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Who Is Evo Morales, The Man Offering Snowden Asylum August 25, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Drugs, Latin America.
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Morales rose to prominence as the leader of the Bolivian Movement for Socialism (MSM) in 2005.

 

 

Bolivia's President Evo Morales waves to photographers as he arrives for the Mercosur trade bloc summit in Montevideo, Uruguay, Friday, July 12, 2013. Paraguay is expected to be readmitted into the bloc after member nations suspended its membership last year for having impeached and ousted President Fernando Lugo. (AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico)

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales waves to photographers as he arrives for the Mercosur trade bloc summit in Montevideo, Uruguay, Friday, July 12, 2013. Paraguay is expected to be readmitted into the bloc after member nations suspended its membership last year for having impeached and ousted President Fernando Lugo. (AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico)

 

Tumultuous U.S.-Bolivian relations took a turn for the worse last month when a plane carrying Bolivia’s President Evo Morales was diverted and forced to land in Austria after departing Russia. European authorities thought that Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower, was on board Morales’ plane, setting off a diplomatic row after Bolivia refused requests to search the plane.

 

“The U.S. pressured these countries to ground my plane, they wanted to scare me, they kidnapped me and put my life at risk because my country doesn’t follow the rules of the Empire any longer,” Morales said following the incident. ” Edward Snowden is not a fly that can get onto my plane without anyone noticing, he’s not a bag I could just carry on board.” Although his government offered Snowden asylum, the NSA whistleblower accepted a temporary, one year asylum offer from Russia. Bolivia could be on the short list of countries that will accept him for permanent asylum once his one year stay in Russia is complete.

 

Following the incident, CBS news reports that Morales decided to extend asylum to Snowden, welcoming him to come to his country after he accused the U.S. and Europe of temporarily blocking his flight home.

 

Before Morales got wrapped up in international headlines regarding Edward Snowden, the Bolivian President had defied Washington dictates by supporting coca production and nationalizing key sectors of the Bolivian economy, including telecommunications and mining. The transition to a semi-planned economy has helped the South American nation to slash extreme poverty by at least 13 percent, reduce unemployment and virtually wipe out illiteracy among the country’s 10 million citizens in recent years.

 

 

 

Who is Evo Morales?

 

The late Hugo Chavez may have stolen headlines in the U.S. for famously calling former President George W. Bush “the devil” at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in 2006. But among contemporary leaders in Latin America, Evo Morales is no less controversial in the eyes of Washington.

 

Morales rose to prominence as a leader of the Movement for Socialism (MSM) after he was popularly elected the country’s first President of indigenous descent in 2005. He played a key role in national protests against the privatization of water supplies in Cochabamba in 2000 and similarly against the privatization of the country’s robust gas resources in 2003.

 

As the Obama administration criticizes Bolivia and other countries for offering asylum to Snowden, the U.S. continues to harbor Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, Bolivia’s President from 2002-2003 who ordered the military to open fire on citizens protesting the privatization of a major gas line. Sixty people died in that attack.

 

It’s part of a long history of U.S. intervention in Bolivian affairs, notably lending support to the Bolivian military in the assassination of Che Guevara in 1967. Che was hoping to lead another popular revolt in the country following his success in the 1959 revolution.

 

With the help of the CIA, the country was plunged into decades of military dictatorship, coups and countercoups until Morales’ election began to turn the page in 2006. His rise has been described by many observers as part of the Bolivarian Revolution that led to a new wave of leftist leaders in Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina and in Venezuela over the past decade.

 

U.S. filmmaker Oliver Stone interviewed Morales as part of his hit 2009 documentary, “South of the Border,” including him in the list of new leaders.

 

 

 

Empowering the peasantry

 

So what can be said of his leadership? For the marginalized indigenous population, Morales represented more than a symbolic change of face, by extending resources to help reduce poverty and virtually wipe out illiteracy with the help of Venezuela and Cuba.

 

The BBC reported in 2008 that a 30-month campaign to teach thousands of poor Bolivians to read and write has made the country “illiteracy free.” In 2001, at least 14 percent of the population didn’t know how to read, compared with just 4 percent after the campaign was completed in 2008.

 

For many of the poor indigenous population, the “Yes I Can” campaign designed by Cuba and funded by Venezuela was the first time a Bolivian government had helped further the education in rural areas.

 

“Not knowing how to read and write was like having a disability, it was like being blind,” said Freddy Mollo, a 43-year-old student.

 

“I couldn’t even draw a line. I had never been to school. Now I have learned to read and write in Quechua and I feel like a real person. Before I didn’t,” said Daria Calpa.

 

Gains extend far beyond just literacy campaigns. Using data from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Guardian newspaper reported that the proportion of those in moderate poverty dropped from 60 percent in 2005 and to 49.6 percent in 2010. Extreme poverty fell from 38 percent to 25 percent over the same period.

 

The UNDP also reports that Bolivia is the top country in Latin America in terms of transferring resources to its most vulnerable population — 2.5 percent of its Gross National Product (GNP).

