BIF News Briefing, August 2012

Posted on | september 11, 2012 | No Comments

Tajibo, árbol representativo del parque nacionalCONTENTS
1. TIPNIS consultation extended after community resistance
2. Freedom of expression concerns as government takes legal action against newspapers
3. Protests over illegal coca plantations and ‘ecological’ military deployment
4. Tensions mount over Colquiri mine
5. MAS plans to eradicate extreme poverty by 2025 Bicentenary
6. Sacha Llorenti named as ambassador to the UN amid questioning
7. National census to take place

1. TIPNIS consultation extended after community resistance
The MAS government has extended the consultation in the TIPNIS for an extra two months after delays in reaching isolated communities in the region. The new deadline will be 7 November, after the government rejected calls by some MAS deputies to keep the process open-ended.

According to the Ministry of Public Works, 32 out of 69 communities had been consulted by the end of the original August deadline. Minister of Government Carlos Romero blamed the delay primarily on weather conditions, as low water levels had made it difficult for the consultation brigades to travel by river in the region. However, many communities continue to refuse to cooperate with the consultation, which has also impeded the process. Following a meeting between local community leaders and CIDOB, the lowland indigenous people’s confederation, twenty communities in the north of TIPNIS announced they will peacefully resist the consultation.

In La Paz, the Justice Tribunal threw out a legal challenge against the consultation made by the indigenous leader Fernando Vargas. Vargas had launched an appeal directed against state ministers, authorities in the Plurinational Legislative Assembly, and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), arguing that the judicial ruling on the consultation should have been made in front of a public audience, as required by the Constitution.

Finally, the indigenous magistrate Gualberto Cusi, a member of the Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal, has withdrawn charges he made against the government, which he had accused of political interference in an earlier case challenging the legality of the consulta law.

2. Freedom of expression concerns as government takes legal action against newspapers
Two newspapers and a Catholic news agency have been charged by the government with ‘disseminating and inciting racism or discrimination’, prompting media in Bolivia and international watchdogs to express concern for freedom of expression. Agencia de Noticias Fides (ANF), El Diario and Página Siete were accused by the government of distorting the meaning of President Morales’s comments on differences between east and west Bolivia in a way that could provoke regional confrontation.

During a speech on food security in Tiwanaku, ANF reported Morales as saying that ‘In the east of Bolivia, where there is production all year round, I would say that it is only a lack of will that makes us poor or not have food. In the Altiplano, it’s different. If there is frost, if there is no rain or if there is hail, then there is no food. But in the east, we only go hungry because of laziness’. The two newspapers later picked up the story under headlines ‘Evo accuses eastern Bolivians of laziness’ and ‘Morales thinks the east is lazy’. The government then brought charges against all three media under the Law against Racism and Discrimination, which was sanctioned in 2010 despite considerable protest from press groups about its possible effect on free speech.

Press groups demonstrated against the charges in La Paz and in other cities, The National Association of Journalists (ANP) has argued that if there has been distortion of the president’s words, then the matter is covered under the Press Law. This would mean that the issue would be dealt with by newspaper editors through a self-regulatory mechanism, rather than being treated as a criminal matter. The ANP’s position has been supported by the international press freedom NGO, Reporters Without Borders, while the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists has also urged the MAS government to drop the lawsuit.

3. Protests over illegal coca plantations and ‘ecological’ military deployment
Consensus has been reached between the government and coca growers (cocaleros) in the Yungas de Vandiola region following protests over the eradication of crops. Cocaleros imposed a blockade at Epizana, blocking transport on the old Cochabamba-Santa Cruz road, while reports suggested that several people were injured in clashes with the authorities. Government Minister Carlos Romero denied there had been any confrontation.

Following talks between community leaders from Machu Yungas and the vice-minister for social defence and controlled substances, Felipe Cáceres, it was agreed that 42 catos (a traditional measurement equalling around 40m2) planted by recent arrivals to the area could be eradicated by the government. Local leader Mario Torrico said that the coca growers who are to lose their plantations would be given help in growing fruit as a substitute.

There was further anger at government plans to send in three hundred soldiers to the Carrasco National Park to prevent further illegal plantations once the programme of eradication had been completed. The Juan Maraza ‘ecological regiment’ will also to be deployed in other protected areas, including the TIPNIS, to prevent illegal logging and drug-trafficking.

