BOLIVIA: Revolution and Counter-Revolution
Morales and the Challenges
By Thomas Davies
“Without fearing anybody, without fearing the Empire – I declared Mr. Goldberg persona non-grata. We do not want separatist or divisionist people that conspire against unity or democracy.” – Bolivian President Evo Morales announces expulsion of US Ambassador Philip Goldberg, September 11, 2008
The gloves are off in the fight for Bolivia’s future. While the past once belonged to the United States and a small Bolivian elite, since the 2005 election of Evo Morales, the Indigenous, poor, and working majority have taken firm steps forward to reclaim their resources, their dignity and their country. The present has seen fierce and violent attempts to undermine this process. It has become all the more clear that Bolivians are not only fighting against their own enraged former ruling class, but a determined foreign imperialist effort to overthrow their government.
In the midst of all of this, Bolivians have been able to make undeniable improvements. In a fierce battle, Morales forced 12 different foreign companies to renegotiate natural gas contracts, giving Bolivia at least 51% of privatized petroleum operations. As a result of this nationalization, government gas revenues have risen from 188 million dollars in late 2001 to 1.57 billion dollars in 2007 – an increase of over 800 percent!
In response to the demands of Bolivian people, a Constituent Assembly was also created with the mandate of drafting a new constitution. Also, in April 2006, Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba began ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. ALBA is based on true cooperation between countries, and has grown into an effective alternative to the US-dominated “Free Trade Area of the Americas” (FTAA).
This cooperation has already paid huge dividends. According to official statistics, over 800,000 Bolivians over the age of 15 have learned to read with the Cuban method of “Si Se Puede”. This includes education in the Indigenous languages of Aymara and Quechua where applicable. More than 8,400 solar panels have also been installed with Cuban and Venezuelan cooperation in the same rural communities where the literacy training is taking place.
The Past Fights Back
“We will not be beaten, if we are talking about confrontations let’s talk about confrontations, if we are going to talk about war, let there be war, but they will not impose anything on us. We are sufficiently strong to split off from the country, and if I have to take a stick, a sling, a gun, I will do it...” - Oscar Urenda Aguilera, US-backed Bolivian Opposition leader in the province of Santa Cruz
On July 3 2007, Bolivian president Morales granted the Chiquitano Indigenous group permanent land titles over Monte Verde, the group’s ancestral territory. The Bolivian government has huge plans for similar land reforms, and have met with threats and violence from Bolivia’s minority land-owners. According to the United Nations’ Development Program, 25 million hectares of prime farmland is controlled by 100 families. The remaining five million hectares are shared among two million peasants. This would drastically change under the proposed reforms.
The most organized and violent opposition has come from the richest provinces in the eastern “Half-Moon” region. The opposition there have organized referendums calling for regional “autonomy”. Morales refused to recognize the votes, which were heavily boycotted. Delegates from 10 countries of the Union of South American Countries (UNASUR) also rejected the initial referendum in the province of Santa Cruz as illegal and triggered by foreign imperialist forces such as the US.
Morales Moves Forward
Morales countered opposition moves by winning a huge 67% vote in the August 10, 2008 re-call referendum. This was a major increase from the 53% vote he received in 2005. He maintained his 80% vote in the Western Andean provinces, and even moved up to 40% vote in the opposition heartlands. On August 28th, with new momentum, he decreed a referendum for a new constitution would take place in December.
The constitution called for, among many other things, greater state intervention for a more equitable economy, expropriation without compensation of large land holders, nationalization of natural resources, and the right to free healthcare and education. At the same time, voters were to decide on the amount of unproductive land an individual can own — 5000 or 10,000 hectares.
Seeing the country slipping through their fingers, the capitalist right-wing opposition erupted. Well-armed gangs of right-wing youth and paramilitaries went on the attack. In the city of Cojiba, in Pando Province, at least 20 pro-government peasants were massacred with machine guns, 40 injured, and another 100 “disappeared”. The gangs also occupied government offices, television stations, and even airports in several provinces.
On the night of September 10th, hundreds of protesters overpowered soldiers protecting an important gas-export pipeline close to the town of Yacuiba. They closed valves and overrode safety devices. This caused a huge gas leak and explosion that interrupted gas exports, costing $8 million-$10 million a day in lost revenues and tens of millions more in damages to the pipeline.
Morales declared a state of emergency in Pando, the military took back the offices captured by the opposition, and the Governor of Pando was arrested for coordinating the peasant massacre.
On September 11, the US ambassador was expelled as it was documented that he met with opposition leaders, and was involved in coordinating and funding their terror campaign. In solidarity with Bolivia, Venezuela also expelled its US ambassador. This was met with the expulsion of both the Venezuelan and Bolivian ambassadors to the US.
New Dawn – International Cooperation
On September 11, 1973, a US-backed military coup took over the streets of Chile, and violently overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. Elected in 1970, he had attempted nationalization of large-scale industries, land reforms, and improvements in health and education. Chile was internationally isolated, and the coup took only one day. Allende was replaced by the ruthless dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
It was therefore hugely symbolic that an emergency UNASUR summit was called in Chile after September 11, 2008. The summit issued a statement agreed upon by Morales and the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. They emphasized their “fullest and decided support for the constitutional government of President Evo Morales, whose mandate was ratified by a wide margin in the recent referendum” and created a committee to attend talks between Morales’s government and rebel governors in Bolivia’s east. The pressure on the opposition to cease the violence became huge.
In another effort to destabilize Bolivia, US Secretary of State at the time Condolezza Rice announced on October 16, 2008 that the US would end their preferential trade relationship with Bolivia, accusing the government of not doing enough in the “war on drugs“. This jeopardized an estimated 30,000 jobs dependent on duty-free trade between Bolivia and the US. What was the response? Venezuela and Bolivia announced that under ALBA, Bolivia would triple its exports of textiles and manufacturing to Venezuela.
The US Drug Enforcement Agency and USAID have both been ordered to cease operations in Bolivia for cooperating with and coordinating opposition. The CIA was also recently banned for the same reason.
There is no doubt that the Indigenous, poor, and working people of Bolivia will decide their country’s future. Morales receives his mandate from them, and it is they who are on the frontlines of all the struggles and improvements. However, this history of Latin-America is full of events similar to Chile – where social movements and popular governments were crushed by US intervention. International cooperation and solidarity, led by Venezuela and Cuba, is providing Bolivia with the space to develop and fight and to win on its own terms.
On October 21, 2008 it was announced that an agreement had been reached between the Morales government and opposition PODEMOS party to call January 25, 2009 as the date for the referendum for the new constitution. The agreement did not include the “pro-autonomy” governors in the east – and marked an important split in the opposition.
Constitution Victory and the Challenges Ahead
On January 25, 2009, Bolivia’s new constitution was approved with a 60% majority. But even with this important victory for poor and working people in Bolivia, their fight is far from over. Bolivia has the world’s second largest natural gas reserves, and remains a strategic target for the US. The reactionary Bolivian opposition still exists. The newly-approved mandates of the constitution still have to be implemented. Revolution and counter-revolution are still in constant battle in Bolivia.
Through many battles, Bolivia’s government and people have been able to grow, to gain confidence, and to find new allies. Bolivians are more able to see truth in what Che Guevara, who died fighting in Bolivia, said: “The present is struggle. The future is ours.”
US Hands Off Bolivia!
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