Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Cuba: Running Out of Rum!!!

A.M. Mora has this item on Babalu,

This shows the insanity and total failure of the command economy, and the wretched lows the Castrista regime has sunk too.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Venezuela: Chavista Corruption in Caracas, Swiss Bank Shenanigans

Financial analyst and corporate specialist Kenneth Rijock has an article reprinted in Petroleum World., where he makes allegations about corruption close to Chavez. While some of it is clearly rumor and speculation, there are some very interesting and well-supported tidbits here.

Better Bank on It

The one that really caught my attention, was regarding Swiss Bank Vontobel. It operates in Caracas without a banking license, and does not mention a Caracas office in its web page list of foreign offices.
This makes me suspicious right at the start. Chavez is known for his power plays over foreign companies; Venezuelan authorities have been known to threaten shutdowns of local offices of multinationals, for small mistakes made in tax filings.

The author states, that someone making a deposit at the bank, gave Chavez associate Fernandez Barrueco as a reference, they were told that he is one of their best customers. Word has it, that the bank is the repository for the Chavista funny-money, conveniently allowing for direct deposits for accounts conveniently located in the Caymans or Switzerland.

- El banco privado suizo, Vontobel, que opera sin licencia en Caracas, es el depositario de grandes sumas de dinero provenientes de altos oficiales militares. Cuando una persona con intenciones de depositar su dinero en el banco, dio a Fernández Barrueco como referencia, el gerente del banco le comentó que Fernández era un cliente valioso. Lo curioso es que el banco no señala en ninguna parte que tenga una sucursal en Venezuela. Vontobel es el depositario designado para las “comisiones” legales provenientes del comercio, por parte de la élite bolivariana para su propio peculio.

Venezuela: Witness For Peace Visit Chavez' Personal.....PVDSA

USefull Idiots

Witness for Peace, which in the 80's distinguished itself for being among the shrillest apologists for the Marxist-Leninist Sandinista dictatorship, has now adopted the Chavez regime as its new pet idiotic regime:

By taking delegations to Venezuela in 2006, Witness for Peace seeks to play a preventative role and curb further overt or covert U.S. intervention in Venezuela. Witness for Peace’s history and credibility in navigating complex political situations in Latin America allows the organization a role in influencing U.S. policy in this politically polarized situation. Because of WFP’s commitment to political independence, our delegations to Venezuela will focus on U.S. policy and provide an opportunity for delegates to gain an independent analysis of the situation.

In furtherance of its "preventative" role, and to conduct its "independent analysis" the silly gringos visited PVDSA, the Oil and Gas company where they were told of how socially responsible the Company is. Of course socially responsible meaning a Chavista factory for new millionaries.

PDVSA recibió visita de activistas sociales estadounidenses

Petroleumworld Venezuela
Petroleumworld.com.ve 26 02 06

PDVSA recibió la visita de una delegación estadounidense perteneciente al grupo independiente Witness For Peace, quienes se encuentran en el país recabando información para realizar un análisis imparcial de la realidad nacional.

Witness for Peace busca cumplir un papel preventivo en la intervención de Estados Unidos en Venezuela. Su historia y credibilidad en el manejo de situaciones políticas complejas en Latinoamérica, generadas por la injerencia estadounidense en la región, obliga al grupo a cumplir una función preventiva y a consolidar su firme compromiso con la autodeterminación de los pueblos.

PDVSA informó a la delegación sobre los fondos petroleros que superan los 4 mil millones de dólares y que ha activado el Gobierno Bolivariano, a través de la Corporación, para el desarrollo social, agrícola e de infraestructura en el país.

Asimismo, los representantes de la industria petrolera nacional dieron a conocer la activación de desarrollos no petroleros por medio de los circuitos operacionales de la Industria, los cuales impulsarán el funcionamiento de los distritos sociales en Occidente y Oriente.

Bolivia: Arrest Warrant Against Repsol-YPF Rep.. Spain Not Happy

Bolivian authorities issued the equivalent of a warrant to capture Spanish-Argentinian multi-nationals head of Bolivian operations, Julio Gavito, for alleged contrband of 230,000 barrels of crude in the past two years. The investiation has been going on for the past six months, with the allegations widely used in the campaign.

The Spanish government has said it is "worried" about the situation, that it does not"contribute" to Spanish-Bolivian relations.

stories in Spanish, here and here.

