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About Mariano Aguirre

Mariano Aguirre is Director of the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF), Oslo

Articles by Mariano Aguirre

This week's editor

NSS, editor

Niki Seth-Smith is a freelance journalist and contributing editor to 50.50.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

The Hurricane and the Empire

On the tenth anniversary of Katrina, we republish an invitation to ponder the incapacity of the US government to respond to the disaster in New Orleans. What was at the root of that paralysis? From the archive, September 5, 2005.

The dilemmas of migration and the alternatives

Force and denial are not going to solve the migrant crisis—instead we must turn to long-term economic, political, and cultural solutions.

Israeli elections: no expectations from the Palestinian side

For the Palestinians, who wins the election makes no difference. In the West Bank and Gaza the mood moves between indifference and the sense that all the parties are hostile towards them in one way or another.

Not the end of the "Arab Spring", is it?

Much has happened in the Middle East in the last four years, but in Europe, the development of the state and of democracy took four centuries and many wars.

BRICS, a new cooperation model?

One of the criticisms made of the emerging economies is that they are using cooperation to gain markets, political influence and access to natural resources. But that is what the countries of the North are also seeking.

Syria needs a twin-track negotiation

Since 2011 three failed strategies have been attempted, with weapons provision bringing up the rear. The regional politics of the conflict make the dangers of massive escalation imminent: it is time to find a transition acceptable to both sides.

Aurora, the Joker won the game

Apart from gun control, there is another problem that the authorities in the US (and in most of the world’s societies) avoid addressing: the culture (or subculture) of violence in the electronic entertainment era.

The dream of "managing militarization" in Syria

What should be the international approach to resolving the Syrian crisis, and does diplomacy or military aid to the rebels offer a better chance of progress? Mariano Aguirre responds to the criticisms of Steven Heydemann and Reinoud Leenders.

Also in this oS Analysis debate:
Read Robert Matthews on the decades-long consequences of militarization.

The far right takes root in Europe

Anders Behring Breivik’s attacks are part of a worrying trend in Europe of the far right’s rise within mainstream politics. From the Netherlands and Germany to Britain and France, immigrant communities are on the defensive.

Syria's crisis: weapons vs negotiations

A strong momentum is building for armed intervention in Syria, either by channelling arms to Syria's rebels or undertaking direct military assaults on the regime. But these proposals are based on flawed analysis and if implemented would have damaging results, says Mariano Aguirre.

Also in this oS Analysis debate:
Steven Heydemann and Reinoud Leenders disagree, urging the need for a credible threat. Mariano Aguirre responds, and Robert Matthews warns of the decades long consequences of militarisation.

The Arab revolution: tensions and challenges

The second year of the Arab uprisings opens a complex period in which the potential of the Arab world to move towards democracy and human security will be acutely tested. This makes careful assessment and policymaking by leading actors more essential than ever, says Mariano Aguirre.

Talking with Khalil: the subtle violence of constant occupation

On a journey to the West Bank, the author encounters one small instance of the broader machinery that Israel uses to sustain its occupation of Palestine. The days of battle are over. Now the Palestinians suffer the indignity of daily humiliations, and the slow and quiet effort to snuff out any dream of statehood

9/11: a perfect pretext, a terrible legacy

The tragedy of 11 September 2001 was used by authoritarian forces in the United States as a political opportunity. The ensuing damage to liberty, legality and democracy has been deep, says Mariano Aguirre

Vietnam to Iraq and AfPak: traps of history

The United States's prolonged counterinsurgency wars in Afghanistan and Iraq raise strong echoes of Vietnam. But new studies suggest that the lessons of this half-century military arc need to be carefully drawn, says Mariano Aguirre.

A world in movement: prospects for 2011

The influence of rising states amid the infirmity of the United States and other established powers will make 2011 a transition year towards a new global order, says Mariano Aguirre.

Brazil-Turkey and Iran: a new global balance

The tripartite nuclear-fuel agreement signed in Tehran is a watershed in the emerging configuration of a multipolar world, says Mariano Aguirre of the Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre.

