The Web Log for news, information & policy updates on the Bolivia transition team from Digital Warrior Media in conjunction with WBAI-FM & Pacifica Radio.
Monday, October 13, 2014
Evo Morales Is Reelected as President of Bolivia
La Paz, Oct 13 (Prensa Latina) President Evo Morales was reelected to rule Bolivia from 2015 to 2020, after easily defeating his four rivals on Sunday''s general election, according to preliminary statistics released in this capital on Monday. The president and candidate from the Movement to Socialism (MAS) won in all polling stations abroad and on the national territory with 60 percent of valid votes, according to provisional reports.
Businessman Samuel Doria, from Democratic Unity, won 25 percent of support, so his party will be the main opposition force in Bolivia.
Jorge Quiroga, from the Christian Democratic Party, was third with 9 percent of votes, while Juan del Granado, from Movimiento sin Miedo, and Fernando Vargas, from the Green Party, got 3 percent of votes each.
The MAS now dominates the Plurinational Legislative Assembly with 25 of 36 seats in the Senate and 80 of 130 seats in the House of Deputies.
The Electoral Supreme Court (TSE) is expected to release the final results of Sunday's elections on Monday morning.
Bolivia to Appeal Ruling Favoring India's Jindal in El Mutún Dispute
Ruling Says Bolivia Should Pay Jindal $22.5M Compensation for Seizure of Guarantee Funds
Bolivia said Tuesday it would appeal a ruling from an international tribunal that gave India's Jindal Steel & Power Ltd. a multimillion-dollar award in a dispute over the development of the El Mutún iron ore project.
"We are going to appeal the decision in the corresponding tribunals in order to defend the interests of the Bolivian state," Vice President Álvaro García told reporters Tuesday.
The Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce ruled earlier this month that Bolivia's state-owned mining company Empresa Siderúrgica del Mutún should pay Jindal $22.5 million in compensation for the seizure of funds to guarantee the development of El Mutún.
Mines Minister César Navarro also criticized the judgment. "We don't share these types of actions or decisions that think about private capital and don't think about the well-being of the people and the state," he said in a statement.
Empresa Siderúrgica del Mutun, or ESM, took Jindal's $18 million guarantee in 2010, arguing that the New Delhi-based company had failed to comply with the contract for El Mutún.
Jindal signed a 40-year contract with ESM and another state mining company, Comibol, in 2007 to develop El Mutún. Jindal says the deposit, located in the eastern Santa Cruz region, has about 40 billion tons of iron ore reserves. The contract also included plans to build steel and power plants.
The $2.1 billion project would have been the largest by an Indian company in South America, and one of the biggest foreign investment projects in Bolivia, according to Jindal.
Jindal said it was the victim of broader "anti-investor policies" by President Evo Morales ' administration, which has nationalized several foreign owned assets since taking office in 2006.
The company said the seizure of the guarantee was illegal as it was unable to develop the project under the contract's schedule because the government had failed to provide access to land, among other things.
Jindal terminated the El Mutún contract in 2012. It said the tribunal's judgment was a "vindication" for the company.
"Bolivia and its entities broke Jindal's trust, broke Jindal's investment, and acted in violation of the contract and law," Jindal said Saturday in a statement.
Jindal said it has started another arbitration case against Bolivia at the International Chamber of Commerce to seek $100 million in compensation for investments made at El Mutún prior to the termination of the contract.
Bolivia has declared Israel to be a “terrorist state” and renounced a visa exemption agreement with the country in protest over the ongoing Israeli military offense in Gaza which already killed more than 1,300 dead and left over 7,000 wounded.
