Finger pointing
bolivia | by Miguel Centellas | 15 Mar, 2004 at 07:35 AM | comments (3) | trackback (0)

Mesa's speech last night was a stern talking to aimed at the legislature, the syndicalists, and the cruceño business class. And while the missive included a desire to engage in political dialogue w/ each of these sectors — and a call to put personal interests behind & think of Bolivia first — it didn't go over well w/ any of the three target audiences. After Mesa's first real clash w/ the legislature last week, it's clear the honeymoon period's over.

Mesa pointed out that he can't govern w/o the legislature, that democracy requires both an executive & legislature. But his tone was a bit too scolding. No doubt the political parties have some blame — both for the crisis that led to October & the inability to quickly produce the much-awaited reforms. But. As many analysts & politicians pointed out: Mesa seems to think that only he & his ministers are altruists, that only they know what's best for the country, and that the other political players had best step in line.

Part of the problem, of course, is that Mesa's not a politician. He's never held public office before. Now, after only a few months as vice president, he's been thrust in the limelight. While he retains massive popular support, he's slowly showing himself to be a political amateur. And surrounding himself w/ an "independent" cabinet meant that he & his small circle of ingenues are swimming in a sea of sharks.

Essentially, Mesa seemingly wants parliament to pass his proposals. No questions asked. This is dangerous. A popular president w/ no legislative support, who attacks the legislature for not approving all his measures tout court reminds me too much of Fuijimori or Chávez for my taste. But. Of course. It's too early to see where this is going.

The essential problem of politics is that every player thinks he/she's acting in the common interest, even when every player's influenced by personal/sectorial interests. Mesa included. Mesa might think he has a mandate from "the people" (a fictional entity in any pluralist society) to do X, Y, Z. But don't other politicians have other mandates as well?

And the problem of the cruceño business class (which, to be honest, includes many non-cruceño businesses) isn't necessarily one of selfish greed vs. altruism. Are there greedy capitalists? Sure. But their argument is also one of different economic models. The government wants to tax them to close the fiscal deficit. They claim the government would gain greater revenue not by increasing taxes, but by promoting economic recovery. Which economic model works best is an ideological/academic debate. But painting it as simply as the greedy rich not wanting to pay taxes does nothing to win them over.

Essentially, Mesa suffers from his own messianic mystique. This week's PULSO calls Mesa's administration on this. The key point for the weekly was Álvaro Ríos' resignation. He resigned rather than face a legislative censure — where he'd have to go before parliament & defend his handling of the Hidrocarbons Ministry. I agree w/ PULSO: the resignation was foolish. Ministers must be accountable to parliament. Rios resigned rather than face criticism; that's a dangerous attitude.

More potentially dangerous, is the attitude of COB leaders, who demand instant, easy, quick-fix solutions to the country's economic problems — or elections in six months. They want Mesa to just issue decrees, not wait for parliament to approve measures. But democracy isn't one-man rule. Parliament may be slow — and passing laws through it might require complex, difficult negotiations — but it's the difference between democracy & democradura.

" comments

Very intereting post. In my opinion the comparison of Mesa with Fujimory or Chavez is harsh.

Posted by Daniel | March 15, 2004 12:58 PM

Well, I don't mean to imply that Mesa is like Fujimori (or even less) Chávez. But the underlying assumption that drove both of those characters over the edge is the same one Mesa's using. That the president has a mandate, that parliament's job is to approve whatever the president wants, and that disagreements between the two branches of government are almost entirely the fault of that other branch.

Mesa's last speech was his most aggressive one yet. It's marked by egotism & lack of self-criticism. He seems to think HIS plan is exactly what the country needs. No discussion. That's a dangerous path to take. And his direct statements opposed to the interpelation (calling up before parliament for questions) of his ministers is equally dangerous. He's declaring criticism of his policies unacceptable.

He's so popular (and he reminded his audience of that three times in the speech!) that he might eventually decide to just suspend the legislature, and make his "transition" government something else. He just might. Remember that the path to hell is paved w/ good intentions.

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