Monday, November 18, 2019

Nine Bolivian protesters killed by security forces (Nov. 18, 2019)

At least nine people died in Bolivia on Friday, when security forces opened fire on pro-Morales protesters -- though the government only recognizes five deaths. Thousands of largely indigenous protesters, many coca leaf growers, had gathered peacefully in Sacaba there on Friday morning. But fighting began when many tried to cross a military checkpoint near the city of Cochabamba, where supporters of former president Evo Morales and his opponents have clashed for weeks. Pro-Morales groups are now demanding the immediate resignation of interim-president Jeanine Áñez and new elections within 90 days.

The Sacaba deaths threaten to push Bolivia into further instability, and undermines the interim-government's already tenuous claim to legitimacy. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission voiced concern over a decree by Áñez exempting the armed forces from criminal responsibility as they preserve public order -- it was signed on Thursday, the day before security forces opened fire on protesters.

The U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet issued a statement Saturday calling the deaths “an extremely dangerous development.” She noted that “the country is split and people on both sides of the political divide are extremely angry. In a situation like this, repressive actions by the authorities will simply stoke that anger even further and are likely to jeopardize any possible avenue for dialogue.” The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned what it called “the disproportionate use of police and military force” in the clash. Bolivia's Ombudsman's Office called for an investigation, and said it counted previous deaths since unrest began in Bolivia in the wake of Oct. 20's questioned elections.
 (Associated Press, Agencies, AFP)

Unrest has affected cities around the country. In the capital, La Paz, on Friday riot police fired tear gas at rock-throwing demonstrators. Food shortages are being reported in many regions. Yesterday the government said unrest had gone down over the weekend. (AFP

The debate over how to frame Bolivia's crisis has created a deep schism across the region -- and the legitimacy crisis has only deepened over the past week. It's not at all clear how the country will advance towards new elections that must be held, and though there have been attempts at cooperation between warring factions, divisions appear to be deepening. Áñez has not presented a concrete plan to hold elections, which are supposed to take place within 90 days. And has shown little enthusiasm for the task, according to the Guardian. In a swearing in ceremony yesterday she said there would be more information soon. Instead, she has embarked on a sort of purge of the government, including turning on Morales' international allies: Venezuela and Cuba. The new interior minister, the right-wing Senator Arturo Murillo, began by promising to hunt down Morales’s top former minister, Juan Ramón Quintana, who has gone into hiding, reports the New York Times. Yesterday government minister Arturo Murillo announced plans to publish a "list" of leftist lawmakers he said are guilty of "subversion." (Common Dreams) There are reports that journalists, including foreign correspondents, have been threatened, while members of Cuba's medical mission have been arrested, writes Guillaume Long in Al Jazeera.

MAS lawmakers called for a congressional session tomorrow, aimed at regulating new elections, but non-MAS lawmakers (former opposition, as La Razón calls them) said they will not participate. From his Mexican exile, Morales has argued that his resignation was never formally accepted by Bolivia's congress, and is thus not effective. 

A United Nations envoy, Jean Arnault, is reportedly trying to get both sides to a negotiating table that would be mediated by be mediated by the UN and the Roman Catholic Church, reports Al Jazeera.

The government announced an emergency plan to provide gas to La Paz. (La Razón)

Bolivia -- bigger picture
  • The division between indigenous groups and their opponents is not to be underestimated, the New York Times has a good overview of that aspect of the conflict.
  • It's necessary to understand how anger from Morales' his base regarding his reelection bid helped enable the extreme right-wing coup, writes Raúl Zibechi in an excellent piece. He looks at some of the ways social movements have already sought to protect the advances of Morales' administration, and how "the power of those from below impedes racist and patriarchal regimes from enjoying stability and longevity." Áñez faces the option of calling new elections or facing civil war, he warns. (Toward Freedom and Brecha)
  • A useful lens for understanding the Bolivia crisis is that of pendular revolution and counter-revolution, argues Fernando Molina in a clear-eyed Nueva Sociedad addition to the massive international debate on how to characterize what's happening there. The "catastrophic tie" between "two social blocs, two types of elites, two geographic areas, two visions of a country that Bolivian leaders, engaged in win-win games, have not been capable of conciling and reconciling."

Venezuelans also look to Bolivia

About 5,000 Venezuelan opposition activists demanded President Nicolás Maduro's ouster in a Saturday protest in Caracas. But turnout was less than expected by opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who hoped to capitalize on the situation in Bolivia to inspire a transition at home. Nonetheless, it was the opposition's biggest rally since May, after a failed uprising, reports AFP. "...A major uptick from the smaller-scale protests of recent months," reports the Washington Post.

The government also rallied supporters with the Bolivia narrative in a Saturday counter-march, with a call to reject "destabilisation attempts against Venezuela's government," reports Al Jazeera.

