The fight is not over by any means but Bolivia has entered a new phase

Forrest Hylton

Bolivia's Congress ratified President Evo Morales' draft constitution on Tuesday, beginning a new phase to the president’s quest of empowering Bolivia’s long oppressed indigenous majority. Congress approved holding another referendum scheduled for January 25. Despite this development, Journalist and Author Forrest Hylton believes "the fight is not over by any means but [Bolivia] has entered a new phase."

Forrest Hylton is the author of Evil Hour in Colombia (Verso, 2006), and with Sinclair Thomson, co-author of Revolutionary Horizons: Past and Present in Bolivian Politics (Verso, 2007). He is a regular contributor to New Left Review and NACLA Report on the Americas.
Transcript of interview by Bolivia Rising

Bolivia approves draft constitution
Producer: Zaa Nkweta

ZAA NKWETA, TRNN: Bolivia's Congress ratified President Evo Morales' draft constitution on Tuesday, beginning a new phase to the president's quest of empowering Bolivia's long-oppressed indigenous majority.

EVO MORALES, BOLIVIAN PRESIDENT (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): If regional governors reject all of these modifications, these civil committees will turn into the enemies of regional autonomy. If there shall be any civil authority or governor who rejects this document, they would be an enemy of the country because they would be rejecting the nationalization of our natural resources.

NKWETA: Bolivia's Congress also approved holding a referendum on the new constitution, scheduled for January 25. The Real News spoke to author and historian Forrest Hylton.


NKWETA: So welcome to The Real News, Forrest.


NKWETA: So Bolivia has ratified the draft constitution. What do you make of this?

HYLTON: It's a major victory for Evo Morales as president of Bolivia, for MAS as the governing party of Bolivia. And La Paz is currently filled with tens of thousands, perhaps more than 100,000 people of indigenous background, workers and peasants and miners, celebrating what they understand to be their Constitution. And there's a lot in the fine print, in fact, that reflects negotiations between Morales and the right-wing opposition prefects, and particularly the political parties that represent them. But people aren't worried about the fine print right now. They feel that this is a big victory in terms of moving the country forward politically and at least establishing a framework that's agreed on by all sides for government and, hopefully, the rule of law.

NKWETA: What do you think were some of the critical turning points that got us to this point?

HYLTON: The international intervention from UNASUR, the discussions of this issue in the General Assembly at the United Nations by President Fernández de Kirchner, and the way that Brazil intervened very decisively in favor of the democratically elected government of Evo Morales, the extent to which the United States has become entirely isolated from the rest of the hemisphere. And Evo Morales is at the same time very strong right now; and after the referendum in August, which saw a 13 percent gain for him, he was able to translate that into international legitimacy, and that international legitimacy eventually forced the right to make concessions that it really never wanted to make. It never wanted to see Evo Morales and his government get the credit for passing the new constitution, and a new constitution and a constitutional assembly was a key part of the agenda of October, which is basically what set the framework for Evo Morales's government. It's what brought Evo Morales to power. And it refers to October 2003, when right-wing President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada was overthrown through a mass popular insurrection. So this really represents in some ways a closure of that process that was initiated when people began to demand a new constitution and a new constitutional assembly through mass direct action in the streets, which was capable of overthrowing two presidents.

NKWETA: Do you believe that the grassroots organizations that the opposition used to push Morales, do you believe that these have been abated?

HYLTON: Well, I mean, it's unlikely, I think, that we've seen the last of them altogether, but the increasingly central protagonism that they have taken on in the last, you know, couple of years or so, particularly in the last year, I think, is something that has now come to a close; I think it'll really fade into the background. And they might be mobilized as necessary, but I think the kind of constant mobilization that we've been seeing that has led to the deaths and ultimately to the massacre in Pando in September, I think [inaudible] with the forging of this kind of new consensus. And the key concession that MAS and Evo Morales had to make was on land, the idea that none of the expropriation of unproductive land would be retroactive, so the people who have legal title to their land, if they're using it productively, are not in danger of using any of it. This is the key issue for these folks down in the eastern lowlands, because their representatives in the prefectures and the civic committees are huge landowners, and they belong to kind of a caste of landowning families. And so the Constitution doesn't explicitly take them on, and up until now that was a point that MAS was really unwilling to negotiate on, and it was perhaps the key grievance of the folks in the lowlands. A lot of the debate took place over hydrocarbons and the distribution of gas resources between the nation and the different regions within it. But in fact this question of land has been fundamental at every point, and it was really the tensest point of friction between the government and the opposition. Now that's really been taken care of, and I think there will be much more live-and-let-live.