Canceling the 1972 agreement which allowed Israelis to travel freely to Bolivia“means, in other words, we are declaring (Israel) a terrorist state,” the country's President Evo Morales announced. Morales explained that Operation Protective edge clearly shows that “Israel is not a guarantor of the principles of respect for life and the elementary precepts of rights that govern the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of our international community.” The announcement came after a cabinet meeting of the government of Evo Morales which decided that; “The Bolivian state and people have made a firm decision to terminate the agreement on visas to Israel, from August 17, 1972, signed under a regime of dictatorship in Bolivia and that allowed Israeli citizens to enter Bolivia freely without even entry visa." Earlier in July, Morales filed a request with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prosecute Israel for “crimes against humanity.” Other Latin American countries including Chile and El Salvador recalled their ambassadors in Israel on Tuesday for consultations due to the increased violence in the Gaza Strip against civilians. The move follows similar actions by Ecuador, Brazil and Peru who have also recalled their ambassadors. Bolivia broke off diplomatic relations with Israel in 2009 over a previous military operation in Gaza. Just on Wednesday morning shelling of a UN School in Gaza, left at least 20 dead. The incident has brought worldwide condemnation.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has condemned a deadly attack by Israel against a UN school in the besieged Gaza Strip. "It is outrageous. It is unjustifiable. And it demands accountability and justice," said the UN chief in Costa Rica on Wednesday. The IDF military campaign which began July 8, so far has left more than 1,300 dead and over 7,000 wounded.
With the Election quickly approaching a review of the last 8 years, in the following weeks The Bolivia Transition Project presents a collage of varied media and the dynamics at play in Bolivia's transition to a more representative and functional democracy ...
Chile is seeking to deny its landlocked neighbor Bolivia access to the Pacific Ocean by asking the International Court of Justice to throw out a Bolivian demand made before the court.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said late Monday in a televised address that Chile is challenging whether the international court, based in The Hague, has the jurisdiction to hear the case. Bolivia is petitioning the international court to grant it a route to the ocean.
"The main principle is the unyielding defense of our territorial integrity and national interests," Ms. Bachelet said.
Gaining access to ocean ports could help strengthen Bolivia's landlocked economy, while ending the long-running dispute with Chile could boost economic ties between the two nations.
Bolivia in April last year asked the international court to force Chile into talks on returning territory lost in a war that started 135 years ago. A 1904 treaty established the current border with Bolivia, although Bolivia says it was coerced into accepting that pact. Bolivia says it lost about 250 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline and thousands of square miles of land to Chile in the 19th-century War of the Pacific. The two nations have had tense relations for decades as various talks to give Bolivia access to the sea have failed.
Bolivian President Evo Morales said Chile wasn't respecting international law with its challenge to the court's jurisdiction.
"Bolivia rejects the intention of the government of Chile to not respect the competence of the court to resolve this case," Mr. Morales said at a news conference Tuesday in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz.
The dispute has stoked nationalist sentiments.
"The strong anti-Chilean sentiment in Bolivia makes it very risky for any government to formally give up. The best one can hope for is a gradual, silent fading away of the issue, which is unlikely to happen with the current administration," said Julio Carrion, a political scientist and Andean region specialist with the University of Delaware.
Ms. Bachelet's decision was widely applauded in Chile, from an editorial in the influential newspaper El Mercurio to members of the foreign affairs committee in Chile's senate. The response in Bolivia was the opposite, with callers to radio talk shows showing clear support for Bolivia's demand and for President Morales, who has made gaining access to the sea a key plank of his government's policies.
"It is regrettable what the Chilean government is doing," said Sixto Chirinos, a caller to the government-run radio station, Radio Patria Nueva.
Bolivia still maintains a navy, based mainly in Lake Titicaca in the Andes mountains, partially as a symbol of national pride but also as training for its sailors.
Chile's Foreign Affairs Minister Heraldo Muñoz said that with Chile's challenge, Bolivia's demand will be suspended while the international court hears arguments and makes a decision on the legal challenge, which could take up to a year and a half.
Bolivia was inspired in part to bring its case to the international court in The Hague bya January ruling in which Chile lost a large patch of its territory in the Pacific Ocean to neighboring Peru.
