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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Honduran Dictatorship Is A Threat to Democracy In the Hemisphere November 20, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Published on Friday, November 20, 2009 by The Sacramento Beeby Mark Weisbrot

A small group of rich people who own most of Honduras and its politicians enlist the military to kidnap the elected president at gunpoint and take him into exile. They then arrest thousands of people opposed to the coup, shut down and intimidate independent media, shoot and kill some demonstrators, torture and beat many others. This goes on for more than four months, including more than two of the three months legally designated for electoral campaigning. Then the dictatorship holds an “election.”

Should other countries recognize the results of such an election, to be held on November 29th? Latin America says absolutely not; the United States is saying, well, “yes we can”- if we can get away with it.

“There has been a sharp rise in police beatings, mass arrests of demonstrators and intimidation of human rights defenders,” since President Zelaya slipped back into Honduras and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy, wrote Amnesty International. Human Rights Watch, the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and human rights groups worldwide have also condemned the violence and repression perpetrated by the Honduran dictatorship.

On November 5, the 25 nations of the Rio Group, which includes virtually all of Latin America, declared that they would not recognize the results of the November 29th elections in Honduras if the elected President Manuel Zelaya were not first restored.

Why is it that Latin American governments can recognize this threat to democracy but Washington cannot? One reason is that many of the governments are run by people who have lived under dictatorships. President Lula da Silva of Brazil was imprisoned by the Brazilian dictatorship in the 1980s. President Michele Bachelet of Chile was tortured in prison under the brutal Pinochet dictatorship that was installed with the help of the Nixon administration. The presidents of Bolivia, Argentina, Guatemala, and others have all lived through the repression of right-wing dictatorships.

Nor is this threat merely a thing of the past. Just two weeks ago the President of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, had to fire most of the military leadership because of credible evidence that they were conspiring with the political opposition. This is one of the consequences of not reversing the Honduran military coup of June 28th.

Here in the United States we have been subjected to a relentless campaign of lies and distortions intended to justify the coup, which have been taken up by Republican supporters of the dictatorship, as well as by hired guns like Lanny Davis, a close associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Perhaps the biggest lie, repeated thousands of times in the news reporting and op-eds of the major media, was that Zelaya was overthrown because he was trying to extend his term of office. In fact, the non-binding referendum that Zelaya proposed had nothing to do with term limits. And even if this poll of the electorate had led eventually to a new constitution, any legal changes would have been far too late for Zelaya to stay in office beyond January 29.

Another surreal part of the whole political discussion has been the attempt to portray Zelaya, who was merely delivering on his campaign promises to the Honduran electorate, as a pawn of some foreign power – conveniently chosen to be the much-demonized Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. The anti-communist hysteria of 1950s McCarthyism is still the model for these uncreative political hacks.

What a disgrace it will be to our country if the Obama team follows through on its current strategy and recognizes these “elections!”  It’s hard to imagine a stronger statement than that human rights and democracy in this hemisphere count for zero in the political calculations of this administration.

© 2009 McClatchy Newspapers

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC.

Posted in honduras

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karlof1 November 20th, 2009 2:49 pm

Weisbrot asks: “Why is it that Latin American governments can recognize this threat to democracy but Washington cannot? The biggest threat to any amount of People Power–real participatory democracy–is centered in Depravity Central, Metropole of the US Empire, because real participatory democracy will reduce the oligarchy of Fat Cats that holds power in the US Empire and its allies in placess like Honduras, Paraguay, Venezuela, etc., while allowing the masses to better their livelihoods.

Cee Miracles November 20th, 2009 6:15 pm

karlof1: “Weisbrot asks: “Why is it that Latin American governments can recognize this threat to democracy but Washington cannot?”

… and to your answers to that question, karlof1, I add … because we have been so brainwashed for so many years that we haven’t understood that this government is only a PRETEND DEMOCRACY. We are really a Fascistic Corporatocracy now, and for quite some time, and all the rules and regs for our total suppression were put in place during the GWBush administration after the very well-planned Inside Job of 9-11 with the neo-cons and our partner Israel.