Israel-Palestine: a frontline report

It is a time of danger in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as crisis in Israel-United States relations. What are the prospects for movement in the blocked peace process; how do Palestinians in the occupied territories view the current stasis; and what role should the international community play? Mariano Aguirre of the Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre reports on a visit to the region.

Haiti: the politics of recovery

The daunting task of post-earthquake reconstruction in Haiti amounts to a long-term challenge in state-building, say Mariano Aguirre & Tone Faret of the Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre.

Democracy-promotion: doctrine vs dialogue

Did the former United States president, George W Bush, promote democracy better than his successor, Barack Obama, is doing?

Torture: America's policy, Europe's shame

In the very heart of the western world, Europe's major ally has tortured prisoners to death - in an operation that we Europeans too were involved in. The fourteen "techniques" authorised by the Jan Egeland is director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), and visiting professor at the University of Stavanger.

Barack Obama and Afghanistan: a closer look

Barack Obama announced a comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan on 27 March 2009. This recognises that a military victory is unattainable. It adopts a regional approach, focusing more intensively on Pakistan, and opens the way to negotiate with some sectors of the insurgency. More emphasis is laid on development and creating jobs in agriculture. The United States president also acknowledges the need for a strategy towards the eventual withdrawal of military forces.

Haiti: unravelling the knot

Annapolis: how to avoid failure

The conference sponsored by the United States government in Annapolis, Maryland, scheduled for the last week of November 2007 has little chance of brokering a meaningful agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that will facilitate progress on the ground.

Mercenaries and the new configuration of world violence

A series of incidents involving employees of private companies operating as security guards have resulted in the deaths of around twenty Iraqis in recent months. The bloodiest of these was on 16 September 2007, when guards working for the United States company Blackwater - which is subcontracted by the Pentagon - shot and killed as many as seventeen civilians at a Baghdad intersection.

Power and paradox in the United Nations

At the end of 2006 Kofi Annan will conclude his term as secretary-general of the United Nations and will be replaced by Ban Ki-moon, a South Korean career diplomat and politician (most recently minister of foreign affairs and trade) who generates little enthusiasm within or outside the organisation. Each time a new secretary-general is appointed, the debate on the future and reform of the organisation resumes. But whatever the new secretary-general's performance, an administrative or political reform is not possible, for two reasons: no member of the Security Council is in favour of it, and even if they were the likelihood of the council's five members agreeing which reforms should be undertaken is remote.

The United Nations has been weakened in the first decade of the 21st century. Kofi Annan's attempt to recast the organisation with a series of reforms was in part a response to this. The proposals were embodied in the report of the high-level panel he commissioned, In Larger Freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all, published in March 2005 and presented to the sixtieth-anniversary meeting of the general assembly in September of that year.

The last year has seen some strengthening in Annan's position and that of the UN. This, however, is less owed to the secretary-general's own initiatives than to events in the real world. After several years when his hands seemed tied in almost every crisis, Annan has been able or is now in a position to facilitate progress in three areas of the "greater middle east":

  • Iran, where the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is in the midst of negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear-research programmes
  • Iraq, where the United States and Britain might soon turn towards the United Nations as part of a withdrawal strategy
  • Israel/Lebanon, where the UN has been closely involved in overseeing the agreement that ended the war of July-August 2006.

Mariano Aguirre is a journalist and writer on international relations. He is co-director of the peace & security and human-rights programmes of the Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Dialogo Exterior (Fride) in Madrid

Among Mariano Aguirre's articles on openDemocracy:

"America underneath New York"
(November 2004)

"The many cities of Buenos Aires" (February 2005)

"Exporting democracy, revising torture: the complex missions of Michael Ignatieff"
(July 2005)

"The Hurricane and the Empire"
(September 2005)

"Haiti: living on the edge"
(February 2006)

"Bush's security strategy: defend the nation, change the world" (March 2006)

An important influence on this relatively favourable moment for the United Nations is the United States's failure and loss of legitimacy in Iraq. The UN was marginalised in 2002-03 by Washington and London (as well as their allies such as Spain and Australia), but the outcome in Iraq has now made a similar pattern where Iran is concerned extremely unlikely. The post-Iraq environment also adds authority to Kofi Annan's more outspoken stance on the need to talk to all states and actors in the middle east in order to create the dynamics for a lasting settlement.

