A thick fence, surveillance cameras, and armed guards protect the U.S. Embassy in
From the Bush Administration’s perspective, that turns out to mean Morales’s opponents. Declassified documents and interviews on the ground in Bolivia prove that the Bush Administration is using U.S. taxpayers’ money to undermine the Morales government and coopt the country’s dynamic social movements—just as it has tried to do recently in Venezuela and traditionally throughout Latin America.
Much of that money is going through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). In July 2002, a declassified message from the U.S. embassy in Bolivia to Washington included the following message: “A planned USAID political party reform project aims at implementing an existing Bolivian law that would . . . over the long run, help build moderate, pro-democracy political parties that can serve as a counterweight to the radical MAS or its successors.” MAS refers to Morales’s party, which, in English, stands for Movement Toward Socialism.
Morales won the presidency in December 2005 with 54 percent of the vote, but five regional governments went to rightwing politicians. After Morales’s victory, USAID, through its Office of Transition Initiatives, decided “to provide support to fledgling regional governments,” USAID documents reveal.
Throughout 2006, four of these five resource-rich lowland departments pushed for greater autonomy from the Morales-led central government, often threatening to secede from the nation.
“USAID helps with the process of decentralization,” says Jose Carvallo, a press spokesperson for the main rightwing opposition political party, Democratic and Social Power. “They help with improving democracy in
“The U.S. Embassy is helping this opposition,” agrees Raul Prada, who works for Morales’s party. Prada is sitting down in a crowded
In August 2007, Morales told a diplomatic gathering in
“There is absolutely no truth to any allegation that the U.S. is using its aid funds to try and influence the political process or in any way undermine the government,” says State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey. USAID officials point out that this support has gone to all Bolivian governors, not just those in the opposition. Despite Casey’s assertion, this funding has been controversial. On October 10,
To find out how this played out on the ground, I meet with El Alto-based journalist Julio Mamani in the Regional Workers’ Center in his city, which neighbors
“There was a lot of rebellious ideology and organizational power in El Alto in 2003,” Mamani explains, referring to the populist uprising that overthrew President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. “So USAID strengthened its presence in El Alto, and focused their funding and programs on developing youth leadership. Their style of leadership was not based on the radical demands of the city or the horizontal leadership styles of the unions. They wanted to push these new leaders away from the city’s unions and into hierarchical government positions.”
The USAID programs demobilized the youth. “USAID always took advantage of the poverty of the people,” Mamani says. “They even put up USAID flags in areas alongside the Bolivian flag and the wiphala.”
It was not hard to find other stories of what the
That same year, the NED funded another $110,134 to groups in
The U.S. Embassy even appears to be using Fulbright scholars in its effort to undermine the Bolivian government. One Fulbright scholar in
After finding out about the negative work the
They put me in touch with Wilma Rocha, the boss at a clothing factory in El Alto called Club de Madres Nueva Esperanza (Mothers’ Club of New Hope). A USAID consultant worked in the factory in 2005-2006, offering advice on management issues and facilitating the export of the business’s clothing to
Ten female employees are knitting at a table in the corner of a vast pink factory room full of dozens of empty sewing machines. “For three months we’ve barely had any work at all,” one of the women explains while Rocha waits at a distance. “When we do get paychecks, the pay is horrible.” I ask for her name, but she says she can’t give it to me. “If the boss finds out we are being critical, she’ll beat us.”
Benjamin Dangl is the author of “The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in
Republished from Progressive Magazine