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[TIPNIS] Alvaro Garcia Linera: Geopolitics of the Amazon – Part I

Introduction and translation by Richard Fidler, Life on the Left

December 11, 2012

Revolution and Counterrevolution in Bolivia

Bolivian leader replies to critics of the Morales government’s development strategy

Introduction

Álvaro García Linera is one of Latin America’s leading Marxist intellectuals. He is also the Vice-President of Bolivia — the “co-pilot,” as he says, to President Evo Morales, and an articulate exponent of the government’s policies and strategic orientation.

In a recent book-length essay, Geopolitics of the Amazon: Patrimonial-Hacendado Power and Capitalist Accumulation, published in September 2012, García Linera discusses a controversial issue of central importance to the development process in Latin America, and explains how Bolivia is attempting to address the intersection between economic development and environmental protection.

SUPPORT BOLIVIAN PRESIDENT EVO MORALES AGAINST ESCALATING DESTABILIZATION CAMPAIGNS

Image: 2010. Note that Morales greets his Indigenous sisters and brothers freely, without need of intense security /body guards.

“As the United States Departments of State and Defense gear up for a new round of destabilization campaigns in South America in 2013 and 2014, the second generation of democratic renewal under leaders like Evo Morales faces a grave threat. Unlike the crude coups and dictatorships of the Cold War and earlier banana republics, this anti-democratic offensive makes exaggerated use of ephemeral pseudo activism in the form of color revolutions used so extensively by the CIA in North Africa and Eastern Europe. Recent snubbing of the US and Canada by South American governments at the Organization of American States may signal a resistance to returning to the days of old, but until they reject neoliberalism and its corrupting influence, they are still susceptible to international markets opening the door to US military control.” – Jay Taber, Center for World Indigenous Studies Website

 

National Meeting (Quito, April 29, 2012) of former Indigenous Leaders of Ecuador -Encuentro Nacional de ex Dirigentes Indígenas del Ecuador- (with the participation of a hundred historical leaders of the peoples and nationalities of Ecuador)

 

Our friend and comrade Evo Morales Ayma, President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, is currently facing growing destabilization attempts, seeking to weaken his government, which was democratically reelected, and thus to truncate the Cultural and Democratic Revolutionary process that he has been heading since 2006.

 

Evo Morales Ayma, as a Latin American leader formed in the heat of the struggles of the indigenous peoples to change neocolonialist and capitalist relations, has been able to guiding a process of historical transformations that has been a contribution not only to his country, but to the region and the world.

 

He has set up the basis for the new Plurinational State of Bolivia, with a long-term perspective orientated by the philosophy of Vivir Bien (Living Well), for the construction of which a whole series of State policies are being put in place, focusing on decolonization, depatriarchalization, strengthening sovereignty and in depth socio-economic change.

 

He has been able to introduce fundamental aspects of the worldviews of our peoples in the most recent global debates, putting forward concrete initiatives to defend the rights of Mother Earth, and with an active participation in integration initiatives from and for the peoples, such as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America (ALBA) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

 

These enormous steps of progress have been possible due to the leading role played by the Bolivian people, following the principle of ‘ruling by obeying’ in the exercise of government.  This popular support has been crucial for facing the tenacious opposition engaging national and international interests and forces, which has resorted to all sorts of means of disrupting this process of change: from direct violence to symbolic racist violence, from coup conspiracies to the manipulation of popular causes.

 

From the indigenous peoples of Abya Yala, and from all those of us who feel part of the historic changes that the region is going through, we express our unconditional support for President Evo Morales Ayma, as well as our commitment to the defense and advancement of the Cultural and Democratic Revolution in Bolivia.

 

Masi, Mashi, Ir?, Comrade, we support you!

