Monday, December 17, 2007

Bolivian Rent Seeking Opt-Outs

The news from Bolivia is very interesting as four provinces with the money, natural gas resources that can create hard currency, and the home of the traditional elites within the country has become very interesting.
Tensions were rising in Bolivia on Saturday as members of the country's four highest natural gas-producing regions declared autonomy from the central government...

The officials displayed a green-bound document containing a set of statutes paving the way to a permanent separation from the Bolivian government.

Council representatives vowed to legitimize the so-called autonomy statutes through a referendum that would legally separate the natural-gas rich districts from President Evo Morales' government.

The move also aims to separate the states from Bolivia's new constitution, which calls for, among other things, a heavier taxation on the four regions to help finance more social programs....

Some indigenous pro-Morales groups claim Bolivia's richer, white-ruled Eastern regions want to control the country's natural resources. Bolivia has South America's second-largest natural gas reserves, behind Venezuela. Most of it is produced in the Eastern regions.
I am not a South American expert; I took a couple of classes freshmen and sophomore years in college, and my Spanish is not even good enough to order food at Taco Bell, so I am mainly applying a theoretical framework here.

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolutions is placing this emerging conflict within a colonialist perspective, which is interesting, but I think limited:
If there is any trend over the last five hundred and fifteen years, it is that indigenous peoples in the Americas are losing control over natural resources.
I think two other conflicts are more interesting comparisons. The first is the MEND movement in the Nigerian delta. The common complaint among the many distinct actors making up MEND is that the Nigerian central government and non-local populations historically disproportionally benefit from the hard currency flow derived from the oil production in the Delta. MEND's response has been several system disruption campaigns to reduce central government revenue and raise the cost of exploration in order to get a better deal for the Delta region.

Swopa at Needlenose in the continuing series of intra-Shi'ite conflict, maneuvering and goal seeking is following a strong echo of what is occuring in Bolivia with the actions of SIIC/Badr Organization via a riff on the New York Times:(italics are from the Times)
Najaf’s governor, Asaad Abu Gulal, says his mission is to prepare the city to become the premier place in southern Iraq. “If we happen to have a southern region, Basra may be the commercial capital, but Najaf would be the political capital,” he said. “We have the political leadership, and we have the religious authority.”The depth of the city’s sense of its separate identity becomes clear when a driver enters the greater city limits. The security controls are akin to crossing an international border. “The Islamic State of Najaf,” joked one driver recently as he waited in one of five lines where a phalanx of local and national policemen checked each car for bombs and illegal guns. Anyone with a “foreign” license plate, meaning a plate from outside the Najaf Province, is subject to a thorough search and is required to go to a nearby police station to register.
The artists-formerly-known-as-SCIRI's fortunes have seemed to be on the rise lately, and if they can manage to deliver services to the key provincial areas (such as Najaf) under their control, they might even be able to steal some of al-Sadr's popular support. The lingering question that I've wondered about for some time, though, is whether Team Shiite aspires to add an ethnically-cleansed Baghdad to their southern breakaway state semi-autonomous region
SIIC/Badr/Dawa are all in favor of opting out of a unified, strong central government for Iraq's future. Instead their major objective has been to opt-out of Iraq by grabbing the heavily Shi'ite southern provinces that coincidentally have slightly more than half of current Iraqi oil production capacity, most of its export capacity and the largest chunk of the unexplored or unexploited reserves, and form a de facto state if not a de-jure state. This willingness to decentralize and secede has been a binding agent for the relationship with the Kurdish factions as they share the same goal for different turf. Both are seeking to keep the rent producing resource (oil) revenue as close as possible and to keep both Baghdad and the Sunni Arab populations as revenue starved as possible.

The natural gas producing regions are pulling a MEND/SIIC without the high explosives or the foreign army of occupation to beat down their local rivals. I think this trend will become more common as rent seeking natural resource extraction will become more common; local production regions will see little benefit in being part of a larger polity if the commodity in question is an international bottleneck commodity.

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