Editor’s note: We’re not sure this is really a speech by Evo Morales, but it’s so good it’s worth reading because it’s something he could say.
President of Bolivia
News and Opinion
Roger’s note: I never cease to be outraged when I think of U.S. foreign policy and actions towards Latin America, of which I have been a life-long student and aficionado. The U.S. government has never met a pro-American dictator or repressive president it didn’t like, from Tierra del Fuego to Havana, Cuba (which is not to exclude the rest of the world). It is particularly offensive that, once the people have overthrown these traitors, the United States becomes an asylum for them. Almost without exception, its geopolitical objectives trump human rights, values and decency. God Bless America.
Thousands of people marched in El Alto, Bolivia on Friday, October 17th to demand justice for the 2003 massacre of over 60 people during the country’s Gas War under the Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (Goni) administration. Sanchez de Lozada is currently living freely in the US, and marchers demanded he and others in his government be brought to Bolivia to be tried for ordering the violence. October marks the anniversary of that assault on the city, and people mobilized on Friday to remember and to demand justice.
“Today we’re marching to remember on the 11th anniversary of the Gas War, which was aimed at getting rid of the neoliberal government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada,” El Alto neighborhood council member Daniel Cama said while marching down the streets of the city. “We demand justice, and we demand the extradition of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and [former Defense Minister] Carlos Sanchez de Berzain, because they were the ones that led the massacre against the people of El Alto. This violence left many widows, orphans and injured people that are still demanding justice. Today we are marching to celebrate and remember the dead who fought for our natural resources.”
Bolivia’s Gas War is largely credited for ushering in a period of progressive change marked by policies led by President Evo Morales, who was re-elected on October 12th for a third term in office. The “Martyrs of the Gas War” are often recalled as the protagonists that led to the nationalization of sectors of Bolivia’s gas industry, a move which has generated funding for many popular social programs the Morales’ administration has developed to alleviate poverty. (For more information, see this article on the ten year anniversary of the Gas War and this article on the case against Goni.)
On Friday, thousands of El Alto residents marched from different points in the city, converging for a rally in the city center, where social movement leaders and victims of the Gas War spoke to a large crowd. Cheers regularly broke out, including the angry cry, “We Want Goni’s Head!” Many activists in the Gas War itself were present, such as the prominent participation by the city’s Fejuve neighborhood organizations. In a march meant to remember those days of repression and struggle, many veterans of the conflict marched down the same streets, and under the same bridges, where the army led their attack.
There was a notable absence of politicians at the day’s events, something many speakers at the rally commented on. Various marchers explained that the Morales government was moving forward with nationalization plans and progressive policies fought for in the streets of the Gas War. However, activists also complained that the Morales administration has not supported the working class city of El Alto with sufficient public projects and infrastructure.
“We’re marching for those brothers and sisters who died or were injured in the Gas War,” explained El Alto resident Genoveve Rodriguez. “As time has passed not even the government remembers this conflict, and they haven’t created enough public projects to help out the city of El Alto.”
The following photos are of the October 17th march, including the vast participation of the neighborhood councils and family members of Gas War victims, as well as the rally which ended the day’s mobilization with speeches and music.
El Alto’s Fejuve neighborhood organizations, key participants in the Gas War, led the march.
Family members of Gas War victims rallied for justice in El Alto.
A cross in downtown El Alto reads “11 Years of Impunity.”
A Bolivian hip-hop group was among many bands performing at the rally following the march.
A commemorative mural in El Alto depicting the Gas War.
All photos by Benjamin Dangl
Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America, covering social movements and politics in the region for over a decade. He is the author of the books Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. Dangl is currently a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at McGill University, and edits UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Twitter: https://twitter.com/bendangl
Roger’s note: I read the New York Times (it is the most right wing site I go to online; and, when asked how I keep up with the “other side,” I reply that one absorbs it by osmosis), there is often good reporting and feature articles; but on U.S. foreign policy, the Times is as Neanderthal as Bush/Obama/Clintons.
One of the most accidentally revealing media accounts highlighting the real meaning of “democracy” in U.S. discourse is a still-remarkable 2002 New York Times Editorial on the U.S.-backed military coup in Venezuela, which temporarily removed that country’s democratically elected (and very popular) president, Hugo Chávez. Rather than describe that coup as what it was by definition – a direct attack on democracy by a foreign power and domestic military which disliked the popularly elected president – the Times, in the most Orwellian fashion imaginable, literally celebrated the coup as a victory for democracy:
With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona.
