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Out of the Backyard: New Latin American and Caribbean Bloc Defies Washington December 9, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Latin America.
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Published on Friday, December 9, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

  by  Benjamin Dangl

Rain clouds ringed the lush hillsides and poor neighborhoods cradling Caracas, Venezuela as dozens of Latin American and Caribbean heads of state trickled out of the airport and into motorcades and hotel rooms. They were gathering for the foundational summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a new regional bloc aimed at self-determination outside the scope of Washington’s power.

Notably absent were the presidents of the US and Canada – they were not invited to participate. “It’s the death sentence for the Monroe Doctrine,” Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said of the creation of the CELAC, referring to a US policy developed in 1823 that has served as a pretext for Washington’s interventions in the region. Indeed, the CELAC has been put forth by many participating presidents as an organization to replace the US-dominated Organization of American States (OAS), empower Latin American and Caribbean unity, and create a more equal and just society on the region’s own terms.

The CELAC meeting comes a time when Washington’s presence in the region is waning. Following the nightmarish decades of the Cold War, in which Washington propped up dictators and waged wars on Latin American nations, a new era has opened up; in the past decade a wave of leftist presidents have taken office on socialist and anti-imperialist platforms.

The creation of the CELAC reflected this new reality, and is one of various recent developments aimed at unifying Latin America and the Caribbean as a progressive alternative to US domination. Other such regional blocs include the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) which has successfully resolved diplomatic crises without pressure from Washington, the Bank of the South, which is aimed at providing alternatives to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and the Bolivarian Alliance of Latin America (ALBA), which was created as an alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a deal which would have expanded the North American Free Trade Agreement throughout Latin America, but failed due to regional opposition.

The global economic crisis was on many of the leaders’ minds during the CELAC conference. “It seems it’s a terminal, structural crisis of capitalism,” Bolivian President Evo Morales said in a speech at the gathering. “I feel we’re meeting at a good moment to debate … the great unity of the countries of America, without the United States.”

The 33 nations comprising the CELAC make up some 600 million people, and together are the number one food exporter on the planet. The combined GDP of the bloc is around $6 trillion, and in a time of global economic woes, the region now has its lowest poverty rate in 20 years; the growth rate in 2010 was over 6% – more than twice that of the US. These numbers reflect the success of the region’s social programs and anti-poverty initiatives.

In an interview with Telesur, Evo Morales said the space opened by the CELAC provides a great opportunity to expand the commerce of Latin America and the Caribbean in a way that does not depend on the precarious markets of the US and Europe. In this respect he saw a central goal of the CELAC being to “implement politics of solidarity, with complementary instead of competitive commerce to resolve social problems…”

While the US is the leading trading partner for most Latin American and Caribbean countries, China is making enormous inroads as well, becoming the main trade ally of the economic powerhouses of Brazil and Chile. This shift was underlined by the fact that Chinese President Hu Jintao sent a letter of congratulations to the leaders forming the CELAC. The letter, which Chávez read out loud to the summit participants, congratulated the heads of state on creating the CELAC, and promised that Hu would work toward expanding relations with the region’s new organization.

The US, for its part, did not send a word of congratulations. Indeed, Washington’s official take on the CELAC meeting downplayed the new group’s significance and reinforced US commitment to the OAS. Commenting on the CELAC, US Department of State spokesman Mark Toner said, “There [are] many sub-regional organizations in the hemisphere, some of which we belong to. Others, such as this, we don’t. We continue, obviously, to work through the OAS as the preeminent multilateral organization speaking for the hemisphere.”

Many heads of state actually saw the CELAC meeting as the beginning of the end for the OAS in the region. This position, held most passionately by leaders from Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, was best articulated by Venezuelan President, and host of the CELAC meeting, Hugo Chávez. “As the years pass, CELAC will leave behind the old OAS,” Chávez said at the summit. “OAS is far from the spirit of our peoples and integration in Latin America. CELAC is born with a new spirit; it is a platform for people’s economic, political and social development, which is very different from OAS.” He later told reporters, “There have been many coup d’états with total support from the OAS, and it won’t be this way with the CELAC.”

However, the presidents involved in the CELAC vary widely in political ideology and foreign policy, and there were differing opinions in regards to relations with the OAS. Some saw the CELAC as something that could work alongside the OAS. As Mexican chancellor Patricia Espinosa said, the OAS and the CELAC are “complementary forces of cooperation and dialogue.”

A test of the CELAC will be how it overcomes such differences and makes concrete steps toward developing regional integration, combating poverty, upholding human rights, protecting the environment and building peace, among other goals. The final agreements of the two day meeting touched upon expanding south to south business and trade deals, combating climate change and building better social programs across the region to impact marginalized communities. In addition, the CELAC participants backed the legalization of coca leaves (widely used as a medicine and for cultural purposes in the Andes), condemned the criminalization of immigrants and migrants, and criticized the US for its embargo against Cuba.

Various presidents at the CELAC spoke of how to approach these dominant issues. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said the CELAC should “monitor and rate” the US anti-drug efforts. As long as the US continues its consumption of drugs, Ortega said, “All the money, regardless of by how much it’s multiplied, and all the blood, no matter how much is spilled” won’t end the drug trade.

Yet there are plenty of contradictions within the CELAC organization itself. The group is for democracy but includes the participation of Porfirio Lobo from Honduras, the president who replaced Manuel Zelaya in unfair elections following a 2009 military coup. The CELAC is for environmental protection, yet its largest participant, Brazil, is promoting an ecologically disastrous agricultural model of soy plantations, GMO crops and poisonous pesticides that are ruining the countryside and displacing small farmers. The group is for fairer trade networks and peace, yet various participating nations have already signed devastating trade deals with the US, and corrupt politicians at high levels of government across the region are deeply tied to the violence and profits of the transnational drug trade.

These are some of the serious challenges posed to Latin American and Caribbean unity and progress, but they do not cancel out the new bloc’s historical and political significance. The creation of the CELAC will likely prove to be a significant step toward the deepening of a struggle for independence and unity in the region, a struggle initiated nearly 200 years ago and largely led by Latin American liberator Simón Bolívar, whose legacy was regularly invoked at the CELAC conference.

In 1829, a year before his death, Bolívar famously said, “The United States appears destined by Providence to plague America with miseries in the name of Freedom.” Yet with the foundation of the CELAC under the clouds of Caracas, the march toward self-determination is still on.

Benjamin Dangl attended the CELAC conference.

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Benjamin Dangl

Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America and is the author of the new book, Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America (AK Press). For more information, visit DancingwithDynamite.com. Email Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com

 

Showdown in Peru: Indigenous Communities Kick Out Canadian Mining Company September 21, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Latin America, Peru.
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Written by Benjamin Dangl
Wednesday, 21 September 2011 11:56
 

Source: The Dominion

 

Earlier  this summer, an anti-mining Indigenous movement in Peru  successfully  ousted a Canadian mining company from their territory.  “In  spite of  government repression, if the people decide to bring the fight  to the  bitter end, it is possible to resist the pressure of mining and  oil  companies,” Peruvian activist and journalist Yasser Gómez told The Dominion.

