It may not have come to the attention of the foreigners to Latin America that, yesterday, Labor Day Holiday 2006, witnessed what was maybe the fiercest unexpected unilateral action of one South American country against another since 1865. For South Americans, used to repression from their own governments, but oblivious to threats right across their borders, it was a shock.
I am talking about the announcement from the Bolivian president, hard-hat on, parading in a Brazil-owned gas refinery, that he was 'nationalizing' the country's gas reserves - i.e., taking over. Moreover, he demanded that all installations be handed over within 180 days, or else - - - or else? Well it was not that clear, but apparently it was left open that force could be used.
There's a lot of political background to that annoncement that I will not delve into here - Bolivia's past, Venezuela's rise, President Morales's campaign, President Lula's support, and a lot else - and the right-or-wrong discussion of whether the investments belong to the investors or to the country also deserves a lot more discussion than this blog entry might provide. This being a mere account of my personal thoughts, though, leaves me the space to talk about what has struck me most in all this soap-opera: talk of military action.
First of all let me compliment the handling of the situation by the Brazilian government so far - they recognized sovereignty of Bolivia, opened for talks, and at the same time assured Brazilian citizens that we would not run out of gas. Bear in mind that this is a country that has invested heavily in gas-powered automobiles, especially for people who drive a lot like taxi drivers. Ruling out the possibility of shortages is not only the only statement that REALLY matters to the people - it also gives Bolivia a sign that we're not desperate (for the fact that Bolivia is our main supplier) , but they should be (because we're their main customers, and can apparently find gas elsewhere).
But the most shocking news of the day, to me, was a poll on iG (a Brazilian news portal) that asked people of what kind should the Brazilian reaction to President Morales's act should be - diplomacy, economic sanctions, or military action. And it was even! Roughly a third of respondents chose each option.
It makes me think that Brazilians are a bit bloodthirsty, and too fond of reality shows to start 'dreaming' of televised attacks by our Army to the coca fields of Bolivia, going to the rescue of "our refineries".... Well I swear I haven't dreamed of that, but truth is we have never had a reason to wage war on a neighboring country - maybe the 1978 world cup - and this could be a reason for a more beligerant leader to be keen on pushing the button.
Luckily it seems that such a thing won't happen. Lula and Evo are too good buddies to even have sanctions declared, talk about war. But Evo shouldn't expect the same consideration (paternalization, maybe?) from private investors. Or American-owned businesses in Bolivia. Allende would know better.
Anyway, we chickened out on a war - either military or economic. Maybe the path chosen is worse for some (like Petrobras) in the short run but better for all in perspective. Let's see what happens next.
I wonder what Santiago De La Mora makes of this whole thing.