La justicia boliviana lanzó ayer una orden de búsqueda y captura del representante de la compañía petrolera Repsol-YPF en el país, Julio Gavito, por presunto contrabando de 230.000 barriles de crudo entre junio de 2004 y junio de 2005, según publican páginas de Internet.

A couple of important things to remember.
In the U.S. adversarial system, police and prosecution investigate cases, bring charges, arrest suspects, and prosecute the case. They must petition judges to do such things as conduct searches and hold suspects. Defendants, conversely, have the right to counsel, and can challenge arrest warrants, searches, and charges at any stage. But Civil Code countries like Bolivia, judges do a lot of the initial. Once directed to do so by the government or congress, the Judges conduct the investigation, and have the defendants arrested and brought before them for questioning.


While Morales and the anti-globaloney tipes whined repeatedly about the American Multi-nationals and Bush,"evil" effects on Bolivia. it is actually Socialist governments in Brazil and Spain, that have been actively been trying to influence Bolivian policies on behalf of their multi-nationals.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Auto Racing: Unification of Open Wheel Racing At Hand?

This actually could be a reality, and I know I have said that tons of times before, here is the Autoweek story that broke this:

More than a decade after Tony George cut ties with CART and launched the Indy Racing League, after years of declining popularity and failed efforts to end the rift in Indy-style racing, all indicators suggest there is essential agreement to merge the IRL and Champ Car World Series for the 2007 season.

Turbos, and 50/50 ownership!

Points of agreement include 50/50 ownership of the merged series, which will be independent of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with George and Kalkhoven acting as co-chairmen. Both Honda (IRL) and Cosworth (Champ Car), with or without Ford badging, are in. Bridgestone is in as tire supplier, though it's not certain whether that would be with the Bridgestone or Firestone brand. There may already be agreement on more specific points, but those who know are unwilling to share that information for fear of scuttling the process or enflaming the sensitivities of self-interested parties in both camps before the deal is done.

Based on the current state of affairs, several other things are apparent. The more traditional 2.65-liter turbo V8 currently used in Champ Car seems the more likely choice, as opposed to the IRL's normally aspirated 3.5. Champ Car has a new chassis well into development with Panoz (one of the IRL's current suppliers), scheduled to debut in 2007.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Bolivia, Latin America: Chad, Development, Corruption, Washington Consensus, Part 1

According To Marcela Sanchez World Bank Admits It Is Wrong..

The reliably shrill Marcela Sanchez has an article about an apparent change in thinking at the World Bank. She goes over the conclusions of a new document issued by the Bank, in response to the failure of most Latin American countries to reverse income inequality.

Taking the "Washington Consensus" to task, she paints the report as some sort of rejection of free market reforms from the early 90's:

for more than 15 years it has focused on market reform policies, offering loans to countries that promised to lift trade barriers, deregulate and privatize industry and adopt austerity plans to stop deficit spending and reduce inflation. These reforms, which became known as the Washington Consensus, were supposed to unleash the economic potential of developing countries and spur growth. Growth, in turn, was to create opportunity for the destitute and lift them out of poverty.

Many Latin American countries took the loans and adopted the reforms. But the reforms themselves did not bring about the intended consequences. Latin America's performance has been disappointing, particularly in comparison to the dynamic economic growth and poverty reduction in Asian countries. The region now has "the highest measures of inequality in the world," with one-quarter of the population living on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank.

But, what about countries that did not follow the so-called Washington consensus? As a leading economist pointed out, Venezuela and Cuba, had even less improvements in living standards than the rest of Latin Amemerica. But, what is undsiputed here, is the fact that the glaring inequalities of incomes continue.

Finally, Sanchez "reports" on the Banks conclusions:

Two of their main conclusions are a breakthrough for the Bank: that private sector growth is not a panacea for the poor and that inequality must be targeted directly. A third conclusion is almost heretical for the Bank: that the state needs to take on more economic responsibility than less. "Converting the state into an agent that promotes equality of opportunities and practices efficient redistribution is, perhaps, the most critical challenge Latin America faces in implementing better policies that simultaneously stimulate growth and reduce inequality and poverty," the report says.

Marcela Is Blatantly Wrong, Part 53211

Right off the bat, Marcela is factually wrong about "changes" in the banks thinking.

