Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bolivia's Evo Morales Faces Credibility Crisis

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, Bolivian President Evo Morales has suspended the construction of the highway crossing the Isiboro-Secure Indigenous Territory National Park (TIPNIS), which caused massive protests on Monday. However, the political fallout from the harsh police crackdown continues. Immediately after the incident, in which around 500 police officers raided a protest camp and detained several indigenous protestors, Defense Minister Cecilia Chacon resigned in protest. The director of Bolivia's migration agency, Maria Rene Quiroga, also resigned yesterday, and was soon followed by Interior Minister Sacha Llorenti, who has publicly been blamed for the harsh repression. For his part, Llorenti has claimed that claimed that he did not order the police response, blaming it instead on Deputy Minister Marcos Farfan, who also stepped down on Tuesday.

But although these high-level officials claimed to have no part in ordering the intervention, evidence suggests that it was in fact ordered by members of Evo’s cabinet. According to a government document obtained by La Razon, the intervention was requested by Justice Minister Nilda Copa, her vice minister, and two Interior Ministry officials acting on behalf of Llorenti. So far Copa remains in office, but as Bolivian press turns against her it is unclear how long she will continue to do so.

According to the Andean Information Network’s Kathryn Ledebur, this kind of suppression represents an “turning point” for the Morales administration, as it shows a tremendous disconnect between his government and the largely indigenous social movements that have formed a major part of his base. Under the new Bolivian constitution, indigenous groups must be consulted in development projects undertaken on their territory, something that the four indigenous communities in the region say the government has not carried out.

Instead of unilaterally forcing the project, the Morales government has announced that it will hold a referendum in Cochabamba and Beni, where the highway would be constructed, in order to determine whether it will go forward. While this at first glance appears to be a major concession to the demands of the protestors, Ledebur claimed in a WOLA podcast yesterday that it does not amount to a true consultation with indigenous groups. The majority of voters are not members of the affected groups, and are thus likely to support the highway.

Whether or not the TIPNIS project is approved, there can be no doubt that the weeks of protests against it have damaged Morales’ reputation. Despite the murky constitutionality of a re-election bid, Morales has claimed that he will run again for president in 2015, but his support seems to have dwindled in recent weeks. According to a recent poll by Bolivia’s El Dia, Morales’ popularity fell seven points in September, from 44 to 37 percent.

News Briefs

·         In other Bolivia news, Harvard’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies has published its Fall 2011 issue of ReVista: The Harvard Review of Latin America. Bolivia is the central focus of the journal, which focuses on a number of different political, environmental and economic trends in the country. Particularly relevant is Miguel Centellas’s piece, “Beyond Caudillos,” which focuses on the development of democratic political processes in Bolivia.

·         The AP reports on Haitian President Michel Martell’s plans to restore the country’s military, which was disbanded in 1995. The wire agency has obtained a government document that reportedly details a plan to spend $95 million to train an initial force of 3,500 troops, with the goal of eventually replacing the UN peacekeeping force in the country. 

·         In an indicator of his lingering influence, two supporters of Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier stormed an Amnesty International press conference yesterday, which was held to present a report which detailed torture, murder and other crimes committed by state officials during his regime. According to the AP, the Duvalier supporters brought the event to a halt, and eventually intimidated victims into refraining from giving testimony.

·         U.S. presidential candidate Michelle Bachman raised eyebrows earlier this week by controversially claiming that the Hezbollah, the Islamic insurgency based in Lebanon, had set up training camps in Cuba. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Minnesota congresswoman cited “reports” which show that the group could potentially establish “missile sites or weapons sites” just 90 miles south of Florida. Both the source and credibility of these reports remain unclear, to put it mildly. Not to worry, however: Bachman maintains that she is the candidate “who understands problems that are going on internationally.”

·         The Confederation of Students of Chile (which represents 25 student federations among the country’s main universities) has accepted the government’s call to dialogue, the AFP reports, but said it will continue to call on its members to refrain from attending classes. The government has been hit hard by the protests, and has recently attempted to cast itself as more sympathetic to their demands. In a recent UN speech, President Sebastián Piñera said the students were protesting for “a noble, grand and beautiful cause.” However, it seems these recent attempts have not affected his abysmal approval ratings. According to a recent Centro de Estudios de la Realidad Contemporánea (CERC) poll, only 22 percent of Chileans support the leader.

·         Prensa Latina reports that Honduran general Romeo Vasquez Velasquez will run in the country’s general elections as the presidential candidate of Alianza Patriótica Hondureña party. The article claims that his advisers are instructing him to leave his position at the head of the state-owned Honduran Telecommunications (Hondutel). These same advisers are also reportedly warning him of the possibility that his decision to run could spark legal action against his role in the 2009 coup, in which he directed the armed forces and was denounced by several human rights organizations. Although this has not been confirmed by local press, Honduras Culture and Politics notes that this is a sign that “the coup and its aftermath clearly changed the role of the military in modern Honduras.”

·         El Universal reports that the Mexican Supreme Court is assessing the constitutionality of a statewide ban on abortions in Baja California. The court has ruled in favor of abortions in the past, but it is unclear where each of its members stand on the issue of a ban. According to the Mexican paper, the position of the court is expected to be made clear later today.

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