Moreover, both the secretary-general and other UN bodies adopted positions that were clearly critical of Israel's war against Lebanon. Again, the evident failure of the powerful Israeli army to defeat Hizbollah (and the absence of any meaningful diplomatic alternative from the European Union) created the space for the United Nations to play the main role in carving out an agreement.

David Rieff considers that, despite all problems and weaknesses, "the UN's future is perfectly viable because no one has a good alternative to propose" and that "even the most die-hard unilateralists" will end up calling at the door of the next secretary-general (see David Rieff, "The place is a mess, but it beats Plan B", Los Angeles Times, 17 September 2006).

Great responsibilities, little power

At the heart of understanding the United Nations is the paradox that it both exists and does not exist beyond its members.

On the one hand, the organisation as a whole has played a crucial, consolidating role in a number of fields:

  • promotion and development of public international law
  • defence of the universality of human rights
  • dissemination of new ideas about peace and security
  • advocacy of plans against poverty
  • protection of the environment.

All this suggests that the organisation has a high level of maturity and autonomy.

On the other hand, in terms of focused action the UN's dependence on the will of the more powerful states is manifest. These states are concentrated in a Security Council that is failing to adjust to new, international, multi-polar trends - as well as to the rise of such powers as China, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and India.

These two sides of the UN - its approach to key subjects in the international society and its lack of political power to decide thereon - come together in the office of a secretary-general that (in the words of former under-secretary-general Brian Urquhart) has "great responsibility and expectations, but little power" (see "The Next Secretary General", Foreign Affairs, September-October 2006).

The UN also lives the tension between the general interests of the international community and the particular interests of the member-states. This is elaborated in a new book by Paul Kennedy, The Parliament of Man: The Past, Present, and Future of the United Nations, which advocates a series of important intermediate reforms. (This British historian has a broad knowledge of the institution; in 1993-95, he carried out - with a team from Yale University - a crucial study on the future of the UN commissioned by the Ford Foundation).

Kennedy explains the historical conditions under which the UN was created and how its founding charter already considers the tension between what each powerful state wants and what the international community can do. Contradictions arose from the beginning between the particular interests of each state and the leaders and diplomats of the post-war generation who foresaw the need for a multilateral system. It is precisely the secretary-general who is given the difficult mission to reconcile the interests of multiple actors, to define and defend the general interest in matters as varied as genocide or global trade, to ensure the observance of international law and to measure its power with a Security Council that is driven by the selfish interests of its members.

An incomplete reform

Kofi Annan has been UN secretary-general during a period in which the UN has been under strong pressure - from the United States and Britain in relation to their attack on Iraq in 2003, from allegations of corruption (especially over the "oil-for-food" programme), and from the polarisation of north-south relations as a result of budget management. At the same time, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict worsened and radical Islamist terrorism became an international issue.

The UN has seen itself forced to define terrorism, set limits to security without attacking freedoms, and carry on peacekeeping and state-building missions in Haiti, East Timor and the Democratic Republic of Congo, while delegating to Nato a difficult mission in Afghanistan. It also set up the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council, so far the only results of the reforms Kofi Annan outlined in September 2005.

In the end, the UN is the only body able to manage complex crises, especially when the great powers make mistakes or fail to get involved. Kennedy identifies the rise of new regional powers, the environmental crisis, international terrorism and the institutional weakness of a series of states as essential tasks for the UN. Other crucial questions are the defence of human rights and the environment, and an improvement of the understanding of global difference, of other peoples and cultures.

However, it will not be possible to undertake major reforms; the American right demands a dismantling of the organisation, while neither Europe, China, nor Russia is unwilling to consolidate it sufficiently. Kennedy considers that the only option left is to make progress through gradual changes.