From the World Bank, World Development Report 2001/2002: Building Institutions for Markets

a strong and capable state is necessary to support markets, and an arbitrary and corrupt state can impede their development

Meanwhile..On The Other Side of the World And The Other Side of The Coin

From a stagnant Latin America and a confused Ms. Sanchez, let us now go to Chad, where the World Bank financed a pipleline project in cooperation with Exxon. The pipeline revenue was set up in a way that it would help the poor directly, by setting aside revenue in a special account that would only be disbursed in projects that provided for the nations poorest.

The Exxon-led consortium was willing to build the 665-mile pipeline from landlocked Chad to the sea only with the World Bank's backing, said Rashad Kaldany, director of oil, gas and mining for the bank and its private investment agency, the International Finance Corporation. With Chad's history of civil war, ethnic strife and corruption, its oil lay untapped for decades because no one was willing to put capital at risk here

In 2000, the bank approved the project and lent Chad $37 million for its stake in the pipeline, while its finance agency lent the companies building the pipeline $100 million. Their support was conditioned on Chad's commitment to adopting a law requiring that most of the oil revenue go to poverty alleviation.

The royalties were to be deposited in an offshore account, and an independent oversight committee was to vet, approve and monitor all spending.

At first glance, this program rubbishes Sanchez' claims that the bank had some drastic change of thinking in regards to alleviating poverty. This 2000 project was aimed at providing funds for such basics as education and healthcare.

The Corruption Thing....

But even with the best of intention and a creative design, things have started to go awry:

But once the oil revenues began to flow into the government's coffers in 2004, the model program quickly ran into trouble.

The oversight group officially charged with monitoring the oil spending laid out a damning catalog of malfeasance and bungling last May, from overspending on office equipment to bungling or abandoning entire public works projects.

In the town of Moïssala, a water tower was approved, and an advance of $360,000 paid to the builder. But when monitors checked its progress, they found no water tower, and no one in the local government had ever heard of the project.

Many of the wells that were supposed to be dug in rural areas were still unfinished, while others were dug, but not deeply enough. The builders filled them with water from a cistern to try to fool the inspectors, said Thérèse Mekombe, vice president of the oversight panel.

The group found that the Ministry of Higher Education had bought a computer for $5,300, a secretary's chair for $3,600 and scooters that should have cost $1,000 for triple the price. Companies that won contracts to make desks for schools used scrap wood, producing desks with bucked legs and tops.

The Ministry of Health commissioned a clinic in the town of Bierre, but the builder abandoned the site with no explanation.

The largest amount of money — $51 million through last year — has been devoted to public works, mainly roads. Of that, $48 million has been assigned to a partnership formed between a foreign construction company and a company led by President Déby's brother, Daoussa Déby, according to the oversight committee.

Its The State Stupid!...

Go back to Marcela Sanchez' conclusion:

If the World Bank were to make poverty reductions measures a condition for assistance, it would be a big change in the way it helps Latin America. It would be shifting from an approach that helped weaken governments to one that seeks to strengthen them.

It is the State in Chad which is making a mess! Even with the reduced scope that the program gives the state authority, they are finding creative ways of scamming it.

Reality has a way of kicking you in the teeth. This has nothing to do with ideology, it has more to do with simple observable facts. The Soviet block countries, with their state-directed economies failed spectacularly. More benign forms of statism in places like India failed. You could almost make a rule that the larger the state, as a proportion to the size of the countries economic activity, the less efficient and unwieldly it becomes.

Where States have moved into areas normally held by the private sector, more than not, they fail spectacularly. Since they do not have the price and market pressures of the private sector they can also be big drains on a nations economy and raise public indebtness. When the state has its hands directly in the economic pie, it concentrates power in few hands. Too many will take advantage, either by direct graft or by shifting riches to cronies in the private sector, if it exists. And in places where the State employs too many people, it creates a constituency of its own, that sees itself as entitled to its position.

This applies to Chad and Latin America, where corrruption, outright graft, and crony capitalism are staples. Throw in a statist and centralist tradition, inherited from Spain, embraced equally by mlitary regimes, pseudo-democrats, and populists. Across the board, Latin American countries had a large percentage of their economic activities handled by the State, and ample corruption followed. Just look at oil-rich Venezuela, which well before Chavez had a long tradition of resource rich governments, siphoning off profits directly, steering rich contracts to elite friends, throwing handouts to the poor, and funding nonesense ventures, in the process creating a constituency for itself.

