Tagged ‘CIDOB | Confederation of Indigenous People of Bolivia‘

Bolivia: Rumble Over Jungle Far from Over

Sunday, November 20, 2011 | Green Left Weekly

By Federico Fuentes

March from TIPNIS arrives in La Paz.

Despite the government reaching an agreement with indigenous protesters on all 16 demands raised on their 10-week march onto the capital, La Paz, the underlying differences are far from resolved.

On October 24, Bolivia’s Plurinational Legislative Assembly approved a new law banning the building of any highway through the Isiboro Secure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS).

Many groups supported the highway, which would have connected the departments of Beni and Cochabamba, and provide poor rural communities with greater access to markets and basic services.

However, it was opposed by 20 of the 64 indigenous communities in TIPNIS. It became the central rallying point of the march led by the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian East (CIDOB).

The march gained much sympathy, particularly among urban middle class sectors, after police meted out brutal repression against protesters on September 24.

Bolivian President Evo Morales immediately denied giving any orders to repress the protest. Apologising for the terrible event, Morales ordered a full investigation into the police attack.

Nevertheless, some important mobilisations in solidarity with the marchers were held in the days afterwards.

In response, government supporters took to the streets on October 12. Hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples, campesinos (peasants), miners and neighbourhood activists from El Alto flooded the capital.

Having reached La Paz on October 19, march leaders sat down with Morales and government ministers for two days to reach agreement on their demands.

These demands ranged from opposition to the highway to land reform and the right of indigenous peoples to receive funds in return for converting forests within their traditional lands into carbon offsets.

It did not take long for the dispute to reignite, this time over the word “untouchable”, which was inserted into the TIPNIS law at the request of march leaders.

According to the government, the term “untouchable” required the immediate expulsion of all logging and tourism companies operating within TIPNIS, in some cases illegally.

However, march leaders who opposed the highway defended the industrial-scale logging within TIPNIS.

This includes two logging companies who operate more than 70,000 hectares within the national park and have signed 20 year contracts with local communities.

The government denounced the presence of a tourist resort within TIPNIS, equipped with two private airstrips to fly foreigners willing to pay US$7600 to visit the park.

Of this money, only $200 remains with local communities that have signed the contract with the foreign company.

Rather than defending some kind of romanticised “communitarianism”, much of the motivation behind the march was an attempt by community leaders to defend their control over natural resources as a means to access wealth.

The same is true of many of those groups that have demanded the law be overturned and the highway go ahead. Campesinos and coca growers see the highway as an opportunity to gain access to land for cultivation.

These differences underpin the divergent views regarding the new land law being proposed by campesino groups, but opposed by groups such as CIDOB.

The CIDOB advocates large tracts of land be handed over to indigenous communities as protected areas. Campesino groups are demanding more land be distributed to campesino families.

These differences have led to a split in the Unity Pact, which united the five main campesino and indigenous organisations despite longstanding differences.

This is perhaps the most important divisipn to have opened up within the Morales government’s support base. But is far from being the only one.

The TIPNIS march served as a pretext for opposition parties based among the urban middle classes to break down government support in these sectors.

On October 16, Bolivians took part in a historic vote to elect judges to the Constitutional Tribunal, the Agro-environmental Tribunal and Magistrates Council.

The corporate media used exit poll figures to announce that most had nullified their votes as opposition parties had called for. But the final result showed a different picture.

As votes from rural areas began to be counted, the supposed crushing victory for null votes was whittled away. The final results showed valid and null votes tying at 42%.

The opposition tried to turn the vote into a referendum on Morales.

Despite attempts to portray the null vote as a “progressive” protest vote against Morales, the results clearly showed that opposition to the election of judges was strongest in the right-wing controlled departments of the east and in the urban middle and upper class sectors.

In rural and poor urban areas, such as El Alto, valid votes overwhelming won out.

The null votes came from the same middle class sectors that came out onto the streets of La Paz in support of the indigenous march, and who spat out racist epitaphs against Morales and indigenous government supporters when they marched through the capital.