Thankfully, said the NYT, democracy in Venezuela was no longer in danger . . . because the democratically-elected leader was forcibly removed by the military and replaced by an unelected, pro-U.S. “business leader.” The Champions of Democracy at the NYT then demanded a ruler more to their liking: “Venezuela urgently needs a leader with a strong democratic mandate to clean up the mess, encourage entrepreneurial freedom and slim down and professionalize the bureaucracy.”
More amazingly still, the Times editors told their readers that Chávez’s “removal was a purely Venezuelan affair,” even though it was quickly and predictably revealed that neocon officials in the Bush administration played a central role. Eleven years later, upon Chávez’s death, the Times editors admitted that “the Bush administration badly damaged Washington’s reputation throughout Latin America when it unwisely blessed a failed 2002 military coup attempt against Mr. Chávez” [the paper forgot to mention that it, too, blessed (and misled its readers about) that coup]. The editors then also acknowledged the rather significant facts that Chávez’s “redistributionist policies brought better living conditions to millions of poor Venezuelans” and “there is no denying his popularity among Venezuela’s impoverished majority.”
If you think The New York Times editorial page has learned any lessons from that debacle, you’d be mistaken. Today they published an editorialexpressing grave concern about the state of democracy in Latin America generally and Bolivia specifically. The proximate cause of this concern? The overwhelming election victory of Bolivian President Evo Morales (pictured above), who, as The Guardian put it, “is widely popular at home for a pragmatic economic stewardship that spread Bolivia’s natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses.”
The Times editors nonetheless see Morales’ election to a third term not as a vindication of democracy but as a threat to it, linking his election victory to the way in which “the strength of democratic values in the region has been undermined in past years by coups and electoral irregularities.” Even as they admit that “it is easy to see why many Bolivians would want to see Mr. Morales, the country’s first president with indigenous roots, remain at the helm” – because “during his tenure, the economy of the country, one of the least developed in the hemisphere, grew at a healthy rate, the level of inequality shrank and the number of people living in poverty dropped significantly” – they nonetheless chide Bolivia’s neighbors for endorsing his ongoing rule: “it is troubling that the stronger democracies in Latin America seem happy to condone it.”
The Editors depict their concern as grounded in the lengthy tenure of Morales as well as the democratically elected leaders of Ecuador and Venezuela: “perhaps the most disquieting trend is that protégés of Mr. Chávez seem inclined to emulate his reluctance to cede power.” But the real reason the NYT so vehemently dislikes these elected leaders and ironically views them as threats to “democracy” becomes crystal clear toward the end of the editorial (emphasis added):
This regional dynamic has been dismal for Washington’s influence in the region. In Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, the new generation of caudillos [sic] have staked out anti-American policies and limited the scope of engagement on development, military cooperation and drug enforcement efforts. This has damaged the prospects for trade and security cooperation.
You can’t get much more blatant than that. The democratically elected leaders of these sovereign countries fail to submit to U.S. dictates, impede American imperialism, and subvert U.S. industry’s neoliberal designs on the region’s resources. Therefore, despite how popular they are with their own citizens and how much they’ve improved the lives of millions of their nations’ long-oppressed and impoverished minorities, they are depicted as grave threats to “democracy.”
It is, of course, true that democratically elected leaders are capable of authoritarian measures. It is, for instance, democratically elected U.S. leaders who imprison people without charges for years, build secret domestic spying systems, and even assert the power to assassinate their own citizens without due process. Elections are no guarantee against tyranny. There are legitimate criticisms to be made of each of these leaders with regard to domestic measures and civic freedoms, as there is for virtually every government on the planet.
But the very idea that the U.S. government and its media allies are motivated by those flaws is nothing short of laughable. Many of the U.S. government’s closest allies are the world’s worst regimes, beginning with the uniquely oppressive Saudi kingdom (which just yesterday sentenced a popular Shiite dissident to death) and the brutal military coup regime in Egypt, which, as my colleague Murtaza Hussain reports today, gets more popular in Washington as it becomes even more oppressive. And, of course, the U.S. supports Israel in every way imaginable even as its Secretary of State expressly recognizes the “apartheid” nature of its policy path.
Just as the NYT did with the Venezuelan coup regime of 2002, the U.S. government hails the Egyptian coup regime as saviors of democracy. That’s because “democracy” in U.S. discourse means: “serving U.S. interests” and “obeying U.S. dictates,” regardless how how the leaders gain and maintain power. Conversely, “tyranny” means “opposing the U.S. agenda” and “refusing U.S. commands,” no matter how fair and free the elections are that empower the government. The most tyrannical regimes are celebrated as long as they remain subservient, while the most popular and democratic governments are condemned as despots to the extent that they exercise independence.