Bolivia: Strengthening the State, or Hooking Up Your Buddies?

Lets take a look at a timely example of a national government "strengthening the state." Bolivia is now wanting to "refund" government offices, such as the national oil and gas company. Evo claimis he wants to 'get rid" of the "neo-liberal model" in government.

The country has a strong tradition of clientilism, Some scholars have concluded that the state existed simply to provide jobs to the middle classes. And many were employed, since the State was very large, and was involved in many economic activities. The countries public enterprises' share of total fixed investments was an astonishing 39 percent in 1969 the highest in Latin America according to CEPAL.

The economic problems of the 80's was partially the result of national government running up debts, finding itself unable to pay its army of employees and cover losses to state firms, after sources of international funding dried up, and oil prices fell. As a result of the crisis the following Bolivian governments swallowed the pill and took drastic measures to ensure that budgets were met, payrolls cut, and government companies were sold off.

Ironically, traditional parties in Bolivia, like the MNR and MIR, were weakened by their inability to offer their middle class supporters jobs, and their richer friends contracts. Those opportunities disappeared precisely due to the reductions in the State, through cuts and privatization that these parties endorsed. It was in this vacuum that the MAS movement of Evo Morales managed to gain power, with more middle class support than expected.

To recreate the national gas company, would be to present an opportunity for the ruling party to fill it up with cronies, and let it be bled. It happened in the past, given 200 years of history and ample precedent it more than likely will happen again. And they intend to do that with other ministries.

Sanchez and the anti-globalization types seem to be endorsing the simplistic view that growing the State is to strengthen it. Sanchez completely misses the point of the banks report and conclusions. Her perspective -and those who share it - is based on a complete lack of understanding on what the Washington consensus was, basic economic reality, and of the difference between institution building and bureaucracies.

More on that in the second part...

Friday, February 17, 2006

Good New Bolivian Blogs

A couple of good blog additions for Bolivia

The first in Spanish is the aptly named Evonomics, Lecciones de Economía en Evoland or Economics Lessons From Evoland, from Antonio Saravia a professor of Economics at American University of Sharjah in Dubai. The good professor's prior blog was The Economist En Su Laberinto, which is discontinued, but still has some interesting archives.

He dissects the Evo-lution of Bolivias economic policies, and I would suggest that people like Soliz Rada, who cling to outdated 60's and 70's rhetoric could learn a thing or two from an actual economist.

Next up is Cochabamba's own Jonathan Olguin, a senior at Florida State University, whose blog, Journal of Bolivian Business and Politics, covers and analyzes Bolivian business news in a serious, comprehensive, and well-documented fashion.

Venezuela: BBC Article About Oil Boom, Chavez, Proposed Gas Sales

BBC has an interesting article on Venezuela's current oil boom.
With production officially at 3.3m barrels a day, at around 50 dollars a barrel the country is getting a lot of revenue. And with proven reserves of around 78bn barrels, the country should be "pretty good shape" in the foreseable future.

The article then goes on to show how this wealth is fueling Chavez' geo-political ambitions:

For the past year or so the government has started spending much of the wealth generated from oil sales on projects abroad.

Experts believe that President Chavez has spent some $5bn on energy ventures outside Venezuela - including new or jointly operated oil refineries in Cuba, Uruguay and Brazil.

More interesting, at least from a South American (and the Bolivian) persepctive is the new emphasis on natural gas production:


However, Mr Chavez and his ministers are increasingly putting natural gas at the forefront of their long term strategy for the next 20 years.

The oil minister - who is also the chief of PDVSA - predicts that gas may eventually supplant oil as his country's main export.

Venezuela, with its 148 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, has the largest proven gas reserves in Latin America.

"Oil will gradually run out around the world and more and more countries will turn to gas. Latin America will also have to switch to gas. In fact it's much more efficient to generate energy using gas than with oil," Mr Ramirez said.

Long way to go

Venezuela is addressing that issue by spearheading a mammoth $20bn project to build a gas pipeline.

The seven-year construction programme - which is also being supported by Brazil and Argentina - would see the pipeline run all the way from Venezuela in the north to Patagonia at the southern tip of South America.

Rest of the article here.

