Thursday, September 11, 2008
The recent victory of Evo Morales in the national referendum, with a much stronger mandate (67%) than he had achieved in 2005 (53.7%), was a tribute to the depth and breadth of ongoing social struggles in Bolivia. That referendum also put eight of nine governmental regions (departments) to a recall vote, and a particularly delicious result saw the shady right-wing local governor (prefect) of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes Villa, ejected by the local population. That scumbag actually tried to insist that he would stay on and refuse to recognise the result, but he was forced to resign in a matter of days. The referendum was perhaps the inevitable result of conservative ruling class blocs seeking to frustrate government reforms by first blocking reforms within the national assembly, and then carrying out sabotage from without. Morales had to find a way to shore up his authority. But the victory was not inevitable, and it is really due to sustained grassroots mobilisation, labour militancy, and mass democracy with popular assemblies regularly filling the streets.
Anyway, after a recent US threat to interfere in Bolivia's affairs in support of right-wing 'autonomists' (rich fucks who don't want to be governed by socialists), there has been a bit of old-fashioned rightist putschism in Santa Cruz, supported by the right-wing Podemos party, which is itself part of a larger opposition coalition including provincial governors and business interests. A conservative ruling class descended from European colonists might well put up with a very adulterated version of the indigeous rights project of the Morales government, but not the attempt to assert national sovereignty over the country's energy and land resources. As this paper by Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval shows, it is the secessionist areas that have the highest concentrations of land ownership and receive a disproportionate share of energy revenues. Any attempt at social justice in terms of resources and land has to involve extensive expropriations from rpecisely those areas, either by the elected government operating effectively and legitimately, or by the Bolivian workers themselves.
Since the conservative opposition stormed out of the assembly in 2006, they've been trying to push for a version of 'autonomy' that would give the Santa Cruz elite control of the main resources, such as oil, gas, soya, and precious woods. Having staged an illegal referendum, the Santa Cruz elite says it has a mandate to assert control over the resources that it has so successfully plundered. This Tuesday, it seems, neo-fascist youths were unleashed by local elites determined to accelerate their attempts to effectively secede from La Paz, and attacked government departments, human rights organisations, and media outlets that aren't aligned to the ruling class. They've done this before, but it reached such a level this week that the government called it a coup. Morales has quite rightly instructed the US ambassador to leave the country.
US subventions are being successfully resisted in other ways too. Recently, USAID has been kicked out of Chapare by the coca growers, because it was aggressively trying to drive the coca growers out of business as part of the "Dignity Plan" (reminding one of Noriega's old Dignity Battalions) which the US worked out with the neoliberal Bolivian leadership in 1998. The growers noted that Venezuela was prepared to supply no-strings aid, so they didn't have to rely on an American agency which they accused of trying to undermine the Morales government. Still, if the US is reduced to sponsoring only regional rightist coups, there may be some cause for hope in that.