To see how true that is, just imagine the orgies of denunciation that would rain down if a U.S. adversary (say, Iran, or Venezuela) rather than a key U.S. ally like Saudi Arabia had just sentenced a popular dissident to death. Instead, the NYT just weeks ago uncritically quotes an Emirates ambassador lauding Saudi Arabia as one of the region’s “moderate” allies because of its service to the U.S. bombing campaign in Syria. Meanwhile, the very popular, democratically elected leader of Bolivia is a grave menace to democratic values – because he’s “dismal for Washington’s influence in the region.”
Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Email the author: firstname.lastname@example.org
Roger’s note: With some very rare exceptions, self-styled leftist/socialist politicians, especially presidents, are almost always a disappointment. I expect Evo Morales to someday have his moment, but for now let’s enjoy someone in power telling it like it is. Bolivia may not be a military threat to U.S. world hegemony, but to use Noam Chomsky’s phrase, it poses a serious “threat by good example.”
Bolivia’s willingness to stand-up and express their discontents with American policies; and express their own ideologies.
Judging from the empty seats while the President of Bolivia Evo Morales spoke at the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, not much attention might have been paid to him, compared to that of the United States or Israel. Nonetheless, President Morale’s message was diplomatic, assertive, to the point and clear. He and his nation are anti-empirical, anti-United States but peaceful.
So as to set up his main point of anti US imperialism, President Morales made it clear that all economic and social gains in his country have been reached and achieved, not by outside help, but by a free and sovereign state. Bolivia’s advancement in the economic and social sector are all to evident with a 4.8% economic growth, (over twice as much compared to when the United States and transnational corporations were involved in Bolivian affairs)
But, you know that President Morales couldn’t stop there. He wanted to make his analysis of the United Sates and other empirical powers more descriptive. He made it clear that Bolivia’s advancements are because of a state “Free from the claws of the North American empire and economically free from the International Monetary Fund.”
You might ask yourself, Claws? As if the United States or the International Monetary Fund are some sort of demons or savage animals. Why so much hate towards the US and the IMF? Well, these organizations in the past where the ones responsible for pressuring the Bolivian government into privatizing their natural resources into the hands of transnational corporations who basically robbed the Bolivian people and government from their resources, with a measly 18% for the Bolivians profit cut and 82% for the transnational corporations.
Their subsequent message was clear. They are a nation with disputes but resort to peaceful means to obtain a resolution. Their disputes over land, or any disputes overall should not be handled violently, but rather peacefully, and diplomatically. Bolivia does not solely preach, they also practice what they say. In that, Bolivia wants back their land which was unjustly taken from them in 1879 and was their only access to an ocean. But, after unjust and unfulfilled treaties between Bolivia and Chile (this is where the peaceful Bolivian ideology kicks in) the Bolivian government has resorted not to violence or hostility but to the International Court of Justice. Demanding that the Chilenian government negotiate effectively the land which was unjustly taken from the Bolivians.
What is most impressive and interesting about Bolivia is their willingness to speak their minds and not afraid to drift from the status quo. Bolivian President Evo Morales called out the United States for using their war on terrorism as an excuse for unilateral interventions for capitalist gains. While speaking on the same topic he went as far as to say that, the business of capitalist is war. If you think he was done, President Morales got even more personal and asked for a consideration of submitting a demand against President Obama and his administration for crimes against humanity, due to their involvement with the bombardments in Libya. Reiterating that the Nobel peace prize president Obama was awarded was an award for peace, not a war prize.
Shockingly enough calling the United States capitalist mercenaries in their home land wasn’t enough. President Morales brought back up the topic of moving United Nation headquarters out of New York and out of American soil completely. As supporting statements president Morales brought to light the concept that UN headquarters should be in a place where the host nation has ratified all United Nation treaties. Indicating to the fact that the United States has not ratified treaties related to human rights nor Mother Earth. He also noted that US policies “scare away” representative because roughly 60 or 70 presidents out of the 193 attended the General Assembly. What seems to have bothered President Morales most was that the United States does not guarantee visas to visiting delegates, nor presidents. And if the United States does give out temporary visas they can give them for a few days only. Which visibly offended President Morales, as he noted that this caused them to “keep looking at the time because then they take our visas away.”
President Morales did not come out aggressive but assertive and expressing his concerns; his concerns with American imperialistic ideologies and policies; the concern that American policies not only affect Americans, but the rest of the world. Now, Evidently Bolivia does not pose a military threat to the United States. But, the Bolivians do pose an influencing threat to US interest and ideologies -especially in South America- which can be just as harmful to US relations.
