Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Bolivia in chaos?

Is Bolivia distingrating? The sitaution looks ominous. Everything seems to be shutting down, hospitals are running out of medicine, La Paz is in turmoil, Sucre is blockaded. Spain is readying for an evacuation. Worth watching.

Discussions - 4 Comments

Latin one time it looked ripe for democratization and rapid development, but so many of these countries are now retrenching. The demands are generally the same...nationalize this, tax that, unionize the labor force. Although I generally look for structural causes of social success, I’m beginning to wonder if there’s not something about Hispanic culture that precludes (or at least hampers) modernization. What a mess...and they don’t seem to learn from the past! What’s next, another wave of state-owned enterprise and import substitution?


I took a course in Latin American politics and one of the theories is their problems go back to when Spain colonized them in the 16th century. Spain brought with it a per-reform Catholic Thomist corporatist view of society with a each part of society having a clearly defined role with a strong man on top. Also, Spain sent exploiters whose goal was to get rich as quickly as possible and go back to Spain or find a nice chunk of land to retire. The mainly European elite in Latin America continue this tradition of using the state to get rich or protect what they have. A large part of the leftist revolts in Venezuela and Bolivia are other people wanting their piece of the pie. Nobody seems to take seriously what institutions and cultures are required to make the pie bigger for everyone.
Also, many of the immigrants who came to Latin America in the 19th century were from Southern Europe and they brought with them the same corporatist view of society from their mother countries. Unlike in the US where they were forced to adopt to the Anglo-Saxon liberal model these immigrants found their new countries already receptive to the views of government and society. For example, most Argentineans can trace their ancestry to Southern Italy (Southern Italy continues to be much poorer than the capitalistic Northern Italy despite billions of dollars in aid) and other areas of the Mediterranean. They never gave up their corporatist view of society because there was no strong voice of classical liberalism in Argentina when they arrived. Of course they flocked to support Peron’s populist message.
On the other hand the Englishman and other northern Europeans who settle the colonies were people who were escaping religious, ethnic, or economic oppression in England. These settlers were looking to start a new life and build they life they were denied in the mother country. Also, the period of English colonization was in the 17th century where Europe had undergone the reformation and England was grappling with what power the monarchy over Parliament and the people. These settlers brought with them a strong sense that they had unalienable rights and government should have limited power.
Latin America in modern time has gone through this whole cycle of liberalization then collapse. Argentina in 1900, growing wealthy through free trade with Britain and Europe, had a per-capita income on par with the United States and the UK. But the pressure of the Great Depression manifested itself in Argentina not in a FDR like in America but in Juan and Evita Peron who imposed a fascist system on the country. Venezuela has a per-capita income of around 80% of the US in the 1950s but they succumbed to socialism in the 1960s.

A timeline might be helpful.

The basic conflict is between politicians based in the highlands of Bolivia, with its indigenous population that makes up more than 50% of the overall population, and politicians based in the lowlands, whose inhabitants have the best farmlands and enjoy control over natural gas and other key resources.

In October 2003 a popular uprising backed by highlands politicians and labor unions forced the resignation of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. The leading highlands politician, Evo Morales, formed part of a bloc supporting a new president, Carlos Mesa.

Morales leads the MAS party, "Movement Toward Socialism." He is a Hugo Chavez wannabe. His strategy is simple: he wants general elections this year, anticipating a Morales presidency as the result. He wants to be president before a constitutional assembly meets, in order to shape said constitution. This was the same thing Chavez did in Venezuela, six years ago.

On March 7, Mesa submitted his resignation to Congress in a classic `Me or chaos’ gesture, and it worked, as Congress quickly rejected the resignation and reinforced the president. But on March 9 Morales and the leftist unions made a formal alliance. Jaime Solares is probably the main union leader in question; he controls the truck drivers, who can do blockades of major arteries into the cities. Also, the miners in that broad-based union know how to work with explosives, so things could get quite nasty.

Mesa, Solares, et al. charge that Mesa has sold out to the foreign energy company interests. Chavez nods in vigorous assent from not-so-afar. They all want to get rid of the foreign companies and nationalize Bolivia’s energy/utilities industries.

There are other players. The higher-up military officers want the Constitutional Assembly to meet before the general elections are held, but there are other officers who don’t, including a couple of lieutenant colonels who made some ominous noises about three weeks ago. Many rank-and-file soldiers are highland-indigenous.

The Catholic Church seems to want to negotiate a peaceful settlement, although it also seems to be in agreement with Morales/Solares on the time frame for elections. Internationally, the U. S. and Brazil line up with Mesa against Morales/Solares and Chavez.

Civil war is a very distinct possibility, sooner or later.

Yes, I’ve heard and read most of this before...another dimension is race. Here’s an interesting link that views the current situation in Bolivia from a more conflict-oriented approach.

Race and Bolivian Conflict

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