4. Tensions mount over Colquiri mine
Tensions are mounting in a three-way conflict between the government and two groups of miners in Colquiri, following the nationalisation of the site in June. After the Swiss-owned commodities giant Glencore had its licence revoked by the government, the majority of the mine was given to the state Mining Corporation (Comibol), but a section (the Rosario seam) was awarded to the 26th February Cooperative. Salaried miners insist the mine belongs wholly to Comibol, and have prevented the cooperative from working its concession. Over eighty soldiers and twenty police have been deployed to prevent a deterioration of the situation, while vice-minister for mining Freddy Beltrán has called for tripartite discussions to overcome the tensions.

Comibol has offered to absorb those who work for the cooperative into its ranks as a solution, and many have already taken up the offer. Héctor Córdova, president of Comibol, has said his organisation has the capacity to hire the remaining cooperativistas, but said he needed consensus between all those involved before taking this step. Meanwhile, the cooperativistas are threatening to bring large numbers of their people to La Paz to make their point heard.

Cooperativistas have also seized part of the San Vicente mine, Potosí department, demanding employment. Although the mine is owned by Comibol, it is managed by the Canada-based Pan-American Silver Cooperation, which apparently has been limiting job opportunities to local miners. Conflicts in the mining sector have continued to trouble the Morales government in recent weeks, including a dispute over the Mallku Qhota mine that resulted in its nationalisation.

5. MAS plans to eradicate extreme poverty by 2025 Bicentenary
In a speech given at the Plurinational Legislative Assembly to mark the 187th anniversary of Bolivian independence, President Morales set out the challenges facing the country which he hoped would be overcome by the time of the bicentennial celebrations in 2025.

Morales, who was recently nominated by MAS as its presidential candidate for the 2014 elections, said his government would work to eradicate extreme poverty by 2025, and ensure that everyone in Bolivia had access to electricity, drinking water, sewerage and telephones. Morales also said that he hoped Bolivia would become self-sufficient in food production during the same period. The president stressed that his government had successfully met previous targets contained in the 2006-2011 National Development Plan, although he accepted failings in terms of tackling corruption and undertaking a programme of reforestation.

Analysts have reacted with scepticism to Morales’s targets. The former president of the Central Bank, Armando Méndez, suggested that even if Bolivia were to achieve annual growth rates of 10% (around twice the current figure) it would take twenty-five years to eradicate extreme poverty. Javier Gómez, the director of the Bolivian think tank CEDLA (Centre for Labour and Agrarian Development Studies) argued that if the government wanted to reduce poverty, it must do more in terms of job creation. Gómez also said that more must be done to reduce economic dependency on natural resources.

6. Sacha Llorenti named as ambassador to the UN amid questioning
Former minister Sacha Llorenti has been controversially appointed as Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations, replacing Rafael Archondo. The move has been criticised by indigenous groups, human rights organisations and opposition politicians due to Llorenti’s alleged role in events during the march against the proposed TIPNIS road in September 2011.

Llorenti resigned as minister of government following a violent police intervention against the march in Chaparina, Beni, but denies ordering police to use force against the protesters. Llorenti’s appointment to the UN came soon after he was excluded by the Public Prosecutor’s Office from its inquiry into the Chaparina events, raising fears that no-one will be held responsible for the repression. Ombudsman Rolando Villena criticised the prosecutor’s decision, suggesting it could create a climate of impunity in Bolivia.

7. National census to take place
The government has announced that a national census will be conducted on Wednesday 21 November this year, with two additional days scheduled for rural areas. Planning and Development Minister Viviana Caro said the information gathered on population and housing would help improve government policies. More than thirty institutions will cooperate under the umbrella organisation La Ruta del Censo to undertake the work and around 230,000 census takers will work across the country to collect data.

Some controversy has arisen over the type of information the government has decided to collect in the census. The ethnic category of mestizo will not be included in list of options for self-identification, with the government arguing that the racial dimension of the word is potentially discriminatory. The census will also not collect information on either religion or sexual orientation. Caro insisted that while the government strongly supported human rights in those areas, but the information was not relevant for public policy. Religious groups and sexual equality campaigners criticised the decision.

AUTHOR: Bolivia Information Forum
URL: http://www.boliviainfoforum.org.uk/
E-MAIL: enquiries [at] boliviainfoforum.org.uk

 

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