This is a source for analysis, interviews, and commentary on security in Latin America. Herein you will find rumors, the results of off the record interviews, and information you'll not find in international or United States news media.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Bolivia's Morales Fights to Avoid a Common Fate

When Bolivian President Evo Morales won the 10 August referendum with some 68% percent of the vote, many observers thought he had taken a major step in the right direction towards quieting his opposition. Events since the referendum, however, have proven that if anything the opposition is more incensed and strategically better positioned than ever to thwart Morales’ plans to mold his country after his own progressive ideals.

On the 27th of August, the Brazilian military was mobilized to help Morales out of an embarrassing situation. When a Bolivian military helicopter carrying President Morales landed in Guyaramerin in the northeastern Bolivian department of Beni, after his meeting with a Canadian oil company, members of the Youth Union of Beni attacked the helicopter with rocks and bottles.

Morales was quickly escorted to a waiting car and driven to the Mamore River, which forms the border with Brazil in that region. Crossing into Brazil, Morales was eventually met by a Bolivian military transport craft that landed by the light provided by the headlights of Brazilian military trucks lined up on either side of the runway at Brazil’s Guajara Mirim base.

Such youth groups with a strong following in Beni and in the city of Santa Cruz have been the more militant arms of an opposition in Bolivia’s “media luna” lowlands region where an ongoing dispute over the reallocation of resources, specifically the direct hydrocarbon tax (IDH), has opposition leaders at loggerheads with the Bolivian government.

Road blocks, protests, and other acts of civil unrest have continued to disrupt the flow of goods and services around the country and by many indications appear to be getting worse.

Opposition leaders have control of food and energy resources that flow from the lowlands to the highlands, where there is a mass concentration of Morales supporters. But Morales has significant popular support and the control of the military.

When opposition leaders in the southern department of Tarija threatened to cut off gas supplies to Argentina, Morales responded by sending the military to secure the gas stations.

But as some analysts have pointed out, it wouldn’t take more than a well placed explosive to disrupt gas flows from the lowlands to the highlands. In the coming weeks, as Morales pushes harder for a national referendum to consolidate the legality of the country’s new constitution, it is possible such dramatic measures are taken.

Already, it seems, the Morales camp is preparing for this eventuality. On 30 August, the Bolivian Vice President, Alvaro Garcia, outlined the possible development of a terrorist group in Santa Cruz, a city long held by the opposition. A day before Garcia’s announcement, a group of Morales supporters, seeking to peacefully march to the center of Santa Cruz, were met by a group of violent anti-Morales activists. A number of Morales supporters were seriously injured.

Before leaving for his trip to Algeria, Lybia, and Iran, Morales announced that the nationwide referendum to approve or reject the new constitution would be held on 7 December. Governors from the "media luna" departments of Beni, Santa Cruz, Tarija, Cochabamba and Pando have said they would prevent their people from taking part in the vote. And on 2 September, Bolivia’s National Electoral Court blocked the 7 December referendum decree stating that by Bolivian law, any such vote must be first approved by the Congress, which has the authority to set the date. Bolivia’s senate is controlled by Morales’ opposition, placing the president at a serious disadvantage.

One side controls the presidency and military, the other controls most of the country’s resources, the senate, and a surly, unorganized group of militant youths. Something will eventually give, and it is not clear if Morales will succeed in preventing the opposition from blocking his reforms and perhaps forcing him out of office. Morales will have a fight on his hands if he wants to avoid the very same fate he has helped hand his predecessors, all of whom were members of the opposition.

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