martes, 12 de agosto de 2008

Update on referendum aftermath: calm in Cochabamba

The following post is from Rimarikuna member Dan Moriarty, largely cross-posted from his blog.

Sunday's referendum results, coupled with a cordial and dialogical tone on the part of president Morales Sunday night, may have gone a long way toward mellowing opposition leaders. There are calls for dialog from all quarters, and the protests and strikes that were so intense around the country last week are now largely being suspended.

In Cochabamba, things also seem to be tending toward peace. Prefect Manfred Reyes Villa has been roundly defeated (roughly 60% voted for his ouster). On Sunday night as that fact became clear, he repeated declarations that the referendum was illegal and he had no intention of leaving office. But today, he is modifying his position: Manfred now says he will leave only when a replacement is elected - he will not hand over power to a prefect hand-picked by Morales. Meanwhile, the Civic Committee, an important ally of Manfred Reyes Villa, is calling on him to reflect upon his position and what is best for peace in Cochabamba. I suspect he finally recognizes just how isolated he has become, and he's now searching for a graceful way to bow out and position himself for a presidential bid in 2010.

We were on the streets Sunday talking with a lot of people, especially a number of right-wing activists. Many said two things: A) that if Manfred were to lose, he would have to recognize the expressed will of the people and step down (this from people who shared Manfred's position that the referendum was illegal); and B) they did expect clashes over this issue, largely because they anticipated that MAS activists (Morales supporters) would try to take over the prefecture or otherwise remove Manfred by force. MAS activists have done no such thing.

I just came from Cochabamba's main plaza, where Manfred is reportedly in his office in the prefecture, and all is calm. I spoke with some members of a radical activist group that has a regular presence in the plaza. They told me that they actually tried to move on the prefecture Sunday night, but were stopped by a group of "MASistas." There seems to be a general sense that, by some relatively orderly process, Reyes Villa will necessarily step down.

Not surprising in all of this is the fact that the vast majority of Bolivians, and Cochabambinos in particular, have zero interest in seeing more bloody clashes here. My worries - and those of family, friends, and others with whom I've spoken - stemmed from the possibility that a hard core of militants on either side (and some plain old thugs and racist street mercenaries on the right) would provoke the violence so many dreaded, and that others would then be sucked into reacting. But, as is supposed to happen in a democratic society, level-headed, peace-loving, dialog-seeking citizens have prevailed, at least for the moment.

¡Jallalla Bolivia!

lunes, 11 de agosto de 2008




Theo Roncken, Coordinator Accion Andina, Member Rimarikuna Collective, July 31, 2008

Bolivia is preparing for the next step in the weighing of political forces. The Recall Referendum set for this August 10 will consult the voting population on two questions:

  • Do you agree that the process of change led by President Evo Morales Ayma and Vice-president Alvaro Garcia Linera should continue?
  • Do you agree that the policies, actions and the management of the Prefect (Governor) of the Department should continue?

Many Bolivians don't see this referendum as a solution to the country's political crisis. Nevertheless, the ratification or suspension of authorities, indicated by its results, would offer a new compass heading to orient future actions and negotiations.

The situation in the Department of Cochabamba, in center of the country, attracts attention. In the 2005 national elections, Cochabamba's Prefect -Manfred Reyes Villa- obtained 47.6% of the vote, which is why, according to the rules of the Referendum he would have to obtain no more than 47.6% of rejection votes to remain in his post. Officially, Reyes Villa does not accept holding the Referendum insisting on its unconstitutionality and looking for any way to ensure that it is annulled.

The Recall Referendum was first proposed ----- in the midst of the January 2007 political crisis that resulted in violent confrontations between civilians in the city of Cochabamba. We will return at another opportunity to further analyze Prefect Reyes Villa's responsibility in the development and tragic outcome of that conflict. The great lesson of "January 11" was the fact that it resoundingly unveiled the present state of social segregation in Cochabambina society.

In spite of its enormous inequalities and differences between social classes, until the 1990's Cochabamba preserved its image as "open and tolerant multi-ethnic town". A recent study amongst of the city's middle/high class youth shows how this began to change drastically with the rapid opening up of the offers and promises of the globalized economy and culture spurred by the advance of electronic media (Solares, Rodriguez and Zabala 2008, PIEB – preliminary report).

According to this study, these youth - children of the old social elites - prefer living in sub-worlds that are self-sufficient, exclusive and therefore safe; than having to daily face the unknown of an open and diverse city with which they cannot even remotely identify, in contrast with their parents.

These youth who grew up in an artificially safe world, today invest their creativity in the construction of bubbles that allow them to deny the existence of the " other ": whom in addition to being bothersome (for their smell, lack of hygiene and order), are a potential danger. With each passing day, the city that they live in shrinks, while their fears of the unknown grow. Already they rarely visit the old center, not that they ever need to: on "their" side of the city to the north a new center has been established in the past decade which is comfortable and safe, that meets all their demands for exclusive goods and services.

