Mo­rales bat­tles Latin Amer­ica’s drift to right

In­tends to break limit of pres­i­den­tial term

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARTIN AROSTEGUI

At a time when left­ist pop­ulism was sup­posed to be re­ced­ing in Latin Amer­ica, Bo­li­vian Pres­i­dent Evo Mo­rales is try­ing to buck the trend by an­nounc­ing his in­ten­tion to seek an un­prece­dented fourth pres­i­den­tial term.

Even though 52 per­cent of Bo­li­vians voted against ex­tend­ing pres­i­den­tial term lim­its in a na­tional ref­er­en­dum in Fe­bru­ary and the Catholic Church said the move could “widen schisms in Bo­li­vian so­ci­ety” and “gen­er­ate vi­o­lence,” in­ter­na­tional re­ac­tion to Mr. Mo­rales’ plan has been muted. Mean­while, heavy crit­i­cism has rained down on the au­thor­i­tar­ian moves of the left­ist government in Venezuela.

With Pres­i­dent Obama fo­cused on out­reach to Cuba and the shaky peace deal in Colom­bia dur­ing his fi­nal weeks in of­fice, some crit­ics say he is giv­ing au­thor­i­tar­ian fig­ures such as Mr. Mo­rales a pass.

“The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has rel­e­gated hu­man rights and democ­racy as an af­ter­thought in Latin Amer­ica,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida Repub­li­can.

Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries have been tra­di­tion­ally averse to ap­pear­ing to in­ter­fere in each other’s

do­mes­tic af­fairs, even as Bo­li­vian op­po­si­tion fig­ures say Mr. Mo­rales’ drive to stay in of­fice threat­ens the demo­cratic rule of law.

“What Evo Mo­rales has done is a con­vinc­ing demon­stra­tion that he is no longer in­ter­ested in law, that he is the king and that the laws, the con­sti­tu­tion and the Bo­li­vian vote are sub­ject to his whim,” said Jorge Quiroga, op­po­si­tion leader and for­mer Bo­li­vian pres­i­dent.

Mr. Mo­rales in­sisted he was just the hon­or­ing the wishes of his sup­port­ers to stay on for the 2019 vote.

“If the peo­ple say, ‘Let’s go with Evo,’ then let’s con­tinue de­feat­ing the right and con­tinue with our process,” he said ear­lier this month.

Bo­livia’s turn of events fur­ther em­bar­rasses many U.S. and Euro­pean Union pol­icy an­a­lysts, who have ar­gued that record an­nual growth of near 7 per­cent — the fruit of eco­nomic poli­cies ad­min­is­tered by a Har­vard-trained team run­ning the Bo­li­vian Min­istry of Econ­omy and Pub­lic Finance — would mod­er­ate the po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions of Bo­livia’s first in­dige­nous pres­i­dent.

But Mr. Mo­rales has made clear his de­ter­mi­na­tion to re­sist the right­ward drift in re­gional pol­i­tics and has ap­pealed to the government of Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro for sup­port. Venezue­lan Vice Pres­i­dent Aris­to­b­ulo Is­turiz spoke this month at a ma­jor gath­er­ing of Bo­livia’s rul­ing Move­ment for So­cial­ism, where Mr. Mo­rales made his an­nounce­ment that he would seek an­other term.

MAS of­fi­cials unan­i­mously en­dorsed the pres­i­dent’s plan and were al­ready seek­ing ways to get around the con­sti­tu­tional law that tech­ni­cally al­lows only two con­sec­u­tive terms in of­fice.

Although this next elec­tion would be for Mr. Mo­rales’ fourth term, a panel ruled that his first term in of­fice did not count be­cause it was trun­cated by a change in the con­sti­tu­tion in 2009. Mr. Is­turiz hailed the de­ci­sion as a “turn­ing point” in the “re­con­quest” of re­cently lost “so­cial spa­ces.”

The left in re­treat

It has been a rough year for Latin Amer­i­can so­cial­ists.

Brazil’s once-hege­monic Work­ers’ Party has been chased out of power. Its charis­matic leader, Luiz Ina­cio Lula da Silva, is facing ar­rest on cor­rup­tion charges, and Mr. Silva’s hand-picked suc­ces­sor has been im­peached and re­moved from of­fice.

Al­most 15 years of un­in­ter­rupted left­ist Pero­nista rule came to an end in Ar­gentina with the elec­tion of con­ser­va­tive Mauricio Macri. Peru and Paraguay have sim­i­larly elected busi­ness­men as pres­i­dents, and Chile’s gov­ern­ing cen­ter­left coali­tion un­der Pres­i­dent Michelle Bachelet is down in the opin­ion polls and in­ter­nally di­vided.

But Mr. Mo­rales has been nur­tur­ing what crit­ics say is an en­vi­ron­ment con­ducive to one-party rule and what the pres­i­dent has la­beled an “ir­re­versible process of change.”

Fol­low­ing the ex­am­ple of Mr. Maduro, who has weath­ered an eco­nomic melt­down and threats of con­gres­sional im­peach­ment, Mr. Mo­rales has clamped con­trols on the ju­di­ciary, the mil­i­tary and the press. The coun­try’s tra­di­tion­ally frag­mented op­po­si­tion also has helped MAS keep power, even though Mr. Mo­rales’ ap­proval rat­ings hover just around 50 per­cent.