However, street protests alone are unlikely to force out Maduro, notes the Washington Post. Smaller protests have actually been ongoing throughout the year, mostly to demand economic improvements and better services such as water and electricity.

For many analysts, the key difference between Venezuela and Bolivia is the former's total cooptation of the military, while the armed forces proved key in ousting Bolivia's Morales. “If there’s a lesson from Bolivia, it’s that nothing can be done without the armed forces,” said Luis Vicente León, director of Caracas-based Datanalisis, a polling firm.

But there are other lessons to be gleaned from Bolivia, note David Smilde and Dimitris Pantoulas in Friday's Venezuela Weekly: "Venezuela commentators suggested another interpretation: that the sequence of events showed the wisdom of going to elections even when they are unfair, given their potential to unleash a sequence of events that can lead to a transition."

More Venezuela
  • Maduro hailed the growth of transactions in U.S. dollars in hyperinflation-ridden Venezuela, calling it an “escape valve” that can help the country weather its economic crisis, reports Reuters.
  • Lima Group countries met earlier this month and called for Cuba to be “part of the solution to the crisis,” reports the Venezuela Weekly.
  • According to a research published by Amnesty International, Venezuela is the third country after Brazil and Mexico with the largest number of light weapons in the hands of civilians and one of the countries where the highest percentage of homicides are the product of gunfire. (Venezuela Weekly)
  • A Reuters investigation documents witness accounts of how Venezuela's Special Action Force (FAES) carries out extrajudicial killings that are framed as self-defense. "The new reporting provides the deepest insight yet into the methods used by the force to snuff out perceived threats to Maduro’s increasingly authoritarian rule."
News Briefs

  • Bolivia's crisis points to a troubling new tendency in the region towards a sort of tutelary democracy: "a system in which civilian authorities manage the daily business of government, but the military has definitive veto power and makes important decisions in the country," writes Gustavo Flores-Macías in the Post Opinión.
  • Ecuador's National Assembly rejected a package of tax and monetary reforms proposed by President Lenín Moreno, yesterday. Several of the reforms were opposed by Ecuador's indigenous movement and social organizations, while others were opposed by the business sector. The rejection is another setback for Moreno's attempt to meet IMF requirements to lower the country's fiscal deficit. (Reuters)
  • Chile's new agreement to have citizens choose whether and how a new constitution will be drafted (see Friday's post) offers a viable solution to the country's four week crisis, writes Patricio Navia in Americas Quarterly. Nonetheless, the road ahead presents significant obstacles, an eventual convention will have to build: "a consensus on specific details of the constitution – like the state’s power to nationalize mining or the powers and attributions of the constitutional tribunal ," he notes.
  • Chilean President Sebastián Piñera acknowledged that police committed "abuses" in their response to protests, and that "there was excessive use of force." (BBC)
  • Former members of several Colombian guerrilla groups and paramilitary organizations met for the first time under the aegis of the country's Truth Commission, to talk about their participation in the country's decades-long armed conflict. (El Espectador)
  • Haiti needs international support to tackle an unfolding humanitarian crisis, President Jovenel Moïse told Reuters. He also said he was advancing towards a unity government in closed-door talks with civil society groups and the private sector, as well as radical and moderate members of the opposition. But prominent opposition leaders told Reuters they were not participating in the conversations and did not know of any significant figure or group that was.
  • Hundreds of Haitian national police officers protested, yesterday in Port-au-Prince, demanding better work conditions and a union to represent and defend their rights. This is the second time in a month police have protested, reports Voice of America.
  • Asylum seekers sent from the U.S. to Guatemala -- under a new migration agreement aimed at reducing petitioners in the U.S. -- could be sent to the remote Petén jungle region, reports the Washington Post. The plan amplifies concerns from critics, who say the migration agreement is basically a backdoor deportation channel that foists asylum seekers on countries too poor and dysfunctional to protect them.
  • Hurricane Dorian caused an estimated $3.4 billion in damages in the Bahamas, equivalent to one-fourth of the country’s gross domestic product, according to a new report by the Inter-American Development Bank. (Miami Herald)
  • Armed groups in Mexico, like the one that grabbed headlines with the recent massacre of 9 women and children in the Sonora desert, are the result of the outsourcing of security by Mexico’s most dominant cartels, according to InSight Crime.
  • One of Mexico's wealthiest businessmen, and a key private-sector ally of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is on a collision course with the government over a cancelled ride-hailing smartphone app contract, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Lula wants Brazil back, but it's not clear the feeling is mutual, according to the Washington Post.
  • Argentine president-elect Alberto Fernández promised to send an abortion legalization bill to Congress when he assumes office. Women's rights activists welcome the embrace of the cause, which narrowly lost in the Senate last year. Fernández was emphatic that it is a public health issue. (Guardian, full interview, in which he gives a number of future policy hints, at Página 12)

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...  



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