Among these are:

  • including other states in the responsibilities of the Security Council
  • creating an intelligence and early-warning system to prevent global crises and threats,
  • increasing the coordination between UN agencies to respond to state-building challenges
  • putting military forces of intervention at the service of the secretary-general
  • improving the quality of peacekeeping operations.

The author further asks what the United Nations can do in the economic and social areas that other actors are not able to. If a key aim is to reduce poverty in more than sixty countries around the world, then the Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc) should be made operational and the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund should mobilise in this direction, reminding their executives that other regional powers are gaining weight and will change direction shortly.

These are some practical changes that could be adopted by countries in different continents as specific ways to support a multilateral system. The situation is a complex one because the the international system is witnessing a return both to unilateralism and to economic nationalism and particularist identities. If a contradiction of the United Nations today is that it has a lot to do but little power, maybe its future will be contradictory as well: faced constantly with the prospect of its own ineffectiveness, but responding with practical changes in basic operational matters focused on the goal of improving the functioning of international society.

Bolivia: the challenges to state reform

Bolivian society and its institutions are passing through a tense moment. The political triumph of Evo Morales and his Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party in the presidential and legislative elections of 18 December 2005 was followed by the 1 May announcement of the reclamation of the country's energy reserves from foreign ownership. The political as well as the electoral momentum was with the president.

Evo Morales, however, wants to change and not merely govern Bolivia; and to do that he needs to create the constitutional framework necessary for his movement's radical programmes and ideas to be implemented. This meant a second set of elections on 2 July 2006 to a new body: an asamblea constituyente (constituent assembly, based in the city of Sucre, the country's legal capital) which would spend a year drafting and arguing over a new constitution for the Bolivian state.

This is where things start to get more complicated for "Evo" and his colleagues. As in the legislative elections, the MAS won the largest number of seats in the constituent assembly, but not the two-thirds majority needed to pass its proposals. As a result, Morales's government has begun trying to change the rules so that a constitutional reform may be approved by a simple (50%-plus-one) majority.

Moreover, the government wants to invest the asamblea constituyente with powers of "origination", meaning that its decisions would in principle be prior to and above the existing legal framework of the state. In other words, the asamblea could modify the structure of the Bolivian state - even to the point of altering the balance of power between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

The opposition has launched a hardline campaign against this governmental initiative, and has even gone so far as to ask for protection from the Organisation of American States (OAS) from what it calls an "auto-coup d'état". It has also highlighted the effects of the 1 May nationalisation of energy resources on the state oil-and-gas company YPFB, some of whose officials chosen by the president himself have been accused of crimes.

How will these tensions and arguments develop, and will Evo Morales be able to achieve the comprehensive reform of Bolivia's state structures that he seeks? A recent visit to Bolivia and discussions with several of the leading actors in the reform process, gave us an insight into the scale of the MAS project and the obstacles in its path.

Mariano Aguirre is a journalist and writer on international relations. He is co-director of the peace & security and human-rights programmes of the Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Dialogo Exterior (Fride) in Madrid

Isabel Moreno is researcher in the peace & security programme of Fride in Madrid

Among Mariano Aguirre's articles on openDemocracy:

"America underneath New York"
(November 2004)

"The many cities of Buenos Aires" (February 2005)

"Exporting democracy, revising torture: the complex missions of Michael Ignatieff"
(July 2005)

"The Hurricane and the Empire"
(September 2005)

"Haiti: living on the edge"
(February 2006)

"Bush's security strategy: defend the nation, change the world" (March 2006)

"Bolivia: the challenges to state reform" (15 September 2006) – with Isabel Moreno

A claim of right

On 2 July 2006, the Bolivian people voted on two key questions of the reform project proposed by the MAS: who will be responsible for drafting the new constitution, and whether the country will be organised from the centre via a system of regional departments.

The new government's failure to win an absolute majority opened the door to complex negotiations about the state and power that will take at least a year to resolve. At the same time, both questions highlight a series of problems which affect the structure of the Bolivian state itself; in particular, its democratic capacity to carry out a reform which could facilitate the construction of a more equal society that could combat endemic poverty and accommodate Bolivia's different identities (ethnic, linguistic, social and regional).

