October 30, 2017

The Re-election Issue Comes Back to Hunt Bolivia

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Re-election has been a recurring issue in Bolivian politics. It seems the MAS forces as well as the government are intent on allowing Evo Morales remain in the presidential office. The first time, back in April 2013, Morales was allowed by the Supreme Court to run again by ruling the first time Morales was elected in 2005 did not count towards the two terms allowed because it happened before the new Plurinational State was founded in 2009. The second time, official political forces asked the population in a referendum whether the amendment of article 168 in the constitution, which would allow a one time re-election of Evo Morales and his VP for a period 2015 - 2020, would be allowed.The result was a narrow negative to amending the constitution.

Now, the third time, the same political forces have gone back to the legal path. This time around, the government is raising an issue of constitutionality about some articles within the same constitution. The government has submitted a petition (in Bolivia known in legal terms as Recurso de Inconstitutionalidad, and in English maybe translated to recourse or procedure or appeal) to the Constitutional Tribunal or in other words Constitutional Court to take a look at some articles within the current Bolivian constitution to see if they are unconstitutional. 

The argument is somewhat convoluted. Basically it says the term limit on the presidency of no more than two times restricts the political rights of Bolivians when it comes to having the human right to run for office without being restricted. Legally, the people who presented this appeal are arguing that by restricting terms in a public office, the constitution is unconstitutional because it is violating the political, which is equaled to human rights, to run for any office or to be elected. The argument finds the solution in article 256 in the same constitution, which allows the application of international norms superseding the same constitution, such as the American Convention on Human Rights, which in its article 23 defines the right to be elected as a human right.

I ask myself, what is the logic behind this argument? The more I think about it, the more I question the logic. Granted I am not a lawyer, I dare to think aloud about this issue.

The argument does not seem to be logic to me. To start of, it seems to me, it is being argued the Bolivian constitution can be subordinated to an international norm such as the above mentioned convention on human rights. As far as I know, these type of conventions or international laws have to be ratified by the country's congresses. These ratification processes go through, among other things, a process of constitutionality, i.e. whether they are not contrary to the constitution. This means to me that such laws have to be in accordance with the constitution, which is the supreme law in the land, and nothing and nobody is above it.

However, there is another point in the logic of the argument that makes me more skeptic. In such an appeal or procedure of unconstitutionality, where the objective is to see if a legal text is contradictory to the constitution, the text being looked at has to be compared to the constitution. Now I ask myself, how in the world are the constitutional judges going to take text from the Bolivian constitution and compare it to the same constitution to rule whether this text is constitutional or not? It seems they would be measuring something that is defective with itself.

Third, and final point, it is being assumed the political right of a person (lets say, from Evo Morales) is being restricted by applying the notion of terms in office. The result, a person cannot run for office, therefore his or her political right, which is also a human right, according to the convention, is being restricted. That cannot be. Well, that might be true, however we are forgetting here to differentiate between two things: One, the fundamental right of a person to run for public office in a country. Two, the equally fundamental notion of delimiting the terms of a president in office.

Because the first issue is so basic and easily understandable as well as being widely accepted, I will elaborate on the second issue. The reasons why a constitution allows for term limits in high office is to protect the democratic system from becoming eventually a de-facto authoritarian or dictatorship system of government. This is, in nature, a defense mechanism the system build within itself to protect the democratic process. In many countries, this restrictions are reserved for the higher positions, while other officials such as mayors or the like could be re-elected many times. 

In the particular case of Evo Morales, which is at the center of our concern, he was indeed guaranteed, with the current constitution and with the one before, his right to run for elections. In fact, he has been running for office since the early 80s. He has been deputy and is not president of Bolivia. In this manner, it seems to me his political and human right to run for office has been protected and guaranteed by the Constitutions of Bolivia.
 
Where will this issue end? We are all expecting the issue will end at the Constitutional Tribunal. Because the argument seems to be weak. However, if the tribunal allows Morales to run again the matter will last until the next elections in 2019. Then, the people of Bolivia will have the opportunity to once and for all tell Mr. Morales he should make place for someone new.

