2 October 2008 Edition
International : Bolivian Crisis Affirms South American Independence
A New World Order
BY DARA MacNEILL
SEPTEMBER has been a month for seismic shifts. The barren ideology that drove the so-called – free market – was ultimately revealed as nothing more than a cheap fraud, a high end con trick that was given licence to plunder and run amok for decades.
Its own high priests and practitioners on Wall Street have now discovered a new faith and affection for government and state intervention. The free market only works when it delivers private profit – losses are the responsibility of the taxpayer. Global financial capitalism is no more.
South of Wall Street, September saw another series of events which signaled a fundamental shift in how former serf states of Washington now conduct their affairs, with a degree of autonomy and independence that is unprecedented.
On 10 September, the government of Evo Morales – Latin America’s first elected indigenous leader – formally declared the US ambassador to Bolivia to be persona non grata. Ambassador Philip Goldberg affected incredulity and ignorance of any offence.
At the time, the Morales government was confronted with a veritable insurgency, a well-planned campaign of violence and economic sabotage directed at government institutions, government supporters and at the country’s majority indigenous population. It was designed to destabilise his progressive and popular government.
The revolt of the well-heeled was fomented by state governors, mayors and political parties in a region of Bolivia known as the Media Luna (half moon), which is comprised of five of Bolivia’s wealthiest states in the east and south of the country. They are home to the country’s greatest concentration of wealth and natural resources (especially gas).
The vested interests of the Media Luna have opposed the Morales government since his election in 2005. Relative to the mass of Bolivians, the residents of this region are wealthy and privileged. And their skin is whiter.
The majority of Bolivia’s citizens are of indigenous extraction, one of only two countries in Latin America where the original inhabitants outnumber the conquistador settlers and their descendants.
Thus, not only was the election of an indigenous as president an affront to the Media Luna’s keen sense of superiority, nursed and honed over centuries, but his plan to take full control of Bolivia’s resources and redistribute wealth among the country’s majority – by way of a new constitution – was nothing less than outrage against their rightful position at the apex of Bolivian society.
Thus, their campaign has been characterised by a visceral hatred of the indigenous majority, with the head of the energy rich state of Santa Cruz, Ruben Costas, publicly referring to President Morales as a macacca, an animal and a monkey. The neo-fascist underpinnings of this campaign are frighteningly clear.
The fact that President Morales and his Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) is a close regional ally of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez was yet another factor designed to drive the well-heeled into fits of apoplexy.
Indeed, it is hard not to be struck by the parallels with Venezuela: there too, the old elites reacted with similar levels of outrage and racial condescension as the Chavez regime began to relieve them of their rightful privileges. And their campaign also employed destablisation and economic sabotage. Ultimately, it proved a disastrous failure.
However, it has been successfully applied before, to give a veneer of popular support to a coup – Allende’s Chile in 1974. The strategy was originally crafted in Washington.
In August, Morales effectively called the bluff of the coup plotters by winning almost 7 out of 10 votes in a recall referendum, increasing his support from 2005. No Bolivian president has ever enjoyed such a powerful mandate. Indeed, the August vote saw him win increased support in the states of the Media Luna.
Nonetheless, the governors of the recalcitrant states refused to accept the result and announced their attention to proceed with unilateral plans for autonomy secession. They stepped up the campaign of violence, racist attacks and economic sabotage.
Which is where Ambassador Goldberg comes in. His was not the first abrupt departure of a US official from La Paz. In February a US student studying on a scholarship in Bolivia reported that a US official had requested that he supply information on the presence and movements of Venezuelan and Cuban nationals, in Bolivia. A US official hurriedly left the country.
Ambassador Goldberg was forced into a very public apology. Nonetheless, the covert activities didn’t stop and on August 25 Goldberg paid a visit to Santa Cruz state where he met with Ruben Costa, the governor given to flinging racist epithets at President Morales. In the old days, that sort of behaviour would have been presented as constructive US engagement. No more.
The day after Goldberg’s expulsion in September, the crypto-fascist opposition massacred at least 16 and possibly up to 30 Morales supporters in El Porvenir. The Morales supporters had been on their way to a rally and were ambushed.
Morales imposed a state of emergency and issued orders for the arrest of those responsible. A few days later he flew to Chile for an emergency meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), a body formed only in May 2008 and modelled on the European Union.
The members of UNASUR – comprising all 12 nations in South America – unanimously condemned the right wing insurrection and affirmed their full support for Morales.
And this is where the second seismic shift has occurred: as Morales himself has pointed out, a crisis such as this would previously have been addressed in an office either in New York or Washington. On this occasion, the US was not even at the table.
Since the decisive action by UNASUR, support for the insurrectionists in Bolivia has palpably drained away. They have no friends among the 11 nations that surround them and Washington now seems a very, very long way away.
And in recent days national outrage at the September 11 massacre has seen hundreds of thousands of Morales supporters taking to the roads, moving east and south towards the Media Luna. There they are setting up peaceful camps and roadblocks, preparing for a modern day siege and to slowly strangle the reactionary life out of its privileged elite.