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Monday, March 2, 2015

Bolivia recoups stolen art from New York criminals

FILE - In this April 23, 2013 file photo, a stained glass window, broken by thieves according to the local priest, remains damaged at the Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana in Copacabana, Bolivia. Bolivian officials say more than 400 objects of art have been stolen from churches, including paintings, decorative silverwork, polished gold and silver altar pieces and gem-encrusted jewelry. Photo: Juan Karita, AP / AP
FILE - In this April 23, 2013 file photo, a stained glass window, broken by thieves according to the local priest, remains damaged at the Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana in Copacabana, Bolivia. Bolivian officials say more than 400 objects of art have been stolen from churches, including paintings, decorative silverwork, polished gold and silver altar pieces and gem-encrusted jewelry. (Juan Karita, AP / AP)



LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — The discovery that two paintings held by a New York couple had been stolen from a Bolivian church in 2002 has ignited a search for 10 other colonial-era paintings that were taken in the theft, one the largest such crimes in the country's history.
The paintings, "Escape to Egypt" and "Virgin of Candelaria," were found in the collection of Richard and Roberta Huber, who contacted Bolivian officials after learning the two large works had been reported stolen.
The paintings, each about 6 feet (2 meters) high and more than 300 years old, were among 12 ecclesiastical artworks stolen in June 2002 from the San Martin church in the southern city of Potosi. Wilma Blazz, a city prosecutor in Potosi, said Thursday authorities would reopen their search for the items and would seek help from Brazil.
The Hubers had purchased the paintings legally in 2003 from an art gallery in Sao Paulo and restored them. Their origin came to light in 2012 as the Philadelphia Museum of Art prepared to mount an exhibit of the couple's collection and checked lists of artwork reported stolen.
While the restoration work had altered the paintings' appearance, Huber said Thursday, "I felt that they were probably the same ones."
The process of working with various agencies to return the paintings has been slow, Huber said by phone in New York. While the couple awaits instructions from Bolivia on how to proceed, the paintings currently hang in the living room of their New York home.
"It's not our custom to keep stolen goods," he said.
"We bought them because we liked them and, so, we will miss them."
The San Martin church was built in the mid-1600s by indigenous slaves in Potosi, which was a key center of silver mining about 250 miles (410 kilometers) south of La Paz, and it became a museum for colonial-era art
"After the robbery (in 2002), we had to hang replicas on the walls," the Rev. Omar Barrenechea told The Associated Press.
Bolivian officials say more than 400 objects of art have been stolen from churches in recent years. They include paintings, decorative silverwork, polished gold and silver altar pieces and gem-encrusted jewelry.
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AP writer Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this report.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Fernando Rivera pleads guilty in Ostreicher case

This just appeared in The Yeshiva World. As I told on this blog come time ago, the corruption was at the local level and not in La Paz. The government is going after those who treated Jacob Ostreicher badly, and this whole situation would have turned out better had not clowns like Sean Penn gotten involved, some accusing the La Paz administration for the local problems.

A Bolivian judge has sentenced to three years in prison the most senior government official known to be involved in the extortion ring that preyed on U.S. businessman Jacob Ostreicher. Fernando Rivera was sentenced Monday after pleading guilty to abuse of authority and racketeering. The former Interior Ministry legal affairs chief has been in jail since November

He is the eighth former official, including three ex-prosecutors, to get a reduced sentence after pleading guilty to roles in the ring that fleeced Ostreicher while he was jailed for 18 months in a money-laundering probe. Ostreicher fled Bolivia in December 2013 after corrupt officials bled dry the $25 million rice-farming investment he was trying to salvage. Prosecutors never presented evidence that the New York man was laundering money - See more at:

http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/284889/eight-bolivian-official-sentenced-for-extorting-jacob-ostreicher.html#sthash.C6Hg3IZa.dpuf

Monday, December 29, 2014

Mile high transit over Bolivia

Bolivia Revolutionizes Urban Mass Transit: From the Streets to the Sky

How a spectacular urban cable car system and a new municipal bus program are revolutionizing mass transit in La Paz and El Alto, with the help of some political competition.

