Bolivia’s President Evo Morales has submitted legal documents to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in a bid to gain an access to the Pacific coast for his land-locked country through Chile.
“The Bolivian people hope that the historic wrong that took place will be repaired as soon as possible,” Morales said at the Bolivian Embassy in the Netherlands after personally handing over the documents to the ICJ in The Hague.
Morales was accompanied at The Hague by a strong delegation, including Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca.
Landlocked Bolivia, which still maintains a navy, seeks to force its neighbor to give back a Pacific Ocean passage that it lost in a war with Chile at the end of the 19th Century.
“We have come here to make a historic demand, for Bolivia to regain sovereign access to the sea,” he added.
Bolivia and Chile have had only limited diplomatic relations since 1978. Unfruitful negotiations with Santiago over the issue prompted La Paz to lodge a complaint to the ICJ for the first time in April 2013.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said last month that the court case had closed the door on any hopes of a bilateral deal.
“We are very clear that we respect international treaties… but we are going to first analyze the Bolivian case in order to decide how we proceed,” Bachelet said shortly before Morales submitted the documents to the ICJ on Tuesday.
Chile says its border with Bolivia was fixed by a treaty signed by the two countries in 1904, which cost Bolivia some 120 kilometers (75 miles) of coast and 120,000 square kilometers (46,332 square miles) of arid land where many of the world’s top copper reserves are located.
On March 11, newly elected President Michelle Bachelet began her inaugural speech by acknowledging her debt to the social movements that propelled her center-left New Majority coalition to victory, on a radical platform that has transformed Chile’s political landscape. Even as they continue to shape the domestic political agenda, activist students, trade unionists, and other civil society and political organizations are also mobilizing to build cross-border solidarity, pressuring Bachelet to ally with other leftist governments in the region.
On February 15, the militant University of Chile Student Federation (FECH)—fresh on the heels of forcing the ouster of Bachelet’s newly-appointed education undersecretary and her replacement with a more politically compatible designee—issued a strong statement critical of Venezuelan students who have spearheaded ongoing protests against the Chavista government of Nicolás Maduro. “We don’t feel represented by the actions of Venezuelan student sectors that are defending the old order, in opposition to the path that the people have defined,” the statement read in part.
Demonstrating at the Venezuelan embassy, representatives of FECH and other student federations emphasized that the middle-class Venezuelan students, unlike their Chilean counterparts, are not demanding educational or other social reforms. Rather, student leaders explained, they are mobilizing against the Chavista government which has advanced the goals of free, public education and democratization of the university, the very issues that Chilean students are fighting for.
To be sure, FECH’s stance is opposed by Chile’s Young Christian Democrats (JDC), student organizations from some private universities, and other dissident factions, who have urged support for the protesters. Some groups, such as the Student Federation of Catholic University (FEUC), have called for protection of Venezuelan students’ rights, while stopping short of endorsing their demands.
The split mirrors divisions within the New Majority coalition itself. Under pressure from FECH and allied student organizations, Bachelet has publicly supported Maduro and the people of Venezuela, calling on all sides to seek a peaceful and democratic resolution to the conflict, while leading Christian Democrats accuse the Venezuelan government of criminalizing and repressing dissent. The recent assassination of a 47-year old Chilean citizen in Venezuela, a Chavista supporter and mother of four, has heightened domestic tensions over the issue. Still, the majority of student organizations continue to emphasize (to both Chilean and foreign media) that their movement has little in common with Venezuela’s student protests.
Following Bachelet’s inaugural ceremony, some 5,000 representatives of student, trade union, community, indigenous, and other civil society organizations assembled at the Teatro Caupolicán in Santiago to welcome Bolivian President Evo Morales with the slogan “Mar para Bolivia!” (“The sea for Bolivia!”). The issue of regaining coastal territory lost to Chile in the 1879 War of Pacific, which left Bolivia landlocked, has long been a rallying point for Bolivia and is now a crusade for the Morales government.
Last year, Morales filed a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice in The Hague, demanding that Chile negotiate in good faith to provide Bolivia with sovereign access to the Pacific. Morales argues that the 1904 Peace Treaty signed by the two countries was imposed under duress, and should be scrapped or modified. On economic grounds, Bolivia claims that its landlocked status has reduced its GNP by more than $30 billion since 1970, while the mineral-rich ceded territory (now the site of some of the world’s biggest copper mines) has made Chile the wealthiest country in South America.
The dispute has strained relations between the two countries for decades. Ironically, former dictators Augusto Pinochet and Hugo Banzer were on the brink of an agreement in 1975, which derailed when Pinochet demanded territorial compensation from Bolivia in exchange for granting it a sea corridor. A 13-point bilateral agenda developed by Morales and Bachelet during her first term in 2006 was sidelined by her conservative successor, Sebastián Piñera.
