Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Unasur Report Questioned

From La Razón comes word that Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, and Paraguay have registered objections to Unasur investigator Radolfo Matarollo's report on the Sept. 11 massacre in Pando, Bolivia, in which at least 16 people died, according to Brazilian newspaper O Estado de São Paulo:
The report "was considered hasty and partial by Peru, Colombia, Uruguay and Paraguay," the newspaper said, adding that sources in Brazil "admitted that there was an incident in which 16 people died, but described the action of the UNASUR commission as rubber-stamped and partial."
Besides these flaws, there are three omissions: "The first two victims of the 'slaughter' were opposition activists. The second was that the Minister of the Presidency ... was in Porvenir before the confrontation to mobilize pro-government demonstrators ... Another omission was that many rural supporters of Evo were armed at the time of shock."

I do not see how any of these three "omissions" (if they are in fact omitted from the final report--which we have not seen yet) change the fact that Morales' supporters were gunned down. There are people from the opposition that insist that Presidential Minister Juan Ramon Quintana had a hand in the attacks, claims which I find absurd. That opposition people were also killed--if true--is immaterial to the case (if they were, though, justice demands accountability from their assailants). Which leaves the claim that Morales' supporters were armed before the attack. I bet they were--with stones, clubs, and machetes, which any peasant in Bolivia usually carries when there might be a confrontation with the opposition, which is known for being extremely violent.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Vale un Potosí

Our European friends are kicking it with Bolivia coverage today. From Radio Netherlands comes a great audio report on the history and present conditions of Potosí--a mining city that enriched the Spanish empire and at one time was larger than Paris and London combined.

Grumblings From the Medialuna

The BBC has an article today about the run-up to the constitutional referendum in Bolivia next month. It's short but even-handed. In addition to interviewing Plan 3,000 community leader Portugal Quispe, reporter Daniel Schweimler quotes Jim Shultz of Democracy Center and Blog From Bolivia fame, Branko Marinkovic, and Victor Hugo Rojas:
I asked the UJC vice-president, Victor Hugo Rojas whether he thought more violence was inevitable in the run-up to the January vote on the constitution.

"Change," he said, "is painful. Whether the change will benefit them or us, we'll have to see, but there will be violence. It has to happen and may get worse."

Yikes. Anyhow, it's a recommended read.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Branko Runs

From El Deber, we learn that Branko Marinkovic, the leader of the Pro–Santa Cruz Committee who is being investigated by the Bolivian authorities for his role in the violent takeovers of government buildings in August and September of this year, is hiding out in Europe. Incredibly, he's looking to take his case to International Criminal Court in The Hague. (Marinkovic claims his civil rights were violated.) I can only guess that he's preparing an insanity defense, because nothing he says makes any sense.

Jose Sucuzhanay

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Another Immigrant Death in Brooklyn

Many people have cautioned me when traveling about foreigners--especially U.S. citizens--being targets of attacks, whether simple muggings or politically motivated assaults. But when I was on the road for eight months, the only hassle I had was a street brawl in Lima, Peru, that ended up in a stalemate. I have generally found Latin America to be as safe as New York City. (In fact, the only time I've had a knife pulled on me was on a public bus in Minneapolis.) There are risks to traveling, to be sure, but I've never found it to be prohibitively dangerous (there are certain exceptions, though).

The United States, though, is looking really scary now--if you're an immigrant, that is. I'm ashamed to see that an Ecuadorian immigrant, Jose Sucuzhanay, has died today, after being beaten this past Sunday by a group of men in Bushwick. Witnesses report that the men yelled racial and anti-gay epithets at him and his brother, who were walking arm in arm in the early morning.
Diego Sucuzhanay said that his brother, one of 12 siblings, came to New York 10 years ago “because there were job opportunities.” He said Jose worked as a restaurant waiter for seven years, and founded his real estate agency several years ago. “He helped this community,” he said. “He loved Bushwick.”

This comes on the heels of another Ecuadorian immigrant, Marcelo Lucero, being killed last month on Long Island. His alleged killers are in custody.

Let's hope that Mr. Sucuzhanay's killers are brought to justice.


