Bolivia: The struggle for change by Federico Fuentes

Dandelion Salad

Posted with permission from Green Left Weekly

by Federico Fuentes
Green Left
29 November 2008

Having captured the imagination of progressives across the globe with scenes of indigenous uprisings confronting right-wing governments and multinationals, Bolivia has become a key focus point of discussion within the left regarding strategies for change.

However, starry-eyed notions and schemas rather than reality have often influenced the views of left commentators on the revolutionary process unfolding in South America’s poorest nation.

At the centre of this debate is the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), led by indigenous President Evo Morales, and its strategy for refounding Bolivia.

After three years of the Morales government it is possible to draw some tentative conclusions about this social experiment.

This experiment expresses the desire of Bolivia’s oppressed indigenous majority to take power in order to bring about real change — unlike the Mexican Zapatista’s “change the world without taking power” strategy or the practice of Brazil’s Workers’ Party that combines power with as little change as possible.

Reformist MAS, revolutionary bases?

Two prominent figures that have consistently attacked the strategy of the MAS leadership have been US intellectual James Petras and Canadian socialist Jeffery Webber.

For Petras, the situation today in Bolivia is explained by the division between “a revolutionary impoverished peasant mass base and [the] electoral-reformist petit bourgeois leadership” of Morales.

The MAS has channelled this revolutionary base, argues Petras, towards “electoral politics culminating in [Morales’s] successful electoral campaign for the presidency” and in doing so derailing a “revolutionary” outcome to the nation’s political and social crisis.

Webber has argued that Bolivian social movements face the choice of MAS’s “populist reformism” or “a turn toward indigenous liberation and a transition to socialism”.

However, the MAS government and strategy can only be understood in the context of the intertwined and complex relationship between Morales, MAS and the social movements.

The social explosions of 2000 were only the first visible explosions of a growing discontent that had emerged against neoliberalism in Bolivia.

Since 1985, successive Bolivian governments turned it into a laboratory for neoliberal shock therapy.

Privatisation of mines, labour casualisation and market deregulation led to a massive fragmentation and dispersal of the militant miner’s movement shattering any real resistance in the urban areas to the plundering of the country’s economy and resources.

In the early 1990s, indigenous communities from the east — marching in defence of land and for a new constituent assembly to found a new, inclusive Bolivia — marked a revitalisation of indigenous movements.

Many ex-miners and Aymara indigenous people, who in the ’80s sought out a livelihood growing coca following the mine privatisation and drought wave in the west of the country, found new political homes in the powerful cocalero unions.

Militant union traditions and indigenous communitarian organising, combined with increased militarisation in the coca-growing regions, led to the emergence of the militantly anti-imperialist cocaleros. Acting more as organs of local power than simple unions, the unions took on roles traditionally assigned to the state.

With disaffection growing with the neoliberal parties, the idea of the need for a political vehicle grew.

The cocaleros, together with the peasant movement predominately based in the west and the indigenous movement of the east, forged their own political instrument: the Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples (IPSP) — today more commonly known by its legally registered name, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS).

Even today, it is these organisations (particularly the cocaleros) that make up the heart and organisational structure of the MAS. It is with these organisations that Morales continues to discuss and debate the next steps forward.

Ignored or downplayed by much of the urban left, the MAS-IPSP began to accumulate forces, attempting to reach out into the cities.

Elections and insurrection

Through a strategy of mobilisation, alliance building and the construction of a national project for change, the indigenous peasant movement burst onto the political scene in the 2002 national elections, where Morales came a close second with 21% of the vote.

While reflecting its still predominately rural base, the vote marked the first time that large sections of indigenous people had voted for “one of their own”. Together with Felipe Quispe’s Pachakutik Indigenous Movement, indigenous parties controlled a third of the parliament.

This led to a strengthened belief in the possibility of winning elections in order to use parliament as a tool for transforming Bolivia.

This in part explains the small role played by MAS and the cocaleros in the 2003 uprising against then-president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. They restricted themselves to mobilisations and roadblocks in the Chapare, while the militant neighbourhood organisations of El Alto led the protests.

Divisions amongst the various leaders of the regionalised corporative social movements, who each mobilised independently around their respective sectoral demands, also explain the non-central role of Morales in these events.

The MAS, and particularly Morales, played a much more prominent role in the 2005 uprising against Carlos Mesa. While originally raising a more moderate proposal regarding gas nationalisations than other more “radical” social movements, MAS, listening to the ranks it had mobilised in large numbers, shifted its demands to the left.

Morales’s call for mobilisations to block the swearing-in of the next two in line to assume the presidency following Mesa’s resignation was crucial to opening the path towards early elections.

This was an outcome that all the social movements — including the “radicals” — accepted.

With no alternative project on the left posed, MAS won the 2005 election with over 90% support in the Chapare, 80% in the impoverished Aymara city of El Alto, a clean sweep of the middle-class areas in La Paz, and 30% in the eastern department of Santa Cruz.

Indigenous nationalism

This emergence of a militant indigenous nationalism, expressed in the vote for Morales, acts as the cohering force that has drawn around it important sections of white-mestizos, and whose vision involves promoting inclusion and power distribution with the indigenous majority.

While some of the social movements have proposed more radical actions or demands — expressed in the divisions that exist within MAS over whether to use dialogue or directly confront the oligarchy — no real movement expressing a radically different project for change, let alone a socialist project, exists.

Instead today, the movements are more united than ever behind “their” government, with the unity pact that exists between the National Coalition for Change (CONALCAM — the largest indigenous, peasant and urban social movements) and the Bolivian Workers Central.

What makes this national movement different from previous nationalist experiences is that for the first time, it is not sections of the middle class or military, but indigenous plebeian sectors that are leading the forces of change.

The Morales government has focussed on modernising the country, promoting industrialisation, increased state intervention in the economy, promoted social and cultural inclusion, and a more democratic redistribution of rent from natural resources through various social programs.

In a country where only a few years ago the president spoke Spanish with a strong US accent, the rise of the first indigenous president marks a new era. The Morales government opened up the possibility of fulfilling the aim of this indigenous majority of a new constitution.

Right-wing counter-offensive

Such a project of change encountered the reaction of the old elite, who see in these changes Bolivia’s version of the Bolshevik revolution.

The focal point of this resistance has been the department of Santa Cruz, the origin of 30% of national GDP, more 50% of tax revenue and food production and home to 47.6% of foreign investment.

These elites violently opposed any steps towards a new constitution that, far from representing the outcome of some idealistic counter-power of the social movements, was always aimed at institutionalising and deepening the gains of the MAS government.

Together with the business elites from the half moon — the eastern departments of Pando, Beni and Tarija — these forces unleashed a virulent campaign against the government, culminating in an open attempt at overthrowing the government in September.

In response, the social movements — both those that make up the organic structure of the MAS and those that remain outside it, all of whom maintain a relationship with Morales that is characterised by a contradictory mix of verticalism and autonomy — mobilised to defeat the coup-plotting offensive.

The outcome was the approval by Congress — where the opposition controls the Senate — of a modified text that, while including temporary retreats on questions of land reform, maintained the essence of the constitutional text — a plurinational state with greater indigenous rights and state control of natural resources — which the opposition had vowed to oppose to the death.

This text will be put to a referendum in January next year.

Demoralised and divided, the opposition split over whether to support the new constitution. Meanwhile MAS and the social movements, closing ranks around the new text, are campaigning to ensure a massive vote in support of the new constitution on January 25, hoping to use this momentum to gain complete control of parliament in the national elections scheduled from next December.

Challenges

However, important challenges remained to be tackled.

The opposition will undoubtedly begin to regroup and plan its next offensive. Conflict has re-emerged as the government has made clear its intention to study the validity of large landholdings in order to redistribute illegally owned land.

The world economic crisis, which has resulted in declining mineral prices, also poses a challenge.

The fact that the Bolivian state that MAS has inherited continues to be dominated by right-wing elements that actively work against the process will continue to be a hindrance — something Morales has emphasised, arguing that winning the elections did not signify taking power.

Yet the biggest challenge will undoubtedly come from within.

Acting more like a federation of unions and social organisations than a political instrument, MAS is permeated by sectoral self-interest. The lack of political cadres has also led to a reliance on urban intellectuals and NGO leaders, without a space to articulate the different perspectives.

MAS also faces the challenge of preventing a transformation into a “traditional” political party. It appears that the future of MAS will be greatly influenced by the rise of the broader CONALCAM.

Yet there remains a lack of organic spaces for the elaboration of policies and a program to drive the process forward.

Venezuela: Crucial Test for Bolivarian Revolution by Federico Fuentes

Dandelion Salad

by Fred Fuentes
Global Research
November 10, 2008

While on the surface it may appear to be a simple electoral battle, something much different is at stake on November 23.

On that day, Venezuelans will go to the polls to elect 22 governors, 328 mayors, as well as 233 legislators to the state legislative councils and 13 councillors to district committees — including indigenous representation — making a total of 603 positions.

Once again, the intricate process of the Bolivarian revolution will put in play its strengths and weaknesses in the form of an electoral contest.

Deepening the revolution

What is at stake is the dynamic of an economic, social and political revolution that, since 2006, has unequivocally declared its will to leave capitalism behind and build 21st century socialism.

To continue down this path implies a very rapid and energetic deepening of measures to adapt the state apparatus to the necessities of radical transformation.

Will the Venezuelan people express, with sufficient participation and a majority weight, their will to accelerate the revolution?

There is no historic precedent of a struggle of this type ever being resolved through elections — much less in the era of corporate monopoly over information and the shameless manipulation of opinion by the media.

But, as has been the case since the beginning, this process demonstrates features dictated less by Venezuelan particularities than by the never-before-seen historic context within which it is occurring.

And the fact is that, in the middle of October, opinion polls done by opposition companies, as well as those sympathetic to the government, augur a new and clear electoral victory for the revolution.

If this occurs, it will be a real feat of perseverance in defence of a strategic program.

Since December 12, 1998 — when President Hugo Chavez was first elected — up until the referendum on reforming the constitution last December, Chavez won countless elections of all types, each time with more voter participation and by a greater margin.

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Latin American integration — an alternative to capitalist crisis?

Dandelion Salad

Posted with permission from Green Left Weekly

by Eric Toussaint
translated by Federico Fuentes
Green Left
31 October 2008

The below article is based on a paper presented on October 8 by Eric Toussaint to the international Responses from the South to the World Economic Crisis seminar held in Caracas. It has been translated by Federico Fuentes and is abridged from socialist e-journal Links, Links. Toussaint is from the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt.

Other speakers on the panel included Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and planning minister Haiman El Troudi, as well as Ecuador’s minister for economic coordination, Pedro Paez, minister of economic coordination. The entire conference was broadcast live by Venezuelan state television.