These issues are of more than local significance. For at least three reasons, Bolivia is a country at the centre of international attention.

First, Bolivia's huge hydrocarbon reserves make it of exceptional geo-strategic interest. The 1 May reform made Bolivia an integral element of the global debate about oil and gas prices, the exhaustion of future supply and the political use of these resources, one that reverberates from Venezuela to Iran, Angola to Saudi Arabia.

Second, the impact of the nationalisation on Brazil and Argentina is an example of how (in Latin America especially, but also more widely) the political programme of Evo Morales combines resource-extraction, attention to the rights of the indigenous people, and attempt to reform land ownership, in ways that could have much wider appeal.

Third, as a country of extensive coca production led now by a populist left-winger, Bolivia has attracted close political attention from the United States.

Decide, then act

The MAS party won the general elections in December 2005 on a programme that expressed the different views of the groups which compose the MAS coalition and was to a great extent defined by the political struggles of the last decade: the "water wars" in Cochabamba and elsewhere, and rejection of the neo-liberal economic policies of the 1990s. The latter was especially important: for a huge number of Bolivians, neo-liberalism brought no benefit, and for a majority of the population the very words "state", "political corruption" and "neo-liberalism" came to mean the same thing.

Thus, the Morales government was elected (as one social-movement activist put it) "to put into practice what other governments had decided or accepted". This was, in essence, a response to the failure of the series of "governability pacts" agreed during the turbulent presidency of Carlos Mesa, which had three components:

  • call a binding referendum about how energy resources should be used
  • reform the hydrocarbons law of 1996 to re-establish national sovereignty over energy sources
  • convene a constituent assembly to enhance the construction of an inclusive and more democratic state. 

The political failure to put these pacts into practice led to a loss of legitimacy among the parties which had promoted this economic model, such as Poder Democrático Social (Podemos, the party led by former president Jorge "Tuto" Quiroga. For a large section of voters, Podemos came to personify the traditional political party-game in which a series of formations take turns at being in power and sharing out posts: the so-called "democracy by agreement". In this sense, the triumph of the MAS represented more of a rupture with a stagnant democracy than a threat to an operating one.

The programme of the MAS focused on securing greater control of natural resources and a reform of the constitution to give more power to the indigenous and poorer sectors, promote agricultural reform and hold a referendum over autonomy for the regions. In addition, the MAS government promised to look for new ways of dealing with the issue of coca production for illegal use. In his first nine months in office, Morales has made progress in every one of these areas,   engendering support and hostility,  inside and outside Bolivia alike.

In addition to these political aspirations, the coalition led by Evo Morales embodies two elements of cultural-political identity. The first is Bolivian nationalism, a potent force in the history of the country from independence in 1825, and fuelled by lost wars and more powerful neighbours. Since the populist and modernising nationalist revolution of 1952, the "national" factor has been increasingly present even among the armed forces. 

Nationalism has been a force for unity as well as of difference: it served as vehicle for nation-building (as in many post-colonial societies) and it eliminated almost all references to ethnicity in a country where indigenous people are the majority, thus attempting to integrate the "natives" in worker-producer trade unions and demanding the end of inequality through class alliance.

The second is the indigenous factor. 60% of Bolivia's 8.6 million inhabitants are Amerindian; the indigenous communities have been marginalised by the political process and have suffered harsh exploitation since the colonial era; 62.7% of the population is poor (most of those indigenous); 26.5% live in extreme poverty.

The indigenous people have recently gained more institutional and judicial space, for example through the constitutional reform of 1994 (which recognises Bolivia as a multi-ethnic state) and through Article 171 of the constitution (which recognises collective rights). The so-called "people of the east" have a system of communal justice with established procedures, one that is secondary in relation to the state as a whole. Maria Teresa Zegada of the University Mayor of San Simón in Cochabamba says, however: "these formal gains have not had a real impact on the conditions of the people."