NKWETA: Is the fight over?

HYLTON: I wouldn't say it's over by any means, but I think we've really probably entered a new phase, and I think things are likely to be quite a bit calmer in Bolivia in the next year than they have in the past.


BOLIVIA: Morales Leads March for New Constitution

Franz Chávez
InterPress Services (IPS)
October 13, 2008

LA PAZ, Oct 13 (IPS) - Bolivian President Evo Morales was at the head of a march that set off Monday to the capital from Caracollo, a town 200 km to the south, to press Congress to schedule a referendum on the new constitution that has been drafted by a constituent assembly.

The roughly 3,000 indigenous people, trade unionists and members of social organisations -- expected to be joined by thousands of other supporters along the way to La Paz -- plan to reach the capital in a week.

Morales and his support base want lawmakers to adopt a call for a referendum in which Bolivians would vote on the draft constitution approved in December by the constituent assembly, in which the governing Movement to Socialism (MAS) party holds a majority.

MAS also controls the lower house of Congress, but the rightwing opposition has a majority in the Senate.

In Bolivia, sectors like miners and indigenous people have a long tradition of protesting and putting forth their demands by means of lengthy cross-country marches.

This week’s demonstration marks a revival of the practice, as a sign of strength and unity around the policies of the administration of Morales, the country’s first indigenous president.

The leftist government is under fire from the conservative opposition led by wealthy landowners and business leaders from the eastern lowlands provinces of Beni, Chuquisaca, Pando, Santa Cruz and Tarija, who are demanding regional autonomy.

They also want greater control over the natural resources which are largely concentrated in their provinces, such as natural gas -- of which Bolivia has the second-largest reserves in South America, after Venezuela -- and fertile farmland.

"For the first time ever, our indigenous people will be recognised by the constitution," Morales said in a speech prior to the start of the march, in which he was accompanied by the head of the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB) central trade union, Pedro Montes, a miner; the executive secretary of the Confederación Única de Trabajadores Campesinos small farmers’ union, Saúl Ávalos; and Fidel Surco, the powerful leader of a collective of social movements.

"This march is not one of pain, but is marked by honour and pride in our dear fatherland, for the quality of all Bolivians," said Morales, to the applause of thousands of people waving banners, the multicoloured flag of the Aymara people, and signs declaring support for the new constitution.

Morales urged opposition lawmakers to approve the call for a referendum before the demonstrators arrive in La Paz on Oct. 20, in order to make their arrival "a celebration."

For his part, Ávalos said that if the legislative debate stretches out beyond that date, the protesters will mount a vigil around the Congress building in La Paz.

The march is the expression of the "true Bolivians" who want "development and not bloodshed," said Montes, who was wearing a miners’ helmet.

The Oct. 5 breakdown of talks between Morales and the opposition governors led the president to seek parliamentary support for the call for a referendum on the draft constitution, which recognises the cultural and territorial rights of the country’s indigenous majority and sets a limit on the size of landholdings.

The march, which began in a festive atmosphere, is a peaceful response to the violence unleashed by pro-autonomy conservative sectors in the eastern lowlands provinces, in which public offices were occupied and destroyed by radical rightwing youth groups, and at least 17 people were killed on Sept. 11 in the northern province of Pando, for which the provincial governor is under arrest.

Typical indigenous sheep-wool hats, multicoloured caps and ponchos from the western highlands mixed with the light clothing and straw hats of people from Bolivia’s warmer eastern zones as they walked along the straight highway that crosses Bolivia’s extensive altiplano, where the asphalt burns during the day but temperatures drop below zero at night.

The demonstrators chanted "the people united will never be defeated" and the more recently adopted "fatherland or death, we will prevail".

The musical band in which Morales played the trumpet as a young man accompanied the marchers for the first few kilometres, to the rhythm of military marches that mixed with the drumbeats and the joyful sound of the tarkas (wooden flutes).

Before the demonstrators started out, Morales recalled that on one of the marches that he led in the past, an elderly woman came up to offer him a 10 boliviano bill (1.50 dollars), which he said he refused because she was so poor.