The economic and financial crisis, whose epicentre is in the United States, has to be utilised by Latin American countries to build an integration favourable to the peoples and initiate a partial “de-linking” from the world capitalist market.

We need to learn the lessons of the 20th century in order to apply them.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, 12 countries in Latin America suspended for a prolonged time repayment of their foreign debt, principally to North American and Western European bankers. Some of them, such as Brazil and Mexico, imposed on their creditors a reduction of between 50% and 90% of their debt some 10 years later.

Mexico went the furthest with its economic and social reforms. During the government of Lazaro Cardenas, the petroleum industry was completely nationalised without any compensation for the North American monopolies.

Moreover, 16 million hectares of land were nationalised and in large part handed over to the indigenous population.

From the ’30s until the mid-’60s, various Latin American governments carried out very active public policies that aimed at a partially self-centred development, known later as the model of industrialisation via substitution of imports.

On the other hand, beginning in 1959, the Cuban Revolution attempted to give a socialist content to the “Bolivarian” project of Latin American integration (named after Simon Bolivar, who helped liberate South America from the Spanish and promoted South American unity).

This socialist content began to appear in Bolivia’s 1952 revolution.

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Bolivia in recovery – 3 part interview with Federico Fuentes

Dandelion Salad

Oct 27, 2008

Bolivia Rising: Bolivia in recovery – 3 part interview with Federico Fuentes

Part 1 – Federico Fuentes returns to Caracas after two weeks in Bolivia assessing the situation there after the attempted right wing coup last month. Morales seems to have outmaneuvered the ultra-right’s attempts to unseat him and appears to have made his own position stronger, while his enemies are in disarray. He is so confident of his support in the popular social movements now that he is holding another referendum next month. Download here

Part 2 – In this section he talks about the new strengths of the Morales government, from the popular social organisations, and support from other Latin American nations. The US and the right are caught on the back foot. US influence in the region has been significantly weakened, with many regions refusing to accept US aid money. Download here

Part 3 – Federico Fuentes talks about renewed power to the people and the popular organisations, after the Morales government survived the crisis of last September. Bolivian society showing new openings and seeking new ways forward. Download here

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Venezuela: Between assassination plots and abstention by Federico Fuentes

Venezuela: Between assassination plots and abstention by Federico Fuentes

Dandelion Salad

Posted with permission from Green Left Weekly

by Federico Fuentes, Caracas
Green Left
25 October 2008

Talk of assassination plots and rising concerns about a high abstention rate have marked the beginning of the November 23 regional elections race.

Formally at stake are 23 governorships, more than 300 mayorships and hundreds of representatives on the state legislative councils. However, the result of these elections could also have an important impact on the future of the Bolivarian revolution led by the Chavez government.

During the November 2004 regional elections, the pro-Chavez forces, on the back of the thumping victory in the August 2004 recall referendum on Chavez’s mandate, painted the electoral map red as they swept into 21 of the 23 governorships up for election (they later rewon the governership of Amazonas to make it 22 out of 24 all up).

This time, Chavismo comes into the elections on the back of its first electoral defeat. Last December, Chavez’s proposed constitutional reforms, aimed at increasing popular power and introducing progressive measures such as a six-hour workday, along with some feature criticised by Chavistas and all wrapped up in a confusing package of 69 changes were narrowly defeated at the polls as a result of significant abstention from Chavez’s support base.

While in the 2004 elections, the right-wing US-backed opposition in large part abstained, this time the opposition is united and urging participation.

A lacklustre campaign, however, seems to indicate an opposition that will be unable to fully capitalise on the momentum it built up last year, when earlier this year it seemed they could win as many as eight governorships.

Today, they may possibly win more states, but potentially stand to lose control of the strategic oil-rich state of Zulia.

‘Get Hugo’

During a PSUV campaign rally in Zulia on October 12, security authorities detained three men who breached the security perimeter. According to an October 13 Venezuelanalysis.com article, “the men told interrogators that they were paid by Fabian Masias, a campaign manager for … A New Time”, the party of current Zulia governor Manuel Rosales.

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Bolivia: Indigenous government defies US-backed fascists by Federico Fuentes

Dandelion Salad

Posted with permission from Green Left Weekly

Federico Fuentes
20 September 2008

Green Left – Bolivia: Indigenous government defies US-backed fascists

Relative calm has returned to Bolivia following a three-week offensive of violence and terrorism launched by the US-backed right-wing opposition denounced by Bolivian President Evo Morales as a “civil coup”.

This campaign of terror, centred on the four resource-rich eastern departments (Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni and Tarija) known as the media luna (half moon), was initiated following a national referendum in which Morales’s presidency was endorsed by 67.4% of the vote — greater than the almost 54% that voted for him in 2005 and with a higher voter turnout.

The violence was an attempt to impose by force what was lost at the ballot box.

Violently assaulting civilians, police officer and soldiers, occupying and burning public buildings, blowing up gas pipelines, and blockading roads were among the tactics of the pro-neoliberal forces of the opposition, which utlitised fascist shock troops of racist armed youth gangs, such as the Santa Cruz Youth Union (UJC).

The worst violence occurred on September 11, with the massacre in Pando of unarmed indigenous campesinos — including children and pregnant women — who were marching against the racist violence. It was carried out by paramilitaries created and controlled by Pando prefect Leopoldo Fernandez, since arrested over the atrocity.

At least 30 people were slaughtered, with more than 100 still missing.

However, the anger an mobilisations of the social movements, the Morales government’s decision to introduce martial law in Pando and restore order, together with the historic convening of a meeting of all South American presidents under the auspices of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) on September 15 to pass a unanimous motion in defence of Bolivia’s legitimate government, dealt the opposition a significant blow, putting them on the back foot.

With the opposition returning to the negotiation table, the government and the social movements that support it have clearly come out stronger in this latest round of the ongoing battle over Bolivia’s future.

The right-wing opposition, based on the half moon prefects and “civic committees” as well as the opposition Chuquisaca prefect, has been forced to temporarily retreat. The roadblocks and building occupations by the fascists have ended, and the military has managed to take control of Pando — the site of the worst violence.

The government also expelled US ambassador Philip Goldberg for his collaboration with the opposition in its attempts to bring down Morales.

Behind the destabilisation campaign stand the agribusiness elites and gas transnationals, organised through the US embassy, who seek to destroy the Morales government’s self-declared “democratic and cultural revolution”.

Indigenous struggle

Morales is Bolivia’s first indigenous president, despite indigenous people — who have suffered systematic discrimination and poverty — making up a large majority of the population. Morales was elected on the back of growing anti-neoliberal movements and uprisings that brought down his two predecessors, in which indigenous people have played a leading role.

His government has sought to reverse the neoliberal polices that have devastated the nation over the last two decades, as well as 500 years of colonialism and genocide against indigenous peoples — via policies of nationalising strategic industry, land reform to benefit indigenous campesinos and the drafting of a new constitution by an elected constituent assembly to enshrine the rights of the indigenous majority.

These policies have clashed with the interests of US and European corporations and the big landowners that are powerful in the east.

With the referendum showing growing support for Morales in the opposition’s half moon heartland, the right wing struck out to prevent the government taking advantage of this to further erode its base.

Opposition fears were confirmed by the determination of the government to use its electoral mandate to push ahead for a referendum in December on the draft constitution.

The new constitution is at the heart of the process of change, aiming to institutionalise state control of natural resources and land reform, as well as establish a “plurinational” state to overcome the exclusion of indigenous peoples.

With a growing rebellion against US domination across Latin America, US imperialism has been furiously organising to get rid of Morales.

Since his election, the US government-funded body USAID has poured more than US$120 million into opposition groups, while Goldberg continually held meetings with opposition leaders.

Two days after Goldberg’s expulsion, Bolivia was added to the US “black list” for countries that supposedly refuse to collaborate in the “war on drugs”.

Oppressed take the offensive

The government and social movements have gone on the offensive.

Having organised massive mobilisations nationally in response to the violence, and fighting off the fascist gangs in the half moon, the social movements have remained firm in their determination to advance the process of change.

On September 17, the National Coalition for Change (CONALCAM), which includes the most important indigenous, campesino and urban movements, signed a pact with the Bolivian Workers Central (COB) to “defend the unity of the homeland that is being threatened by a civil coup lead by terrorists and fascists”.

Despite its often tense relationship with the government, the COB signed the agreement in the presence of Morales and other government leaders, pledging to “support and back this process of revolutionary change … led by our brother, President Evo Morales, to construct a new homeland with the approval of a new Political Constitution of the State”.

The organisations also signalled their intention to take over unproductive large landholdings and food production factories that have refused to ensure food for the population.

Explaining that his “grand desire” was to see the COB at “the forefront of this fight”, Morales insisted that “this struggle against the oligarchic groups, against the large landowners, against people who see themselves as pro-Yankee, can only be won by the social movements”.

He explained that it is impossible to negotiate a return to the past, as the elite “want to see the return of neoliberalism and we want to definitively bury the neoliberal model”.

The day before, social organisations and the local branch of Morales’s Movement Towards Socialism party (MAS) in the rebellious working-class neighbourhood of Plan 3000 in Santa Cruz’s capital called for the immediate declaration of martial law in Santa Cruz, Beni, Tarija, and Chuquisaca “because the Bolivian people and international public opinion demand justice”.

Over September 19-21, various social movements, including the COB, CONALCAM and the United Union Confederation of Peasant Workers of Bolivia, held national gatherings to discuss further actions.

Meanwhile, the roadblocks by indigenous campesinos around Santa Curz continue, with social movements stating that there can not be any truce while the right continues to kill indigenous people.

More than 8000 coca growers from the central Chapare region continue to blockade the main highway linking Santa Cruz to La Paz in the west, refusing to leave until a referendum is called on the constitution.

The Union Confederation of Colonisers of Bolivia (organisation of land occupiers)_stated that close to 5000 peasants from Ichilo had began a march on Santa Cruz on September 17 to demand the resignation of the Santa Cruz prefect Ruben Costas and the return of the public buildings occupied by the fascists.

The same day, it was announced that 12,000 miners were preparing to march on Santa Cruz as well.

Negotiations

This occurred as talks began between the government and the opposition bloc grouped together in the National Democratic Coalition (CONALDE).

On September 18, members of the national executive sat down with the opposition prefects (minus Fernandez) to discuss three central issues: the redistribution of the Direct Tax on Hydrocarbons between the departments and the government’s social programs, the new constitution and the regional autonomy statutes proposed by the opposition, and an agreement to fill the current vacancies in the constitutional tribunal and Supreme Court.

Also present were the Federation of Municipal Associations president, the president of the opposition-controlled Senate and the MAS president of the chamber of deputies. Present as facilitators were representatives of the Catholic Church, the Organisation of American States and Unasur.