Recent efforts to resume dialogue with Bolivia have been spearheaded by Chilean social sectors and political activists. Last April, 57 civil society groups, including the Workers United Center of Chile (CUT, the major national trade union federation) and indigenous Mapuche organizations, signed a letter demanding that Piñera offer Bolivia a constructive proposal. Former Progressive Party presidential candidate Marco Enríquez-Ominami, who placed third in the first-round election, visited Morales last month to convey Chilean solidarity and pave the way for the post-inaugural encounter.
Former student leader and newly elected Communist Party congressional deputy Camila Vallejo has been a leading voice pressing the Bachelet government to re-engage with Bolivia. “It’s not about giving away a gift,” she emphasizes. “Bolivia has significant energy (gas) resources and we are, supposedly, in an energy crisis. Why not have a politics of integration and mutual solidarity?”
To the consternation of many, Bachelet—bowing to conservative pressures—announced the day after her inauguration that Chile will not negotiate Bolivia’s sea access while the matter is pending before the International Court. For his part, Morales has refused to abandon Bolivia’s legal claims, leaving civil society activists with a significant role to play in the continuing controversy .
Finally, last December more than 50 Chilean civil society leaders, 15 senators, and 37 congressional deputies signed a public declaration demanding a halt to negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a U.S.-led trade initiative involving a dozen Pacific Rim nations. Activists are demanding increased transparency, as well as protections from trade rules that could undermine national sovereignty over intellectual property rights, access to medicine, capital flow management, and other crucial matters. Bachelet, a strong supporter of free trade, is also an advocate of national sovereignty. Her campaign manager (now finance minister) Alberto Arenas has indicated his support for civil society’s position.
As Bachelet struggles to manage competing ideological tensions within her own New Majority coalition, continuing pressure from Chile’s resurgent social movements on these and other cross-border issues will be critical in positioning Chile within Latin America’s growing political divide.
The Ecuadorian government released a statement on Monday announcing that the country would no longer be collaborating with USAID, a US agency for International development.
The Ministry for International Development (SETECI) released a statement explaining the decision to cut ties with USAID. “The last bilateral cooperation programme between Ecuador and the US was signed in 2007 and the projects resulting from this collaboration are now finishing. Given that we have not negotiated a new a agreement, SETECI has informed USAID that they cannot carry out any new projects, nor extend the deadlines of projects currently underway.” The statement added that cooperation would remain suspended “until our governments negotiate and sign a new bilateral cooperation agreement”.
According to the SETECI, since 2007, USAID had invested a yearly average of US$32mn in initiatives in Ecuador, the majority of which were implemented by local and international NGOs.
The United States ambassador in Quito also released a statement on the matter, indicating that over the last two years the two countries had unsuccessfully tried to negotiate “an agreement which would allow USAID’s work in Ecuador to continue”. The statement went on to say that due to the “indefinite freeze on USAID activities” implemented by the Ecuadorian government, the organisation would have to cancel four projects which looked to protect the environment and strengthen civil society, and which were currently underway.
In June 2012, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa had threatened to expel USAID from Ecuador after accusing the organisation of giving financial support to opposition groups and getting involved in the country’s internal politics. At the time he said that other countries in the region were also considering ending relations with USAID.
In May 2013, Bolivian President Evo Morales expelled USAID from Bolivia, stating that the agency was conspiring against his government.
Bolivia’s General Prosecutor Ramiro Guerrero has requested the extradition of former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada from the US, so he can be brought to justice for crimes against humanity in his country.
Guerrero is also calling for the extradition of two former ministers, Carlos Sánchez Berzaín and Jorge Berindoague. They have been in the US since October 2003.
All three men are being charged with genocide, homicide, humiliation and torture, inflicting injuries of varying degrees, deprivation of freedom, and forcefully raiding homes.
Guerrero presented the case for the ex-president’s extradition for the second time on Friday. The first time, in 2012, his case was rejected. However this time he expects that the 1,900-page document will convince US authorities of granting extradition based on the gravity of the charges against the defendants.
The document will be analysed by the Supreme Court of Bolivia in Sucre. The Court’s members will be tasked with deciding whether the extradition is viable or not.
The request for extradition comes almost ten years after ‘Black October’, as the revolt that caused the resignation and escape of Sánchez de Lozada is known. The ‘Black October’ protests took place in 2003, sparked by the people’s opposition to exporting Bolivian gas to Mexico and the US at very low prices through a Chilean port. The state’s repression left 65 people dead and hundreds injured. As a result, Sánchez de Lozada was forced to resign and fled to the US.
Bolivia’s President Evo Morales plans to file legal action against the US president for crimes against humanity, condemning Washington’s intimidation tactics after it denied Venezuelan presidential jet entry into US airspace.
“I would like to announce that we are preparing a lawsuit against [US President] Barack Obama to condemn him for crimes against humanity,” President Morales announced at a Thursday press conference in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz, RT reports.
He further described the American president as a “criminal” who willingly violates international law.
“The US cannot be allowed to continue with its policy of intimidation and blockading presidential flights,” Morales stated.