Emily Achtenberg 12/26/2014
(Emily Achtenberg)(Emily Achtenberg)

Those searching for revolution in Bolivia may find it in unexpected places. On the streets and in the sky above La Paz, the nation’s capital, and the neighboring indigenous city of El Alto, a genuine transformation of the urban public transportation system is taking shape, against the backdrop of a political competition that is working to the benefit of local residents.
On December 4, President Evo Morales inaugurated the third line of Mi Teleférico (My Cable Car), the spectacular new cable car system launched last May between La Paz and El Alto. With its Red, Yellow, and Green Lines (the colors of the Bolivian flag), 11 stations, and 427 gondola cabins spanning more than 6 miles at 13,500 feet, it is the longest and highest urban cable car system in the world.
Around 100,000 passengers each day—more than 1 out of every 5 commuters between the two cities—are now riding the teleférico to work or school, to buy or sell goods in the local market, or to enjoy family leisure or tourist activities in one location or the other. Compared to the grueling, unpredictable journey in a packed taxi, minivan, or microbus that is the customary mode of local transit, the popular teleférico offers a quick hop in the sky between sleek, modern terminals, with spectacular vistas along the way and free internet at the stations. While the fare of 3 bolivianos (43c) costs more than a minivan ride, passengers who are elderly, disabled, or students pay only half, and the commute takes less than 20 minutes instead of the usual hour.
Morales points to the teleférico as a showpiece of Bolivia’s modernization, made possible by the past nine years of economic prosperity and political stability under his MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) government. It is also being touted as a symbol of integration, breaking down social, economic, and geographic barriers by connecting distant neighborhoods of indigenous migrants to the city’s commercial center, while opening up opportunities for tourism and investment flows to El Alto. As a political project, the teleférico epitomizes the campaign themes of progress, development, technological advancement, and national unity that propelled Morales and the MAS to an overwhelming victory last October.
While the cable system was constructed by the Austrian firm Doppelmayr—one of a handful of companies in the world with the necessary technical expertise—it is also very much a domestic initiative. The $235 million project cost has been financed entirely by Bolivia, with funds amassed largely from hydrocarbons revenues (taxes and royalties) accruing to the government. The construction workforce is largely Bolivian, and Bolivian engineers and technicians are being trained to operate the system.
The teleférico’s capital cost is expected to be amortized in 25 years—earlier than originally anticipated—through a combination of passenger revenues (75%) and commercial income (25%) generated from retail space and billboard rentals at the stations. (Fortunately, no commercial advertising is permitted on the cable cars, which are decorated instead with messages about important Bolivian laws, and, occasionally, with civic symbols such as soccer balls.) While experts remain skeptical, since virtually no public transit system in the world operates in the black, Morales has predicted that profits from the teleférico will soon be used to subsidize the government’s cash transfer programs.
Morales has pledged another $450 million to construct 5 more teleférico lines starting next year, more than doubling the range of the system. Unlike cable cars built in cities like Caracas and Medellin, which reach only a few isolated hilltop neighborhoods, the La Paz/ El Alto teleférico is uniquely envisaged as the core of an urban mass transit system—a “subway in the sky,” as The New York Times has dubbed it. Austrian president Heinz Fisher will travel to Bolivia to sign the new contract on January 22, the day Morales is sworn in for his third presidential term.
Equally popular in La Paz is the new municipal bus system, PumaKatari, (named for the cougar and serpent that symbolize strength and cleverness in Andean culture). Designed to serve the city’s remote and neglected hillside neighborhoods, the system is especially welcomed by poorer residents who live farthest from the center, and are often denied service or charged extra by taxi and minivan drivers. In some cases, angry residents have mobilized to demand the expulsion of minivan lines that provide poor service to their neighborhoods. The municipal buses, with fares of 28c during the day and 43c at night, may cost a little more than prevailing modes of transportation, but offer the same half-price discounts as the teleférico and the convenience and reliability of fixed stops, schedules, and routes.