The  David and Goliath scenario of this anti-mining uprising  highlights the  vast economic inequality that has beset Peru. The  country’s economy  has been booming for the past decade, with a seven per  cent growth  expected this year—one of the highest growth rates  internationally.  Sixty-five per cent of the country’s export income  comes from the  mining industry, and investors are expected to spend over  $40 billion  in the next 10 years on mining operations.

Yet  this growth has not benefited a large percentage of the  population.  The poverty rate in Peru is just over 31 per cent; in the  countrysde,  two in three people live under the poverty line. Today,  there are over  200 communities organized against mining across Peru.

On  June 5, left-leaning presidential candidate Ollanta Humala  defeated  right winger Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of ex-president and  human  rights violator Alberto Fujimori. Humala, who won resounding  support in  the poor countryside, promised to redistribute wealth by  increasing  taxes on the lucrative mining industry.

But another political force, from the grassroots, may end up being a powerful force of change under Humala.

In  May and June of this year, hundreds of local residents in Puno   organized road blockades, strikes and protests to demand that the   government rescind a concession to the Vancouver-based Bear Creek Mining   Corporation. Activists also called for an end to future mining   concessions in their area, due to the industry’s impact on the   environment.

According  to Bear Creek, at the time of the protests the  company had already  invested some $25 million in the mine. Company  Director Andrew  Swarthout said the mining would not impact on Lake  Titicaca (a massive  fresh water lake shared by Bolivia and Peru) and  would create  approximately 1,000 jobs. But local residents were not  convinced.

Walter  Aduviri is the president of the Front for the Defense of  Natural  Resources in Southern Puno, and a leading organizer in protests  against  Bear Creek and mining in general in the area.

“It  is as though we, the Aymaras, do not have any politicians or   representatives in the congress,” Aduviri told a reporter from the   Peruvian newspaper La Republica.   He critiqued outgoing president Alan García, who he says governed only   for those who have money. “We do not ask for money, we ask for respect   for our rights, our property and territory,” said Aduviri.

“The  president [Alan García] has sold off our territory without  consulting  us,” Paolo Castro, a farmer who joined the protests against  Bear Creek  told Al Jazeera.   Farmer Alejandro Tucuuhami agreed, telling the news outlet, “We know   that in European countries, for example, mining contaminates a lot, so   that’s why they want to send the mines to underdeveloped countries.”

Indigenous  campesinos on the Bolivian side of the border began road  blockades in  solidarity with the Peruvian activists. Overall, the  blockades put a  standstill to inter-country traffic, stopping hundreds  of trucks, local  passengers and tourists.

On  June 24, following seven weeks of strikes, protests, road  blockades  and bloody police repression of activists, then President  García broke  with Peruvian political tradition and heeded the demands of  the  protesters by cancelling the Bear Creek contract, and putting a   three-year hold on future mining deals for the region. In addition,   recently inaugurated Ollanta Humala has pledged to move forward on   legislation that will make community input necessary before mining   operations anywhere in the country can proceed.

Just  hours after García overturned Bear Creek’s concession, a  conflict  erupted at the airport in Juliaca, north of Puno. There,  activists  protesting other mining operations and a hydroelectric plant  occupied  the airport only to be attacked by police who shot and killed  five  protesters. Major English media outlets inaccurately reported that   García’s decision against Bear Creek was linked to the massacre at the   airport, when in fact the airport protest was linked to separate proposed mining and hydroelectric projects.

Jennifer Moore, the Latin America Program Coordinator of MiningWatch Canada, told The Dominion that García’s decision to annul the concession “is an important   indicator of the strength of local organizing that we have been seeing   for awhile in Peru.” Moore said García has been “extraordinarily bent on   handing out mining concessions without consulting with local   communities first.”

In  response to García’s decision, Bear Creek has applied for a   constitutional injunction against the Peruvian government. Swarthout   contends that the cancellation of the concession is unconstitutional and   in violation of foreign investment laws. Moore noted that it is   plausible that Bear Creek could use the Canada-Peru Free Trade   Agreement, signed in 2009, to challenge the loss of their concession.

The  wave of strikes and conflicts that have swept across Peru in  recent  months, along with the election of Humala, are likely to have a   long-standing impact on the regulation and taxation of the multinational   extractive industry in Peru. On August 23, at the time of this  writing,  the Peruvian congress signed into law a bill that requires  mining and  oil companies to consult with Indigenous communities before  constructing  extractive projects. Humala now has to sign the bill into  law for it go  into effect.

The  people’s victory in Puno against Bear Creek may set the stage for  a  new struggle in the country that will test the political will of   Humala, and challenge social movements to pressure from below.

Benjamin Dangl is the author of Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press). He edits TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America. Email Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com.

Blood in the Amazon: Brazilian Activists Murdered as Deforestation Increases June 1, 2011

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Roger’s note: this article demonstrates the inadequacy of electing self-proclaimed left wing governments.  Once in power, Brazil’s Lula, and now his successor Dilma Rousseff come under tremendous pressures to advance “economic growth.”  Unfortunately such pressures a rarely resisted since counter pressures do not compare in strength to the massive media and corporate campaigns to promote such growth.  In the end, these governments, despite their campaign promises, end up with the same Neo-Liberal economic strategies as their right wing predecessors.  This is not to say that the election of such “leftist” governments in Latin America (Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Nicaragua, etc.) is insignificant.  It represents popular pressures from below to resist the reach of the US imperial tendrils.  But the election of such governments is not enough, it is only a first step toward a genuine liberation from the imperialist and capitalist destruction of the social and natural environments.  In  the case of the article below, we are talking about the Amazon Rainforest, the very lungs of the world.

 

Published on Wednesday, June 1, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

  by  Benjamin Dangl

Early in the morning on May 24, in the northern Brazilian Amazon, José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva got onto a motorcycle near the nature reserve they had worked on for over two decades. As the couple rode past the jungle they dedicated their lives to protecting, gunmen hiding near a bridge opened fire, killing them both.

Brazilian law enforcement officials said that the killing appeared to be the work of hired gunmen, due to the fact that an ear was cut off each of the victims. This is often done to prove to whoever paid for the killings that the job was carried out.

The murder took place the same day the Brazilian Congress passed a change to the forestry code that would allow agribusinesses and ranchers to clear even more land in the Amazon jungle. Deforestation rose 27 percent from August 2010 to April 2011 largely due to soybean plantations. The levels will likely rise if the changes to the forestry code are passed by the Senate.

Ribeiro knew he was in danger of being killed for his struggle against loggers, ranchers and large scale farmers who were deforesting the Amazon. In fact, just six months earlier, in November 2010 at an environmental conference in Manaus, Brazil, he told the audience “I could be here today talking to you and in one month you will get the news that I disappeared. I will protect the forest at all costs. That is why I could get a bullet in my head at any moment. … As long as I have the strength to walk I will denounce all of those who damage the forest.”

The life and death of Ribeiro has been rightly compared to that of Chico Mendes, a Brazilian rubber tapper, union leader and environmentalist who fought against logging and ranching, winning international attention for his successful campaigns against deforestation. In 1988, Mendes was murdered by gunmen hired by ranchers.