Local wags refer to this proposed project as the Hugo-ducto, another Venezuelan commentator described it less charitably as the Gasoduct To Hell. What is striking about this pipleine is that it would almost necesarilly have to go through some pretty rough terrain in Brazil. Some commentators have suggested that it might be cheaper to simply process and ship it as liquid natural gas on ships.
Maybe that is why it is considered "proposed", Brazil with its lack of roads and
rail in certain areas, can hardly afford to splurge on this mega-project. They probably don't object to Chavez' idea - so long as he pays. Or Lula and Petrobras might simply think that it is just another product of the Venezuelan Supremo's imagination, that will go by the wayside once he finds another pet-project.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Bolivia: 5 Billion From Petrobras? Not So Fas..t

Much has been made of the initial announcement by Petrobras' international director, Nestor Cuñat Servero that the company stood to invest five billion dollars over the next five years in Bolivia, reality again intrudes on the party.

In a tersely worded statement from its headquarters, the Brazilian oil and gas giant "clarified" what was said:

"It is not correct to state that Petrobras will invest 5,000 million dollars in projects in Bolivia." The sum mentioned by its international director is an estimate of the total investments needed for the proposed projects. And that those proposed expenditures, will be by Petrobras, its partners and YFPB, the Bolivian National Oil Company.

Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, those proposed projects must be commercially viable, which is the criteria used by the company in all of its dealings.

The article from El Diario here.
Basically this could be seen as a carrot and stick approach in the on-going negotiations. Lula tries talking some sense into Evo, then the company comes in and offers continued (and larger) investment in the Bolivian gas fields. But then the company, says that it will adhere to its normal standards, which essentially means that Bolivia will have to make guarantees and concessions on protecting the company's investments. One can almost assume that means continuing with some variation of the current regulatory regime, that is not as drastic as envisioned by the MAS types.


Bolivia: Venezuelan "Experts" To "Help" Audit National Airline??

Bolivian Airline Lloyd Aereo Boliviano, is in financial trouble, facing a pilots strike and is being intervened by the Bolivian government. Privatized in the 90's, under the so-called capitalization model, it evolved into a real headache due to lack of transparency in the process, with the Brazilian buyer making a mess of things. They in turn were bought out by a group of Bolivians who haven't been able to turn it around.

So, the Government of Bolivia is forcing the company to undergo an audit. But, lo and behold who are they bringing in to conduct said audit? Venezuelan government "experts"? LAB managers, many of whom desperately want the mess fixed, are nevertheless aghast at the idea of a private Bolivian company being subjected to a foreign governments "advisors."

Seems pretty silly to me, after all, Venezuelan "auditors" should be auditing the massive thievery going on in their oil industry instead of annoying Bolivians.

Venezuela: Chavez Lies Exposed on Invasion Plans

Chavez had run his mouth on US TV saying he had information on a US plan to invade his kingdom. Silly people like Soliz Rada in Bolivia, and other perfect Latin American idiots of course believe him.

As reported by vcrisis, the whole thing is bogus.

The plan in question, was a war game simultation by the Spanish military, titled Plan Balboa, a summary available here. Apparently a Venezuelan officer attending a staff officers course in Spain, received a copy in one of his classes, and brought it to the attention of the Venezuelan president.

It had nothing to do with the U.S., and was used as a tool to teach high level officers on planning and executing complicated multi-national military operations. And as this article says, while the country looked like Venezuela, "Chavez" himself did not appear to be in power, because the government was described as pro-Western.

Bolivia: Evo Says DEA Can Stay, Mixed Signals Also

Morales has contradicted the resolution made by the Cocalero's powerful Confederation, which calls for expelling the DEA from Chapare region, saying that "all organizations" which combat narco-trafficking and which respect Bolivia's national sovereignity can stay in the country.

While this involves the DEA, it also would extend to the US sponsored alternative crop programs in the region.

What is less clear is if he is in fact supporting the Confederations call for allowing one cato of cocaine per individual, when his original proposal was one per family.

Interestingly enough, the fact that Morales was recently ratified again, as president of Chapare Cocalero organizations, has also caused controversy in the Bolivian Senate. Critics charge it presents a conflict of interest for a Bolivian President.

