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Bolivia: Unraveling the Conspiracy April 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Latin America.
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www.upsidedownworld.org Print E-mail
Written by Franz Chávez   
Sunday, 26 April 2009
(IPS) – The dismantling of a commando made up mainly of men described by the Bolivian government as foreign mercenaries could lead authorities to the people who organised around a dozen different attacks carried out since 2006 in the city of Santa Cruz.

Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera said the attacks were aimed at destabilising the lefting government of Evo Morales and were to culminate in the assassination of the president.

He said business leaders and landowners in the eastern province of Santa Cruz were financing the clandestine operations by the five alleged terrorists, three of whom were shot and killed by the police.

The vice president said some of the businessmen and landowners backed such action of their own accord, and that others did so under pressure.

But the leader of the opposition-controlled Senate, Santa Cruz businessman Oscar Ortiz, questioned the official report that the men were killed in a shootout, and said he suspected they were simply murdered by the police.

According to witnesses, however, police had attempted to arrest the men in downtown Santa Cruz, and they fled to a hotel, where a half-hour shootout came to an end when the alleged plotters reportedly detonated a grenade inside their hotel room.

Santa Cruz governor Rubén Costas, Morales’ most prominent political opponent and one of four governors who have sought autonomy for their provinces, initially suggested that the supposed assassination plot was staged, but is now demanding an impartial investigation.

For its part, the rightwing Santa Cruz Civic Committee, led by local business leaders and landowners, is demanding to see the evidence and photos of the commando that the government says it has.

The Apr. 16 police operation, in which two men were arrested and three killed, took place in an upscale hotel in the capital of the department of Santa Cruz, a city of 1.5 million located 900 km east of La Paz.

No police or judicial investigation has so far clarified the months-long escalation of bomb attacks and fires that targeted the homes of cabinet ministers, government officials and opposition leaders in Santa Cruz, the stronghold of the business and landowners associations and other conservative sectors opposed to Morales since he took office in January 2006.

However, the Apr. 15 attack on the Santa Cruz home of Roman Catholic Cardinal Julio Terrazas, which was carried out with military-style plastic explosives, caused a public outcry, and the police set out to track down the culprits.

Terrazas was out of town at the time of the attack, for which no one claimed responsibility.

The gun battle in the Las Américas hotel in Santa Cruz occurred the night after the bombing attack on the cardinal’s home. The police reported that members of an elite anti-terrorist unit had been involved in a gunfight with a far-right group of mercenaries, and that three men were killed: Romanian-Hungarian Magyarosi Arpak, Irishman Michael Dwyer and Bolivian Eduardo Rózsa Flores, who also apparently holds Hungarian and Croatian passports.

Two others were arrested: Bolivian-Croatian Ramiro Francisco Tadic and Romanian-Hungarian Elod Toaso.

The police also reported that they found a cache of sniper’s rifles, high-calibre firearms, munitions, and plastic explosives similar to those used in the attack on Terrazas’ home, as well as the lid of a container that might have been used to hold the explosives in the bombing attempt the night before.

The arsenal was found in a marketplace warehouse belonging to the Cooperativa de Teléfonos de Santa Cruz de la Sierra, a telephone company owned by wealthy local business leaders who are active in the opposition to the Morales administration.

In September 2008, one of the three men who were killed, Eduardo Rózsa Flores, a Bolivian journalist from Santa Cruz who fought in the Balkans war, had taped an interview with a Hungarian TV personality “in case anything happens to me.”

In the interview, which was broadcast by the Hungarian MTV station after the news of his death came out, Rózsa Flores said he had been invited by the opposition in Bolivia to set up an armed defence force to protect the autonomy of the province of Santa Cruz. He also said that “We are ready, within a few months in case co-existence doesn’t work under autonomy, to proclaim independence and create a new country.”

While the hidden arms cache in a building owned by rightwing opposition businessmen was reported in Santa Cruz, Vice President García Linera warned in statements from La Paz of the presence of mercenaries, and Morales said from Venezuela – where he was taking part in a meeting of the ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) bloc, held ahead of the fifth Summit of the Americas hosted by Trinidad and Tobago – that the group was plotting to assassinate him.