Just two weeks before he was killed, Mendes also spoke hauntingly about the likelihood that he would be murdered for his activism. “I don’t want flowers, because I know you are going to pull them up from the forest. The only thing I want is that my death helps to stop the murderers’ impunity…”

Yet since the murder of Mendes, impunity in the Brazilian countryside has become the norm. In the past 20 years, over 1,150 rural activists have been killed in conflicts related to land. Of these murders, less than 100 cases have gone to court, only 80 of the killers have been convicted, and just 15 of the people who hired the gunmen were found guilty, according to Catholic Land Pastoral, a group monitoring land conflicts. Impunity reigns in rural areas due to the corruption of judicial officials and police, and the wealth and power of the ranchers, farmers and loggers who are often the ones who order the killings.

The recent murder of Ribeiro and Santo combined with the danger posed by changes to the forestry code are devastating indications of the direction Brazil is heading in the Amazon. For some, the expansion of logging, ranching and soybean operations into the Amazon are inevitable steps toward economic progress. But for others, a different kind of progress is necessary if the planet is to survive. As Chico Mendes explained just days before his death in 1988, he wanted to “demonstrate that progress without destruction is possible.”

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Benjamin Dangl

Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America and is the author of the new book, Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America (AK Press). For more information, visit DancingwithDynamite.com. Email Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com

US Bases in Colombia Rattle the Region March 19, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Latin America, War.
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(Roger’s note: this article testifies to the seamlessness of the BushObama policy with respect to Latin America.  Anyone who may have doubts can be assured that the Monroe Doctrine and US imperial imperative towards Latin America are alive and well.  Another lie to the false promise of change we can believe in.)
Published on Friday, March 19, 2010 by The Progressiveby Benjamin Dangl

On the shores of the Magdalena River, in a lush green valley dotted with cattle ranches and farms, sits the Palanquero military base, an outpost equipped with Colombia’s longest runway, housing for 2,000 troops, a theater, a supermarket, and a casino.

Palanquero is at the heart of a ten-year, renewable military agreement signed between the United States and Colombia on October 30, 2009, which gives Washington access to seven military bases in the country. Though officials from the U.S. and Colombian governments contend the agreement is aimed at fighting narcotraffickers and guerrillas within Colombian borders, a U.S. Air Force document states the deal offers a “unique opportunity” for “conducting full spectrum operations” in the region against various threats, including “anti-U.S. governments.”

The Pentagon sought access to the bases in Colombia after Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa canceled the lease for the U.S. military base in Manta, Ecuador. The U.S. capability in Colombia will now be greater than at Manta, which worries human rights advocates in Colombia and left-leaning governments throughout the region.

“The main purpose of expanding these bases is to take strategic control of Latin America,” opposition senator Jorge Enrique Robledo of the Polo Democrático Alternativo told me over the phone from Bogotá.

Every president in South America outside of Colombia is against the bases agreement, with Hugo Chávez of neighboring Venezuela being the most critical. Chávez said that by signing the deal the United States was blowing “winds of war” over the region, and that the bases were “a threat against us.”

“Colombia decided to hand over its sovereignty to the United States,” said Chávez in a televised meeting with government ministers. “Colombia today is no longer a sovereign country. . . . It is a kind of colony.” The Venezuelan president responded by deploying troops to the border in what has become an increasingly tense battle of words and flexing of military muscle.

Correa in neighboring Ecuador said the new bases agreement “constitutes a grave danger for peace in Latin America.”

Colombian President Alvaró Uribe dismissed critics and said the increased U.S. collaboration was necessary to curtail violence in the country. Uribe told The Washington Post, “We are not talking about a political game; we are talking about a threat that has spilled blood in Colombian society.”

But plans for the expansion of the bases show that the intent is to prepare for war and intimidate the region, likely spilling more blood in the process.

The Palanquero base, the largest of the seven in the agreement, will be expanding with $46 million in U.S. taxpayers’ money. Palanquero is already big enough to house 100 planes, and its 10,000-foot runway allows three planes to take off at once. It can accommodate enormous C-17 planes, which can carry large numbers of troops for distances that span the hemisphere without needing to refuel.

The intent of the base, according to U.S. Air Force documents, “is to leverage existing infrastructure to the maximum extent possible, improve the U.S. ability to respond rapidly to crisis, and assure regional access and presence at minimum cost. . . . Palanquero will provide joint use capability to the U.S. Army, Air Force, Marines, and U.S. Interagency aircraft and personnel.”

The United States and Colombia may also see the bases as a way to cultivate ties with other militaries.

“The bases will be used to strengthen the military training of soldiers from other countries,” says John Lindsay-Poland, the co-director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean Program. “There is already third-country training in Colombia, and what the Colombia government says now is that this agreement will strengthen that.”

“This deal is a threat to the new governments that have emerged,” says Enrique Daza, the director of the Hemispheric Social Alliance, currently based in Bogotá. These new governments are “demanding sovereignty, autonomy, and independence in the region, and this bases agreement collides directly” with that, he says.

The Obama Administration, with the new agreement, is further collaborating with the Colombian military in spite of that institution’s grave human rights abuses in recent years.

In a July 2009 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senators Patrick Leahy and Christopher Dodd wrote: “What are the implications of further deepening our relationship with the Colombian military at a time of growing revelations about the widespread falsos positivos (“false positives”) scandal, in which the Colombian military recruited many hundreds (some estimates are as high as 1,600) of boys and young men for jobs in the countryside that did not exist and then summarily executed them to earn bonuses and vacation days?”

The military base agreement needs to be understood in the context of two other U.S. initiatives in Colombia.

First, Plan Colombia, which began under President Clinton, committed billions of dollars ostensibly to fight the war on drugs but also to fighting the guerrillas, intensifying the country’s already brutal conflict in rural areas. This has led to increasing displacement of people from areas that are strategically important for mining multinationals.

Second, the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, which was signed in 2006, could pry open the country to more U.S. corporate exploitation. But it has been met with opposition in the United States, delaying its ratification. Daza says the signing of the bases deal is part of “a military strategy that complements the push for the free trade agreement.” The trade accord will serve “transnational corporate investments,” and these investments, he says, “are sustained by a military relationship.”

Opposition to the military bases agreement is vocal in Colombia. In a column written in July 2009, Senator Robledo denounced it, saying, “There is no law that allows bases of this type in Colombia.” One struggle, Robledo said, is on the legal and political front. The other is among social movements in Colombia and beyond. “It is important to organize a type of democratic citizens’ movement, a national campaign against these foreign bases, as well as a continental social alliance that promotes the denunciation of this agreement,” he says.

Daza is working with Mingas, a cross-border solidarity organization consisting of activists in Colombia, Canada, and the United States. Mingas wrote a letter to Obama, condemning the President’s decision to go forward with the deal on the bases. “At the Summit of the Americas in April 2009 you promised to foster a ‘new sense of partnership’ between the United States and the rest of the Western Hemisphere,” the letter states. “But your Administration has yet to address the grave concerns expressed by national leaders throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean regarding the U.S.-Colombia military base agreement.”