Bolivian Economic Forecast

The IHT lists a number a factors that Bolivia faces with the upcoming current worldwide economic sh*tstorm, among them:

  • Declining commodity prices, which affects exports (natural gas;

  • Declining remittances, from Spain, the U.S., and Argentina;

  • U.S. trade preferences withdrawal--thanks, Bush! (Will Obama reverse this?);

  • Suspension of investment, which has slowed to a "trickle" in recent years.

But, as bad as this looks, the IHT concludes that "The social effects of the downturn will accentuate problems affecting the Morales administration as--assuming a 'yes' vote in January's constitutional referendum--it seeks to campaign for re-election in December 2009. However, as the August recall referendum showed, Morales's personal popularity remains high. Opposition to his government is fragmented. It will be difficult for the opposition to unite around a single presidential candidate."

I'm no economist, so I can't make an informed comment. But I do know that data is frequently twisted to tell one side or the other. Anybody have any insight to this analysis?

(La Razón has a Spanish-language article that touches the same themes, with a more upbeat forecast.)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Paceño in Baghdad

The life of Victor Hugo Rodríguez Guarache is a story of hope. He was born 31 years ago in La Paz, and he fights in Iraq under a flag that is not yet his own, but it will be in February, when he returns home. He escaped poverty when he was 19 years old with only $20 en his pocket, he crossed 10 countries during a five-month voyage, in which he traversed the Darién Gap, the tropical zone infested with guns and narco-traffickers. He unloaded trucks in exchange for transportation, washed dishes for food, and walked into Texas without papers in October 1997. Now, he patrols the Adhamiya neighborhood in Baghdad every day. "A couple of boys from our base were killed two days ago. It gets you. You think that all the guns and protection that we carry are useless. Here, the danger is the snipers."

From La Razón (in Spanish).

Friday, December 5, 2008

Branko's Defense

Below is the letter from the Pro–Santa Cruz Committee in which a somewhat lackluster defense of PSCC leader Branko Marinkovic is offered. It states that Marinkovic cannot be guilty of sabotaging a Tarija department gas pipeline because it was damaged by a fire due to poor management (mal manipulación). But is the government getting ready to charge Marinkovic for that, or for the more readily achieved riots in his home city of Santa Cruz? From the IHT:
"We have enough evidence in this investigation to allow us to link Mr. Marinkovic with the acts of terrorism that occurred in several parts of the country in September," government minister Alfredo Rada told state radio.

Twenty people, including a governor and another civic leader, are already behind bars for the violence that erupted in four opposition-controlled regions when anti-Morales protesters stormed government buildings, sabotaged natural gas pipelines and battled with the president's supporters.

The missive seems to be a red herring, designed to throw the media off the trail of violence that can more easily be traced back to the PSCC and the Santa Cruz Youth Union, which is the enforcement branch of the Santa Cruz–based opposition. (And you want dynamite charges thrown in the mix too? OK.)

(Image: BBC)

Letter From the Pro–Santa Cruz Committee

Just in from Santa Cruz. Translation is pending. Take it with a pinch of salt. (Click document to enlarge.)

Translation (mine) follows. Please feel free to correct.

Autonomous Department of Santa Cruz. Dec. 4, 2008


The Pro–Santa Cruz Committee is an institution that for more than 50 years has fought for democracy and progress for the people of Bolivia and Santa Cruz. Thus, today it fights for autonomy, through a democratic media. For example, this past May we backed a popular referendum in which 85% of the citizens voted for the Santa Cruz autonomy statute. Similarly, citizens of Pando, Beni, and Tarija departments also backed their respective autonomy statutes. Autonomy is our proposal to change Bolivia and create a more democratic and prosperous society, with better opportunities for everybody equally.