October 29, 2017

Summary: The Bolivian economy 2016 to 2017

Noted in prior assessments, Bolivia has profited in the past from the boom in commodity prices, especially higher prices in natural gas, Bolivia's most important natural resource. The country was able to accumulate a substantial amount of financial resources, something that has been useful to weather more recent times when those prices have declined. Currently, Bolivia has been experiencing a more delicate economic situation, where past surpluses have turned into deficits and the government having to rely more on those reserves and on credit. While Bolivia has been growing at decent rates and is forecasted to continue growing, the economic future has turned a bit more gray.

The government follows two plans in order to implement its agenda. One plan, which is more like a framework, is the so called Patriotic Agenda 2025, issued five years ago. The plan calls for the eradication of poverty and improvements in access to health and education as well as government-led economic development. A second plan, the five year Economic and Social Development Plan, emphasizes public investment to spur growth. That investment is aimed at industrializing the country through the creation of national industries, such as cement, carton or paper factories. Other aims are the subsidization of necessity goods to keep prices accessible and social transfers. 

All those efforts have been burdening the economy in several ways. To start, we take a look at GDP growth. Continuing the trend my prior analysis identified (see here and here), growth in the Bolivian economy has been slowing down. Not only several international organization such as the IMF, the World Bank and the CEPAL, but also independent think tanks within Bolivia and, to a certain extent, the Bolivian government itself, have confirmed this trend. So is, that the Fundacion Milenio (independent Bolivian think tank) reports in its latest assessment of the Bolivian economy, that growth for 2016 has been 4.3 per cent, whereas the same in 2015 was 4.9 per cent and in 2014, 5.5 per cent. For 2017, the expectations between the Bolivian government and the rest take different directions. Similarly, the government expects a 4.7 per cent growth, while the IMF and the CEPAL estimate a rate of growth of 4 per cent and the World Bank estimates a 3.5 per cent growth. 

The main factors for this slower economic development continues to be the already reported breakdown of exports, of which, the predominant cause is the fall in the volume of natural gas exports to Brazil and Argentina. The volume of natural gas sales to both countries in 2015 was 49 million cubic feet, while in 2016 this fell to 43 million cubic feet. For an economy, such as the Bolivian economy, dependent on the sale of natural resources, the fall of prices in international markets of natural gas and oil has meant a serious economic challenge. 

The most immediate effect of this decline in exports has been, the decline in public investment. The government has been feeling the pressure of having less financial resources available. As such, it has had to make difficult decisions as to which projects to continue financing, which new projects to start financing and which ones to stop financing. In 2015, public investment grew at 8.5 per cent, while in 2016 growth was registered at 2.4 per cent. This slow in growth was much more felt at the departmental level of government.

Despite of the negative trend, some sectors of the economy have experienced some relative growth. For example, the financial services sector has been growing at a 7.9 per cent and the construction sector at a 7.8 per cent in 2016. Agriculture has grown in the same year at a 3.1 per cent, in spite of the harshest drought in 25 years. Finally, the mining sector -especially small and cooperative enterprises- has been growing at a 4.7 per cent. 

Another factor in the slowing down of the economy has been the hesitant domestic consumption, which up until recently was a stabilizing factor for the economy, but since 2015 it showed a decline from 5.2 per cent in 2015 to 3.4 per cent in 2016. This reduction happened in spite of the government efforts to precisely induce more consumption through increase in salaries, subsidize prices of some goods and strengthen the value of the Boliviano against the Dollar. 

All this has had the effect of bringing back the problem of the budget deficit, a problem that Bolivia has not had for a number of years. For 2016, the fiscal deficit was 6.6 per cent and for 2017, it has been estimated to be reaching 7.8 per cent. In the last years, this deficit has been financed in the order of 70 per cent by the central bank and the rest through external credits.