PumaKatari is the brainchild of Luis Revilla, the popular La Paz mayor elected in 2010 on the left-center MSM (Movement Without Fear) ticket. Revilla supports the teleférico, but insists that it must be part of, and coordinated with, an integrated mass transit system for the La Paz metropolitan region that is efficient, safe, convenient, and meets residents’ needs.
The first phase of PumaKatari was launched in February 2014—just before the teleférico—with 3 routes and 61 buses manufactured by King Long Motors of China. Four new routes and 73 buses have been commissioned for early 2015, with another 4 routes and 60 buses to follow later in the year. The total $30 million capital cost, along with an initial $4 million operating subsidy, is being financed by the municipality, which in turn receives most of its funds from national sources (principally hydrocarbons revenues).
With Bolivia’s departmental and municipal elections scheduled for next March, transportation politics have become a major battleground in the hotly-contested La Paz mayoralty race. Revilla, forced to form a new party when the MSM was decertified after its poor showing in the national elections, collected more than 50,000 signatures in a week to secure standing for the new Sol.bo (Sovereignty and Liberty) ticket.
Sol.bo has since acquired many adherents, especially among MAS dissidents such as former defense minister Cecilia Chacón and TIPNIS leader (and ex-presidential candidate) Fernando Vargas. The party is now organizing a slate of candidates to run for positions throughout the La Paz department, including ex-MAS education minister Félix Patzi for governor.
With Revilla now being mentioned as a potential future rival to Morales, the mayoral campaign and its related transportation issues have become even more competitive and contentious. At the recent official ceremony inaugurating the teleférico’s new Green Line, Revilla was snubbed in favor of La Paz city councilor Guillermo Mendoza, who is also the new MAS candidate for mayor. (Initially, the head of the state cable car company, César Dockweiler, was widely rumored to be in line to run for MAS.)
Tensions have also arisen over the selection of an interim mayor to replace Revilla, who is legally required to resign by the end of the year in order to run again in March. Revilla has expressed concern that the confirmed designee, a MAS-allied city councilor who recently voted against expanding the PumaKatari bus project (for reasons of cost), could work to undermine his transportation initiatives over the next several months.
Still, there are growing signs of inter-jurisdictional cooperation and coordination around transportation planning in the region. Teleférico stations are being coordinated with PumaKatari bus stops, and the first integrated transfer location was established with the new Green Line in December. The municipalities of La Paz and El Alto have signed an agreement to cooperate in implementing a regional mass transit system, and now meet regularly with representatives of the state cable car company as well as the Ministry of Public Works. El Alto’s counterpart to PumaKatari, the new municipal bus Sariri, is scheduled to start operations early next year, with two routes feeding directly into the teleférico.
The Morales government has also taken critical steps to contain opposition by the powerful MAS-allied transportista (taxi- and minivan-drivers) unions which have threatened to derail both the teleférico and municipal bus initiatives. Morales has guaranteed a $100 million loan from China to enable the La Paz and El Alto unions to purchase 2,000 modern vehicles from King Long Motors (the same company that manufactures the PumaKatari buses). The upgraded fleet will run on natural gas, eliminating the cost of federal gasoline subsidies. Additionally, the government will buy up the old minivans for scrap, and the unions will use the proceeds as a downpayment on China’s loan.
So far, Bolivia’s competitive urban transportation politics seem to be working to everyone’s advantage, and especially to the benefit of La Paz and El Alto residents. Having the resources from hydrocarbons revenues for major national and local projects certainly helps. Meanwhile, showcasing its shiny new cable cars and buses, La Paz has just been named one of the “seven most amazing cities in the world.”