However, the vice-president of the Santa Cruz Civic Committee (led by representatives of the large landowning oligarchy) Roberto Gutierrez argued that conditions for dialogue did not exist “if the blockade [of Santa Cruz] was maintained”.

Government spokesperson, Ivan Canelas, clarified that, “The decisions that the social movements make are decisions independent of the government and we value them as reactions in defence of democracy”.

CONALCAM president Fidel Surco stated that the roadblocks would continue as long as the occupation of public buildings did, and that the social movements would organise a permanent vigil outside the negotiations between the government and opposition to ensure that dialogue advanced.

On September 17, Morales stated: “If anyone, despite the support we have … wants to remove me from the palace, while I am democratically elected as president, they will have to remove me dead.”

“The struggle to reach government has not been given to us for free … it is the result of all our efforts, and this struggle cannot just be thrown away”, he added.

“We have to finish this democratic and cultural revolution … they are conspiring with a fascist, racist coup.

“They may be able to overthrow the Indian, but they will not be able to overthrow the Bolivian people, they will not be able to overthrow the revolutionary people.

“No matter what it costs we have to defend this process of change.”

[Sign on to and circulate an online statement in support of Bolivian democracy at http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/support-bolivian-democracy>. Visit http://boliviarising.blogspot.com for ongoing news.]

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Noble Evo faces Allende’s fate

Democracy Now: Tariq Ali on Pakistan & Boliva

Bolivia: Fascist right launches ‘civic coup’ by Federico Fuentes & Stuart Munckton

Bolivia: Fascist right launches ‘civic coup’ by Federico Fuentes & Stuart Munckton

Dandelion Salad

Posted with permission from Green Left Weekly

by Federico Fuentes & Stuart Munckton
13 September 2008

“[Today] a civil-prefectural coup against the unity of the country and democracy has been initiated”, Bolivian minister of government Alfredo Rada declared on September 9, as a growing wave of violence by small gangs of fascist youth engulfed the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

The violence by armed fascist gangs, backed by local authorities, spread in the following days throughout the rest of the so-called “half-moon” — the four eastern departments of Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni and Tarija.

The half moon is home to much of Bolivia’s natural resources and the main base of opposition to the left-wing government of President Evo Morales from the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), who on August 10 won a recall referendum on his presidency with 67% of the vote.

With a sizeable white middle class, compared the largely indigenous west, the oligarchy in the east has worked overtime to whip up a racist frenzy against a national government headed by Bolivia’s first ever indigenous president and the largely indigenous social movements that back it.

The oligarchy has pushed for “autonomy” from the national government in a manoeuvre aimed to protect its privileges from the national government’s pro-people measures, and now appears to be attempting to impose its domination of the half moon by force.

Reign of terror

Incited by the Santa Cruz Civic Committee, which groups together sectors of the oligarchy, and with the collaboration of the departmental prefects in the east and the US embassy, on September 9 the fascist shock troops of the Santa Cruz Youth Union (UJC) laid siege to public institutions, NGOs, community radio stations and the offices of the state TV channel, in some cases attempting to burn them down.

That same day, the head of the parliamentary bloc of the right-wing Podemos party and large landowner, Antonio Franco, “applauded” the violent takeovers, while Podemos deputy for Santa Cruz, Oscar Urenda, issued an open call to arms.

“If we are going to talk about confrontation, then lets talk about confrontation, if we are going to talk about war, there will be war, but they are not going to able to impose things on us”, he proclaimed. “We are strong enough to split this country and if I have to grab a log, a gun, I will do it, I’m going to defend my territory.”

An eyewitness account from September 12 published on Marxist.com writes: “What started on September 9th as vandalism against public institutions has developed into a fascist orgy of violence which threatens civil war.”

The writer states: “The list of occupied institutions is long. Everything from tax offices, administration of land, immigration authorities to the department of forestry was brutally destroyed. The national administration of land had its entire inventory destroyed and burned, and the same happened to the nationalized telecom company ENTEL. ENTEL had its entire main building smashed and the fascist hordes stole everything of value.”

The writer reported a “consistent attack on all social organizations and government supporters. In Santa Cruz, the human rights organization Cejis, is ravaged and their entire inventory is burned and destroyed. The same happens to CIDOB, the indigenous people’s main organization in Eastern Bolivia. All left wing leaders are hunted and many have had to go underground.”

“In … Tarija, the fascist gangs attack the peasants’ marketplace. Molotov cocktails are thrown at all the stalls … One right wing leader declares Tarija to be independent and declares civil war in the region.”

According to a September 12 Reuters report, the government has accused the fascists of “a real massacre” against government supporters in Pando with at least 15 people recorded killed. The national government is seeking the arrest of Pando prefect, Leopoldo Fernandez, who is alleged to have organised the killings. Fernandez has fled to Brazil.

According to a September 10 AP report, opposition protesters blew up a pipeline in Tariji, reducing the flow of gas to Brazil by half at one point. The protests also interrupted the flow of gas to Argentina. Santos Ramirez, president of the state oil company, YPFB, called the explosion “a terrorist attack”.

In response, additional troops were immediately ordered to the eastern departments to secure gas and oil installations. Gas exports to Argentina and Brazil were returning to normal by September 12, according to a Reuters report that day.

Counter-offensive

The attempt to seize power through brute force in the half moon is clear, but it has been met by a counter-offensive by the government and the powerful social movements that support the process of change.

The eyewitness account provides one example of the heroic actions of supporters of the government in the Plan 3000 working class neighbourhood: “The workers have rallied to a massive defence against the 400 young fascists who attack the marketplace with clubs, Molotov cocktails and hand weapons. Rapidly, thousands rally for the defence which develops into extreme violence with many wounded. About 3 o’clock at night, the fascists have been driven out, but the inhabitants keep the entrenchment defended.”

In the lead-up to the current wave of violence, Morales declared that his government would ensure that the institutions and security of the state were respected and called for the “unity of the people and the Armed Forces to defend the process of change”, according to the September 9 Argentine daily Clarin.

The article reported that phone calls had poured into the state radio station asking Morales to decree a state of emergency.

Minister of the presidency Juan Ramon Quintana, however, stated on September 9 that the government would not declare a state of emergency, arguing that the opposition wanted to provoke repression in order to have a banner around which to mobilise wider sections of the population against the government.

The commander of the army’s eighth division, General Marco Bracamonte, declared that the military would prevent any further takeover of oil and gas installations and defend the security of the state.

On September 10, the Six Federations of Coca Growers of the Tropics of Cochabamba, the union organisation from which Morales emerged and still remains president of, along with peasant organisations in Santa Cruz, began to cut off Santa Cruz’s road access.

The Chapare coca-growing region in Cochabamba — a MAS stronghold — is strategically located with the main highway connecting Santa Cruz to Bolivia’s west running through it.

Other social organisations also began to block road access to the other eastern departments.

A September 11 Prensa Latina article reported on the pledge to continue and strengthen the blockade of Santa Cruz by the National Coordinator for Change (CONALCAM), which unites many of the social movements that support the process of change led by Morales.

Permanent mobilisation

Fidel Surco, president of the Confederation of Colonisers — an organisation of indigenous campesinos — announced that CONALCAM had called for “permanent mobilisations” until Congress ratifies a referendum on adopting the new draft constitution scheduled for December, according to Prensa Latina.

The draft constitution, which would expand the rights of indigenous people, enshrine greater state control over natural resources and open the way for redistribution of large land holdings to impoverished campesinos, is a key source of conflict.

A key demand of the right-wing forces in the half moon is to withdraw plans for a referendum on adopting the text.

On September 10, Morales announced the expulsion from Bolivia of the US ambassador, Philip Goldberg, for his role in backing the coup. Goldberg had publicly urged the US to intervene on the side of the ‘half moon authorities behind the violence.
Golberg was given 72 hours to leave the country.

On September 11, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gave the US ambassador in Caracas 72 hours to leave, in solidarity with Bolivia. On September 12, ABN reported that Honduras had suspended recognition of the US’s ambassador to it in solidarity with Venezuela and Bolivia.

The US responded be expelling the Venezuelan and Bolivian ambassadors from its territory

On September 11, Chavez offered Venezuelan military assistance in defence of democracy to Bolivia. “If any or our governments is overthrown, we will have a green light to perform military operations of any type to give the power back to the people in those countries”, Chavez insisted according to a September 1 Xinhua report.

Struggle for power

The “civic coup” that has been unleashed comes on the back of three weeks of small but violent demonstrations, generally limited to the inner city areas of the capitals of the half moon departments.

Protesters assaulted indigenous people, social movement leaders, MAS councillors, police officers and soldiers as well as initiating road blocks, occupying airports and state institutions and even physically taking over military airplanes.

The protests have focused on the issue of the revenue from the “direct tax on hydrocarbons”. More of the revenue from natural gas used to be directed towards the departmental authorities, but the Morales government is seeking to redirect revenue towards anti-poverty social programs, such as a new universal old-aged pension.

With moves towards nationalisation of Bolivia’s sizeable gas reserves — opposed by the opposition parties who, when in power, sought to privatise the industry — royalties from hydrocarbons have skyrocketed. As a result, even with the government’s redistribution policies, revenue to departments has still significantly increased.

Five of the nine departments are controlled by prefects openly hostile to the national government (the half moon plus Chuquisaca) and these authorities have used the increased funds to help organise violent destabilisation measures against the national government.

Since Morales’s crushing 67.4% victory in the recall referendum, his government has announced its intention for a referendum on the new constitution drafted by an elected constituent assembly.

While Morales issued a decree to hold the referendum on December 7, the National Electoral Court ruled that it would not hold the consultation as such a referendum had to be approved by parliament.

Oscar Ortiz, president of the Podemos-controlled Senate threatend on September 10 to intensify the violent protests if MAS insisted on its campaign to approve the new constitution, which would declare Bolivia a “plurinational state”.

Behind the half moon prefects and civic committees stand large agribusiness interests and gas transnationals who see their interests threaten by the advance of the self-proclaimed “democratic and cultural revolution” led by Morales.

Fearing the consolidation of the process of change, the rich elites have stepped up their attempts to oust the Morales government.

US role

The government has accused Santa Cruz Civic Committee president Branco Marinkovic, who only hours before had returned from a visit to Miami, of being the instigator of the plan to set the country alight.

Marinkovic, who has helped direct the UJC violence, is accused of acting “with the financial support and advise by ex-minister Carlos Sanchez Berzain, who is accused of genocide in Bolivia”, reported ABI on September 9.

Berzain is wanted in Bolivia on various charges relating to the deaths of more than 60 people in a massacre in 2003 that attempted to crush an uprising against plans to privatise Bolivia’s gas industry, when he was justice minister.