Peru and Chile are still quarreling over who owns a small triangle of land on their border, with both sides claiming ownership.
The discovery of an American diplomatic vehicle transporting weapons and ammunition in Bolivia has added yet another layer of tension to relations between the governments of Bolivia and the United States
On March 27, Bolivian police intercepted a van with diplomatic license plates carrying three shotguns, a revolver and more than 2,300 rounds of ammunition in the Amazonian province of Beni. The van’s driver and a police officer escorting him, both Bolivian citizens, were taken into custody for questioning. According to Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero, the incident amounts to a “security threat to Bolivia, an act that calls into question the [US government’s] respect for the institution and laws of the Bolivian state.” He called for a full investigation into the matter.
The US embassy in La Paz, for its part, denies any wrongdoing. In a statement released yesterday, the embassy claims that the weapons were being relocated from a closed office in the city of Trinidad to Santa Cruz under an agreement with local police. The statement added that it is customary for Washington to contract local police in order to protect its diplomats overseas, and stressed that embassy officials are happy to comply with an investigation.
The statement failed to placate Bolivian officials, however. Although Romero has conceded that the US had negotiated an agreement with the police in Beni, he called the arrangement “illegal,” noting that foreign governments are only authorized to negotiate agreements with federal institutions. Romero also questioned why the van was traveling at night, and implied that a diplomatic vehicle was used to reduce the chance of it being searched.
InSight Crime Analysis The incident comes at a time of extremely strained relations between Bolivia and the US. Although President Evo Morales has restored diplomatic ties with the US after expelling the US ambassador and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for alleged connections to his political opposition, he remains suspicious of US activities in his country.
Ahead of a visit to the US last July, for instance, Morales publicly expressed fears that the American government would attempt to plant cocaine on his plane in an effort to discredit his counternarcotics efforts.
Because the Beni department is governed by the opposition National Revolutionary Movement (MNR), the government’s reaction to the discovery of weapons has distinctly political undertones. While the Bolivian government’s concerns over sovereignty are valid, it seems likely that Minister Romero’s musings were designed to raise doubts about a potentially destabilizing relationship between the US and the local authorities in Beni..
President Morales asks for forgiveness of indigenous peoples
Bolivian President Evo Morales apologized for the humiliation suffered by indigenous peoples at the hands of the police over the weekend, and said his government did not order the attacks, state media reported late Wednesday.
"We ask for forgiveness -- forgive me," Morales said,. "It was not an instruction by the president. No one in the government would have thought such an attack could happen to our indigenous brothers." Mr Morales said: "Pardon me. There was no presidential order to disperse the protest." On Sunday, 500 police tear-gassed and rousted about half of 1,500 indigenous protesters making a 300-mile march to the capital, La Paz, to protest a road project through a national park on their ancestral homeland. The marchers say four people were killed, scores of protesters were injured and several others were missing. On Monday, Bolivian officials denied any deaths or injuries but promised to launch a full-scale investigation into the raid, which they said was undertaken to save lives and avoid confrontations.
The protests and popular fallout from the crackdown present a challenge for Morales, who has said the 300-kilometer (186-mile) highway is vital for economic development in South America's poorest country.
At the heart of the dispute lies the construction of a highway through the Isiboro-Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park, a rainforest preserve commonly known by its Spanish acronym of TIPNIS. The Brazil-financed road would run through a nature preserve home to some 50,000 natives from three different indigenous groups.
The road is part of a network linking land-locked Bolivia, South America's only mostly indigenous nation, to both the Pacific through Chile and the Atlantic through Brazil, a key outlet for Bolivian exports.
Bolivia's Defense Minister has resigned in protest against a police crackdown on anti-highway demonstrators, increasing pressure on Evo Morales, the Bolivian president, over his handling of the situation.
Forty-one days into a march against government-supported plans to build a 300km (186 mi) highway through an Amazon rainforest reserve, police fired tear gas and briefly detained protesters in the Yucumo region on Sunday, prompting the minister's resignation on Monday.