Richard Fidler, La Paz, Life on the Left, http://boliviasc.org/
On October 7, President Evo Morales issued a government decree that allows workers to establish “social enterprises” in businesses that are bankrupt, winding up, or unjustifiably closed or abandoned. These enterprises, while private, will be operated by the workers and qualify for government assistance.
Morales issued Supreme Decree 1754 at a ceremony in the presidential palace marking the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the Confederación General de Trabajadores Fabriles de Bolivia (CGTFB – the General Confederation of Industrial Workers of Bolivia). The Minister of Labour, Daniel Santalla, said the decree was issued pursuant to article 54 of Bolivia’s new Constitution, which states that workers
“in defense of their workplaces and protection of the social interest may, in accordance with the law, reactivate and reorganize firms that are undergoing bankrupty, creditor proceedings or liquidation, or closed or abandoned without justification, and may form communitarian or social enterprises. The state will contribute to the action of the workers.”
In his remarks to the audience of several hundred union members and leaders, President Morales noted that employers often attempt to blackmail workers with threats to shut down when faced with demands for higher wages.
“Now, if they threaten you in that way, the firm may as well go bankrupt or close, because you will become the owners. They will be new social enterprises,” he said.
Labour Minister Santalla noted that the constitutional article had already been used to establish some firms, such as Enatex, Instrabol, and Traboltex, and that more such firms could now be set up under the new decree.
Business spokesmen predictably warned that the new provisions would be a disincentive to private investment and risk the viability of companies.
Santalla also said that firms that do not comply with their workforce obligations under the law will lose preferential mechanisms to export their products to state-managed markets. And he cited some recent cases in which the government had intervened in defense of workers victimized for their attempts to form unions. In one such case last month, Burger King, the company was fined 30,000 Bolivianos ($4,300 US), ordered to reinstate the fired workers and to recognize the union.
In the following article Alfredo Rada, Bolivia’s Deputy Minister of Coordination with the Social Movements, draws attention to some important developments within the country’s labour movement and suggests some means by which the unions can be more effectively incorporated within the “process of change” being championed by the government of the MAS-IPSP, the Movement for Socialism – Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples.
My translation from the Spanish.
– Richard Fidler
Roger’s note: please read the caveat just below the photo.
Editor’s note: We’re not sure this is really a speech by Evo Morales, but it’s so good it’s worth reading because it’s something he could say.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The countries of Mercosur—Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela—have agreed to recall their ambassadors from Spain, France, Italy and Portugal after the “aggression” faced by Bolivian President Evo Morales.
The countries announced their decision at a summit in Montevideo, Uruguay on Friday.
Earlier this month, a plane carrying Morales from Moscow to La Paz was forced to land in Vienna where it remained for 13 hours over suspicions that it was carrying NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Spain, France, Italy and Portugal were linked to the airspace blockade that forced the plane’s reroute and delay.
The Mercosur countries also said they would be sending the European countries a joint note of formal protest “demanding explanations and excuses for the situation suffered by President Evo Morales.”
In the morning, Luis Almagro, Uruguay’s foreign minister said that the block felt that the “excuses the European countries have given up to this point” for the denial of airspace and/or landing of Morales’ plane were “insufficient.”
La Razón reports that Morales expressed thanks for the signs of solidarity and added that the U.S. should be included on the list for it was the U.S. that was behind the air blockade—which the summit leaders slammed as “a flagrant violation of the precepts of international law.”
The chancellor from Argentina, Hector Timerman, said that the Mercosur countries would be “inflexible” in the face of the aggression faced by Morales, as well as the issues of the surveillance and asylum.
In October 2003, the intensely pro-US president of Bolivia, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, sent his security forces to suppress growing popular protests against the government’s energy and globalization policies. Using high-powered rifles and machine guns, his military forces killed 67 men, women and children, and injured 400 more, almost all of whom were poor and from the nation’s indigenous Aymara communities. Dozens of protesters had been killed by government forces in the prior months when troops were sent to suppress them.
Thousands of Bolivian Indians rallying in La Paz to demand the resignation of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, 16 October 2003. The sign reads, ‘Goni, Zorro, murderers of the people’, in reference to the president and his defense minister. Photograph: Reuters/Carlos Barria
The resulting outrage over what became known as “the Gas Wars” drove Sanchez de Lozada from office and then into exile in the United States, where he was welcomed by his close allies in the Bush administration. He has lived under a shield of asylum in the US ever since.