While Bolivia has asked the US to extradite both Berzain and Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (president in 2003), the Bush administration has refused to collaborate. Instead, Berzain was granted asylum in the US in July.

Further evidence of the role of the US in the current coup was demonstrated in a brazen display of imperial arrogance when Goldberg declared that “Washington should interfere in [Bolivia’s] internal affairs” and “called on the Bolivian government of President Evo Morales to pay attention to the demands of the opposition”.

Golberg merely confirmed what the MAS government has long asserted: Washington is directly involved in the plot to overthrow Morales, including via increased funding to opposition parties, “civil society” organisations and pro-autonomy groups.

On August 25, Goldberg secretly met with Santa Cruz prefect Ruben Costas, only nine days after Costas had announced plans to violate the national law by implementing a series of “autonomy” measures aimed at undermining the national government.

Morales declared the decision to expel Goldberg to be a homage to the historic struggle of the Bolivian people against imperialism — adding that only the people organised can defend democracy.

According to a September 12 AP report, Morales decreed a state of emergency in Pando, sending fresh troops to secure control. The carrying of weapons is banned under the decree “to safeguard lives and the collective good”, according to Rada.

The decree came after the authorities in the half moon finally agreed to national government requests to enter into talks to resolve the crisis.

It is clear that the talks will centre on the question of the referendum on the new constitution, with the secretary for autonomy in Santa Cruz stating: “We all agree that we have to look for a point of compromise.”

Speaking in Cochabamba, Morales stated that opponents “have every right to reject the new constitution, but through the vote and not through violence”.

However the current crisis resolves itself, the battle between poor, mostly indigenous oppressed majority and the racist, US-backed oligarchy is a central part of the continent-wide struggle against US domination and neoliberalism.

Supporters of social justice around the world need to raise their voices against US intervention and fascism in Bolivia, and for democracy.

For ongoing news, as well as to sign on to an international statement of support for Bolivia, visit http://boliviarising.blogspot.com.]

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Oppose the fascist coup in Bolivia! (Sign the petition)

Venezuela: New coup plot exposed, US ambassador expelled

The Threat of a Military Coup in Bolivia? by Jorge Martin

From Pristina to La Paz: Expelled US Ambassador to Bolivia had been in charge of Kosovo Secession

Bolivia: Right-wing rebellion spurs left offensive

Dandelion Salad

Posted with permission from Green Left Weekly

Federico Fuentes
23 August 2008

Violent attacks on police officers, roadblocks, civic stoppages enforced by armed fascist youth groups and threats to cut off meat supplies and take over gas fields have all been part of what left-wing Bolivian President Evo Morales has denounced as an attempted “civil coup” by “desperate people” following his August 10 recall referendum victory.

However, the wave of protests appears to be quickly losing steam as social movements get organised to push for the approval of the draft constitution drawn up by an elected constituent assembly to “refound Bolivia”.The August 10 vote on the president, vive-president and eight out of nine prefects (governors) registered a historic 68% vote for Morales, an increase of 14% on the vote that brought him to power in December 2005.

While the opposition prefects of four eastern departments were also ratified with votes ranging from 56% to 68% (as well as the election of an opposition prefect in Chuquisaca in June), they lost an important ally with the revocation of the opposition prefect of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes.

In these same departments, Morales’ vote experienced an important increase, including winning more than 50% of the vote in some of them.

While announcing in his victory speech his intention to continue nationalising natural resources in his victory speech, Morales also called a meeting of all the prefects to try to reach a national agreement.

Such an agreement could help bring together the opposing projects of the new constitution (supported by the social and indigenous movements) and the autonomy statutes (promoted by the eastern regions in order to maintain control by the eastern-based oligarchy over natural resources and land in these resource-rich departments).

Regional rebellion

Talks quickly collapsed as the prefects called a civic stoppage in five departments — the eastern departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija, plus Chuquisaca — for August 19 in opposition to government plans to divert part of the national direct tax on hydrocarbons (IDH) towards its proposed pension plan.

In direct defiance of the central government, Santa Cruz prefect Ruben Costas announced on August 15 that Morales would not be allowed to set foot in his department — adding that he also would no longer accept a police commander who was neither from Santa Cruz nor approved by Costas, as part of moving towards de facto autonomy for the department.

The night of the referendum, Costas had announced he would call elections for a departmental legislative assembly — something for which there is no basis in law.

“The people of Santa Cruz should rest assured that we will stop any minister arriving in Santa Cruz, because they are not welcome”, announced David Sejas, president of the fascist Crucenista Youth Union (UJC), whose followers, armed with sticks and shields, chanted as Costas spoke “Evo criminal, Linera poofter” (referring to Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera).

Later that day, UJC members violently attacked the departmental head of police.

In the days afterward, attacks increased as youth screamed at police officers to “go back to your country, you shitty collas”, causing discontent among the officers, predominately from Bolivia’s largely indigenous west.

On the day of the stoppage, clashes occurred in the middle and outer rings of Santa Cruz city, where popular resistance repelled UJC militants who attempted to impose the stoppage by force.

Restricted mainly to the inner urban areas, and outright rejected in the countryside, participation in the stoppage was low.

The following day, secretary for autonomy in the Santa Cruz prefecture, Carlos Dabdoud, dismissed the possibility of dialogue to merge the two projects, as it was “impossible” to have a “unitary autonomous state”.

Desiring to turn Bolivia into a “confederation of states is no sin”, he stated.

Behind these protests is the fear of the Santa Cruz oligarchy that the Morales government will push forward with its national project for change, now with the backing of the 68% won in the referendum.

At the same time, some voices from the opposition camp are beginning to warn that these actions could backfire.

“The political effects of a radicalised position are not yet visible, but they could be tremendously adverse for Santa Cruz”, warned right-wing Podemos senator Carlos Bohrt, according to Bolpress on August 18.

The day after the stoppage, only three of the five opposition departments went ahead with the announced roadblocks. In Chuquisaca, the prefect preferred to avoid confrontations with local peasant organisations, while the prefect of Tarija moderated his tone as criticism against him grew.

‘Power of the people

In contrast, Morales reminded the opposition prefects, according to the August 19 Pagina 12, “we are no longer just a simple government, but rather the power of the people”, adding that it was necessary to move towards a vote on the new constitution approved by the constituent assembly last December.

“The debate [on the referendum] must not last beyond next week”, Morales argued. “If it’s through a law, it’s a law. If it’s by decree, it’s a decree. The new constitution has to be approved and we will ensure it is approved.”

The massive vote for Morales has raised hopes for passing the controversial text, which the opposition has fiercely opposed — arguing it did not have two-thirds support within the assembly.
ion of the project is that fact that the new constitution would entrench state control over natural resources, open the way for radical land reform and dramatically extend rights to Bolivia’s historically excluded indigenous majority.

An August 20 Reuters article quoted Morales as saying that he was willing to continuing dialogue over regional autonomy and the issue of the IDH, but that “if some groups do not want to understand the overwhelming sentiment of Bolivian people, the thoughts and suffering of the majorities, then surely they will continue to reduce more and more in numbers and become more violent. We have an obligation to ensure order so that there is respect between Bolivians.”

That same day, the head of the national police force, General Miguel Gernio, stated that he shared the “anger” that many in the police force were feeling in regards to the recent spate of attacks against them, adding “we will not allow more outrages upon our institution and much less attacks on … police officers”.

Opposing moves towards the “disintegration” of the national police force, Gemio said he was worried that as a product of the loss of values and nationalist principals, Bolivians were allowing particular interests to dominate over and above the demands of the majority of Bolivians, who want peace and respect for the law.

Following a meeting between Morales and various social movement leaders to discuss the issue of the new constitution and potential candidates for the prefectures of La Paz and Cochabamba, up for election after the recall of the existing prefects, it was announced that the social movements would meet in Cochabamba next weekend to discuss how and when the new constitution will be approved.

The various indigenous and peasant organisations also stated they would be “closing ranks to defend the government, the unity of the country and the process of change”.

[Federico Fuentes is editor of http://boliviarising.blogspot.com.]

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Morales wins referendum but opposition hits back

Bolivia: Historic vote confirms will for change by Federico Fuentes

Dandelion Salad

Posted with permission from Green Left Weekly

by Federico Fuentes
Green Left Weekly
16 August 2008

With 99% of votes counted, Bolivia’s first indigenous president won a crushing 67.43% vote in the August 10 recall referendum.

Surpassing the 53.7% he received in the 2005 national elections (until August 10 the highest vote recorded by a presidential candidate in Bolivia’s history) the result confirmed the broad support for Morales’s Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) government’s project for wide-ranging social change.

Referendums on whether to ratify or recall the president, vice-president and eight of the nine departmental prefects (governors) were held as an attempt to break the deadlock caused by opposition to the process of change by the right-wing oligarchy whose base of support lies in the Bolivia’s resource-rich and predominantly white eastern region.

Relationship of forces

The vote not only ratified Morales and Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera in their posts, it also resulted in the mandates of two opposition prefects being revoked (Jose Paredes in La Paz and Manfred Villa Reyes in Cochabamba). Their positions will undoubtedly be filled by prefects aligned with the government in the upcoming elections, increasing the number of MAS prefects from two to four.

The vote has confirmed that Morales has maintained large support among the middle classes, as well as growing class struggle in the east — where Morales’ vote dramatically increased, rejecting the concept of a government whose authority would be limited to the west.

At the same time, however, majority support for the project of “autonomy” pushed by the oligarchy in the “half moon” — the four eastern departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tariga — was ratified with the victory for the pro-autonomy prefects.

Coming out of the referendums, a new political configuration has emerged, which many hope will open up space for an agreement between the competing social blocs on integrating the new constitution drafted by the constituent assembly (by pro-government delegates after right-wing delegates boycotted assembly sessions) with the autonomy statutes proposed by the eastern prefects.

The challenge now is for the government to use this powerful electoral majority to overcome what many commentators have referred to as a “catastrophic deadlock” and open the path towards the “new Bolivia” being fought for by the indigenous majority and other oppressed sectors — and violently opposed by the oligarchy.

When the initiative for the recall referendums came from Morales in December as a way to break this deadlock, the main opposition party, Podemos, refused to approve it — using its Senate majority to stall the project.

However five months later, as the eastern prefects took the initiative through a wave of autonomy referendums, Podemos moved to regain leadership of the opposition by voting for the recall referendums.

Behind the push for autonomy is a move by the large landowners and gas transnationals to shield the natural resources and agribusiness interests in the east from the government’s nationalisation and land reform projects.

As the Morales government has advanced in its project to recuperate state control over natural resources, including the May 1, 2006 nationalisation of Bolivia’s gas reserves, the elites located in the east have worked to construct a regional pro-autonomy movement. This aims to give the prefects legislative power over issues such as taxation, natural resources, land distribution and trade agreements.

