Saturday, December 08, 2007

Bolivian military

As I had been reading about Bolivia’s current political crisis, I thought that a silver lining was the absence of the armed forces, which have traditionally been even more politicized than many of their Latin American counterparts. Evo Morales was skillful in rooting out high ranking officers skeptical of his politics and in emphasizing nationalism--as opposed to ideology--when using troops to seize gas fields.

Fast forward to now, and the commander of the military gave a speech harshly criticizing the governors (prefects) referring to the cowards in their fiefdoms who wish to destabilize democracy. A few weeks ago, at least one prefect had asked the military to intervene. In the same article, a PODEMOS senator said he thought the armed forces were betraying military honor by not addressing the presence of Venezuelan troops and by being too close to the government as opposed to the state.

My guess is that very few soldiers would be interested in shooting at peasants allied with Evo Morales. Many Venezuelan troops were disgusted when called out by Carlos Andrés Pérez to attack people during the Caracazo. So at least for now, the crisis can be addressed, if not by entirely non-violent means, at least not by a military uprising.

At least I hope I’m right.


Miguel Centellas 9:36 AM  

Well, the military has deliberately gone out of its way to support constitutional leaders for some time now. They stood by Goni in October 2003 (when they did shoot people), as well as Mesa. They'll stand by Evo as well. On the whole, that's a positive sign.

But one of the problems is that the army units are not all the same. Some of them (like the elite Rangers) are drawn specifically from certain populations. In October 2003, it was the Rangers (who're raised from the lowland populations) who were brought to secure the posh Zona Sur neighborhoods. Everyone openly acknowledged that they were brought in because they would have "no qualms about shooting Indians."

About two years ago, I was in Tarija for Carnival. Many of the processions were from local military units (mostly combat engineers & such). Several of them had harsh placards related to Evo & the cocaleros. Judging by the frequent graffiti ("do something for the fatherland, kill a cocalero") I don't think it was merely carnival hijinx.

The one thing that bothered me from yesterdays news, was the attack on the Venezuelan military plane in Riberalta (Beni). The plane had taken off from La Paz and stopped briefly to refuel. Someone told the Riberalta people to expect that plane, which means someone in La Paz (at the military airport?) gave that information. Whoever it was, it seems clear that the opposition has dramatically increased its intelligence-gathering abilities.

Added together w/ the attempts to politicize the military again ... and I'm troubled.

Greg Weeks 9:51 AM  

Perhaps this is just wishful thinking, but the Bolivian military now is not the same as 2, 3 or 4 years ago, especially after Morales fired a load of generals and colonels last year. I have no idea about the composition of different units, but the leadership has been changed. Shooting at Indians in 2003 would not be the same as 2007 or 2008, because now it would be far more of a bloodbath. Are there enough troops with the stomach for that?

Anonymous,  1:20 PM  

You wrote that Morales has emphasized the military's nationalism as a way to maintain their loyalty, so you would characterize the military as primarily institutionalist lacking in important ideological divisions (a la Venezuela)? I was also curious as to your response to the rumors suggesting that "elements" within the Venezuelan military pressured Chavez to accept the results of the referendum. I am personally skeptical given Chavez's military purges after the 2002 coup. In addition, the high command has publicly ridiculed these allegations and the opposition has often promoted unsubstantiated rumor mongering... however I was interested in your thoughts on the matter. Thanks.

Greg Weeks 4:52 PM  

Another Latin Americanist political science professor! William Aviles has written in particular on civil-military relations in Colombia. Good, there are too few of us blogging.

Obviously, predicting anything about the internal workings of any military is dicey, but I started it, so here goes. My sense is that Evo Morales has done a good job of purging the most hostile senior officers, and keeping the rest more or less at bay by framing his program in more nationalist, rather than strictly ideological, terms. I did not mean that to imply that ideological divisions do not exist at all. Bolivianists can feel free to argue…

Civil-military relations in Venezuela are much more politicized in ideological terms, e.g. the “patria, socialismo o muerte” salutes and the clear international orientation. He also seems to alienate former supporters, even officers like Baduel, much more. Did Chávez need military pressure to accept his loss? I tend to doubt it. Even if you view him in strictly strategic terms, he had good reasons to do so—for example, trying to overturn the vote would incur serious international repercussions, which would reverberate nationally

Justin Delacour 10:04 PM  

Did Chávez need military pressure to accept his loss? I tend to doubt it. Even if you view him in strictly strategic terms, he had good reasons to do so—for example, trying to overturn the vote would incur serious international repercussions, which would reverberate nationally

Maybe somebody should tell Jorge Castañeda that. Castañeda pulls such rumor-mongering from Venezuela's opposition press and then --despite the thorough discrediting of the story-- runs with it in Time this week.

Anonymous,  12:02 AM  


Thanks for the piece by Castañeda. Not only does Castañeda accept the opposition's take, confirming it with an "intelligence source", but he also makes a few other questionable assertions. For example, he writes:

"He has meddled as well in Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia and, of course, Colombia, where his intervention led to a breakdown in the international mediation efforts to free a number of hostages"

Uribe invited Chávez to "meddle" and there is plenty of information suggesting that Uribe scuttled these negotiations, something that even the families of the hostages believe. In general, the regional power that they ascribe to Chávez strikes me as completely disconnected with his actual influence... "his" candidate did lose the Peruvian election and Uribe did dismiss him, despite his "power".


Greg Weeks 8:34 AM  

Even if they believe it, the Venezuelan is blowing it--Chávez lost, so there is no political gain to be had from saying he should've lost by more. It may just be indicative of the fact that the only thing they all agree on is that they don't like him.

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