 

“Bolivia is one of the few countries that has reduced inequality… the gap between rich and poor has been hugely narrowed,” said Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean last year.

 

 

 

Standing up to the DEA

 

As a former union leader for a coca growers union, the issue of normalizing coca production and consumption was a personal one for Morales and for millions of citizens who rely upon the crop for their livelihood. It’s a difficult line to walk when coca from South America, mostly from Colombia and Bolivia is used to produce the majority of the world’s cocaine.

 

“I would like to say with clarity and with responsibility to you and the entire world that this is the coca leaf; that this is not cocaine. This coca leaf is part of our culture,” said Morales holding up a coca leaf at a 2009 U.N. meeting in Vienna.

 

For centuries, indigenous groups in the Andes mountains have been chewing coca, a leaf that produces a mild buzz similar to caffeine. Morales, a regular consumer of the plant has been a leading spokesman for taking the plant off the U.N. list of schedule I drugs.

 

After expelling the U.S. ambassador in 2008, the U.S. and Bolivia normalized relations in 2011, but it is not business as usual when it comes to drug enforcement. “For the first time since Bolivia was founded, the United States will now respect Bolivia’s rules and laws,” said Morales under the agreement restoring full diplomatic ties that Bolivia and Washington signed in 2011. As part of the new agreement, the DEA is no longer welcome in Bolivia.

 

Cocaine is still illegal in Bolivia and regulation of the coca industry seems to have actually helped reduce the illicit drug trade. “It’s fascinating to look at a country that kicked out the United States ambassador and the D.E.A. [Drug Enforcement Agency], and the expectation on the part of the United States is that drug war efforts would fall apart,” said Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network, a Bolivian research group. Instead, she said, Bolivia’s approach is “showing results.”

 

By empowering the coca unions and drawing a clear line separating coca leaf from illegal cocaine, Morales appears to have found an alternative to the decades DEA war on drugs policies that have resulted in $1 trillion spent, 60,000 deaths and no measurable reduction in drug export or consumption. About 82 percent of Americans now say that the U.S. is losing the war on drugs.

 

 

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

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Bolivia, Media, Foreign Policy.
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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

Can the US and Bolivia get along? February 26, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Foreign Policy.
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 78244074WM004_Supreme_CourtPhoto: Dado Galdieri, AP

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 25 February 2009 19.00 GMT

Perhaps – but first the Obama administration must settle differences over drug enforcement, diplomacy and trade

 

With the Obama administration‘s policy toward Venezuela pretty much decided, and the embargo on Cuba considered untouchable because no one is willing to risk losing support among Cuban-Americans in the swing state of Florida, that leaves Bolivia as a left government in the region where the hostility of the Bush administration could be quickly reversed.

However, there are a number of outstanding issues between the two countries. The United States and Bolivia currently do not have ambassadors. Bolivia expelled the US ambassador on 10 September, on the grounds that he and Washington were intervening in Bolivia’s internal affairs. Among other offences, the US embassy was caught trying to use Peace Corps volunteers and a Fulbright scholar for spying; US ambassador Phillip Goldberg had met privately with opposition leaders at a time when elements of the opposition were engaged in destabilising violence; and the US seemed to lend tacit support to the Bolivian opposition by not condemning this violence or even offering condolences when dozens of government supporters were massacred in Pando on 11 September.

The Bush administration responded to the expulsion of the US ambassador by expelling Bolivian ambassador Gustavo Guzmán. But there are also other important issues for Bolivia. On 26 September, the Bush administration suspended Bolivia’s trade preferences under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act. The official reason was that Bolivia had not been cooperating sufficiently in the war on drugs. But according to the UN’s 2008 report, Bolivia’s coca cultivation had increased by just 5 per cent, compared to a 27% increase in Colombia, the biggest beneficiary of US aid in the region.

The Bolivians are eager to begin a new chapter of improved relations with Washington. To demonstrate this willingness, the Bolivian government refrained from filing a complaint at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against the United States for the suspension of its trade preferences. Their legal case is quite solid: under WTO rules, countries are allowed to establish rules for preferential access to their markets, but the rules must be applied equally to all countries receiving the preferences. Before filing a complaint at the WTO, however, Bolivia wanted to see if the new administration is interested in improving relations.

Then there is another holdover from the Bush administration: Bolivia’s new constitution declares that healthcare, along with water and other necessities, is a human right and cannot be privatised. In keeping with their constitutional law, Bolivia asked the WTO for permission to withdraw the previous government’s commitment to open up its hospitals and healthcare sector to foreign corporations. According to the WTO’s procedural rules, if there are no objections to such a request within 45 days, it is approved. The EU, home to some of the big healthcare corporations that might have an interest in the issue, responded that it had no objections. On 5 January, the last day of the waiting period, the Bush administration objected.