Meanwhile, territorial conflicts between various departments and local councils scrambling for resources and access to central government funding continue to provide headaches for the government.

Morales called a national summit for December to bring together the country’s social movements to collectively come up with a new “national agenda”.

The likelihood, however, of achieving consensus for a national development plan among competing social organisations, all with their own sectoral interests and who have seen that it is possible to twist the government’s arm by protesting, will no doubt be a difficult task.

[Federico Fuentes edits Bolivia Rising.]

Bolivia: Solidarity Activists Need to Support Process

Sunday, November 20, 2011 | Green Left Weekly

By Federico Fuentes

Bolivia’s first indigenous president celebrates winning a recall referendum in August 2008.

The recent march in Bolivia by some indigenous organisations against the government’s proposed highway through the Isiboro Secure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) has raised much debate among international solidarity activists.

Such debates have occurred since the election of Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, in 2005 on the back of mass uprisings.

Overwhelmingly, solidarity activists uncritically supported the anti-highway march. Many argued that only social movements — not governments — can guarantee the success of the process of change.

However, such a viewpoint is not only simplistic; it can leave solidarity activists on the wrong side.

Kevin Young’s October 1 piece on Znet, “Bolivia Dilemmas: Turmoil, Transformation, and Solidarity”, tries to grapple with this issue by saying that “our first priority [as solidarity activists] must be to stop our governments, corporations and banks from seeking to control Bolivia’s destiny”.

Yet, as was the case with most articles written by solidarity activists, Young downplays the role of United States imperialism and argues the government was disingenuous in linking the protesters to it.

Others went further, denying any connection between the protesters and US imperialism.

The Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian East (CIDOB), the main organisation behind the march, has no such qualms. It boasted on its website that it received training programs from the US government aid agency USAID.

On the site, CIDOB president Adolfo Chavez, thanks the “information and training acquired via different programs financed by external collaborators, in this case USAID”.

Ignoring or denying clear evidence of US funding to such organisations is problematic. Attacking the Bolivian government for exposing this, as some did, disarms solidarity activists in their fight against imperialist intervention.

But biggest failure of the solidarity movement has been its silence on US and corporate responsibility for the conflict.

The TIPNIS dispute was not some romanticised, Avatar-like battle between indigenous defenders of Mother Earth and a money-hungry government intent on destroying the environment.

Underpinning the conflict was the difficult question of how Bolivia can overcome centuries of colonialism and underdevelopment to provide its people with access to basic services while trying to respect the environment. The main culprits are not Bolivian; they are imperialist governments and their corporations.

We must demand they pay their ecological debt and transfer the necessary technology for sustainable development to countries such as Bolivia (demands that almost no solidarity activists raised). Until this occurs, activists in rich nations have no right to tell Bolivians what they can and cannot do to satisfy the basic needs of their people.

Otherwise, telling Bolivian people that they have no right to a highway or to extract gas to fund social programs (as some NGOs demanded), means telling Bolivians they have no right to develop their economy or fight poverty.

Imperialism aims to keep Third World nations subordinate to the interests of rich nations. This is one reason foreign NGOs and USAID are trying to undermine the Morales government’s leading international role in opposing the grossly anti-environmental policies, such as Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD).

REDD uses poor nations for carbon offsets so corporations in rich countries can continue polluting. Support for REDD was one of the demands of the protest march.

Young says “our solidarity should be with grassroots revolutionaries, anti-imperialists and defenders of human rights, not with governments or parties”.

But, as the TIPNIS case shows, when governments are trying to grapple with lifting their country out of underdevelopment, the demands of social movements with competing sectoral interests may clash.

In fact, some of the most strident supporters of the highway were also the very same social movements that solidarity activists have supported in their struggles against neoliberal governments during the last decade.

In such scenarios, you can only choose between supporting some social movement demands by dismissing legitimate demands of others, as many did with the TIPNIS case.