Obama is obviously trying to finish the job in his mild-mannered way. He’s a phony, a well-behaved puppet, and a shill for Mega-money/Mega-power.

Support genuine democracy in Honduras and help restore the elected president brought down by a military coup? R U kidding? The Honduran president was doing what Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales and others are doing, starting to really help The People to even up land ownership and a share of the wealth of the countries they live in.

Obviously, the U.S. wouldn’t be setting up seven more military bases in Colombia [our sock puppet "friend" who gets military supplies & money from us] to be ready to strike any South American or Latin American country AGAIN if the rich corporatists don’t get their way, retrieve all their assets, and retain their power.

United Fruit Cakes have been calling the shots for more than an hundred years. And sock-puppet Obama is right there to help them, and Hillary too.

The problem for the folks of the U.S. is that as more and more and more rottenness and corruption is exposed, only a small percentage go past the TV babble, open their minds to possibilities other than what they are being told, and read sites like this.

[personal musings]

I have a lovely daughter and son, both 50-ish, good parents and family people and solid middle-class. We don’t live near each other, and my life is very different from theirs. Obviously I became a maverick in my thinking, in what I did, what I risked, quite a long time ago now, and my lifestyle is no longer the mainstream one it once was by any stretch of the imagination.

As I have evolved and the blinders came off, what I think or have to say to my family or even local people, is not really welcome. There is no way to interest them or rouse them to the seriousness of what’s happening in this country or in this world, and that includes mates and in-laws and step-siblings and cousins. They are all busy with their lives and children and the usual demands of family life and home ownership, and they cannot stretch beyond that.

They are not unusual.

Our president is of their generation, and I keep getting astounded because I know he doesn’t get it; he doesn’t feel it; he lacks all passion.

The malaise for recent generations seems to be an apathy of the soul. The buzz words of the ’60′s, the Civil Rights movement, the era of Vietnam protests were about Soul, including Soul Food, Soulfulness, Singing from the Soul … and PASSION for JUSTICE and the RIGHT. Dangerous stuff that was programmed away … deliberately. Much easier to have a nation of apathetic souls with passions made tepid and minds that are educated to think small and not deal with complexities and complex questions and issues.

I am unusual for my generation. I know that too. It’s been a most unusual journey, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Even though it is frustrating as hell at times, it is better to be able to see and hear and cut through the crap to understand the bamboozlement that is passed off as TRUTH by those who lead us or provide us with information.

What goes around comes around. It continues to be an interesting ride.

… and I do appreciate so the thoughtful, knowledgeable and intelligent comments many of you make. And I delight when I hear the passion in some of you.

The essays and headline information gathered by the folks who run this site are frequently outstanding, some of them a little so-so, and a few not so good, but the “audience”/you commenters set it right immediately by what you say.

I’m in that childlike feeling of long ago, right now, of deeply wishing that we on this earth could all just get along and help each other and respect each other as fellow human-beings. It seems such an easy solution, but I guess you have to see and feel it that way.

peace, cm

Paul Revere November 20th, 2009 12:41 pm

When Chavez accused Obama of being a prisoner of the military, he was exactly right.He has been told to back the coup d’etat in Honduras by the people that really run our foreign policy, namely the MIC, but he is very good at hiding what he has been ordered to do.

nativetongueredux November 20th, 2009 1:25 pm

I guess he hides it wherever he hides his smoking habit?

This is just one of hundreds of gringo-planned and gringo-executed, then gringo-justified savage suppressions of democracy–aka the will of the people–in this hemisphere.

The MIC has pulled off so pretty good coups in Gringotowm, too–they were so successful that the bovine “voters” did not even realize they were coups.

The situation in Honduras, coupled with the installation of the gringo military throughout Colombia is nothing more and nothing less than a rapid-fire cancer developed to destroy the dignity and human rights of the folks in Latin America, and rip off all their resources.

