Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Interview with renowned Bolivian journalist

This is an jointly produced article destined for Green Left Weekly and Spanish left newspapers. On our left sits Franz Chavez.

Bolivian Journalist Reflects on Changes
Aranzazú Guevara and Rachel Evans

Franz Chavez is a noted Bolivian journalist. He studied, for a period, communication and sociology, at the National University of San Andres in La Paz and established a group that founded La Prensa and La Razon. These newspapers are two of Bolivia´s most widely read news sources. Chavez worked for 5 years in radio, at one stage, alongside former president Carlos Mesa. Chaves currently works for Inter Press Service as part of their Latin American bureau. Green Left Weekly´s Rachel Evans and Aranzazú Guevara from Corriente Praxis de Argentina, spoke to Franz Chavez in La Paz about the political process unfolding in Boliva.

"The conflict that is taking place in Bolivia is an unavoidable chapter, almost predictable to solve Bolivia´s social conflict. ´The conflict was had to happen, given the circumstances. There are many circumstances that coincide. Evo Morales was pressed by the circumstances but he didn’t believe that he could be a president. He is very humble. There was much weakness in the right wing in the lead up to Evo Morales´s election in December 2005, and that helped. The people had little money and lot of frustration. There was disenchantment with corruption, and how the state was not functioning" Chavez told Green Left Weekly.

"The parties in Bolivia ’s history were rotated in and out of power but there was no difference between them. The people didn’t see any results. So people started to revolt- also because of privatisation of water and gas. The Occidental region is rebellious and combative because of the cultural tradition and because they were always being forgotten – socially and politically. Evo was an isolated and small leader, yet people saw that he was a fighter and identified with his capacity to struggle. They identified with him because of his skin colour. He didn’t have a wide discourse, he only defended coca culture. He had support in the middle classes who were tired of the right-wing," Chavez said.

Since 1952 every party had taken advantage of the popular movements. "I think this current process of very deep change is similar to the 1952 uprising. The difference is that now we have the indigenous in power " noted Chavez. "The political system in Bolivia has moved from democracy to dictatorship, to democracy. The group that governs today in Bolivia doesn’t want that past. The forces to stop this pendulum between democracy and dictatorship are the indigenous and middle classes. Evo isn’t an expert in politics but he has a lot of common sense," remarked Chavez.


"1952 was a revolutionary period. The working class were a much greater force than the campesinos who, conversely, are a greater force today than workers today. This was because working people had just come from the war of Chaco ." The war of Chaco, 1932–1935, was fought between Bolivia and Paraguay over control of a great part of the Gran Chaco region of South America . The region was incorrectly thought to be rich in oil. "As a result of the revolutionary process rose Víctor Paz Estenssoro – Bolivia´s president in 1952 – and his party the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR)" explained Chavez. "In the following years the working class fought against dictatorships. In 1982 there were elections and democracy. MNRI – the left wing of MNR – governed at this time. In 1985 there were a neo-liberal structural reforms. In the 1950s there was an ideological thought that was born between the working class and intellectuals. That ideological thought was Marxist. Now there is a greater participation of the popular sectors that has generated another kind of leadership. In this current political process, the thought is a mixture of indigenous, corporative, intellectual, middle class. Now its more complex, " Chavez said.

The working and lower classes in Bolivia

"The basic salary in Bolivia is 550 Bolivanos per month. That is $72 American " Chavez commented.The sectors that support Evo Morales are peasants, coca producers, the working class of the industrial factories , the mass of poor people who don’t have permanent employment – those in the informal sector, and the urban lower middle class . The Workers Confederation of Bolivia (COB) - the mainly miners workers federation – supports Evo but it now has a Trotskyist direction that questions the president a lot" noted Chavez. "COB was very important in the past. They had a great force of workers– in the past there were 27,000 miners in Bolivia and they were all in COB. Now their strength has declined. The reasons for this are historic. After 1985 the private sector grew as the value of tin started to rise. This was during the government of Sanchez de Losada. At this time mining cooperatives appeared. Co-operatives saw some miners operate as bosses, and exploitation of other workers developed. Take, today, for example, the town of Huanuni , there are no co-operatives in the mine. There are only unions. This is because this mine has been nationalised under Morales. Currently, there are 5000 miners working in Huanuni´s tin mine. In other parts of Bolivia there are mines that are not nationalised. They have co-operatives within them. The cooperatives have federations that are similar to trade unions. These federations support Evo Morales under the condition he does not nationalise their mines," explained Chavez. "I think that in El Alto – where a lot of working people live - there has not been enough help yet from the government" noted Chavez.

