Raul Penaranda writes in Pagina Siete:
Flood the Madidi to stay in power
There is only limited economic vision that drives the Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, a drive almost exclusively on extractive tasks to achieve economic growth. His close look, in which (almost) only enter options as drilling gas fields and mining, as well as building dams, also has a political background.
But things first: the Bolivian tragedy called extractivism. We are the poorest country in South America, among other things, because we have based our development almost exclusively on extracting minerals or oil (or rely on rubber). For almost 300 years of colonial and republic, 200 years that we have chosen, and so we have done. In the last decade, with high commodity prices, it has not done more to emphasize this development model.
The Vice President is the chief proponent of the policy. Just said in a keynote address in Chile. “If only you dedicate yourself to protect Mother Earth, how you feed people?”, he noted with a surprising mix of naivete and cynicism. In other words he does not see another way to achieve development.
The eloquence of that statement is saddening, especially since the economic literature shows that countries that do depend on the development of the extraction of raw materials are also almost always the poorest. The Bolivian case confirms that.
The Government wishes to move now to other areas near the extractive: the construction of dams to generate electricity. It has already signed a contract with an Italian company to build a dam in the Strait of Bala, on the Beni River. In one year the report will be ready then -has said Garcia Linera- will begin construction of the mega-project. One estimate suggests that the dam has an exorbitant price of 7,000 million dollars to produce 4,000 megawatts of electricity to be exported to neighboring countries. It could be obtained annually, about 1,600 million dollars for the treasury, 13% of total exports.
Is not only the huge economic cost, obviously. What is more, is the environmental cost. The price to pay for this government’s whim is met, nothing less, flooding the Madidi, the most important natural park in Bolivia and one of the most beautiful places on earth. It is terror.
Is it worth to invest 7,000 million dollars to 1,600 million a year export? To flood the Madidi cost and be forced to move about 300 indigenous communities? And to inflict irreparable damage to the environment?
It would be logical, in a place of privileged beauty such as Madidi and all the Bolivian Amazon, to encourage other tasks such as tourism. Maybe will not capture that amount of currency, but its beneficial effect is that will generate labor intensive and largely help the development, since demand many services and products, including the purchase of food. It is better to sell electricity.
Why the government did not opt for this other way? Why they insist to embrace policies that put nature at serious risk? As we say above, for political reasons: ecotourism generates wealth that is distributed in many hands, for example indigenous communities, tour guides and owners of hotels and lodges, in addition to providing direct and indirect services.
Tourism money stays in the country, generates welfare and could help produce a virtuous circle of development. But the government removes the possibility of fiscal resources to manipulate the public, blackmail voters and maintain a drying centralism.
A billion dollars distributed to thousands of people dedicated to tourism, to continue with that example, is not the same as 1,000 million in petty cash from the government to build soccer fields and make micro-inaugurations all year round.
In any case, the micro-inaugurations are better than the macro. The Government insists on building El Batan, a stadium for 60,000 people at a cost of $80 million, although the current field, the Felix Capriles, remains empty all year round.
That and dozens of other works, as an “international” airport which has no flights to Oruro, a stadium in Chimoré with as many people as inhabitants that locality has and paper mills that yield losses. The rampant waste is due to the vagaries of the Head are rampant.
The statist extractivism has a further explanation: stay in power for as long as possible, indefinitely. Chao democracy.
Raul Peñaranda U. is a journalist
Crystal clear to the detriment of our future, to our development. It is just ochlocracy at its best and we are doomed as a country if people continue to vote for these individuals…