Today, he said, that old woman has a lifelong monthly pension of 26 dollars a month -- a reference to an expanded universal pension programme for people over 60, whose approval was obtained by means of protests and marches on Congress.

In the past, as a leader of the six federations of coca growers of the central tropical region of Chapare, Morales led his followers on four 400-km marches defending the benefits of coca as a medicinal plant or as a traditional tea.

On several occasions, the anti-drug police and the army tried to block the progress of the coca farmers’ marches. But in the end, hundreds of coca growers made it to La Paz, where Morales won the support that eventually led him to the presidency. (END/2008)


A glance at Ecuador's draft constitution

The Associated Press
September 28, 2008

Highlights from Ecuador's 444-article draft constitution, which would be the Andean nation's 20th. Voters decide Sunday whether to adopt it.

_ The president can dissolve Congress once, and Congress can unseat the president once.

_ The president controls monetary and credit policy, supplanting the Central Bank.

_ The president can run for one additional four-year term (Correa could serve through 2017).

_ Same-sex unions will be afforded the same rights as heterosexual marriages.

_ Those who work in the home are eligible for social security.

_ New fathers have the right to paternity leave, joining new mothers.

_ Military service will no longer be mandatory.

_ The voting age will be lowered to 16, and soldiers and police will gain the right to vote.

_ Foreign military bases or installations will be prohibited on Ecuadorean soil. The United States has operated anti-drug surveillance flights out of Ecuador's Manta air base since 1999. The 10-year lease expires next year and will not be renewed.

_ Among civic responsibilities is the Quichua Indian ancestral code of conduct: "Be not lazy and neither lie nor steal."

Ecuador Constitution: A Starting Point

Prensa Latina

Quito, Sep 29 The overwhelming support given to the new Constitution in a Sunday referendum proved Ecuadorans are longing for a revolutionary change.

Preliminary results shows that between 66 and 70 percent of the population voted in favor of the new charter drafted by a Constituent Assembly.

For President Rafael Correa, such a resounding victory just proves his felow citizens´confidence in the people's revolution he started in January 2007.

People overwhelmingly voted Yes for a Charter supporting the implementation of a deeply humanist, solidarity economic model, he said.

By voting Yes, voters also backed Correa´s government, which has been making radical changes in the Andean country for the last 20 months.

The President gave opposition the opportunity to join forces in the construction of an egalitarian society, as stated in the new constitution.

The country´s 20th constitution will spur rapid, profound change, benefiting the hard-working, humble majority and helping him eradicate a political class that made Ecuador one of Latin America's most corrupt countries.

It also guarantees free education through university and social security benefits for stay-at-home mothers.

The new measures would supplement already-popular Correa programmes that provide low-interest micro-loans for small businesses, building-material giveaways for homes and free seeds for growing crops.

Change Triumphs in Ecuador's Constitutional Referendum

Helga Serrano N. and Eduardo Tamayo G.
Translated from: Referéndum en Ecuador: Triunfa la esperanza de cambio
Translated by: Katie Kohlstedt
Americas Policy Program, Center for International Policy (CIP) americas.irc-online.org
October 2, 2008

[ Helga Serrano works at the Christian Youth Association of Ecuador and coordinates the No Bases Ecuador Coalition. Eduardo Tamayo is a journalist with ALAI—they are analysts for the Americas Program found at www.americaspolicy.org. ]

Ecuador's new constitution was approved with 64% voting "yes" on Sept. 28. "No" won 28% of the votes, 7% were invalid, and 0.7% left blank, according to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

The results of the referendum reflect the high expectations for change that the majority of Ecuadorians are feeling, and which they have ratified with their votes in the last four elections. This desire for a profound transformation also extends to the immigrants that have left for the United States and Europe, who have been hit by the economic crisis. People voted for a more participative democracy and for the ability to intercede actively in political life.

The constitution combines a series of progressive traits that overcome some of Ecuador's current inequalities, discrimination, and injustices, such as the following: the balanced living concept (sumak kawsay), which implies living in harmony with oneself, society, and nature; nature's right to assure "the maintenance and regeneration of its vital cycles, structure, functions, and evolutionary processes"; national diversity and collective rights; the right to water and the prohibition of its privatization; food sovereignty and the permanent right to secure food sources; the right to communication, and access to public, private, and community media.

