Evo´s margin widens;
Opponents call strike
Today (Tuesday) an atmosphere of calm envelops the five provinces of Bolivia that have declared themselves to be in opposition to the government of President Morales as they observe a one-day "paro," or general strike.
During paros virtually all economic activity ceases, normal vehicular traffic is banned, and families ride about on bicycles and quadritrack recreational vehicles, which are allowed. People visit parks, play soccer games, and generally have a nice time. They are like school "snow days" for kids in the northern US, except that grown-ups get them too.
Somehow they are supposed to exert pressure on the government to do whatever it is the strikers supposedly want, in this case resumption of the sharing of oil revenues with local governments. But as with so much in Bolivian politics, it's not clear how exactly this is supposed to work.
The theory is that the central government loses the taxes from the economic activity that would have taken place on the day of the strike, but it seems more likely that the day's transactions are either moved up to the preceding day, or postponed to the following day.
In any event, there's no evidence that President Morales really cares whether or not some provinces take an extra day off or not.
A paro does, however, provide an excellent chance for people to update their blogs, and much has occurred since the recall referendum a week ago.
Morales' victory becomes bigger
As the final official figures came in over the past week, the vote in favor of the retention of President Morales grew appreciably to nearly 68 percent, up from the 62 percent initially calculated from preliminary results and exit polls.
Moreover, Morales won 54 percent to 46 percent in the department (state) of Chuquisaca, which he had appeared to be losing in the preliminary results.
So Morales, and not the opposition, ended up winning in five of the country's nine departments. It became all the more certain that the President would try to build on these results to push forward a referendum on the proposed constitution worked out by a rump session of the constitutional convention that contained only his supporters. The proposed constitution grants special rights to Indians, further centralizes governmental authority, weakens private property guarantees, and would allow Morales to be re-elected.
The status of one prefect, Alberto Aguilar in Oruro, remained in doubt. He is a member of President Morales' party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), but his relative unpopularity appeared to rest on local issues. One analyst said he had favored rural areas over urban areas to a degree that annoyed urban voters. In any event, President Morales carried Oruro handily.
In other developments, the defeated prefect of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes, agreed to step down from his post. Reyes had previously refused to recognize the validity of the referendum.
Here are the official results by department based on 96 percent of the vote:
The Vote on President Morales by Department
Potosi: 85 percent yes, 15 percent no
Pando:* 53 percent no, 47 percent yes
Beni:* 53 percent no, 47 percent yes
Oruro: 83 percent yes, 17 percent no
Santa Cruz:* 56 percent no, 44 percent yes
Cochabamba: 71 percent yes, 29 percent no
Tarija:* 50.2 percent no, 49.8 percent yes
La Paz: 83 percent yes, 17 percent no
Chuquisaca: 54 percent yes, 46 percent no
* provinces that have voted for "autonomia"
Vote for Prefects by Department
La Paz: Peredes ousted with 36 percent yes
Tarija: Cossio retained with 58 percent yes
Cochabamba: Reyes ousted with 65 percent yes
Santa Cruz: Costas retained with 67 percent yes
Oruro: Aguilar probably retained with 51 percent yes
Beni: Suarez retained with 64 percent yes
Pando: Fernandez retained with 56 percent yes
Potosi: Virreira retained with 79 percent yes
(Statistics from El Deber, August 14)
Shadow of suspicion clouds voting
The increase in the vote totals for President Morales and his allies shown as the results became complete was probably the result of including more results from rural areas where the President's support is stronger.
However, there are charges of voting irregularities based on many reports of several voters using the same identity card number. The observers from the Organization of the American States reportedly urged a criminal investigation.
One possible source of the irregularities, it has been alleged, is a program undertaken by the government, and funded by Venezuela, to provide identity cards to many Bolivians living in rural areas who didn't previously have one. Theoretically this program could have been exploited to produce ID cards for Morales supporters who could be counted on to vote early and often, as the expression goes.
While a lot of these incidents have been confirmed by journalists, they probably did not seriously skew the results. President Morales improved significantly on his victory margin in 2005 even in pro-autonomia Santa Cruz, where the voting was unlikely to have been tipped in the President's favor. There seems to be no reason to believe that the President would not also have improved his margins in parts of the country that have consistently supported him.
The recall referendum definitely did not produce any rush toward a rapprochement between the president and the five departmental prefects who oppose him. The prefects' main goal at present is to reinstate the sharing of oil revenues between the central and local governments that had been in effect until the President canceled it by decree earlier this year.
The President did invite the prefects to "dialogue" on the issue. The prefects, however, delayed for a day to hold their own meeting, and their discussions with the President, when they did commence, ended rapidly. The prefects walked out and announced the general strike, which is in effect today.
The President said that the "prefects only wanted money -- they didn't want to discuss politics." That's probably a fair assessment.
The prefects regard the revenue-sharing as a right, long enshrined in law. They reject as a subterfuge the President's claim that the money has to be used to continue a limited program of financial support for older Bolivians without pensions.
The money is badly needed, the prefects say, for roads, bridges, airport improvements, port facilities and other infrastructure development. The government is continuing to distribute money for such projects, but is favoring departments and cities that support Morales, and discriminating against regions that have voted for autonomia.
Propane shortage continues
The long lines and short tempers of people lined up to obtain the dwindling supply of propane tanks for household use has not subsided. The government finally conceded that the shortage is real, not the result of an allocation problem, and that it plans to import propane. One expert has said that this like "a banana-producing country having to import banana puree." (For a fuller discussion of Bolivia's oil and gas situation, please see "Whose Gas Is It, Anyway?" posted June 19.)
Handicapped march triggers disturbance
Fairly large-scale fighting between the police anti-riot units and gangs of youths paralyzed traffic in much of Santa Cruz last Friday. The youths, many affiliated with Union Juvenile Cruceña (or Santa Cruz Youth Union) claimed to have been enraged by the brutal tactics used by the police the previous night to evict a group of handicapped persons from the offices of the government oil company, which the handicapped persons had taken over. The youths joined the fight on the side of the handicapped.
A subtext to the confrontation is that civic authorities in Santa Cruz, for whom the Youth Union functions as a sort of unarmed militia, would like to replace the national police with a regional police force. The President has accused the civic leaders of aiding and abetting the handicapped, who say they are demanding benefits President Morales had promised when initially running for office. Legislation that would give benefits to the handicapped is scheduled for a vote in Congress this week.
The handicapped, many of them in wheelchairs, have been marching, blocking refineries, and taking over government offices for some time. They are a contentious group, and have been willing to battle the police with surprising vigor. A picture in the paper last week showed an elderly man in a wheelchair whacking at a policeman's plastic shield with a two-by-four, while another elderly gentleman standing next to him jabbed at the line of riot police with his cane.
This weblog was created to provide a fuller and more accurate picture of the current situation in Bolivia. Our principal effort to try to pull things together and place them in proper perspective is the penultimate post below, titled "Main Story."