Geopolitics

Evo Morales Ups Ante As Other Latin American Leftists Fade

Bolivia's president lost a referendum earlier this year that could have kept him in power beyond 2019. The long-serving leader may try to seek reelection regardless.

Evo Morales at Macri's inauguration in December
Danilo Arbilla

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ â€" With Mauricio Macri's election in Argentina, moves to depose Dilma Rousseff in Brazil and Keiko Fujimori's rise in Peru, the pieces are clearly shifting on Latin America's political chessboard.

For those at risk of losing their hold on power, the reactions are natural: They are either reluctant to abandon the power they won, democratically, years ago, or in the case of those with little time for democracy in the first place, they persist in their anti-democratic skullduggery.

Dilma and her former patron, now protégé, Lula da Silva are fighting tooth and nail to keep their posts. Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro sinks further with each passing day, even as he grasps the presidential baton tight. He knows what awaits him out of office. He recently used the Supreme Court to declare as unconstitutional a parliamentary law to pardon political prisoners. Did anyone imagine the Court would rule otherwise?

When you have nothing to lose, you pull out all the stops â€" just look at Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad. He wasn't going to be blown away by the winds of the Arab Spring. So he came out swinging. He remains in power. At the cost of a civil war, true, but that seems to be of little concern to him. His goal is to ride out an awkward patch, come hell or high water.

I'd say Bolivian President Evo Morales has a bit of the same instincts. Time to up the ante, he must have thought as he recently came out in defense of his chums, former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Dilma and Lula. He cannot believe Cristina K has been summoned to court. It must be another of those parliamentary or judicial "coups" that the Left sees everywhere. Of course, if the courts were investigating right-wing opponents, then it would be justice taking its course, truth coming out and the fight against corruption.

Evo seems to be the least "compromised" of these leaders so far, though some inauspicious signs have been emerging. He lost his referendum to legalize his continuity in power, and has faced attacks over his private life. I'm guessing he will try another re-election, using as many referenda as necessary â€" like his late friend, Venezuela's Hugo Chávez.

In the meantime, the presidential office has declared that the son he reportedly sired with a girlfriend (now jailed for "economic crimes") doesn't exist. Disappearances like this are not uncommon in Bolivia. After all, Morales made the Bolivian Republic disappear to make way for his Plurinational State, as the country is formally called.

Knowing that things are changing and that his opponents have multiplied, Morales has turned to talking tough. Any moment it seems he might declare war on Chile, with which Bolivia has longstanding territorial disputes. The external enemy, that classic ploy of dictatorial states. Of course it doesn't always work. It didn't for Leopoldo Galtieri, the last head of the Argentine junta, when he invaded the Falklands. In this case, Bolivia's demands that Chile grant it access to the Pacific is a rallying cry for Bolivian unity. The Hague Court is handling the matter for now.

Chile has little patience for these antics. As Ignacio Walker, a Chilean senator and ex-foreign affairs minister, has said, "We're tired of Bolivia using Chile in its internal affairs." He warned that if Bolivia "wants to keep provoking, Chile will defend itself calmly but very firmly."

Still, for Evo, if a crisis like this can keep him in power, maybe it's worth it.

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Society

Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe


BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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