Stone November 20th, 2009 12:27 pm

Obama supposts the American oligarchs that feel threatened by South America’s many country’s peoples who have reestablished people control over their governments at the expense of corporations. Obama wants to undo this before it spreads to America. So, he supports the coop in Honduras and the establishment of an enormously powerful American military base in Columbia. In my opinion, Obama is a dangerous man who opposes democracy and supports the corptocracy.

mtdon November 20th, 2009 12:27 pm

Let’s not discount Hillary Clinton’s involvement in this attack against democracy…..up to her neck in corruption and knee deep in blood…….

nice legacy!

Cygnus-X1-isaHole November 20th, 2009 11:24 am

Now that Chiquita is in the driver’s seat can we accurately call the Honduran government a Banana Republic?

AD November 20th, 2009 11:04 am

This article is pretty much right on the mark. The USA could take action which would bring a half to the coup gangsters running the Honduran government.

AD

Vern November 20th, 2009 10:40 am

Obama’s inaction on every front is breathtaking in it’s scope.

mujeriego November 20th, 2009 10:32 am

Obama is all about political expediency….witness the reform-less health reform, the justice-less terrorist show trials, the solution-less climate change policy, the dumb, deaf and blind “looking forward” past Bush criminal activities.

His main goal seems to be getting through his first term without giving the GOP any ammunition to use against him. Unfortunately this means he will neither be giving his supporters any reason to continue supporting him.

All in all. Obama is a dud.

Vern November 20th, 2009 10:43 am

Expediency has a short shelf life and the GOP will attack him even if he serves their agenda exclusively. A dud he is.

corvo November 20th, 2009 10:02 am

The Obama Administration has no problem with the coup regime.

Humbaba November 20th, 2009 9:57 am

A small group of rich people who own most of Honduras and its politicians — like Chiquita and Dole….and a few Republicans.

phasor November 20th, 2009 11:18 am

Exactly! Now that is the point!

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Observations on Latin America August 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Mexico, Right Wing, Venezuela.
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Published on Saturday, August 8, 2009 by CommonDreams.org by Miguel Tinker Salas

The recent events in Honduras are not isolated, but rather part of a conservative counterattack taking shape in Latin America. For some time, the right has been rebuilding in Latin America; hosting conferences, sharing experiences, refining their message, working with the media, and building ties with allies in the United States. This is not the lunatic rightwing fringe, but rather the mainstream right with powerful allies in the middle class that used to consider themselves center, but have been frightened by recent left electoral victories and the rise of social movements. With Obama in the White House and Clinton in the State Department they have now decided to act. Bush/Cheney and company did not give them any coverage and had become of little use to them. A “liberal” in the White House gives conservative forces the kind of coverage they had hoped for. It is no coincidence that Venezuelan opposition commentators applauded the naming of Clinton to the State Department, claiming that they now had an ally in the administration. The old cold-warrior axiom that the best antidote against the left is a liberal government in Washington gains new meaning under Obama with Clinton at the State Department.

Coup leaders in Honduras and their allies continue to play for time. Washington’s continuing vacillation is allowing them to exhaust this option, but so are right-wing governments in Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Peru. After all, this coup is not just about Honduras but also about leftwing success in Latin America, of which Honduras was the weakest link. It is increasingly becoming obvious that there is no scenario under which elites in Honduras will accept Zelaya back. I do not think that they have a plan “B” on this matter and this speaks to the kind of advice they are getting from forces in the U.S. and the region. If Zelaya comes back, the Supreme Court, the Congress, the military and the church all lose credibility and it opens the door for the social and political movements in Honduras to push for radical change that conservative forces would find more difficult to resist.

