Saturday, August 9, 2008

Update on the Bolivian struggle

Yesterday Code Pink's Medea Benjamin posted a report at on the struggle that the indigenous majority in Bolivia, who elected Evo Morales, one of their own, two and a half years ago, are facing as the US-backed elites pursue all the usual dirty tactics that tend to be used to suppress the political agency of indigenous peoples. Their latest move is to force a recall vote on the president and vice president. The corporate-owned media, of course, have formed the front-line of attack, but Benjamin warns that "a win at the polls is crucial, but it is not likely to stop the growing tensions that have polarized the country, created a crisis between national and local legal institutions, dried up private investment and led to increasingly violent clashes between supporters on both sides."

For those who haven't been following this, Benjamin's piece summarizes the situation:

On one side of this struggle is the impoverished indigenous majority in the western highlands who, along with Bolivia’s first indigenous president Evo Morales, are trying to redistribute power and wealth towards poor communities. Pitted against them is a mostly white elite based in the eastern part of the country who want to keep tight control over the nation’s wealth and are using their money and control of the media to foment widespread discontent. Sadly, the U.S. government, instead of embracing social transformation in Latin America’s poorest nation, is aiding and abetting the opposition.

At the opening meeting of a group called International Intellectuals and Artists for the Unity and Sovereignty of Bolivia on July 26, Bolivian President Evo Morales put the division in simple terms. “Two models of government are on the table,” he said. “One is a colonial model where a few families control the nation’s resources. The other, which we defend, is based on the nationalization of natural resources for the benefit of everyone.”

Morales’ government nationalized the nation’s most important source of revenue, natural gas and has used the profits for social programs that fight poverty and inequality. These include free school meals and a cash payment to mothers who keep their children in school. Morales has also raised the minimum wage and expanded the number of eligible elderly people receiving pensions from 489,000 to 676,000, providing them with the equivalent of 27 dollars a month. [Nearly 60 percent of elderly people in Bolivia live on less than one dollar a day.] He is also trying to institute a land reform that would take non-productive agricultural land from wealthy landowners and give it to poor, landless families.

Morales has appealed to progressive governments in the region to help with his program of social transformation. Cuba has sent thousands of doctors and teachers to rural areas and is building dozens of hospitals. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Brazilian President Lula da Silva are investing in the expansion of Bolivia’s gas industry and helping to construct new highways.

Turn on the radio or the television these days, however, and you’ll hear a different story. A barrage of opposition ads encourage people to vote against the President in the upcoming recall. They scare people into thinking that Morales is going to take away their private property, like their homes or their cars, and paint him as a “Chavez-style dictator” who has indebted the country to Venezuela.

“I apologize to the journalists here,” Morales said at the scholars’ meeting, “but in Bolivia the press is engaged in media terrorism. I know it’s not you, the journalists, but the owners of the means of communication. They manipulate the news and the polls; they lie to the public.”

He gave a recent example. He had just come from visiting Camiri, a town in the department of Santa Cruz, which is the home of the opposition. A large group of people came out to welcome him and listen to his speech. At the end of the rally he heard some firecrackers and was told that there were a handful of protesters. On his way back to the airport, however, he heard a local radio station say that the people of Camiri had blocked him from coming to the city. “I had to laugh,” said Morales, “because there were perhaps 20 young protesters compared to crowds of supporters. But that’s how they reported ‘the news.’”

You can read more of Benjamin's report here.

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