Emily Achtenberg is an urban planner and the author of NACLA’s blog Rebel Currents, covering Latin American social movements and progressive governments (nacla.org/blog/rebel-currents).

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Glenn Greenwald article on Bolivian election

Featured photo - What ‘Democracy’ Really Means in U.S. and New York Times Jargon: Latin America Edition
Dean Mouhtaropoulos
One of the most accidentally revealing media accounts highlighting the real meaning of “democracy” in U.S. discourse is a still-remarkable 2002 New York Times Editorial on the U.S.-backed military coup in Venezuela, which temporarily removed that country’s democratically elected (and very popular) president, Hugo Chávez. Rather than describe that coup as what it was by definition - a direct attack on democracy by a foreign power and domestic military which disliked the popularly elected president – the Times, in the most Orwellian fashion imaginable, literally celebrated the coup as a victory for democracy:
With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona. 
Thankfully, said the NYT, democracy in Venezuela was no longer in danger . . . because the democratically-elected leader was forcibly removed by the military and replaced by an unelected, pro-U.S. “business leader.” The Champions of Democracy at the NYT then demanded a ruler more to their liking: “Venezuela urgently needs a leader with a strong democratic mandate to clean up the mess, encourage entrepreneurial freedom and slim down and professionalize the bureaucracy.”
More amazingly still, the Times editors told their readers that Chávez’s “removal was a purely Venezuelan affair,” even though it was quickly and predictably revealed that neocon officials in the Bush administration played a central role. Eleven years later, upon Chávez’s death, the Times editors admitted that “the Bush administration badly damaged Washington’s reputation throughout Latin America when it unwisely blessed a failed 2002 military coup attempt against Mr. Chávez” [the paper forgot to mention that it, too, blessed (and misled its readers about) that coup]. The editors then also acknowledged the rather significant facts that Chávez’s “redistributionist policies brought better living conditions to millions of poor Venezuelans” and “there is no denying his popularity among Venezuela’s impoverished majority.”
If you think The New York Times editorial page has learned any lessons from that debacle, you’d be mistaken. Today they published an editorial expressing grave concern about the state of democracy in Latin America generally and Bolivia specifically. The proximate cause of this concern? The overwhelming election victory of Bolivian President Evo Morales (pictured above), who, as The Guardian put it, “is widely popular at home for a pragmatic economic stewardship that spread Bolivia’s natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses.”
The Times editors nonetheless see Morales’ election to a third term not as a vindication of democracy but as a threat to it, linking his election victory to the way in which “the strength of democratic values in the region has been undermined in past years by coups and electoral irregularities.” Even as they admit that “it is easy to see why many Bolivians would want to see Mr. Morales, the country’s first president with indigenous roots, remain at the helm” – because “during his tenure, the economy of the country, one of the least developed in the hemisphere, grew at a healthy rate, the level of inequality shrank and the number of people living in poverty dropped significantly” - they nonetheless chide Bolivia’s neighbors for endorsing his ongoing rule: “it is troubling that the stronger democracies in Latin America seem happy to condone it.”
The Editors depict their concern as grounded in the lengthy tenure of Morales as well as the democratically elected leaders of Ecuador and Venezuela: “perhaps the most disquieting trend is that protégés of Mr. Chávez seem inclined to emulate his reluctance to cede power.” But the real reason the NYT so vehemently dislikes these elected leaders and ironically views them as threats to “democracy” becomes crystal clear toward the end of the editorial (emphasis added):
This regional dynamic has been dismal for Washington’s influence in the region. In Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, the new generation of caudillos [sic] have staked out anti-American policies and limited the scope of engagement on developmentmilitary cooperation and drug enforcement efforts. This has damaged the prospects for trade and security cooperation.
You can’t get much more blatant than that. The democratically elected leaders of these sovereign countries fail to submit to U.S. dictates, impede American imperialism, and subvert U.S. industry’s neoliberal designs on the region’s resources. Therefore, despite how popular they are with their own citizens and how much they’ve improved the lives of millions of their nations’ long-oppressed and impoverished minorities, they are depicted as grave threats to “democracy.”
It is, of course, true that democratically elected leaders are capable of authoritarian measures. It is, for instance, democratically elected U.S. leaders who imprison people without charges for years, build secret domestic spying systems, and even assert the power to assassinate their own citizens without due process. Elections are no guarantee against tyranny. There are legitimate criticisms to be made of each of these leaders with regard to domestic measures and civic freedoms, as there is for virtually every government on the planet.
But the very idea that the U.S. government and its media allies are motivated by those flaws is nothing short of laughable. Many of the U.S. government’s closest allies are the world’s worst regimes, beginning with the uniquely oppressive Saudi kingdom (which just yesterday sentenced a popular Shiite dissident to death) and the brutal military coup regime in Egypt, which, as my colleague Murtaza Hussain reports today, gets more popular in Washington as it becomes even more oppressive. And, of course, the U.S. supports Israel in every way imaginable even as its Secretary of State expressly recognizes the “apartheid” nature of its policy path.
Just as the NYT did with the Venezuelan coup regime of 2002, the U.S. government hails the Egyptian coup regime as saviors of democracy. That’s because “democracy” in U.S. discourse means: “serving U.S. interests” and “obeying U.S. dictates,” regardless how how the leaders gain and maintain power. Conversely, “tyranny” means “opposing the U.S. agenda” and “refusing U.S. commands,” no matter how fair and free the elections are that empower the government. The most tyrannical regimes are celebrated as long as they remain subservient, while the most popular and democratic governments are condemned as despots to the extent that they exercise independence.
To see how true that is, just imagine the orgies of denunciation that would rain down if a U.S. adversary (say, Iran, or Venezuela) rather than a key U.S. ally like Saudi Arabia had just sentenced a popular dissident to death. Instead, the NYT just weeks ago uncritically quotes an Emirates ambassador lauding Saudi Arabia as one of the region’s “moderate” allies because of its service to the U.S. bombing campaign in Syria. Meanwhile, the very popular, democratically elected leader of Bolivia is a grave menace to democratic values – because he’s “dismal for Washington’s influence in the region.”
Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Evo Morales wins third term: Ellie Mae O'Hagen article in the Guardian