The Obama team has not yet decided whether it will rescind the Bush administration’s objection to Bolivia’s WTO request. Presumably they will – if not, it would be an unmistakable signal of continued hostility. Far from being an arcane detail of constitutional or international law, it has real meaning to millions of Bolivians. The struggle against water privatisation was a significant part of the movement that brought Evo Morales to power. This is the political origin of the constitutional provisions establishing these essentials as human rights that cannot be infringed upon by private interests: many poor Bolivians had found themselves unable to afford water after it was privatised and user fees tripled.

Bolivia has also kicked out the US drug enforcement agency, and it does not look like they are coming back. To the Bolivians, the US is using the “war on drugs” throughout Latin America mainly as an excuse to get boots on the ground, and establish ties with local military and police forces. They see the whole process as destabilising and a threat to their sovereignty and democracy.

Despite all of these differences, it is still possible that Washington might choose to normalise relations with Bolivia. There are apparently some divisions within the administration over tactics. The “doves” apparently include Thomas Shannon, the current top state department official for the western hemisphere, and a holdover from the Bush administration. These officials can see that there is a public-relations problem in abusing Bolivia, the poorest country in South America and more importantly one led by the country’s first indigenous president, Morales. To most of the world, he is the Nelson Mandela of Bolivia, with his government bringing an end to centuries of apartheid-like exclusion of the country’s indigenous majority.

For the “doves” in the new administration, it would be better to avoid a public fight with Bolivia, so as not to distract from the guy who is sitting on what may be the largest petroleum reserves in the world – in Venezuela – and whom they have already successfully vilified in the media. On the other hand, there are hard liners who feel the need to “lay down the law” with Bolivia. We will soon know who has prevailed

Dirty Business, Dirty Wars: U.S.-Latin American Relations in the 21st Century February 10, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Latin America, Mexico, Venezuela.
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Written by Cyril Mychalejko   
Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Source: New Politics Winter 2009, Vol. XXII

Much is being made across the political spectrum in the United States about Washington’s waning influence in Latin America. The region has seen an emergence of left and center-left presidents voted into office, many as a result of budding social movements growing democracy from the grassroots. Some pundits and analysts are suggesting that this phenomenon is occurring because of the Bush Administration’s perceived neglect of the region. Rather, what is happening is blowback from Washington’s continued meddling in the economic and political affairs of an area arrogantly referred to as the United States’ “backyard.” Latin America’s growing unity in rejecting the Washington Consensus remains fragile in the face of U.S. opposition. Washington has been quietly using the war on drugs, the war on terrorism, and a neo-cold war ideology to institutionalize a militarism in the region that risks returning us to the not so far off days of “dirty wars.”

Breaking the Chains

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s election in 1998 sparked the beginning of the leftward electoral paradigm shift in the hemisphere. After he orchestrated a failed coup attempt in 1992, he was elected six years later based on a campaign that promised to lift up the impoverished nation’s poor majority through economic policies that ran counter to the free market fundamentalism and crony capitalism pursued by the country’s oligarchs, with the aid of Washington and international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Chavez also began to challenge the idea of U.S. hegemony in the region by advocating a united Latin America based on the ideas of one of his intellectual mentors, Simón Bolívar, the 19th century revolutionary instrumental in defeating Spain’s control of the region. Chavez, who also claims to be influenced by the teachings of Karl Marx and Jesus Christ, has championed what he calls a “Socialism of the 21st Century.” A fierce and outspoken critic of neoliberalism, Chavez has said “I am convinced that a path to a new, better and possible world is socialism, not capitalism,” words that have been scarce in the region’s capitals with the exception of Cuba.

ImageSince Chavez’s ascent to power, we have seen presidents elected in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Uruguay which translates into a majority of countries in the region advocating center-left and left-wing political programs (while Mexico and Peru missed joining this new Latin American consensus by narrow, if not fraudulent, election outcomes).

While it is true that, despite these developments, socialism is a long way off from taking hold in the region, the rejection of Washington’s Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) back in 2003, long before the left had firmly taken hold in the hemisphere, marked the beginning of an outright challenge to free market orthodoxy, U.S. hegemony, and corporate power. Since then we have seen multinational corporations booted out of countries and defiantly confronted by social movements, U.S. ambassadors expelled from three nation’s capitals, free trade agreements protested, illegitimate foreign debts challenged, and U.S. drug policies rejected. In addition, alternative political and economic institutions and policies have been advocated and created.

Venezuela’s Chavez developed the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), an antithesis to the FTAA that advocates a trade regime based on economic, social, and political integration guided by the principals of solidarity and cooperation. Even Honduras, long seen as a U.S. satellite state dating back to the days it assisted Washington in overthrowing Guatemala’s government in 1954, has joined ALBA, showing that the creeping tide of Bolivarianism is extending to the still fragile Central America. Meanwhile, Brazil’s Lula de Silva, viewed by Washington and the U.S. corporate media as part of the “acceptable” or “responsible” left, declared in 2007 that “Developing nations must create their own mechanisms of finance instead of suffering under those of the IMF and the World Bank, which are institutions of rich nations . . . it is time to wake up.” And the region has woken up as the “Bank of the South” was formed to make development loans without the draconian economic prescriptions of Washington-controlled financial institutions, which in the past have forced countries to cut social spending, deregulate industries, and open markets to foreign capital — policies that have exacerbated poverty and inequality in the past and as a result compounded dependence on foreign capital and Washington.

