Thursday, October 20, 2011

After Protesters Enter La Paz, What Next for Evo Morales?

Bolivia protesters entered the national capital yesterday, raising questions over what their next move might be. Just six hours after marchers rallied in the city’s center, President Evo Morales invited protest leaders to sit down and negotiate. La Razon says he was promptly struck down for failing to meet their demands about how the meeting should be conducted. BBC estimates there are 1,000 marchers; local media have reported double that number.

The demonstrators are rallying against the proposed construction of a road through the TIPNIS national park and indigenous land. NACLA provides excellent context to the unrest, laying out the protesters’ demands: that the government should annul its contract with a Brazilian construction company and permanently cancel the project.

As the Associated Press highlights, the marches point to the internal divisions within Bolivia’s heterogeneous indigenous population. The article implies that the protests are now fueled, in part, by the perception that Morales is more keen on protecting the interests of Bolivia’s “highland” Indian groups rather than the “lowland” indigenous in the Amazon. According to the AP, the Aymara and the Quecha dominate in Morales’ government. This may be partly a reflection of population dynamics: an estimated 70 percent of Bolivia’s population lives in the “highlands,” even though the Amazonian basin makes up more than half of Bolivia’s total territory. The divisions between Bolivia’s “highland” and “lowland” cultures have long made up part of its national psyche, so it would make sense if these tendencies emerged again during this latest round of unrest.

The question is whether there is enough political pressure on Morales for him to cede to the protesters. As Bloggings by Boz pointed out at the time, this is at least the fourth time this year that the government has backed down and given in to protesters’ demands, following a hostile initial response. What was unusual about the TIPNIS protests was the level of hostility police used against marchers, and the political fallout which resulted, including the resignation of two government ministers.

It is possible that the government’s abuse towards the demonstrators may have influenced the outcome of Bolivia’s referendum last Sunday, concerning the election of judges: 45% of voters allegedly abstained. The AP described it as Morales’ first defeat at the polls during his six years as president. It is hard to say how much of the abstention had to do with unhappiness with details of the judicial vote, or how much of it was an overall expression of discontent with the government. What is clear is that if Morales was facing a “test” among voters, he did not come out strong. Foreign Affairs has more analysis on Morales’ uncertain future, arguing that the TIPNIS controversy is emblematic of how the president has “lost his way.”

Marchers say they are not leaving La Paz until the government calls off the TIPNIS project completely. In wake of the ongoing tensions within his support base, as well as the apparent reprimand delivered by voters on Sunday, Morales may have to give in.

News Briefs

  • The LA Times highlights some new theories regarding the “paramilitary” group, the “Mata Zetas,” active in Veracruz state and apparently dedicated to harassing criminal gang the Zetas, with brutal results. Since the gang emerged after the government deployed new military forces to Veracruz in June, there is conjecture that the group is operating with indirect military support, possibly prompted by the June kidnapping and killing of three marine cadets.
  • Student protests in Santiago, Chile, saw an estimated turnout of 25,000, thanks to support from teacher and trade unions, reports AFP. The BBC details that the demonstration started peacefully, then broke down after police moved in and students began throwing rocks, burning buses and erecting barricades. The AP quotes a student leader who says a fringe group is using the violent tactics, which is weakening the students’ position and strengthening the government’s argument that the protesters are a radical minority, impossible to negotiate with.
  • IPS takes note of Argentina’s upcoming elections on Sunday, examining why the weakened opposition is expected to perform so pitifully against incumbent President Cristina Fernandez. As Reuters lays out, there are plenty of reasons why Fernandez’s economic policies, which emphasize social justice, are expected to result in an easy win. Wall Street Journal columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady, meanwhile, argues that these “dysfunctional” politics are actually a loss for Argentina’s economy.
  • A health expert told the Associated Press that Haiti now has the highest rate of cholera in the world, a year after the disease was introduced to the island. The country is preparing to test a new cholera vaccine, amid declarations by medical officials that the epidemic is still going strong.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies published a report on the resurgence of Mexico’s PRI party and the implications for the 2012 presidential elections. The reports argues that evern since winning a Congressional majority in 2009, the PRI has managed to “prepare a path towards electoral victory” by pushing federal funds towards the areas and programs most needed to attract voters.
  • In WOLA’s most recent podcast, Senior Associate Adam Isacson speaks with Josiah Heyman, a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, about U.S. border policy and the impact on El Paso communities. For another look at border issues, a brief documentary by SnagFilms examines a Mexican town where residents have created a theme-park event: a simulated border crossing where participants must enlist “coyotes” to their aid, and try avoid the actors playing the Border Patrol.
  • InSight Crime details the saga of a 50-year family feud in northeast Brazil, thought to behind 95 homicides so far this year in one of Brazil’s most violent states. The conflict draws attention to the insecurity and contraband trade so prevalent in rural Brazil, even as the government has tried to promote its efforts to reduce crime in urban centers.
  • The Dominican Republic will deport thousands of illegal migrants, many of them Haitian, under the terms of a new law, reports the AP. In counterpoint, the Miami Herald has a feature on how Dominican baseball players, attempting to migrate to play in the U.S., successfully forge their paperwork in order to win contracts with U.S. teams.