The constitution also has articles that are significant in terms of sovereignty and the prohibition of foreign military bases, as Article 5 states: "Ecuador is a peaceful territory. We will not permit the establishment of foreign military bases nor foreign facilities with military aims. It is prohibited to cede national military bases to foreign armed or security forces." Ecuador defines itself as a country that promotes peace, universal disarmament, condemns the use of weapons of mass destruction, and the imposition of bases or facilities with military purposes of some states in the territory of other nations (Article 416, 4). This is a victory not only for Ecuadorian organizations, but also for continental and worldwide networks that have struggled to abolish foreign military bases.

Rethinking the Economic Model
The new constitution also has a chapter on the prioritization of national production in its economy. In regards to development, it recognizes the "group of economic, political, social, cultural, and environmental systems that guarantees the realization of the balanced life, sumak kawsay." This means that economic growth is not the only priority as a means to reach development; instead, it is considered an integrated vision. It proposes, among other things, "to build a fair, democratic, productive, solidarity-based, and sustainable economic system founded on the equitable distribution of development benefits, means of production, and the generation of dignified and stable work" (Article 276).

The constitution recovers the role of the state in participatory development planning in areas such as healthcare, education, housing, and water supply, among other things. Some of these had been turned over to the private sector during years of neoliberal implementation. Now the state will maintain control of the financial sector and develop policies to avoid the concentration or hoarding of means of production.

It also proposes the development of specific policies to eradicate inequality and discrimination toward women, including the valuation of non-paid work in the home, and universal social security.

Strategic sectors are recognized in the new constitution, such as all forms of energy, telecommunications, non-renewable natural resources, transportation, and refining of hydrocarbons, biodiversity, genetic heritage, and water.

The state reserves the right to "administer, regulate, control, and manage" these sectors because of their decisive economic, social, political, or environmental influence.

Though this is fundamental, concern also exists in some sectors that a door has been left open in terms of exploitation of protected areas, if the National Assembly should choose to do so. The indigenous movement proposed that the policy of "previous informed consent" be used, as in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Native Peoples, but the Constitutional Assembly approved the "previous informed consultation" policy, which is now part of the constitution.

Despite this limitation, Humberto Cholango, indigenous director of ECUARUNARI, the largest organization of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, celebrated the approval of the constitution and its inclusion of the diverse nationalities that make up the nation, which "is of historical importance, because it has been proposed as such since the first indigenous uprising 18 years ago," according to Cholango.

A key player in the "yes" decision was without a doubt President Rafael Correa, whose administration stands out for its reorientation of public investment away from the usual elite classes, and instead toward health, education, and public works. This has been favored by the high price of oil and increased tax revenue collection, as many businesspeople have been forced to pay.

Foreign Military Forces Sent Home
Another positive element is the defense of national sovereignty, expressed as a rejection of the warmongering politics of the government of Colombia and President Alvaro Uribe. It also puts an end to the agreement with the United States that allowed it to have a military base "for the drug war" in Manta, Ecuador. In reality this base was used for other purposes such as the interception of boats transporting migrants and also for Plan Colombia. American military personal will leave Ecuador next year.

Another important theme was the impulse toward political, economic, and social integration into Latin America as a region, with emphasis on the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).

Although some of the proposals initiated by the government have been questioned by the indigenous and environmental movements—such as oil exploration, mining, and agricultural policies based on agrochemicals and agrofuels—the organizations recognize that this can be limited through the use of the constitution to ensure the defense of natural resources, life, and biodiversity.

It's important to recognize that the constitution compiles varied aspirations from diverse social sectors that have fought for more than a decade against neoliberalism and policies that assured the payment of external debt to the detriment of social programs.

The Constitutional Assembly and the triumph of President Correa are the result of social struggles against the successive governments that opted to govern on the side of economic interests and not of the people. Many mobilizations have caused the ousting of president after president that deceived the people, which was the reason Ecuador had seven presidents between 1995 and 2005.

Citizen Participation and Who Voted "No"
Thousands of organizations took part in the Assembly in order to present their proposals (3,500 in all) and dozens of forums were held on topics such as water, food sovereignty, heath, etc. Citizen demands were incorporated into the 444 articles that make up the constitution. This was a participatory process, but it also had contradictions, precisely because of the different positions of the political parties in the Assembly and "Acuerdo Pais."

This process, as well as the thousands of forums and debates in neighborhoods, schools, universities, and communities prior to the Referendum, allowed the people to take ownership of the constitution's content.