In terms of security cooperation, both Brazil and Venezuela have led efforts to create a South American Defense Council, a NATO-style regional body that would coordinate defense policies, deal with internal conflicts and presumably diminish Washington’s influence in its “backyard.” While U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said back in March that Washington “had no problem with it” and looked “forward to coordination with it,” Bloomberg News reported that Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim told Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley that the United States should “watch from the outside and keep its distance,” and that “this is a South American council and we have no obligation to ask for a license from the United States to do it.” In a similar challenge to U.S. military presence and influence, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa decided to force the United States. to close its military base in the port city of Manta. And then there is China’s and Russia’s growing economic and political ties to the region — something that would not only be unheard of in the past, but not tolerated.

Developments such as these led the Council on Foreign Relations to declare in May that the “era of the United States as the dominant influence in Latin America is over.” Frank Bajak, writing for the Associated Press on Oct. 11, echoed this observation when he wrote, “U.S. clout in what it once considered its backyard has sunk to perhaps the lowest point in decades” and that “it’s unlikely to be able to leverage economic influence in Latin America anytime soon.” Meanwhile, The Washington Post took a more indignant and belligerent position in an Oct. 6 editorial when it questioned whether Washington should “continue to subsidize governments that treat it as an enemy” while “a significant part of Latin America continues to march away from the ‘Washington consensus’ of democracy and free-market capitalism that has governed the region for a generation.”

 

 

While conventional thinking has led many to believe that Latin America’s independence from the United States may be an irreversible paradigm shift, behind the scenes Washington has put into place policies that could unleash a reign of terror not seen since the 1980’s. Colombia has served as laboratory for this new counterinsurgency program that can be interpreted as a continuance of U.S. supported state terrorism and a re-emergence of the national security state in Latin America.

The U.S. government has sent more than $5 billion in mostly military and counter-narcotics assistance to Colombia since 2000 to fund “Plan Colombia,” a counter drug program said to be designed to fight cocaine production and narco-trafficking, as well as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in turn further intensifying the country’s long-standing civil war. But as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reported in 2001 in a study sponsored by the Center for Responsive Politics, “The protection of U.S. oil and trade interests is also a key factor in the plan, and historic links to drug-trafficking right-wing guerrillas by U.S. allies belie an exclusive commitment to extirpating drug trafficking.”

The ICIJ investigation also found that “Major U.S. oil companies have lobbied Congress intensely to promote additional military aid to Colombia, in order to secure their investments in that country and create a better climate for future exploration of Colombia’s vast potential reserves.” In addition, corporations with interests in the region were reported to have spent almost $100 million lobbying Congress to affect U.S. Latin America policy.

Eight years later, Colombia has evolved into a full-fledged paramilitary state. President Álvaro Uribe, Washington’s staunchest ally in the region, his extended family, and many of his political supporters in the government and military are under investigation for ties to paramilitaries and right-wing death squads. As far as U.S. corporate collusion goes, Chiquita Brands International Inc. was forced to pay the U.S. Justice Department a $25 million settlement in 2007 for giving over $1 million to the right-wing terrorist organization United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Even more damaging is the fact that Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, at the time assistant attorney general, knew about the company’s relationship with AUC and did nothing to stop it. Alabama-based coal company Drummond Co., Inc. and Coca-Cola have also been accused of hiring right-wing death squads to intimidate, murder or disappear trade unionists. This is what the ICIJ meant when they wrote about securing investments and creating a “better climate” for business.

According to the U.S. Labor Education on the Americas Project, Colombia accounts for more than 60 percent of trade unionists killed worldwide. There have also been at least 17 murders of trade unionists just this year, which, according to a report released in April 2008, accounts for an 89 percent increase in murders over the same time period from 2007. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported in August that the collateral damage from Colombia’s civil war has resulted in more disappearances than occurred in El Salvador and Chile, while Colombia’s attorney general believes there could be as many as 10,000 more bodies scattered across the country — meaning totals would surpass those from Argentina and Peru.