Ellie Mae O'Hagan
 
 
Evo Morales campaigns for the presidency
Evo Morales in the runup for the vote at the inauguration of a thermo-electric plant in Yacuiba in September 2014. Photograph: Aizar Raldes/AFP/Getty
The socialist Evo Morales, who yesterday was re-elected to serve a third term as president of Bolivia, has long been cast as a figure of fun by the media in the global north. Much like the now deceased Hugo Chávez, Morales is often depicted as a buffoonish populist whose flamboyant denouncements of the United States belie his incompetence. And so, reports of his landslide win inevitably focused on his announcement that it was “a victory for anti-imperialism”, as though anti-US sentiment is the only thing Morales has given to Bolivia in his eight years in government.
More likely, Morales’s enduring popularity is a result of his extraordinary socio-economic reforms, which – according to the New York Times – have transformed Bolivia from an “economic basket case” into a country that receives praise from such unlikely contenders as the World Bank and the IMF – an irony considering the country’s success is the result of the socialist administration casting off the recommendations of the IMF in the first place.
According to a report by the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, “Bolivia has grown much faster over the last eight years than in any period over the past three and a half decades.” The benefits of such growth have been felt by the Bolivian people: under Morales, poverty has declined by 25% and extreme poverty has declined by 43%; social spending has increased by more than 45%; the real minimum wage has increased by 87.7%; and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean has praised Bolivia for being “one of the few countries that has reduced inequality”. In this respect, the re-election of Morales is really very simple: people like to be economically secure – so if you reduce poverty, they’ll probably vote for you.
It’s true that Morales has made enemies in the White House, but this is probably less to do with rhetoric than the fact that he consistently calls for the international legalisation of the coca leaf, which is chewed as part of Bolivian culture but can also be refined into cocaine (via a truly disgusting chemical process). Before Morales was first elected, the Telegraph reported: “Decriminalisation would probably increase supply of the leaf, which is processed into cocaine, providing drug traffickers with more of the profitable illicit substance.” In fact the opposite has happened – in the past two years, coca cultivation has been falling in Bolivia. This inconvenient fact is a source of great consternation to the US government, which has poured billions of dollars into its totally ineffective and highly militaristic war on drugs in Latin America. Morales has – accurately in my view – previously implied that the war on drugs is used by the US as an excuse to meddle in the region’s politics.
Having said this, it would be dishonest to argue that Morales’s tenure has been perfect. Earlier this year the Bolivian government drew criticism from human rights groups for reducing the legal working age to 10. But what most news outlets neglected to mention is that the government was responding to a campaign from the children’s trade union, Unatsbo, which sees the change in legislation as a first step to protecting Bolivia’s 850,000 working children from the exploitation that comes with clandestine employment. Although Bolivia has made massive strides in reducing poverty, more than a million of its citizens still live on 75p a day – a legacy of the excruciating poverty of Bolivia before Morales took office.
Nevertheless, Morales must make reducing the number of child workers a priority during his third term. Not doing so will be a serious failure of his progressive project. In terms of social reforms, Morales should heed recent calls from the public advocate of Bolivia, Rolando Villena, to legalise same-sex civil unions and pave the way for equal marriage. He should also follow the lead of Uruguay’s president, José Mujica, and completely liberalise abortion, which would be a good first step to tackling the country’s high rates of maternal mortality. And Morales must also address the criticism of indigenous leaders who accuse him of failing to honour his commitments to protect indigenous people and the environment.
But however Morales uses his third term, it’s clear that what he’s done already has been remarkable. He has defied the conventional wisdom that says leftwing policies damage economic growth, that working-class people can’t run successful economies, and that politics can’t be transformative – and he’s done all of this in the face of enormous political pressure from the IMF, the international business community and the US government. In the success of Morales, important political lessons can be found – and perhaps we could all do with learning them.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

