[Marxism] Toni Solo on Bolivian referendum

Fred Fuentes fuentf01 at tartarus.uwa.edu.au
Sun Jul 25 07:21:41 MDT 2004

Bolivia Innovates: Boyle Mariotte Gas Law Restated
   Friday, 23 July 2004, 1:12 pm
   Opinion: Toni Solo

                 Bolivia Innovates: Boyle Mariotte Gas Law Restated

                                         by Toni Solo

       The July 18th referendum in Bolivia is likely to be a shortlived,
temporary setback for radical
       opponents of the government of President Mesa. Their call for a mass
boycott failed. The
       government was able to promote an effective propaganda campaign and
could also rely on legal
       penalties obliging people to vote. In effect, public dissent against
the referendum and for a boycott
       was criminalized.

       Many older voters feared losing State pension rights had they
refused to vote. Public servants such
       as teachers, especially in rural areas, might also have faced
sanctions affecting their jobs. Such is
       democracy in Bolivia. But despite the upbeat public relations gloss
laid on by government
       representatives, close up the sums look bad for President Mesa and
augur deeper political crisis if he
       fails to acknowledge what they mean.

       The electoral arithmetic.

       At 40%, abstention was twice that in recent general elections
despite the same compulsory nature of
       the vote. Of the 60% of the elegible electorate who voted, spoiled
and null votes made up well over
       20% of the result. The National Electoral Council has made a
preliminary projection of 10-15% of
       "no" votes for three of the referendum's five questions and over 40%
"no" votes for the other two.

       At the very least, that means far fewer than 30% of elegible voters
actually support the Mesa
       government's proposals. Once the final count is in from all the
rural areas, Mesa's support is likely
       to look even bleaker. The National Electoral Council will announce
the definitive results on August

       Even if 30% did really support the five-point policy proposals
presented in the referendum, around
       40 - 50% are most likely supporters of the policy of the main
opposition MAS party led by Evo
       Morales who oppose President Mesa but approved the referendum. Their
position is much closer to
       the nationalization demanded by the radical opposition than it is to
the government position. Morales
       has said, "We want nationalization without confiscation or
appropriation, because we cannot
       embark on adventures."(Bolpress July20th 2004)

       So in the end, despite his factitious triumphalism, President Mesa
probably has the solid support of
       only 15 - 18 % of the electorate, almost certainly less, for his
proposals which by his interpretation
       stop short of nationalization. His interpretation coincides with the
view of the oil multinationals. Not
       surprisingly, since Mesa seems to see his job as representing their
interests against the wishes of the
       Bolivian people. A very large majority in the country support
nationalization. But that option was
       not allowed on to the referendum ballot,

       Mesa faces hard parliamentary and public conflict before being able
to secure the legislation he
       needs to put anything like his referendum proposals into law.
Regardless, ready evidence of the
       Mesa administration's bad faith came quickly after the referendum.
Even prior to any parliamentary
       debate on the now binding requirement to change the current
give-away Hydrocarbons Law, he has
       authorized increased cheap gas exports to Argentina.

       This cosy deal permits the Spanish oil company Repsol's Bolivian
subsidiary to sell gas to Repsol's
       Argentinean subsidiary, freeing Repsol Argentina's production for
sale to Chile. The benefit to
       Bolivia of that Argentinean transaction is just 18% of the value of
the gas. Comparisons are difficult
       for non-specialist industry outsiders, but a rough comparison
between European energy producers
       and Bolivia in terms of their general tax regimes is instructive. UK
government tax rates on oil and
       gas run at 50% with additional supplementary rates introduced when
the Treasury deems necessary.
       That is in addition to normal corporation tax at 30%. Norway's tax
on oil and gas has run at 78%.
       The equivalent of corporation tax there is 28%.

       Mesa : facilitating oil multinational extortion

       For Mesa the Argentinean deal is sweet. It allows him to pose as an
upholder of South American
       solidarity - Bolivia nobly helping its Argentinean brothers. He can
also pose as a stalwart Bolivian
       patriot refusing to sell gas to the traditional enemy in Chile.

       Under the table things look very different. Mesa is permitting the
sale of gas cheap through the
       Spanish mulitnational Repsol so Repsol's Argentinean subsidiary can
sell its gas dear to consumers
       in Argentina and Chile. That also permits Chile to export gas to
meet commitments with energy
       strapped consumers in California. While Presidents Lagos of Chile
and Kirchner of Argentina
       wring their hands about the "energy crisis" in their countries,
Repsol dividend earners party.

       Like all governments anxious to promote the usual raft of failed
neo-liberal privatization and
       deregulation measures, for the Mesa administration presentation
takes precedence over facts.
       President Mesa has tried to frighten Bolivians with bogeyman
stories, that international capital and
       institutions will shun Bolivia if the country fails to support his
plans. These admonitions are
       unlikely to cut much ice with the country's poor majority. Putting
on a brave face, Mesa finds
       himself hard up against the reality of their miserable conditions of
material life.

       What have the oil multinationals or the World Bank or the IMF ever
done for Bolivia's
       dispossessed? They have mired them in unjust debt and used Bolivia's
poverty to pressure
       successive governments into selling off Bolivia's resources cheap.
As far as radical opposition
       leader Felipe Quispe is concerned, "... the struggle is going to
continue, we are not stopping there,
       we haven't lost the war, though it may be so that we have lost a
battle." (Bolpress. July 20th 2004)

       The Boyle Mariotte Law. PV=k

       The foreign forces arraigned against the Bolivian majority promise
no respite in their efforts to
       control the country's gas for foreign consumption with as little
benefit to people in Bolivia as
       possible. The line up includes Brazil's President da Silva,
President Kirchner of Argentina, the
       World Bank, the InterAmerican Development Bank, Corporación Andino
de Fomento (the
       investment and financial arm of the Andean Community), and the
International Monetary Fund. The
       World Bank has a powerful hold over the Mesa government which needs
up to US$120 million in
       loans to cover budget deficits this year.

       Bolivia's referendum is one more of the many examples of the
imperial version of electoral
       democracy. The formula never varies : "do what we want, or else...."
What President Mesa's
       bogus "triumph" amounts to is a political version of the Boyle
Mariotte Law. When imperial
       pressure increases, the volume of Bolivian gas decreases.

       It is unlikely the Bolivian people will let it stand. They have
precious little to lose. Mesa's dilemma
       is that of all neo-liberal snake-oil mountebanks, from sell-out
politicians like Carlos Menem,
       Sanchez de Lozada and, increasingly, Lula da Silva to imperial
carpet-baggers like US Trade
       Representative Robert Zoellick.

       Fixated on short term profit for the elites they represent, they
fail to deliver their fancy promises and
       end up facing massive popular protest. Then they have three
fundamental choices - give up and
       leave the scene, like Sanchez de Lozada, try to keep stringing
people along like Lula de Silva, or
       send out the army and police to crush dissent like Pinochet. It's
unlikely to be long before Bolivia
       discovers which one President Mesa turns out to be.


       - Toni Solo is an acitivst based in Central America. Contact via

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