MAS obtained 54% of the votes against Podemos in the assembly elections, which translated into 134 of the assembly's 255 seats. Its victory represented the high turnout and active participation of the social movements that have proliferated in Bolivia in the last twenty years. From the 1980s, onwards movements of land-workers, coca-farmers, casual workers, trade unions in the energy sector and others began to substitute for the traditional trade unionism that had been formed by work in the mines.  Agriculture, mining, the exploitation of energy resources and construction are now the principal sectors of production. The most dynamic of these is the hydrocarbon sector, which is why the government has attached such importance to its control.

An important additional factor is that around 2 million Bolivians living outside the country, and members of the Bolivian diaspora community in the United States, Europe and other countries in Latin America has sent back $860 million in remittances to the homeland.

The assembly and its issues

In light of the foregoing, it can be understood that a constituent assembly represents the historic demand of a great part of Bolivian society. Now, for the first time in the country's history, the project is underway.

The MAS characterises the assembly as "an act of democratic revolution of the people to substitute the old structures after 180 years of an oligarchic regime" and "the materialisation of centuries of struggle by the people."

The debate is now focused on whether the assembly should be considered "originary" or "dependent". The MAS argues that for a true refoundation of the state, the assembly should have the power to act free from the constraints of the three traditional powers (legislative, executive, judiciary). Podemos is strongly opposed to this idea, to the point where it has threatened to abandon the assembly. The contrast is basically between a sovereign assembly with "originary" power, able to change the power structure and define issues such as control of natural resources, versus an assembly with power derived from the pre-existing state order, able only to reform the constitution.

In a country where 90% of productive land is controlled by 50,000 people, land ownership is one of the most essential and difficult questions to resolve. Here, there is mutual suspicion between Bolivians of east and west. The state can legally expropriate unused land (of which there are vast tracts in Bolivia), but mechanisms of corruption and inefficiency make legislation almost impossible to enforce; one indigenous leader explained to us that some indigenous people are bribed to testify that some of the land which lies fallow is supposedly being worked.

A state under discussion

The definitive text of the new constitution must be agreed by two-thirds of the members present in the assembly, and is scheduled to be voted on in a referendum on 6 August 2007. An absolute majority of votes will be needed to ratify it; if this is not achieved, the existing constitution will continue to apply. But even if it were passed, the weakness and complexity of the Bolivian state mean that the changes it embodied could not immediately be carried out.

The internal perceptions about the Bolivian state vary greatly: many consider it non-existent, many want to recreate it as an alliance of indigenous nations, and others consider that there is indeed a modern state which but needs a modern form of government. For part of the indigenous population "the state is the local council" - the closest power structure, and one that has come over the last decade to be run by indigenous representatives.  But the state is also, for the indigenous people, the communal land.

The structural conflict of the Bolivian state is, various experts agree, between the nation and the state. This conflict is itself marked by three contradictions: the State and the excluded classes, the state and ethnic groups, and the state and the regions.

The locality and the centre

Evo Morales leads a government in a hurry. This is the first popular, legitimate government in modern Bolivia with wide support.  It must take its chance to reform the state. 

Inside the MAS, there is a certain consensus in favour of having a strong government which can move the reforms forward - even if that means governing by decree. For some of the indigenous leaders and groups, Morales is too moderate and regarded as a figure who will betray the people's high expectations. At the same time, many fear (or predict) that Bolivia could have in the future a democratically-elected government that becomes authoritarian, if not actually a dictatorship.

In reality, the rules of the game do not allow the MAS to have a majority enough to impose its preferred model of the state.  Moreover, it is not clear what this model would be. Álvaro García Linera, Morales's vice-president, indicates that the government wants to create an "Andean capitalism"' which combines the three current socio-economic structures: family, communal and modern industrial. The idea is to "transfer a part of the surplus from the nationalised hydrocarbons to strengthen the role of the Andean and Amazonic forms of self-organisation, self-management and commercial development."

(Even before Morales's arrival in power, 5% of the profits from the sale of hydrocarbons went to the development of local communities, a factor which has given more power to local town halls and accelerated the tendency towards regional autonomy).