Ultimately, Evo is walking a tight line here. The proposal to increase cultivation, would clearly put Bolivia's production over the baseline figure for domestic use and for legal export. While Evo's dual role might be seen as tying him too tightly to cocalero interests, the fact is as their elected president he could give him a stronger hand in enforcing a tighter line.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Bolivia: 1.3 Billion in Bolivian Debt To Be Forgiven

According to President Evo Morales, Inter-American Development Bank is going ahead and forgiving Bolivia's 1.3 Billion dollars debt it holds. After the World Bank with 34 percent, it is the largest single creditor with 33 percent of Bolivia's 4.935 million foreign debt. 89 percent of this debt is held by the likes of the Interamerican Bank and the IMF, as this article states.

While Evo may get the headlines, credit for this goes to past Bolivian administrations who have spent years working on this, not to mention sacrifices borne by the population.

However much, the anti-globalization types yell and scream, the reality is that rational economic policies, (the Washington Consensus/Neo-Liberal bogeyman) have made this possible. First by disciplining the bloated government sector, by reducing it in size and scope, thus making it more manageable and transparent.

Privatization has also worked in areas besides the water and airline messes. State coffers gained with sale proceeds, and from taxation derived from these firms operations, one example is gas stations. And it goes without saying that corrupt officials are no longer able to siphon off money from state run firms.

Couple that with a sensible monetary policy, concentrating on fighting inflation, and you have the conditions for international organizations to be able to confidently wipe out debt and set conditions for new loans.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Auto Racing: Why Johnny Can't Drive and Joao and Juan Can

Its The Karting Stupid

Good article on Speed TV, by Cassio Cortes on why there is a lack of U.S. drivers at the pinnacle of motorsports, Formula One, and even at the top level of U.S. Open Wheel Motorsports. There are more Brazilians competing in Champ Car and IRL than Americans, at one point there were more Mexicans in Champ Car than Americans.

Quantity, not quality, is the answer here. The fact is, there are more talented Europeans and South Americans available than there are Americans, irrespective of how their amount of talent compares against each other.

The reason is that countries like Brazil have great Karting competitions at the very junior level. People in the U.S., obsessed by NASCAR have not quite gone this route, despite the fact that skills from Karting are applicable in any discpline of motorsports.

So, if you want your kid to learn the craft to follow into Speed's footsteps, or to one day shine at Indianapolis or Long Beach, you need to put him or her aboard a low-powered, mid-engined, open-wheel road racer, also known as a kart. And then hope he or she is so talented, some corporate head will be convinced to swim against the stock car racing current

read the whole article here.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Differing Views From Inside US Gov On Latin American Policy

Plan Colombia and Beyond has an interesting item on what U.S. foreign policymakers at different agencies are saying:

What’s going on here?

In just over 24 hours last week, we heard four Bush administration officials offer wildly divergent opinions about Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales and so-called “radical populism” in Latin America:

Read the rest here

so we have, Rummy:

“We’ve seen some populist leadership appealing to masses of people in those countries. And elections like Evo Morales in Bolivia take place that clearly are worrisome. I mean, we’ve got Chavez in Venezuela with a lot of oil money. He’s a person who was elected legally – just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally – and then consolidated power and now is, of course, working closely with Fidel Castro and Mr. Morales and others.”

then we have:
– Southern Command Commander Gen. Bantz Craddock, February 2, 2006

“The situation now [regarding Bolivia] is deeds not words. Let's take a chill pill.”
“The fact of the matter is that we're finding it harder and harder to send our officers to Venezuela but we do want to keep that relationship going.”
“We've had populism for years. I don't know if it is more radical.”

And then Bush, of course congratulating Evo.

What to make about this?

Bolivia, first of all, is way down the list of priorities of US policymakers. The only time Bolivia was a strong issue was with cocaine trafficking in the 80's and 90's. A joke among Bolivians was that they wished Sendero Luminoso had picked Bolivia instead of Peru, so they would get American aid.
Historically, Bolivia has been somewhat insulated from Washington. It had a revolutionary government at the peak of the Cold War, in contrast to Guatemala, which arguably was less radical, Washington actually send a lot of aid. Other Bolivian governments have done things like nationalize American oil companies holdings, without getting much of a reaction from Washington. When the MNRI/MIR government came to power, it was also seen as radical, but Washington decided to engage it fully and maintain good relations, partially because it was relieved the narco-government preceding it had fallen.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Bolivia: Random Thoughts On Evo's New Government

This might be dated, but I just read MABB's good post on the "Pre-Inaguration" of President Morales, where Evo in the Unku or traditional robe of the Colla high priest, was invested with authority in a ceremony at Tiahuanacu.