He added that Bolivia intends to prepare legal action against the US president and file the lawsuit at the International Court.
President Morales has called for an emergency meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to confer about the US action, which has been slammed by Venezuela as “an act of intimidation by North American imperialism.”
Additionally, the Bolivian president has implied that the CELAC members should recall their ambassadors from Washington in an effort to convey a strong message to the Obama Administration.
According to the report, Morales further wants to urge member nations of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas to boycott the next meeting of the United Nations in New York.
Members of the Alliance include Antigua and Barbuda, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Saint Lucia.
The anti-US measures called by the Bolivian president comes just months after Morales’s presidential aircraft was denied entry into several Western European countries, forcing it to land in Austria.
The May 2013 incident was widely described as a US-led effort out of a false suspicion that American spy agency whistleblower Edward Snowden may be onboard the aircraft.
At the time Bolivia was among a few countries that offered political asylum to Snowden, a US fugitive and former contract employee of American spy agencies, CIA and NSA, who leaked documents showing massive US electronic spying operations around the globe, including its European and Latin American allies.
Several Latin American heads of state joined Bolivia to censure the illegal move by the European countries, including Italy, France and Spain, which led to their official apologies.
The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has approved plans for an optic fibre mega-ring which will break its members’ “dependence on the US, and provide a safer and cheaper means of communication.”
The fibre optic ring will become part of a ten-year plan to physically integrate all 12 UNASUR member states. The line, which will reach up to 10,000 kilometres long and will be managed by state enterprises from each country it crosses, is expected to interconnect South America through higher coverage and cheaper internet connections.
Industrial Minister of Uruguay, Roberto Kreimerman, explained that “it is about having a connection with great capacity that allows us to unite our countries together with the developed world.”
He continued to say, “We are considering that, at most, in a couple of years we will have one of these rings finalised.” He also added that ”I think the economy, security, and integration are the three important things we need in countries where Internet use is advancing exponentially.”
At the moment, up to 80% of Latin America’s communications go through the US. However, plans for an independent communication line comes shortly after the US was discovered to have been spying on Latin American data. The National Security Agency (NSA) were revealed to have been monitoring emails and intercepting telephone logs, spying on energy, military, politics, and terror activity across the continent.
UNASUR is made up of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
“The United States appears to be destined by Providence to plague America with misery in the name of liberty.” Simon Bolivar
Throughout the day, on August 6, President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner of Argentina chaired a historic United Nations Security Council meeting that revealed a seismic shift in geopolitical consciousness and incipient strength.
The agenda of Security Council meeting 7015 was: “Cooperation Between the United Nations and Regional and Sub-regional Organizations in Maintaining International Peace and Security.”
The prelude to this meeting was held, the prior day, August 5, at a press stakeout given by Elias Jaua Milano, Foreign Minister of Venezuela, Hector Timerman, Foreign Minister of Argentina, Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, Foreign Minister of Brazil, Luis Almagro, Foreign Minister of Uruguay and David Choquehuanca Cespedes, Foreign Minister of Bolivia.
They spoke on behalf of Mercosur, the Southern Common Market, following their meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Their remarks focused on the expression of outrage contained in the “Annex to the note verbale dated 22 July from the Permanent Mission of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General, which stated:
“Decision rejecting the acts of espionage conducted by the United States in the countries of the region.” “The President of the Argentine Republic, the President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, the President of the Federative Republic of Brazil, the President of the Eastern Republic of Uruguay and the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, having met in Montevideo, Eastern Republic of Uruguay, on 12 July, 2013, within the framework of the presidential summit of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR),
Condemning the acts of espionage carried out by intelligence agencies of the United States of America , which affect all countries in the region,
Strongly rejecting the interception of telecommunications and the acts of espionage carried out in our countries, which constitute a violation of the human rights, the right to privacy and the right to information of our citizens, and which also constitute unacceptable behavior that violates our sovereignty and is detrimental to the normal conduct of relations among nations,
Considering the advisability of promoting a coordinated approach to this issue at the regional level,
Work together to guarantee the cybersecurity of the States members to MERCOSUR, which is essential to defending the sovereignty of our countries,
Demand that those responsible immediately cease these activities and provide an explanation of the motives for and consequences of such activities,
Stress that the prevention of crime and the suppression of transnational crimes, including terrorism, must be carried out in line with the rule of law and in strict observance of international law.
Promote the adoption by the relevant multilateral institutions of standards for the regulation of the Internet which place a particular emphasis on cybersecurity issues, with a view to fostering the adoption of standards that guarantee the adequate protection of communications, in particular to safeguard the sovereignty of States and the privacy of individuals,
Express our full solidarity with all countries, within and outside our region that have been victims of such actions,
Promote the joint efforts of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs to inform the Secretary-General of the United Nations of these incidents and request prevention and sanction mechanisms on the issue at the multilateral level
Instruct the delegations of the Member States participating in the upcoming session of the United Nations General Assembly to jointly present a formal proposal to that end,
Request the Argentine Republic to submit this matter to the Security Council for consideration,
Agree to establish a working group to coordinate efforts, together with the South American Defence Council and the South American Infrastructure and Planning Council, aimed at carrying out activities that will render our telecommunications more secure and reduce our dependence on foreign technology.”