Indigenous and peasants in the countryside

"In the countryside you have two types of organisations - cultural and political, organised within a union. The organisation of peasants in a union is very similar to workers organisation but with a lot of culture. Both the cultural and political campesino groups are trying for more unity over demands. Women, culturally and historically, have kept the campesino home together and have not played the role as political protagonists. Overall, women and young people have not been very involved in this political process. However, now, campesino women are playing a more protagonist role and they have their own organisation, Bartolina Sisa" said Chavez.

"1952 is a point of reference because there was agrarian reform. The land was redistributed to campesinos individually. That was mostly in the Occidental region (the countries West) because in Oriental region there was not a lot of people. The Oriental region, the Media Luna, was forgotten. Consequently, in the Oriental region some land owners have land twice the size of the city of La Paz . If the reform had been in the sense of communal ownership it would have been better" commented Chavez."Now the government encourages the communal production. Since 2006 it has given people, original inhabitants, titles to their land. This is called Community Land of Origin. Morales is also creating new towns. The land around these towns can’t be sold nor divided. In the Oriental region this does not work because the capitalists still buy the land."

Commenting on a well known leader of the 2003 uprising against gas privatisation Chavez said ”Felipe Quispe, was the leader of Aymaras during the 2003 gas uprising. Now he no longer participates in this political process."

The role of Youth

"In the last few years private education has gained much importance. Not in quality but in the number of students who attend" explained Chavez. “The state university isn’t an important force like it has been in Bolivia ’s history" explained Chavez. "I think in 1995 the public university lost its ideology. In Sucre in November 2007 there were university students that confronted, and fought with people. In La Paz the university movement is almost null. MAS – Movement Towards Socialism – Morale’s party - does not have a youth group in the sense of constructing the party. But it has a group of youth that ´fights and goes to the trenches.´"

The role of the Military

"Now the military support Evo Morales. It was difficult. He had to eliminate two levels of generations. He retired them because they participated in Sanchez government and others. He did the same thing with the police.”


”When Morales took power he inherited a system of the right-wing that lived on corruption”, commented Chavez. “Corruption lies mainly in banks, within the export industry and within agribusiness. The corruption Morales inherited wasn’t very explicit but the system is complex because it is very important to generate business - to the same economic and political groups that were conducting business before Morales. Now the problem is not solved. It has continued, but in different ways. It has also effected MAS – and the leaders of MAS. They have sold state jobs to friends and contacts. The judicial system – the courts - are weak. There is the most corruption here" noted Chavez.

Bolivia inches forward

" Bolivia needs human and industrial capital development," explained Chavez. "Evo Morales only completed secondary school. The indigenous community have very few intellectuals. When they came to this bureaucratic machine lots of politicians of the right-wing tried to impress them. There are people interested in having the same situation as before. They don’t want change. The right-wing they infiltrate in MAS. The indigenous sectors are entering inside the administration but in very low positions of power. Evo started to look for professionals that have commitment to help him."

Trade and Industrialisation

"ALBA - the trade agreement with Venezuela , Cuba , Ecuador and Nicaragua produces 220 million American dollars worth of trade with Bolivia . Trade with America is worth 400 million dollars. Bolivian produce is basic - soya, minerals and other agricultural products. We export gas to Brazil and Argentina . All of Bolivian exports are primary products. We have real problems of industrialisation. Bolivia has always been robbed of its natural resources. Multinationals in Bolivia are Petrobras, Alf and Repsol YPF. Mainly they are exploiting gas. This is because here, our petroleum is very light...not heavy. In the Oriental region there are Columbian and Brazilian companies in the soya business. There is now a plan to separate the gas into each of its components. These two problems of lack of human and industrial capital has included a brain drain from Bolivia . All governments before now, have not been interested in education. Now, we have a lack of education. The question of education will take 100 years to resolve" said Chavez.


"The government hasn’t modified the general political taxes. Morales senses there is no support for taxes. When Sanchez - the former president, announced an increase of the taxes, the people rose up against him”, said Chavez. Currently, the people pay 13 percent consumer tax. The only change the government introduced was the petrol tax. In 2003 petrol companies paid $180 million American dollars in tax to the Bolivian government. In 2007 they paid 2000 million dollars. That is not a nationalisation - but a good negotiation. The nationalisation of gas and petrol was not just a straight 83 percent to the Bolivian state. The MAS government also negotiated individual contracts with 44 of these companies. There is not yet a public, government owned hydrocarbon company yet. It is necessary to reconstruct, because it died in 1996. This is a long process - in this - we are 150 years behind Europe " commented Chavez.