Those that bet on "no" votes were those who didn't want to lose their privileges and maintain the neoliberal policies that have deepened poverty, inequality, and the concentration of wealth. According to sociologist Mario Unda, the real losers were from the right, that has been reduced to the city of Guayaquil, massive media outlets that did an open "vote no" campaign, as well as the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that led the opposition from the pulpits, spreading lies about the new constitution being pro-abortion and gay marriage.

This referendum has ended a phase that began with the second round of the 2006 election when Correa won by a significant margin over banana magnate Alvaro Noboa. The old elites that had monopolized the economy and politics and had once run things were defeated at the ballot box. A new era is beginning while the new balance of power adjusts and new actors define their new policies and strategies.

The institutional transition period starts with the provisional delay of the Constitutional Assembly, in order to create several laws and name the National Electoral Commission and the Electoral Tribunal, which will convene a new general election in 30 days. The election is predicted for January or February 2009. Correa will most likely run for his second four-year term.

This will be a time of intense struggle, during which the character of the government will be defined—it now has the option to shift its positions to the left according to the demand of the majority of Ecuadorians. They're gaining traction on a new road paved with hope.


Socialist Reform Changes Lives of Bolivian Farmers

Republished from RedOrbit
24 September 2008

The fate of Bolivian farmers such as Julio Mamani hang in the balance amid erupting violence this month following leftist reforms put in place by President Evo Morales.

Morales, the country’s first Indian president, has increased state control of the nation’s economy, and has distributed roughly 2.47 million acres of land to indigenous peasants.

"Because I don't own land I feel like I've got nothing in life," 44 year old Mamani said.

"Thanks to Evo we're going to have a piece of the land that belongs to big land owners."

Mamani currently lives in a shack roughly 50 miles north of La Paz, where frost, drought and hailstorms regularly devastate crops. He burns cow dung to obtain heat and works the land of others to make his living, which amounts to the equivalent of about $2 per day.

Under Morales’ new land redistribution proposal, dozens of families in Achacachi have been promised land in the tropical lowlands in eastern Bolivia.

However, that plan, along with Morales’ broader socialist program, caused a violent reaction by large farming families in the country’s eastern agricultural heartland. The opposition has occupied many government buildings and blocked highways, and 13 people have been killed in the violence according to local media reports.

So far, Morales has distributed only government land, but under a newly proposed constitution a limit on land ownership would be cut from 123,600 acres to 12,360 acres, which would lead to the redistribution of private land.

Bolivia's wealth was traditionally held in the silver mines high in the Andes. However, families from Asia, Europe and elsewhere moved into the eastern lowlands during the 1960s and converted the area into a breadbasket of rice, soy, sugar and beef.

Today, the country remains divided between wealthier white people in the fertile lowlands and poor indigenous people in the western highlands, with about 1 percent of landowners owning 66 percent of the agricultural land.

"Not for a minute have we hesitated in our rejection of agrarian reform," said Guido Nayar, who leads a prominent agriculture federation in the opposition stronghold of Santa Cruz.

"They want to limit property for those who produce food but not for those who produce drugs," he said, referring to the coca leaf, the main ingredient of cocaine.

Indians use in the coca leaf in rituals and chew it to ward of hunger, a practice Morales, a former coca grower, has actively encouraged.

Almost all Latin American countries have attempted at some point to change systems in which a small number of elites own most of the land.

Those elites traditionally opposed such initiatives, and even took down presidents who instituted agrarian reform, sometimes with U.S. support.

Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador earlier this month, claiming the United States was endorsing the opposition protests in an attempt to destabilize him.

Nayar said Morales was trying to implement a 1950s model for agrarian reform that contradicts modern, consolidated agriculture, sentiments echoed in places like Mexico, where land redistribution has resulted in farms too small in some cases to even provide for a single family.

However, Morales has the backing of other Latin American leaders, and has vowed to move ahead with his plans.

After taking office in January 2006, Morales first nationalized Bolivia’s energy sector, mining projects and the nation’s largest telecom company. He used the proceeds of these widely popular measures to combat poverty. Morales won 67 percent backing in a vote in August, despite resistance in eastern Bolivia.

"We're starting the repossession process. It will be the end ... of large idle land holdings," Cliver Rocha, head of the government land reform office, told Reuters.

The Bolivian government wants to redistribute more than 19.77 million acres of land to more than 200,000 families by 2011. To accomplish this the government will need to complete surveys and then seize any land it determines is either illegally owned or idle.