Not only do they hope to take decision-making power over these questions out of the hands of the central government, they aim to undermine Morales’ project and support base in order to pave the way for his removal — either at the ballot box or by violent means.

With the new draft constitution enshrining state control over natural resources, as well as dramatically expanding the rights of indigenous people, the oligarchy is fighting tooth and nail to defend its interests against a national movement driven by the indigenous peoples.

The right-wing’s confidence was boosted in the aftermath of unconstitutional referendums organised in the half moon over June and July, agianst the opposition of the central government, on the question of autonomy. The half moon authorities announced massive victories in votes marred by violence and high abstention rates.

The pro-autonomy prefects shifted from their initial rejection of the recall referendums and agreed to participate, as their regional project seemed to be expanding with the victory of an opposition candidate in the elections for prefect of Chuquisaca.

Violent campaign

The former prefect, aligned with MAS, is currently in exile in Peru following a wave of racist attacks and violent protests against the constituent assembly, held in Chuquisaca’s capital of Sucre.

Yet as August 10 approached and polls predicted a large victory for Morales, most of the media began to comment on the lack of any serious political campaign by the opposition for an anti-Morales vote.

Instead, the week leading up to the vote saw an intensification of the right-wing’s violent and racist campaign.

This involved mobilising fascist youth to attack indigenous people in the cities, blockading airports to stop Morales campaigning in the east — including preventing a scheduled meeting with the presidents of Venezuela and Argentina that had to be postponed as small groups of thugs wearing balaclavas waited menacingly at the airport for their arrival — and an attempted assassination of the minister of the presidency.

The mayor of Santa Cruz even called on the military to overthrow Morales because he was “useless.”

On the day of the vote, however, only isolated incidents occurred. While the vote affirmed strong support for the half moon prefects, it also confirmed the emergence of “the other Santa Cruz” — forces in the opposition’s heartland willing to oppose the project of the elites.

In Santa Cruz, Ruben Costas was ratified as prefect with 66.4% of the vote, while Ernesto Suarez in Beni received 64.25%, Mario Cossio in Tarija 58.06% and Leopoldo Suarez in Pando 56.21%.

At the same time, Morales scored 52% in Pando, just under 50% in Tarija and jumped from less than 20% to 43.7% in Beni. He also received the not unimportant figure of 40% support in Santa Cruz.

Only in Chuquisaca was Morales’ vote less than in 2005, although it was still a solid 53.8%.

While it was still a long way from the remarkable results of 80% support in the departments of La Paz, Oruro and Potosi, 70% in Cochabamba and the 90% achieved almost across the board in the rural electorates, the results in the east represent an important advance for the government.

Challenges

Speaking from the balcony of the presidential palace in front of thousands of supporters, Morales declared that the vote was a mandate “to continue advancing in the recuperation of natural resources, in the recuperation and nationalisation of companies”.

The vote was also a mandate to unite all Bolivians, east and west, rich and poor, stated Morales — a mandate that would be applied at all the different levels, sectors and regions of the country.

“I call on all the prefects to work for the unity of Bolivians and to work respecting Bolivian norms … The people want the prefects to be part of the nationalisation of other natural resources”, Morales proclaimed.

Morales called a meeting of all prefects to discuss how to unite autonomy statutes into the new constitution.

The conciliatory tone of Morales’ speech, which was well received by most Bolivians, contrasted sharply with the confrontational stance of the prefects of the east.

Costas declared that the vote had ratified a de facto autonomy and a rejection of the “racist” (read: indigenous) constitution that the “monkey” (Morales) wants to impose through “state terrorism”, as crowds gathered in the centre of Santa Cruz to celebrate Morales “revocation” in this region — chanting that “Evo will never set foot in Santa Cruz again”.

Toning down their rhetoric in the following days, the other prefects announced they had agreed to come to the negotiating table and discuss with Morales a way to combine the two projects.

Meeting on August 14, the government proposed attempting to make the new constitution and autonomy statutes compatible, to discuss the question of the “direct tax on hydrocarbons” (the opposition, despite massive windfalls from the tax following the gas nationalisation, has rejected government attempts to use part of this tax to fund the new pension scheme) and reaching agreement on the designation of magistrates for the constitutional tribunal and the national electoral court.

Immediately afterwards, the prefects from the half moon flew to Santa Cruz where they announced their rejection of the government’s proposal and called for a “civic stoppage” on August 19. Without a legal basis, Costa announced plans for elections to a legislative assembly in “the autonomous department of Santa Cruz” for January 25 next year.

Meanwhile the violent campaign in the east has continued. On August 13, six youths threw 10 molotov cocktails into the headquarters of the Centre for Legal Studies and Social Investigation (Cejis), which provides legal advice to indigenous and peasant organisations and where some of Morales cabinet members come from.

“I feel that the prefects only want money and do not want to touch the political question”, said Morales after the meeting. “If we interpret the sentiment expressed through the recall referendums, the Bolivian people want profound changes in the structural and especially in the political sphere. That is why I have come to the conclusion that the Bolivian people want autonomy and a new constitution.”

Vice-minister for decentralisation, Fabian Yaksic, added that the government would propose another referendum “where the people would settle the question as to whether the autonomy proposed in the new constitution is the one that most benefits the country, or if the autonomy proposal reflected in the regional statutes [promoted by the half moon authorities] does”.

Other, more hard-line voices from the radical sectors of MAS are calling for tough measures against those forces in the east that continue to violate the law. During Morales victory speech, important sections of the crowd begun to chant: “Now, for sure, it’s time to be heavy handed.”

[Federico Fuentes is the editor of http://boliviarising.blogspot.com.]

Bolivia’s struggle for justice, against right-wing offensive by Federico Fuentes

Dandelion Salad

Posted with permission from Green Left Weekly

by Federico Fuentes
Green Left Weekly
10 August 2008

“Given everything that is occurring in Tarija, Santa Cruz, Pando and Beni, we have to denounce … that we are on the threshold of a real coup d’etat against the constitutional order”, announced Bolivian minister of the presidency, Ramon Quintana, on August 7.

The day before, two bullets were fired into his car in an assassination attempt during a visit to the city of Trinidad, in Beni. Beni is part of the “half moon” of the resource-rich eastern departments including Santa Cruz, Tarija and Pando, that are a stronghold of the opposition to the left-wing government of indigenous President Evo Morales.

“What the prefects are doing today is nothing more than an act of sedition, of contempt, or organisation of illegal forces, paramilitaries, to go against all public liberties”, added Quintana.

Later that day, the mayor of Santa Cruz, Percy Fernandez stated “that the armed forces should overthrow the national government because it is useless”. Sitting besides him was Santa Cruz prefect, Ruben Costas.

This right-wing offensive is occurring in the lead-up to referendums on whether or not to recall Morales and eight of the nine departmental prefects, organised for August 10 in an attempt to resolve the political stand-off between the government and the social movements, largely based in the west, on the one hand, and the forces of the oligarchy determined to stop the process of change.

During the week leading up to the vote, a small group of balaclava-wearing protesters took over the airport of Tarija and successfully prevented the scheduled meeting between Morales and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner — the visiting presidents’ plane being unable to land.

Both Morales and Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera cancelled their traditional independence day speeches due to fears of violent protests in Sucre. Sucre is Bolivia’s constitutional capital and capital of Chuquisaca department, where an opposition candidate recently won elections for prefect.

The former prefect, from Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), is now in exile in Peru, following a series of violent attacks.

Morales was also forced to suspend political events in Beni, Pando and Santa Cruz as a few hundred opposition protesters surrounded airports in these regions.

Sensing defeat in the polls, the right-wing opposition — led by the half moon prefects — have unleashing a campaign of violence, terrorism and intimidation with the intention not only to stop the electoral process going ahead but to overthrow the president.

Polls continue to show an increasing support for Morales, which is now around 60%, while a number of opposition prefects look set to lose their seats. Cochabamba prefect, Manfred Villa Reyes, one of the most likely to be removed has already stated he will not accept the results of the referendum.

In Santa Cruz, Costas look set to win by a wide margin. A key aim for the opposition, however, is to ensure that in the vote on the presidency, Morales receives as little a vote as possible in the east in order to proclaim that he is “no longer president” of this part of Bolivia.

The half moon prefects, along with the eastern agribusiness and gas elites, have been promoting a campaign for autonomy for the eastern departments to protect their interests from the national-indigenous project of the Morales government.

Whiping up fear of an “indigenous revenge” and playing on the prejudices of the mestizo and white middle classes, the elites have run a systematically racist campaign, which has including violent lynch mobs attacking indigenous peoples.

Adding to the social conflicts, a number of sectors, such as miners, disabled people and transport drivers have mobilised across the country shutting down roads over sectoral demands. In Huanuni, violent clashes between police and miners left two dead and many more injured.

Following the deaths, Morales affirmed that their demands would be attended to via sincere and responsible dialogue, but that the most important thing right now was the unity of Bolivians and national integrity.

In this context, the need for international solidarity with Bolivia’s democratic process of change becomes paramount, as Chavez has repeatedly stated. The defeat of the Morales government would be a defeat not just for the oppressed in Bolivia, but the project for a new Latin America independent from US imperialism.

As Green Left Weekly goes to the press, the results of the referendum are still unknown. Next week’s issue will have full coverage of the referendum and its aftermath. To follow news about the events, visit http://boliviarising.blogspot.com.

Below is an abridged article by Hugo Moldiz, MAS leader and head of the General Staff of the Peoples, which unites most of Bolivia’s social movements. It has been translated for GLW by Federico Fuentes.

* * *

On August 10, the possibilities of consolidating and strengthening a national-popular project, that creates equal rights and opportunities for all without exclusion and racism, by building on the things we got right and correcting errors, will face off against the project of the old Bolivia.

The forces of the old Bolivia involve the privileged, who sometimes confuse and utilise oppressed social sectors, and talk about democracy and justice while benefiting from being in positions of power.

August 10 will be more than a simple referendum to decide the permanence or not of President Evo Morales and eight of the nine prefects of Bolivia.

The result of the recall referendums will determine the continuity and deepening of the process of change initiated in 2006, or the beginning of the return to a Bolivia based on exclusion and material and symbolic privileges for a tiny group of families.

Therefore a lot is at play. But talking about change is abstract if it is not grounded in what is at stake, which the powerful media machine has dedicated itself to distorting and manipulating.

Symbolic changes

The political-electoral victory of December 2005 and the inauguration of Morales as president on January 22, 2006, marked the beginning of one of the most profound chapters in all of republican history. A series of symbolic, political, material and cultural changes began to occur.

Bolivia — a country with an indigenous majority, independent of their status as peasant, worker, petty trader, professional, intellectual and student — for the first time had an indigenous president, adding weight to the warning issued by Tupac Katari, an indigenous person who was quartered by the Spanish colony after surrounding La Paz in 1781, when he said: “I will return and be millions!”