But Honduras is only part of the equation. Colombia’s decision to accept as many as 7 new U.S. military bases (3 airbases, including Palanquero, 2 army bases, and 2 naval bases one on the Pacific and one on the Caribbean), dramatically expands the U.S. military’s role in the country and throughout the region. The Pentagon has been eyeing the airbase at Palanquero with its complex infrastructure and extensive runway for some time. This is a very troubling sign that will alter the balance of forces in the region, and speaks volumes about how the Obama administration plans to respond to change in Latin America. A possible base on the Caribbean coast of Colombia would also offer the recently reactivated U.S. Fourth Fleet, a convenient harbor on the South American mainland. In short, Venezuela would be literally encircled. However, Venezuela is not the only objective. It also places the Brazilian Amazon and all its resources within striking distance of the U.S. military, as well as the much sought after Guarani watershed. After public criticism from Bachelet of Chile, Lula of Brazil and Chávez of Venezuela, Uribe refused to attend the August 10 meeting of UNASUR, the South American Union, where he would be expected to explain the presence of the U.S. bases. The meeting of the UNASUR security council was scheduled to take up the issue of the bases and Bolivia’s suggestion for a unified South American response to drug trafficking. Instead, Uribe has launched his own personal diplomacy traveling to 7 different countries in the region to explain his actions. In addition, Obama’s National Security Advisor James Jones is in Brazil trying to justify the U.S. position on the bases.

The recent media war launched by Uribe against Ecuador and Correa, once again claiming financing of the FARC, and the more recent offensive against Venezuela concerning 30 year old Swedish missiles, that, like the Reyes computers, cannot be independently verified, have filled the airwaves in Venezuela, Colombia and the region. The current Colombian media campaign was preceded by Washington’s own efforts to condemn Venezuela for supposed non-compliance in the war against drug trafficking. In addition, Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, also traveled throughout Latin America in July claiming that Venezuela is a destabilizing force in the region and in the Middle East.

Lost in all this is the fact that Uribe is still considering a third term in office and his party has indicated it will push for a constitutional reform. So conflicts with Ecuador and Venezuela serve to silence critics in Colombia and keep Uribe’s electoral competitors at bay. All we need now is for Uribe to ask the Interpol to verify the missiles’ origins and Interpol director Ron Noble to give another press conference in Bogota. Déjà vu all over again!

The right and its allies in the U.S. are also emboldened by the electoral victory in Panama and the very real prospects of leftist defeats this year in Chile and even Uruguay. Obviously they are also encouraged by the humiliating defeat of the Fernández / Kirchners in Argentina. These developments could begin to redraw the political map of the region. Correa of Ecuador has already expressed concern about being the target of a coup and Bolivia will undoubtedly come under intense pressure as they are also preparing for an election later this year.

All this is occurring with an increased U.S. military commitment in Mexico with Plan Mérida which seeks to build on the lessons of Colombia: maintain in power a president whose economic and social policies are highly unpopular, but who relies on conflict, in this case the so-called war on the drug cartels, to maintain popularity. Parts of Mexico are literally under siege, including Michoacán, Ciudad Juarez, and Tijuana. The backdrop for this is a divided left; the PRD was the biggest loser in recent midterm elections, and social movements remains localized and unable to mount a national challenge.

None of these developments are forgone conclusions, but they nonetheless speak to the fact that conservative forces in Latin America and their allies in the U.S. are mounting a concerted counter offensive that could increase the potential for conflict in the region.  

Miguel Tinker Salas is professor of History, Latin American and Chicano/a Studies at Pomona College. He is the author of several books including In the Shadow of Eagles, Sonora and the Transformation of the Border during the Porfiriato by the University of California Press. The book has been translated and is being published in Mexico by the Fondo de Cultura Económica. In addition, he also has published articles on transnational migration, ethnic identity and labor matters in Latin America. His current research examines the interconnection between politics, culture and oil in Venezuela. With Steve Ellner he co-edited, Venezuela, Hugo Chávez and the Decline of an Exceptional Democracy published by Rowman and Littlefield. On the eve of the Mexican Presidential election he co-edited with Jan Rus, The Mexican Presidency, Neoliberalism, Social Movements and Electoral Politics (Latin American Perspectives) which appeared in both English and Spanish (Porrua and Universidad de Zacatecas). His new book, The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture and Society in Venezuela, was published by Duke University Press in May of 2009.

