Bolivia’s resource windfall squandered by populist mismanagement, hyper-corruption



Across Latin America, one high-level scandal after another has tainted current or recent presidents or vice-presidents in Brazil, Peru, ArgentinaBoliviaChileEcuadorGuatemala, Honduras, Panama and Mexico, among others, Simeon Tegel writes for US News:

In some cases, the leaders have themselves been implicated. In others, it has been members of their innermost circles, from aides to family members and even lovers. Latin America, it appears, is more corrupt than ever. Yet, counter-intuitively, the steady stream of grim headlines about kickbacks, influence-peddling and nepotism may actually be good news. Many experts regard the public revelations as a sign that corruption in the region is actually being tolerated less and less.

“With all these scandals, it feels like we have gone backwards, but I take a more positive view,” says Alejandro Salas, the Latin America director of anti-graft nonprofit Transparency International. “These are obviously not the first cases of corruption in the region. The fact that they are being exposed and investigated is a sign that there is now more scrutiny than before.”

Corruption has also tainted the illiberal populist regime of Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, which has benefited from record levels of income from natural resources (including lithium, The Economist reports.) The Bolivian justice system has been plagued by corruption, delays, and political interference for years, notes Human Rights Watch.

“Morales’ government inherited a state apparatus strife with corruption,” says professor of economics Carlos Rocabado. “If you want to fight that corruption, as they promised, you have to fight yourself. They didn’t manage to fulfil their promises. In some cases, corruption has even become worse: I know people who had to pay some 10 percent under the table for a contract, which has increased to 15 or 20 percent.”

Morales spent $7.1 million building a self-aggrandizing museum in one of the world’s poorest countries, The Miami Herald reports. The building is in the village of Orinoca in a remote area of the Altiplano highlands, which has only 900 inhabitants, of which 90 percent live in poverty.

The president’s other excesses include a football stadium in the middle of the jungle and an ugly 23-storey extension to the presidential palace in La Paz, said Raul Peñaranda (above, left). Although he came to power democratically, Morales has ruled autocratically, and he is now threatening to run for a fourth consecutive term in 2019 despite losing February’s referendum aimed at reforming the constitution to allow him to run again, he told a forum at the National Endowment for Democracy (above).

Morales has openly boasted that he “tricked” his way into serving an unconstitutional third term, Peñaranda told the meeting, moderated by Fabiola Cordova, the National Endowment for Democracy’s Associate Director for Latin America and Caribbean Programs.

While Morales can be credited with breaking the glass ceiling for Bolivia’s indigenous peoples, progress has come at the cost of retarded institutional modernization and hyper-corruption, said Ronald MacLean-Abaroa, a former mayor of La Paz.

The regime has failed to invest the “windfall’ of revenue from raw materials sales, added Peñaranda, currently a Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

Last December, the Morales government showed a documentary it commissioned, titled “The Cartel of Lies,” in movie theaters across the country. The film takes aim at press outlets that revealed that Mr. Morales’s former girlfriend had steered state contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to her employer, a Chinese company, The New York Times noted:

The scandal was emblematic of the cronyism and corruption that has soured many Bolivians on Mr. Morales. But instead of acknowledging as much, the president’s allies in law enforcement sent the woman, Gabriela Zapata, to jail in an effort to silence her.

Peñaranda’s recent book, “Remote Control,” details the regime’s growing curbs on independent media, The Washington Post reported.

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