The combination of policies aiming at strengthening domestic demand, keeping the Boliviano strong and a high level of public investment, has tended to keep the economy growing. However, the danger of such policies has been to increase demand for import, which are anything but supporting of the production of local goods and services and therefore of consumption. Furthermore, the pressures building on the financial side of the economy, such as the fiscal deficit, the expansion of the monetary base through large government investments, the subsidies and the unstable international environment, are still a concern for the government.

June 09, 2017

Bolivia's UN Security Countil Presidency

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On the first of June this year, Bolivia took the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the duration of one month. During this time, Bolivia will seek to continue pressing the world on paying attention to issues such as peace, weapons proliferation, and the right to access water around the world.

Bolivia has been a UN member since 1945, and having been a member of the UNSC in two occasions already, from 1964 to 1965 and from 1978 to 1979, it currently finds itself in its third time in this exclusive club, from 2017 to 2018. In the course of these memberships, Bolivia has held the council's presidency five times prior to June 2017, that is in January and December 1964, in November 1965, in June 1978, and in November 1979.

This time around, the issues Bolivia seeks to bring to the councils agenda are: preventive diplomacy and transboundary water, explosive hazards, international peace and security, terror acts, peace building and sustainable peace, peace keeping missions, issues on Cote de Ivore and Palestine, and Haiti.

If you want to follow the work of Bolivia in the Security Council, you can visit the Security Council's website. 

http://www.un.org/press/en/content/security-council
http://www.un.org/press/en/2017/170601_SC.doc.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_members_of_the_United_Nations_Security_Council
http://www.worldfuturefund.org/Projects/Indicators/boliviaun.htm
http://www.un.org/depts/dhl/unms/boliviaplurinationalstateof.shtml
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/President_of_the_United_Nations_Security_Council






May 11, 2017

Sustainable Development Goals: Bolivia's Development

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After a while, I am posting something interesting. The World Bank (WB) just released its Sustainable Development Goals Report for 2017. For those of you who remember, these are the former Millennium Goals.

This measurement, which looks at some 17 categories, to rank countries on a four quarter scale of low income, lower middle income, upper middle income and high income pretends to measure the stage of development a country finds itself at a certain time, in this case, it would be 2017. The categories are listed below for your information. They have been extracted from the document, hopefully with the good will of the WB.

“World Bank. 2017. Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals 2017 : From World Development Indicators. World Bank Atlas;. Washington, DC: World Bank. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/26306 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.”
If you need more detailed information on each of the categories head to the link above and download the report. It will give you a load of information based on the WB's data, neatly arranged data following the categories, fully illustrated, in about 131 pages.

If you want specific information on a country, I suggest you go directly to the WB's data site. To get information on a specific country through the report is a bit difficult. You will have to read the whole report. If you have time, by all means, do it.

My own impression on Bolivia is the country has been accumulating a positive record on many of the SDGs goals. This is most notably in the areas of poverty, hunger, health, well-being, education, gender equality, clean water, and sanitation as well as clean energy. The critic on this positive development has been the marginality of the improvement versus the available resources ($$$).

In other areas, especially on institutions (justice, government, civil society), sustainability of cities and of economic development, as well as action on climate issues, the country's development has been more than questionable, measured with the SDGs tools.

Overall, an interesting read. Enjoy.
 

January 27, 2017

The Meaning of a Trump Government for Latin America

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On November 12, 2016 I wrote about what a #Trump government would mean for the Latin American region and Bolivia. In that post, I highlighted the many measures affecting the region that Mr. Trump wanted to implement in the first 100 days after he took office. I also mentioned that it was important to know who his collaborators in the cabinet would be, and in the government positions below the cabinet level. Some days after Mr. Trump's inauguration as @POTUS and some weeks after the beginning of the confirmation process of Mr. Trump's cabinet, we have more facts on which to rely on, to be able to look ahead on the shape of the #US-Latin American relationship.