 

Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Peace Nobel Prize, Guatemala

Ricardo Ulcuango Farinango, Ambassador of Ecuador to Bolivia

Irene León, Sociologist, Ecuador

Magdalena León T., Economist, Ecuador

Manuel Imbaquingo, Indigenous Leader, Ecuador

To endorse this statement:  Español | English | Português | Français

WATCH: President Morales Speaks to Imperialism

Also read:

U.S. Orchestrated Color Revolutions to Sweep Across Latin America in 2013-2014

U.S. Funded Democracy Centre Reveals It’s Real Reason for Supporting the TIPNIS Protest in Bolivia: REDD $$$

U.S. Funded Democracy Centre Reveals It’s Real Reason for Supporting the TIPNIS Protest in Bolivia: REDD $$$

November 23rd, 2011

by Cory Morningstar

DI NO AL REDD – Rapido Enriquecimiento con Desalojos, usurpación de tierras y Destrucción de biodiversidad. SAY NO TO REDD – Reaping Profits from Evictions, Land Grabs, Deforestation and Destruction of Biodiversity

“Bolivia is and will remain a country who desperately struggles to resist Imperialism and fight for their autonomy – against all odds.”

The Democracy Centre, Avaaz and Amazon Watch are the main three NGOs, heavily funded by U.S. interests (Rockefellers, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Ford Foundation and Soros to name a few), who led the recent International campaign in which they denounced and demonized Bolivian Indigenous leader Evo Morales and his government. This destabilization campaign focused on the TIPNIS protests. A violent confrontation between TIPNIS protestors (influenced/funded by U.S. NGOs/USAID/CIDOB) and the police was the vital opportunity needed in order to execute a destabilization campaign that the U.S. has been strategically planning for decades. (Declassified Documents Revealed More than $97 Million from USAID to Separatist Projects in Bolivia | Evo Morales Through the Prism of Wikileaks – Democracy in Danger).

A key demand put forward by the TIPNIS protestors were that Indigenous peoples would directly receive financial compensation for ‘offsetting’ carbon emissions. This policy, known as REDD/REDD+ (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), has been denounced as the commodification and privatisation of the forests by many, including those within the climate justice movements. The ‘People’s Agreement’ created at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (April 2010) clearly condemned REDD, stating that it violates “the sovereignty of our Peoples.” REDD has been promoted as a mechanism to allow developed countries to continue to pollute while undermining the right for underdeveloped countries to develop their economies. Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environment Network stated unequivocally that “The carbon market solutions are not about mitigating climate, but are greenwashing policies that allow fossil fuel development to expand.”

Morales survived the orchestrated attempt to destabilize his government. No one’s fool, Morales did something completely unexpected that few if anyone had even considered: he granted the Indigenous peoples of the TIPNIS every single demand which the protestors, under foreign/outside influence had sought (although he made clear that on the issue of REDD, the ‘People’s Agreement’ adopted at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth would guide any future decision on this issue). Completely caught off guard by Morales response, and realizing, perhaps for the first time, whose lives would ultimately be affected by the outcomes of the demands, and how, one anxious protestor commented “we’re screwed“.

Video: Manipulation: Indigenous Peoples Alto Xingu-STOP pushing us for REDD (running time: 9:26)

Morales has been a world leader in his vocal opposition to REDD stating that “nature, forests and indigenous peoples are not for sale.” At the opposite end of the spectrum are the foundations (who serve as tax-exempt front groups for corporations and elites) who finance the NGOs who have led the campaign to discredit Morales are most all heavily promoting and investing in REDD. CIDOB is involved in pilot REDD projects funded by the NGO called FAN (Fundación Amigos de la Naturaleza) which is funded by a slew of foreign interest entities/states and corporate NGOs such as USAID, Conservation International, European Union, American Electric Power, BP-Amoco and Dow Chemical‘s partner, The Nature Conservancy. Indeed, when it comes to the world’s most powerful NGOs voicing any dissent to the false solution of REDD, the silence is deafening. (http://www.redd-monitor.org/2011/10/26/manufacturing-consent-on-carbon-trading/)

The money behind the REDD scheme is in the trillions.

Above: Indigenous Peoples Alto Xingu – Stop Pushing Us For REDD – Photo: Rebecca Sommer

It is revealing to note that while the corporate NGOs worked feverishly to shine an International spotlight on the tear-gassing of the TIPNIS protestors by Bolivian police, a slaughter of 100,000 Libyan civilians was underway in an Imperialist, NATO-led invasion under the guise of ‘humanitarian intervention’. This invasion was made possible by the fabrication of events and lies put forward by 78 NGOs. To this day, there is no evidence to back these lies. The NGOs were and remain silent on this latest atrocity as the U.S./Euro Imperialist destabilization campaigns escalate in the Middle East in a race towards global domination.

