May 9, 2011
Leftist populist President
During a three-day visit here last week, I was surprised to find out that Morales had declared
The new national observance, just like the old one, was marked by government-organized rallies throughout the country to demand that this landlocked country be given an outlet to the
Morales announced recently that
The two countries broke diplomatic ties in 1978 over the issue, but had been negotiating a solution to the conflict in recent years.
What's going on?, I asked several Bolivian politicians and journalists. Virtually all responded that Morales, who won a second term in 2009 with a massive 64 percent of the vote, has been in a political free fall since December, and is propping up the fight with
Morales' poll numbers fell abruptly in December, when he announced a 70 percent increase in gasoline prices.
Facing massive street protests, including from many leftist unions and indigenous groups that had been his allies, he backed down, but he has yet to recover from the political blow.
Morales' popularity has fallen to 32 percent in most polls, his lowest number since he took office five years ago.
"The government is rapidly losing popular support, and this fight with
Despite record world prices for
Silver prices soared from
And yet, Morales' massive cash handouts, disastrous government takeovers of major companies and mounting debts with
To make things worse, there are virtually no investments, because nationalizations have scared away national and foreign investors. While the government has changed the way it measures inflation to report lower figures, real inflation is at about 15 percent, and rising.
"I'm afraid that inflation is going to soar, and the government will become even more radical," Costas said. "They will try to generate even greater confrontations, to create a climate that will allow them to maintain this populist project."
My opinion: It is not unusual for Bolivian presidents to revive their country's territorial dispute with
The difference this time is that Morales has added an ideological element that didn't exist before -- the political partisanship of his country's armed forces. Last year, at the request of Morales, the Bolivian army declared itself "socialist," "anti-imperialist" and "anti-capitalist."
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(C) 2011 Andres Oppenheimer, The Miami Herald Distributed by Tribune Media Services