Several people suffered minor injuries, according to local media reports, and the crackdown was criticised by opposition politicians, the ombudsman and several government officials, including Defense Minister Cecilia Chacon.
"This is not the way! We agreed to do things differently," Chacon wrote in her resignation letter, which was published by Bolivian media on Monday.
Ivan Canelas, the country's communications minister, said that police had no choice when responding to the protests.
"The march was defused because it had become a source of violence," he told the Reuters news agency.
Police surged into the demonstrators' camp with "extreme violence", veteran activist Maria Carvajal told the AFP news agency. "I could not believe what was happening."
On Monday, protesters reacted by setting barricades on fire on the airport runway in the town of Rurrenabaque, in an attempt to free about 300 marchers who were being held by authorities, Mayor Yerko Nunez told local media.
In La Paz, the capital, riot police set up a security cordon around the Quemada government building, as thousands of demonstrators gathered outside to protest the crackdown.
Other protests were also held in the central city of Cochabamba, where students marched and majority Aymara and Quechua indigenous peoples began a hunger strike.
Protests were also held in the northern province of Beni and in Santa Cruz.
Split in ruling party
Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, put the controversial $420m highway - mostly funded by Brazil's government - at the heart of his infrastructure plan for the country.
The highway has elicited fierce opposition, however, from local indigenous leaders, who traditionally support Morales. The split has exposed differences within Morales' Movement Toward Socialism party.
Some MAS lawmakers have expressed support for the demonstrators and the demands of the 12,000 residents of the Isiboro Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park, through which the proposed road would be built.
In June, Morales angered activists by saying that the road would be built through the territory "whether they like it or not".
Seeking to defuse tension over the issue, Morales said on Sunday that a referendum would be held in the provinces affected by the highway's construction, "so the people can decide whether the project should go ahead or not". Further details on the referendum were not available.
Morales is highly popular among the Quechua and Aymara indigenous majority in the Andean highlands, but opposition to his policies is strong in the eastern lowlands, even among indigenous groups.
Fallout from the unrest could put him in a defensive posture for the nationwide judicial elections in October, which are part of broader reforms put in place to give indigenous people more political power.
Bolivia’s Supreme Court of Justice on August 30 convicted seven former officials on charges of genocide—five military officers and two ex-cabinet ministers. The military officials received sentences of 10–15 years while the former cabinet ministers received three-year terms; none will be allowed to appeal. But Bolivia’s top fugitive in the genocide case—former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada—remains at large in the United States, which refuses to extradite.
The cases stem from the “Black October” of 2003, when the army fired on indigenous Aymara protesters at El Alto, the sprawling working-class city on the altiplano above La Paz. For weeks, protesters had blocked roads across the altiplano, demanding a halt to Sánchez de Lozada’s plans for a new pipeline to export natural gas to California on terms considered too easy for Shell Oil and other companies. On October 12, the army broke the blockades by force to deliver gasoline to La Paz—leaving 63 dead. In the aftermath, Sánchez de Lozada was forced to step down—and fled to Miami, along with two top cabinet ministers.
“The authors of the crimes are still free,” says Rafael Archondo, U.N.’s Permanent Representative of the Plurinational State of Bolivia. “They have all the freedom that they denied to the people when the people protested against them.”
Trials began in 2009, when the court began proceedings against Sánchez de Lozada in absentia. By then Bolivia had elected as president the Aymara social leader Evo Morales—the country’s first indigenous president—who had been a leader of the 2003 protests.
Sánchez de Lozada faces 30 years in prison if convicted. Seventeen other ex-officials from his administration also face genocide charges. Several of them have sought refuge in Peru, and Bolivia hopes the new government in Lima will agree to extradite.