The morning session of the August 6 Security Council meeting consisted primarily of technical diplomatic presentations. Following Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s statement, Cuban Foreign Minister Rodriguez Parrella opened the meeting, as President of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC):
“The history of Latin American and the Caribbean has changed. Two hundred years after our independence, the ideas of ‘a Nation of Republics,’ and of ‘Our America’ envisaged by Bolivar and Marti, respectively, are taking shape. Thus, our Heads of State and Government decided in the Caracas Declaration that ‘in accordance with the original mandate of our liberators, CELAC must move forward in the process of political, economic, social and cultural integration – based on a wise equilibrium between the unity and diversity of our peoples … Upon founding CELAC, our Heads of State and Government reiterated our commitment to the building of a more just, equitable and harmonious international order based on respect for international law and the Charter of the United Nations. … They reaffirmed our commitment to the defense of sovereignty and the right of any state to establish its own political system, free from threats, aggression and unilateral coercive measures, and in an environment of peace, stability, justice, democracy and respect for human rights. CELAC reiterates that there can be no lasting peace without development and the eradication of poverty, hunger and inequality … CELAC has adopted a unanimous position with regard to some far-reaching topics on the international agenda, such as, for example, Argentina’s legitimate claim in the dispute concerning the sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands, and – today on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima – on so-called nuclear disarmament.”
The representatives of other regional organizations, and the members of the Security Council delivered their statements throughout the morning session of the meeting
When the Security Council resumed for the afternoon session, in a courageous and brilliant tour de force, the Argentine Presidency of the Security Council availed itself of the opportunity to publicly denounce espionage in the service of the resurgence of neo-liberal capitalist imperialism. In an unusual gesture of solidarity and support (considering that Heads of State chairing Security Council meetings seldom remain beyond a perfunctory appearance at the morning session), President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and Ambassador Maria Cristina Perceval were present throughout the afternoon, as the succession of dazzling speeches, delivered by the Latin American Foreign Ministers of Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador illuminated the global menace threatened by the United States National Security Agency programs of surveillance of phone records, e-mails, web-browsing, those very programs disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The foreign ministers of Brazil, Venezuela, Uruguay, Bolivia and Ecuador fiercely condemned the United States plan for worldwide espionage, which posed a lethal threat to the democratically elected governments of these Latin American nations and jeopardized their survival.
It is not surprising that this expression of alarm was voiced by Latin America, from Argentina through Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Venezuela – in other words from the Southernmost tip of the huge southern continent to the Caribbean, for this continent, viewed imperialistically as the “backyard” of the United States, was for many tragic decades, crushed by military dictatorships inflicting state terror with impunity, following the blueprint of destabilization and overthrow, by the CIA and multinational corporate controlled entities, of their own democratically elected leaders. The tragic destruction of Latin America’s democratically elected governments included President Arbenz in Guatemala, 1954; President Goulart in Brazil, 1964; President Juan Bosch in the Dominican Republic, 1965; President Torres in Bolivia, 1971; President Allende in Chile, 1973, and more recently the destabilizations of the democratically elected governments of Honduras and Paraguay (this is not a complete list)
This more than half-century violation of the will of the people of Latin America, engineered by agencies of “the Colossus of the North” was a shattering trauma seared deeply into the consciousness of these leaders, whose recent triumph over fascist military dictatorships which were installed and supported by the United States, is a testament to their moral and intellectual strength and their passion for dignity and control over their own destinies. The Latin American governments speaking at the August 6 Security Council are like the canary in the coal mine: intensely alert and sensitive to imminent or potential threats of repetition of that horrific period they had endured and so recently overcome, these governments denounced widespread evidence of perilous subversive activity, the lethal consequences of which are predictable and terrifying.
The August 6, 2013 afternoon session of the UN Security Council began with Mr. Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, Foreign Minister of Brazil, who stated, in English:
“You, Madam President made my task easier by referring to the interception of communications and acts of espionage. Such practices violate sovereignty, harm relations between nations and constitute a violation of human rights, inn particular the right to privacy and the right of our citizens to information. In that respect, you have complied with the decision of the States parties of the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR) who met in Montevideo last month. Yesterday, the Foreign Minister of MERCOSUR conveyed to the Secretary-General the position of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela with respect to and in compliance with, that decision. The matter will also be placed before various United Nations bodies, in accordance with the decision and the document circulated under the symbol A/67/946. This is a very serious issue with a profound impact on the international system. Brazil is coordinating with countries that share similar concerns for the benefit of an international order that respects human rights and the sovereignty of states.
