June 10, 2005 [LINK]
President Carlos Mesa submitted his resignation on Monday, and after relocating to the less-chaotic city of Sucre, Bolivia's congress voted to select a successor late on Thursday. The head of the Bolivian Supreme Court, Eduardo Rodriguez, has been named as president on an interim basis. The president of the Senate, Hormando Vaca Diez, was next in line for succession but was rejected by protesters as just another "puppet of the oligarchy." See today's Washington Post or CNN.com. Bolivia has no vice president currently because Mesa assumed the presidency in his capacity as vice president after Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada resigned in the face of violent protests in October 2003, and no successor is named for the vice president under the Bolivian constitution. It is doubtful that the protesters will be pacified by the selection of the relatively apolitical judge Rodriguez, inasmuch as their leader, Evo Morales, seeks nothing less than a fundamental regime change and radical social reform. His "Movement Toward Socialism" party has a distinctly leftist ideology but is more dangerous because of the fact that it represents the coca growers, who want to abolish all restrictions on trade in the raw material used to make cocaine. Bolivia is one of the only countries in the world with two capital cities. Sucre was the capital from independence until the end of the 19th Century, after which the executive and legislative branches relocated to the boom city of La Paz. the Supreme Miners and other Indians are now marching from La Paz to Sucre to press their demands for immediate new elections and for nationalization of natural gas. For a perspective from a blogger born in Bolivia but studying in the United States, see the recent posts by Miguel Centellas. Bolivia is riven by fierce regional rivalries, and there is a strong separatist movement in the eastern department (province) of Santa Cruz, where most of the hydrocarbon deposits are located. The "cambas" speak with a dialect that is closer to Argentina than to the rest of Bolivia.
Given the insurrections that have led to extra-constitutional changes of government in both Ecuador and Bolivia this year, many people wonder, What about Peru? President Toledo's popularity rating remains in the single digits, and while viewing Latin American television while in Northern Virginia for a couple days, I saw a farcical staged show of support for Toledo as he returned from a visit to some provincial city. A blogger named Adam Isacson worries about the deep discontent and poverty in that "keystone" nation of South America. (via Randy Paul) That is hardly news, however: most Peruvians carry ancient, bitter grudges on their shoulders, venting their deep frustrations on other classes (rich white pitucos or poor dark cholos), or else blaming Spain, Chile, or the U.S.A., as circumstances dictate. Nevertheless, I would not discount another upsurge of violent protest in Peru in coming months. I witnessed a protest march in Cuzco in March 2004. (CLICK TO SEE PHOTO.) There was a mutiny by Peruvian police officers in January (see my blog post), but it was quickly put down. Peru's economy has been performing well enough for the last couple years that any revolutionary social movement there would be very unlikely to attract a wide following.
Events in Bolivia could not have happened at a worse time for President Bush, who spoke to an OAS summit in Fort Lauderdale this week. He declared (in Spanish) that freedom is not negotiable ("La libertad no es negociable."), a noble sentiment that unfortunately does not count for much in the amoral, cutthroat realm of global politics. See Washington Post.) Likewise, the President's ritualistic urgings for Latin American countries to adopt free market policies seem jarringly out of touch with reality in that part of the world, where both democracy and capitalism have fallen on hard times. The fixation on the mischief wrought by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela may have distracted the administration's attention from more urgent crises. Colombia and Peru are not doing well, either. Argentina has emerged, ironically, as a bastion of stability, but that's only relative.