USAID’s Silent Invasion in Bolivia May 19, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Bolivia, Venezuela.
Tags: Evo Morales, USAID, Bolivia Separatism, Bolivia, roger hollander, Hugo Chavez, Venezuela, U.S. imperialism, bolivia opposition, bolivia government, eva golinger, bolivia decentralization, usaid venezuela, venezuela coup, bolviia politics, usaid bolivia, bolivia elections, bolivia indigenous
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Bolivia: Unraveling the Conspiracy April 29, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Latin America.
Tags: alvaro garcia linera, bolivia conspiracy, bolivia goviernment, Bolivia Massacre, bolivia mercenaries, bolivia opposition, bolivia political violence, bolivia politics, Bolivia Separatism, eduardo rozsa flores, Evo Morales, franz chavez, julio terrazas, morales assassination, roger hollander, ruben costas, santa cruz bolivia, santa cruz province
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|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.
A View from the South: Amy Goodman on Bolivia’s Morales November 25, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Latin America.
Tags: amy goodman, Bolivia, Bolivia civil strife, Bolivia civil war, Bolivia politics government, Bolivia Revolt of the Rich, Bolivia Separatism, Bolivia U.S. intervention, change, coca, cocaine, cristina kirchner, DEA, Democracy Now, denis moynihan, Evo Morales, fort benning, human rights, Latin America, michele bachelet, philip goldberg, roger hollander
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Posted on Nov 19, 2008
By Amy Goodman
Evo Morales knows about “change you can believe in.” He also knows what happens when a powerful elite is forced to make changes it doesn’t want.
Morales is the first indigenous president of Bolivia, the poorest country in South America. He was inaugurated in January 2006. Against tremendous internal opposition, he nationalized Bolivia’s natural-gas fields, transforming the country’s economic stability and, interestingly, enriching the very elite that originally criticized the move.
Yet last September, the backlash came to a peak. In an interview in New York this week, Morales told me: “The opposition, the right-wing parties … decided to do a violent coup. … They couldn’t do it.”
In response, presidents from South American nations met in Chile for an emergency summit, led by the two women presidents, Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Cristina Kirchner of Argentina. The group issued a statement condemning the violence and supporting Morales.
Morales continued in our interview: “The reason why I’m here in the U.S.: I want to express my respect to the international community, because everybody condemned the coup against democracy to the rule of law—everybody but the U.S., but the ambassador of the U.S. It’s incredible.”
After the attempted coup, Morales ejected U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg, declaring, “He is conspiring against democracy and seeking the division of Bolivia.” Morales went on: “He used to call me the Andean bin Laden. And the coca growers, he used to call them Taliban. … Permanently, from the State Department of the U.S., I have been accused of being a drug trafficker and a terrorist. And even now that I’m president, that continues on the part of the embassy. I know it does not come from the American people.”
Morales has now given the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration three months to leave the country, and announced at the United Nations Monday that the DEA will not be allowed back. Morales was a “cocalero,” a coca grower. Coca is central to Bolivian indigenous culture and the local economy. As Roger Burbach, director of the Center for the Study of the Americas, writes, “Morales advocated ‘Coca Yes, Cocaine No,’ and called for an end to violent U.S.-sponsored coca eradication raids, and for the right of Bolivian peasants to grow coca for domestic consumption, medicinal uses and even for export as an herb in tea and other products.”
Morales aims to preserve the Bolivian heritage of coca growing, while eliminating the scourge of drug trafficking. He says the U.S. uses the war on drugs as a cover to destabilize his country: “If they really fought against drug trafficking, it would be very different.” He said the South American leaders are finally organizing amongst themselves: “We are actually setting up a national intelligence in collaboration with our neighbors Argentina, Chile, Brazil. And that way, the fight against drug trafficking is going to be more effective, but it’s going to be something that has a political element in it. If we don’t permit the DEA to come back, that doesn’t mean we’ll break relationships with the U.S.”