But the trial of Sánchez de Lozada cannot be concluded without his presence under Bolivian law. The Morales government has requested the extradition of Sánchez de Lozada and two other defendants under a 1995 treaty with the U.S. A defense lawyer for victims’ families, Rogelio Mayta, issued another public plea for extradition after the recent convictions. Sánchez de Lozada’s attorneys assert he resides in the US legally and that the prosecutions are political.
The whereabouts of Sánchez de Lozada are not difficult to determine. In October 2005 a group of U.S. activists symbolically served him with a subpoena (in facsimile) at a public event in Washington where he was speaking, organized by Princeton University. He is now believed to be living in Virginia.
Extraditions must be vetted by the Justice Department before they are approved by the State Department. When asked for a comment on the Sánchez de Lozada case, Justice Department spokesperson Laura Sweeney said, “the department doesn’t confirm or comment on matters of extradition so we would decline to comment.”
State Department spokesperson Noel Clay said only that the statement “should be directed to the Justice Department.”
Archondo dismisses notions that the defendants would receive unfair treatment in Bolivia, pointing out that the two ex-cabinet members just convicted—former development minister Érick Reyes Villa and former labor minister Adalberto Kuajara —have been allowed to serve their three-year terms under house arrest rather than in prison.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay welcomed the convictions, calling them part of “a very healthy trend towards combatting long-standing impunity” in Latin America.
The two other officials Bolivia wants extradited are former defense minister Carlos Sánchez Berzain and former hydrocarbons minister Jorge Berindoague. Sánchez Berzain was granted asylum status in 2008—which sparked an angry march by thousands of El Alto residents on the U.S. embassy in La Paz. Archondo calls Sánchez Berzain the “specific intellectual author” of the Black October massacre. He decries that the ex-defense minister was treated “as if he was somebody who was being punished because of his thinking.”
Archondo says Sánchez Berzain speaks freely to media in U.S. and is widely quoted in the Bolivian press. “What kind of dictatorship would allow this?” he asks.
Archondo points out that Bolivia is the only country with an ex-dictator in prison—Luis García Meza, who seized power in a 1980 coup. “I think this is a good example of how a democracy should deal with history,” he says, calling it part of “the long process of recovering the legitimacy that we have now.”
Archondo says that if the U.S. remains intransigent, Bolivia may call for “international agencies to make an intervention” in the case. He acknowledges that if Bolivia does go to the international community with this case, the “genocide” charge might have to be reconsidered, given the rigorous world standards for this crime. “There was a debate in Bolivia as to whether to characterize this as a genocide,” he says. “Our supreme court decided that charge was applicable in this case. Of course, if it comes to an international trial, the justification for the charge of genocide must be really clear. “
Recalling the resource issues that underlay the 2003 unrest, Sánchez de Lozada also faces charges in Bolivia of skirting the law in awarding oil contracts to BP, the French giant TotalFinaElf, and other multinationals.
But this will remain a sideshow until after Sánchez de Lozada faces the far more serious genocide charges. “To impose order through a massacre, using the armed forces without respect for human rights—this was a terrible episode in our history, and we cannot forget this.,” concludes Archondo. “This is a wound in our democratic body.”
Morales Seeks Respect for Bolivia and Mother Earth
(digitalwarriormedia) Relations between Bolivia and the United States are closer to being normalized, according to comments made by Bolivia’s President Evo Morales.
Last month, while in New York City to attend a high-level meeting at the United Nations, Morales said his country has a great desire to improve relations with the U.S.
Things have been chilly between the two countries since 2008, when Bolivia expelled U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg and Bolivian Ambassador Gustavo Guzman was summarily expelled from Washington D.C.
Morales insisted that it was his obligation as President to ensure that Bolivian sovereignty is respected. At the time of his expulsion, Ambassador Goldberg was accused of fomenting anti-government violence and unrest.
“We do not want diplomatic relations that will result in conspiracies,” said Morales during a morning press conference on July 27.
An agreement has been in development since 2009, with the Bolivian government maintaining that the bilateral relationship should be based upon mutual cooperation, without impositions.