The Democracy Centre makes clear it’s opposition to the Bolivian Morales government’s position on REDD in its policy statement on REDD drafted by staffer Kylie Benton-Connell [1]

In this report, the Democracy Centre both denies/ignores the involvement of USAID in the CIDOB promoted REDD Amazonia project via its funding to FAN, and argues that “The REDD Amazonia project is important, because it keeps the possibility of these kind of projects alive in Bolivian institutions, in a context where the national government is swimming against the tide of international REDD politics.”

Furthermore, Benton-Connell reiterates the Democracy Centre’s opposition to the Bolivian Morales government’s position and the Centre’s support for REDD in her article published on November 21, 2011 (link below and also published on the Democracy Centre’s website):

” The decision linking forest conservation to carbon markets may well be finalized at the UN climate negotiations in Durban at the beginning of December, unless it is blocked by dissident countries.”

Moreover, Benton-Connell tells us:

“… if today’s Bolivian government or a future one drops its opposition to carbon markets, and an international agreement is reached on trading in forest carbon, revenue streams could become much larger.”

Benton-Connell continues that the problem is not REDD itself, but how REDD is organized. She states:

“The fates of many ordinary people in Bolivia — and of similar communities across the globe — will be in play as technocrats discuss plans for forest carbon trading at the upcoming UN climate negotiations in Durban. As Marcos Nordgren Ballivián, climate change analyst with Bolivian organization CIPCA told us last year: “tensions already exist, and with a new source of profits such as REDD could prove to be, it might cause problems … But we’ll have to see how REDD is organized, because that will define, of course, if these conflicts are worsened.”

The following text appears 8 March 2010 in an article titled Getting REDDy to Cross the Finish Line, Two Decades in the Making: “It’s hard to imagine with all the progress REDD has achieved, that it all started less than 20 years ago with the Rio Summit in ’92, when the makings of a global sustainability architecture in the form of a climate treaty began to take shape. But a forestry treaty had yet to happen … With over 20 years of experience in the forestry sector, Michael Northrup, Program Director of Sustainable Development at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, was invited by the Pinchot Institute for Conservation to give a Distinguished Lecture, ‘After Copenhagen: Implications for U.S. Climate, Energy, and Forest Policy’ at the high brow, exclusive Cosmos Club. Northrup casually described to the 30 or so people in the room where we are with REDD today and how we got here. Plus he played the “name game” as he knew most of the people in the room.”

Of course, Rockefeller is not alone in its quest to lead and dominate on the promise of “green capitalism”; other members of the elites will not be left behind to feed on the breadcrumbs. For example, The Climate and Land Use Alliance, whose member foundations include the ClimateWorks Foundation (Avaaz partner), the Ford Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and multi-million dollar corporate NGOs – Greenpeace International and Rockefeller’s WWF have joined forces to push forward the false solution of REDD.

“The big business conservationists and their professionals didn’t buy off the movement; they built it.” –Katherine Barkley and Steve Weissman, “The Eco-Establishment“, in: Ramparts (eds.), Eco-Catastrophe, Harper and Row, 1970

Video: President Morales Speaks to Imperialism (UN Gen Ass, Sept 21, 2011)(Running time: 8:02)

Let us close while we reflect upon the words of author Juan Carlos Zambrana Marchetti:

“In the recent conflict over the construction of a highway through the TIPNIS indigenous territory, history repeated itself once again: indigenous people renounced all possibility of progress and integration in favor of the hidden political objective of the US to boycott the projects of crop-substitution and development center in the Chapare, wherein lies the core of the anti-imperialist consciousness of the Bolivian people. Once again, foreign interests have ensured that the Indians act against their own interests. This shows that a priority issue for the new agenda of president Morales should be to continue deconstructing the control mechanisms of the Western powers. “Philanthropy” has always been one of the most dangerous mechanisms.”

The article: http://www.alternet.org/water/153161/will_programs_to_off-set_carbon_emissions_fuel_further_conflict_in_bolivia%27s_forests?page=entire

For further reading on the International Campaign to Destabilize Bolivia: http://wrongkindofgreen.org/category/the-international-campaign-to-destabilize-bolivia/

[1] Benton-Connell worked with the Democracy Center in Cochabamba, Bolivia from February 2010 to June 2011, where she authored the report “Off the Market: Bolivian forests and struggles over climate change.”