Today in Bolivia we live with a constitutional referendum campaign backed by the [ruling party] MAS and the government of President Evo Morales. The Pro–Santa Cruz Committee has decided to participate in this campaign, asking the citizens to vote "No" to the proposed constitution. We do not think that this constitution grants liberty, democracy, and equal justice for all, nor does it contribute to the unity of Bolivia, and it especially does not recognize our autonomy. It requires that departmental resources be administered by the central powers in La Paz.
The government of President Morales has answered our peaceful and democratic campaign with political and judicial persecution against our autonomy leaders--the departmental prefects and the civic leaders. This persecution is based on false accusations. For example, the MAS government accuses the president of the Pro–Santa Cruz Committee, Brank Marinkovic, of having allegedly participated in a dynamite attack against a gas pipeline in Tarija department. But this grave attack never happened. This was confirmed by published technical reports from the company that runs the pipeline, Transierra, stated that the damage was from a fire due to poor operation.

The government persecutes; it hides military operatives; it prosecutes its opponents with its own judges and prosecutors, ruling through propaganda and paid television. This demonstrates that the MAS government does not want any contrary opinion in the campaign for its constitution.

The letter is to inform you of this crisis of liberty and democracy that Bolivia is suffering.

[Signed] Luís Núñez Ribera,
First Vice President

[Seal, Pro–Santa Cruz Committee]

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Let's Blame Chavez! Everybody Else Does . . .

Otto points out an article from the Economist that briefly explains the recent spate of protests that have affected life in Peru. The claim by the Peruvian government that perpetual bogeyman Hugo Chavez is funding various protest groups is fleetingly considered, then repudiated:
Certainly far-left activists can be found in the bigger disputes. But many of the conflicts are very local in nature, and it is hard to see them as forming part of a concerted attempt to undermine democracy or the market economy. They are getting more violent because people have seen that more can be squeezed from the government by throwing stones or setting fire to police stations than simply by marching through the streets, says Fernando Rospigliosi, a former interior minister.

All that with a 10% growth rate. What happens when the economy really starts to feel the effects of the worldwide economic sh*tstorm? (Not to mention a newly mobilized Shining Path.)

Longtime DS will remember my missives sent during a general strike and a roadblock earlier this year.

No, They Did Not Kill Themselves . . .

. . . No matter what the opposition thinks.

The Unasur commission released a report on the Sept. 11, 2008, massacre in Pando. (Interestingly enough, nothing's been mentioned in papers from the States. Only the Times of India, Reuters, and Prensa Latina have any English-language coverage.) From Reuters:
Unveiling his findings on behalf of the 12-member panel, commission head Rodolfo Mattarollo said some of the 20 mostly Morales supporters killed in Pando province were murdered.

Mattarollo, an Argentine lawyer and Human Rights expert, said that some of the killers worked for Pando's opposition-controlled provincial government.

Now, will the opposition lunatics quit insisting that Venezuelan commandos did it? Or that they killed themselves? Or that Morales did it with his bare hands?

No, I doubt it.

Urg. I'm going back to bed. (Cough, cough.)

Oh, yeah, Bina's got a video in Spanish.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bolivia Happenings This Week

I'm cribbing a bit from El Duderino today, as my return to the north has given me a case of the flu, it seems. I get a bad cough, and I can barely post. El Dude loses an arm and he's still hitting it in Bolivia.

  • Santa Cruz's favorite "civic committee" leader, Branko Marinkovic, might get arrested soon for his alleged role in riots and sheer stupidity that crippled his city earlier this year. I don't know why the cambas didn't do it themselves, as his "protests" closed down the city, crippled the infrastructure, and made him--and his fellow cambas--the laughingstocks of South America. (Where is he now anyway? Still moping around Brazil, complaining that rich landholders like himself are being subjected to human-rights violations? Or in Miami? Anyway, government minister Alfredo Rada had some advice for him: "What Mr. Marinkovic has to do is prepare his defence and not try to run.")

  • Now, if that doesn't piss Branko off, this will: The Bolivian government is starting to expropriate large landholdings and giving them to . . . indigenous Bolivians! Just so happens part of this land is in cambalandia, Santa Cruz state, and there's nothing that pisses a camba off more, in my opinion, than giving the darker-skinned ones a damn thing. Before you feel too bad for the landowners:
    According to figures compiled by the United Nations, Bolivia's richest 100 rural families hold five times as much acreage as 2 million peasant farmers, while a 2004 World Bank study found that the discrepancy in wealth between the richest and poorest fifths of Bolivia's rural population is 170:1.

Sometimes life is good.