Archive for the ‘dodgy dealings’ Category

First of all, you should know that those mercenary guys probably were working for the opposition leaders in Santa Cruz. We know this now because a huge interview just appeared with a man who was in their sordid wee gang and has just turned grass. Otto at Inca Kola News has turfed up the story for the anglofono world and translated enough into English that you can get an idea, and if you read Spanish the rest is online too. One quibble: it’s appearing in the state-run newspaper Cambio, which was launched earlier this year as a deliberate offset to the anti-government tenor of most of the Bolivian press.

I don’t know what you think of state-owned media. Myself, I spend way more time reading the Bolivian newspapers than anyone should, and there’s a perceptible right-wing (or at least anti-left-wing) bias which isn’t helped by the government’s hostile relationship with the papers. There’s no doubt that some sectors of the press are nothing but bought-and-sold anti-MAS mouthpieces, but a lot of them aren’t, and they’re not all to blame for how much Evo seems to dislike them. The MAS’s attitude to media management seems to amount to: since it’s not possible to shut them down, shout them down. This fortnight’s news contains plenty of examples: journalists condemn lack of press freedom, the government talks about research (carried out by third parties) which shows that people trust the press less than they did five years ago and there are ongoing rumbles about the government’s court case against La Prensa. According to this report, Evo hasn’t met with the domestic press since January and only does press conferences with foreign journalists. How is that patriotic? This is the same leader who said in his inauguration in Tihuanaco, ‘I will commit errors, I ask you to correct me if I make mistakes’. He was specifically addressing fellow indigenous leaders, but it would have been more heartening to believe that he was addressing civil society as a whole. Which begs the question, is Evo still as radically accountable to civil society as he once claimed to be? And if he is, then why aren’t the press accepted as the legitimate nosy parkers of civil society, controlling by reporting critically and informing the public? Something’s broken here and I don’t know if it’s the government – which has been criticised by former allies recently for drifting from its platform of accountability and direct democracy – or the bad behaviour of the press.

And let’s face it, the press have hardly been upright keepers of the moral tone all this time. Reporting of the Pando massacre was particularly patchy back when it took place, because of links between those accused of carrying it out and newspaper owners. Even Reporters Sans Frontieres have criticised elements in the Bolivian media for inciting hatred, urging responsibility and restraint as well as reminding us that several attacks on media installations (TV channels, newspaper offices) were carried out by right-wing thugs in Santa Cruz. The newspapers tend to reflect the interests of their owners, like anywhere in the world, and since they are comparatively expensive to buy, it’s my experience that they’re not widely read among working class and rural people, so there’s no sense of writing for that audience or indeed reporting on rural life except in colourful culture and tourism supplements. There are major swathes of the population who are not considered newsworthy, and endless glossy magazines reproducing stock images and stories from the foreign press, featuring people who look nothing like most Bolivians.

Anyway this is all a roundabout way of saying that, when possible, I don’t get news from state sources like Abi, Radio Erbol and now Cambio. It’s not that I think they’re Pravda and Evo’s a big nasty censor, but neither do I think Evo has been particularly mature in his attitude towards freedom of the press. Like a lot of things in Bolivia, it’s difficult to stake out a position between ‘The MAS are authoritarian, press-smothering dictatorial Stalinists!!1’ and ‘The press is so far in thrall to the right wing that it’s not even bothering with’. When I tell people that I filter and compile stories from the Bolivian media, they often react with skepticism if they know the country well. A certain well-known filmmaker’s reaction was swift and brutal, ‘No hay periodismo verdadero en Bolivia’. I disagree with him, but I can see how he got that opinion: what with nasty incitement-to-racial-hatred stories and clear facts about newspaper ownership among opposition politicians, it’s easy to conclude that the papers have all got it in for the government. But then every government assumes that the press are gunning for them, unless carefully controlled, and my own government has been a black example to the whole world in how to prioritise the management of messages, rather than formulating policies of substance. At least their cynical management of the press suggests a bitter respect for it, though. In Bolivia, respect for journalists and journalism seems thin on the ground, and that’s a sad thing given how important the smooth functioning of a free press is to any healthy democracy and the professionalism and vocational zeal of many Bolivian journalists. But it’s also up to the press to earn that respect: perhaps they could start doing so by giving equal column space to attacks on indigenous people by right-wing youths as well as brutal examples of justicia comunitaria, or not reposting, verbatim, press releases by nakedly poltical lobbying groups like the Human Rights Foundation, now discredited like whoah. I don’t know. But the constant government-press feuding makes my life more vexing, because sometimes the only good material is on official sites, and like a proper hack (and activist), I never quite trust the official version of events (“Why is this lying bastard lying to me?” etc) like the above. Please do discuss in comments, I’ve got no solutions, just a vague and scratchy sense of discontent.

