Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

The calle gets restive

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on March 3, 2011

by The Economist, March 3rd, 2011.

Inflation, shortages and scandals have caught up with Latin America’s hitherto most popular leftist leader.

Until last Christmas, Bolivia’s Evo Morales seemed to be the strongest and most successful of Latin America’s far-left presidents. His status as his country’s first elected leader of indigenous descent, combined with a policy of funnelling the proceeds of higher taxes on the oil and gas industry to the poor majority in highland Bolivia, brought him enduring popularity. Having outwitted the opposition, centred in the eastern lowlands, he easily won a second term in 2009 with 64% of the vote.

Yet suddenly little is going right for Mr Morales. An abrupt decision to remove subsidies on fuels, raising their prices by over 70%, was greeted with mass protests of the kind Mr Morales himself once organised against previous governments. He quickly backed down, but that did not quash discontent. Last month Mr Morales pulled out of an event in Oruro, a highland city previously loyal to him, when he was greeted by dynamite-wielding protesters angry at rises in bus fares and food prices. After the government tried to block the fare rises, bus owners withdrew their vehicles from service on February 25th.

Then came embarrassment when René Sanabria, a retired police general who is the government’s top drug adviser, was arrested in Panama on February 24th and extradited to the United States on charges of cocaine trafficking. Some officials said that the arrest was revenge by America’s Drug Enforcement Administration for its expulsion from Bolivia in 2008. However, the interior ministry had three other police officers arrested. Both coca and cocaine production have risen in Bolivia in recent years, according to the United Nations. (continue reading… )


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