Lasting change can only come about when social movements begin to take power into their own hands when social movements become governments.

It is this objective that Bolivia’s social movements set. They forged their own political instrument through struggle ? commonly known as the Movement Towards Socialism ? and won a government they see as their own.

Having gone from a position of “struggle from below” to taking government from the traditional elites as an instrument to achieve their goal of state power, these social movements have begun winning control over natural resources and enacted a new constitution.

Converting the constitution’s ideals into a new state power remains a task for the Bolivian revolution.

But its success depends on the ability of “grassroots revolutionaries, anti-imperialists and defenders of human rights” ? operating within and without the existing state ? to struggle in a united way.

Our solidarity must be based on the existing revolutionary struggle in Bolivia, not a romanticised one we would prefer.

A permanent state of protests may be attractive for solidarity activists, but ultimately can only translate into a permanent state of demoralisation unless social movements can go beyond opposing capitalist governments and create their own state power.

Refusing to support the struggles as they exist illustrates a lack of confidence in the Bolivian masses to determine their own destiny. It also displays an arrogance on the part of those who, having failed to hold back imperialist governments at home, believe they know better than the Bolivians how to develop their process of change.

Mistakes are made in any struggle. But such mistakes should not be used to try and pit one side against another. We should have confidence that these internal conflicts can be resolved by the social movements themselves.

[Federico Fuentes edits Bolivia Rising.]

The West, the Rest and the Exploited (Bolivia, TIPNIS, USAID, CIDOB, NED, The Democracy Center)

The Western empires have their days numbered, not just because emerging countries are catching up to them, but because they have corrupted their own system and made it unsustainable.


Juan Carlos Zambrana Marchetti

November 18, 2011

The conservative British historian Niall Ferguson argues in his latest book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, that “beginning in the 15th Century, the West developed six powerful new concepts that the Rest lacked: competition, science, the rule of law, modern medicine, consumerism, and work ethic”. He argues that controlling these “Killer applications,… the West jumped ahead of the rest, opening global trade routes, exploiting new scientific knowledge, evolving representative government, more than doubling life expectancy, unleashing the industrial revolution… Western empires controlled 4/5 of the global economy”. What a story of exceptionalism.

What the British historian avoids putting into proper perspective is that, “by chance,” in the 15th Century there also took place the “discovery of the New World,” which led Europe into a new era of prosperity and the new colonies into one of genocide, slavery and plunder. It would be more honest to acknowledge that the six “applications” that the West monopolized were war, Illicit appropriation of labor, property and knowledge; the legalization of their spoils of war; control of the media to create a triumphalist history; and, to the present day, the evolution of their methods of control. But that only highlights the obvious misrepresentations. There are more subtle deceptions in Ferguson’s selective memory, such as the concepts of “evolution of representative government” and the “rule of law”.

The so-called “evolution” of representative government led to the fact that the people’s participation in democracy ends on Election Day, when they choose their president and their representatives to Congress. Through this mechanism, a bridle was put into the mouths of the people, mounted like donkeys, and the reins were turned over to the interest groups, who, financing election campaigns, literally bought the brand-new representatives. With 80 percent of the planet depending on the empires for trade, health, education, communications, food supply, religions, finance, and so on, It was easy for the empires to impose on not only their own countries, but also on most of the world, puppet governments to serve corporate interests.

The also misleading concept of “rule of law” hides, among other things, authorization for the empires to become “guardians” of compliance with this law, which they use as pretext to invade any country that interests them, as it happened in the case of Libya, a country which NATO bombarded mercilessly, then invaded, ironically, based on the pretext of protecting it. Pierre Charasse says in his article The west and the rest, or the myth of the international community, that “The Military intervention in Libya … had as a legal basis resolution 1973 of the United Nations Security Council, and as a moral foundation, the responsibility to protect the civilian population”.