Peak Hypocrisy | U.S. Backed Organizations Exploit Crisis in Bolivia

September 30th, 2011

by Cory Morningstar

In their scathing “open letter” (whereby they appoint themselves judge, trial, jury and executioner – advising people that Evo Morales is essentially corrupt and has lost all support), The U.S. Democracy Centre states:

 “The events of the past week represent something new rising in Bolivia. The people – who have now listened to many Morales speeches about protecting the Earth and guaranteeing indigenous people control over their lands – have risen to defend those principles, even if their President has seemingly abandoned them. Ironically, Morales has now inspired a new environmental movement among the nation’s younger generation, not by his example but in battle with it.”

The Democracy Centre would do well to listen to their own admonitions.

If The Democracy Centre’s mandate was, in reality, to protect the Earth, guarantee Indigenous Peoples control over their land, rise to defend these principles, and inspire a new environmental movement among their nations younger generation, The Democracy Centre would (as would the U.S.-funded NGOs such as Avaaz and Amazon Watch who are exploiting this horrific crisis to its full potential) be endorsing, promoting and campaigning on the People’s Agreement of Cochabamba (in which over 20,000 Indigenous Peoples participated).

They have not.

And finally, is it not completely egregious for any U.S. organization (funded with foundation money via corporations and plutocrats) to have the audacity to dictate the values of human rights and non-violence to any country, when U.S. bombs are “reigning” down on occupied countries including Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, while covert U.S. wars are underway in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. These wars are murdering untold numbers of men, women and children – all in the name of resource exploitation, all under the grossly false auspices of democracy and liberation. The elite, institutional left take no issue in denouncing the Morales government yet remain silent on the war crimes committed by the U.S. – the biggest imperialist power in the world.

Bolivia is and will remain a country who desperately struggles to resist Imperialism and fight for their autonomy – against all odds.

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Read more about The Democracy Centre and their “open letter”: http://wrongkindofgreen.org/2011/09/29/about-the-u-s-democracy-centre-an-open-letter-to-our-friends-about-the-current-situation-in-bolivia/

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U.S. Influence | 2010 Ecuador crisis

“The script used in Venezuela and Honduras repeats itself. They try to hold the President and the government responsible for the “coup,” later forcing their exit from power. The coup against Ecuador is the next phase in the permanent aggression against ALBA and revolutionary movements in the region.” – Venezuelan-American lawyer Eva Golinger

“Venezuelan-American lawyer Eva Golinger claimed that the coup attempt was part of a systematic, US-supported plan to destabilise member states of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). She alleged that US ambassador Heather Hodges was sent to Ecuador by former US President George W. Bush “with the intention of sowing destabilization against Correa, in case the Ecuadoran president refused to subordinate himself to Washington’s agenda,” and that Hodges increased the budget of USAID and the NED for social and political groups that “promote US interests.” Golinger claimed that certain “progressive” social groups received “financing and guidelines in order to provoke destabilising situations in the country that go beyond the natural expressions of criticism and opposition to a government.” According to Golinger, USAID’s 2010 budget in Ecuador $38 million. Golinger referred to the indigenous political party Pachakutik Movement’s press release on 30 September asking for Correa’s resignation on the grounds that his “dictatorial attitude” had generated “serious political turmoil and internal crisis.” In the statement, Pachakutik leader Cléver Jiménez said that the “situation” of the police and armed forces in the coup attempt “should be understood as a just action by public servants, whose rights have been made vulnerable.” Golinger alleged that Pachakutik was funded by NED and USAID and that its call for Correa’s resignation and its support for the mutiny was an example of the US plans to destabilise ALBA member states. Pachakutik strongly denied having “any relationship at all with the organism known as USAID, previously NED, not today nor ever” and accused the Ecuadorian government of having accepted USAID/NED funding. Golinger responded by referring to a National Democratic Institute (NDI, one of the four institutes funded by NED) report from 2007 describing Pachakutik being trained by the NDI in “Triangle of Party Best Practices and strategic planning methodologies” as part of NDI’s Latin American/Caribbean Political Party Network of over 1400 individual members, funded under NED Core Grants 2000-031, 2001-048, 2003-028, and 2004-036.” [Source: Wikipedia]

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A must watch documentary which clearly illustrates why extreme care and caution is so incredibly important during such a crisis. The stealth and deceit can be nothing less than staggering.

