'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Destabilization of Bolivia 

Bolivia has become the front line of conflict between the United States and the leftist regimes of South America:

After registering astonishing levels of support in the referendum, the MAS government declared that it was going to bring forward for popular referendum the draft of a new constitution approved by the Constituent Assembly in Oruro several months ago.

In celebration, indigenous peasant and working-class supporters of the government set off on August 29 for a peaceful march to the Plaza 24 de Septiembre, in the centre of the city of Santa Cruz. A gathering of autonomists, organized in part by the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista (Cruceño Youth Union, UJC), were there to greet them.

According to the mainstream daily La Prensa, one UJC speaker at the autonomist rally declared: “We are not going to permit [the entrance of the masistas] into the Plaza. When we go to their communities, they treat us like dogs. We want independence. We don’t want this damned race in our territory.” Other chants and phrases used that day, according to the vociferously anti-Morales La Razón newspaper, included: “shitty collas,” (colla is a racial epithet used in Santa Cruz to refer to indigenous people from the western highlands), and, “Indians return to your lands.”

After the speeches, the racists when on a rampage against the unarmed trade unionists and peasants, as well as any visibly indigenous person in proximity of the plaza. Indigenous women wearing the traditional pollera, or gathered skirt, were particularly vulnerable to beatings and racist taunts. One autonomist youth leader, Amelia Dimitri, was captured in video footage and photographs whipping an indigenous woman wearing a pollera. This occurred immediately after Dimitri addressed the crowd of autonomist thugs in a rousing speech. She’s only the latest face of hatred on the autonomist right.

On national television, Bolivians watched as racist teenagers wielded clubs, whips, and two-by-fours against unarmed indigenous workers and peasants. Images of men and women with broken noses and shirts literally drenched in blood quickly made their way to You Tube, private and national state media, and the front pages of the local newspapers. These are the “democracy supporters” supported by imperialism against the “dictatorship” of Evo Morales.

But where were the cops? Where was the military? The MAS government refused to act, calling instead for negotiations.

And in the following weeks things intensified further, such that in the last two days Bolivia has been perched on a precipice, below which lies the defeat of left-indigenous power – on the rise since the wave of insurrections between 2000 and 2005 – and the conquest of power by imperialism and the rich and the white-mestizo elite who have long-ruled the country, and who retain control of economic power despite Morales’ electoral victory.

Not surprisingly, the US ambassador has expressed sympathy for the demands of the elite. In response, President Evo Morales has ordered him to leave the country:

President Evo Morales said Wednesday that he is expelling the U.S. ambassador in Bolivia for allegedly inciting violent opposition protests.

Morales' announcement came hours after his government said a pipeline blast triggered by saboteurs forced the country to cut natural gas exports to Brazil by 10 percent.

"Without fear of the empire, I declare the U.S. ambassador 'persona non grata,'" Morales said in a speech at the presidential palace. He said he asked his foreign minister to send a diplomatic note to Ambassador Philip Goldberg telling the American to go home.

"We don't want separatists, divisionists," Bolivia's leftist president added.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid called the accusation "baseless" and said the U.S. government had not yet received a note about the ambassador.

Now, this morning, we learn that rightists have killed seven peasants in Santa Cruz province:

At least eight people were killed as violent anti-government protests flared in Bolivia Thursday, creating havoc in the natural gas industry and raising tensions with the United States.

Washington ordered out the Bolivian ambassador in response to Bolivia's move a day earlier to oust the U.S. envoy whom President Evo Morales blamed for the escalating violence.

Opposition activists shot dead seven peasant farmers in the remote Amazon region of Pando, a government official said, describing the incident as a massacre. An employee of the opposition-led regional government was also killed.

"We're talking about a real massacre and the person responsible is the Pando governor," said Deputy Minister of Social Movements Sacha Llorenti.

Morales' leftist government blames the unrest on rightist governors who control four of the impoverished country's nine regions.

The opposition demands greater autonomy and energy revenue and opposes plans by Morales, a former coca farmer and Bolivia's first indigenous president, to rewrite the constitution and distribute land to the poor.

Clashes also erupted in Tarija, a region rich in natural gas, and anti-Morales demonstrators occupied public buildings in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, an opposition stronghold, for a third day.

As this article indicates, the escalating conflict is centered around control of Bolivia's resources, with the white mestizo elite, supported by the US, resorting to violence in an attempt to overturn the referendum result in favor of Morales. It is reminiscent of the shutdown of the Venezuelan state owned oil industry by the oil workers union in late 2002 and early 2003 in an effort to prevent Chavez from using industry profits to fund social programs. It is, of course, also frighteningly reminscent of US covert operations within Chile in the period leading to the military coup in 1973.

The most disturbing aspects of the deteriorating situation in Bolivia are the extent to which the US is supporting violence that has crossed the threshold into death squad activity, as well as the enthusiastic expression of racism against indigenous people as means of inciting a rebellion. No doubt, we will soon hear someone from the State Department blame the government for the deaths and injuries inflicted upon the indigenous communities of the country, much as they blame Iraqi and Afghan insurgents for the deaths of civilians caused by US military operations in their countries.

While bigotry towards indigenous people and the poor more generally have also been important aspects of the opposition to Chavez in Venezuela, I don't recall that it has ever been expressed this crudely, this violently, on a mass basis. US policy in Bolivia, and, to a lesser degree in Venezuela, is taking on more and more of the features of white supremacy. If the rightists prevail, the prospect of out of control, indiscriminate killings of indigenous people looks very plausible, with the country spiraling into an irreversible cycle of violence similar to the one that plagues Colombia.

Morales appears to be hesitating to use force against the secessionists because it could provide a justification for US intervention. But it doesn't look he has any choice. The Bush administration is bent upon settling old scores before leaving office, as also indicated by the intensification of hostility between the US and Chavez in Venezuela as well, or, at least, leaving behind a policy of confrontation that will be difficult for Obama to change if he becomes President, assuming, of course, that he would even have the inclination to do so.

More abstractly, US elites may have also decided that there is an urgency for a more blatant policy of seizing control over hydrocarbon and mineral resources around the world in light of the ongoing collapse of the financial system. Unable and unwilling to obtain these resources at the market rate, they may have concluded that the implementation of a neo-mercantile policy through local surrogates, like the elites in Santa Cruz province, for example, is required. While the market remains, the empowerment of such elites by the US provides it with a means to manipulate the market to its advantage that it no longer possesses. Speculative musings, no doubt, but ones that may lead to a clearer understanding of the situation with the passage of time.

Labels: , , , , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?