Despite what should be considered as a total failure from a policy and, more importantly, human rights standpoint, this same Colombian model has been promoted by Washington to other nations in the region, and — remarkably — has been embraced by these countries. In 2005, Guatemalan officials called for their own “Plan Guatemala,” while Oscar Berger, president at the time, asked for a permanent DEA station in the country and for U.S. military personnel to conduct anti-narcotics operations. In addition, he was a proponent of a regional rapid deployment force, initially conceived to fight gangs, but later adjusted to include counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism in order to attract U.S. support. It should be noted that the AFL-CIO, along with six Guatemalan unions, filed a complaint, allowed through labor provisions of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), on April 23, 2008, charging the Guatemalan government with not upholding its labor laws and for failing to investigate and prosecute crimes against union members — which include rape and murder. This speaks to the idea of securing a “business-friendly” climate like in Colombia, which many in Washington want to reward with a free trade agreement. Guatemala’s government is currently led by President Alvaro Colom, a politician who represents the country’s ruling oligarchs. Pre-election violence during his campaign claimed the lives of over 50 candidates (or their family members) and political activists, in a country Amnesty International reports is infested with “clandestine groups” comprised of members of “the business sector, private security companies, common criminals, gang members and possibly ex and current members of the armed forces” responsible for targeting human rights activists.

This regional militaristic strategy finally materialized into policy on June 30 when President Bush signed into law the Meridia Initiative, or “Plan Mexico,” which according to Laura Carlsen of the Americas Program “could allocate up to $1.6 billion to Mexico, Central American, and Caribbean countries for security aid to design and carry out counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, and border security measures.”

ImageJust one day later, investigative journalist Kristen Bricker reported that a video had surfaced showing a U.S.-based private security company teaching torture techniques to Mexican police. This led Amnesty International to call for an investigation on July 3 to determine why techniques such as “holding a detainee down in a pit full of excrement and rats and forcing water up the nostrils of the detainee in order to secure information” were being taught. Later in July the Inter Press Service published a story about a 53-page report on Human Rights and Conflicts in Central America 2007-2008 that suggested “Central America is backsliding badly on human rights issues, and social unrest could flare up into civil wars like those experienced in the last decades of the 20th century.”

Nevertheless, Washington continues to push for the re-militarization of the region, as evidenced by a $2.6 million aid package given to El Salvador in October to “fight gangs.” Coincidentally, this was announced just months after the Inter Press Service reported in a June 16 article that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte “expressed concern over supposed ties between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN),” while also announcing that “the Bush administration is on the alert to Iran’s presence in Central America.”

Playing the Terror Card

In order to up the ante as a means of promoting this militaristic vision for the Americas and to vilify strategic “enemies” such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Washington has added the “War on Terror” into the equation by spreading unfounded allegations about Islamic terrorist infiltration into the region.

Journalists Ben Dangl and April Howard of Upside Down World, reporting for EXTRA! in Oct. 2007, wrote “In the Cold War, Washington and the media used the word ‘communism’ to rally public opinion against political opponents. Now, in the post– September 11 world, there is a new verbal weapon — ‘terrorism.'” This puts into context Washington’s evidence-lacking assertions that the Tri-Border Area, where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet, is a hub for Islamic Terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, claims the mainstream media have obsequiously parroted, yet Dangl and Howard helped disprove. Dangl and Howard, reporting from Ciudad del Este, a city located in the center of this alleged “hotbed” of terrorsim, talked with Paraguayan officials, as well as local residents, all of whom denied there was any presence of foreign terrorist groups. They pointed out that the governments of Brazil and Argentina have also denied the claims. But the terrorist assertions haven’t stopped there.

Norman A. Bailey, a former U.S. spy chief for Cuba and Venezuela, testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on July 17 that “financial support has been provided [by drug traffickers] to insurgent groups in certain countries, most notoriously to the FARC in Colombia, as well as to ETA, the Basque separatist organization, and most importantly to Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, through their extensive network in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America.”

The State Department’s David M. Luna, Director for Anticrime Programs, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, gave a statement on Oct. 8 claiming that international terrorist organizations will collaborate with regional criminal networks to smuggle WMD’s across the U.S.’s border with Mexico.

“Fighting transnational crime must go hand in hand with fighting terrorists, if we want to ensure that we ‘surface them,’” stated Luna. He also went on to regurgitate the empty claims of the Tri-Border Islamic threat.

That same day the Associated Press reported that U.S. officials were concerned with alliances being formed by terrorist groups such as Al-Qaida and Hezbollah and Latin American drug cartels.

“The presence of these people in the region leaves open the possibility that they will attempt to attack the United States,” said Charles Allen, a veteran CIA analyst. “The threats in this hemisphere are real. We cannot ignore them.”

And on Oct. 21 The Los Angeles Times reported that U.S. and Colombian officials allegedly dismantled a drug and money laundering ring used to finance Hezbollah.

This post-Sept. 11 fear-mongering, being carried out for years now, has served as a pretext for Washington to deploy Special Operations troops in embassies across the globe, including Latin America, “to gather intelligence on terrorists…for potential missions to disrupt, capture or kill them.”

The New York Times, which broke the story on March 8, 2006, reported that this initiative, led by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, was an attempt to broaden the U.S. military’s role in intelligence gathering. The soldiers, referred to as “Military Liaison Elements,” were initially deployed without the knowledge of local ambassadors. This changed after an armed robber in Paraguay was killed after attempting to rob a group of soldiers covertly deployed to the country. Senior embassy officials were “embarrassed” by the episode as the soldiers were operating out of a hotel, rather than the embassy.