The War On Democracy

The story of the manipulation of Latin America by the United States over the past 50 years, including the real story behind the attempted overthrow of Hugo Chávez in 2002 (with English subtitles)

Versión en español

‘The War On Democracy’ was produced and directed by John Pilger and Christopher Martin and edited by Joe Frost. The film, John Pilger’s first for cinema, explores the current and past relationship of Washington with Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia and Chile.

Using archive footage sourced by Michael Moore’s archivist Carl Deal, the film shows how serial US intervention, overt and covert, has toppled a series of legitimate governments in the region since the 1950s. The democratically elected Chilean government of Salvador Allende, for example, was ousted by a US backed coup in 1973 and replaced by the military dictatorship of General Pinochet. Guatemala, Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador have all been invaded by the United States.

John Pilger interviews several ex-CIA agents who took part in secret campaigns against democratic countries in the region. He investigates the School of the Americas in the US state of Georgia, where Pinochet’s torture squads were trained along with tyrants and death squad leaders in Haiti, El Salvador, Brazil and Argentina.

The film unearths the real story behind the attempted overthrow of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez in 2002 and how the people of the barrios of Caracas rose up to force his return to power.

It also looks at the wider rise of populist governments across South America lead by indigenous leaders intent on loosening the shackles of Washington and a fairer redistribution of the continent’s natural wealth.

John Pilger says: “[The film] is about the struggle of people to free themselves from a modern form of slavery”. These people, he says, “describe a world not as American presidents like to see it as useful or expendable, they describe the power of courage and humanity among people with next to nothing. They reclaim noble words like democracy, freedom, liberation, justice, and in doing so they are defending the most basic human rights of all of us in a war being waged against all of us.”

‘The War On Democracy’ won the Best Documentary Award at the 2008 One World Awards.

The panel’s citation read: “There are six criteria the judges are asked to use to select the winner of this award: the film’s impact on public opinion, its appeal to a wide audience, its inclusion of voices from the developing world, its high journalistic or production standards, its success in conveying the impact of the actions of the world’s rich on the lives of the poor and the extent to which it draws attention to possible solutions. One film met every one of these. It was the winner of the award: John Pilger’s ‘The War on Democracy’.”

Read John Pilger’s article about the making of ‘The War On Democracy’ which appeared in the Guardian in June 2007.

http://www.johnpilger.com/videos/the-war-on-democracy

ABOUT THE U.S. DEMOCRACY CENTRE (An Open Letter to Our Friends About the Current Situation in Bolivia)

The Democracy Center, in the U.S., dismayed by what has happened in Bolivia, bitterly critical, and holding “the highest levels” responsible – and that, precisely because of the reputation of the Centre but also its powerful reach, is now issuing an open letter being circulated around the world, with this posting having been made from India.

Their open letter is found below.

The Democracy Center:Current Foundation Support

  • The Wallace Global Fund, Washington, DC: General operating support.
  • The Open Society Institute, New York, NY: Support for The Center’s investigation and publishing work related to Bolivia and Latin America.
  • The Shadow Foundation, Portland, OR: Support for The Center’s investigation into the Transredes (Shell/Enron) Bolivia oil spill and its aftermath.

The Democracy Center: Other Major Foundation Support over the Past Decade

  • The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, New York, NY
  • The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Los Altos, CA
  • The California Wellness Foundation, San Francisco, CA
  • The David and Elise Haas Fund, San Francisco, CA

http://democracyctr.org/blog/about/our-funders

September 28th, 2011: A leading activist of REDES (Social Ecology Network), in Uruguay, responded / reacted to the posting by The Democracy Center by forwarding an article by Federico Fuentes, to give what he stated is “a more balanced and nuanced picture of what is happening than what we are getting via email and the news”: Bolivia : Crisis deepens over disputed highway

No wonder Jim Shultz (The Democracy Centre) recently wrote: For a decade many environmental activists have focused their climate efforts on the doomed goal of getting the world’s governments to bind themselves to some form of enforceable planetary speed limit on the growth of carbon emissions and atmospheric temperature. It was a surrender of national sovereignty that was
never to be. The fights in Washington and Bolivia are taking on the climate crisis where we will most need to wage the fight, at the national and local level, policy-by-policy, project-by-project. Shifting our best efforts from global summitry to decisions closer to home also links the climate debate to more immediate concerns like oil spills and forest destruction that might drawbroader support.”