A comment from a poster said it reminded her of "post-colonial ceremonies" in newly independent third world countries, that is not off the mark. No matter what his politics and policies, Evo's acension resonates enormously with the indigenous people of the Andean region. And Evo in a very shrewd move, modified the traditional robe and staff of the Aymara to incorporate the indigenous peoples of the lowlands by adding Anacondas to the Condors in the robe, and lowland wood to the silver and gold in his staff.

If anything, Evo's skills as a politician and tactician have never been in doubt. Ecuador's indigenous movement, up to now considered the most well-organized, took a long time to reach such unity between lowlands and sierra people's. Evo not only united them, he also mobilized them effectively to deliver votes.

Historical Claims To Bolivia's Geography?

And there is historical precedent for his claim of authority over this territory, despite what some authors have said about Bolivia simply being "geographically" a country, and not a Nation. The Collasuyu extended from its center on the shores of Lake Titicaca, through the Andean plateau, into the lower valleys, and lowlands of Western Bolivia, as well as parts of Northern Chile, Argentina, and Peru. Lowland peoples such as the Guarani's and some Amazonic tribes are descendants from more nomadic Collas who pushed into that area. The unifier was the Aymara language, and the family/community agricultural system, the Ayllu, which started with familiar and tribal clusters, and which was ruled from above in a complex and interwoven system.

When the Inca ruler from Cuzco defeated the Collas militarily, he was able to incorporate the entire Collasuyu rather easily. TheAyllus of the region, simply switched alleigances to the Inca, whose peoples had also borrowed the communal arrangement from the Collas centuries before.

The rulers from Cuzco, built roads through the Collasuyu, and pushed at the frontier trying to conquer lowland tribes, and populating these regions with Collas, whom were pushed out of parts of the Altiplano and subsituted by Quechua speakers. A good part of what became Alto Peru (and Bolivia) after the Spanish conquest is simply imposed over the borders that the Inca had defined, which was essentially the Collasuyu with some added territory. It simply reflects the natural movements of peoples out of the Andes, incorporating lowlands and tropical regions.

If there is any such thing as a collective memory, the Altiplano peoples, with their common languages, have such a conception of a Nation reaching down the valleys and into the jungles.

Use of Symbols

The fact that we are at this stage in the country, is partly due to Bolivia's largely Andean ruling and middle classes There is a legacy of brutal mistreatment that extended well into the 20th century including a system of quasi-slavery for Indians, known as pongos. Racist attitudes against Indians are strong, Indio De Mierda ("Shit Indian) is a common expression among the upper and middle classes. The obvious irony is that a good chunk of these folks, are clearly descended from the same Aymaras, not only in appearance but clearly in attitude and behavior.

This kind of self-hatred, creates a strange form of self-enforced apartheid, where a premium is put on how "white" vis "brown" you look. It reminds me of the infamous "brown bag" test, used by certain creole social clubs in New Orleans, the lighter the better. There is a

Bolivia's upper and middle classes were finally confronted with the reality of highland native peoples, in the Chaco conflict. Urban youth, shared trenches and misery with the poor Indian conscripts, some dragged in chains from highland mines and farms and delivered to the lowland brush. When they returned from the war, these same veterans wanted to remake Bolivia, to actually create a sense of nation, and improve the Indians life.

The problem was that in order to sell this project to the largely middle class, nationalist voters, they adopted the strategy of referring to the Indians as "peasants" in order to incorporate them into the Bolivian polity. So after the 1952 Revolution, this was largely the focus, and the practical results were the organization of sectors of miners and farm workers, as class-based interest groups, which served as bases of support and votes for the MNR. Given their reality of the country, it might have seemed the only practical thing to do.

In the end, this compromise, might have been a mis-reading of Bolivian reality. They failed to create a sense of nation, which incorporated the largest segment of society - one which was linked by blood to many of the Andean elite. They also failed to connect with the lowlands, and generated resentment that continues to this day. Contrast that to Mexico where the Revolution adopted the symbols of their native peoples and made them part and parcel of the "official" nationalist myth. At the very least that gives everyone a sense of "nationhood" and rich kids are named after Aztec emperors. Sometimes symbols do matter.