Rózsa Flores, the son of a Communist militant who settled in Santa Cruz, was commander of an international brigade in the Balkans conflict made up of 380 mercenaries from 20 different countries, who were fighting for Croatian independence.

Political violence and terrorist attacks are nothing new since Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, was sworn in. Radical rightwing opposition groups stormed central government buildings in Santa Cruz last September, while anti-government protesters caused a natural gas pipeline explosion in the southern province of Tarija.

And on Sept. 11, 2008, a group of indigenous supporters of Morales were violently blocked by provincial authorities from entering the town of El Porvenir in the northern Amazon jungle province of Pando.

The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and a United Nations commission condemned the massacre of 13 indigenous peasants, which led to the arrest of conservative Pando governor Leopoldo Fernández, who is in prison in La Paz awaiting trial.

The survivors described the incident as an “ambush” by the opposition, and video footage showed people desperately swimming across a river to escape, under gunfire.

The incident was the bloodiest in over a week of often violent protests by the rightwing opposition in Bolivia’s relatively wealthy eastern provinces, which have been fighting for autonomy.

Bolivia, South America’s poorest country, is basically divided between the western highlands, home to the impoverished indigenous majority, and the much better off eastern provinces, which account for most of the country’s natural gas production, industry and GDP. The population of eastern Bolivia tends to be lighter-skinned, of more mixed-race (Spanish and indigenous) descent.

 

Barack Obama’s South of the Border Adventure April 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Latin America.
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CB Trinidad Americas Summit Obama

 

By Roger Hollander, www.rogerhollander.com, April 22, 2009

 

It’s amazing what you can learn about a Gringo when you put him together with a bunch of Latinos.

 

Barack Obama, as the adored new president of the giant republic to the North, likely arrived at last weeks Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago expecting to strut his stuff.

 

The President would have been briefed on the question of the Cuban Blockade; the latest shenanigans of his putative hemispheric nemesis, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez; free trade issues, and the like.  But it is not likely that any of his advisors would have thought to advise him about the romantic and spontaneous nature of the Latino soul.

 

You have to have lived amongst Latin Americans (as I have for the past fifteen years) to understand how natural it was for Chávez to greet Obama with open arms (“Chávez Hates America” Republicans and the lapdog North American mainstream media equate disagreement with a government’s policy with dislike of its people; Latin Americans are generally astute enough to be aware there is a difference).  But what was really not only a stroke of genius but also totally in character was Chávez’s presenting Obama with a signed copy of Eduardo Galeano’s classic masterpiece on U.S/Latin American relations, “The Open Veins of Latin America.” 

 

And how did Obama react?  According to his spokesperson, the president would probably not read the book because it was in Spanish.  Talk about a dud of a response.  And can you imagine Obama presenting Chávez with the North American counterpart to Galeano’s work, I’m referring to Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States?”   I apologize if I’m wrong, but I would bet that President Obama is not even aware of the Zinn’s best seller alternative version of U.S. history, much less read it.  On the other hand, it would be hard to convince me that there is a president of a Latin American republic that is not familiar with Galeano.

 

Next up steps Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega whose speech includes a criticism of US imperialism throughout the 20th century.   In it he mentions the failed U.S. sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961.  Obama’s response?  “I’m grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old.”  Ha, ha.  Very funny but quite beside the point.

 

But if there was ever a contrast between Latin American and North American leadership, it is exemplified in the person of Bolivia’s young, charismatic and dynamic President Evo Morales (But Obama is also young, charismatic and dynamic, you say?  True, but wait and see).  Morales, the first native president of a nation that is 60% Indigenous, would have arrived at the Summit a bit under the weather, having just come off a five day hunger strike, which he conducted on a mattress on the floor of the Presidential Palace.  Morales is a former coca farmer and labor leader, who in the tradition of Gandhi and California’s great farm worker leader, Cesar Chavez, is a strong believer in the efficacy of the hunger strike as a political strategy.  His longest previous hunger strike lasted 18 days (can you picture Bill Clinton going more than 48 hours without a Big Mac?).  The current fast was to protest tactics used by obstructionist Congressman that were preventing a vote on a measure that would increase Indigenous representation in Congress, and enable elections to go ahead in December in which Morales would be eligible to run for re-election (and where because of his immense popularity he is virtually a shoo-in).