The fact that the violence of "January 11" happened on the doorstep of this new "city of the North " does not seem a coincidence. It was in one of the besieged front doors of this Northern zone that the self proclaimed "citizens" organized to halt the advance of the "peasants." In this way, that day the population of Cochabamba symbolically closed a long period of "living together" and began a new stage of coexistence with very uncertain common spaces and degrees of tolerance.




Theo Roncken, Coordinator Accion Andina, Member Rimarikuna Collective, August 4, 2008

Less than one week to go before the Recall Referendum in Bolivia and doubts still linger: will it be held or not? Two appeals of unconstitutionality received the Bolivian Constitutional Court's extra-oficial endorsement. The last one of these was raised by the Prefect of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes Villa, who insists that the referendum is illegal. 'Fine' one could think, 'if the Constitutional Court says so, then that's the way it is. Isn't the function of that court to see if things proceed according to the Political Constitution of the State?'

In Bolivia, the Constitutional Court was institutionalized in 1998, as one of the guarantors of Democratic Rule of Law. Its magistrates are designated by the Senate for a period of ten years. Nevertheless, in the very history of the Court you also find its weakness: in Bolivia, 'guarantor institutions' were devised and created based on the rights of those who used to run the State however they wished.

In the middle of the 1990's few ever imagined that a mere ten years later the Executive authority of the Nation would be partly run by the popular sectors. Representatives of the traditional political structures considered it strategic to promote the gradual participation of the excluded majorities. National authorities designed and applied a model of popular participation with a proposed distribution of powers that seemed to be "manageable": legally, the participation of the people in the formal democracy was clearly delimited.

In this model, the very Political Constitution of the State would help to preserve the foundations of the State to back the use of a series of mechanisms that would facilitate the identification of necessary adjustments but without going so far as to challenge its exclusive structural features. The internal instruments of control, like for example Electoral Courts, the Supreme Court of Justice, and the Constitutional Court were molded based on that objective. The key to controling these institutions was through the Senate of the Republic.

In this way, the dominant classes defined the legal limits to democratic participation, jeopardizing the legitimacy of key institutions of representative democracy. It should not strike us as odd that when, at the beginning of the 21st century the project of this elite entered into crisis, even the most sacred institutions of their democracy were called into question. Electoral Courts, the Supreme Court of Justice and the Constitutional Court were not considered entities which could be trusted: experience had shown that they were not above the negotiated sharing of power which is common among political parties. Already during the mandate of President Morales, there were scenes of tough political battles. Today, the Electoral Courts are divided; the Supreme Court of Justice is dismembered; and the opinions of the Constitutional Court emanate from a sole Substitute Magistrate, designated in October of 2003, fifteen days before the fall of Sanchez de Lozada's Government.

The Bolivia of today reflects this institutional crisis. Whereas there are abundant efforts by pro-government officials and members of the opposition to demonstrate that their actions have legal endorsement; all know that the measuring stick for legitimacy is no longer set first and foremost by laws. What mainly counts on this particular occasion is the correlation of political forces. The four Autonomy Referenda of May and June were held thanks to the force of their political promotion. In the same way, the Recall Referendum will be legitimized via the political route. Legal or illegal, who can say? There is not one judge left who is not considered part of the conflict.



Theo Roncken, Coordinator Accion Andina, Member Rimarikuna Collective, August 10, 2008

The biggest question over the next few days In Cochabamba is: what happens if the voters of the department decide that Prefect Manfred Reyes Villa must go?

This question has several shades of meaning. The Electoral Court went ahead with the Referendum today without having clarified what will be the percentage limits that define if an authority is ratified or revoked.

According to the text of the law approved by Congress, Manfred Reyes Villa would be revoked if more of the 47,641 percent of voters said NO to continuing his mandate. But after further negotiations of the National Electoral Court and most of Departmental Courts, they came out in favor of a revocation for the prefects of 8 departments (all but Chuquisaca) if the NO count reached a total of 50% plus one of the votes.

The public presentation of this new criterion generated much debate. Those in favor said that the Electoral Court was not changing the law but simply interpreting its application. Those against it thought that the Electoral court did not have authority to introduce this type of change. For the sake of not endangering the carrying out of the Referendum, all the authorities left it at that.

In Cochabamba, this actually means that Manfred Reyes Villa will be able to use the results of the Referendum to declare himself ratified in his position as long as less than a 50% of the emitted votes say NO. If the percentage of NO votes to the Prefect's mandate amount to between 47.641% and 50%, conflicts could arise around the question of the interpretation of the Recall Referendum law.