Fluent in both Spanish and English, Professor Miguel Tinker Salas is often asked by the national and international media to provide analysis on political issues confronting Mexico, Venezuela, and Latin America. He has been interviewed by CNN, CNN Spanish, ESPN, the PBS New Hour, the Associated Press, Reuters, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Univisión, Telemundo, and many other radio, television and print media outlets. His expertise includes: US-Latin American Relations, contemporary Venezuelan politics, oil policy, Mexican Politics, Mexican border issues, Immigration, and Latinos/as in the United States. He is often asked to speak on college campuses and community events on the important issue facing Latin America and Latinos/as in the US.

Obama and Clinton Nix Change in Honduras July 27, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Published on Monday, July 27, 2009 by CommonDreams.org by Roger Burbach
The situation in Honduras and Central America is growing increasingly tumultuous with each passing day as deposed President Manuel Zelaya confronts the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti with thousands of partisans mobilizing in the border areas. While Honduran army officers in Washington and the capital of Tegucigalpa issue statements indicating they may accept Zelaya’s return—if the civilian coup leaders concur–military and police units continue to fire on and even murder demonstrators. It is impossible to predict the outcome of this confrontation. But one thing is increasing clear–the growing conflict represents a failure of the Obama administration to reshape US policy towards Latin America in spite of its early rhetoric directed at the leaders of the region.
On June 29, the day after the coup, Barack Obama declared it “not legal” and said “we don’t want to go back to a dark past.” This was in keeping with his remarks at the Summit of the Americas in April when, in alluding to the US history of backing military regimes, he stated, “The United States will be willing to acknowledge past errors where those errors have been made.”
But US policy towards Honduras since the coup indicates that the Obama administration does not represent “change you can believe in.” Rather it is bent on imposing its will and propping up the status quo in Latin America, just as previous US administrations did.
Over the past decade a popular upsurge has swept Latin America comprised of indigenous movements, impoverished urban dwellers, peasants, environmentalists, feminists, and human rights advocates. They are demanding a more equitable distribution of the wealth of their countries and an end to political systems dominated by oligarchs, corrupt politicians and business interests allied with the United States. A string of New Left governments has emerged beginning with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1999 followed by Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva in Brazil in 2003. They have been joined by the election of left of center presidents in Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Paraguay and El Salvador.
This block of progressive forces spearheaded the international opposition to the coup in Honduras. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, reflecting the common sentiment around the continent, noted that the coup was a throwback to “the worst years in Latin America’s history.” The Organization of American States, which has historically been dominated by the United States, voted 34 to 0 to call for the restoration of Manuel Zelaya as president.
This unified opposition in Latin America left the Obama administration with no alternative but to call for the resignation of the de facto government. However, what it has done in the aftermath of the coup is to search for a way to undermine the reformist agenda advocated by Zelaya and to prop up the traditional interests aligned with the United States both within Honduras and in Latin America at large. This commitment to the old order is symbolized by the fact that Alvaro Uribe, the conservative president of Colombia, was in the White House meeting with Obama on June 29 as he issued his statement opposing the coup in Honduras. One of the points Uribe and Obama discussed was US access to three airfields and two naval bases in Colombia. Allegedly for use in the drug war in the Andean region, they are also aimed at counteracting the growing influence of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela who called the expanded US military presence “a threat against us” that could even lead “to a war.”
The US obsession with Venezuela is at the heart of its policy towards Zelaya. Philip Crowley, Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs at the US State Department, stated that the coup should serve as a “lesson” for the deposed president who had signed trade and petroleum accords with Venezuela: “We certainly think that if we were choosing a model government and a model leader for countries of the region to follow, that the current leadership in Venezuela would not be a particular model. If that is the lesson that President Zelaya has learned from this episode, that would be a good lesson.”
Even before the coup, the Obama administration made known its opposition to the reformist policies of the Zelaya government. At a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in early June in Tegucigalpa Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Zelaya in a private meeting that he should back off from trying to put a referendum on the ballot that would provide for the convening of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution for the country. The election of constituent assemblies was the vehicle used by Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador to overturn entrenched interests and to “refound” their political institutions.
The main diplomatic gambit used by the Obama administration in an effort to reign in Manuel Zelaya was to get President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica to broker an agreement with the coup leaders in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Arias had served US interests well in the 1980s during his first presidential term, using regional negotiations to undermine the revolutionary government of Nicaragua and the guerrilla movements in El Salvador and Guatemala while nurturing pseudo-democratic governments that adopted the neo-liberal economic policies then coming into vogue with the “Washington Consensus.” This time however, Arias failed, primarily because the OAS and most of the governments of Latin America made it clear that they would not recognize any government in Tegucigalpa other than one led by Zelaya. As President Luis Inacio da Silva of Brazil declared, “we cannot compromise” on the restoration of Zelaya.
In the end Arias issued a mediation proposal that called for the restitution of Zelaya as head of a national government of reconciliation with weakened executive powers. Micheletti’s de facto regime rejected the proposal. It is worth noting that one of the clauses in the proposed accord calls for Zelaya to refrain from promoting a constituent assembly, a clause that has been angrily denounced by leaders of the social movements in Honduras.
U.S. efforts to restore Zelaya have been quite tepid compared to other countries. While many ambassadors have been withdrawn, the US head diplomat Hugo Llorens, appointed by George W. Bush, remains in place. There are reports that he may have even given the green light to the coup plotters, or at least did nothing to stop them. And while the World Bank has suspended assistance, the State Department merely warns that $180 million in US economic aid may be in jeopardy. Most importantly the United States refuses to freeze the bank accounts and cancel the visas of the coup leaders, measures that Zelaya and other Latin American governments have urged Washington to do.
The Obama presidency probably hoped that like the years of the Bush administration Latin America would require only marginal attention in the grand scheme of world affairs. This may turn out not to be the case however if Honduras, the last of the banana republics, erupts in a civil conflict that draws in neighboring countries. “Change” may be the catch word for the new administration, but here an old French phrase may be more indicative of what is really occurring: “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose,” the more things change the more they remain the same.
Roger Burbach is the author of “The Pinochet Affair: State Terrorism and Global Justice,” and the Director of the Center for the Study of the Americas based in Berkeley, CA