But this transfer of resources cannot be simple, especially when (as José Nogales, director of the daily newspaper La Voz in Cochabamba, explained to us) existing tax mechanisms oscillate between inefficiency and corruption, and "evasion techniques" are a fine art. 80% of Bolivians pay no taxes - some because they are poor, others because they are rich, and in many cases because there is no state structure to make them do it. The informal economy constitutes about 70% of GNP, which makes tax collection even more complicated.

The regional question

Alongside the constituent assembly elections, the national referendum on autonomy for regional departments revealed a key conflict underlying the Bolivian state. The results showed that a majority rejects the system of "autonomous departments", but that four of these departments (Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni and Tarija) voted in favour. These form the "half moon" on the Bolivian map where an influential white and mestizo population in areas rich in resources seeks a high level of self-government (or even independence). 

A recent law makes the referendum's results binding on the constituent assembly. Thus, once the new constitution has been promulgated, the departments that supported autonomy will achieve their wish. This would imply an actual division between east and west in Bolivia, and the prospect reinforces already great uncertainty over the tense relationship between the "half moon" and the "highlands". In this sense, the autonomy referendum crystallised the image of "two Bolivias".

The model of autonomy under which the four "yes"-voting western departments will organise themselves is still to be designed.  But the leaders of these regions are resisting the claims by President Morales that the "no" vote at national level is more important.

The debate inside the MAS on the autonomy issue is not so polarised as the election campaign might suggest. True, the MAS campaigned for a "no" vote, but many members of the Morales government do understand and support a specific model of autonomy in the new Bolivia:  autonomy for the indigenous people of the country.

A visit to Bolivia under the current MAS government of Evo Morales leaves no doubt that the existence of "two Bolivias" within the same state structure does reflect the results of the popular vote and the leading sentiment of Bolivian society. The question now is how they are going to relate to each other and reach an essential agreement about the future of the country and the state they are destined to share. The constituent assembly raises this question in sharpest form. Even if the process of agreement slows Morales's project to refound Bolivia on a new constitutional basis, the goal of a strengthened democracy with wider social participation will surely make the efforts worthwhile.  

Bush's security strategy: defend the nation, change the world

In the midst of a serious legitimacy crisis over the policies of the George W Bush administration and its war in Iraq, the White House made public a new national security strategy on 16 March 2006. It has five principal tenets:

Spain's 11-M and the right's revenge

Two years after the 11 March 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid that killed 191 people and injured around 1,900, Spain lives in a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, most citizens have absorbed in a peaceful, non-vengeful way the overwhelming evidence that a transnational, radical Islamist network had targeted Madrid on that terrible day. On the other hand, a group of politicians, journalists and demagogues have attempted to poison the public mind by spreading paranoid conspiracy theories.

Haiti: living on the edge

Haiti's legislative and presidential elections on 7 February 2006 were held in a climate of tension, even though there were few major irregularities and less violence than seen in Haiti over the last two years. The supporters of René Préval, the ex-president who nearly won an absolute majority, organised demonstrations to demand that their leader be declared the winner with 48.7% of the votes, thus ensuring that a second round of voting would not be held.

Failed states or weak democracies? The state in Latin America

The concepts of fragile, failed or collapsed states are usually applied to states where the principles of territorial unity, legitimate monopoly over the use of force and constitutional law do not apply – among them many countries of sub-Saharan Africa, or Afghanistan. Latin America, however, is only rarely included in these analyses of fragility.

The need for regime-building

In the last days of 2005, leading thinkers and scholars from around the world share their fears, hopes and expectations of 2006. As Isabel Hilton asks: What does 2006 have in store? (Part one)

The Hurricane and the Empire

The paralysis of official America in face of the New Orleans disaster exposes the systemic failures of United States politics, argues Mariano Aguirre.

The aftermath of the coastal catastrophe in the United States is deeply instructive about the nature of United States politics and society.

Mr Rogers goes to war: America's 'democracy by force'

Mariano Aguirre, fresh from his assault on Michael Ignatieff, now turns both barrels on the critic of his own “liberal orthodoxy”.
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