 

Many if not most North Americans can understand direct action or civil disobedience on the part of a Martin Luther King, but from the President of the United States?  How undignified.  And to what end?  Well, here’s what Morales achieved: the obstructionists backed down, and the Congress approved the election law.  Why would they have done that?  Because Morales enjoys enormous popularity among the Bolivian electorate.  He went over the heads of the right wing congressmen and appealed directly to his people, and his adversaries saw that they had no choice but to back down.  Now can you imagine Barack Obama taking advantage of his enormous popularity to engage in such a heart-felt demonstration of his convictions in order to stand up say to the private health insurance industry and its bought-lock-stock-and-barrel representatives in Congress in order to achieve a single-payer universal healthcare plan (which he once supported but now is “off the table”)?  Can you imagine him conducting a sit-in in the Oval Office in order to face down the Pentagon and the merchants of death military contractors in order to rally the kind of popular pressure that would force approval for a substantial reduction in the gargantuan defense budget?  (Try channeling your inner John Lennon, and Imagine!)

 

So what was the interaction between Morales and Obama at the Summit?  First you must realize that for the past year or so, Morales has been the target of right wing terrorists, who have attempted to destabilize his government by brutally attacking his supporters and who have recently failed in an attempt on his life.  So Morales approached President Obama directly at the Summit – man-to-man, no bureaucratic intermediaries, no diplomatic niceties – and (according to Bharrat Jagdeo, the president of Guyana, who attended the session) presented him with specific information about U.S. mercenaries who he said were operating in his country.  The President again came up with a non-response response that was as rote and as lame as his others. He stated that his administration ‘does not promote the overthrow of any democratically elected head of state nor support assassination of leaders of any country’ (which, if true, would be quite a radical departure from past U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America!).  Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, confirmed the account.  End of discussion.

 

 

So what is my point?  What I am trying to show is that there is a refreshing authenticity about some Latin American heads of state, who can be candid and direct on a person to person basis in a way that we seldom if ever see in North America.  U.S. presidents go in for photo-ops and prepared statements that more often than not occult hidden agendas.

 

The tragic irony here is that Obama’s speedy and dramatic rise to the presidency was largely due to his ability to convince the American people of his own authenticity.  He convinced us that we could believe in him.  It is said that a person who can dissemble while at the same time projecting unimpeachable sincerity has the recipe for wielding immense power.  And Barack has shown himself to be a first class dissembler.  He convinced the American people that his administration would be a “genuine change” from that of previous administrations while in a few short weeks in office he has forged ahead both with President Bush’s major domestic and foreign policies (continued giveaways to Wall Street and the corrupt banking and finance industries on the home front; military escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a disingenuous promise to leave Iraq which he knows the generals will not stand for, and blind uncritical support for Israeli militarism and apartheid in the area of foreign policy).

 

Barack Obama did not get to where he is today by taking principled stands on issues.  He cut his teeth in the corruption riddled cradle of Chicago ward politics, where winning and holding power is the only principle that matters.  His cynical choice of anti-gay bigot Rick Warren to give the Inauguration prayer and his support of the so-called Jewish Lobby and Israel’s war crimes in Gaza are only two of many examples of his going for the votes and principles be damned.

 

It is interesting to note that early on in his career Obama evidenced his ability to project an image as an agent of change while at the same time remaining snuggly in bed with the status quo.  This is what a colleague said of him when interviewed by the Toronto Star in 1990 in a story about Obama as the Harvard Law Review’s first Black editor:

 

“He’s willing to talk to them (the conservatives) and he has a grasp of where they are coming from, which is something a lot of blacks don’t have and don’t care to have,” said Christine Lee, a second-year law student who is black. “His election was significant at the time, but now it’s meaningless because he’s becoming just like all the others (in the Establishment).”