The Western empires organized the circus of the world forums in order to herd into them the small countries that they influenced, to subject them to “laws” to which empires are not subject to. That was clear when the U.S. invaded Iraq unilaterally, and it is obvious each year when, in the United Nations, 186 countries vote to lift the blockade on Cuba, but in practice, loses to the U.S. vote and the lone support of Israel. Therefore, the so-called “evolution of representative government” and “Rule of Law” can also represent the evolution of the control mechanisms of imperialism.

Ferguson says that, “The days of Western predominance are numbered, because the Rest has finally downloaded the six killer apps the West once monopolized— while the West has literally lost faith in itself.” He fails to recognize that the collapse of the West is largely self-inflicted, because it corrupted its own system so much that it is now unsustainable. It totally deregulated itself, and gave itself license to unleash wars around the world, seeding the planet with death, misery and desolation with the only objective to increase its control, to continue plundering with impunity, ever increasing the gap between rich and poor. Five centuries were not enough, and they continue to do it, as in even into the 21st Century.

At a time when the political forces of the planet are changing polarity from the West to the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China, Bolivian President Evo Morales has called on the social organizations to discuss the second phase of the process of change, and to establish a new agenda for his government. It is important to analyze the case of Bolivia, because it is the other side of the equation in this Western exceptionalism described by Ferguson. Bolivia’s population, mainly indigenous, survived the above-mentioned five centuries of plundering and exploitation; as a result, the long period of resistance, in a vicious cycle of war between the forces of looting and the people’s attempts to defend themselves, has exposed the creative ways in which imperialism operates.

In my book Secrets of State I explain that, after the first Bolivian revolutionary government nationalized John D. Rockefeller’ s Standard Oil Co. for fraud on the Bolivian State, Nelson Rockefeller, the successor of the oil empire, then working at the State Department, realized that the Bolivian indigenous were becoming aware of their strength as a class and would soon claim their political space. Thus began an era of apparent U.S. cooperation, hidden under the disguise of philanthropy, with which to begin to control the indigenous. The U.S. also diversified its methods of control, introducing them to international lending institutions and the United Nations. An example of this was the case of the Andean Indian Program.

The United States could not prevent the historical Bolivian revolution of 1952, but having trapped the small Andean country into dependency, and having gotten into its bloodstream trough programs to “include” the natives, began to make them believe that they were supported while discreetly disfiguring the social reform plan with a skillful manipulation of the words used in legislation. In this way, it distorted the agrarian reform, because the idea of peasants owning the land and organizing productively was aberrant to the capitalist production system of “hacienda”, or large agricultural corporation, which the US promoted for political purposes in the eastern lowlands of Bolivia, creating a new right-wing ruling class to counter the anti-imperialism of the Andean region. Through other programs of “cooperation” the US strengthened and indoctrinated the Bolivian military, in preparation for the next generation of dictatorships.

Two tragic realities are clear in Bolivian history. One is that the U.S. has the undeniable objective of regime change on counties that resist its policies, and an extraordinary set of mechanisms to achieve it. The second is the consequence of the first: the people’s challenge is not only to come to power, but also, once there, to have to constantly defend their government. The Bolivian people have come to power, and have already put in place unprecedented changes, but I think that Morales’ government, before sitting down to talk with a legion of foreign interests, should investigate in depth the extent to which various social sectors have been infiltrated by USAID, which openly funded CIDOB, by the NED, and by the army of NGOs, with unfortunately has become another mechanism for hegemony to evade responsibilities.

An interesting case study is that of The Democracy Center, whose participation in support of the people in the Water War of 2000 was as commendable as is now its surprising dislike of Evo Morales. It seems as though it expected to emerge from that conflict with their own president, and the rise of Evo Morales thwarted their plans. The current benefactor of The Democracy Center is the Ford Foundation, but it is curious to find among its previous benefactors the Rockefeller Foundation: the same people who since the Second World War have been manipulating in different ways the will and the destiny of the Bolivian peasants, to use them politically in favor of the agenda of capitalism.

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.