From Socialist Voice, November 2008

International

Three setbacks for the United States in Latin America

Bolivia, in the high Andes mountains of South America, is the home of an ancient civilisation, conquered by Spain in the sixteenth century. The silver mines of Potosí enriched the Spanish kings and their bankers, providing much of the seed capital for the growth of western European capitalism. The indigenous population was reduced to servitude.
     The wars of liberation brought no change to the mass of the people, as power came into the hands of an oligarchy that allied itself first with British and then with North American imperialism.
     Following the robbery of the silver, an equal wealth of tin was extracted from the country. After so much wealth, Bolivia is now the poorest country in South America, even though a third bonanza has now been discovered, in oil and gas.
     In 1985 Bolivia was a victim of economic shock therapy, under the supervision of one of the “Chicago Boys,” Jeffrey Sachs (who went on to help Boris Yeltsin destroy the Russian economy) and directed by Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, also a Chicago graduate and one of the wealthiest men in Bolivia, later president. This resulted in the further impoverishment of the already miserably poor majority of the people and the opening up of the economy to transnational corporations. Even the provision of water was privatised.
     Social movements, drawing on a long history of struggle, succeeded in reversing this privatisation and prevented the sale of the oil and gas resources. In 2003 they forced the resignation of Sánchez de Lozada, who fled the country to avoid prosecution.
     Evo Morales, one of the leaders of this struggle, was elected president in 2005—the first indigenous president in a land with an indigenous majority. The new government reversed the privatisation of water and nationalised the oil and gas. Bolivia joined the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), along with Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, a programme aimed at economic co-operation for independent development in Latin America.
     Inevitably, the new alignment was not acceptable either to the wealthy bourgeoisie and landowners or to the United States. The right-wing parties retained their position in the richer eastern lowlands, around the city of Santa Cruz. Their strategy was to try to separate the eastern departments and insulate them from the reforms being carried out by the new government, and to block the implementation of the new constitution. The prefects (governors) of these departments worked closely with the US ambassador, Philip Goldberg, who had previously served in Kosovo in separating that province from Serbia.
     Morales countered their campaign by calling a referendum on his own position and that of the prefects of the departments. He received the endorsement of 67 per cent of the vote—an increase of 14 per cent on his original election—and two of the right-wing prefects lost their positions. Four, however, were confirmed in office, and they launched a rebellion against the “tyrant” Morales.
     Armed gangs attacked government supporters, took over government offices, closed down radio and television stations, and dynamited the gas pipeline. They even attacked the police, who did not retaliate. In their actions they demonstrated their fascist and racist character.
     The worst incident was in the northern department of Pando, where armed gangs organised by the prefect opened fire on a peaceful crowd of indigenous people, killing at least eighteen. The Irish Times reported that up to thirty people had been killed in “clashes.” This was not a clash: this was a massacre. The Irish Times has not issued a correction.
     The attempted coup was a complete flop. No incidents that could be blamed on the government were created, and if any generals entertained thoughts of joining, they had second thoughts. The army remained neutral throughout the crisis, not moving against the gangs in Santa Cruz or protecting government buildings. Only when the president declared a state of siege in Pando, after the massacre there, did the military take any action.
     The US ambassador was expelled for his role in the conspiracy. This time he has no success to report: there was no war, and no breakaway province. He was in Indian territory, and the Indians defeated him.
     For the United States there was worse to come. The new organisation of South American states, UNASUR, held a summit meeting in Santiago, Chile, and declared its support for the government of Evo Morales, for the democratic process, and for the territorial integrity of Bolivia.
     For such a meeting to take place without the presence of the United States was a blow in itself. As Noam Chomsky put it, “The significance of the UNASUR support for democracy in Bolivia is underscored by the fact that the leading media in the US refused to report it.”
     The rebel prefects were now isolated. They had no support from any neighbouring state; one of their number was under arrest, charged with organising a massacre; the social movement was organising a march on Santa Cruz; and the campaign to ratify the new constitution by referendum is unstoppable. Reluctantly, they agreed to enter talks with the government. The Irish Times reported that Morales had agreed to talk to them under pressure from UNASUR—strange!
     At the time of writing, the prefects have still not signed an agreement with the government. They are still trying to block the new constitution, and demanding autonomy on their terms.
     There was another failed coup, in Venezuela, and another US ambassador sent home. The plotters, retired and serving military officers, had the misfortune to have their mobile phone conversation broadcast on state television—how they were going to hijack an air force plane and attack the presidential palace. This was shortly after President Chávez had announced an amnesty for the participants in the 2002 coup. I hope there will be no amnesty for these plotters. They demonstrate that there is a permanent conspiracy against Venezuela, organised from the United States.
     Another setback for the United States was the ratification by referendum of the new constitution of Ecuador, with a majority of 64 per cent.
     Not a good September for George.
[SE]

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