New York Times article by Martin Sivak on the 12 Octobr election

This article appeared in the Opinion pages of the New York Times on 10 October, 2014, two days before the Bolivian national elections. While this site does not agree with all the author's views, his piece is well written and informative and much better than the usual anti-Morales diatribe written in the US press.

_____________________________________________________________________                       
              

    BUENOS AIRES — On Sunday, Bolivians are widely expected to re-elect their president, Evo Morales, for an unprecedented third term. He is still overwhelmingly popular, including among the indigenous people from whom he has sprung. Their conditions of life have improved dramatically since he first took office in 2006, and so has the general economy. But that extraordinary popularity could ultimately prove a weakness for Bolivia, since he has so far shown no inclination to groom a successor and a strong political party to assure that his transformation of Bolivia does not fade when he inevitably leaves office.
    For certain, Bolivia has shown the world an assertive, if sometimes startling, national image of late. Thanks to loans from China, the Internet reaches rural schools via a satellite that bears the name of Tupac Katari, the leader of an important indigenous uprising against Spanish colonial rule. Like Mr. Morales, Bolivia’s current foreign minister, David Choquehuanca, belongs to the Aymara, one of the 36 ethnic groups recognized by Bolivia. Following a visit to London, he proposed to change the hands of the clock at the Plurinational Legislative Assembly, the Bolivian equivalent of Congress, so that they move counterclockwise — symbol of Bolivia’s recent spirit of change and independence in the Southern Hemisphere. Another example: the government maintains a vehemently anti-American discourse even as it promises Bolivian students scholarships to study at Harvard and Stanford.
    What seems clear is that Bolivia is defying longstanding caricatures of itself as an icon of political instability. Economic stability has followed the political achievement, and opinion polls have given the president a 40 percent advantage over his closest rival. If he wins, it will give him a third term — a possibility based on a constitutional change that he initiated but that his detractors say he is misusing.
    Even so, his popularity endures. Under his Movement Toward Socialism, poverty dropped to 45 percent in 2011. In 2005, it had been 64 percent. Mr. Morales is also the first indigenous president of Bolivia, where 48 percent of the population declared themselves indigenous in the last census, and his government has proven itself adept at reconciling ancestral knowledge with economic modernization.
    All of this has left Bolivia in the grip of the leftist or populist trend in South American politics that was rising at the turn of the 21st century, even though that trend has slowed in Venezuela, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. In the United States, business and foreign policy figures have long portrayed Mr. Morales as an authoritarian strongman who connects emotionally to the masses and was bankrolled by Hugo Chávez, the populist leader and ally of Cuba who governed Venezuela from 1999 until his death last year.
    But the notion of a mentor/student relationship underestimates Mr. Morales and overestimates Mr. Chávez. With Mr. Chávez gone, there is little Venezuelan aid to speak of today. But Bolivia is expected to finish the year with the highest growth rate in South America — above 5 percent. During his time in office, per capita income has grown from $1,000 to $2,550 and unemployment levels have remained below double digits. Between 2006 and 2014, $8 billion of oil income was disbursed to social programs for young people, the elderly and young mothers. Mr. Morales’s most emphatic opponents accuse him of being authoritarian, uneducated and intransigent, but don’t challenge his personal integrity.
    In Bolivia, presidents govern from the Palacio Quemado (the Burnt Palace), a name earned in 1875 when it was set on fire with torches. It hints at Bolivia’s well-earned identity as a flammable country: of 83 governments, 36 lasted a year or less and 37 were anti-democratic.
    If he is re-elected and serves out his term, Mr. Morales will have achieved the longest staying power of any president: 14 years. During his first term, the resource-rich east seemed on the verge of secession, but he managed to dismantle the regional opposition. Since then, domestic political opposition has been erratic. For this election, most of the other contenders are simply framing themselves as better administrators of the existing system.
    Nationalizations, most importantly of the hydrocarbon industry, have been the pillars supporting this agenda. Another point in the government’s favor was the country’s new constitution, which improved representation in a country long characterized by crippling social exclusion. Not long ago, in La Paz, I asked a street soup vendor’s 11- year-old son what he wanted to be when he grew up. “President,” he said. “President like Evo.” That the son of a mujer de pollera, an urban indigenous woman, can see himself as president illustrates the seismic change in Bolivia.
    Relations with the United States are touchy at best, principally over coca production. President Obama has again declared that Bolivia “failed demonstrably” in its counternarcotics efforts, which meant the United States would continue to withhold aid. But the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has praised the Bolivian government’s efforts to tackle coca production, so the American move may only have isolated the United States in the region. The plant’s leaves, chewed for extra energy at Andean altitudes, are deep in Bolivian tradition, and Mr. Morales himself once led the coca growers union. So framing relations within the context of the fight against drugs is a perspective that has severe limitations in Bolivia.
    If Mr. Morales wins the election, he must now look forward, and use his third term to create the necessary conditions for a plausible successor. That the political process is so strongly identified with him has only contributed to the lack of potential successors. No important leaders have emerged; President Morales’s ruling party has not grown stronger; and up to now, he has not considered stepping down. On the contrary, he has increasingly concentrated his power and made decisions on his own.
    The problem of this strong personal identification with the presidency will only grow more acute if his legislators press to modify the constitution in order to guarantee Mr. Morales’s unlimited re-election (all he needs is two-thirds of the vote on Sunday). Any eternalization will ultimately be a blow to the economic boom and the social progress achieved. The new Bolivia should not allow a president’s cold to escalate into a raging disease.
    Martín Sivak, an Argentine journalist, is the author of “Evo Morales: The Extraordinary Rise of the First Indigenous President of Bolivia.” This essay was translated by Kristina Cordero from the Spanish.
     