I welcome the timely statement made on 12 July by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay: ‘surveillance programmes without adequate safeguards to protect the right to privacy actually risk impacting negatively on the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.’ Pillay also mentioned Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 17 and 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which established, respectively, that ‘No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence,’ and that ‘Everyone has the right to protection of the law against such interference or attacks.’
Brazil also associates itself with the repeated appeals by Ms. Pillay in various forums that efforts to combat terrorism must necessarily respect human rights and humanitarian law. Her position was incorporated into the decision of the Heads of State of MERCOSUR as well as the Presidential Statement (S/PRST/2013/12) adopted by the Council this morning… Mention should be made of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)… .a defense alliance that does not seem to frame its activities clearly under Chapter VIII of the Charter of the United Nations and has made use of concepts and strategies that raise problematic and sensitive issues in terms of the articulation between the regional level and the United Nations system. We are concerned that, historically, leaders of NATO and member countries have considered that the organization does not necessarily require explicit authorization from the Security Council to resort to coercion.
We are also concerned that NATO has loosely interpreted mandates for action aimed at promoting international peace and security authorized by the Security Council. As Brazil has maintained, including through the Brazilian concept of ‘responsibility while protecting,’ (S/2011/701, annex), the Security Council should avail itself of the institutional means of monitoring the adequate fulfillment of its mandates.
We are concerned, as well that NATO has been searching to establish partnerships out of its area, far beyond the North Atlantic, including in regions of peace, democracy and social inclusion, and that rule out the presence of weapons of mass destruction in their territories. It would be extremely grave for the future of the articulation between regional and global efforts at promoting peace, as prescribed by the United Nations, if groups of countries started to unilaterally define their sphere of action beyond the territory of their own members.”
Next, Mr. David Choquehuanca Cespedes, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bolivia spoke:
“Preserving peace is not and will not be the result of the existence of international policemen, but rather as a result of the promotion of social justice, equity, complementarity, solidarity and respect between states… I should like to express our rejection and condemnation of the practice of espionage on the part of the United States. I should also like to express the grief and indignation of my people and my Government over the act of aggression experienced by President Evo Morales Ayma, which has been described by the international community as offensive, humiliating, discriminatory, colonialistic, unfriendly and a violation of human rights and international standards. Given the grave nature of these facts, we ask the United Nations to clarify these events and to take measures to guarantee human rights and international law so that no one will have to suffer such violations again.”
Next, His Excellency, Mr. Elias Jaua Milano, Minister of the People’s Power for Foreign Affairs of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and Pro-Tempore President of the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR) stated:
“Today we join in the pleasure of the Bolivian people on its national holiday, and recall the commemoration of the 200 years of the triumphant entry of the liberator Simon Bolivar after having carried out a successful campaign that began in December of 1812 in New Grenada. We must always remember that, when united, we South Americans will achieve independence, equality and democracy for our peoples…. Peace cannot be achieved in the world without social justice and without eradicating once and for all hunger, poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and the wide technological divides, in other words, without guaranteeing to all the resources necessary for their full development in equal conditions…. The instruments, declarations, decisions and resolutions of MERCOSUR have sought democracy and peace in the region, including by preventing coups and other attempts to frustrate the democratic will of our peoples, promoted by fascistic movements represented by political and economic leaders that are found particularly in media corporations. These movements attack democratic governments and peoples that have chosen the path of independence, social inclusion and the grass-roots democratization of our societies….
The timely and firm action of MERCOSUR along with other regional and sub-regional organizations, managed to stop attempted coups in Paraguay in 1996 and 1999, thereby guaranteeing democratic order. Similarly, in 2006 and 2007 MERCOSUR condemned and took action to prevent attempts to divide Bolivia as a way of weakening the democratic government of President Evo Morales. Likewise, the Foreign Ministers of the countries members of MERCOSUR condemned the attempted coup against President Rafael Correa in Ecuador on 30 September 2010, joining with other regional blocs to issue a joint warning to the world and prevent that crime from taking place. Although it could not be prevented, MERCOSUR acted decisively in the parliamentary coup against President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay in June, 2012. On that occasion the foreign ministers of MERCOSUR and UNASUR traveled to Asuncion with the intention of starting a dialogue and preventing the interruption of the constitutional order. That was not achieved, and the bloc had to temporarily suspend the Republic of Paraguay until its political, institutional and democratic situation was normalized through the holding of elections. More recently, MERCOSUR has been able to circumvent those situations with peaceful and democratic mechanisms, without economic blocades, military intervention, indiscriminate bombing or armed intervention of any kind. We believe that the only way to defeat violence is with greater democracy and peaceful means. Mercosur has also participated in issues that affect international peace and security, such as the coup in Honduras against President Zelaya…
Unfortunately in recent times we have been concerned to see that some countries have continued to assert their political, military and economic power and distorted the very essence of cooperation between the United Nations and regional and subregional organizations. They have gone so far as to use the Security Council as a platform to encourage armed interventions against sovereign states and peoples with a view to promoting the poorly named regime change, in contravention of all principles of International Law… as Foreign Minister of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and as Pro-Tempore President of MERCOSUR I take this opportunity to reiterate our firm condemnation of the insult to the office of the President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, President Evo Morales, when some European Governments did not permit the overflight or landing of the aircraft transporting him. That was not only a hostile, unfounded, discriminatory and arbitrary action, but also a flagrant violation of the precepts of international law.”