Looks like Evo has managed to project a specific view of the Nation, incorporating the native peoples of the highlands and the lowlands, with the traditional nationalistic middle classes in the highlands and in Cochabamba. And Evo also has to remember that the last time around this Nation also collapsed like a deck of cards. This could get interesting.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Cartoons, Danish, and Angry Mobs

Atlas Shrugs some blogger who I have never read before, (and who is a total babe) has a whole bunch of stuff on the controversy.

She points out the obvious double standard, that Arabic newspapers print some ferociously anti-semitic cartoons.

The cartoons are disrespectful, no doubt about it, and maybe they reflect modern Western societies disconnection from religion in general. Print an equivalent image of Christ in Denmark or France, and no one would have noticed, most of us in the West are desensitized to it.
Doesn't help that Western European governments also are perceived as going out of their ways to be (selectively) accomodating to groups such as Muslims and their beliefs - note the whole row over a Brit city council forbidding pig images at work. Ultimately, this enforced tolerance has more to do with reaching accomodations with different cultures, based almost exclusively on their customs and behavior, as if they were not based on deeply held beliefs in a higher power.
The problem is when you get to certain countries where immigrants are pretty much denied the right to become part of the nation vis a vis citizenship, like France or Germany. These mixed messages and marginalization make for a potent cocktail and create resentment.
This also being the year 2006, thoughts and moods are instaneously transmitted back from immigrants to friends and family. A rumor in Brussels gets transmitted to Cairo and vice-versa, with appropriate embellishments in an IM or cell call in a matter of minutes. This cycle just adds fuel to the fire.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

VOY MUSIC: Nice Comprehensive Site For Latin American Music

VOY Music new platform for Latin Music, has a whole lot of categories, with really good web radio links.

will update this later to provide more info about the company, just launched.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Bolvia: Dubya hollas at Evo,

So Bush apparently got on the phone and muttered something in broken Spanish to Evo,who answered back in broken Spanish.

Well, anyway it is the beginning of a dialogue of sorts.

Not bad, considering how occupied Bush is with Iraq and just about everyhing going bonkers for him domestically. As the Economist recently pointed out, Bolivia is at the very bottom of U.S. foreign policy priorities.

Speculation on who or how this came about:

Has there been a true shift in U.S. foreign policy making, from the Imperial White House and Pentagon giving more discretion to Condi and State? Was this initiative something that brewed up from the regional desks at State to Assistant Secretary of State, Shannon, who seems to be very involved in the situation, and then up to the President?

Recent budget cuts and the priority being put on Border control, might be minimizing the voice of anti-narcotics officials in US-Bolivian relations. Ten years ago, the anti-narcotics types would have been in panic mode. As the Economist also pointed out, most of the Bolivian coca production is going to labs in Brazil where it is mostly transhipped to Europe. Maybe there is a pragmatic realization that the U.S. could live with coca production at current levels in Chapare, where production was dramatically lowered after US-assisted erradication efforts.
According to Reuters Brazil and Argentina have been urging Washington to reach some sort of modus vivendi with Evo, that would involve continued cooperation in fighting trafficking. The carrot would be continued economic aid, with Brasilia and Buenos Aires brokering the deal, and acting as intermediaries. For Brazil and Argentina that would help undermine Chavez' influence. Brazil would gain some serious leverage in resolving the differences over Petrobras' involvment in Bolivia. I am not surprised by Kirchner quietly pushing for this sort of accomodation, since it is in his countries interest to have stability since Argentina buys a lot of natural gas from Bolivia, and interruptions could lead to problems. In addition, Kirchner is walking a tight rope involving impoverished Argentinians, an economic crisis and instability in Bolivia could lead to a larger increase in emigration to Argentina, something that could be a headache for the Peronista government.

Would not be surprised if Bush's tone is also influenced by information conveyed to him by his brother, who just met with several Latin American recent trip to South America. As the Miami Herald commented recently, the governor is known to be the conduit to the White House for Latin American leaders, whom he is contact with through periodic visits to the area to drum up business for Florida.

So it could be that this approach of engagement, directed through the State Department is taking more into account the the advice of the larger South American countries.

Evo, needs to sell this to his Cocalero unions with the inducement of direct aid to them for alternative crop development. After all, many cocaleros did accept such deals in the past, and they seem to be working ok, with the region's agricultural production increasing. Morales ultimately, can crow all about "stopping" erradication of the acres still in production.. He did make fighting trafficking a priority, so he can really go after the "illegal" production. Its all wait and see at this point, but at least there is a good beginning.