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September 12, 2008


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Okay, anyone feel like trying to explain something here? I think it is pretty obvious why the wealthy sectors of the media luna would be so opposed to the land reform policies, but can anyone give a solid explanation for why they are so opposed to the increased taxes and royalties on the gas industry?

After all, these taxes and royalties are paid by the foreign companies, not by the wealthy Bolivians, correct? So why are wealthy bolivians in the East so opposed to these policies? Anyone?

The conventional wisdom is that as hydrocarbon prices rise, so does the opportunity cost of the energy subsidies given to the eastern provinces. The Media Luna, however, doesn't trust the central government to bear those costs. In this interpretation, then, higher taxes on the gas industry are a sideshow, and the real conflict is prompted by rising prices.

That logic doesn't really make sense, however. After all, the lower La Paz's revenue, the less-likely the government there will be to keep subsidizing the east. So you'd think that the Media Luna would be fine with higher taxes as long as the government promised to keep up the subsidies.

But they're not fine with it, not at all.

I'm not sure I understand that interpretation though. Because the media luna has been viciously opposed to increased taxes even before energy prices were very high. This conflict goes back long before Morales was president.

I think there's something more to the puzzle here. Or maybe they aren't so opposed to the taxes themselves, but simply opposed to greater central government control over the industry in general.

Or could it have anything to do with these taxes scaring away foreign investment, which these wealthy sectors profit from?

Hello -- I've been reading for some time now, but haven't said anything. Your blog is very interesting!

I just want to comment on the passing detail about required military service. The "middle class" in highland Bolivia is generally not "European," but rather Bolivian (in the sense that they have both indigenous and European ancestors, to a greater or lesser degree, but generally do not identify as indigenous -- although this is changing somewhat).

In addition, while military service is "required" of all men, there is a way of buying one's way out of it. This is done by the majority of wealthier Bolivias. You can read more about this in Leslie Gill's excellent book, "Teetering on the Rim."


Hi, Clare! Thank you for the complement. As you know, I'm a fan of Gringo Tambo.

I take your point about the "European" population. I probably should have used "mestizo" or "ladino," but are those terms used in Bolivia? I have heard upper-class Bolivians refer to themselves as "white."

I'm curious about the effect of conscription on Bolivian society, and I will get Gill's book. I had the opportunity to meet a slice of the Bolivian economic elite, and I was surprised at how many of them had military experience. That's rare in the rest of Latin America, and pretty much unheard of in Mexico. (In Mexico, college graduates have to perform "servicio social," which generally means acting as an unpaid intern in a government department for a year.) But now I think that slice of CEO-types might have been less representative of the elite than I assumed.

What has been the effect of mass conscription on society? The Brazilian left has recently called for conscription to not only be maintained, but be expanded ... something with which some of the Finnish readers of this blog will be sympathetic. Are there any lessons for Brazil in the Bolivian experience?

Hi! Your observations are fascinating. I wonder if military service among the elite is generational? I don't have an answer to that, but I wonder. Gill's book does have a chapter on military service.

I never heard the terms "mestizo" or "ladino" used in Bolivia, ever (except in the context of 19th century thinkers). There is also the question of who is the "middle class," of course, which is a complicated question (as you know!).

There is a small population of Bolivians who are "white" and largely descended from Europeans. But the majority of people I would call "middle class" in highland Bolivia 1) live at a far lower standard than what we would call "middle class" in the U.S., 2) are of largely indigenous descent, even if they don't self-identify as indigenous (and some of them do), and 3) tend to refer to themselves either as pacenos or altenos or by some other term that indicates where they are from, or as "vecinos" (literally neighbors). In rural areas, vecinos are the counterparts to indigenous campesinos, although this is not a strict dichotomy.

Perhaps we can get one of the urban Bolivianists from the GT over here to comment. Since my research is largely in rural areas that does affect my perspective.

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