Yet, Bolivia’s outspoken leader admitted apprehension, noting that his July trip was the first time he had traveled to the U.S. this year.
“I am very afraid of the U.S. government because I know they are political operators,” explained Morales.
When asked about these rumors, Morales attributed the information to sources coming from the U.S., two months prior to his trip.
A former union leader and coca farmer, Morales explained how he has been labeled a terrorist in the past and also a drug trafficker because his government supports socialist struggles and an anti-imperialist ideology. But Morales denounced all of these false accusations and efforts to discredit himself and his administration.
Historically Morales has been a strong critic of U.S. interventionist policies in Latin America and around the world. He noted that governments and leaders who do not subscribe to a western capitalist model are often targeted by the U.S.
“How can we be pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist when this is no solution for the peoples of the world?” asked Morales.
Humanity and the Right to Water
Within the mainstream press, Morales’ comments about the U.S. overshadowed the broader message he was bringing to the UN about humanity and respect for Mother Earth.
“If water is a human right than it cannot be subject to trade from which companies can make money from water. If water is a human right,” explained Morales, "it must be a public service.”
“Morales noted that the enemy of water is global warming. The Bolivian people face a host of water crises as a result of changing atmospheric temperatures.
Severe fresh water shortages have been forecasted as the Andean glaciers rapidly disappear. And this past year, Bolivia experienced some of the severest droughts and heaviest frosts in decades.
“Without water there is no life, no food and the planet cannot survive. We must guarantee the natural resources necessary for life,” said Morales expressing his belief that without water, there are no human rights.
The Morales administration has called on polluting countries to pay their fare share of “climate debt” to assist poorer countries with technology and combat the effects of climate change. And they have led the charge to demand an International Tribunal of Climate and Environmental Justice that will penalize those countries and multinational companies that pollute the environment.
“If we don’t respect Mother Earth and its rights, it is difficult to think that we will respect human rights. The human being cannot live without the planet, without Mother Earth,” said Morales.
And Bolivia began its work at home before bringing its resolution to the UN. In January 2009, a new national constitution was approved in Bolivia which makes water and the access to basic services a human right to be guaranteed by the national government.
When asked specifically about U.S. military contractors who would help fight drug trafficking in Bolivia, Morales expressed disapproval of the U.S. strategy.
“We should be responsible and try to reduce poverty. And what the U.S. wants is for contractors to handle the money. We’re not against drug trafficking,” said Morales, “but they speak of a cooperation fund and they want to appoint the people who will manage or administer these funds.”
President Morales described how in the past, 70-80% of the cooperation funds managed by the U.S. would be designated for administration, with only 20-30% actually going to investment in alternative development programs.
“I know that 100 percent can go to investment,” explained Morales. “That is what I am doing with Spain, Venezuela, and China. There is no reason why a piece should go to administrative expenses. If the people of the U.S. want to cooperate, they need to help the people that really who require it.”
Morales went on to say that his government is only asking that the decision of managing economic resources be made cooperatively and in a transparent way.
On Saturday August 6, Bolivia celebrated its 186th year of Independence from Spain.
Greetings were sent from the American people by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said, “As you celebrate this special day and honor your history, know that the United States stands with you. I look forward to strengthening and deepening this partnership for the benefit of both our people.”
If the tenet of mutual respect can be observed, that partnership may be much closer to becoming a reality.
Communal banks extend credit, empower women and build equity in rural Bolivia.
UNICEF’s equity-based approach to achieving the Millennium Development Goals aims to reach the poorest and most vulnerable children and families with cost-effective interventions for sustainable progress. Here is one in a series of stories that make the case for equity.
By Tanya Turkovich
POCOATA, Bolivia, 23 May 2011 – It takes money to make money. Just ask Pilar Rueda, 38, a Quechua mother of two from this remote rural town in the Bolivian department of Potosí. She and much of her community have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty through ‘Bancos Comunales’ – Communal Banks – an innovative project developed by UNICEF.
