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bolivia | by | 30 Jan, 2004 at 01:43 PM | comments (2) | trackback (0)

It's been a week of interesting tidbits of news. Full of political flip floppery, politically related soccer news, and parliamentary intrigue of various sorts.

One of the lighter (but no less important) notes is the conflict w/in the national fútbol (soccer) league. The Santa Cruz clubs are lobbying for a split league, w/ eastern teams playing against each other, and western teams playing against each other in separate tourneys. This is, of course, highly unpopular in La Paz.

A Wednesday editorial in La Razón by José Luís Roca argued that MAS & MIP have become partidos neosistémicos. The "traditional" parties (MNR, MIR, ADN) have long been called "systemic" parties, since they've been part of the electoral democratic process since the return to democracy in 1982. Ideologically radical populist parties like MAS (Evo Morales' party) & MIP (Felipe Quispe's party) have been called "anti-systemic" parties. After October, of course, the political party system has significantly changed. The fact that MAS (especially) is rallying to support Mesa & constitutional democracy have put the "anti-systemic" parties at odds w/ the COB (led by Jaime Solares). Which leads to other interesting political turns.

While I'm not so sure about MIP's change of heart (they have smaller representation in parliament and have been less vocal), the change in MAS strategy is somewhat encouraging.

One of the interesting changes in MAS is it's dissipating support for the "desmonopolization" of politics in the hands of political parties. Although long-opposing Bolivian electoral law stipulating that candidates to public office must belong to a recognized political party (i.e. "independents" can't run), MAS is now opposed to changing the constitution to remove this requirement. Of course, the opposition to "political parties" has always been a bizarre piece of MAS rhetoric since MAS is, in fact, a political party.

This change in position, however, means that an important piece of legislation hammered out by a parliamentary coalition of MNR, MIR, MAS is now in doubt. It's this bill that allows for a constituent assembly & the gas referendum. Evo Morales & Jorge Alvarado (MAS deputies) argued that popular participation in politics can take other means than allowing independents to run for public office.

While I hold the position that liberal representative democracy in nation-states is impossible w/o political parties, I'm skeptical of the sudden change in tune from MAS. That a party that was highly critical of liberal democracy and its reliance on party systems would suddenly defend the institutions makes me question their motives. The conventional wisdom is that MAS (qua institution) doesn't want to lose its power base in the upcoming December municipal elections.

And while the government's trying desperately to cut its budget & reduce costs, parliamentarians from across the party spectrum vehemently resist reducing the salaries of parliamentary suplentes. Every elected deputy or senator has a suplente who fills whenever the titular office-holder is unavailable. The suplentes, too, receive government salaries. The proposal to eliminate these dietas (salaries) was presented by Oscar Arrien (MNR).

On Thursday, an important parliamentary vote to elect the new vocales to the National Electoral Court (the organ that oversees & runs elections) hit a brick wall. The new (shaky) parliamentary coalition supporting Mesa (or at least not directly opposing him) — MNR, MIR, MAS — spent most of the day engaging in cuoteos (essentially, clientelistic rent-seeking). Each of the three parties wants to elect one of its own to the important organ.

When Dante Pino (an NFR deputy) accused MAS of engaging in cuoteo — exactly what MAS heavily criticized the Goni administration of — Filemón Escobar, the MAS hothead deputy, tried to assault Pino. Escobar was eventually restrained, and left the building, calling on Pino to do the same so they could "settle things outside."

Also on Thursday, Parliament voted to move its seat to Sucre (near Tarija) in case of "necessity" (i.e. if Solares & the COB try to close the legislature by force). This move was very unpopular in La Paz, which sees itself as the nation's natural center of politics. Several civic groups asked for the resignation of the presidents of the Senate & House of Deputies. Mesa gave "guarantees" for the parliament's safety and gave a national address in which he pointed out that democracy is impossible w/o a representative assembly.

All the while, the drummed up march to the sea continues, w/ Mesa's government spending massive resources to whip up support in the OAS (Organization for American States) and other international organs. There's also a new committee of ex-chancellors (foreign ministers) put together to develop a strategy for gaining sovereign access to the sea from Chile. Interestingly, unlike other government programs, no one seems to ask how much this committee is costing in terms of salaries, staff, etc.

And. Last, but certainly not least. Goni's "responsibility" trial is slowly crawling ahead. After Goni's resignation 17 October, there were demands for a public trial over his role in the so-called "guerra del gas" (he's accused of using excessive force against protesters). The trial, however, plans to jointly try Goni & his entire cabinet, which is complicated primarily because most of the former ministers are still members of parliament (and for the three largest political parties: MNR, MIR, NFR).

UPDATE: Someone off-line made a comment about Goni's trial yesterday that's important. If the trial involves Goni & all his former ministers, why doesn't it also indict Mesa, Goni's vice-president? After all, if every single minister is considered to be an "accomplice" to whatever Goni's accused of, why not Mesa, who was vice-president the entire time? Should he also stand trial as a member of the Goni administration? And if not, why not?

" comments

is the MAS changing it's tune because it's power base now sees the benefit of political parties, or because MAS sees political benefit from acknowledging it's party formation. weren't they previously calling themselves a "movement" (that's where the "M" comes from, no?) and not a "party"?

also- which of the putative leagues would "the Strongest" be in? and how did they get their name?!

Posted by mike d | January 30, 2004 03:13 PM


I can't fully explain the motives behind the change in MAS. First, because it's a group, not an individual (so several motives could converge). Second, because it's difficult to surmise motives from observed behavior.

But my guess is that it's the same thing that makes Weber's & Michel's writings on bureaucracy & organization stand true over time: organizations want to stay in power. This is true, by the way, of NGOs, which keep increasing their budgets and existence even when they're original objectives are met or no longer relevant. That is, I think the politicians who are deputies & senators for MAS (not to mention all their dirigentes who can now work in ministries and such) see their livelihoods threatened if they dissipate into true "plebiscitary" politics. After all, political parties are in great measure rent-seeking organizations (this is as true in Western Europe as it is in Latin America) as much as they are ideological groupings.

As to the "M" in MAS meaning "movement". Well, there's no actual "parties" in Bolivia -- if you only look at their titles. MNR is the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement. MIR is the Movement of the Revolutionary Left. ADN is the Democratic Nationalist Action. Etc, etc, etc. But, yes, MAS did paint itself as a "non-party party" for the past few years and was highly critical of political parties & the party system. Of course, once they gained a strong presence in parliament and are now in the semi-formal government coalition, things seem to look different. Suddenly, political parties seem to have practical functions, don't they?

Finally, as to the question of the soccer league split. The Strongest is a paceño team, so they'd remain in the western division (if the league splits, which it probably won't). As for their name ... remember that soccer was spread around the world by the British. So. Wherever there was a strong British business presence, some of the first clubs were formed. The Strongest is just one of these teams, one of the oldest in Bolivia.

Posted by miguel | January 30, 2004 03:55 PM

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