While we must all support local struggles, the idea that we can win this the oncoming ecological collapse by NOT taking up the fight at the international level is exactly the kind of thinking his funders/sponsors would support and which the Bolivian government correctly understands is a strategy for defeat.

Below is a Bolivian solidarity response to the article written by Jim Shultz titled “From Disillusionment to Direct Action: A Tale on Two Continents.”

I think there is a major flaw in Jim’s portrayal of symmetry [“profound commonality”] between the Tipnis standoff in Bolivia and the Keystone XL pipeline protests in North America.

I would argue that there is a profound lack of commonality.

Bolivia is an extremely impoverished country struggling against powerful imperialist forces and penetration – led by the world’s only superpower. It is still in the initial stages of decolonizing and nationalizing its own state, one that had been largely gutted and stunted through foreign domination and the apartheid exclusion of indigenous peoples from public affairs and governance. Over recent decades NGOs with international funding came to fill the vacuum and to offer some of the attributes of stable governance, and in the process creating a special middle class, a clientel middle class. This was the flipside of foreign domination by transnationals.

The Morales-MAS indigenous government is leading a revolution, a long march, against this heritage. Not surprisingly, it is meeting stiff resistance from many NGOs and new NGO-based middle class layers. No surprise, also, that US and European destabilization schemes have found fertile soil in this NGO web of networks.

Washington has at its beck and command many arsenals of divide-and-conquer strategies and tactics, some first developed and honed in the settlement wars against North American indigenous peoples.

The defeat of the first indigenous anti-imperialist government in the America’s is a vital strategic necessity for US imperialism.

Now, can any such powerful foreign factors be said to be at play in Keystone XL pipeline protests?

I realize that the Bolivian government has made errors in its handling of the Tipnis dispute, but it is a vanguard force in both the struggle for indigenous self determination, and in the global struggle to save the planet from environmental meltdown. On both fronts Washington and its imperialist system is the principal enemy.

Jim’s article obscures this fundamental divide, and for that reason strikes me more as part of the problem than the solution.

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An Open Letter to Our Friends

About the Current Situation in Bolivia

Dear Friends,

Over the past few days we have received many emails from friends outside of Bolivia, long-time supporters of the struggle for social justice here, asking for our opinion and analysis about the turbulent events of the past week. In particular, people want to understand what led to the government’s

of the indigenous march protesting construction of a highway through the TIPNIS rainforest. As many of you know, a year ago the Democracy Center stopped its ongoing reporting about events in Bolivia and we intend to return to that role. However, given recent events neither can we be silent. Our analysis and views are represented in the article below. Please share it with others who might be interested.

Jim Shultz

The Democracy Center

The Morales Presidency Takes an Ugly Turn

In 2005, Sacha Llorenti, the President of Bolivia’s National Human Rights Assembly, wrote a forward for our Democracy Center report on an incident here two years previously, known as ‘Febrero Negro’. The IMF had demanded that Bolivia tighten its economic belt and President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada complied by proposing a new tax on the poor. His action set off a wave of protest and government repression that left 34 people dead. Llorenti wrote of the government’s repression, “Those days refer to an institutional crisis, state violence, and her twin sister, impunity.”

Only months after Llorenti wrote those words, that era in Bolivia’s history seemed swept away in a wave of hope. The nation’s first indigenous President, Evo Morales, rode into power on a voter mandate unmatched in modern Bolivian history. He proclaimed a new Bolivia in which indigenous people would take their rightful place in the nation’s political life, human rights would be respected, and a new constitution would guarantee autonomy for communities ignored by the governments of the past. Overnight the people who had been attacked or ignored by Bolivia’s leaders suddenly became Bolivia’s leaders. Llorenti eventually rose to the most powerful appointed position in the nation, Minister of Government. The rays of optimism that spread out from Tiwanaku and La Paz extended worldwide and Morales become a global symbol of something hopeful.