For instance, we can look at Rex Tillerson's (former CEO of Exxon Mobile) confirmation process for Secretary of State. Mr. Tillerson's confirmation vote is scheduled to happen next week, but his ongoing testimony and prior record has opened a window on his beliefs and, perhaps, on his future behavior. One emerging fact is that such scrutiny on Mr. Tillerson's views is revealing important differences with Mr. Trump's views. Examples are, his views on Putin's oppressive or totalitarian tendencies or views on the existence of climate change.

As far as Latin America is concerned, Mr. Tillerson's experience with the region can be characterized as direct. In fact, as Exxon-Mobile's CEO, he has had the necessity, if not the obligation, to think about the relationship of that company with many governments of that region.

One such government has been that of Mexico. In contrast to Mr. Trump's words about reconsidering NAFTA and Mexican immigrants being "rapist" and "criminals", Mr. Tillerson once said that the economies of US, Mexico and Canada were interwoven because of the NAFTA deal. It is understandable, that he would want more cooperation between the two nations and, specially, between two of the largest oil companies in the world, namely Exxon and Pemex. Further, he considered the trade deal a productive, job-creating, mutually-beneficial deal for the US and Mexico. In fact, in his confirmation hearings, Mr. Tiller described Mexicans as trusting friends, on whom the US could rely on.

In contrast, his relationship with Venezuela could not be considered as positive. First of all, as Mr. Hugo Chavez nationalized Exxon's assets in 2007, as part of his "Bolivarian Revolution", he had no choice as to take the Venezuelan government to court. However, the result of that process was a $ 1.6 billion award in favor of Exxon Mobile, when the estimated cost should have been $ 15 Billion. In conclusion, Mr. Tiller could not have been happy with this outcome. In similar manner, in 2015/2016, Exxon made a discovery of oil reserves on the Essequibo river, which lies in a disputed border area between Guyana and Venezuela. That has also become a disputed issue between the Venezuelan government and the Exxon Mobile company. The larger interpretation of these issues is, that Mr. Tiller has already plenty of experience with dealing with Latino caudillos such as Mr. Chavez.

Finally, Mr. Tiller's words concerning Colombian and Cuba were also interpreted having a certain distance with what Mr. Trump said. According to his comments, for Mr. Tiller, Colombia is a successful partner in the war against drugs and deserves continued aid support. Especially on the plan Peace Colombian, which is yet to pass in Congress and aims at continuing supporting the peace efforts the current government is engaged in. As for Cuba, he recently mentioned that if he were to appointed, he would take a careful look at the current policies towards Cuba.

Another figure is Ret. Gen. John F. Kelly, newly appointed head of Home Land Security. Gen. Kelly (a.k.a. mad dog Kelly) has been the head of the US Southern Command between 2012 and 2015. In such as post, he was intimately linked with, at least, the military side of the North American policy towards the Latin American region. As such, he oversaw the all important war on drugs, and other measures to deal with illegal migration, crime an, to a larger extent, security.

For instance, he repeatedly highlighted the activities of Hezbollah terrorist cells within Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil, as well as Venezuela. He also mentioned the possible threat it would mean for the US of increasing the Chinese military in the region. At the same time, he highlighted the importance of continued support of the Colombian peace process and fight against drug trafficking. Furthermore, he argued for a continued support of those efforts beyond Colombia, highlighting the willingness of Peru to work with the US against such a threat. According to the New York Times, he has supported for: "He has supported increased aid for economic development, education and a focus on human rights to combat unauthorized immigration and drug trafficking."

Another important figure should be Robert Lighthizer, nominated for heading the US Trade Representative Office. Mr. Lighthizer, however, has been a known figure in Wasington, DC and therefore his tendencies are more or less easy to discern. His tendency to protectionism and his criticism towards NAFTA and other free trade agreements are well documented in the public record. His approach can be summarized as blaming the free trade agreements sought by the US government so far as being too generous to outside partners and not careful enough to keep benefits for the US. He has been know to criticize, among others, Latin American nations as not holding up to the standards of trade agreed upon and unfairly benefiting from the agreements in place. He is widely expected to carry out Mr. Trump's policies towards the region without hesitance.