Ju­di­cial ap­point­ments are now based on party loy­alty rather than le­gal qual­i­fi­ca­tions, said Bo­li­vian con­sti­tu­tional lawyer Omar Bar­ri­en­tos.

“The once in­de­pen­dently pow­er­ful con­sti­tu­tional court has been turned into a government rub­ber stamp, and the Supreme Court seems headed that way,” said Mr. Bar­ri­en­tos, who once ad­vised the U.S. State Depart­ment in draft­ing anti-drug leg­is­la­tion.

Mo­rales sup­port­ers say the government has “de­moc­ra­tized” the ju­di­ciary through the pop­u­lar elec­tion of judges from can­di­date lists drawn up by the Congress, where MAS holds over twothirds of the seats.

Mr. Mo­rales has sim­i­larly moved to en­hance his lev­er­age with the mil­i­tary by es­tab­lish­ing an “anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist” staff col­lege to screen of­fi­cers seek­ing pro­mo­tion. Pre­sid­ing over its first grad­u­a­tion days be­fore his elec­tion an­nounce­ment Dec. 17, Mr. Mo­rales told newly minted cap­tains that “ide­o­log­i­cal com­mit­ment is as im­por­tant as any other mil­i­tary at­tribute.”

The government is turn­ing up po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion. Prom­i­nent jour­nal­ists, in­clud­ing TV an­chor Car­los Valverde, have gone into ex­ile. It was Mr. Valverde’s re­port­ing on a scan­dal in­volv­ing cor­rupt deal­ings between a mis­tress of Mr. Mo­rales and a Chi­nese con­struc­tion com­pany that con­trib­uted sig­nif­i­cantly to the government’s de­feat in Fe­bru­ary’s ref­er­en­dum on amend­ing the con­sti­tu­tion.

Mr. Valverde said in­ten­si­fy­ing po­lice harassment per­suaded him to flee to neigh­bor­ing Ar­gentina in April.

“Po­lice kept show­ing up at my house. My tele­phones were con­stantly tapped,” he said.

OAS ap­peal

Mr. Quiroga, who ran against Mr. Mo­rales in the 2014 elec­tions, has writ­ten open let­ters to the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States about Bo­livia’s de­te­ri­o­rat­ing democ­racy and called on the op­po­si­tion to work jointly “as much in the ju­di­cial field, as con­sti­tu­tional, in­ter­na­tional and demo­cratic venues to de­fend the rule of law and the con­sti­tu­tion.”

But op­po­si­tion Sen. Car­los Klin­sky ac­knowl­edged that it would be dif­fi­cult to mount a cred­i­ble chal­lenge to Mr. Mo­rales in elec­tions sched­uled for 2019.

“Talks to try to form a sin­gle front have started,” he said.

Like many Latin Amer­i­can lead­ers, Mr. Mo­rales has come to rely on Chi­nese in­vest­ments of over $7 bil­lion to cush­ion Bo­livia against the ef­fects of fall­ing com­mod­ity prices. Nat­u­ral gas ex­ports, which ac­count for 70 per­cent of Bo­li­vian state rev­enue, have de­clined 35 per­cent over the past year.

Russia’s Gazprom has promised to finance gas ex­plo­ration to com­pen­sate for the lack of Western in­vest­ment. Bo­livia’s reg­is­tered gas re­serves could dry up in a few years, lead­ing to a se­vere eco­nomic re­ces­sion, in­ter­na­tional oil an­a­lysts say.

Closer deal­ings with Moscow may have en­cour­aged Bo­li­vian Vice Pres­i­dent Al­varo Gar­cia Lin­era to openly pro­pose a “Rus­sian so­lu­tion” to con­sti­tu­tional im­ped­i­ments for a fourth term: Mr. Mo­rales would switch to the vice pres­i­den­tial spot in the next elec­tions, with a loyal sup­porter at the top of the ticket to act as care­taker pres­i­dent for one term. That was how Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin man­aged to cir­cum­vent term lim­its to keep con­trol of the Krem­lin, Mr. Gar­cia said.

But the government has had one road blocked since Mr. Mo­rales made his in­ten­tions known to hang on to power. The courts ruled out an­other ref­er­en­dum at­tempt to re­verse the close loss in Fe­bru­ary’s ref­er­en­dum.

“You can­not raise a new con­sul­ta­tion, a new process with the same con­tent on some­thing that has al­ready been de­cided on by the Con­sti­tu­tional Court, whether or not it has been sub­mit­ted to a ref­er­en­dum,” Judge Ruddy Flores said.

La­bor lead­ers who have gained man­age­ment po­si­tions in Bo­livia’s main state en­ter­prises say they are work­ing on sev­eral for­mu­las to by­pass con­sti­tu­tional re­stric­tions.

“One way or an­other, Evo will con­tinue as pres­i­dent,” said Rolando Borda of the na­tional oil com­pany YPFB. “We have no one else.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

SEEK­ING FOURTH TERM: “If the peo­ple say, ‘Let’s go with Evo,’ then let’s con­tinue de­feat­ing the right and con­tinue with our process,” Bo­li­vian Pres­i­dent Evo Mo­rales said ear­lier this month.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Bo­li­vian Pres­i­dent Evo Mo­rales has been nur­tur­ing what crit­ics say is an en­vi­ron­ment con­ducive to one-party rule. He calls it an “ir­re­versible process of change” and in­sists he is just the hon­or­ing the wishes of his sup­port­ers to stay on for the 2019 vote.

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