By signing this bases agreement, and by equivocating over the coup in Honduras, Obama has sent ominous signals to Latin America.

“Obama has not renounced the policies of Bush,” Robledo says. “Speaking in economic and military terms, on the fundamental issues, the similarities between Bush and Obama are bigger than the differences. Obama has not produced a change.”

© 2010 The Progressive

Benjamin Dangl is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press) and Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America. Email: Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com

The Speed of Change: Bolivian President Morales Empowered by Re-Election December 7, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Democracy, Latin America.
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Written by Benjamin Dangl
Monday, 07 December 2009, http://www.upsidedownworld.org
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MAS Victory Celebration in La Paz, Bolivia (ABI)

Bolivian President Evo Morales was re-elected on Sunday, December 6th in a landslide victory. After the polls closed, fireworks, music and celebrations filled the Plaza Murillo in downtown La Paz where MAS supporters chanted “Evo Again! Evo Again!” Addressing the crowd from the presidential palace balcony, Morales said, “The people, with their participation, showed once again that it’s possible to change Bolivia… We have the responsibility to deepen and accelerate this process of change.” Though the official results are not yet known, exit polls show that Morales won roughly 63% of the vote, with his closest rival, former conservative governor Manfred Reyes Villa, winning around 23% of the vote.

The Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), Morales’ political party, also won over two thirds of the seats in the lower house and the senate, meaning the MAS administration will have an easier time passing laws without right wing opposition.

Many of Bolivia’s indigenous and impoverished majority identify with Morales, an indigenous man who grew up poor and was a grassroots leader before his election as president in 2005. Many also voted for Morales because of new government programs aimed at empowering the country’s marginalized people.

“Brother Evo Morales is working for the poorest people, for the people that are fighting for their survival,” El Alto street vendor Julio Fernandez told Bloomberg reporter Jonathan Levin on election day.

“He’s changing things. He’s helping the poor and building highways and schools,” Veronica Canizaya, a 49-year old housewife, told Reuters before voting near Lake Titicaca.

During his first four years in office Morales partially nationalized Bolivia’s vast gas reserves, ushered in a new constitution written in a constituent assembly, granted more rights to indigenous people and exerted more state-control over natural resources and the economy. Much of the wealth generated from new state-run industries has been directed to various social and development programs to benefit impoverished sectors of society.

For example, Inez Mamani receives a government stipend to help her care for her newborn baby. The funding is thanks to the state-run gas company. Mamani, who also has five other children, spoke with Annie Murphy of National Public Radio about the program. “With my other children, there wasn’t a program like this. It was sad the way we raised them. Now they have milk, clothing, diapers, and it’s great that the government helps us. Before, natural resources were privately owned and there wasn’t this sort of support.”

In addition to the support for mothers, the government also gives stipends to young students and the elderly; the stipends reached some 2 million people in 2009. “I’m a teacher and I see that the kids go to school with hope, because they get breakfast there and the subsidies … I ask them how they spend the hand-outs and some of them say they buy shoes. Some didn’t have shoes before,” Irene Paz told Reuters after voting in El Alto.

Thanks to such far-reaching government programs and socialistic policies, Bolivia’s economic growth has been higher during the four years under Morales than at any other period during the last three decades, according to the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“None of this would have been possible without the government’s regaining control of the country’s natural resources,” said CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot. “Bolivia’s fiscal stimulus over the past year was vastly larger than ours in the United States, relative to their economy.”

During Morales’ new term in office, with over two thirds control in both houses of congress, the MAS government should be able to further apply the changes established in the new constitution, a document passed in a national vote this past January. The MAS base is eager for land reform, broader access to public services, development projects and more say in how their government is run. The mandate and demands for massive changes are now greater than ever.

As Bolivian political analyst Franklin Pareja told IPS News, “In the past four years, the change was an illusion, and now it should be real.”

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Benjamin Dangl is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press) and the forthcoming book Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America. Email: Bendangl(at)gmail.com

Showdown in Honduras: The Rise, Repression and Uncertain Future of the Coup June 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Published on Tuesday, June 30, 2009 by Toward Freedom by Benjamin Dangl

Worldwide condemnation has followed the coup that unseated President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras on Sunday, June 28. Nation-wide mobilizations and a general strike demanding that Zelaya be returned to power are growing in spite of increased military repression. One protester outside the government palace in Honduras told reporters that if Roberto Micheletti, the leader installed by the coup, wants to enter the palace, “he had better do so by air” because if he goes by land “we will stop him.”

On early Sunday morning, approximately 100 soldiers entered the home of the left-leaning Zelaya, forcefully removed him and, while he was still in his pajamas, ushered him on to a plane to Costa Rica. The tension that led to the coup involved a struggle for power between left and right political factions in the country. Besides the brutal challenges facing the Honduran people, this political crisis is a test for regional solidarity and Washington-Latin American relations.

Manuel Zelaya Takes a Left Turn

When Manuel Zelaya was elected president on November 27, 2005 in a close victory, he became president of one of the poorest nations in the region, with approximately 70% of its population of 7.5 million living under the poverty line. Though siding himself with the region’s left in recent years as a new member of the leftist trade bloc, Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), Zelaya did sign the Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2004.

However, Zelaya has been criticizing and taking on the sweatshop and corporate media industry in his country, and increased the minimum wage by 60%. He said the increase, which angered the country’s elite but expanded his support among unions, would “force the business oligarchy to start paying what is fair.” 

At a meeting of regional anti-drug officials, Zelaya spoke of an unconventional way to combat the drug trafficking and related violence that has been plaguing his country: “Instead of pursuing drug traffickers, societies should invest resources in educating drug addicts and curbing their demand.”

After his election, Zelaya’s left-leaning policies began generating “resistance and anger among Liberal [party] leaders and lawmakers on the one hand, and attracting support from the opposition, civil society organizations and popular movements on the other,” IPS reported.

The social organization Via Campesina stated, “The government of President Zelaya has been characterized by its defense of workers and campesinos, it is a defender of the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA), and during his administration it has promoted actions that benefit Honduran campesinos.”

As his popularity rose over the years among these sectors of society, the right wing and elite of Honduras worked to undermine the leader, eventually resulting in the recent coup.

Leading up to the Coup

The key question leading up to the coup was whether or not to hold a referendum on Sunday, June 28 – as Zelaya wanted – on organizing an assembly to re-write the country’s constitution.

As one media analyst pointed out, while many major news outlets in the US, including the Miami Herald, Wall St. Journal and Washington Post, said an impetus for the coup was specifically Zelaya’s plans for a vote to allow him to extend his term in office, the actual ballot question was to be: “Do you agree that, during the general elections of November 2009 there should be a fourth ballot to decide whether to hold a Constituent National Assembly that will approve a new political constitution?”

Nations across Latin America, including Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, have recently re-written their constitutions. In many aspects the changes to these documents enshrined new rights for marginalized people and protected the nations’ economies from the destabilizing effects of free trade and corporate looting.

