Zero Hour in Bolivia: What to Watch for Today
Pal cementerio se va
La vaca de mala leche
Pal cementerio se va
Ni dios le va a perdonar
- Manu Chao
It is 4:30 in the morning somewhere in a country called América, the coffee percolates on a lucky stove where there is still gas: Authentic Journalism cannot sleep. A day of reckoning is upon us.
Today, the ghosts of Bolivias 180 years of simulated democracy will haunt the empty halls of the Bolivian Congress in La Paz at 10:30 a.m. as the Senators and Deputies of the disgraced official parties convene 740 kilometers away, in Sucre, to sign a death warrant on a nations hopes for authentic democracy.
By the dawns early light thousands of farmers, miners, students, teachers, manual laborers, maids, gardeners, elders and children, chewing coca leaf and carrying ancient memories and dreams of self-determination, are moving toward Sucre en masse... The legislators had to be flown to Sucre in military airplanes to pull the underhanded maneuver that is on todays docket: the installation of an unpopular, indeed reviled, politician and oligarch, Hormando Vaca Diez, as illegitimate president. The blockades that have shut down 120 points along the countrys roads and highways would not let these powerful men pass over by land.
And yet this morning, in the darkness, the barricades have lifted in each town and hamlet along the path so that the common people the majority owners of Bolivia could pass toward Sucre on roads where the corrupt politicians could not. To the roosters crow, the path opens. The pro-democracy pilgrims are handed cooked potatoes, fried bananas, maybe some fried trout, salteñas or chicharrón for sustenance along the way by a population that supports their cause. They ride on the backs of pickup trucks over dirt and gravel roads past the oil fields they have occupied in recent days, the closed gas valves, the plugged water mains, the stranded tractor-trailers filled with rotting produce, and the US-funded military bases where poor, indigenous, young men worry about being sent to massacre their own in the coming days.
And once the caravan passes through, the locals recover the roads with rocks, toppled trees, barricades and banners. The battle has begun. There is no turning back.
Vaca Diezs Doctrine of Authoritarian Government
The Monday night resignation of President Carlos Mesa a well-intentioned sap who could not reconcile his knowledge of Bolivian history with his oligarch roots and privilege is just one more step on this long, seemingly endless, march. Indecision has a first and last name in Bolivia, and it is Carlos Mesa. He tried to please everyone the US Ambassador, the coca growers, the oil companies, the social movements, the official parties, the opposition, the oligarchs, the indigenous and ended up pleasing nobody. He straddled that picket fence until his seat hurt so much that he had to jump off.
Next in line for executive power in Bolivia, if Congress, as expected, ratifies Mesa's resignation, is Senate President Hormando Vaca Diez, an agribusinessman from Santa Cruz who owns vast tracts of land that he does not work with his own hands while most of his fellow and sister citizens struggle to find and keep a home on a small plot that, in most cases, someone like Vaca Diez claims to own.
But Bolivias Congress could not meet on Tuesday nor on Wednesday. The men of wealth and power with legislative titles feared to tread in the administrative capital of La Paz this week because the masses had come down from the hills to put a stop to the simulation of democracy and to demand a real one. And so Vaca Diez convoked the military to swoop up the legislators and fly them to Sucre, where they will meet this morning.
According to a national public opinion poll taken this week by the daily La Razon in La Paz, 84-percent of the Bolivian people do not want Vaca Diez to assume the presidency. But within that remaining 16-percent is Mr. Vaca Diez himself: thats why he has gone to such lengths to move Congress to a far-away location in order to ratify his coronation.
Vaca Diez is not an indecisive man. He knows what he wants: Power. And he knows how to get it: By any means necessary.
Vaca Diez, on the cusp of realizing his long presidential ambitions, revealed his doctrine of political power on Tuesday when he said: "The radicalism of the left leads to totalitarian governments.
Vaca Diez also told reporters: If one faction from the many social sectors chooses to set aside these principals (of national unity) and pushes toward confrontation and a blood bath, it will end in authoritarian government. It sounded like he was talking about the protestors, but the words apply more to his own faction.
The word faction, after all, means a small united group within a larger one, especially in politics (Oxford American Dictionary).
The group that opposes Vaca Diezs ascension to the throne is, according to the aforementioned poll, a large majority. It therefore cannot, by definition, be a faction.
That group also includes outgoing President Carlos Mesa, who took to the national airwaves on Tuesday night imploring Vaca Diez to stand down, to not assume the presidency, for the sake of that same national unity principle invoked by Vaca Diez. Mesa said: Hormando, as a person, as a politician, as someone who's known you for a long time, I make a personal plea to you. Don't insist on going down a road that's impossible to follow.
That group also includes, according this weeks survey data, the 55-percent of the Bolivian population that wants to see Supreme Court President Eduardo Rodríguez as their new president, who would call for new national elections within three months of taking office. Fifty-five percent does not constitute a faction. It is not small. It is a majority.
That group also includes, interestingly, the second man in line for succession to the presidency, Speaker of the House Mario Cossio, who according to the Bolivian correspondent for the Mexican daily El Universal, said he was ready to renounce (becoming president) as long as there is a guarantee that Eduardo Rodríguez will assume the presidency.