But in a follow-up by The Washington Post on April 22, “the Pentagon gained the leeway to inform — rather than gain the approval of — the U.S. ambassador before conducting military operations in a foreign country” when deploying these “elite Special Operations Troops.” This development has remained largely under the radar, with the exception of analysis by Just the Facts, a joint project of the Center for International Policy, the Latin American Working Group Education Fund, and the Washington Office on Latin America.

A New Cold War?

ImageIn Oct. 2006 President Bush signed a waiver that authorized the U.S. military to resume certain types of training to a number of militaries in the region which had been suspended as a result of a bill intended to punish countries not signing bilateral agreements that would grant immunity to U.S. citizens from prosecution before the International Criminal Court.

Bush was forced to act as a result of Venezuela’s growing influence in the region, as well as the “red” threat that China’s growing business in the region presented.

“The Chinese are standing by and I can’t think of anything that is worse than having those people go over there and get indoctrinated by them. And I think maybe we should address that because that’s a very serious thing,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), at a March 14, 2008, hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), at the same hearing, said this was “a serious threat” and called for ending the restrictions on U.S. military training programs imposed on Latin American nations for refusing to sign the bilateral immunity agreements. Of course, Latin American nations should not be subject to sanctions for quite properly rejecting the immunity agreements; but neither should there be training programs for their repressive militaries, to teach these militaries repressive practices.

The Associated Press reported in Oct. that “China’s trade with Latin America jumped from $10 billion in 2000 to $102.6 billion last year. [And] In May, a state-owned Chinese company agreed to buy a Peruvian copper mine for $2.1 billion.”

These developments should further perpetuate the “Red Scare” making its way through the Senate. Then there is Russia’s military sales and cooperation with Venezuela. U.S. News and World Report’s Alastair Gee wrote a fear-mongering article on Oct. 14, 2008, in which he stated, “This is not the first time Russians have sought close links with Latin America. In 1962, the stationing of Soviet missiles in Cuba nearly precipitated nuclear war with the United States. The Soviets also funded regional communist parties and invited students from the region to study in Soviet universities.”

But more importantly, it is the region’s “march away from the ‘Washington consensus’ of democracy and free-market capitalism” that has drummed up a cold war mentality in Washington. With democratically elected presidents in the region openly embracing socialism and socialist-style policies, economic programs in various countries that include nationalizing industries and “redistributing the wealth”, and social movements ideologically and physically confronting free market capitalism, it should come as no surprise that anti-globalization movements have found themselves classified as a national security threat to the United States. A declassified April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate entitled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,” states, “Anti-U.S. and anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise and fueling other radical ideologies. This could prompt some leftist, nationalist, or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack US interests.”

ImageMoving Forward

Developments in Latin America are reason for hope and optimism that “a new, better and possible world” could be on the horizon. But these very same reasons are cause for concern.

With Washington’s imperial stretch on the decline, both militarily and economically, both history and current conditions suggest it will try to reassert itself in Latin America — just as it did after Vietnam.

But because of the deeply embedded and institutionalized nature of Washington’s imperial machine, it doesn’t matter much which party controls the White House and Congress. To fight these developments, we need to continue to grow grassroots media projects and support independent journalists, build long-term solidarity with Latin American social movements and build social movements in the United States, fight free trade and do our part to shed light upon the structural violence threatening Latin America’s promising future — which is directly tied to ours.

Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at http://www.UpsideDownWorld.org.

Bush Excluded by Latin Summit as China, Russia Loom December 17, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Latin America.
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www.bloomberg.com

December 17, 2008

By Joshua Goodman

Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) — Latin American and Caribbean leaders gathering in Brazil tomorrow will mark a historic occasion: a region-wide summit that excludes the United States.

Almost two centuries after President James Monroe declared Latin America a U.S. sphere of influence, the region is breaking away. From socialist-leaning Venezuela to market-friendly Brazil, governments are expanding military, economic and diplomatic ties with potential U.S. adversaries such as China, Russia and Iran.

“Monroe certainly would be rolling over in his grave,” says Julia Sweig, director of the Latin America program at the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington and author of the 2006 book “Friendly Fire: Losing Friends and Making Enemies in the Anti-American Century.”

The U.S., she says, “is no longer the exclusive go-to power in the region, especially in South America, where U.S. economic ties are much less important.”

Since November, Russian warships have engaged in joint naval exercises with Venezuela, the first in the Caribbean since the Cold War; Chinese President Hu Jintao signed a free-trade agreement with Peru; and Brazil invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a state visit.

“While the U.S. remains aloof from a region it no longer sees as relevant to its strategic interests, other countries are making unprecedented, serious moves to fill the void,” says Luiz Felipe Lampreia, Brazil’s foreign minister from 1995 until 2001. “Countries in the region are more aware than ever that they live in a globalized, post-American world.”