With his entry in the Palacio Quemado, Morales opened the possibility of a rupture of the colonialism in force until now — one of its manifestations being racism — and of substituting it with peace and democracy, with a society where men and women, indigenous and non-indigenous, can coexist.

That is why the swearing in of the indigenous president in Tiwanacu, a day before the official act in Congress, acquired a symbolic value never experimented with before. The indigenous people dreamed about storming heaven, with votes and without rifles — and unlike in the past, invited others to construct a homeland for all.

Political changes

In the political sphere, the popular victory of 2005 represented a great possibility, paraphrasing former US president Abraham Lincoln, to construct “a government of the people, by the people and for the people”. And this is no exaggeration.

As well as the symbolic value of being indigenous, Morales wagers on the construction of a political power in which the urban and rural oppressed classes, including broad fractions of the middle classes hit hard by neoliberalism, can have a protagonistic participation.

We are not dealing here with the subordination of indigenous people to an imperial and white project, as has occurred in our history, but rather a rebellious Indian that the privileged want nothing to do with.

In Bolivia, a project is underway aimed at going beyond capitalism and towards the construction of a society and state where there is an equilibrium between humans and nature, between social and political democracy.

And the project is not just national. Morales forms part of a group of regional leaders working towards the unity and integration of Latin America.

Economic changes

Changes have also occurred in the economic sphere where important steps forward have been taken.

This statement makes sense if we compare the current situation with the destruction caused in Bolivia and other backward countries by the fundamentalist application of a neoliberal model.

The figures are stark. The level of industrial development of Bolivia, already very precarious, decreased from 19% to 12% during the 20 years of neoliberalism. The informal market increased, the state bank was privatised and what was private was owned by transnationals.

Services became more expensive and natural resources — oil and minerals — were handed over to foreign corporations that barely left a tribute of no more than 20% on average.

Thousands of workers were thrown onto the streets.

The result of such destructive actions can not be repaired in a few years, especially in the second poorest nation in Latin America — for whom extraordinary natural wealth has meant poverty for its inhabitants, due to the concentration of profits in few hands.

What has Morales done up until now? Faced with this past, much more than what other countries in better conditions have done in two years.

International reserves have increased from US$1.7 billion to close to $7.5 billion. Petroleum rent has increased from $300 million to more than $2 billion per year, product of the nationalisation of petroleum. The income from mining has increased due to an increase in taxes and the state recuperation of the Posokoni mines and the Vinto tin smelter, as well as supporting the mining cooperative sector.

In all the macroeconomic indicators, growth in these last two years has been superior (more than 5%) to those registered during the period of state capitalism (1952-85) and the two decades of a market economy. The volume of exports continues its ascending trend since 2005.

There is also the never before seen support given to small producers with the creation of the Popular Development Bank and the Peoples Trade Agreements (TCP — part of the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America trading bloc).

There is also the productive and commercial reconversion of thousands of people that neoliberalism had condemned to import and sell as contraband used clothes, along with the first steps taken in line with a firm decision to advance towards an industrialisation that is compatible with the preservation of the environment.

It is not that nothing has been done, but the greatest lag, which can be explained by the magnitude of the political confrontation in Bolivia, is found in the distribution of land. Its not just that close to 700,000 hectares have been handed over to campesinos (peasants), out of an estimated 20 million, it’s that latifundio (large landed estates) is alive and well in the hands of the agro-exporting bourgeoisie.

Between 1996 and 2005, 36,815 hectares of fiscal land was distributed, that is, 3681 hectares per year on average. In the period 2006-07, the Morales government distributed 697,882 hectares to campesinos in the departments of La Paz, Pando, Santa Cruz and Tarija, or 350,000 hectares per year.

According to the vice-ministry of land, 200 times more land was redistributed to campesinos in two years than during a decade of the previous regimes, and out of 14.7 million hectares of land that have been assessed in three years, almost 9 million hectares is communitarian property, 577,000 small properties and 888,000 hectares belonging to medium and large companies.

Despite the creation of state companies, it is true that capitalist relations of production continue to be predominant. But looking towards the future, a longer transition awaits us.

Social changes

With Cuban-Venezuelan cooperation, 15,000 medical consultations have been registered, 250,000 eye operations have occurred and 10,000 people’s lives have been saved due to the expansion of health care. At the end of the year, Bolivia will be the third country after Cuba and Venezuela to be free of illiteracy in Latin America.

The payment of the “dignity rent” pension (3000 bolivianos) to all people over the age of 60 and the “juancito pinto” bonus (200 bolivianos) for children of primary school age, is something that marks a will to benefit all Bolivians via a better distribution of wealth.

The “energy revolution” is not being left behind and, with the help of Cuba, some 15 million energy saving light bulbs will be placed in all homes by the end of the year, representing a decrease of 70% in electricity consumption.

Constituent process

But, perhaps the best synthesis of the choice of advancing to the future or returning to the past, can be found in the struggle to the approve or reject the new constitution, and the totality of the constituent process that began with force in 2000.

A victory of the popular project in the referendums would represent a grand possibility of opening up a process of dialogue with the objective of breaking the catastrophic deadlock and give the county a new constitutional text.

The dominant classes, led by the agro-exporting bourgeoisie, are small but are currently unleashing an implacable offensive, driven by the US, against the emancipatory project led by Morales.

On the other side is the majority of people, in which, if the old unionism can leave behind its conservatism and the mestizo middle classes can overcome their prejudices, the conditions will exist to take a significant leap forward — together with a government that has to consolidate its advances but also correct errors in all spheres — towards the construction of a society with equal rights and opportunities for all.

see

Evo Morales “Exiled” in His Own Land

Morales survives Bolivian election test, but foes also gain

Bolivia: Is Evo in Danger after the August 10 referendum ? The US prepares a civil war

Evo Morales is ratified with 62% of the vote, increasing his 2005 vote by 8%

Bolivia: Popular offensive in lead-up to vote

Dandelion Salad

Posted with permission from Green Left Weekly

by Federico Fuentes
Green Left Weekly
2 August 2008

With the August 10 recall referendum on Bolivian President Evo Morales and eight out of nine prefects (governors) approaching, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) government, together with the social movements, has launched an offensive against attempts by the right-wing opposition to prevent the electoral process going ahead.

This offensive has included laying charges of sedition against Ruben Costas, the right-wing prefect of Santa Cruz, heartland of the opposition to MAS, for organising an illegal referendum on autonomy on May 4. There are also charges of perversion of justice against Silvia Salame, who is the only current member in the Constitutional Tribunal due to a lack of consensus in parliament in naming replacements for the magistrates who resigned last year.

Last week, Salame decreed the law that convoked the referendums unconstitutional. The government rejected this announcement, arguing that the legally required quorum to make that decision had not been reached.

On July 30, after five hours of discussion with eight of the nine departmental electoral courts (CDE), the National Electoral Court (CNE) announced that consensus had been reached on moving ahead with the referendums on the previously set date.

Opposition rejects referendums

Prior to the meeting, the four departmental electoral courts of the eastern “half moon” — the resource-rich departments (states) of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija that have been the spearhead of the opposition to the MAS government — announced their opposition to the referendums.

The Santa Cruz CDE did not participate in the meeting, asking that it be delayed for 48 hours. The CNE announced that if Santa Cruz was unwilling to going ahead with the referendum “the process of recall referendums would be halted”.

The president of the CNE, Jose Luis Exeni, warned that if this was to occur, the Santa Cruz CDE would have to carry the burden of the approximately US$875,000 that it would cost to hold the recall referendums.

Disagreements however emerged over the percentage of votes necessary to revoke the mandate of the president and the prefects, with some asking for the law to be revised.

Originally, the revocation of a prefect or the president was to be based on surpassing the percentage of votes obtained in the 2005 national elections. While to revoke Morales would require a higher result that 53.7% of the votes cast, the majority of prefects were elected with less than 50% of the vote.

In the case of the La Paz prefect Jose Luis Paredes, a mere 38% vote in favour of his recall would revoke his mandate.

However, the CNE has since ruled that at least 50% of votes in favour of recall will be required in all referendums, which the government has accepted.

Right-wing manoeuvres

The day before the meeting, speaking at a rally in the coca growing region of the Chapare, Morales asked the CDEs and their spokespeople to respect the law. “Be careful, otherwise the people will rise up against these entities because they are not respecting democracy, the laws or the sovereign will of the people”, he assured.

At another rally that same day, this time in Patacamaya, 109 kilometres from La Paz, Morales warned that right-wing forces would continue to manoeuvre to ensure that the referendums did not go ahead.

Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera announced on July 31 that the government was preparing itself to lay charges against any CDE spokespeople who violated the law.

In Tarija, MAS leader Luis Alfaro went further, warning that the CDEs had to ensure that the referendums go ahead: “If there are no ballot boxes, there are arms.”

Fidel Surco, leader of the Confederation of Colonisers (an organisation of campesinos predominantly from the east), announced that mobilisations were being organised across the country in defence of the referendums.

“If we are not heard”, said Edgar Patana, leader of the Regional Workers Central of El Alto, “we will have to mobilise in the different departments. As citizens of El Alto, we are in a state of emergency and we do not rule out mobilising … to show that either they respect the people or the departmental courts have to go.”

The residents of the militant indigenous Aymara city of El Alto have been at the forefront of massive mobilisations in recent years that have overthrown two neoliberal presidents.

Support for Evo

Polls suggest that Morales’ support in El Alto is around 80-90%.

According to a poll of 1600 adult Bolivians in the cities of La Paz, El Alto, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba, conducted over July 11-15 by Captura Consulting SRL, 49% of respondents answered positively to the question “How would you vote in the referendum on the tenure of Bolivian president Evo Morales?”

Only 18% said they would vote against Morales, while 33% responded “Not sure”.

Taking into consideration that the key base of the MAS are the rural indigenous peasant populations, the actual figure of support for Morales at a national level is almost certainly higher.

It is these figures that have caused panic among the divided opposition. While the initiative for the recall referendums was initially introduced into parliament by MAS last December, it was first blocked by the right-wing controlled opposition, only to then be approved in May.

This move was immediately rejected by the pro-autonomy prefects of the opposition departments in the east — who 10 days later switched positions and announced they would participate in the referendums, only to then see members of opposition parties question the legality of the law in the Constitutional Tribunal.

Much of this division can be explained by the leadership contest between the pro-autonomy prefects in the half moon and the main opposition party, Podemos.

Now, the opposition is frantically trying to stop the referendums going ahead as a number of right-wing prefects risk losing their positions.

Social conflicts

Meanwhile, social conflicts have increased over the last week.