VIDEO: 6 May 2011 - UNICEF correspondent Thomas Nybo reports on a community banking initiative that extends credit and empowers women in Bolivia's rural indigenous communities. Watch in RealPlayer The project extends credit to indigenous people, mainly women, in 13 remote municipalities of northern Potosí. Normally, it is almost impossible for the population in these areas to get loans for small, income-generating ventures. But unlike the microcredit schemes of traditional banks, which charge high interest rates, the Bancos Comunales project offers very low rates and is entirely directed and driven by the community.
The project now comprises an association of some 70 communal banks in Potosí. Besides extending loans, it trains participants in microcredit financing, gender equality, leadership and basic rights.
Increased income and opportunities
“This store just used to have a couple of things,” Ms. Rueda says about the shop she owns and operates with her family. “Now it has so many products and provides us with a good source of income.”
And she has not stopped there. After an initial loan from Bancos Comunales allowed Ms. Rueda to increase the stock and revenue from her store, she purchased and started using an ice cream maker for additional income. She also began knitting and painting textiles to sell in the shop.
“Women can now do business. They don't depend on the men anymore,” notes Ms. Rueda. “So now mothers can buy whatever their children need.” As a result, she adds, “Men are feeling proud of their women.”
Ms. Rueda has always been an industrious worker. Now she has become a community leader and savvy businesswoman. Access to credit and information about women’s and children’s rights has expanded opportunities for her and for her children. Although Ms. Rueda never had the chance for a secondary education, for example, her son is in college and she has enough money to buy the supplies that keep her daughter in school.
Breaking the cycle of poverty
Ms. Rueda’s family and other Bancos Comunales beneficiaries live in South America’s poorest country. Out of Bolivia’s population of 9.1 million, nearly 6 million – half of them children – are in impoverished households.
In rural areas, almost two-thirds of the population is considered extremely poor. They do not have enough money to cover their basic necessities, food and health care, much less education. Moreover, the rural population is primarily indigenous, historically the most disadvantaged group in Bolivia and other countries in the region.
In fact, the profile of an indigenous, impoverished girl living in a rural area is a precise picture of social exclusion and inequality in Bolivia. Progress and prosperity have passed these girls by – and are likely to pass by their children.
Yet schemes such as Bancos Comunales are based on the conviction that when governments and international aid organizations invest in meeting the essential needs of the poor, the intergenerational cycle of poverty can be broken. To that end, the banking initiative serves disenfranchised and socially excluded families who live at least 70 km from the nearest paved road and 175 km from the nearest city, and who survive primarily on farming.
An equity-based approach
UNICEF Bolivia Chief of Policy Claudio Santibanez explains that the initiative is unique in that it focuses on improving child rights through women’s empowerment. In addition, it takes an equity-based approach to human development by targeting the poorest of the poor.
“Unlike other microfinance initiatives, communal banks are created in the most extremely poor communities and thus have a strong equity approach,” says Mr. Santibanez. “They engage with a socially vulnerable population that otherwise would be excluded from financial markets.”
Because local residents own the communal banks, money and capital stay in the community. Combined with training in agricultural and trade techniques, this provides food security and a sustainable economic base even for the poorest families.
At the same time, Mr. Santibanez points out, Bancos Comunales trains women in understanding and advocating for their rights and those of their children. “Providing access to micro-loans jointly with other initiatives that empower communities on protecting their children’s rights is a strong combination,” he says.
How loans are structured
To achieve its aims, the Bancos Comunales project offers loans of up to 3,000 bolivianos (about $425) at an interest rate of 2 per cent. Three-quarters of the interest goes toward increasing the communal bank’s reserves, while the rest goes into a savings account for the borrower. This amount is returned once he or she has finished paying the loan, usually within 12 months.
Borrowers must begin repayments a month after the loan is provided. If they are late, it is the community that pressures neighbours to meet their obligations. Social pressure and reputation are still powerful forces in the rural Andes.