A Castro Triumph

The two-day gathering, called by Brazil at a beach resort in Bahia state, is also a diplomatic triumph for Cuban President Raul Castro, making his first trip abroad since taking over from his brother Fidel two years ago. The communist island was suspended from the hemisphere-wide Organization of American States in 1962 over its ties with the former Soviet Union.

“A lot of this is designed to stick it in the eye of the U.S.,” says Peter Romero, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere from 1999 to 2001. “But underlying the bluster, there’s a genuine effort to exploit the gap left by a distant and distracted U.S.”

The effort is most evident in the bloc of countries allied with the anti-American president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez.

Bolivian President Evo Morales last month expelled the Drug Enforcement Administration, alleging that DEA agents were conspiring to overthrow him; U.S. President George W. Bush dismissed the charges as absurd and suspended trade privileges for the Andean nation.

Drug-War Defeat

In Ecuador, meanwhile, President Rafael Correa has refused to renew the lease on the U.S.’s only military outpost in South America, a critical platform for the U.S. war on drugs.

For Brazil, tomorrow’s summit caps a decade-long diplomatic drive to use its growing economic and political stability to play a bigger role in the world.

While little concrete action is expected from the first-ever Latin American and Caribbean Summit on Integration and Development, the fact that the U.S. wasn’t invited has symbolic importance, says Lampreia.

The summit reinforces such regional initiatives as the Union of South American Nations, which was formed in May by 12 countries to mediate conflicts such as political violence in Bolivia, bypassing the U.S.-dominated OAS.

Thomas Shannon, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America, says the nature of American influence is only changing, not declining, as the region matures.

No Invitation Sought

The U.S. “didn’t ask to be invited” to the summit, he says, although it had discussed with Brazil and Mexico ways the meeting’s agenda could be used during the U.S.-backed Summit of the Americas, in April in Trinidad and Tobago.

“We don’t subscribe to the hydraulic theory of diplomacy that when one country is up, the other is down — that if China and Russia are in the area our influence has somehow waned,” Shannon said in a telephone interview.

The fact that “there’s no warfare, weapons proliferation, suicide bombers or jihadists” in Latin America may make its issues “less urgent,” though no less important, Shannon said. The U.S. remains the region’s dominant investor and trading partner: Foreign aid to Colombia to fight drug traffickers and Marxist rebels totals $700 million a year, and remittances from Latin Americans living in the U.S. totaled $66.5 billion last year.

Monroe’s Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine, which dates back to 1823, declared Latin America off-limits to European powers. Whether welcomed by the region or not, it has been invoked whenever real or imagined security threats to U.S. interests arise, says Gaddis Smith, a retired Yale University historian of American foreign policy.

“Its essence is unilateralism; no Latin American country had any say in it,” says Smith, whose more than a dozen books on American foreign policy include “The Last Years of the Monroe Doctrine.”

The real battle is for a larger share of the region’s abundant resources and expanding economies, and China has led the way.

Two-way trade with the region shot up 12-fold since 1995 to $110 billion last year, according to the Inter-American Development Bank. China’s share of the region’s imports also jumped, to 24 percent from 9.8 percent in 1990, while the U.S. share shrunk to 34 percent from 43 percent. Two years after reaching a bilateral free-trade agreement, China’s demand for copper made it Chile’s biggest export market in 2007, replacing the U.S.

Hu’s Trips

Since making his first of three trips to Latin America in 2004, China’s President Hu Jintao has spent more time in the region than Bush — 22 days to 20 for the U.S. president. In October, as the global credit crunch dried up lending in the region, China joined the Inter-American Development Bank with a $350 million loan to finance small businesses. This month it pledged $10 billion in loans to state-controlled Petroleo Brasileiro SA so Brazil can develop the Western Hemisphere’s largest oil discovery since 1976.

“The Chinese play up the development side of diplomacy so much better than the Americans,” says William Ratliff, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution who has a Ph.D. in Chinese and Latin American history. “Deals come with none or very few strings attached.”

Even Colombia, which is spending $115,000 a month lobbying the U.S. Congress to approve a stalled free-trade pact, signed an investment treaty last month with China. During this year’s U.S. campaign, President-elect Barack Obama said he opposed the accord over concerns that Colombia isn’t doing enough to stamp out violence against labor organizers.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe today canceled his plans for the summit to monitor rescue efforts involving 200,000 people affected by flooding over the weekend.

Arms Deals

Changing relationships are also evident in arms deals. Chavez turned to Russia for at least $4.4 billion in weapons after the U.S. blocked sales of aircraft parts. Brazil, the region’s largest economy, is also shopping around: Defense Minister Nelson Jobimsaid in Washington this month that his government will only buy weapons from countries that agree to transfer technology for local production.

Plans to purchase 36 new fighter jets, in which Boeing’s F- 18 is competing for a contract against Stockholm-based Saab AB and France’s Dassault Systemes SA, “can only be justified politically if they contribute to national development,” Jobim said.

Brazil may sign a deal with France for four nuclear submarines intended to help secure its oil basins in the Atlantic when French President Nicolas Sarkozy visits Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva this month.