“Similarly, we reject the actions of global espionage carried out by the government of the United States , which undermine the sovereignty of States and which we have become familiar with through the revelations of the former security contractor, Edward Snowden. Given the seriousness of these reports of computer espionage on a global scale, recognized by the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union himself, the United Nations must initiate a broad multilateral discussion that would make it possible to design agreements to safeguard the sovereignty and security of States in the light of such illegal practices. MERCOSUR has begun action to promote a discussion on this matter so that we can open an appropriate investigation within the United Nations and punish and condemn this violation of international law.”
“We reiterate our condemnation of actions that could undermine the power of States to fully implement the right of humanitarian asylum. In this respect, we reject any attempt to pressure, harass or criminalize a state or third party over the sovereign decision of any nation to grant asylum, which is enshrined in all international conventions. Likewise, we express our solidarity with the Governments of Bolivia and Nicaragua , which, like Venezuela, have offered asylum to Mr. Snowden, as expressed by the Heads of State of MERCOSUR in the decision concerning the universal recognition of the right of political asylum, issued in Montevideo on 12 July. These three matters were discussed yesterday with the Secretary-General of the United Nations”
In her remarkable work, entitled “The Shock Doctrine, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” (published in 2007) journalist Naomi Klein states, page 573:
“Though clearly drawing on a long militant history, Latin America ’s contemporary movements are not direct replicas of their predecessors. Of all the differences, the most striking is an acute awareness of the need for protection from the shocks of the past – the coups, the foreign shock therapists, the U.S. trained torturers, as well as the debt shocks and currency collapses of the eighties and nineties. Latin America’s mass movements, which have powered the wave of election victories for left-wing candidates, are learning how to build shock absorbers into their organizing models. …
Latin America’s new leaders are also taking bold measures to block any future U.S. backed coups that could attempt to undermine their democratic victories. The governments of Venezuela, Costa Rica, Argentina and Uruguay have all announced they will no longer send students to the School of Americas, the infamous police and military training center in Fort Benning, Georgia, where so many of the continent’s notorious killers learned the latest I “counterterrorism” (torture) techniques, then promptly directed them against farmers in El Salvador and auto workers in Argentina…. If the U.S. military does not have bases or training programs, its power to inflict shocks will be greatly eroded…
Latin America’s most significant protection from future shocks (and therefore the shock doctrine) flows from the continent’s emerging independence from Washington’s financial institutions, the result of greater integration among regional governments. The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) is the continent’s retort to the Free Trade Area of the Americas, the now buried corporatist dream of a free-trade zone from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego….
Thanks to high oil prices, Venezuela has emerged as a major lender to other developing countries, allowing them to do an end run around Washington, and even Argentina, Washington’s former ‘model pupil’ has been part of the trend. In his 2007 State of the Union Address (the late) President Nestor Kirchner said that the country’s foreign creditors had told him, ‘You must have an agreement with the International Fund to be able to pay the debt. We say to them, ‘Sirs, we are sovereign. We want to pay the debt, but no way in hell are we going to make an agreement again with the IMF.’ As a result the IMF, supremely powerful in the eighties, is no longer a force on the continent. In 2005 Latin America made up 80 percent of the IMF’s total lending portfolio, in 2007 the continent represented just 1 percent – a sea change in only two years. ‘There is life after the IMF,’ Kirchner declared, ‘and it is a good life.’”
Having resisted foreign (and domestic) military control, and foreign (and neoliberal) economic control, the new peril confronting Latin America’s independent governments emanates from the United States’ National Security Agency’s electronic surveillance programs, an insidious new cyber-age method of total social control of the most private and intimate spaces of their lives – and identities, their minds, destroying their capacity to forge networks of solidarity and obtain the information crucial to their understanding and critical thinking, without which they are vulnerable to being reduced to the condition of the “zombies” (so popular in Hollywood’s movie narrative), rendering them confused, docile, easily herded, subjugated, ultimately exploited and enslaved. This surveillance is tantamount to imposing total individual and societal control, which is a stealthy form of isolation, a form of psychological and intellectual solitary confinement, one of the cruelest forms of torture, which ultimately leads to the disintegration of the human personality, within an invisible prison.