It is a sad measure of how deeply things have changed that it was Llorenti himself who stepped behind the podium at the Presidential Palace last Monday to defend the Morales government’s violent repression of indigenous protesters on September 25th. Five hundred police armed with guns, batons and tear gas were sent to a remote roadside to break up the six-week-long march of indigenous families protesting Morales’ planned highway through the TIPNIS rainforest. Llorenti’s declarations echoed the tired justifications heard from so many governments before: “All the actions taken by the police had the objective of preventingconflicts and if cases of abuse have been committed they will be punished.”

Men, women and children marching to defend their lands were attacked with a barrage of tear gas, their leaders were beaten, women had bands of tape forcibly wrapped over their mouths – all under orders from a government that had promised to be theirs. How did it come to this?

The Highway Through the Rainforest

The indigenous families that were attacked by police on that Sunday left their lands in the TIPNIS on August 15th to march nearly 400 miles to their nation’s capital and press their case against the road that would cut through the heart of their lands. President Morales had made it very clear that he was not interested in hearing any more of their arguments against the mainly Brazil-financed highway. In June he declared, “Whether you like it or not, we are going to build this road.”

Morales argued that the highway was needed for “development,” creating new economic opportunities in parts of the country long isolated. In the name of those goals he was willing to ignore the requirements of community consultation and autonomy in the new Constitution that he had once championed. He was willing to abandon his own rhetoric to the world about protecting Mother Earth and to ignore studies about the likely destruction of the forest that the new highway would bring. What could have been a moment of authentic and valuable debate in Bolivia about what kind of development the nation really wanted instead became a series of presidential declarations and decrees.

As the march of some 1,000 people crept slowly onward toward La Paz its moral weight seem to grow with each step, drawing growing public attention that Morales couldn’t stop. The march became the lead story in the country’s daily papers every morning for weeks. Civic actions in support of the marchers grew in Bolivia’s major cities. More than sixty international environmental groups, led by Amazon Watch, signed a letter to Morales asking him to respect the marchers’ demands.

From Morales, however, each day only brought a new set of accusations aimed at stripping the marchers of their legitimacy. First, said the government, the march was the creation of the U.S. Embassy. Then the government declared that the marchers were the pawns of foreign and domestic NGOs. Last week while in New York for his speech to the U.N., the Morales entourage announced that it had evidence that it was former President Sanchez de Lozada who was behind the march. The litany of ever-changing charges began to sound something akin to a schoolboy scrambling to invent reasons for why he didn’t have his homework.

When the charges failed to derail the marchers’ support, the government and its supporters decided to try to steer them off their path to La Paz in other ways. They blocked the arrival of urgent donations of water, food, and medicine gathered and sent from throughout the country. But this only added yet again to the moral weight of humble people walking the long road to the capital.

Tear Gas at Dusk

Just after 5pm on Sunday, September 25, five hundred police dressed in full battle gear descended on the encampment (

) where the marchers had pitched themselves for the night. Running at full speed they began firing canisters of toxic tear gas directly into the terrified groups of men, women, and children. Then the police began forcing them, screaming and crying, onto buses and into the backs of unmarked trucks for unknown destinations. Television footage captured the police knocking women to the ground and binding their mouths shut with tape. Many others ran to escape into the trees and fields so far from their homes. Children were separated from their parents.

Later that night those who had escaped the police began to take refuge in the small church of the town of San Borja. Early Monday morning government planes tried to land on an air strip in the town of Rurrenabaque, where more than 200 captured marchers were to be forcibly put aboard and returned to the villages where they had begun their trek so many weeks and miles before. The people in the community swarmed the runway to keep the planes from landing and were met with another attack of tear gas by the police sent there by the government.

Hours later the country’s young Defense Minister, Cecilia Chacon, announced her resignation. She wrote in a public letter to President Morales, “I can not defend or justify it [Sunday’s repression]. There are otheralternatives in the framework of dialogue, respect for human rights, nonviolence, and defense of Mother Earth.”