The second shade of meaning to our question would be relevant if more than 50% of the voters say NO to the mandate of the Cochabamba's Prefect. In this case, it is probable that Manfred Reyes Villa will refuse to recognize the results of the Recall Referendum. In the past few weeks, Reyes Villa's official position on this subject has been consistent. According to him, the Referendum is unconstitutional and their results will be illegal and illegitimate. This morning country's reporters showed how Reyes Villa attended mass and declared that he didn't think he was going to vote.

According to the Recall Referendum Law, those prefects who are revoked would have to leave their positions almost immediately. So, we have here a scenario that could result in conflict. What would Reyes Villa do to stay in his position? Would the National Government decide to remove him by force? Or, riskier in terms of possible violence: Would they allocate that task to a sector of the social movements? In that case, we could likely see a repeat of the violent confrontations between civilians that happened on January 11, 2007.

Although the Prefect of Cochabamba does not want to recognize the legality nor the legitimacy of the Referendum, their results will greatly influence the responsibility that will fall on his shoulders regarding the provocation or prevention of violence.

domingo, 10 de agosto de 2008

Evo wins, Manfred loses but rejects results: peace on the streets, but is it the calm before the storm?

We have spent the day observing various voting centers and neighborhoods around the city of Cochabamba. The polls have closed now, and voting results are slowly coming in. So far, we have not witnessed any clashes or violence, nor have any been reported in the news. Voting seems to have gone smoothly, without major irregularities.

We interviewed various people, including ordinary voters, members civil society “electoral control” groups, and a few political leaders. Many of those interviewed expressed concerns that the various conflicts in the country will continue, or even deepen, following today’s referendum. Several anticipated violence in Cochabamba should the prefect here, Manfred Reyes Villa, lose the referendum and then refuse to leave. Those who oppose president Evo Morales and his MAS party say that the violence would come if “MASistas” from the rural areas of Cochabamba were to come to the city to take over the prefecture or take Reyes out by force. Those who support the president and his party say that if the Reyes loses and refuses to leave, the police would have to remove him, and then the embattled prefect’s supporters may instigate violence with the pretext of protecting Reyes.

As of right now, with the majority of votes counted, President Evo Morales has won the referendum with over 60% of voters supporting his continued presidency. Manfred Reyes Villa, the Cochabamba prefect, has lost, with ~58% voting against him. One point of debate and confusion has been with regards to two competing formulas for deciding the elections, one in which a politician could be ousted only if the votes against him were to surpass 50%, the other requiring only that the no votes exceed the percentage with which he was elected in 2005 – in the case of Manfred, below 50%. But 58% means that he has lost definitively, using either formula.

On TV Manfred Reyes Villa has, however, just declared his intention to continue in office. He says he is still the prefect of Cochabamba, that president Morales should, in the interest of national unity and the rule of law, allow him to remain in office, and he has reasserted that today’s referendum was illegal. This is something we feared would happen. However, what happens next depends largely on whether Reyes Villa is truly digging in his heels, or if he is simply trying to establish his position before a possible attempt to negotiate with the Morales government.

We have different sources within social movements, within the national government, and on the street. They all have different ideas about what might happen. There are some groups – especially youth on both sides – who are ready for a fight, but both claim that they are only prepared to defend their position against aggressions by the other side. Reyes Villa supporters will protect him if MAS supporters try to take over the prefecture our take him out by force. MAS supporters will move against Reyes Villa supporters only if the latter were to take over the prefecture to protect Reyes Villa – a scenario we deem unlikely and redundant, since Reyes Villa himself still controls said prefecture. Our sources in the government do not anticipate any violence, nor do we believe government forces would move against the prefecture right away. Once the official vote tally is registered, however, the national police may move to take over the prefecture. This depends on Evo Morales, and depends, again, on whether Reyes Villa seeks to negotiate.

We will continue to report as we know more.

sábado, 9 de agosto de 2008

Welcome to our blog, and to the Bolivian recall referendum

We are called Colectivo Rimarikuna, and we are a working group on nonviolence and the prevention of violence in social conflicts. We will be observing and reporting on what happens on the street tomorrow in Cochabamba as Bolivians go to the polls to decide whether the president, vice president, and 8 of the 9 regional prefects will continue in office. We think the likelihood of violence is actually higher Monday, Tuesday, or in the coming weeks, particularly in Cochabamba, where the prefect, Manfred Reyes Villa, is running weak in the polls and has said he does not recognize the referendum and will not leave office if voted out. But as a first action of its kind for our group, and just in case there are clashes tomorrow, we will be at some of the polling stations and in some of the neighborhoods we have determined the risk of violence to be highest.

For more general updates on the referendum, the Democracy Center will be live-blogging throughout the day as well, with reports coming in from around the country.

Our blog in Spanish is here.