Leading up to the coup, on June 10, members of teacher, student, indigenous and union groups marched to demand that Congress back the referendum on the constitution, chanting, “The people, aware, defend the Constituent [Assembly].” The Honduran Front of Teachers Organizations [FOM], with some 48,000 members, also supported the referendum. FOM leader Eulogio Chávez asked teachers to organize the expected referendum this past Sunday in schools, according to the Weekly News Update on the Americas.

The Supreme Court ruled that the referendum violated the constitution as it was taking place during an election year. When Honduran military General Romeo Vasquez refused to distribute ballots to citizens and participate in the preparations for the Sunday referendum, Zelaya fired him on June 24. The Court called for the reinstatement of Vasquez, but Zelaya refused to recognize the reinstatement, and proceeded with the referendum, distributing the ballots and planning for the Sunday vote.

Crackdown in Honduras

Vasquez, a former student at the infamous School of the Americas, now known as Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), went on to be a key leader in the June 28 coup.

After Zelaya had been taken to Costa Rica, a falsified resignation letter from Zelaya was presented to Congress, and former Parliament leader Roberto Micheletti was sworn in by Congress as the new president of the country. Micheletti immediately declared a curfew as protests and mobilizations continued nation-wide.

Since the coup took place, military planes and helicopters have been circling the city, the electricity and internet has been cut off, and only music is being played on the few radio stations that are still operating, according to IPS News.

Telesur journalists, who have been reporting consistently throughout the conflict, were detained by the de facto government in Honduras. They were then released thanks to international pressure.

The ambassadors to Honduras from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua were arrested. Patricia Rodas, the Foreign Minister of Honduras under Zelaya has also been arrested. Rodas recently presided over an OAS meeting in which Cuba was finally admitted into the organization.

The military-installed government has issued arrest warrants for Honduran social leaders for the Popular Bloc Coordinating Committee, Via Campesina and the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, according to the Weekly News Update on the Americas.

Human rights activist Dr. Juan Almendares, reporting from from Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, told Democracy Now! that due to government crackdowns and the electrical blackout, there is “not really access to information, no freedom of the press.” He said, “We have also a curfew, because after 9:00 you can be shot if you are on the streets. So we have a curfew from 9:00 to 6:00 a.m.”

In a statement on the coup, Via Campesina said, “We believe that these deeds are the desperate acts of the national oligarchy and the hardcore right to preserve the interests of capital, and in particular, of the large transnational corporations.”

Mobilizations and Strikes in Support of Zelaya

Members of social, indigenous and labor organizations from around the country have concentrated in the city’s capital, organizing barricades around the presidential palace, demanding Zelaya’s return to power. “Thousands of Hondurans gathered outside the presidential palace singing the national hymn,” Telesur reported. “While the battalions mobilized against protesters at the Presidential House, the TV channels did not report on the tense events.” Bertha Cáceres, the leader of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares y Indígenas, said that the ethnic communities of the country are ready for resistance and do not recognize the Micheletti government.

Dr. Almendares reported that in spite of massive repression on the part of the military leaders, “We have almost a national strike for workers, people, students and intellectuals, and they are organized in a popular resistance-run pacific movement against this violation of the democracy. … There are many sectors involved in this movement trying to restitute the constitutional rights, the human rights.”

Rafael Alegría, a leader of Via Campesina in Honduras, told Telesur, “The resistance of the people continues and is growing, already in the western part of the country campesinos are taking over highways, and the military troops are impeding bus travel, which is why many people have decided to travel to Tegucigalpa on foot. The resistance continues in spite of the hostility of the military patrols.”

A general strike was also organized by various social and labor sectors in the country. Regarding the strike, Alegría said it is happening across state institutions and “progressively in the private sector.”

The 4th Army Battalion from the Atlántida Department in Honduras has declared that it will not respect orders from the Micheletti government, and the major highways of the country are blocked by protesters, according to a radio interview with Alegría.

The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), condemned the coup, media crackdowns and repression, saying in a statement: “[T]he Honduran people are carrying out large demonstrations, actions in their communities, in the municipalities; there are occupations of bridges, and a protest in front of the presidential residence, among others. From the lands of Lempira, Morazán and Visitación Padilla, we call on the Honduran people in general to demonstrate in defense of their rights and of real and direct democracy for the people, to the fascists we say that they will NOT silence us, that this cowardly act will turn back on them, with great force.”

Washington Responds

On Sunday, Obama spoke of the events in Honduras: “I am deeply concerned by reports coming out of Honduras regarding the detention and expulsion of President Mel Zelaya. As the Organization of American States did on Friday, I call on all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference.”

But the US hasn’t actually called what’s happened in Honduras a coup. Hillary Clinton said, “We are withholding any formal legal determination.” And regarding whether or not the US is calling for Zelaya’s return, Clinton said, “We haven’t laid out any demands that we’re insisting on, because we’re working with others on behalf of our ultimate objectives.”

If the White House declares that what’s happening in Honduras is a coup, they would have to block aid to the rogue Honduran government. A provision of US law regarding funds directed by the US Congress says that, “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available … shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.”

“The State Department has requested $68.2 million in aid for fiscal year 2010 [for Honduras], which begins on October 1, up from $43.2 million in the current fiscal year and $40.5 million a year earlier,” according to Reuters.

The US military has a base in Soto Cano, Honduras, which, according to investigative journalist Eva Golinger, is home to approximately 500 troops and a number of air force planes and helicopters.

Regarding US relations with the Honduran military, Latin American History professor and journalist Greg Grandin said on Democracy Now!: “The Honduran military is effectively a subsidiary of the United States government. Honduras, as a whole, if any Latin American country is fully owned by the United States, it’s Honduras. Its economy is wholly based on trade, foreign aid and remittances. So if the US is opposed to this coup going forward, it won’t go forward. Zelaya will return…”

The Regional Response

The Organization of American States, and the United Nations has condemned the coup. Condemnation of the coup has come in from major leaders across the globe, and all over Latin America, as reported by Reuters: the Presidents of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Cuba have been outspoken in their protests against the coup. The French Foreign Ministry said, “France firmly condemns the coup that has just taken place in Honduras.” Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said, “I’m deeply worried about the situation in Honduras… it reminds us of the worst years in Latin America’s history.”

Even Augusto Ramírez Ocampo, a former foreign minister of Colombia told the NY Times, “It is a legal obligation to defend democracy in Honduras.”

Only time will tell what the international and national support for Zelaya means for Honduras. Regional support for Bolivian President Evo Morales during an attempted coup in 2008 empowered his fight against right wing destabilizing forces. Popular support in the streets proved vital during the attempted coup against Venezuelan President Chavez in 2002.

Meanwhile, Zelaya supporters continue to convene at the government palace, yelling at the armed soldiers while tanks roam the streets.

“We’re defending our president,” protester Umberto Guebara told a NY Times reporter. “I’m not afraid. I’d give my life for my country.”

***

Taking Action:

If you are interested in rallying in support for the Honduran people and against the coup, here is a list of Honduran Embassies and Consulates in the US.

