Bolivia: 'This is a fight between rich and poor'

Federico Fuentes, Caracas, 27 September 2008

Speaking from within the belly of the beast, Bolivia’s indigenous President Evo Morales announced at the 63rd United Nations General Assembly that the world today is paying witness to a “fight between rich and poor, between socialism and capitalism”.

“There is an uprising against an economic model, a capitalistic system that is the worst enemy of humanity”, Morales said.

With his confidence boosted following the recent rolling back of a right-wing offensive whose objective was a “civil coup” against his government, Morales used his intervention at the UN summit to do what he had done last year: denounce capitalism.

Morales also used the opportunity to refer to recent events in his own country. Following his crushing victory in the August 10 recall referendum — in which close to seven out of 10 voters demonstrated their support for him and the process of change he is leading — the right-wing pro-autonomy opposition based in the east of Bolivia unleashed a desperate wave of violence and terrorism aimed at toppling his government.

In response, Morales expelled the US ambassador due to his role in leading the coup conspiracy and decreed marshal law in the department (state) of Pando — site of the most intense violence. Pando’s opposition-aligned prefect Leopoldo Fernandez ordered the September 11 massacre of pro-government peasants. With the official death toll reaching almost 20, and more than 100 people still missing, the military successfully hunted down the fugitive prefect, who is now facing trial for charges of genocide.

Three days after the massacre, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) convened an emergency summit to declare “their fullest and decided support for the constitutional government of President Evo Morales” and “warn that its respective governments energetically reject and do not recognise any situation that implies an intent of civil coup d’etat, the rupture of institutional order, or that compromises the territorial integrity of the Republic of Bolivia”.

“I would like to hear representatives of the US government rejecting these acts of terrorism”, proclaimed Morales during his speech to the UN General Assembly. “But you know, they are allies, of course they will never condemn this.”

“When you work for equality and social justice, you are persecuted and conspired against by certain groups, not concerned about equality”, he said.

The battle for Bolivia’s future

Since being inaugurated as president in January 2006, Morales has faced a constant right-wing campaign aimed at undermining and ultimately overthrowing his government. Elected with a historic 53.7% of the vote, his entrance into the presidential palace represented an important leap forward for Bolivia’s indigenous movement, which had set itself the goal of moving “from resistance to power”. But as Morales has explained, winning the elections didn’t equal holding power.

Backed by Bolivia’s powerful indigenous, peasant and social movements, the Morales government quickly moved to implement a number of key election promises such as the nationalisation of the country’s gas reserves — the second largest in Latin America — and an “agrarian revolution”.

The centrepiece of the government’s program, however, was the holding of a Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution and “refound” Bolivia. The demand was first raised in the early ’90s by the indigenous peoples of the country’s east, and gained strength during the cycle of social struggle opened up with the community rebellion in 2002 against Bechtel. The transnational corporation bought Cochabamba’s water supplies and intended to more than double the price of water. The Constituent Assembly was officially inaugurated in August 2006.

From day one, the right-wing opposition pulled out all stops to try to block the advance of the Constituent Assembly. Following the escalation of a wave of violence against assembly delegates, it was forced to convene, without the presence of most of the opposition delegates to the assembly and in a military compound, where the draft of a new constitution was approved by a clear majority of elected delegates.

The new draft constitution, along with “constitutionalising” the gains made until now in the “democratic and cultural revolution” headed by Morales — such as nationalisation of natural resources and agrarian reform — would also dramatically increase the rights of Bolivia’s traditionally excluded indigenous majority within a new “plurinational” state.

Sensing the threat this represented to their economic interests, the agribusiness elites and gas transnationals, through their control of the prefectures and civic committees of the departments of the east, have done all they can to stop the advance of the indigenous nationalist project that Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) government represents.

But “these coup plotters made a mistake, they do not have either national or international support, and happily there exists a consciousness in the people to reject these conspiratorial acts”, stated Morales

Back to the negotiating table?

As a relative calm — one which resembles those that come before a storm — returns to Bolivia after weeks of right-wing violence and terrorism during which state institutions were burnt down, beatings were meted out to indigenous peasants, police officers and soldiers, and takeovers of airports and blockades of major highways occurred, the government and opposition returned to the negotiation table.