Assisting the People

"Government hand-outs like Renta Dignidad (money to older Bolivians) and Juancito Pinto (money to families for children’s schooling) are welcome if they contribute to improving people’s quality of life. Money that before went to corruption now goes to people. But, it mustn’t stay at this level. It must be accompanied with a greater stimulation to education, technical and professional formation. And to the industrialisation of the country. The private sector is a great engine, it generates employment. The government now is pushing micro-enterprises, but they mustn’t forget the other private sectors"

Threats from right-wing

In response to Bolivian Vice-President Alvaro Garcia comments on January 18th 2008 that the political crisis was a media beat-up, Franz Chavez said "I do not agree with the Alvaro Garcia that the right-wing are not a threat. We have seen lots of violence against the President. People are organising for autonomy. However, I think it is a good intention to have discussion with the autonomists. Evo Morales has interpreted how the people are feeling. The people want a discussion with the autonomists. I hope it can concretise because if it fails we will be losing the last hope. If any of the states want to keep their position of autonomy it won’t develop. We are still living the same tension as 2003 and so now, people want to live in peace." Popular Power
"I don’t think there is a process of building leaders from the bases. In 2003 the people saw in front of them a dictator so their collective feeling grew. People of the middle class did human chains. The people don’t support a leadership they support an objective. Today Evo Morales in the middle classes has lowered his popularity" commented Chavez.


"There is a Marxist socialist wing in MAS", commented Chavez. In practice, I think, there are not changes that show this country is moving towards socialism. The economic structures are maintained. The economy has been stable, alongside the social conflict. Inflation in 1980 was 25,000%. Bolivian society now moves in other direction. The left parties have not achieved influence within the Bolivian peoples struggle to look for new ways of life."

"Besides the differing ideological thoughts and tendencies the ones who are in the government must do things for the future. They must make Bolivia a country with a future. It is a challenge to build a nation that it is so underdeveloped. If they fail they will leave the doors open to the right wing. It will be a bad example for other countries." concluded Chavez.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Morales´s government fights poverty

On Feburary 1 the Bolivian government introduced "Renta Dignidad" - a pension pàyment for Bolivians over 60 years old. Renta Dignidad will provide 2,400 Bs per month ($315 US) to almost 700,000 Bolivians and will cost between 10 and 11 million American dollars per year. The benefit will be financed, for the most part, with 30% of the recourses from a Direct Tax from the Hydrocarbons (IDH). This money comes direct from the popular nationalisations of gas the Evo Morales government conducted in May 2006.

The Feburary 1 edition of La Razon, quoted the Minister for Rural Development who said, both renta Dignidad and the mass subsidy for schooling él Bono Juancito Pinto "will reduce incidences of poverty in the country from 59.9% to 42.4% until 2015." La Razon also quoted Sacha Llorenti, the viceminister of Co-ordination with the Social Movements who confirmed "the payment of Renta Dignidad is absolutely guareenteed."

To assist with the almighty task of paying people the Administration of Funds, Pensions, provisions BBVA and Future of Bolivia (Las AFP) have opened 10 new offices. Moreover, forty-six financial institutions - private banks, mutual societies, cooperatives, and NGOs - have agreed to help. As well, the armed forces are being located in 200-250 rural areas to assist.

The payment has been opposed by seven out of nine prefects (heads of the regional states). Nornally, the MAS dominated government has support of four out of the nine prefects. Opposition comes from the heads of department who believe the tax from gas nationalisation should go direct to them, not to national projects. In response Sacha Llorenti said renta Dignidad is part of the social revolution which is the face of Evo Morales. "We do not understand why they (these prefects) act in a stingy manner towards people opf the third age. We belive it is an act against solidarity and patriotism to try to impede this payment renta Dignidad."

On Feburary 1 here in Cochabamba activists and government officials were handing out information about the new scheme to great enthusiasm. While some prefects are not supportive, the great majority of Bolivians appreciate anti-poverty measures.

Friday, February 1, 2008


de Roque Dalton - un companero de El Salvador.

Sobre dolores de cabeza

Es bello ser communista,
aunque cause muchos dolores de cabeza.

Y es que el dolor de cabeza de los comunistas
se supone historico, es decir
que no cede antes las tabletas analgesicas
sino solo ante la realizaction del Paraioso el la tierra
Asi es la cosa.

Bajo el capitalismo nos duele la cabeza
y nos arrancan la cabeza.
En la lucha por la Revolucion la cabeza es una bomba de retardo
En la construccion socialista planificamos el dolor de cabeza
lo cual no lo hace escasear, sino todo lo contrario.

El comunismo sera, entre los otras cosas,
Una asprina del tamano del sol


It is beautiful to be Communist, although it causes many headaches.
You see communists headaches supposed to be historical, that is to say
They do not stop with tablets but only with the accomplishment of Paradise on Earth
This is the thing.

Under Capitalism when our heads ache they decapitate us.
In the fight for revolution, the head is a time bomb.
In the construction of socialism we plan headaches which does not make them scarce, quite the opposite

Communism will be, among other things, an aspirin as large as the sun