The resurgent democracies in Latin America are hoping for better relations with an Obama administration. On the election of the first African-American U.S. president, the first indigenous president of Bolivia told me, “Maybe we can complement each other to look for equality among people, people who are here on Mother Earth.” After we spoke, Morales headed off to Washington to visit the Lincoln Memorial and to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “I want to honor my brothers, the movement, the Afro-American movement. I have the obligation to honor the people who preceded us, the ones who fought for the respect of human rights and rights in general.”
Thousands are gathering outside Fort Benning, Ga., this weekend for the annual mass protest and civil disobedience against the U.S. School of the Americas (now called WHINSEC), a military training facility that is alleged to have trained hundreds of Latin American soldiers who have gone home to commit human-rights violations. The wounds of U.S. intervention in Latin America are still raw. President-elect Obama has an opportunity to reach out and grab the extended olive branch being offered by President Morales.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 700 stations in North America. She has been awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and will receive the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.
© 2008 Amy Goodman
Bolivia: Congress Approves Referendum on Constitution November 2, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Latin America.
Tags: Boivia Congress, Bolivia constitution, Bolivia neoliberalism, Bolivia politics government, Bolivia Separatism, Evo Morales, Latin America, Latin America economic justice, Latin America politics government history, roger hollander
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|Written by Benjamin Dangl|
|Thursday, 23 October 2008www.upsidedownworld.org|
After months of street battles and political meetings, a new draft of the Bolivian constitution was ratified by Congress on October 21. A national referendum on whether or not to make the document official is scheduled for January 25, 2009.
“Now we have made history,” President Evo Morales told supporters in La Paz. “This process of change cannot be turned back…neoliberalism will never return to Bolivia.”
If the constitution is approved in the January referendum, a new general election will take place in December of 2009.
Leading up to Congress’s approval, Morales participated in sections of a march from Caracollo in Oruro to La Paz, a distance of over 100 miles and involving an estimated 100,000 union members, activists, students, farmers and miners.
The march took place to pressure opposition members in Congress into backing the constitution and referendum. When marchers arrived in La Paz they packed the center of the city to historic levels. Some media outlets said the march, which stretched 15 kilometers, was the longest one ever in the capital.
“Those who have been kicked out to the chicken coop, those who have been hidden in the basement, are jailed no more,” Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera said of the approval of the constitution, according to the Associated Press.
The road to this new constitution has been a long, complicated and often violent one. One key event in this process was the July 2, 2006 election of assembly members to the constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. Later, in December of 2007, the new constitution was passed in an assembly meeting in Oruro which was boycotted by opposition members.
Given Morales’ support across the country, this new constitution is expected to pass in the January 2009 referendum. “The public support expressed for [Morales] Monday, coming on top of the 67 percent vote of confidence he was given in the Aug. 10 recall referendum, make it clear that he is the most popular president in the last 26 years of democracy in Bolivia,” Franz Chavez reported in IPS News.
The draft constitution includes, among other things, changes to allow the redistribution of land and gas wealth to benefit the majority of the country, and give increased rights to indigenous people. Questions still exist regarding what was fully changed in this version of the constitution which led to opposition politicians supporting it. For example, it’s still unclear to what extent eastern provinces will be granted autonomy.
However, in what was perhaps Morales’ biggest concession to the opposition, a change was made to the constitution which prevents him from running for two additional terms, as an earlier draft of the constitution allowed. Under the new changes – if the constitution is approved in the referendum – Morales will run for his last consecutive term in general elections in December of 2009.
This move indicates that the opposition got at least some of what they wanted in negotiations, and that the Movement Toward Socialism, Morales’ political party, may have plans to diversify its central leadership.
Morales commented on these changes in a speech in La Paz, “Here we have new leaders who are rising up, new men and women leaders who are coming up like mushrooms to continue this process of change.”
Benjamin Dangl is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press). Email BenDangl(at)gmail.com
Photos by José Luis Quintana.Min-Presidencia/Agencia Boliviana de Información.
More on the Bolivia Crisis from Newsweek September 18, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Ecuador, Latin America.