Even though some loan repayments have been delayed, the organizers of the communal banking association report that only a few borrowers have defaulted.
While the project loans money to both women and men, women have – by design – taken an increasingly prominent role. This is especially significant in a culture where women are often not in charge of household decision-making and are not generally the primary earners.
Women involved in Bancos Comunales express a strong commitment to helping their children achieve better lives than they’ve had. To that end, they use the income from their businesses to enhance child health and education.
Loan recipient Vilma Huaype lives with her husband and two children in Jarana, about an hour’s walk from Pocoata. Like Ms. Rueda, she has improved her family’s situation through direct access to financial resources. She has also gained new status in the community as the bank treasurer, and has more say in the household than she did before.
Ms. Huaype’s store, once stocked with meagre supplies, has grown into a thriving business. “I have taken advantage of this opportunity for my family,” she says, “so we do not have to remain poor.”
Why Bolivia stood alone in opposing the Cancún climate agreement
by Ambassdor Pablo Solon
Diplomacy is traditionally a game of alliance and compromise. Yet in the early hours of Saturday 11 December, Bolivia found itself alone against the world: the only nation to oppose the outcome of the United Nations climate change summit in Cancún. We were accused of being obstructionist, obstinate and unrealistic. Yet in truth we did not feel alone, nor are we offended by the attacks. Instead, we feel an enormous obligation to set aside diplomacy and tell the truth.
The "Cancún accord" was presented late Friday afternoon, and we were given two hours to read it. Despite pressure to sign something – anything – immediately, Bolivia requested further deliberations. This text, we said, would be a sad conclusion to the negotiations. After we were denied any opportunity to discuss the text, despite a lack of consensus, the president banged her gavel to approve the document.
Many commentators have called the Cancún accord a "step in the right direction." We disagree: it is a giant step backward. The text replaces binding mechanisms for reducing greenhouse gas emissions with voluntary pledges that are wholly insufficient. These pledges contradict the stated goal of capping the rise in temperature at 2C, instead guiding us to 4C or more. The text is full of loopholes for polluters, opportunities for expanding carbon markets and similar mechanisms – like the forestry scheme Redd – that reduce the obligation of developed countries to act.
Bolivia may have been the only country to speak out against these failures, but several negotiators told us privately that they support us. Anyone who has seen the science on climate change knows that the Cancún agreement was irresponsible.
In addition to having science on our side, another reason we did not feel alone in opposing an unbalanced text at Cancún is that we received thousands of messages of support from the women, men, and young people of the social movements that have stood by us and have helped inform our position. It is out of respect for them, and humanity as a whole, that we feel a deep responsibility not to sign off on any paper that threatens millions of lives.
Some claim the best thing is to be realistic and recognise that at the very least the agreement saved the UN process from collapse.
Unfortunately, a convenient realism has become all that powerful nations are willing to offer, while they ignore scientists' exhortations to act radically now. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that in order to have a 50% chance of keeping the rise in temperature below 1.5C, emissions must peak by 2015. The attempt in Cancún to delay critical decisions until next year could have catastrophic consequences.
Bolivia is a small country. This means we are among the nations most vulnerable to climate change, but with the least responsibility for causing the problem. Studies indicate that our capital city of La Paz could become a desert within 30 years. What we do have is the privilege of being able to stand by our ideals, of not letting partisan agendas obscure our principal aim: defending life and Earth. We are not desperate for money. Last year, after we rejected the Copenhagen accord, the US cut our climate funding. We are not beholden to the World Bank, as so many of us in the south once were. We can act freely and do what is right.
Bolivia may have acted unusually by upsetting the established way of dealing with things. But we face an unprecedented crisis, and false victories won't save the planet. False agreements will not guarantee a future for our children. We all must stand up and demand a climate agreement strong enough to match the crisis we confront.
*Pablo Solon is Ambassador of the Plurinational State of Bolivia to the United Nations.