People in the US could call political representatives to denounce the coup, and demand US cut off all aid to the rogue government until Zelaya is back in power. Click here to send a message to Barack Obama about the coup.

Visit SOA Watch for more photos and suggested actions.

© 2009 Toward Freedom

Benjamin Dangl is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website covering activism and politics in Latin America. Contact: Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com

Argentina Remembers: Mobilizations Mark 33rd Anniversary of Military Coup April 21, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
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by: Benjamin Dangl, t r u t h o u t | Report

 The weekend that the hemisphere’s presidents met in Trinidad at the Summit of the Americas marked the same weekend that Cuba defeated the US in the Bay of Pigs invasion 48 years ago. At the Summit, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega recalled the invasion in a speech that rightly criticized US imperialism throughout the 20th century. President Barack Obama replied, “I’m grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old.”

    However, as the US president, Obama inherits a bloody legacy that is still very much alive in today’s Latin America. Just weeks before the presidents met in Trinidad, thousands of Argentines marched once again to demand justice for 30,000 people disappeared in a US-backed military dictatorship.

    On March 24, 1976 a military junta took power in Argentina, and, until 1981, General Jorge Rafael Videla presided over the country in a reign of terror, torture, surveillance and murder.

    On March 24, 2009, in Mendoza, Argentina, colorful marches filled the central streets of the city in remembrance of the coup, and to demand justice. The various banners and placards waving above the crowd were a testament to Argentina’s healthy political diversity in activism and politics – from Maoists selling their newspapers to Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo giving teary hugs to supporters and friends.

    Though the march was organized around one central theme – justice, truth and memory regarding the dictatorship – other themes arose in the crowd as well, including the negative impact of soy production, rising bus fares and political corruption.

    The march was a time to remember when Henry Kissinger gave his blessing to the Argentine military junta in 1976, saying, “If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly” and reassuring the torturing, bloody leaders when he said, “I don’t want to give the sense that they’re harassed by the United States.”

    Marches and protests in Buenos Aires on the same day were attended by the famous Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a powerful human rights movement that for decades has been demanding the truth regarding the whereabouts of their disappeared children. One document read by some of the Mothers explained that still, after all these years, “the slowness of justice generates impunity and impunity only creates more impunity.”

    A column by one leading Mother of the Plaza de Mayo, Hebe Bonafini, explained that her movement is also doing more than just marching and lobbying for justice. Their reach has expanded into all kinds of media and walks of life. They have opened a literary café and publishing house, and hold seminars which 2,800 different students attend. Their “Shared Dreams” project provides housing in poor neighborhoods as well as soup kitchens and daycare centers. Their radio station reaches into neighboring Uruguay and as far away as Brazil.

    During the Buenos Aires mobilizations, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo spoke of the fact that “today there have still only been 44 sentences” for the authors of “a plan of systematic extermination” during the dictatorship. Therefore, the Mothers said, “we have to keep on fighting for truth and justice,” as there are still 526 criminals of the dictatorship that still need to be tried. They demanded an “opening of the all of the archives of the Armed Forces and security to know to the truth.” They also called for the appearance of Julio López, the main testifier in a case against Miguel Etchecolatz, a repressor under the dictatorship.

    Julio López, a political prisoner during the dictatorship, was disappeared in 2006 a few hours before he was scheduled to testify against Etchecolatz. López was last seen on September 18, 2006. Journalist Marie Trigona reported that Nilda Eloy, another survivor of the dictatorship who testified with López to convict Etchecolatz, said, “Most of the evidence suggests that Julio López was kidnapped by the gangsters from the Greater Buenos Aires police force and rightwing fascists …”

    Outside Buenos Aires, other cities remembered these harsh times that still cast shadows over generations upon generations. But this March 24 was also a time of hope and reconstruction. In Cordoba, Argentina, La Perla (The Pearl), a detention and torture center run by the military dictatorship was transformed into a “Space for Memory” and opened to the public. Emiliano Fessia, a member of the HIJOS human rights organization, said of the space, “This will now be a place of life, after being a place of death.”

»


Benjamin Dangl, based in Paraguay, is the author of “The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia” (AK Press), and the editor of UpsideDownWorld.org, a web site on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Email: Bendangl@gmail.com.

Decolonization’s Rocky Road: Corruption, Expropriation and Justice in Bolivia March 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Foreign Policy, Latin America, Media.
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Written by Benjamin Dangl   
Monday, 16 March 2009

March 13th, 1781 siege of La Paz, Bolivia launched from El Alto by indigenous rebels Tupac Katari and Bartolina Sisa. The siege was against Spanish rule and for indigenous liberation in the Andes. At a gathering the night before the recent anniversary mobilization, Eugene Rojas, the mayor of Achacachi, said, “We, the indigenous, organized a siege of La Paz in the past, and we will do it again if we need to.” Rojas alluded to the long-postponed decolonization that Katari and Sisa dreamed of over two centuries ago. Today, those dreams of liberation are at once alive and in jeopardy. 

 

 

After the nationalist confetti of the January 25th constitutional referendum blew away, and the busted water balloons and foam of Carnival washed down the streets with the rain, political scandals filled the Bolivian airwaves. Besides the challenges of applying the changes in the new constitution, recent cases of government corruption, shaky relations with Washington and political unrest show that the road to the December general elections is likely to be a rocky one.

 

The Corruption Scandal

 

In late January, Santos Ramirez, a key architect and member of the Movement Toward Socialism party, (MAS, the political party of indigenous president Evo Morales) and director of the YPFB – the state oil and gas company – was hauled off to jail on corruption charges. Investigations showed that Ramirez asked for a bribe in order to provide an $86 million contract to Argentine-Bolivian Company Catler Uniservice for a natural gas plant. The investigations started when a manager at Catler was murdered and robbed of $450,000 – money that was apparently going to Ramirez’s aide, according to Reuters. Ramirez is now in San Pedro jail in La Paz, the same place former Pando governor Leopoldo Fernandez is currently held after being implicated in a massacre of MAS supporters in Pando in September 2008.

 

Ramirez’s arrest struck a harsh blow to the MAS administration which has always pledged to put an end to the country’s legacy of corruption. The difference this time around however, compared to what was the norm in previous administrations, is that Ramirez actually was actually sent to jail; under past governments some of the most corrupt politicians remained free.

 

After the Ramirez scandal blew up, Morales said, “It’s been totally proven that foreign agents, CIA agents, were infiltrated (in YPFB) … Maybe that’s the way the (U.S.) empire has to conspire against the policies that we’re pushing forward.”

 

Alfredo Rada, the Minister of Government, accused Francisco Martinez, a US diplomat, of being a CIA agent and helping to infiltrate the YPFB. Morales accused Martinez of “coordinating contacts” with a Bolivian police officer that the government says infiltrated the YPFB, following orders from the CIA. Morales explained that “deep investigations” had proved Martinez was also “in permanent contact with opposition groups” in Bolivia. The Bolivian president then kicked Martinez out of the country. The expulsion of Martinez follows that of former US ambassador to Bolivia Philip Goldberg in September of 2008. Goldberg was also accused of collaborating with the right wing opposition to undermine the Morales administration. (See Undermining Bolivia for more.)