 

 

But I would add a caveat.  Few if any of the Latin American presidents at the Summit, (with the possible exception of Daniel Ortega, when he was the Sandinista guerrilla leader) have sent men and women into battle to kill and be killed.  They are not the heads of state of the world’s largest military power and self-appointed imperial policeman.  While on the other hand, from the moment that Obama’s hand slipped off the Bible on Inauguration Day, it was awash in blood (he is already responsible, for example, for more civilian deaths in Pakistan that result from U.S. unmanned drone missiles than was President Bush).

 

We should therefore not expect Barack Obama to be anything more than a slightly kinder, gentler enforcer of United States imperial mandates.  That is what he has spent his entire life preparing to do.  We need to realize that it is not “change we can believe in” that we should expect from him, but rather “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

 

Genuine winds of “change you can believe in” are in fact blowing throughout most of Latin America, especially in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, but also to a lesser degree in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, El Salvador, Paraguay, Chile and Nicaragua.  It is a refreshing breeze, one that North Americans also hunger for but will soon realize that they have been duped once again.

 

Bolivian President Says Plot on His Life Was Tied to Coup Attempt April 19, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Latin America.
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Published: April 18, 2009, www.nytimes.com  

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago — Evo Morales, Bolivia’s president, said that a reported attempt to assassinate him last week was linked to a vote in Congress that would allow him to run for re-election, and he suggested the plot was related to a coup attempt last year that led him to expel the American ambassador.

Mr. Morales said earlier last week that an elite police squad shot dead three men in the eastern Bolivian city of Santa Cruz who were involved in a thwarted plot to kill him, his vice president and his chief of staff. They were killed after they opened fire on commandos who tried to enter their hotel room.

On Saturday Mr. Morales said the police had determined the plot involved European mercenaries, with Bolivians aiding in the planning. Investigators are looking into how the suspected plot was organized and financed, with Mr. Morales saying he did not believe that Bolivian businessmen and oligarchs “financed so much money.”

Opponents of Mr. Morales said it was too early to describe the episode as a foiled assassination plot without detailed proof.

Mr. Morales said the episode was related to his five-day hunger strike, which ended Tuesday. He fasted to protest delays in voting on a measure that could allow residents of a gas-rich area to seek administrative autonomy for their provinces and make him eligible for re-election.

He used the bulk of a press conference here to detail the history of what he believes to have been involvement by American officials in attempts to overthrow him. In September he expelled American ambassador Philip S. Goldberg, accusing him of supporting rebellious groups in eastern Bolivia. Mr. Morales also later threw out officials from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.

Mr. Morales said Saturday that he gave instructions to his vice president to intervene with certain “neo-liberal” groups. Police officers discovered arms, bombs and telescopic sights with silencers, he said.

Early Saturday, at a meeting of 12 South American leaders, the Bolivian president presented Mr. Obama, who was attending at the group’s invitation, with specific information about mercenaries who he said were operating in his country, said Bharrat Jagdeo, the president of Guyana, who attended the session. Mr. Obama responded in the meeting by saying that his administration does not promote the overthrow of any democratically elected head of state nor support assassination of leaders of any country, Mr. Jagdeo said. Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, confirmed the account.

Mr. Morales told reporters after the meeting that if Mr. Obama does not repudiate the alleged plot to kill him, “I might think it was organized through the embassy.”

