Monday, January 14, 2013

The Promises and Challenges of Bolivia's Socialist Government
by W. T. Whitney Jr.
It turns out that prosecutors, judges, and the police have engaged in corruption throughout Morales's presidency. High officials are in jail and now some of President Morales' own ministers are implicated.
The government announced on December 25 that two "Ministers of the Presidency" and a former "Minister of Government" are being investigated. As of late November, a dozen judicial officials and prosecutors had been jailed, among them Fernando Rivera who was responsible for the 18-month jailing of U.S. citizen Jacob Ostreicher. The Brooklyn native was accused of having relied upon drug traffickers to fund large land holdings and rice-farming operations. His recent release came about through the intervention of actor Sean Penn and US congresspersons.The confiscation and selling off of Ostreicher's properties epitomizes the most prominent category of corruption. Wielding new powers, officials have confiscated contraband, properties allegedly financed through drug dealings, assets of foreign corporations, and land delivered to the state under agrarian reform. Truckers, managers, and other employees of those targeted have been implicated as accomplices. Confiscated assets become ripe for profitable sell-offs after 15 days have passed during which time bosses and underlings are unable to demonstrate the legal nature of their activities. And transnational corporations and even property-rich right-wingers eager to accommodate a potentially confiscatory left-wing government have gone along with handing selected assets.According to Jorge Lora Cam, source of much of this information, official corruption is widespread. The "Minister of Transparency" in August 2012 reported "8,000 ongoing judicial processes for corruption, though [so far]only 100 prisoners." The same ministry revealed in December 2010 that, "between 2006 and 2010, 71 accusations of corruption were received involving 568 functionaries." Lora Cam suggests officials of former regimes serving local and international oligarchs were well versed in corruption. They were the model, he says, and their influence remains.Meanwhile, the government continues with its socialist agenda. On December 29 Morales announced nationalization of four companies controlled by Spain's Iberdrola Corporation -- two electricity distribution centers, one electrical services enterprise, and an investment company. Bolivia's National Electricity Corporation will operate these companies plus another nationalized in May 2012. Morales cited high fees charged to rural customers as justifying the take-over.Nevertheless, in a show of confidence in Bolivia's socialist government, international bankers in October spent $4.5 billion on Bolivian bonds sold at low interest rates to finance infrastructure projects.Foreign markets and foreign investment have been key considerations also as Bolivia's nascent lithium extraction and processing industry gets underway. President Morales was present on January 4 on the edge of the Uyuni salt flats in southern Bolivia at opening ceremonies for a pioneering state-owned lithium production plant. Bolivia possesses large deposits of lithium, essential in the manufacture of batteries used in electric cars, cell phones, and laptop computers.On the Island of the Sun, Morales denounced "this age of violence against human beings and nature." He called for "a new age -- an age where human beings and Mother Earth are one." In regard to the here and now, Jorge Lora Cam calls for "the exercise from below of practices marked by solidarity, participation, transparency, and social control. That's the only way society can eradicate Mafioso groups and networks. [Otherwise] the fundamental rights of the indigenous and people in general will be ignored."

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