 

“There is clearly a connection in the activities that the former ambassador Philip Goldberg, USAID, the DEA and now Martinez have been doing here in Bolivia,” an anonymous official in Bolivia‘s Government Ministry said to Josh Partlow of the Washington Post. “These are suspicious acts that have nothing to do with diplomacy or foreign aid. … This conduct of interference, and it cannot be called anything else, is not tolerated here anymore.”

 

“We reject the allegations,” the US state department said in a statement regarding the events. “We can’t understand how the president can assure us that he wants better relations with the United States and at the same time continue to make false accusations,” said Denise Urs, a US embassy spokeswoman.

 

In a press conference on March 13, Tom Shannon, the US assistant state secretary for Latin American Affairs, commented on the expulsion of the US diplomat from Bolivia. “We need a full diplomatic dialogue and a high-quality dialogue… And regrettably, up to this point, as we have sought to engage the Bolivians around the issues that have provoked their own actions, we have yet to receive what we would consider to be a coherent or a consistent response.”

 

Meanwhile, the Santos Ramirez corruption case is far from closed. On March 13, Ramirez demanded that he be let out of jail because he says no evidence has been produced that proves that he harmed the Bolivian government with his actions, as the supposed irregular contract with Catler has not yet been terminated.

 

Cárdenas’ House Occupied

 

On March 7, 350 people took over and occupied the country home of Victor Hugo Cárdenas. Cárdenas was vice president in the Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada administration of 1993-1997 and a harsh critic of Bolivia‘s new constitution. The group of angry locals forced Cárdenas’ wife and three children to leave the house, while reportedly beating them.

 

Mario Huaypa, a representative of the group that occupied the house, told the Agencia Bolivian de Información that a general meeting was held within the community in which it was decided that the house should be expropriated because the land it was built on was illegally acquired by Cárdenas. The group said they will continue the occupation until the official Bolivian justice system looks into the case. The people who occupied the home introduced the supposedly eight legitimate owners of the land, who said that the land and house should be taken over and converted into a retirement home for the area’s elderly.

 

Cárdenas, an Aymara intellectual, governed in the 1990s with Sanchez de Lozada speaking on behalf of the indigenous population and their rights, while at the same time pushing through repressive and neoliberal policies that led to economic depression and state violence against indigenous people. To this day, public appearances by Cárdenas are regularly met with protests. The locals who occupied his house were also protesting the fact that Cárdenas campaigned against the new constitution. It is rumored that Cárdenas will run as a possible presidential candidate for the general elections in December.

 

The occupation of Cárdenas’ home has rightly been condemned throughout Bolivia, as the act only worsens the polarization in the country and pushes aside much-needed peaceful dialogue between opposing political factions. Unfortunately, violence has been even more extensively used by the Bolivian right wing since Morales took office in 2006. A right wing youth group in Santa Cruz has regularly attacked indigenous people in that city (see The Dark Side of Bolivia’s Half Moon.) In 2007 alone, there were approximately eight political bombings in Bolivia, most of which were against leftist unions or MAS party officials (see String of Bomb Attacks Prompts Hunger for Truth.) In 2008, right wing thugs destroyed various government and human rights offices across the country, and murdered some 20 pro-MAS farmers in the Pando, injuring dozens of others (see The Machine Gun and The Meeting Table). While the violence against Cárdenas’ family members and the house occupation should be condemned, so should the widespread violence unleashed by Bolivia’s right wing against indigenous and pro-MAS citizens.

 

Misinformation and Decolonization

 

In other news, the US State Department recently released a human rights report on Bolivia which did not even mention the Santa Cruz Youth Group and similarly violent right wing groups, or the repression they have let loose on Bolivia’s indigenous majority. The report does mention the charges against former Bolivian president Sanchez de Lozada, but does not mention that the country in which this criminal is currently enjoying refuge is the same one that issued the human rights report. The report explains, “On October 17, the attorney general’s office formally indicted former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and former defense minister Sanchez Berzain on criminal charges in connection with the deaths of up to 60 persons in October 2003. In November the government submitted a request for Sanchez de Lozada’s extradition from the country to which he fled.” (For more on the irony of the US issuing such human rights reports, see the recent article, Who is America to judge?)

 

On the media front, Bolivia has recently witnessed the all too common bias and misinformation from various US press outlets. A recent piece in The Atlantic Monthly by Eliza Barclay was particularly egregious. The title itself – “The Mugabe of the Andes?” – alludes to the article’s suggestions that most political violence in Bolivia comes from Morales and his supporters – not a racist right wing. In the article, Barclay fails to quote a single MAS supporter, or anyone offering a more nuanced view of the country’s political landscape. She focuses on how Morales’ “rhetoric studded with racial references aimed at his opposition” has created divisions in the country, and then goes on to mention the September 2008 violence in Pando without saying that right wing governor Leopoldo Fernandez, not Morales, was behind the massacre. She mentions that US ambassador Goldberg was expelled, but doesn’t say why. Barclay also writes that Bolivia’s “highland regions remain stuck in a poverty trap that Morales has shown little flair for unlocking” but fails to mention that, as the website Abiding in Bolivia pointed out, the Bolivian government is “running a surplus and massively expanding its budget and infrastructure spending.”

 

Though the MAS has made plenty of mistakes and Morales is far from a perfect president, Barclay’s article leads the reader to believe that the country is brimming with people who hate the MAS government. The fact is that Morales, in his 2005 election, August 2008 recall referendum and recent constitutional vote, received significantly more support from the population than Barack Obama did in the 2008 US elections. Luckily, photographer Evan Abramson offered a much more accurate view of Bolivia in this excellent narrated photo essay, which was posted on the Atlantic’s website to accompany the article. (For more media analysis on coverage of Bolivia see Borev.net and Abiding in Bolivia.)

 

One example of the positive policies of the MAS government was demonstrated on March 14, when Morales redistributed some 94,000 acres in the eastern part of the country to small farmers. The land of US rancher Ron Larsen was among the acres redistributed. Bolivia’s new constitution, which limits new land purchase at 12,400 acres, has empowered the MAS government’s plans for land reform. “Private property will always be respected but we want people who are not interested in equality to change their thinking and focus more on country than currency,” Morales said, upon officially redistributing the land. Many of the Guarani farmers in the area that received the land, including various families on the Larsen ranch, had been living in conditions of slavery. Morales explained that, “To own land is to have freedom, and if there is land and freedom, there is justice.”

While the Atlantic Monthly misled their readers, on March 14th, the NY Times did publish an Op-Ed by Evo Morales on his demand for decriminalizing coca, a leaf widely used throughout the Andes for medicinal and cultural purposes. At a recent UN meeting in Vienna, Morales called for the legalization of the coca leaf, and even chewed coca at the meeting. Some 48 years ago the UN incorrectly classified the coca leaf as a narcotic. In his NY Times piece, Morales writes, “Why is Bolivia so concerned with the coca leaf? Because it is an important symbol of the history and identity of the indigenous cultures of the Andes.”

