Thursday, May 25, 2006

What are friends for? 

Here is a little taste from a good article on the Wall Street Journal today on the assistance Venezuela is giving to Bolivia:

New President Has Bolivia Marching to Chavez's Beat

La Paz, Bolivia - Since Evo Morales took office as president here in January, the coca grower turned socialist politician has aligned his country so closely with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez that it is sometimes difficult to tell where one government begins and the other ends.

After the election of the populist, for instance, foreign steel companies were told they would have to renegotiate a proposed deal to develop a huge iron-ore deposit known as El Mutun. But they didn't count on facing Venezuelan government experts on the Bolivian side of the bargaining table.

During an April 25 session with India's Jindal Steel & Power Ltd., two Venezuelan experts whispered into the ears of their Bolivian counterparts and passed them notes, says Juan Mogrovejo, a representative of Jindal Steel who attended the meetings. Then the Bolivians hardened their terms, demanding that the length of the contract be cut to 20 years from 40. "The proposed contract changed radically," Mr. Mogrovejo says. Other companies have also expressed dismay at the new terms.

So the steel company execs probably thought they were going to have an easy time dealing with some naive green horn Bolivians. Wouldn't it have been nice to be a fly on the wall and see the expressions on their faces when they realized that instead they were facing experienced Venezuelans who were likely on to all their tricks!

This is precisely the type of collaboration between countries that is so very helpful yet costs almost nothing. Kudos to Chavez and Morales for doing this.

And here is some more of what Bolivia is getting from Venezuela:

Mr. Morales has also adopted many of Mr. Chavez's social programs, including the use of Cuban doctors and teachers in poor neighborhoods. And estimated 708 Cuban doctors and volunteers have set up six clinics that offer, among other things, free eye consultations. At a Santa Cruz clinic, 200 Bolivians recently stood in a line that snaked around the block, waiting in the hot sun to get appointments for an eye examination. The clinic performs 100 free cataract operations dails. Some patients spent the night sleeping on the steps of the clinic. "It's a miracle," said Juan Alvarez, 56, an upholsterer awaiting surgery on an eye that clouded up three years ago after an injury.

Literacy classes are also a big hit. In a cramped classroom on the wind-swept pateau above La Paz, a few dozen Ayamara Indian women and men gathered around a television set recently to learn the alphabet. At the end of the day's session, Hugo Chura, the Bolivian official in charge of the program, stood up to give a pitch. "Previous governments here never cared about you,", he said in the Aymara language. "But the new president does. And he has friends like Fidel Castro and the Venezuelans who care about you too." The class broke out in applause.

Thanks to such programs, Mr. Morales's approval ratings now hover above 80%.


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