Tags: Bolivia civil strife, Bolivia civil war, Bolivia politics and government, Bolivia Revolt of the Rich, Bolivia Separatism, Ecuador Consititution, Ecuador politics, Ecuador referendum, Katanga Province in the Congo, roger hollander
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Some of us remember the separatist in the mineral rich Katanga Province in the Congo in the 1960s. The elites of that province waged a campaign to destabilize the country in the name of regional autonomy in an attempt to destroy economic reforms that would have benefited the poor.
It is with a sense of deja vu that we see what is happening today in Bolivia and Ecuador. The Newsweek article below tells the story in Bolivia in a most comprehensive way. As well, just today, Rafael Correa, the President of Ecuador, issued a warning with respect to his country, which is holding a referendum on a new progressive constitution on September 28. Although it is widely believed that the people of Ecuador will overwhelmingly vote in favor of this new constitution, the Province of Guayas, which contains the country’s largest city and major seaport, Guayaquil, has been ruled for decades by the ultra right Social Christian Party (which is neither social nor Christian!) on behalf of the economic power structure. It’s Mayor, Jaime Nebot, is leading a campaing to reject the constitution and is supported by the leadership of the Catholic Church, which is falsely claiming that the constitution is pro-abortion. Correa rightly smells the shit in the wind and advises that if the population of Guayas Province votes NO, Guayaquil is likeley to become the center of a campaign of destabilization similar to what is happening in Bolivia. As a resident of this area I can tell you that the Right and the Church have left no stones unturned in their campaing of lies and distortion. This included a physical attack on the President organized by rightist students at the Catholic University in an attempt to create havoc and embarassment, and portray the president as anti-student. Nevertheless, I see many signs that this campaign is not going to succeed, and I expect a narrow vote in favor of the constitution even in Guayaquil, where it appears that many are seeing through the base tactics of the Social Christians and their righist allies. This will be very interesting to watch.
REVOLT OF THE RICH
Michael Miller, Newsweek, Sept. 13, 2008
Opponents of Bolivia’s President Evo Morales. (Photo: Dad Galdieri / AP)
Despite winning last month’s recall election, President Evo Morales faces escalating violence from protesters who don’t want to share the nation’s natural-gas wealth.
Relations between Bolivia’s President Evo Morales and the country’s wealthy easterners were tense from the start. Since Morales’s election in 2005, the eastern provinces, known as the “Media Luna,” or half moon, which have grown rich on natural gas, have fought bitterly over a new constitution that would redistribute some of that wealth to the western provinces. The opposition has recently waged disruptive strikes. Protests began to take a more violent turn after Morales trounced the opposition in last month’s recall election. This week at least eight Bolivians were killed in clashes. Opposition groups blew up part of a natural gas pipeline and vandalized government offices, causing millions of dollars worth of damage. They have also succeeded in disrupting trade with Brazil and Argentina, which rely on Bolivia’s natural gas.
Relations between Bolivia and the United States have quickly deteriorated as well. Bolivia expelled U.S. ambassador Philip Goldberg for “conspiring against democracy” and in response the Bush administration sent the Bolivian ambassador in Washington packing. In a show of support, Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s president and staunch Evo ally, ejected the American envoy from Caracas. On Friday, Morales sent troops into the eastern provinces to restore order. To find out where it’s all headed, Newsweek’s Michael Miller talked with economist and Bolivia expert Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.
Newsweek: How serious is the fallout between the United States and Bolivia? I think it’s serious. I think that this thing was coming for a long time. There had been a number of incidents. There was the incident with the Peace Corps and the Fulbright scholar [asked to spy by the U.S. Embassy]. And then there are the meetings between the ambassador and the opposition. Obviously he’s the ambassador: he should meet with everybody. But the way he did and the timing of it was considered unfriendly. I think you have a bigger structural problem, which is that you have USAID funding groups in Bolivia but they won’t disclose who they are. They are doing this now in Venezuela too. These are polarized countries. So on that basis both of these governments [Bolivia and Venezuela] just assume that Washington is doing what it has always done, which is to fund the people that they are sympathetic to.