According to Rocha, the focus will be on land grants to "the historically dispossessed." However, unlike Bolivia's last significant land reform effort in 1953, the current campaign will not allow people to sell their land, which will prevent speculation, he said.

Silverio Vera of the land rights group Landless Movement said roughly 180 families are better off after relocating to Santa Cruz and establishing a community called "Pueblos Unidos" on state land.

"We have a school, small clinics, water tanks and we are sowing ... The families are doing well because we have access to work."

In Achacachi, where Morales received nearly 100 percent of the vote in August, Mamani hoped for a better life for his family in Santa Cruz.

"With land and hard work we'll be able to move forward," he told Reuters, adding that he won't miss the extreme cold of the Andes, where his family has lived for generations.

"I'm going to take a small picture of the mountains as a souvenir and I'll be fine looking at the picture."

Indigenous people lead Bolivian democracy struggle

John Riddell
September 29, 2008

A popular uprising in Bolivia is defending its government and democratic institutions against U.S.-inspired minority violence.

On September 23, about 20,000 peasants and miners marched on the eastern city of Santa Cruz, where the right-wing government has been encouraging terrorism and intimidation of Bolivia’s indigenous majority and trying to oust the government of President Evo Morales.

Popular assemblies in La Paz, Cochabamba and elsewhere in the country added to the pressure against this disruptive minority, whose supporters have killed dozens of Bolivians in recent weeks. The right-wing opposition’s banner is “autonomy” for the provinces they rule, but their real goal is to return the rich oligarchy to power.

Morales, a man of peace, has refrained from using armed force against such illegality, seeking a dialogue with right-wing leaders and peaceful resolution of differences.

Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, was confirmed in office by a 67 per cent majority in a national referendum in August. He was first elected in 2005 on a program including land reform, nationalization of natural resources and a new constitution.

The Morales government acted vigorously on all three fronts, but progress has been stymied by forces loyal to the country’s previous ruling elite and their backers in Washington. U.S. ambassador Philip Goldberg brazenly proclaimed his right to intervene in Bolivian political life. He met frequently with opposition leaders until Bolivia expelled him from the country September 10 for “conspiring against democracy.”

Among the causes of opposition outrage is the government’s decision to use some of profits from gas exports to fund the country’s first universal pension plan.

Even more provocative to rich oligarchs is the Morales government’s goal of ending the centuries-old exclusion of indigenous people. Their goal is to refound the nation on a “plurinational” basis – that is one of equality between each of Bolivia’s indigenous nations and its Hispanic population.

Bolivian popular movements incorporate traditional indigenous values of collectivism and protection of the natural environment. Together with their government, they seek to rebuild Bolivia around these values, while urgently recommending them to the world at large.

For example, in addressing the United Nations General Assembly September 23, Morales warned, “If we continue the way we were, we will all be responsible for destroying the planet.” He proposed 10 principles to save life on earth, beginning with “putting an end to capitalism, the synonym for exploitation and pillage.”

Morales urged “respect for Mother Nature, which is not a commodity,” and called for taking energy, water and other basic services out of the hands of private business, making them public services and human rights. Our goal, he said, must be “living well,” an indigenous concept that includes living in harmony with one’s community and the natural world.

In Bolivia, Morales’s overwhelming victory in the August referendum opened the road for a vote to adopt the proposed constitution, scheduled for December 7. It was this prospect that drove rightists into a frenzy of violence and law-breaking over the last month. On September 11, rightist gangs massacred more than 30 unarmed government supporters in the state of Pando.

The Santa Cruz marchers delivered their warning on September 23 and stopped short of taking the city. Meanwhile, the popular upsurge continues, strengthening Morales’s hand against the violent minority.

But what of the foreign backers of this opposition in Washington?

As Morales said at the United Nations, “The combat of our people is a historic struggle against empire.” Here Bolivia has received decisive support from the other peoples of Latin America. On September 15, an emergency meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) voted unanimously to pledge “fullest and decided support for the constitutional government of President Evo Morales.”

The U.S. government has been shut out of these deliberations. The Organization of American States (OAS), to which Canada belongs, has played no role. The government of Stephen Harper has said not a word about the political terrorism in Bolivia.

It’s high time for Canadians to follow the South American example, declare their independence of the Bush-Harper combination, and take their stand in support of Bolivia’s government, democratic institutions and integrity.

