United South

Print edition : October 24, 2008


Latin American states back the Bolivian Presidents struggle against the U.S.-backed destabilisation efforts.

IN mid-September, Bolivia and Venezuela expelled the United States ambassadors to these countries. Both these countries also recalled their own ambassadors from Washington. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela said that he would not receive an envoy from Washington until the U.S. had a government that respects the peoples and the governments of Latin America. The Venezuelan government accused the American envoy, Patrick Duddy, of colluding with the military to assassinate Chavez. Tapes of a conversation in this connection have been aired by the Venezuelan media. The plans discussed included shooting down the presidential plane and taking over the Presidential Palace. Prominent intellectuals like Harold Pinter and Tony Benn and solidarity groups have condemned the George W. Bush administrations latest machinations against Venezuela.

Chavez described the expulsion of the ambassador as an act of solidarity with Bolivia. In Bolivia, the charge against the American envoy, Phillip Goldberg, is equally grave. President Evo Morales said that he had expelled the U.S. ambassador for conspiring against democracy. His government said the U.S. was backing a secessionist bid in the resource-rich eastern region of the country. Goldberg had met with the Governor of Santa Cruz, Ruben Costas, and the leader of the secessionist movement. Soon after the meeting, Costas and the Inter-institutional Committee a conservative, pro-autonomy, anti-Morales group had ordered their supporters to take over central government offices and installations in Santa Cruz.

Goldbergs last posting was as the U.S. Special Representative in Kosovo. He took up his new assignment only after the U.S. achieved its goal of detaching Kosovo from Serbia. In the 1990s, when Yugoslavia was in ferment, Goldberg was Bosnia Desk Officer in the U.S. State Department and worked closely with Richard Holbrooke, whose role in the disintegration of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is well documented. One of the key separatist leaders in Bosnia is a Croatian businessman, Branco Marincovic. He heads a civic committee in Santa Cruz, which has been organising violent resistance against the central government.

Ever since President Morales won a resounding victory in the referendum held in August, there has been widespread violence against his supporters in the eastern region where Governors belonging to the Opposition are in power. Self-proclaimed civic committees have been set up in the Media Luna (half moon) as the four separatist eastern provinces are called. They have been violently reiterating their demand for autonomy, full control over the hydrocarbon revenues, control of police forces and an end to the land reforms programme.

The right-wing opposition has set up paramilitary groups to achieve its goals. These groups have been responsible for the horrendous violence against the underprivileged indigenous groups in recent months. The right-wing opposition has been using tactics eerily similar to the ones used to overthrow Salvadore Allende in Chile in the early 1970s. As had happened in Chile, the elites in Bolivia are also resorting to strikes to undermine the popularly elected government. Truckers affiliated to the business elite have refused to take essential supplies of food to the western Andes where the majority of the indigenous people live. The Confederation of Private Businesses in Bolivia is threatening a total shutdown if the central government does not concede their demands for full autonomy for the eastern provinces.

Morales won the referendum on the promise of effecting land reforms and reaching the benefits of hydrocarbon revenues to the least developed parts of the country. Five per cent of the population own 89 per cent of the arable land. The poorest 80 per cent owns only 3 per cent of the land. The results of the referendum has given the central government more control over the revenues generated by oil and gas sales. In December, another referendum is to be held. If the government wins this, Morales will get even more powers to distribute Bolivias wealth among the poor. Bolivia, which has a population of 10 million, has a 60 per cent poverty rate. Most of the hydrocarbon resources and fertile land are in the four media luna states which are under the control of right-wing Governors.

The white elites days of dominance over the impoverished indigenous majority are numbered. Until 1952, the people of indigenous descent, who constitute the majority in Bolivia, were not even allowed to vote. Most of the minority white and mixed race people are concentrated in the eastern region. One of the demands of the rebel Governors is that the central government return the taxes it levied on oil and gas. The government has used the tax revenues to provide pensions for all its citizens who are over the age of 60. The majority of the beneficiaries are the impoverished indigenous people.

The Media Luna Governors are also defiantly insisting that their provinces will not participate in the referendum on the new Constitution despite Morales publicly stating that he would accommodate some of their demands. One of the key goals of the new Constitution is a unified but decentralised state which recognises the countrys ethnic and cultural diversities while ensuring greater political and economic participation for the indigenous people.

The violence let loose on the indigenous population in many cities in the eastern lowland regions has led to the loss of many lives. Buildings owned by the central government and indigenous rights groups were burnt down. Mobs were set on the supporters of Morales. On September 11, the 35th anniversary of the coup against Allende, a paramilitary group in the department of Pando attacked the indigenous community, killing 30 people. The President had to call out the Army to maintain law and order. Until then, Morales had instructed the Army not to open fire on rampaging right-wing mobs. The anti-government militia also occupied an airport in Cobija and temporarily disrupted gas supplies to Brazil and Argentina.

SUPPORTERS OF PRESIDENT Evo Morales march through the streets of La Paz to demand prison sentence for Pando province Governor Leopoldo Fernandez, on September 22. A paramilitary group killed 30 indigenous people in the province on September 11.-GASTON BRITO/REUTERS

In the south-central city of Sucre, 50 mayors, town councillors and other leaders belonging to the indigenous community were humiliated by a racist mob. The incident occurred just before Morales was to distribute 50 ambulances for rural communities in the area. Morales cancelled his scheduled appearance.

The security forces were withdrawn to avoid bloodshed. The mob had stripped the leaders of all their belongings and forced them to walk for 7 kilometres to the centre of the town. Then they were all forced to kneel shirtless and chant anti-Morales slogans. Morales said that those responsible for the racist incident would be brought to justice.

The Army has now become proactive. The Governor of Pando, who has been described as the mastermind behind the massacre of 30 Indians, was arrested for genocide and taken to a secret location. The top echelons of the Army may not be too sympathetic to the ideological goals of Morales but it is loath to see the unity of the country destroyed. General Luis Trigo Antelo, the Commander of Bolivian armed forces, issued a statement in the third week of September emphasising that the Army will not tolerate any more actions by radical groups that are provoking a confrontation among Bolivians, causing pain and suffering and threatening national security.

The governments of Latin America were quick to show their solidarity with Bolivia. Chavez said that he was willing to send Venezuelan troops to protect the territorial integrity of Bolivia. He warned that any movement by the oligarchy, the yanquis, or the army to overthrow the Bolivian government or kill Evo Morales would give us a carte blanche to intervene and support any armed movement to restore the people to power.

The spokesperson for the Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva warned that his country would not tolerate a rupture in the constitutional order of Bolivia. President Lula pledged to provide logistics support to Bolivia to dismantle armed groups in Pando. Lula also supported Morales decision to expel the American ambassador. If it is true that the U.S. ambassador was meeting with the opposition to Evo Morales, Evo is right to expel him. Lula noted that the U.S. had indeed interfered in Latin American countries through its embassies at various moments in history.

Nine Latin American leaders met under the auspices of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in the Chilean capital, Santiago, on September 15 to discuss the crisis in Bolivia. The U.S. was pointedly excluded from the diplomacy surrounding the crisis. This, according to observers, is yet another indication that the colossus of the North is becoming peripheral to Latin America. In the good old days it would have been Washington calling the tune through the Organisation of American States (OAS). Now the UNASUR seems to have supplanted the OAS.

The heads of state present at the meeting while calling for a dialogue between the Bolivian government and the opposition stressed that the organisation would not accept any violation of the institutional order in Bolivia. All the leaders, including the allies of Washington, like Alviro Uribe of Colombia, backed Morales to the hilt in his struggle against the destabilisation efforts being orchestrated by Washington.

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