Lastly, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, suggested by Mr. Trump to head the Energy Department. This is the same department which Mr. Perry said he wanted to eliminate during his candidacy campaign during the republican primaries in 2011. Mr. Perry, as Texas governor is intimately familiar with the immigration issues with Mexico. Moreover, since a large part of those people who enter illegally the US through the Mexico border are not Mexicans, but Latin Americans and even Africans, he should have a highly differentiated knowledge of the problem. However, his comments tend to confirm that he will pursue Mr. Trump's policy without any criticism. That is, if he does not reveal any new views on the matter on the remaining confirmation session.










January 23, 2017

Morales' New Cabinet

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Source: ABI, Jose Lirauze
Source: ABI, Jose Lirauze
Evo Morales has once again renewed his government and made changes to his cabinet. He created the Ministry of Energy, while he abolished the Ministries of Autonomies and of Transparency. It is worth mentioning that Juan R. Quintana (Ministry of the Presidency), David Choquehuanca (Ministry of Exterior) and Marianela Paco (Ministry of Communications), two (Quintana and Choquehuanca) of the most experienced Ministers have left the government. Quintana was very unpopular with the MAS organizations and Choquehuanca was well respected. Both are sure to get posts in the diplomatic core.

The following list is the new Cabinet.
  1. Fernando Huanacuni Mamani- Canciller de Bolivia (Minister of Exterior)
  2. René Martínez Callahuanca- Ministro de la Presidencia (Ministry of the Presidency)
  3. Carlos Romero - Ministro de Gobierno (Ministry of Government) (ratified)
  4. Reymi Ferreira - Ministro de Defensa (Ministry of Defense) (ratified)
  5. Mariana Prado Noya - Ministra de Planificación del Desarrollo (Ministry of Planning and Development)
  6. Luis Alberto Arce Catacora - Ministro de Economía y Finanzas Públicas (Ministry of Economy and Public Finances) (ratified)
  7. Luis Alberto Sánchez Fernández - Ministro de Hidrocarburos (Ministry of Hydrocarbons) (ratified)
  8. Eugenio Rojas - Ministro de Desarrollo Plural Productivo (Ministry of Plural Productive Development)
  9. Milton Claros Hinojosa - Ministro de Obras Públicas y Servicios y Vivienda (Ministry of Public Works, Services and Housing) (ratified)
  10. Félix Cesar Navarro - Ministro de Minería y Metalurgia (Ministry of Mining (ratified)
  11. Héctor Arce Zaconeta - Ministro de Justicia (Ministry of Justice)
  12. Hector Hinojosa Rodríguez - Ministro de Trabajo, Empleo y Previsión Social (Ministry of Work, Employment and Social Security)
  13. Ariana Campero Nava - Ministra de Salud (Ministry of Health) (ratified)
  14. Carlos Ortuño Yañez - Ministro de Medioambiente y Agua (Ministry of Environment and Water)
  15. Roberto Iván Aguilar Gómez - Ministro Educación (Ministry of Education) (ratified)
  16. César Cocarico Yana - Ministro de Desarrollo Rural y Tierras (Ministry of Rural Development and Lands) (ratified)
  17. Vilma Alanoca - Ministra de Cultura y Turismo (Ministry of Culture and Tourism)
  18. Gísela López - Ministra de Comunicación (Ministry of Communication)
  19. Tito Rolando Montaño - Ministro de Deportes (Ministry of Sports (ratified)
  20. Rafael Alarcón – Ministro de Energías (Ministry of Energy)

Source: El Deber (N stands for New and R for Ratified) If you hover on the letters you will get a brief statement about the person in Spanish.

Sources:
http://www.eldeber.com.bo/bolivia/Quien-es-quien-en-el-nuevo-gabinete-de-Evo-Morales-20170123-0030.html
http://www.erbol.com.bo/noticia/politica/23012017/evo_estrena_gabinete_con_9_nuevos_ministros
http://comunicacion.gob.bo/?q=20170123%2F23083