The Bolivians, however, have never stopped attempting to bring their former leader to justice for what they insist are his genocide and crimes against humanity: namely, ordering the killing of indigenous peaceful protesters in cold blood (as Time Magazine put it: “according to witnesses, the military fired indiscriminately and without warning in El Alto neighborhoods”). In 2007, Bolivian prosecutors formally charged him with genocide for the October 2003 incident, charges which were approved by the nation’s supreme court.
Bolivia then demanded his extradition from the US for him to stand trial. That demand, ironically, was made pursuant to an extradition treaty signed by Sánchez de Lozada himself with the US. Civil lawsuits have also been filed against him in the US on behalf of the surviving victims.
The view that Sánchez de Lozada must be extradited from the US to stand trial is a political consensus in Bolivia, shared by the government and the main opposition party alike. But on Friday night, the Bolivian government revealed that it had just been notified by the Obama administration that the US government has refused Bolivia’s extradition request:
“‘Yesterday (Thursday), a document arrived from the United States, rejecting the extradition of people who have done a lot of damage to Bolivia,’ leftist [President Evo] Morales, an outspoken critic of US foreign policy in Latin America, said in a speech.
“Calling the United States a ‘paradise of impunity’ and a ‘refuge for criminals,’ Morales said Washington turned down the extradition request on the grounds that a civilian leader cannot be tried for crimes committed by the military …
“Sanchez de Lozada’s extradition was also demanded by opposition leaders in Bolivia and they criticized the US decision.
“Rogelio Mayta, a lawyer representing victims of the 2003 violence, said ‘the US protection’ of Sanchez de Lozada was not surprising.
“‘It’s yet another display of the US government’s double moral standard,’ he said.”
Because he has yet to be tried, I have no opinion on whether Sánchez de Lozada is guilty of the crimes with which he has been formally charged (Bolivian courts have convicted several other military officers on genocide charges in connection with these shootings). But the refusal of the Obama administration to allow him to stand trial for what are obviously very serious criminal allegations is completely consistent with American conceptions of justice and is worth examining for that reason.
Let’s begin with two vital facts about the former Bolivian leader.
First, Sánchez de Lozada was exactly the type of America-revering-and-obeying leader the US has always wanted for other nations, especially smaller ones with important energy resources. When he was driven into exile in October 2003, the New York Times described him as “Washington’s most stalwart ally in South America”.
The former leader – a multimillionaire mining executive who, having been educated in the US, spoke Spanish with a heavy American accent – was a loyal partner in America’s drug war in the region. More importantly, the former leader himself was a vehement proponent and relentless crusader for free trade and free market policies favored by the US: policies that the nation’s indigenous poor long believed (with substantial basis) resulted in their impoverishment while enriching Bolivia’s small Europeanized elite.
It was Sánchez de Lozada’s forced exile that ultimately led to the 2006 election and 2009 landslide re-election of Morales, a figure the New York Times in October 2003 described as one “regarded by Washington as its main enemy”. Morales has been as vehement an opponent of globalization and free trade as Sánchez de Lozada was a proponent, and has constantly opposed US interference in his region and elsewhere (in 2011, Morales called for the revocation of Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize as a result of the intervention in Libya).
So, this extradition refusal is, in one sense, a classic and common case of the US exploiting pretenses of law and justice to protect its own leaders and those of its key allies from the rule of law, even when faced with allegations of the most egregious wrongdoing. If the Obama DOJ so aggressively shielded accused Bush war criminals from all forms of accountability, it is hardly surprising that it does the same for loyal US puppets. That a government that defies US dictates is thwarted and angered in the process is just an added bonus. That, too, is par for the course.
But there’s another important aspect of this case that distinguishes it from the standard immunity Washington gifts to itself and its friends. When he ran for president in 2002, Sánchez de Lozada was deeply unpopular among the vast majority of Bolivians as a result of his prior four-year term as president in the 1990s. To find a way to win despite this, he hired the consulting firm owned and operated by three of Washington’s most well-connected Democratic party operatives: James Carville, Stan Greenberg and Bob Shrum. He asked them to import the tactics of American politics into Bolivia to ensure his election victory.
As detailed by a 2006 New York Times review of a film about the Democratic operatives’ involvement in Bolivia’s election, their strategy was two-fold: first, destroy the reputations of his two opponents so as to depress the enthusiasm of Bolivia’s poor for either of them; and then mobilize Sánchez de Lozada’s base of elites to ensure he wins by a tiny margin. That strategy worked, as he was elected with a paltry 22.5% of the popular vote. From the Times review:
“‘[The film] asks a more probing question: whether Mr Carville and company, in selling a pro-globalization, pro-American candidate, can export American-style campaigning and values to a country so fundamentally different from the United States …
“‘It’s a very explosive film in Bolivia because it shows close up a very deliberate strategy,’ said Jim Shultz, an American political analyst in Bolivia who recently saw the film with a group of friends. ‘The film is especially explosive because it’s about a candidate – so identified with the United States and so hated by so many Bolivians – being put into office by the political manipulations of US consultants.’
