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

Federico Fuentes, 10 August

“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

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.

Republished from Green Left Weekly

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