    Monday, September 29, 2014

    Bolivian public transport: cable cars offer unique city views

    Here is an article published in the New York Times, by Alissa Walker on 19 August, 2014.

    Watch How Bolivia Built The World's Longest Urban Cable Car System

    Watch How Bolivia Built the World's Longest Urban Cable Car System
    In most parts of the world, cable cars are relegated to ski areas or amusement parks. But in South America, cities use the gondolas to navigate undulating terrain as public transportation. Later htis year, two more lines will open in Bolivia’s La Paz-El Alto network, making it the longest urban cable car system in the world.

    This new “subway in the sky” (which looks pretty much like a bunch of ski lifts) is able to lift residents up and over the urban gridlock, allowing them to move between the two city centres faster and more efficiently. As part of a story this weekend, the New York Times made a beautiful video celebrating this rather elegant transit system, which residents call the “red line.”

    The potential for this new method of transportation to transform cities like La Paz is huge, where the city is built on veritable alpine cliffs 3600m above sea level. Cable cars provide a light touch on city infrastructure, and can connect steep neighbourhoods where trains are too impractical or expensive. It’s also cleaner and safer than the other alternative — the addition of more crowded minibuses, which will only lead to more streets choked with traffic and pollution.
    But the biggest takeaway for riders is that they now feel their city is moving forward, and modernising in a way that will help it keep pace in the global economy (it’s no coincidence these new lines are being finished in time for an election year). Besides their new perspective-changing commute, the cable cars have given the city a signature method of transportation — which brings residents a sense of pride