 

Indeed, symbolism, history and identity have taken center stage in today’s Bolivia. Just recently it was announced that a statue of Che Guevara situated at the entrance to the city of El Alto will, after outcries and protests from numerous residents, be replaced instead with statues of Tupac Katari and Bartolina Sisa, as these two heroes more accurately represent the city’s legacy of anti-colonial, indigenous rebellion. As Bolivia continues on its rocky road to the December general elections, the process of decolonization, so often lauded by MAS government officials, takes on many forms in this country in the midst of historic transitions.

 

***

 

Benjamin Dangl is currently based in Bolivia, and the Spanish edition of his book “The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia,” including a new epilogue on current events, will be published shortly in Bolivia by Plural Editores. Dangl is also the editor of UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Email: Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com.

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El Alto Anniversary Event. Photo: Quintana/ABI

Over 3,000 Bolivian and Peruvian indigenous activists recently marched in El Alto in commemoration of the

Mexico Unconquered: Reviewing a People’s History of Power and Revolt February 24, 2009

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Written by Benjamin Dangl    www.upsidedownworld.org
Tuesday, 24 February 2009
ImageReviewed: Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt, by John Gibler, 356 Pages, City Lights Publishers, (January, 2009).

Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world, calls Mexico home, as do millions of impoverished citizens. From Spanish colonization to today’s state and corporate repression, Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt, by John Gibler, is written from the street barricades, against the Slims of the world, and alongside “the underdogs and rebels” of an unconquered country. The book offers a gripping account of the ongoing attempts to colonize Mexico, and the hopeful grassroots movements that have resisted this conquest.

Gibler, a Global Exchange Media Fellow, has been reporting from Mexico since 2006. While writing for dozens of media outlets, he has covered events such as the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign, the teachers’ revolt in Oaxaca and other stories of police repression and popular resistance. These reports form the basis for much of the book. (His articles are collected at the Global Exchange website.)

In the prologue, Gibler writes of Mexico Unconquered: “each chapter bleeds into all the others: they all share the same blood.” It’s true: the chapters flow together smoothly, bonded by Gibler’s steady class analysis and excellent story-telling skills. He breathes poetry and anecdotes into the history, and empathy and prose into the reporting, so these stories can be understood and felt, not just read.

Mexico Unconquered starts off with an engaging people’s history of Mexico. Gibler guides the reader through the country’s various presidencies and popular uprisings. From Oaxaca, Gibler offers a first hand account of the incredible teachers’ revolt, with unbelievable reports on police brutality and people’s solidarity. From Chiapas, Gibler provides a concise overview of the Zapatistas’ history, contextualized with background information on indigenous autonomy and reports on the Other Campaign. The book also tells stories from Mexico’s ghost towns, with numerous interviews with families that bear the burden of immigration to the US.

But the book is more than just an account of neoliberal nightmares and grassroots revolts. It cuts to the heart of the problems ravaging Mexico today, dissecting the roots of the country’s corruption, state repression, drug wars and poverty. In this respect, the book’s approach reflects what the late folk singer Utah Phillips once said: “The Earth is not dying it is being killed. And those who are killing it have names and addresses.” Well, Gibler offers the names and addresses of the people – and companies and ideologies – that are still trying to conquer Mexico.

“I hope that the thoughts and stories presented herein will be of use to others reflecting on similar social conditions in other lands,” Gibler writes. Indeed, harrowing accounts of Mexican police using torture to spread fear and expand power – but not necessarily get information – recall the torture methods employed in the US-led “War on Terror.” The book’s stories of how the drug war in Mexico is used as a pretext for police to murder and repress with impunity is shockingly similar to the drug war in the Andes. Numerous examples are also given in the book of how the law in Mexico – as in so many other countries – works only for those with political power and weapons.

Beyond its analysis, history and reporting, this book is also call to revolt. Readers around the world could learn much from the popular uprisings in Mexico. Just as the tactics of repressive states and exploitative corporations are similar around the world, the strategies of resistance could be also be connected and shared across international borders. Toward the end of the book, Gibler recalls the words of a friend, “[I]f we are all complicit in the damage, then we all share responsibility in the solutions; that is, we are united, or can be united, in taking a stand, in revolt.”

***

 

Benjamin Dangl is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America.

Bolivia: Morales Enacts New Constitution in El Alto February 7, 2009

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Written by Benjamin Dangl   www. http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1523/1/
Saturday, 07 February 2009

 

ImageFog covered El Alto, Bolivia on Saturday morning as social movements from around the country marched into the city to mark the official passage of Bolivia’s new constitution. “This is the second independence, the true liberation of Bolivia,” Bolivian President Evo Morales said as he signed the new constitution.The new constitution was approved by 61.43% of voters in a national referendum on January 25th. Among many other changes, the document empowers Bolivia’s indigenous and Afro-Bolivian communities, establishes broader access to basic services, education and healthcare, limits the size of large land purchases, expands the role of the state in the management of natural resources and the economy and prohibits the existence US military bases on Bolivian soil.

Wilfredo, a Movement Toward Socialism (MAS, the political party of Morales) activist, attended the event in El Alto with his daughter Betty on his shoulders. He said “I am a MAS fanatic, it’s in my blood. It is very important that this event is happening in El Alto, because during the Gas War in 2003 it was El Alto that kicked out [President] Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and brought about this process. Now change will even come to Santa Cruz!”

ImageEl Alto, a rapidly growing city outside of La Paz, has been the site of numerous revolts in recent years, revolts which set in stone many demands – including the nationalization of gas and the re-writing of the constitution – that become major platforms of the MAS. El Alto was also the base for the 1781 seize of Spanish-controlled La Paz led by indigenous rebel Tupac Katari. Morales spoke at length of Katari’s legacy, describing the passage of the new constitution as the continuation of a struggle sparked in part by Katari in his fight for indigenous liberation.

“After 500 years of rebellion against invasions, against permanent looting, after more than 180 years of resistance against the colonial state, after 20 years of permanent struggle against the neoliberal model, today, 7th of February of 2009, a new Bolivia is born,” Morales said, his voice echoing across the altiplano.

ImageBolivian flag-colored kites flew in the sky, countless fireworks shot off from rooftops, some of them colliding in the air, and exploding onto neighboring buildings. Social organizations’ banners were draped from balconies around the neighborhood.

Daniel Quiroga, a union member of the Regional Workers’ Center who was born in El Alto, said “I support the constitution because I am handicapped and this new constitution supports handicapped people. The constitution will bring about change in Bolivia without corruption. This is why I voted for it.”

“For the first time in the history of Latin America, and in the world, basic services, water, electricity, telephone are now a human right, they will be a public service not a private business,” Morales said in his speech. When he announced that the new constitution prohibits foreign military bases on Bolivian soil, the crowd went wild.

ImageGuatemalan indigenous rights activist Rigoberta Menchu, winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace prize, was in attendance. Regarding Bolivia’s new constitution, Menchu said, “It is something that will open a new era of struggle for the people of this continent.”

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Benjamin Dangl is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press). All photos by Dangl. Email Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com

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