Spilling Ink Instead of Blood: Bolivia Votes on a New Constitution January 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Latin America.
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bolivia-voteIn Walata Chico, Bolivia, Aymara Indian men cast their ballots for a new constitution. (Photo: Juan Karita / AP)

www.truthout.org

25 January 2009Andean Information Network, indigenous organizations advocating a constituyente “sought greater participation in the political decisions regarding the use and distribution of land and natural resources, the allocation of state resources, and national development policies.” In fact, these demands correspond to many of the unapplied rights and guarantees made by previous constitutions. ¿Sí o No? Bolivians Mobilize for National Vote on New Constitution By Benjamin Dangl 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 web site on activism and politics in Latin America. Email Bendangl@gmail.com

by: Benjamin Dangl, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Dozens of marches and rallies in support of Bolivia’s new constitution, being voted on today, have filled the streets of the La Paz in recent days. On Tuesday, at a rally for the constitution and to celebrate Venezuela’s donation of 300 tons of asphalt to the city of La Paz, President Evo Morales took the stage, covered in confetti and with a coca leaf wreath around his neck. The crowd cheered and waved signs, one of them saying, “Thanks for the asphalt and the progress.”

    The new constitution, written in a diverse assembly which first convened in 2006, is expected to pass in the January 25 national referendum. Other governments led by left-leaning leaders in the region have also passed new constitutions in recent years, including Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1999 and Rafael Correa in Ecuador in 2008. In varying degrees, Bolivia’s new constitution is expected to play an important role in the implementation of progressive policies developed by the Morales administration and his party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS).

    At the Tuesday rally in La Paz, the sun was strong as drums and roman candles pounded at the air. The screech of packing tape shot out as one bearded participant secured his indigenous wiphala flag to a plastic pole. A group of women blocked off the expanse of one street with a banner that said, “The right wing will not pass – Yes to Evo.”

    A giant blown-up balloon statue of Evo Morales – present in nearly every La Paz rally in the days leading up the referendum – stood over the crowd. On his chest was the ballot voters were to face on Sunday: the “Si” box was checked, and, on two boxes regarding what hectare amounts to limit new land purchases at, the 5,000 hectare box was checked, the 10,000 hectare box left blank.

    During his speech, Morales sounded a bit tired, no doubt from the nearly endless campaigning he’s been involved in for the new constitution. After the applause died down, he thanked various groups for arriving and urged people to vote for the new constitution. “Brothers and sisters, we believe in you, we believe in the people of Bolivia, so that democratically we can transform Bolivia for all Bolivians,” Morales said. He listed some of the highlights of his three years in office so far, which he said included the nationalization of Bolivia’s gas and the fight against corruption. “But we need to constitutionalize these changes,” he continued.

    Morales pointed out that in the new constitution, basic services – such as water, sewer, gas and electricity – would be a human right, as would education and health care. Morales also reflected on the recent history of US intervention in the country and pointed out that the new constitution prohibits the creation of US bases in Bolivia. He clarified that, in spite of the right wing’s claims, the new constitution does not (unfortunately) legalize abortion and gay marriage. Above all, he explained, indigenous rights and indigenous representation in government would be empowered.

    At this point in Morales’s speech, one security guard was already starting to yawn. A light rain began to fall, women pulled plastic bags over their bowler hats, and the “Viva La Nueva Constitución” cheers became weaker as people returned to work from their lunch breaks.

    History and Division

    Bolivian social movements have for decades been demanding that a constituent assembly be organized to rewrite the constitution. According to the book, “Impasse in Bolivia,” by Benjamin Kohl and Linda Farthing, from 1826 to 2004, Bolivia has had 16 constitutions and six reforms. The first constitution, drafted by Simón Bolívar himself in 1826, promised to create the “world’s most liberal constitution.” However, even the most liberal of constitutions is ineffective if its dictates are not enforced, which has been the case throughout Bolivian history. Kohl and Farthing also point out that, “Until 1945, all constitutions made a distinction between being a Bolivian – a person born in the country or married to a Bolivian – and being a citizen: a status restricted to literate, propertied men that specifically excluded domestic servants, regardless of income.”

    Calls for a new constitution as a tool to create a more egalitarian society re-emerged most recently in the 1990′s when indigenous groups in the east of Bolivia demanded a constituent assembly to open new space for their political participation in decision-making at the government level. According to the

    It’s this sense of overdue justice that is leading many people to support the new constitution. As university student Leidy Castro told Prensa Latina, “We will be in favor of a Constitution that for the first time includes all Bolivians, no matter how much money people have. In addition, it protects sectors that have been marginalized for a long time.”