She became the latest in a string of former Morales allies who had dramatically split from the government over the TIPNIS highway and the government’s abuses of the marchers. Morales’ former ambasador to the U.S., Gustavo Guzman, and the President’s former Vice-Minister for Land, Alejandro Almaraz, had not only left the government but also gone to join the marchers.

Over the course of the following Monday public denouncements poured out against the police attack on the marchers – from the National Public Ombudsman, the U.N., women’s groups, human rights groups, the Catholic Church, labor unions, and others, including many who had once been fervent Morales supporters.

By that Monday evening, with his public support in freefall, Morales finally spoke to the nation. He began by denying any involvement in Sunday’s police violence, blaming it on unnamed subordinates. But after years of arguing that his predecessors should be prosecuted for the abuses of soldiers and police under their command, it was a defense that convinced no one. Several key government officials told journalists that such an aggressive police action would never have taken place without orders from the government’s highest ranks.

Morales then announced that he would put the highway to a vote by the two Bolivian states, Cochabamba and Beni, through which the project would pass. Almaraz, the former Lands Vice-Minister, and others, quickly pointed out that such a referendum was unconstitutional, a direct violation of the provisions allowing local indigenous communities to decide the fates of their lands.

If Morales thought he had plugged the political leak in his weakened Presidency, it became clear Tuesday morning that the anger against him was only growing. Larger marches filled the streets in the cities of La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz and Sucre. The country’s labor federation (C.O.B) announced a strike. By nightfall the nation’s transportation workers announced that they too would stage a work stoppage Wednesday in opposition to the highway and in support of the marchers.

Just after 7pm Tuesday night Sacha Llorenti appeared at the Presidential Palace podium once again, this time to announce his own resignation. It appeared not so much an act of conscience, in the mold of Ms. Chacon’s the day before, but more a man being tossed overboard in the hope that it might afford the President some political protection.

Then Morales took to the airwaves to add an announcement of his own –

the temporary suspension of construction of the disputed road. But by early Wednesday news reports revealed that the Brazilian firm happily bulldozing the highway had received no such order.

A People Rising

Wednesday morning Evo Morales woke to a nation headed for a transit standstill, with new marchers headed to the streets, schools closed and a nation deeply angry with its President. The cheering crowds of his 2006 inaugural had become a distant memory.

What is behind Morales’ devotion to a road through the heart of the TIPNIS? Is he simply a stubborn believer in a vision of economic development filled with highways and factories, in the style of the North? Is it a matter of Presidential ego, of not wanting to make the call to his Brazilian counterpart (Brazil is both the financier and constructor of the road, and eager to gain access to the natural resources it would make accessible), admitting that he can’t deliver on a Presidential promise? Are his deepest supporters, the coca growers, so anxious for a road that will open up new lands for expanding their crop that Morales has been willing to push things this far? Only President Morales knows his true motivations. But what is a certainty is that he has paid an enormous political cost for sticking to them.

The events of the past week represent something new rising in Bolivia. The people – who have now listened to many Morales speeches about protecting the Earth and guaranteeing indigenous people control over their lands – have risen to defend those principles, even if their President has seemingly abandoned them. Ironically, Morales has now inspired a new environmental movement among the nation’s younger generation, not by his example but in battle with it.

In my interview with Sacha Llorenti for our report on Febrero Negro, he also told me something else. He told me that the 2003 repression was, “the moment in which the crisis of the country was stripped down to the point where you could see its bones.” Today in Bolivia a different crisis has laid bare a new set of political bones for all to see.

Evo Morales, in his global pulpit, had been an inspiring voice, especially on climate change and on challenging the excesses of the U.S. In Bolivia on economic matters he has often been true to the world, raising taxes on foreign oil companies and using some of those revenues to give school children a modest annual bonus for staying in the classroom.

But the abuses dealt out by the government against the people of the TIPNIS have knocked ‘Evo the icon’ off his pedestal in a way from which he will never fully recover, in Bolivia and globally. He seems now pretty much like any other politician. What has risen instead is a movement once again of the Bolivian people themselves – awake, mobilized, and courageous. The defense of Bolivia’s environment and indigenous people now rests in the hands, not of Presidential power, but people power – where real democracy must always reside.