This condition is described by the American Civil Liberties Union, and quoted in Charles Savage’s August 8 report to The New York Times:
“Hints of the surveillance appeared in a set of rules, leaked by Mr. Snowden, for how the NSA may carry out the 2008 FISA law. One paragraph mentions that the agency ‘seeks to acquire communications about the target that are not to or from the target.’ The pages were posted online by the newspaper The Guardian on June 20, but the telltale paragraph, the only rule marked ‘Top Secret’ amid 18 pages of restrictions, went largely overlooked amid other disclosures…. While the paragraph hinting at the surveillance has attracted little attention, the American Civil Liberties Union did take note of the ‘about the target’ language in a June 21 post analyzing the larger set of rules, arguing that the language could be interpreted as allowing ‘bulk collection of international communications, including those of Americans’…. Jameel Jaffer, a senior lawyer at the ACLU said Wednesday that such ‘dragnet surveillance will be poisonous to the freedoms of inquiry and association’ because people who know that their communications will be searched will change their behavior. ‘They’ll hesitate before visiting controversial web sites, discussing controversial topics or investigating politically sensitive questions. Individually, these hesitations might appear to be inconsequential, but the accumulation of them over time will change citizens’ relationship to one another and to the government.’”
The infrastructure for de facto fascist police state and military control is being established under the guise of counterterrorism, (as, earlier, similar fascist states were established under the guise of fighting communism) a phenomena Latin America recognizes and knows from horrific historic experience. And their historic memory of this has not yet been expunged: indeed, many of the leaders of Latin America today were earlier imprisoned and tortured only a few decades ago under such fascist police and military states (established ostensibly in the name of anti-communism), including Chile’s former, and possibly future President Michelle Bachelet, Brazil’s President Dilma Roussef, Argentina’s late President Nestor Kirchner, and the world famous father of Argentina’s Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, the late Jacobo Timerman, imprisoned and tortured for two years during the Argentine military dictatorship’s “dirty war.” No doubt, Uruguay ’s President Jose Mujica well remembers those horrors, and Chile ’s former President Ricardo Lago spent considerable time in prison during the Pinochet dictatorship.
Patino Aroca, Foreign Minister of Ecuador, next delivered, at the August 6 Security Council meeting, one of the great speeches in United Nations history.
“During the recent summit of the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR) that took place on 12 July in Montevideo, the States convened resolved to ‘request Argentina to submit the matter of the massive espionage case uncovered by Edward Snowden for consideration by the Security Council.’ They also resolved to ‘demand that those responsible for those actions immediately cease therefrom and provide explanations of their motivations and their consequences.’ In similar terms, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America spoke at the last Guayaquil summit which was held just five days ago, when it was decided to ‘warn the international community about the seriousness of these actions, which imply a threat to the security and peaceful coexistence among our States”…
“Just a few weeks ago the world saw a sequence of events more akin to a Cold War spy novel than to modern times. On 5 June, leaks began to appear in publications in major global media outlets, leaks that were mixed with almost deathly intent and unspooled as a reality show before global public opinion. The leaks came from a former 29-year-old American analyst who sought to escape deportation to his country, where he would be tried for those leaks. After a journey that began in Hong Kong and was supposed to end in Latin America, today, it seems to have stopped, but it may not have completely run its course, despite the granting of asylum by Russia.”
“During those few days in June we saw the size and the discretional nature of a massive surveillance apparatus that suddenly brought all the inhabitants of the planet closer than ever to an Orwellian nightmare. Although at first it appeared to be a simple matter of wiretapping, it was later discovered that there was discretionary monitoring of e-mails. While it seemed initially that the apparatus was being used in operations against organized crime, later we learned that it was also being used to gain advantage in trade negotiations with other countries. If we once thought that they were simply looking at unaffected States, we now know that everyone — absolutely everyone, debtors and creditors, friends and enemies, South and North – is considered a usual suspect by the authorities of the United States of America. Now we know that our communications are permanently monitored by them.”
“No one knows yet if Mr. Snowden will once again manage to leak information that he claims to possess. Of course, it seems that he will not do it when he is in Russia. In any case, the wounds opened by those events should be assessed within the main multilateral forums. They deserve to be so because not only do they reflect an unacceptable imbalance in the global governance system, which in no case would help to build a climate of trust and cooperation between countries, and, in the final analysis, a climate of peace among nations. They deserve to be assessed because we have also moved dangerously close to the limits set out by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
“The imbalances to which I refer are clear – the United States, like any other countries, has the need to deal with demands related to its national security, it goes without saying, but those legitimate demands must be dealt with in a way that does not affect the rights of individuals or indeed the sovereignty of other nations. That is to say, limits must be set. However, we are now faced with the fact that any limits there may have been have vanished. The national security of the United States has been placed above all universal moral values.”
“Such a drive has meant that the principles of equality and non-interference in the affairs of States, established in the Westphalia peace agreement, have now vanished into thin air. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been violated. The rights to the privacy of correspondence – article 12 – and to freedom of expression and opinion – article 19 – the rights of all citizens of the world, including United States citizens, have been trampled in the name of a greater goal, that is, national security – or rather, for the sake of the profits of the national security industry.”
