Thursday, September 18, 2008

Primer in U.S. Intervention in Bolivia

I'm still a bit out of the mix here in Bolivia, enjoying a sojourn in a small town in the foothills of the Andes. I've no plans for the next week to hit La Paz, Santa Cruz or Cochabamba, where all the action (what little there is) is going on. It's a cooling-off period here at Down South and, I hope, for the rest of the country. Things are looking up indeed.

While we all catch our breath and celebrate the seeming success of Bolivian and South American sovereignty, let's also take into account the history of U.S. intervention in Latin America. We all know the big ones: Guatemala, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, etc., etc. But to get a small taste of U.S. interference in Bolivia, check out Stephen Zunes's great little primer over at Foreign Policy in Focus. Here's an excerpt that I found extremely illuminating, and which explains the extreme violence and intransigency of the medialuna departments:
Under Morales, Bolivia has attempted to strengthen the Andean Community of Nations and the signing last year of a "People's Trade Treaty" with Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba is indicative of the desire to strengthen working economic and political alliances outside of direct U.S. influence in order to be better able to stand up to Washington.

As a result, Morales and the MAS seem better positioned to withstand economic pressure from the United States. Unlike the MNR in the 1950s, Morales comes out of a popular mass movement of the country's poor and indigenous majority, which is very different than the predominantly white middle-class leadership of reformist officers under the previous government. Combined with economic support from oil-rich Venezuela and Morales' efforts at strengthening its economic relationships with Bolivia's Latin American neighbors, MAS has made it possible for the Bolivians to resist buckling under the kind of pressure imposed by the United States a half-century earlier.

The Current Uprising
It's this very ability to better withstand the kind of economic pressures the United States had until recently been able to exert, either directly or through international financial institutions, which has led to recent violence in Santa Cruz and elsewhere in the wealthier white and mestizo-dominated eastern sectors of the country. As a result of the reduced leverage of their friends in Washington, which had previously enabled them to rule the country, certain elite elements now appear willing to violently separate themselves and the four eastern provinces in which they are concentrated.

With much of Bolivia's natural gas wealth located in the east, and taking advantage of the endemic racism of its largely white and mestizo population against the country's indigenous majority, now in positions of political power for the first time, these right-wing forces appear ready to either bring down Morales or secede from the country. Earlier this year they sacked and burned government buildings, murdered government officials and supporters, attacked journalists, sabotaged a key natural gas pipeline, and renounced any allegiance to Bolivia's democratically elected government.

While the leadership of the Organization of American States and virtually every Latin American president has condemned the uprising the U.S. government has not, adding to concerns that United States may indeed have a hand in the violence.

So, while the violence and vandalism which the opposition has been engaged in is frightening and harmful to Morales, according to the above it comes out of situation where the perpetrators have no other recourse. The usual avenues of undermining the government are closed, and now, like a spoiled child who cannot get what he wants, they stand there holding their breath under they turn blue, hurting themselves more than than their avowed enemy.

Not to say that that all the pro-government supporters have acted like angels. I have (unconfirmed) reports that the current roadblocks are being manned by pro-Morales forces, who are disappointed in the president's mild response to the provocations of the opposition. But these efforts, thankfully, appear to be sputtering out.

I think Morales deserves much recognition for his measured response to the situation here that's played out in the last few weeks. Instead of a mano dura, as the crowd of supporters chanted for him to use when celebrating his referendum victory a month ago in Plaza Murillo, he waited out the crisis, strengthened himself politically, and defused the situation masterfully (the exception being the massacre in Pando, which I think was a horror to everyone except for the extreme nutcases and helped Morales in the end).

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