To find out about efforts in Canada to support Bolivian democracy, contact torontoboliviasolidarity@gmail.com.

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

Federico Fuentes
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.

Bolivia: Defeat of the Right

Immanuel Wallerstein
1 October 2008

Immanuel Wallerstein is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Sociology, State University of New York at Binghamton. Among his numerous books are The Modern World-System (1974, 1980, 1989), Unthinking Social Science (1991), After Liberalism (1995), The End of the World As We Know It (1999), and The Decline of American Power: The U.S. in a Chaotic World (2003).

In the amazing series of elections in South America in the last five years, the most radical results were in Bolivia, with the election of Evo Morales as President. It is not because Morales stood on the most radical platform. It was rather that, in this country in which the majority of the population are indigenous peoples, this was the very first time that an indigenous person was elected president of the republic. This in itself was a profound social revolution, and was not at all appreciated by the descendants of European immigrants who had always controlled the country.

The big question when Morales was elected was whether he could stay long in office, or whether the Bolivian right, perhaps in collusion with the armed forces, could oust him. He has now demonstrated that he can.

There were three major elements in his program. Bolivia's national income today is primarily drawn from its gas exports, essentially to Brazil and Argentina. The gas is located in the eastern provinces, the so-called Half Moon. And these areas are the ones in which there are the lowest percentages of indigenous peoples. The majority are Euro-descendants. Until Morales came to power, the prices at which the gas was sold were ridiculously low. And the income remained largely with the eastern provincial governments.

So, Morales sought to renegotiate the prices of the gas being exported. And he instituted a hydrocarbon tax so that much more of the income would come to the national government. Morales intended to use the money for social redistribution throughout the country, which would of course significantly benefit the indigenous populations.

In addition, the land in the eastern provinces is exceptionally mal-distributed. Two-thirds of the land are owned by one-sixth of 1% of the population. Morales wished to place a cap on the acreage any one person could own -- a form of major agrarian reform.

In foreign policy, Morales attempted to maintain reasonable relations with the United States. He continued to accept the money the U.S. had been giving for anti-narcotic operations, especially since this money went to the armed forces. He did, however, in addition, welcome Venezuelan aid and Cuban doctors. The U.S. government was clearly not happy with Morales and would have preferred to see the Bolivian right return to power.

The strategy of the Bolivian right was to demand more autonomy for the regional governments, ultimately hinting at secession -- a project they had never advocated as long as they controlled the central government. They demanded a recall election of Morales. The tactic badly backfired.

Morales accepted the challenge, adding to the recall election the question of whether the nine provincial prefects should also be recalled. In the elections Morales got a whopping 68% support, far greater than the votes he had originally received when he was elected. Seven prefects were returned but two anti-Morales governors were ousted, which has allowed Morales to name successors.

The right in the eastern provinces then sought to block exports of gas. They hoped thereby to induce the Brazilian and Argentine governments to put pressure on Morales. Supporters of Morales then began to demonstrate. The governor of Pando province, Leopoldo Fernández responded with repression. Over 30 demonstrators were killed in the capital city, El Porvenir. Morales arrested the governor and named a navy admiral as the new prefect.

At this point, President Michelle Bachelet of Chile convened an emergency meeting of the organization of the 12 South American states, UNASUR, to consider the situation. All twelve presidents came to Santiago for the meeting, and unanimously adopted a resolution of "full and complete support for the constitutional government of Evo Morales," denouncing any possible coup d'état. The significance of this resolution was that it was unanimous, being signed even by the deeply pro-American president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe. The resolution was then endorsed by the Grupo Río, composed of 22 countries from all of Latin America and the Caribbean, including Mexico.

UNASUR called for dialogue. Morales called for dialogue himself, even before the UNASUR resolution. The right is stymied. Its last hope was some U.S. intervention. But Bolivia has now expelled the U.S. ambassador, Philip Goldberg, for "conspiring against democracy," that is, with the Bolivian right. The United States is now withdrawing its small aid projects in Bolivia. Russia has offered to enter the breach. The United States is becoming more and more irrelevant in Latin America.

If one asks why even Uribe supported the resolution, it is because no president wants to see the new tactic of secession receiving support. The United States is trying this also in Ecuador, where it has backfired equally, with the great victory of President Rafael Correa's referendum on the constitution.