At the same time, social movements aligned with the MAS government initiated a massive mobilisation on September 17, marching on Santa Cruz to demand the resignation of the prefect. While stating his disagreement with the demands of the protesters, Morales said that the movements were autonomous from the government and that they were reacting against the right wing and in favour of democracy.

The three key issues for discussion at the negotiation table are the new constitution and autonomy statutes promoted by the right-wing prefects, the redistribution of the Direct Tax on Hydrocarbons and the filling of vacant spaces in judicial bodies such as the Constitutional Tribunal.

Expressing its clear desire to see the negotiations advance within the context of a new balance of forces following the referendum vote and the repelling of the “civil coup” attempt, the Morales government denounced the unwillingness of the right wing to truly participate in a dialogue.

Not content with the proposals by the government to give way on some of these issues, the opposition demanded that discussion be reopened on the draft constitution.

For Morales, the opposition forces were “counterposing themselves to the sectors that have mobilised for so many years demanding a Constituent Assembly, and with it a new constitution … In doing so they are opposing the refoundation of Bolivia which seeks equality between Bolivians.”

Stating that it appeared as though the will to reach an agreement did not exist among the opposition, Morales said “the people will oblige them to approve the new constitution”.

The negotiations were halted on September 24, in recess until the following Monday.

The social movements announced on September 25 that they would meet over the weekend to plan further actions in favour of approving the new constitution.

While suspending their march shortly before reaching the capital of Santa Cruz, the social movements that make up the National Coalition for Change (CONALCAM) — which makes up the majority of the indigenous, peasant and social movements in Bolivia — announced that they will most likely initiate a march on parliament to force the approval of a law to hold a referendum on the draft constitution.

From New York, Morales announced that a meeting of CONALCAM would be held on September 27 where “for sure, if the prefects do not guarantee an agreement, once again there will be mobilisations until the prefects understand the clamour of the Bolivian people which is for the refoundation of Bolivia with a new constitution”.

Fidel Surco, head of CONALCAM, added that while the social movements had “been flexible in lifting the mobilisation on Santa Cruz, we greatly lament the fact that the prefects do not want to dialogue over the constitutional text. Either way, we will approve the new constitution. No matter what, the referendum will go ahead. If they do not support it, they should vote No. We have decided that once again we will surround the Congress.”

Surco stated that, along with the option of surrounding Congress, there was also the possibility of reinitiating the march on Santa Cruz.

On previous occasions, indigenous and peasant organisations have surrounded parliament and forced the approval of laws such as those regarding agrarian reform and the new gas contracts.

The peasant federation of Chuquisaca has announced, that regardless of what CONALCAM decides, it will restart blockades around the capital of the department, Sucre, to force the local prefect to sign an agreement for peace in the country.

International solidarity

Meanwhile, international solidarity with the government and people of Bolivia continues to grow. A declaration by the Presidency of the European Union stated that “The European Union supports the step taken by UNASUR, whose Heads of State held an extraordinary meeting in Santiago on 15 September with a view to helping resolve in a peaceful and democratic manner which respects Bolivia’s territorial integrity the crisis gripping the country”, adding that it endorses the terms of the UNASUR resolution.

Kintto Lucas reported on September 22 for IPS News that “Indigenous organisations from several countries in Latin America declared their solidarity with Bolivian President Evo Morales with respect to the crisis in his country …

“Humberto Cholango, the head of the [Confederation of Peoples of the Quechua Nationality of Ecuador, Ecuarunari], which groups Quechua communities from Ecuador’s highlands region, warned that an attempted coup against Morales could trigger a generalised uprising by indigenous people throughout the Andean region.”

“The indigenous movement in Ecuador and other countries is on the alert to any attempt to overthrow our brother Evo by economic power groups backed by the government of the United States”, Cholango told IPS.

“The indigenous leader said that ‘a great global chain of solidarity with Bolivia’ is being created by indigenous and social organisations as well as intellectuals throughout South America, which will culminate in a major demonstration in La Paz [Bolivia’s administrative capital]”, IPS reported

ECUARUNARI, together with the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the Movement of Those Without Land (MST, Brazil), Via Campesina and others are holding a meeting in solidarity with Bolivia in Santa Cruz on October 23-25.

1 comment:

malialeuca said...

“I would like to hear representatives of the US government rejecting these acts of terrorism”, proclaimed Morales during his speech to the UN General Assembly.

anyone know if this part in particular has changed?

'cause there are others out here would like to hear, too. :)