BIF: Cancun outcome, the gasolinazo, indigenous justice and Cossio in Paraguay

Posted on | februari 23, 2011 | No Comments

* Bolivia Information Forum (BIF): news briefing December 2010 to January 2011

* Cancun outcome, the gasolinazo, indigenous justice and Cossio in Paraguay

1. Bolivia stands alone at Cancún

During the December UN climate change conference in Cancún, Mexico, Bolivia was the only country not to sign up to the final agreement.  Evo Morales described the document as a ‘bad result for the people of the world’, which would result in increasing and worse natural disasters.

The agreement, signed by the other 193 United Nations member states includes plans to limit global warming to a 2˚C rise, and to create a Green Fund to help those affected by climate change.  However, critics point out that the agreement does not establish binding targets for emissions reductions and that this could lead to much higher global temperature rises, with catastrophic consequences for weather systems and the environment. 

The Bolivian delegation, led by UN ambassador Pablo Solón, had lobbied for a 1˚C permitted increase, and the creation of a Tribunal for Climate Justice.  As BIF reported in its most recent bulletin , Solón raised serious questions about the agreement, and queried exactly where the money for the Green Fund would come from. He also expressed his unhappiness that it would be administered  by the World Bank, which he said did not balance the interests of developed and developing countries. Bolivia’s criticisms and decision not to sign the Cancún Agreement are based on the Cochabamba climate conference People’s Declaration (see BIF special briefing April 2010) which it took as its mandate to the COP16 (Cancún) negotiations.

The government of Evo Morales has taken a strong ethical stance on the issue of climate change, and has argued that it will be those in poverty who will suffer most from its effects. Solón says he plans to challenge the Cancún agreement at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. 

2. Gasolinazo – Dieselazo

 As reported in BIF’s recent briefing (see BIF Special Briefing, January 2011), Evo Morales rescinded measures to increase fuel prices in the face of major protests throughout Bolivia.  Decree 748, which would have seen the cost of petrol rise by around 73%, and diesel by 83%, was originally implemented to tackle the problem of subsidised fuel being sold on the black market outside Bolivia, and to encourage investment in the oil industry. Despite promising compensatory measures, including salary hikes of 20% for certain state employees such as teachers, health workers and policemen, President Morales recognised the strength of feeling in Bolivia against the decree and annulled it on New Year’s Eve.

In the wake of the gasolinazo, tensions between the MAS government and Bolivia’s social movements – not all of whom supported the protests – have come to the fore. Rafael Quispe, the secretary for natural resources of the highland indigenous organisation CONAMAQ, has expressed discontent stating that ‘We do not feel part of this government’, while the lowland indigenous organisation CIDOB’s Adolfo Chávez demanded that social movements should be incorporated into the administration to help ‘avoid new conflicts’.  Vice-president Alvaro García Linera has announced that future decisions regarding fuel prices and how to tackle the problem of smuggling would be made in consultation with the social movements.  

Meanwhile, the Bolivian army was sent to border areas to work with customs officers in shoring up crossings and intercepting smuggling routes, in an attempt to try and stem the flow of contraband fuel exports to neighboring countries. Evo Morales himself has continued to refer to money lost through the fuel subsidy as ‘a cancer and called on civil society and opposition politicians to help find a solution to the problem.  

3. New definitions between community and national systems of law

A new law passed in December by the Plurinational Legislative Assembly recognises indigenous communities as legally able to use traditional forms of justice in cases of minor crimes.  The Ley de Deslinde Jurisdiccional regulates the use of community justice, setting limits on where it can be applied and the forms of punishment it can impose. Serious crimes such as homicide, rape or terrorism can still only be tried in ordinary courts. The law forbids the use of lynching as a punishment, stating it is a violation of human rights and exempts non-indigenous people from traditional justice if they commit crimes within indigenous communities.

The new law is underpinned by the recognition of the spiritual relationship between indigenous communities and Mother Earth, and the importance of cultural diversity.  It also recognises equality before the law, stating that women must have equal access to justice and be able to take part fully in the judicial process, including acting as judges.

Passage of the new law has not been without controversy, with some indigenous groups claiming there had been insufficient consultation.  Nonetheless it represents an important step forward for indigenous rights, though challenges remain over how best to coordinate the various forms of justice so that they operate on an equal legal footing.  
4. Governor of Tarija seeks asylum in Paraguay

Diplomatic tensions have risen between Bolivia and Paraguay after Mario Cossío, the suspended governor of Tarija, was granted political asylum by Paraguay’s National Commission for Refugees (CONARE).

Cossío fled to Paraguay after assembly members in the state legislature in Tarija voted for his temporary suspension from office.  He had been accused of corruption and ‘economic damage’ relating to the purchase of 1.3 million Bolivianos worth of asphalt in 2006. Prior to the lodging of formal accusations, Cossío and other departmental assembly members belonging to his Camino al Cambio party began a hunger strike in protest at the potential charges. After dodging border guards by hiding in the boot of a car, Cossío announced from Paraguay that his removal from office was a politically motivated act.

Cossío’s appearance in Paraguay has caused anger in Bolivia. Vice-President Alvaro García Linera accused his Paraguayan counterpart Federico Franco of meddling in Bolivia’s affairs, while Evo Morales asked President Fernando Lugo not to offer protection to corrupt politicians. In Paraguay itself, politicians are divided between those who supported Cossío’s request for asylum, and those, including the president of the senatorial foreign affairs committee, who feel he should face justice in Bolivia.  Government officials have denied accusations that the executive influenced the decision of CONARE.

5. The Plurinational State celebrates its first anniversary

As part of celebrations to record the first anniversary of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Evo Morales called on social movements, the church and civil society in general to put an end to their internal squabbles in order to help the country develop. During a speech evaluating the first year of his second term of office, Morales addressed the Legislative Assembly for over three hours, covering a range of topics.

Morales laid out the advances of his government since 2006 in comparison with the previous five years.  He announced a number of major infrastructural projects to improve Bolivia’s transport capacity, including the building of bridges, airports and roads.  Morales also promised to tackle the housing shortage with 20,000 new homes, and said that he wanted telecommunication coverage for all municipalities. The proposals provide the basis for initial steps in terms of ‘industrialisation’, or steps to increase added value in the treatment of Bolivia’s natural resources (hydrocarbons and mining).  Agricultural production of foodstuffs is also to be fostered by an offer of 10% over the market price to be paid for rice, wheat and maize.

Morales also announced three changes in his twenty-person cabinet: José Luis Gutiérrez was made Minister of Hydrocarbons, Teresa Morales, Minister of Productive Development, and Julieta Monje Minister of the Environment and Water. The reshuffle has maintained gender parity in the government, though some social movements wanted more changes. 

AUTHOR: Bolivia Information Forum
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