“Mauro Quispe, 33, a cabdriver in La Paz, said he saw slices of the film on the television news, and it raised his ire. ‘I was stunned,’ he said. ‘He was being advised by the Americans, and everything they said was in English.'”
There’s no evidence, at least of which I’m aware, that any of these Democratic operatives intervened on behalf of their former client in his extradition pleas to the Obama administration, but it rather obviously did not hurt. At the very least, shielding a former leader deposed by his own people from standing trial for allegedly gunning down unarmed civilians takes on an even uglier image when that former leader had recently had leading US Democratic operatives on his payroll.
Then, there are the very revealing parallels between this case and the recent decision by Ecuador to grant asylum to Julian Assange, until his fears of political persecution from being extradited to Sweden are resolved. Remember all those voices who were so deeply outraged at Ecuador’s decision? Given that he faces criminal charges in Sweden, they proclaimed, protecting Assange with asylum constitutes a violent assault on the rule of law.
Do you think any of the people who attacked Ecuador on that ground will raise a peep of protest at what the US did here in shielding this former leader from facing charges of genocide and crimes against humanity back in his own country? In contrast to Ecuador – which is fervently seeking an agreement to allow Assange to go to Sweden to face those allegations while simultaneously protecting his political rights – the US has done nothing, and is doing nothing, to ensure that Sánchez de Lozada will ever have to face trial. To the contrary, until Saturday, the US has steadfastly refused even to acknowledge Bolivia’s extradition request, even though the crimes for which they want to try him are plainly within the scope of the two nations’ extradition treaty.
Then there’s the amazing fact that Democrats, who understandably scorn Mitt Romney for piling up massive personal wealth while he advocates policies harmful to the poor, continue in general to revere these types of Clintonites who, arguably to a lesser extent, have done the same. Indeed, Democrats spent all last week wildly praising Bill Clinton, who has made close to $100m in speaking fees alone by traveling the globe, speaking to hedge funds, and advocating globalization and free trade.
In this case, one finds both the prevailing rules and the prevailing orthodoxies of American justice. High-level leaders in the US government and those who serve their interests are exempt from the rule of law (even when accused of heinous acts of terrorism); only leaders who run afoul of US dictates should be held accountable.
Even in the civil case against him, an appellate court ultimately ruled that he was immune from damages or civil lawsuits, overturning a lower court ruling that there were sufficient allegations of genocide and war crimes against him to allow the suit to proceed. As usual, US federal courts are the leaders in ensuring that the most politically well-connected are shielded from the consequences of their acts.
Relatedly, we find the prevailing sentiment that asylum is something that is only to be granted by the US and its western allies against unfriendly governments. The notion that one may need asylum from the US or the west – or that small Latin American countries unfavorable to the US can grant it rather than have it granted against them – is offensive and perverse to all good and decent western citizens, who know that political persecution is something that happens only far away from them.
The protection of this accused former leader will likely generate little controversy in the US because it was the by-product of the actions of both the Bush and Obama administrations, and because it comports so fully with how American justice functions. The only surprising thing would have been if there had been a different outcome.
Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon. His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics, A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.
Rain clouds ringed the lush hillsides and poor neighborhoods cradling Caracas, Venezuela as dozens of Latin American and Caribbean heads of state trickled out of the airport and into motorcades and hotel rooms. They were gathering for the foundational summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a new regional bloc aimed at self-determination outside the scope of Washington’s power.
Notably absent were the presidents of the US and Canada – they were not invited to participate. “It’s the death sentence for the Monroe Doctrine,” Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said of the creation of the CELAC, referring to a US policy developed in 1823 that has served as a pretext for Washington’s interventions in the region. Indeed, the CELAC has been put forth by many participating presidents as an organization to replace the US-dominated Organization of American States (OAS), empower Latin American and Caribbean unity, and create a more equal and just society on the region’s own terms.
The CELAC meeting comes a time when Washington’s presence in the region is waning. Following the nightmarish decades of the Cold War, in which Washington propped up dictators and waged wars on Latin American nations, a new era has opened up; in the past decade a wave of leftist presidents have taken office on socialist and anti-imperialist platforms.