Reactivating a Fleet

The U.S. plan to reassert its naval presence by reactivating the Fourth Fleet after 58 years to patrol the Caribbean has triggered negative reactions ranging from Chavez’s threat to sink the convoys to the more-diplomatic Lula’s demand for explanations from the Bush administration.

Latin American leaders are looking to Obama to restore relations after the Bush presidency’s initial pledges of greater engagement gave way to a focus on the 9/11 terror attacks and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the honeymoon with Obama may be short-lived, says Michael Shifter, vice president of the Inter- American Dialogue in Washington. He says that the issues that have dominated Latin American relations — including Cuba, immigration and U.S. trade barriers on agricultural products — may remain in dispute.

“Latin America wants the U.S. to be engaged, but in very different terms that it has in the past,” says Shifter. “In any case, they’re not waiting around for the U.S. to change its mindset.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Joshua Goodman in Rio de Janeiro jgoodman19@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: December 15, 2008 10:40 EST

Evo Morales: DEA Complicit in Bolivia Drug Trade December 12, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Latin America.
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Written by World War 4 Report   
Thursday, 11 December 2008
Source: World War 4 Report
Bolivian President Evo Morales, defending his decision to expel the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), said the agency was actually involved in the drug traffic, and “did not respect the police, or even the [Bolivian] armed forces.” Announcing that the staff from the US agency has three months to leave the country, he added: “The worst thing is, it did not fight drug trafficking; it encouraged it.” He said he had “quite a bit of evidence” backing up his charges. Morales said that after a 1986 operation in Huanchaca National Park, it was determined that the largest cocaine processing plant “was under DEA protection.” He also accused the agency of spying on and even killing cocaleros and other opponents of US policies.

Presidential Minister Juan Ramon Quintana presented a series of documents and press clips at a news conference, which he described as “objective data” that had influenced Morales’ decision to suspend DEA activities. Quintana said Morales was ready to present the evidence to incoming US president Barack Obama “to prove the illegality, abuse and arrogance of the DEA in Bolivia.” Throughout the 1990s, the DEA in Bolivia “bribed police officers, violated human rights, covered up murders, destroyed bridges and roads,” Quintana said. (AFP, Dec. 11)

Bolivia Social Defense Vice Minister Felipe Caceres said the DEA had been operating in Bolivia without an official agreement. He said the DEA acted as it pleased for over 30 years, because no Bolivian administration dared to make the US to sign an agreement. He said a secret DEA office in Cochabamba had been discovered, which the agency had never reported to the Bolivian government. He said the office, uncovered over the weekend, had been recently abandoned, with only furniture left behind in disorder. An adjacent gym used by the agents had been stripped of its equipment. (Prensa Latina, Dec. 8)

A View from the South: Amy Goodman on Bolivia’s Morales November 25, 2008

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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 Puts DEA on Hold November 2, 2008

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Posted on Nov 1, 2008, www.truthdig.com
Morales
AP photo / Juan Karita

Bolivian President Evo Morales on Saturday made another move to signal his administration’s displeasure with the United States, announcing that he is “indefinitely” halting all activities of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency within his country.

Bolivia halts US anti-drugs work

File photograph of Bolivian President Evo Morales
Mr Morales is a former coca farmer

President Evo Morales has announced he is suspending “indefinitely” the operations of the US Drug Enforcement Administration in Bolivia.

Mr Morales accused the agency of having encouraged anti-government protests in the country in September.

He did not say whether its staff would be asked to leave the country, as coca- growers have been pressing him to do.

Bolivia’s first indigenous president once served as the leader of the country’s union of coca-growers.

Relations between Bolivia and the US have been strained since Evo Morales won presidential elections in January 2006.

Coca is the raw material used in the production of cocaine and is widely grown in Bolivia.

The country is a major producer of cocaine, but millions of Bolivians poorest people also chew coca leaves as part of their daily routine. Many believe the leaf offers health benefits.

‘Defending Bolivia’

“From today all the activities of the US DEA are suspended indefinitely,” the Bolivian leader said in the coca-growing region of Chimore, in the central province of Chapare.

A man fills bags with coca leaves at the coca market in La Paz, Bolivia
Coca is widely used by Bolivian Indians

“Personnel from the DEA supported activities of the unsuccessful coup d’etat in Bolivia,” he added, referring to the unrest in September which left 19 people dead.

“We have the obligation to defend the dignity and sovereignty of the Bolivian people.”

US officials have denied any wrongdoing.

In recent months, a string of tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats and agencies increased tensions between both countries, the BBC’s Andres Schipani reports from Bolivia.

Bolivia’s government expelled the US international development agency and the US ambassador to La Paz.

Washington retaliated by expelling its Bolivian counterpart, while last month President George W Bush himself put the Andean country on an anti-narcotics blacklist that cuts trade preferences.

Making his announcement, Mr Morales also declared that his government had eradicated more than 5,000 hectares (12,300 acres) of illegally planted coca.

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