    None the less, right-wing opponents to the constitution have been active in recent weeks as well, organizing marches and campaigns across the country parallel to the activities of those supporting the constitution. Recently, when these groups collided, there have been some violent confrontations, or at least some strong words exchanged.

    Around noon on Wednesday, January 21, a march against the constitution went down the central Prado street in La Paz. Participants were waving the pink flags of the right-wing Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR) party with the message “Vamos por el No” written on them. They arrived in the Plaza de Estudiantes where the ever-present Evo Morales balloon was situated along with a giant “Sí” balloon. A crowd of supporters of the new constitution had already gathered there; one of them had a microphone through which he broadcasted his attacks on the right wing with comments such as “You traitors don’t have a real plan! We have a real plan with our new constitution!”

    The tension escalated, and the two groups began tossing their ample literature and pamphlets at each other, yelling opposing chants. On one side were the blue flags of the MAS, and the multicolored wiphala flag, and on the other were the pink flags of the MNR. After some spirited verbal battles and a few scuffles and pushing matches, the MNR contingent marched back up the street, while the MAS supporters remained in the plaza, giving speeches and firing off roman candles into the evening. At a nearby university, revolutionary folk music blasted throughout the day from a speaker next to Palestinian flags and literature about Israel’s attacks on Gaza. (Morales recently expelled Israel’s ambassador to Bolivia in protest of the bombings in Gaza.) The university’s students have been hosting almost nightly marches and torch-filled, bonfire rallies in support of the new constitution.

    Media and Change

    There have been numerous street battles throughout the process of re-writing and approving the new constitution. But another battle has been waged in the country’s media. Major newspapers in Bolivia seem almost unanimously critical of the constitution and the MAS, spreading regular misinformation about both. For example, a recent headline in El Diario newspaper said, “Bolivia Will Return To Barbarism With Community Justice.” (Community justice, practiced by many indigenous groups across the country, is officially recognized in the new constitution.) In numerous papers, opinion articles and pieces that draw exclusively from right-wing politicians and civic leaders are regularly passed off as straight news, with headlines full of outright lies about the new constitution’s contents.

    Edwin, a La Paz taxi driver who used to work hauling furniture and goods on his back at local markets, agreed that most media in Bolivia are against Morales and the new constitution. “But who cares what they say? The journalists are few, but we, the Bolivian people, are many.”

    In response to the media’s attacks against the government, Morales has announced the launch of a new state newspaper called “Cambio” (Change), which was released January 22. “We are organizing ourselves, we are preparing ourselves with media to broadcast the truth to the Bolivian people,” Morales said in a recent speech. “This new newspaper will be launched, that won’t humiliate anyone, but will inform and educate us.”

    Regardless of the extent to which the changes in the new constitution are applied, the document is significant in that it has been a central part of the political battleground for the bulk of Morales’s time in office. The constitution is also a kind of mirror held up to Bolivian politics, representing the hopes, contradictions and shortcomings of various sides of the political divide.

    There are many valid criticisms of the constitution from the left – that the document won’t allow for the breakup of existing large land holdings, that it won’t legalize abortion, that it doesn’t go far enough in combating neoliberalism, that there exists a lot of vague language about how these changes will be implemented, and more. But of the many people who will cast their ballot for the constitution today, a significant number won’t be voting specifically for the new document, or even the MAS government, but against the right wing and the racism, poverty and conflicts the right has exacerbated in recent years.

    In any case, passage of the constitution will open up a new phase for the Morales government, as well as a new period of electoral campaigning: if the constitution passes, general elections will be held on December 6 of this year. As Alfredo Rada, the Minister of the Government, said in an interview with Telesur, “The government is optimistic and believes that this Sunday we will win a majority triumph with the “Yes” vote, and with this open a new chapter in Bolivian history.”

    For more analysis on the new constitution and upcoming vote, see this previous article:

    ——-

     Benjamin Dangl is based in Bolivia and is the author of “

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