The creation of the CELAC reflected this new reality, and is one of various recent developments aimed at unifying Latin America and the Caribbean as a progressive alternative to US domination. Other such regional blocs include the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) which has successfully resolved diplomatic crises without pressure from Washington, the Bank of the South, which is aimed at providing alternatives to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and the Bolivarian Alliance of Latin America (ALBA), which was created as an alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a deal which would have expanded the North American Free Trade Agreement throughout Latin America, but failed due to regional opposition.
The global economic crisis was on many of the leaders’ minds during the CELAC conference. “It seems it’s a terminal, structural crisis of capitalism,” Bolivian President Evo Morales said in a speech at the gathering. “I feel we’re meeting at a good moment to debate … the great unity of the countries of America, without the United States.”
The 33 nations comprising the CELAC make up some 600 million people, and together are the number one food exporter on the planet. The combined GDP of the bloc is around $6 trillion, and in a time of global economic woes, the region now has its lowest poverty rate in 20 years; the growth rate in 2010 was over 6% – more than twice that of the US. These numbers reflect the success of the region’s social programs and anti-poverty initiatives.
In an interview with Telesur, Evo Morales said the space opened by the CELAC provides a great opportunity to expand the commerce of Latin America and the Caribbean in a way that does not depend on the precarious markets of the US and Europe. In this respect he saw a central goal of the CELAC being to “implement politics of solidarity, with complementary instead of competitive commerce to resolve social problems…”
While the US is the leading trading partner for most Latin American and Caribbean countries, China is making enormous inroads as well, becoming the main trade ally of the economic powerhouses of Brazil and Chile. This shift was underlined by the fact that Chinese President Hu Jintao sent a letter of congratulations to the leaders forming the CELAC. The letter, which Chávez read out loud to the summit participants, congratulated the heads of state on creating the CELAC, and promised that Hu would work toward expanding relations with the region’s new organization.
The US, for its part, did not send a word of congratulations. Indeed, Washington’s official take on the CELAC meeting downplayed the new group’s significance and reinforced US commitment to the OAS. Commenting on the CELAC, US Department of State spokesman Mark Toner said, “There [are] many sub-regional organizations in the hemisphere, some of which we belong to. Others, such as this, we don’t. We continue, obviously, to work through the OAS as the preeminent multilateral organization speaking for the hemisphere.”
Many heads of state actually saw the CELAC meeting as the beginning of the end for the OAS in the region. This position, held most passionately by leaders from Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, was best articulated by Venezuelan President, and host of the CELAC meeting, Hugo Chávez. “As the years pass, CELAC will leave behind the old OAS,” Chávez said at the summit. “OAS is far from the spirit of our peoples and integration in Latin America. CELAC is born with a new spirit; it is a platform for people’s economic, political and social development, which is very different from OAS.” He later told reporters, “There have been many coup d’états with total support from the OAS, and it won’t be this way with the CELAC.”
However, the presidents involved in the CELAC vary widely in political ideology and foreign policy, and there were differing opinions in regards to relations with the OAS. Some saw the CELAC as something that could work alongside the OAS. As Mexican chancellor Patricia Espinosa said, the OAS and the CELAC are “complementary forces of cooperation and dialogue.”
A test of the CELAC will be how it overcomes such differences and makes concrete steps toward developing regional integration, combating poverty, upholding human rights, protecting the environment and building peace, among other goals. The final agreements of the two day meeting touched upon expanding south to south business and trade deals, combating climate change and building better social programs across the region to impact marginalized communities. In addition, the CELAC participants backed the legalization of coca leaves (widely used as a medicine and for cultural purposes in the Andes), condemned the criminalization of immigrants and migrants, and criticized the US for its embargo against Cuba.
Various presidents at the CELAC spoke of how to approach these dominant issues. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said the CELAC should “monitor and rate” the US anti-drug efforts. As long as the US continues its consumption of drugs, Ortega said, “All the money, regardless of by how much it’s multiplied, and all the blood, no matter how much is spilled” won’t end the drug trade.
Yet there are plenty of contradictions within the CELAC organization itself. The group is for democracy but includes the participation of Porfirio Lobo from Honduras, the president who replaced Manuel Zelaya in unfair elections following a 2009 military coup. The CELAC is for environmental protection, yet its largest participant, Brazil, is promoting an ecologically disastrous agricultural model of soy plantations, GMO crops and poisonous pesticides that are ruining the countryside and displacing small farmers. The group is for fairer trade networks and peace, yet various participating nations have already signed devastating trade deals with the US, and corrupt politicians at high levels of government across the region are deeply tied to the violence and profits of the transnational drug trade.