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

Bolivia sets new global high mark for indigenous rights January 26, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Latin America.
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bolivia-voterBOWLERS IN BOLIVA: Aymara women went to the polls to vote on a new constitution Sunday. It passed.
Enrique Castro-Mendivil/ Reuters

Sara Miller Llana | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Critics say Mr. Morales is dangerously dividing the nation and merely following in the footsteps of populist leftist allies Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, who have also rewritten their constitutions to invest the executive branch with more power.

True or not, something more is happening: This is a victory for Latin American indigenous groups marginalized since the Spanish conquest 500 years ago, say analysts, and some see it as a global human rights and racial-equity landmark.

“Bolivia’s successful referendum process is precedent-setting with respect to indigenous empowerment worldwide,” says Robert Albro, an expert on social and indigenous movements in Latin America at American University in Washington.

Exit polls show that almost 60 percent of Bolivians voted in favor of a new magna carta that recognizes 36 different indigenous groups and secures a place for them in Congress.

“It is really an unbelievable moment in Bolivian history,” says Mr. Albro.

He attributes Morales’s success in Bolivia, starting with his election in 2005 and capped by this referendum, to the urbanization of Bolivian society and the growing political clout of the indigenous, which has created an indigenous elite.

The obligatory vote on Sunday was peaceful, free of the sometimes deadly confrontation that has marked other moments leading up to constitutional reform in Bolivia – with Morales and his opposition, mainly based in the mineral-rich, tropical lowlands, locked in battles over regional autonomy and control over gas reserves.

The new constitution contains over 400 articles but its centerpiece is the effort to “decolonize” Bolivian society.

The indigenous comprise the majority of the poor, in the poorest nation in South America, and were only granted the right to vote less than 60 years ago.

The new constitution reserves seats in Congress and in the Constitutional Court for smaller indigenous groups, and grants all of them autonomy that will, among other things, allow them to practice community justice, according to their own customs.

In one of the more controversial articles, Bolivia now guarantees freedom of religion, extending the same recognition to the Andean god Pachamama, the Earth god of the Andes, as it does to the Christian God.