One of the reasons why a majority of Bolivians including leaders of the opposition like Congressman and coca growers leader Evo Morales favor the Supreme Court presidents ascension to the top office is that the Bolivian Constitution would then require the judge to call elections within three months.
The only people now standing in the way of that scenario the one solution that unites the opposition, the current president, the speaker of the house, and a majority of Bolivian citizens is the power-hungry Vaca Diez and the disgraced political power brokers of the official political parties in Congress.
Vaca Diez, if he rises to the presidency, will try at all costs to hold on to power through 2007, the end of a presidential term that began in 2001 with the Congressional appointment of exiled Gonzalez Goni Sanchez de Lozada, carried through his 2003 resignation and flight to Miami, the rise of then-vice president Carlos Mesa, and now Mesas resignation.
In other words, a Vaca Diez presidency will lack any legitimacy or public support from its first day which seems to be today. It will block an electoral solution to the crisis. And thats a very dangerous cocktail that ensures the bloodbath that he has virtually called for when stating his Doctrine of Authoritarian Government.
In Vaca Diezs own words: I am absolutely convinced that the armed forces will back us and will help guarantee that democracy does not die in Bolivia.
Translation: He will send in the military to fight against his own people in order to keep a man most of them hate himself in power.
What to Look for Today
Vaca Diezs errant belief that he can maintain a grip on the presidency is based on a cynical strategy. According to sources in Bolivia, he has a presidential decree already written, purportedly to nationalize the gas industry. That will be his first act.
And the first thing to watch is who believes him, and who does not.
Will Evo Morales (with his own presidential aspirations giving him motive to project an image of legality) and his Movement Toward Socialism party (MAS, in its Spanish initials) fall for this stunt? The coming hours will tell.
What will be the response from the Aymara indigenous masses in the hills surrounding La Paz and the city of El Alto, who have been, and remain, the spear of this movement that has shaken the earth from below Bolivias power structure?
And if the social movement remain firm, and continue to oppose the illegitimate presidency of Vaca Diez, redoubling forces for the blockades that have shut down so much of the country, will the Armed Forces obey his orders to go out and repress their own people?
There are signs of deep division within the military ranks. The soldiers themselves, poor and indigenous, are not thrilled with the prospect of massacring their own. Much of the military brass, as Narco News mentioned yesterday, has already told Vaca Diez that they will not obey such orders. Many of the military officials are from La Paz, from Cochabamba, and from other regions distrustful of the motives of the oligarchs of Vaca Diezs state of Santa Cruz, with its dreams of secession and seizing control of the nations gas and oil fields.
According to sources in La Paz, the only branch of the military that has pledged its support to a wave of repression under Vaca Diez is the smallest branch: the Air Force. (And, after all, how could an Air Force stop road blockades without ruining the roads and thus keeping them blocked?)
So what is Vaca Diez thinking? Why does he think he will be able to govern where Goni and Mesa could not?
His first gambit will be his decree simulating the nationalization of gas.
His second gambit, according to well-placed sources, will be to announce that he will allow for a Constituent Assembly (a kind of Constitutional Convention), but one whose process stacks the deck in favor of his own political forces.
His third gambit will be to attempt to co-opt Evo Morales and the MAS party, isolating the Civil Society and indigenous movements that have led the revolts and blockades of recent weeks.
Then he will send in the troops, arrest certain scapegoats (primarily Aymara and labor leaders), and the civil war will begin.
On what power is Vaca Diez counting on to prop him up in a civil war scenario?
Kind readers: A little more than a week ago, a very important news item almost slipped under radar.
In late May, in the nearby country of Paraguay, that nations Congress was convened in secret, after midnight, according to a May 31 report by the Argentine correspondent for the Mexican daily La Jornada. The reason: to rush through a law that will permit United States troops to enter this South American country for 18 months, with immunity for all personnel that participate in activities of training and advising, including civilian personnel.
Remember, kind readers, that under U.S. law, the number of North American troops who can be in nearby Colombia is limited to the hundreds: and theyre busy enough there already with a fifty-year civil war.
What Vaca Diez is attempting is nothing less than creating the justification for the U.S. military to invade his own country of Bolivia, perhaps to protect strategic oil supplies, perhaps to strenthen democracy, as Condoleezza Rice and George W. Bush harped about on Tuesday in Florida at the Organization of American States meeting, or perhaps in the name of the war on drugs and eradicating the humble coca leaf once and for all.
From the State Department to Sucre, theyve all gone mad with power, and any bestiality is possible when Vaca Diez seizes control with his Doctrine of Authoritarian Government that seeks to blame tyranny on its victims.
As I type, the sun is rising over Bolivia, where the workers, the indigenous, the poor, are descending on Sucre and strengthening the blockades they maintain at 120 strategic points in the national roads and highways system, where theyve now seized 13-percent of the oil and gas fields, where Authentic Journalists are reporting the news to us all at great personal risk.
Despite all the darkness being shadowed upon this land by the powerful foreign and domestic interests, here comes the Bolivian majority. With enough sunlight shined upon the coming days in Bolivia from every corner of the earth, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, certainly not Washingtons cow named Vaca Diez, that can stop them.
It is zero hour in Bolivia.