Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Brinkmanship In Bolivia

The game is on!!

President Mesa with little institutional support seems to be trying to ride out the storm.

To some extent the opposition is helping him. The 'popular' movement is split. Evo Morales and the MAS leadership are in a strange position. He had no hand in the new gas and oil law, which was drafted by the 'traditional' opposition to Mesa (i.e. the vaguely leftish and center right parties). MAS' own proposal, called for an increase in royalties from 18 to 50 percent, and was not really discussed by the legislature, possibly by Evo's being out of the country. It seemed to be Evo's own form of 'compromise legislation', vis a vis the Aymara nationalists and labor unions who want nationalization.

My personal opinion is that he was trying to adopt a more 'conciliatory' line, in order to sell himself both as a traditional Bolivian power broker to the old school 'politicos' and as a statesman in eyes of foreign investors and governments. That puts him squarely in the traditional Bolivian 'caudillo' mold; guys with the street smarts and gut instinct of Chicago alderman, and who can turn on a dime. Paz Estensorro, Juan Lechin, and Jaime Paz Zamora, were all considered very radical at some point or another, but ended up going quite mainstream in the end.

But Evo may have overplayed his hand. His clout in large part comes from being able to mobilize the Altiplano peasantry, the miners, unions, (in other words a good chunk of what passes for the Aymara nationalists) as well as assorted Pace~os. These are the guys out in the street right now. And they are ticked off at Evo, because he hasn't come out 100 percent for nationalization. How does Evo get control of the movement again? At this point his feeble attempts at getting the legislature in session to grab some headlines is being undercut by the president.

Paradoxically, this disconnect between Evo from the protesters, can also kill the popular sectors momentum. They have no realistic objectives to attain, and no real agenda, they are turning into a general 'screw all politicians' movement. Mesa knows Bolivian history and he may be counting on that happening. Aymara nationalism in the past has involved big blowups which dissipate soon after - as the revolts at the end of the 19th century show. But still the president is playing it right to the limit, the Santa Cruz autonomy movement, is another factor to consider, which threatens to cut off the country.