On July 30, some few hundred members of Bolivian Workers Central (COB), predominately miners, protesting in favour of the COB’s proposed pension law, caused havoc in the streets of La Paz and occupied by force the Palace of Communications, where five economic ministries function as well as the Bolivian Mail Company (Ecobol). Other COB members blockaded the cities of Sucre and Potosi.

Other sectors, including the federation of disabled people demanding a US$375-a-week payment, the confederation of bus drivers in favour of an increase in bus fares, and civic organisations in the gas rich area of Camiri demanding the refoundation of the state gas company, YPFB, and an increase in the price of gas exported to Brazil and Argentina, have also announced further protests in the lead-up to August 10.

The National Democratic Council, which unites the opposition prefects of the half moon, Cochabamba and Chuquisaca, have also announced they will initiate a hunger strike on August 4 against the government’s decision to use part of the funds generated by its hydrocarbons tax to fund a universal pension for those aged over 60.

Minister of government, Alfredo Rada, argued that there existed right-wing interests behind the round of mobilisations. Morales stated that the government had never opposed the modification of the pension law, and even supported some of the demands of the COB such as the elimination of the Administrators of Pension Funds (AFP).

A July 20 AP dispatch reported that Morales was “seeking to nationalize two of his country’s biggest private pension funds, which manage assets worth more than $3 billion”.

Morales add that “it was unfortunate that some, very few, worker comrades from some sectors, in this conjuncture seem to be the best instrument of the misnamed half moon … instead of mobilising everywhere, they should be campaigning to put an end to the neoliberals and traitors to the homeland”.

Patana stated that while the government had to solve the legitimate problems raised by the protests, agreement had to be reached “in order to avoid convulsions”.

[Federico Fuentes is the editor of http://boliviarising.blogspot.com.]

Bolivia: Tensions rising as vote looms by Federico Fuentes

Dandelion Salad

Posted with permission by Green Left Weekly

by Federico Fuentes
Green Left Weekly
26 July 2008

Tensions and uncertainties continue to rise as what some are calling a bout of “referendumitis” sweeps through Bolivia.

On July 23 — one day after the right-wing opposition to Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, demanded a referendum on the controversial issue of the nation’s capital — the sole magistrate remaining on the Constitutional Tribunal called into question the constitutionality of the recall referendums set for August 10 that will determine the fate of Morales and eight out of nine of the sitting prefects (governors).

The majority of prefects are from the opposition.

The government, along with the National Electoral Court, declared the decision invalid. With the resignation of four other judges, and and Congress unable to agree upon successors, the decision was made without reaching the three-member quorum.

Since May 4, four unconstitutional autonomy referendums have been held in the eastern departments (states) of Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni and Tarija — strongholds of the opposition. The referendums aimed to legitimase the claims of the elites for control over natural resources and land in the east, as well as their push to modify the draft constitution. The draft was written up by the democratically elected constituent assembly and handed over last December to be approved in a national referendum.

The opposition announced victories of “over 80%” in the polls, while the government highlighted the fraud and mass abstention on voting days that were marred by racist attacks against indigenous people.

US role

On July 23, US State Department official Thomas Shannon arrived late for his 5am meeting in the presidential palace for talks to try to sooth rising tensions between the two countries. Morales had announced in front of a massive peasant march in Potosi that he would present proof of how Washington “was campaigning against me, against my government and therefore against the social movements”.

Morales stated that money from “the gringos” in USAID, a US government-funded body supposedly for promoting democracy that is helping fund the opposition in Bolivia, was being used to divide people. Last month, the coca growers (whose union Morales still heads) together with municipal councils run by Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) expelled USAID from the Chapare region.

Rising anti-imperialist sentiments were also on display at the massive demonstrations that surrounded the US Embassy in June, following the decision to grant ex-minister of defence Carlos Sanchez Beltran asylum in the US. Bolivia has been asking for his extradition, along with that of former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, to face charges for their involvement in “Black October” — the massacre of around 70 people during the uprising that toppled Sanchez de Lozada in 2003.

US ambassador in Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, was called to Washington to discuss the tensions between the two nations, while Morales fired the head of the police for the repression meted out to those protesting outside the embassy.

Meanwhile, the attempts by the US and Colombia to “prove” support from the left-wing Venezuelan and Ecuadorian governments for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been expanded to include Bolivia. Bolivian newspaper La Razon claims the laptops allegedly rescued from a bombed FARC camp in Ecuador now also have turned up emails linking the FARC to MAS senator Antonio Peredo.

Peredo denounced this as part of a “perverse” campaign to try and link Morales to the FARC.

Referendums

This is just part of the backdrop to the August 10 recall referendums, initially rejected by the opposition-controlled senate in January, then approved in May and then rejected once again in June by the National Democratic Council (CONALDE) that groups together the right-wing pro-autonomy prefects of the east.

Following a new arrival on their team in the form of newly elected opposition prefect of Chuquisaca, Sabina Cuellar, CONALDE announced that they would participate in the referendums.

Only Cochabamba prefect Manfred Reyes, who last year challenged Morales to test his support at the polls but is now reneging on his ultimatum, is opposing the electoral battle. As an opposition prefect in the heartland of MAS’s support base, Reyes knows his position is one of the most at risk.

CONALDE also announced plans to begin protests the day after the referendums if the government did not agree to a referendum on the issue of the capital. This issue was at the centre of recent violent confrontations in Sucre, Bolivia’s historic capital in the country’s centre where the constituent assembly that drew up the current draft was convened.

The controversy over the capital dates back to the civil war in 1899 that saw state powers shift to La Paz in the west. Resentment over the lack of development in Sucre have also been stoked by opposition forces, who raised the issue of the capital in an attempt to stop the constituent assembly and spread their support base from the east.

The third plank of CONALDE’s announced offensive is mobilisations against government moves to use 60% of money collected from the Direct Tax on Hydrocarbons (IDH), previously destined for the departments, to fund a universal pension for those over 60.

This opposition comes despite the fact that gas revenue to the departments has more than doubled over the last two-and-a-half years as a result of the government’s gas nationalisation policies.

While the remnants of the discredited traditional parties have formed an unstable “National Coalition for No to Evo”, some political commentators have noticed a curious anomaly: while participating in the referendum, much of the opposition is afraid to openly campaign for a vote against Morales and lend support to the allegations that they aim to “bring down the Indian”.

Writing in the July 20 Argentinian daily Clarin, Pablo Stefanoni reported that Jose Pomacusi, ex-director of the virulent anti-Morales TV station Unitel stated his position was, “we don’t need to change Evo, Evo has to change”.

Pomacusi argued that the best scenario would be a Morales victory by a small margin, denying him any blank cheque. Others have expressed fears that without an obvious opposition figure to replace Morales, the country could become even more unstable.

Mobilisations

While the opposition forces are yet to mobilise in the streets around the referendum campaigns, they have begun an intensive publicity campaign attacking the government’s record. Meanwhile, more and more social organisations are coming behind the campaign to vote in favour of Morales, taking to the streets across the country. In some places, right-wing youth have violently attacked pro-Morales campaigners.

Many in MAS are saying that a big victory for Morales could pave the way to an overwhelming victory in the referendum on the new constitution, which enshrines some of the key planks of the self-proclaimed “cultural and democratic” revolution led by Morales, such as a plurinational state and state control over natural resources.

In the east, many see a defeat for Morales in those regions, regardless of whether he wins nationally, as a mandate to implement the autonomy statutes “approved” in the illegal referendums.

In his speech in Potosi, Morales stated his confidence in the support of “all the social forces of the country to defeat the neoliberals and traitors to the homeland”.

see

Latin America’s struggle for integration and independence

Riz Khan: Evo Morales vs US

Fuentes-Federico

Socialism

Latin America’s struggle for integration and independence by Federico Fuentes

Dandelion Salad

Posted with permission by Green Left Weekly

by Federico Fuentes, Caracas
Green Left Weekly
26 July 2008

Commenting on how much the two had in common — same age, three children, similar music tastes — Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said to Mexican President Felipe Calderon on April 11 that “perhaps we represent the new generation of leaders in Latin America”.

Continue reading

Bolivia’s Movement Towards Socialism Prepares for Recall Referendums

Dandelion Salad

By Federico Fuentes
http://www.socialistvoice.ca
July 21, 2008

With the victory of an unlikely opposition candidate in the June 29 election for prefect (governor) of Chuquisaca, the number of opposition-controlled prefectures increased to seven out of nine. The result came as the right-wing opposition plots the extension of its regionalized resistance against Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales.

Sabina Cuellar — a former peasant leader, indigenous woman, graduate of the government’s literacy program and former constituent assembly delegate for the governing party, Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) — will replace evangelical pastor and former MAS prefect David Sanchez.

Sanchez is now living in exile in Peru after resigning earlier this year following violent clashes between urban mestizo (mixed blood) sectors and indigenous peasants in the department’s capital, Sucre.

Racist attacks against indigenous constituent assembly delegates meeting in Sucre to draft a new constitution for the country forced the assembly to reconvene, without the presence of opposition delegates, in a military compound where they finally approved the controversial document in December last year. The draft still awaits popular approval at the polls.

Heading an anti-Morales alliance that campaigned in favour of greater regional autonomy, Cuellar won with 55% of the vote; the MAS candidate obtained 41%. Although in the city of Sucre, Cuellar won 71% to 24%, in the rural area the vote was the reverse, 33% to 64%.

Pro-autonomy prefect

Not long after winning the vote, Cuellar publicly refused to meet with Morales, stating she would push for a vote on autonomy in Chuquisaca.

In the 2006 national autonomy referendum, Chuquisaca voted overwhelmingly against autonomy, with 62% voting “No”. However, the pro-autonomy forces hope that the new situation can consolidate Chuquisaca as part of the pro-autonomy bloc of departments.

Cuellar’s victory comes as the national MAS government gears up for the August 10 recall referendums on the president, vice-president and remaining eight prefects. Still uncertain is the date for the vote on the new constitution, aimed at institutionalizing the government’s indigenous and national-popular project. The central plank of this project is the inclusion of Bolivia’s historically excluded indigenous majority within a “plurinational” state, and greater state control over natural resources.

However, strong resistance from the right-wing elites threatens to slow down, if not halt, the progress of MAS’s self-proclaimed “democratic and cultural revolution”.

Since May 4, the four departments that make up the opposition-controlled “half moon” in the east — Santa Cruz, Tarija, Pando and Beni — have organised referendums on autonomy statutes, deemed unconstitutional by the government and National Electoral Court.

While the opposition have claimed overwhelming victories, with “Yes” votes of 70-85%, the national government has been quick to highlight the abstention rates of 35-45%, in the context of threats and violent attacks against opponents of the autonomy push.

The proposed “autonomy” statutes are aimed at undermining the power of the central state by handing over enormous power to the prefectures — including control over natural resources and distribution of land titles.

