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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Sunday, November 09, 2003

More on Morales

For little gringo me, figuring what's going on in Bolivia is like one of those TV stunts where Joe Public is blindfolded, placed in front of an animal, and invited to identify it by touch. He thinks he's got hold of an elephant's trunk - but, boy is he mistaken...

All the fun of the fair. And a key element is to decipher the mystery that is cocalero leader Evo Morales. The cartoon hypothesis is that he is Mr Nice to Felipe Quispe's Mr Nasty: that he's either working a Mutt and Jeff with Quispe, or that he's genuinely available to be sheared off the socialo-indigenista juggernaut with a government go-slow on coca eradication.

As more information comes in to Gringo Central, this crude and (most likely) inaccurate jury-rig will gradually be replaced by something a little more reliable.

An op-ed piece in La Epoca (November 9) by one Sergio Calerio is suggestive.

Its pitch is that
En Bolivia hay cierto tipo de políticos que surgen más por reacción que acción propia y terminan protagonizando el escenario sin que ellos mismos se lo hayan propuesto de ese modo...

President Carlos Mesa it figures to be of this leader by reaction breed. And also Brer Morales:
resulta aún más peligroso el panorama cuando estos líderes (surgidos por sus propios antagonistas) se confunden y terminan creyendo que su ascenso es por mérito propio, parece que esto le pasó a Evo Morales, quien no ha dejado de equivocar el camino desde que las urnas le dieron ese histórico segundo puesto.

Morales was beaten into second place by Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada in the 2002 presidential elections: but since a majority of votes cast was not achieved, the Bolivian constitution provided that the Congress should decide between the top two. They voted for Sánchez de Lozada.

It then mentions an incident that antedated my interest in the country: the election by the Congress of Defensor del Pueblo Iván Zegada, during the night of October 3/4. I'm not inclined to sweat blood over the details: but it does seem that the supposed vice of the proceeding was that it was an example of cuoteo [1] - of allocating administrative posts on the basis of party affiliation (Zegada was a member of the largest party, and leading member of the governing coalition, the MNR [2]). Other posts were, if I understand it aright, filled at the same time by people with affiliations to other coalition parties.

The piece accuses Morales of opportunism and grandstanding in the Zegada case,
asumiendo el papel de conductor para los medios televisivos extranjeros de una movilización que no la inició, ni la dirigió.

And, once Sánchez de Lozada [3] had gone,
en varias entrevistas ha repetido sus exigencias al nuevo Gobierno en tono de advertencia, obligando prácticamente a Carlos Mesa a convertirse en militante del MAS.

Now, it's scarcely Morales' fault that Mesa's (apparent) indigenophile and populist tendencies set up a sort of political howlback - I see some very Tony Blair need to be loved there - that can be exploited by a canny peasant pol.

And, if Sr Calerio is really expecting statesmanship from Morales, no doubt he's barking up the wrong tree.

But it seems to me there is a genuine point in what he's saying: business as usual in Bolivian politics has struck out - not for the first time. The batter expected at the plate at this point - the military - is, it seems, in no mood to step up [4]. And the street opposition isn't yet in possession of a bat.

There's a vacuum of power, legitimacy and authority in government in Bolivia - and the likes of Morales, though they might not be able to fill the vacuum, might cause enough trouble that it's filled by something undesirable.

The piece ends, perhaps rather fancifully, saying of Morales that
de él depende no la eficacia y la permanencia del nuevo Gobierno, depende que este país se resquebraje o conviva, de él depende que no se militarice y lo que es peor, de Evo Morales depende dar la excusa para una intervención internacional

(Which power exactly will want to intervene in Bolivia, I wonder?)

Has he got it in him to ditch the current Prince Hal persona and turn himself into Henry V? I doubt it. I sense another Al Sharpton: a spoiler whose attraction to his own people is the way he gets their enemies among the Great and Good willingly and crassly to jump Jim Crow.

A key indication will be whether lasting alliances can be formed amongst the street opposition: working together to bring down a government is one thing, doing the same to shape a new government (even from outside the parliamentary process) involves the sort of compromise, controlling one's own ego and stroking those of others, administrative and policy expertise that - my hypothesis - Morales does not have and never will.

What I am still lacking [5] is any detailed examination of the relationship between the various elements of the street opposition - going beyond the fact that Morales and peasant leader Felipe Quispe can't stand each other!

Fortunately, the situation in Bolivia looks like a slow burner. With any luck, by the time it catches fire, I'll be better prepared!

  1. A similar arrangement pertaining in Austria is, I believe, known as Proporz. The same system also applies (or applied) in Belgium - where it mightily assisted the infamous Marc Dutroux in evading the authorities.

  2. He has since resigned.

  3. Which I find myself cut/pasting - three cheers for Mesa on typing convenience grounds, if no other!

  4. My October 31 piece has links to suggestions that the military is as split as civil society. They have enough sense not to break the (unique for Bol?) unbroken 21 year run of civilian rule without being united behind a good man and a good reason.

  5. Which is not saying it's not out there, merely that I haven't registered it!

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