assume that goodwill to the peasantry will be returned in kind!

(I, of course, know vastly less than Mesa about his peasantry: in fact, nothing to speak of. But then, I'm not trying to run to the country...)

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