The push has been driven by the elites tied to large agribusiness and gas transnationals located in Santa Cruz (origin of 30% of Bolivia’s GDP and over 50% of tax revenue, and home to 47.6% of foreign investment in the country). These elites have gradually been displaced from national power as indigenous, peasant, worker and social movements have surged forward, overthrown presidents and united behind MAS’s national project for change.

Retreating to their trenches in the east, where they continue to maintain a strong political, social and cultural hegemony, the elites have been able to mobilize significant sections of the population in the half moon through a discourse that combines railing against “La Paz centralism”, promoting long-held sentiments of “crucenista identity”, and outright racism.

When the sensitive issue of where Bolivia’s capital should be located was brought up in the constituent assembly, the eastern-based opposition was quick to stoke controversy about the issue in order to gain influence in yet another department. While Sucre is the historic capital of Bolivia, all the state powers were shifted to La Paz following the 1899 Federal War between conservative forces based in the south and liberals in the west around La Paz.

The hope that returning the political capital to Sucre could help fuel development and employment mobilized important sectors of the city, particularly students and middle class. This led to violent clashes, as peasant MAS supporters marched on Sucre to defend the government and assembly.

Two economic models

Following Cuellar’s victory, the prefects of the half moon, organized through the National Democratic Coordinator (CONALDE), announced they would reverse their June 23 decision to oppose the recall referendums on the president, vice-president and remaining prefects.

The Senate, controlled by the opposition party Podemos, after allowing MAS’s law on holding the referendums to gather dust for over four months, approved the law in May. This move surprised the pro-autonomy forces and raised excitement in the presidential palace about the prospects of removing at least two opposition prefects, with a further two in serious jeopardy.

Speaking in Santa Cruz on July 17, Morales said that what was at stake in the August 10 referendums was more than just who would be president or prefect. “Here there are two economic models at play, two economic programs: neoliberalism or the process of change. That is what is in discussion”, he stated as he handed over funds for the implementation of 21 potable water projects in the department worth US$1.8 billion.

Counting on a solid voting base of some 90% in the Chapare coca region, 70% in El Alto, similar proportions in the countryside, and a base vote of 30% in Santa Cruz, the government is pretty sure it will match its 53.7% vote obtained in the 2005 presidential elections.

However, the vote in Chuquisaca reflects the growing tensions between the MAS government and urban middle-class mestizo sectors, many of whom voted for Morales with the hope of returning stability to the country.

It also reveals the advances made by the right in pushing back MAS’s drive for national hegemony.

To counter this, MAS has been working to shore up some fragile alliances built since 2005, particularly with the Movement of those Without Fear (MSM), grouped around La Paz mayor Juan Del Granado and made up of middle-class professionals and intellectuals.

International attacks

Meanwhile, tensions between the government and Washington have been rising, as more information comes out regarding the funding of opposition groups in Bolivia via the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

Last month, Washington recalled its ambassador to Bolivia following massive protests outside the US embassy, which the US accused Morales of inciting.

The protests were over the decision to give asylum in the US to former minister of defence Carlos Sanchez Berzain, known as the “minister of death” for his role in brutal repression that left some 70 people dead during an October 2003 uprising that overthrew President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada.

The Bolivian government has requested the extradition of both men to face trial over their roles in the massacre.

Attacks have also come from transnationals. The government faces legal challenges from Telecom Italia following the May 1 nationalization of its subsidiary Entel, which controlled 80% of the long-distance market and 70% of the country’s mobile telephone services.

The move was the latest in a wave of nationalizations in strategic sectors such as gas, telecommunications and railways.

In response, Bolivia seized some $49 million transferred by Telecom Italia from Entel to a British bank. It is also seeking to seize another $31 million transferred to a US bank prior to the carrier’s nationalization, because of the company’s failure to meet investment commitments and to pay its $645 million debt to the state in fines and back taxes.

Bolivia has refused to allow the World Bank to arbitrate the dispute, citing the fact that it withdrew from the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes last year.

The nationalization of Bolivia’s largest tin smelter has also been challenged by its former owner, Glencore, with which the government is also in discussions regarding two other mines.

In June, to deal with these conflicts, Morales created a new ministerial post to defend the country from attacks against its nationalization policies.

On July 14, Bolivian gas minister Carlos Villegas announced that Venezuela would spend $883 million to boost Bolivian oil and natural gas output by 2013 — nearly 50% more than it originally promised its Andean ally.

AP reported that “about three-quarters of the Venezuelan money will finance exploration and production at southern Bolivian fields run by Petroandina, a joint enterprise between Bolivia’s and Venezuela’s state oil companies”.

On July 17, at a public rally with Morales in Santa Cruz, Brazilian President Inácio “Lula” da Silva and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced that they would contribute loans of $230 million and $300 million respectively to aid integration of the departments of La Paz, Beni and Pando through constructing highways.

Earlier in the day, clashes involving police, the opposition and government supporters occurred as Morales arrived in the city.

Extremist youth opposition groups have vowed to not allow Morales to campaign in the east over the three weeks leading up to the referendum.

Federico Fuentes is a Latin America correspondent for Green Left Weekly. He also edits Bolivia Rising, a major source of information, analysis and opinion on events in Bolivia.

Socialist Voice is a forum for discussion of today’s struggles of the workers and oppressed from the standpoint of revolutionary Marxism. Readers are encouraged to distribute Socialist Voice as widely as possible.

Venezuela: Encouraging steps forward for union movement

Dandelion Salad

Posted with permission by Green Left Weekly

by Federico Fuentes, Caracas
Green Left Weekly
19 July 2008

“As a product of four weeks of meetings between the different currents in the National Union of Workers (UNT), together with important union federations, we have democratically decided, in consultation with the grassroots, that [on September 19-21] we will hold a national congress.

“By no later than February next year, we will go towards a transparent, democratic process of internal elections.”

This important announcement was made by Stalin Perez Borges, a UNT national coordinator and leader of the Marea Socialista (Socialist Tide) current, at a press conference convened by the promoter’s commission for the congress on July 15. It comes after crippling divisions have severely weakened Venezuela’s union movement — at a time when President Hugo Chavez has called for the working class to be at the forefront of the push to construct a “socialism of the 21st century”.

Present at the press conference were UNT national coordinators, leaders of the majority of union currents, representatives from numerous national and regional federations as well as from 12 regional union centrals from across Venezuela.

These announcements mark an important step forward in forging working class unity and come at a time of an upturn in struggle as well as further steps towards union democratisation.

Formed out of the struggle by the workers to defeat the bosses’ lockout in December 2002-January 2003, which aimed to overthrow the Chavez government, the UNT brought together the pro-revolution unions and federation. It quickly became the dominant central in the country, surpassing the corrupt pro-capitalist Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) that had backed the lock-out.

However, internal divisions led to its second national congress, held in 2006, splitting in two and the UNT ceasing to function at a national level.

Divisions further deepened with the appointment of Jose Ramon Rivero as labour minister in early 2007, who used his position to favour the current from which he came, the Bolivarian Socialist Force of Workers (FSBT), and attack the others.

However, a series of recent events has opened up a new phase.

One of the most significant was the government’s decision to re-nationalise the Sidor steel works, one of the most important in Latin America, after an 18-month struggle by its work force.

Perez Borges explained to Green Left Weekly that “the historic victory of the Sidor workers, who demonstrated in practice the results of unity” had been fundamental to opening up new space.

Not long after, Rivero was replaced as labour minister by Roberto Hernandez. Rivero sided with Sidor’s multinational owners, and, just before his sacking, had also publicly backed plans by the FSBT to split the UNT to form a new federation.

Since then, plans have been underway for a number of important elections within union federations. The lack of democratic elections for union leaderships has been a key source of tensions between the different currents and discontent among the rank-and-file.

In the teachers’ union, the slate of the Bolivarian Educators (which supports relaunching the UNT), won national elections by a wide margin against the slate of the FSBT.

Moreover, in the important public sector federation, with elections four years overdue, nearly all the currents together with the labour ministry have been able to agree to hold elections on October 1. At the same time, they have reopened discussions on their collective contract, which expired over a decade ago.

Only the FSBT has refused to be a part of this process.

Important elections are also set to be held shortly in the United Steel Industry Workers’ Union (SUTISS), the union of Sidor workers, and a newly formed federation of petroleum workers that unites the four main unions in that sector.

On July 29, the FSBT is set to organise a workers’ mobilisation to accompany it in legalising its new central, announced without any discussion with the other union currents, and which initially had the support of the presidents of 12 major union federations.

“These events are not coincidental” explained Orlando Perez from Bolivarian Educators, whose victory has cost the FSBT one of its allies in its project for a new central, at the press conference.

“Since the re-election of President Chavez [in December 2006], within the revolutionary movement an internal struggle has broken out. The different positions are due to this ideological struggle, which cannot just be defined as between the government and the opposition. It has to do with what type of socialism we support.”

“We are at a crossroads, and it is incumbent on us to push for unity, despite our differences, we have to apply a criterion of unity in diversity, in order to build instruments of the workers: unions, federations and a central.”

Angel Navas, recently re-elected president of the Federation of Electrical Workers, Fetralec — another federation that the FSBT had initially counted on to support its project — stated that the recent announcements marked “an important step forward in effort to find unity”.

Navas argued that everyone should first put their efforts into building the central, within which differences could be debated. This could help realise “the dream of workers for a powerful central that supports this process and supports the workers in releasing their social creativity and who want to transform themselves and their country”.

Ramon Piedra, from the Cruz Villegas current that is aligned with the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), announced that they had decided to move towards dissolving their separate central, the United Confederation of Venezuela Workers (CUTV), in order to push for the maximum unity of the workers’ movement.

“If there is something that this revolution needs”, argued Orlando Chirinos, a UNT national coordinater and leader of the CCURA current, “it is a central that can win the hearts and minds of … millions of workers.”

Felix Martinez, representative of the soon to be legalised united federation of automobile industry workers added: “What we need is unity, within a central there can be differences, but we need unity in order to raise the consciousness of the workers. Division does nothing to help raise the consciousness, organisation and mobilisation of the working class.”

Replying to the statements made by the president of the Venezuela Confederation of Industries, Eduard Gomez Sigala, that one of the major causes of insufficient production was labour conflicts that are “increasing in number”, and caused by unions “trying to impose their revolution”, Marcela Maspero, UNT coordinator and head of the Workers in Revolution Collective, said that the real cause was the exploitation of workers by the capitalists.

“We are clear that what unites us is that we agree with the socialist project. The path is socialism and the working class … has to be the spearhead of this process.”

All those present called on all the other national coordinators of the UNT, as well as unions and federations, to come to the discussion table and be part of the new unity process.