These are some of the serious challenges posed to Latin American and Caribbean unity and progress, but they do not cancel out the new bloc’s historical and political significance. The creation of the CELAC will likely prove to be a significant step toward the deepening of a struggle for independence and unity in the region, a struggle initiated nearly 200 years ago and largely led by Latin American liberator Simón Bolívar, whose legacy was regularly invoked at the CELAC conference.
In 1829, a year before his death, Bolívar famously said, “The United States appears destined by Providence to plague America with miseries in the name of Freedom.” Yet with the foundation of the CELAC under the clouds of Caracas, the march toward self-determination is still on.
Benjamin Dangl attended the CELAC conference.
Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America and is the author of the new book, Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America (AK Press). For more information, visit DancingwithDynamite.com. Email Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com
Roger’s note: this appears to be a classic example of a popular leftist government in power being seduced into undertaking “economic development” projects regardless of destructive social and environmental consequences. Taking state power puts a “leftist’ government into the conundrum of having to produce economic “results” within the only structure that exists, that is, capitalist economic relationships. You can call yourself “socialist” (as do Bolivia’s Morales, Venezuela’s Chavez and Ecuador’s Correa), but socialism and capitalism are polar opposites, they cannot co-exist in a single economy. What you end up with are minor reforms but no real inroads against the neo-liberal and extractionist economic policies against which the current governments’ campaigned while in opposition.
Published on Monday, September 26, 2011 by Agence France Presse
LA PAZ — Protests over a planned highway through a Bolivian rainforest preserve spread Monday as the defense minister resigned in repudiation of a police crackdown on a protest march against the project.
A native Bolivian from the Isiboro Secure indigenous territory and national park, known by its Spanish acronym TIPNIS, clashes with police as he and dozens of others break away from police custody to block the airport runway as they were being forced to board a plane and return towards their homeland in Rurrenbaque September 26, 2011. (REUTERS/David Mercado)
Angry residents erected barricades and set them on fire on the runways of an airport in the northeastern Amazon region to free about 300 marchers who had been detained by police on Sunday and were to be flown home.
“Residents blocked the airport and prevented the detainees from being transferred,” the mayor of Rurrenabaque, Yerko Nunez, told the privately owned Panamerican radio, adding the police fled.
Riot police on Sunday fired tear gas to disperse a long march on La Paz by Indians from the Amazon to voice their opposition to government plans for a highway through the rainforest preserve.
Police rounded up hundreds of marchers and forced them onto buses in an operation that left several people injured.
An AFP journalist saw several activists with superficial face wounds taken away by dozens of police officers, who were loading the marchers into buses.
The police action came under fire from UN officials and human rights group, and on Monday Bolivian Defense Minister Cecilia Chacon announced she was resigning in protest.
“I do not agree with the intervention in the march and I cannot justify the measure when other alternatives existed,” she said in a letter to leftist President Evo Morales.
She warned the right would take advantage of the police action to sow discontent against Morales’ government.
Indigenous activists from Bolivia’s Amazon basin region left the northern city of Trinidad in mid-August in a bid to march on the capital La Paz to protest the highway plan.
The road would run through a nature preserve that is the ancestral homeland of 50,000 natives from three different Amazonian groups, who have lived largely in isolation for centuries.
After more than a month of hiking from the Amazon rainforest, the protesters arrived just outside Yucumo on Saturday after breaking through a police barricade by forcing the country’s foreign minister to march with them.
Morales, attempting to defuse tensions, said Sunday a referendum would be held to determine whether the road project should go ahead.
It was not immediately clear how soon the vote would be held.
Morales, the country’s first elected indigenous president, favors the road project, arguing it is needed for development.
But Amazon natives fear landless Andean Quechua and Aymara people — Bolivia’s main indigenous groups — will flood into the area and colonize the region.
“The most important thing for us is that they stop the violence as soon as possible,” said the UN envoy in Bolivia, Yoriko Yasukawa, reminding authorities it was their responsibility to “protect the people.”
Veteran human rights activist Maria Carvajal told AFP that police had surged into the demonstrators’ camp with “extreme violence,” adding: “I could not believe what was happening.”
In Santa Cruz, a group of 16 Amazon Indians began a hunger strike Monday in the city’s cathedral to protest the “outrage carried out by the government, using the police to repress a peaceful march,” protester Emigio Polche told the PAT television station.
Aymara and Quechua Indians joined in another hunger strike in Cochabamba at the San Francisco church, a spokesman for the group, Reynaldo Flores, told Bolivision television.
“We are ashamed at what is happening in our country,” Flores said.
Bolivia is South America’s only mostly indigenous nation.