How much influence do eastern Bolivia’s large estate owners have? What kind of pressure do opposition groups exert in Bolivia?
Quite a bit. That’s what this conflict is really about. You have the most concentrated land ownership in almost the entire world in Bolivia, with around two thirds of the land owned by six tenths of one percentnot even one percentof the landowners. Obviously Evo Morales ran on a platform of land reform. He is not talking about confiscating huge amounts of land, but there is going to be some redistribution. There is the hydrocarbon revenue, which goes disproportionately to the Media Luna states with the opposition governors. So those are the two big economic reasons for this conflict.
Which one, land or hydrocarbons, is really the central issue? That is a tough question. The hydrocarbons are more immediate because [the government has] already begun some redistribution there. Morales has not touched the landowners. So I guess you could say that [hydrocarbons] are the bigger issue. I was in Bolivia a couple months ago and I met with the Central Bank and the ministries. The government has $ 7 billion in reserves right now in the Central Bank, which is an awful lot [considering] their whole GDP is only $13.2 billion. Most of it is owned by the prefectures, the provinces, so they have a lot of money. So it is hard to explain why they would raise such a fuss over the government wanting to take a small part of that and use it for some pensions for people over 60, which also goes to their own residents.
How does this tie into the recent recall election in Bolivia? Wasn’t that election meant to resolve this impasse between the Morales government and the opposition provinces?
It did show some things. First of all, Morales got 67 percent of the vote, which is as big as you get in politics in the world without fixing the election. And the other thing it showed is if you look at the Media Luna provinces, while it’s true that the opposition won, the vote for Morales also went up enormously as compared to what he got in 2005. So his support, his mandate, really increased quite a bit since the 2005 election. What you are seeing right now is that the people who could not win anything at the ballot box are trying to use other means. They are cutting off the gas, which is very serious.
What are the financial consequences of opposition groups disrupting Bolivia’s natural gas pipeline?
It’s huge. It’s more of a problem for Brazil than it is for Bolivia: they get half their gas from Bolivia and more than half in the industrial region of Sao Paolo. For Bolivia it is quite a lot of money. It is a $100 million estimated just to fix [the gas pipeline] and $8 million per day of revenue lost as well. But it is even worse than that because the opposition can really sabotage the whole economy. Everything that the government is doing in terms of the next five years as far as extending gas supply to Brazil and Argentina, if Bolivia can’t be a reliable gas supplier then those countries are going to have to look elsewhere. So it is a form of serious sabotage. The [Morales government] is calling it “terrorism.”
Will Morales’s mandate enable him to act more forcefully toward the breakaway provinces or is he going to have to wait for the constitutional referendum in December?
I think he is going to have to do something. The government has been very pacifist and I think they don’t get enough credit for that. Most governments in the world would have sent in the military in force and a lot of people would have been killed. He has been extremely restrained. He has tried to avoid violence at all costs and the opposition has been emboldened by that. They just keep escalating. Now they are taking it to a different stage and I don’t know how much more the government can just try to ignore it. They really depend on these gas exports, as do Brazil and Argentina. Brazil issued a statement the other day that said they will not tolerate an interruption in the constitutional order in Bolivia. Whether that means they will send troops, I don’t know.
Does this have a financial impact on the United States? Or is the decision to expel the Bolivian ambassador simply a quid pro quo response? Is there real money at stake for the United States?
I don’t think there is really anything at stake for the United States. If [by antagonizing Morales] they push Chavez too far, there is always the chance that he could cut off oil. But it is unlikely.
What type of fallout will there from Morales’ use of troops in the eastern provinces?
It depends on what the [government forces do] and on their capacity for crowd control and using non-lethal weapons. Look at what happened prior to Morales: they are still trying to extradite the former president [Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada] for all the people who were killed in the demonstrations back then. Morales has been on the other side of this and he knows that things can get out of control. So he is trying to do everything to avoid that but it’s not easy when you have an opposition that is not operating by the same rules.
Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, DC.