ETA: more on this from la Razón.

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I haven’t posted about the whole Santa Cruz hotel room/dodgy international mercenary gang/police shootout debacle until now, but I’m pleased to see that the big boy bloggers have been taking on the essential job of disseminating information about the attackers and the circumstances. More of that in a minute. Today, my boss Alex at the Bolivia Information Forum has put together a cut-out-and-keep, bullshit-proof summary of what went down, available here. You will probably be familiar by now with the gory details – a shoot-out on April 15th in which a gang of international thugs who were (almost certainly) plotting to assassinate the President were cornered in a hotel room by police, with three of them being killed in the ensuing gun battle, and several arrests following. You might also know that there have been links drawn between this band of roving guns-for-hire and the opposition leaders of Santa Cruz, in the form of transfers of lawyers guns and money via the Bolivian co-ordinator of the thoroughly dodgy right-wing lobbying NGO Human Rights Foundation. The BIF report gives a brief bio of each of the dead terrorists and summarises the aftermath of the case, but it’s probably the last two paragraphs which are most worth reading and taking note of:

Regardless of who exactly were the sponsors of the group, its existence is indicative of anti-democratic elements operating in the media luna region. In the face of continued defeats in national electoral contests (such as the constitutional referendum in January), and the likelihood of another victory for Morales in the December presidential elections, extreme tactics are now being employed to defend elite interests in Santa Cruz and elsewhere. There have been some 30 attacks in Santa Cruz on houses and offices of people linked to the government (including members of congress, ministers, and social movement leaders) as well as some members of the opposition and attacks on the offices and personnel of human rights organisations. These actions reached their zenith in the wave of violence last September in Santa Cruz and the main towns of the media luna which ended in a massacre of indigenous peasants by an armed group in the department of Pando.

A United Nations report into the Pando massacre, released in March, attributed the killings to members of the local prefecture and civic committee in Pando. Published at the same time was the UN OHCHR annual human rights report which pointed to the activities of the Union Juvenil Cruceñista and groups like them that operate with the support of the civic committees in the media luna. Even if the allegations of involvement of the prefect and business leaders in Santa Cruz prove inconclusive, these actions are an indication that a campaign to promote terror was on the cards. Rather than condemning the presence the armed group in their midst, the incident has served as a rallying point for the cruceño opposition. ”

The would-be assassins in the hotel room may or may not be linked to the ‘democratic ‘ opposition in Santa Cruz – it’ll be a knotty problem for investigators to work out, and then a knottier one for observers to work out whether they trust the investigators, which is why it’s a Good Thing that the government has allowed an international investigation, for greater impartiality. But even if Marinkovich and his baseball-bat wielding pals turn out to be entirely unconnected with this, what does it say to you that instead of repudiating the plotters and condemning any suggestion of attempts on the life of the President, they are closing ranks and raising their voices in defense of those arrested for complicity in the plot? Not reassuring, is it?

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So a friend who works in the City told me the other evening, anyway. Which means I shouldn’t have been quite so astonished at the Financial Times coverage of the referendum, which is both balanced and informative. (The coverage in the Morning Star, we’ve already established, is top-notch (-; )

Evo Morales, Bolivia’s popular leftwing president, has claimed his second big electoral victory in six months with the endorsement of a new constitution that he promised will pave the way for true equality for the country’s indigenous majority.

Initial results show 60 per cent of Bolivians voted in favour of the new charter, which puts a cap on the size of landholdings, extends state control over resources such as natural gas, removes Roman Catholicism as the state religion and introduces community justice and the election of judges.

Well, it’s almost 62% actually, but who’s splitting hairs? (Oh, right. Me.)

It even covers the distintegration of the existing opposition, in a cloud of arrests, foam-mouthed racism and recriminations. Sharp! The FT is the first foreign newspaper I’ve seen to acknowledge the fault lines in the opposition, never mind the wave of arrests and criminal prosecutions that followed the violent uprisings and attempted coup d’etat in September. But oh ho ho, what’s this we read?

Carlos Mesa, former Bolivian president, has pledged to form a new party to contest the elections.

“The radicalised opposition in Santa Cruz played to regionalism and racism,” he said. “Now with presidential elections in December we’re going to have a lot of people trying to figure out how to form a national opposition that can go after a piece of Morales’ base . . . they are likely to fall somewhere between Podemos and Morales [on the political spectrum].”

For which one might be tempted to read, ‘Carlos Mesa, respected historian and journalist but, let’s be honest, less than adequate at the Presidency when it was thrust into his hands, fancies another crack at power because he thinks he might be able to get it right this time’. One might be tempted. If one were uncharitably inclined.

Or one might be tempted to read more into it and start sniffing out the beginnings of the USA trying to establish an economic stranglehold a toehold in Bolivian government once more. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions…

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