The current Constitution “recognizes and supports” the Roman Catholic church.

Sunday’s vote included another referendum that asked Bolivians if they wanted limit the size of land holdings to no more than 5,000 or 10,000 hectares – in a government effort to more equitably distribute land. Official polling results aren’t expected until Feb. 4.

Still, Morales supporters expressed jubilation at the outcome. “We are getting back everything we lost: money and culture,” says Paulina Quiñonez, an Aymaran street vendor in La Paz. “They have robbed so much from us.”

This vote comes as other nations in Latin America have moved, since the 1990s, toward constitutional revisions that recognize “plurinational” states, beginning with Colombia in 1991, says Albro.

The Zapatista movement in Mexico, which emerged in 1994, gave rise to a transnational movement, and presidential candidates Ollanta Humala in Peru and Rigoberta Menchu in Guatemala have also given the movement a boost.

Around the globe, countries such as Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have also gone a long way toward recognizing the “cultural rights” of native peoples. But Albro says that Bolivia’s new constitution sets a precedent because of its degree of detail to guarantee the political, cultural, and economic rights of the majority indigenous population by a president of indigenous descent. “Usually such constitutional reforms have been carried out to better ‘recognize’ indigenous peoples but by largely nonindigenous governments,” he says.

It was a goal that teetered on the brink of failure.

At one point, Bolivian opposition groups boycotted the process and protests turned deadly. In the end, a final draft constitution was only made possible via a series of negotiations and concessions made on the part of Morales and his political party (MAS). Of more than 400 articles, more than a quarter of them were modified.

Morales remains widely popular despite a strong opposition. He won 67 percent of support in a recall referendum in August, higher than the passage of the constitution. But the new constitution allows him to run for another consecutive term, which would end in 2014.

Some worry that the changes are simply a tool to hold onto power. Critics compare Morales to Mr. Chávez in Venezuela, who is holding a referendum next month to allow indefinite reelection for heads of state. “This is a clear victory for the poor,” says Hugo Campos, a retired businessman in El Paz. “But this is too much like Chávez. They are just trying to dominate, and create divisions between [Bolivian] society and even with the US so they can dominate more.”

Opposition forces say that the new constitution is further dividing Bolivian society. “This creates two types of citizens, one that is of [indigenous] origin and one that is not,” says Luis Eduardo Siles, a former congressman and fierce Morales critic. “There was not this hatred in our society before.”

And he says battles are bound to continue. For starters, it is unclear how the constitution, which leaves vast space for more protest and wrangling, will be implemented. “This doesn’t solve any of the real problems. It will just create more fights,” says Mr. Siles.

Indeed, to impliment the reforms outlined by the new constitution will require the passage of dozens of new laws. To get those through Congress, Morales will have to work with the oppostion.

Miguel Centellas, an assistant political science professor at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland who writes a blog on Bolivian politics, says that not only will the sides dig in their heels, but new factions have arisen out of the process.

The opposition parties have splintered over negotiations over the constitution.

Some Morales supporters are angered by the concessions.

“I see this as yet another crisis in a series of crises,” Mr. Centellas says. “I don’t think the referendum will solve anything. … The country will remain just as polarized.”

bolivia-election-posters

CHÁVEZ, CASTRO, AND MORALES: A Bolivian woman walks past an Evo Morales campaign poster that includes the leftist leaders of Venezuela and Cuba. Morales denies any financial support from Venezuela.
David Mercado/Reuters

 

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

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

www.truthout.org

25 January 2009Andean Information Network, indigenous organizations advocating a constituyente “sought greater participation in the political decisions regarding the use and distribution of land and natural resources, the allocation of state resources, and national development policies.” In fact, these demands correspond to many of the unapplied rights and guarantees made by previous constitutions. ¿Sí o No? Bolivians Mobilize for National Vote on New Constitution By Benjamin Dangl The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia” (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a web site on activism and politics in Latin America. Email Bendangl@gmail.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    History and Division

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Media and Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ——-

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

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