“What are the limits, really? Has the time not come for the Council to take up this question again and discuss it? In the end, does this not pose a threat to global peace? What mutual trust could possibly exist among nations under such circumstances? We believe that the time has come for the United Nations to face up to this matter responsibly.”
“As we have seen with the disappearance of such limits, this situation threatens to build walls between our countries. If it has not done so already, it could also affect international cooperation against organized crime; strangely enough, there is even the possibility that trade negotiations could be disrupted. Paradoxically, even the very national security of the United States will suffer from the increase in global mistrust generated by massive espionage.”
“The events to which I have referred have also revealed other very disturbing realities. To start off with, it has re-ignited the debate on the right of asylum, which all human beings have, as enshrined in international law, as well as the ability of any sovereign state to grant it. This is a right that is granted to avoid fear of political persecution; its legitimacy can only be determined by the country granting it. Let us also remember its peaceful and humanitarian nature, which cannot in any case be described as unfriendly towards any other State, as established in General Assembly resolution 2312 (XXII) on territorial asylum. I should also quote Ms. Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, on the case at hand: ‘Snowden’s case has shown the need to protect persons disclosing information on matters that have implications for human rights, as well as the importance of ensuring respect for the right to privacy.’”
“Leaders who should be giving explanations and facing up to the debate on the limits of what we are discussing, have instead launched a crusade against the right to asylum – a full-on diplomatic offensive against countries that have taken to the global stage to show interest in such an important case. States in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) have been under pressure, simply because they are considering a request for asylum. All those countries have signed the 1954 Caracas Convention on Territorial Asylum, which is perhaps one of the most important instruments of the Inter-American human rights system.”
“The day the United States signs that treaty – even the day it ratifies the San Jose pact, one of the foundations of the Inter-American system of human rights – we will be closer to seeing that country adhere to the Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties, and it will become a part of a group of equal nations, committed to complying with international law.”
“Instead of joining this group, we find ourselves with a country that prefers to lunge forwards and blame the messenger in order to cloud the message. The final result was that a group of countries decided to endanger the life of the President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, forcing him and his entourage to make an emergency landing in violation of international norms governing respectful relations among nations.”
“It is not the revelation of the offence that threatens the climate of understanding among nations, it is the offence itself. In a fragile world where armed conflicts are barely affected by international pressure, such actions do not help generate trust but tension.”
“I would like to conclude with two comments.”
“First, the Government of Ecuador fully supports the request of the Bolivian Government that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights conduct an exhaustive investigation into the unjustifiable treatment suffered by President Evo Morales Ayma during his trip from Moscow to La Paz.”
“Secondly, massive global, discretionary and unlimited surveillance must stop. It is for the Security Council to urgently make that demand of one of its permanent members, since, theoretically, it is up to this body to maintain peace on our planet. That, too, is the demand of Latin America, a zone of peace that, through organizations such as MERCOSUR and ALBA, has demanded an end to those practices. It is also required by the spirit of coexistence, which inspired the drafting of the Charter of the United Nations. It is also the appeal of billions of people in the world who understand that any action that aims to ensure the security of a country has its limits, which are the human rights of everyone on the planet.”
The representative of the United States, Mr. DeLaurentis replied:
“Let me address an issue unrelated to our debate that was raised earlier today, namely, the United States efforts to prevent terrorism and the recent disclosure of classified information about techniques we use to do that. All Governments do things that are secret: it is a fact of modern governing and a necessity in the light of the threats all our citizens face. Our counter-Terrorism policy is ultimately about saving people’s lives, which is why the United States works with other countries to protect our citizens and those of other nations from many threats. All nations should be concerned about the damage these disclosures can cause to our ability to collectively defend against those threats.”
Contradicting this assertion, a senior United States intelligence official said, regarding the ‘about the target’ surveillance that it “was difficult to point to any particular terrorist plot that would have been carried out if the surveillance had not taken place.” He said it was one tool among many used to assemble a ‘mosaic’ of information in such investigations. “The surveillance was used for other types of foreign-intelligence collection, not just terrorism investigations,” the official said. This admission that this surveillance is not limited to preventing terrorism is the most damning indictment of the secrecy of the program.
The American people, whose taxes pay for these programs, have an inalienable right to know what are the “other” uses to which these surveillance programs are being put, in their name. Powerfully refuting any contention that these surveillance activities are for the purpose of preventing terrorism is the testimony of United States Senator, Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, who said he had been shown a classified list of “terrorist events” detected through surveillance, and it did not show that ‘dozens or even several terrorist plots’ had been thwarted by the domestic program. “If this program if not effective, it has to end. So far I’m not convinced by what I’ve seen,” Senator Leahy said, denouncing ‘the massive privacy implications’ of keeping records of every American’s domestic calls.
What really is the purpose of this NSA program of global surveillance? Failing to significantly thwart terrorist activity, it must have an ultimate purpose. The possibilities are terrifying. The hysterical, desperate and deadly determination to arrest Snowden suggests that he may have uncovered something further, something so illegal that the authors of such crimes will not hesitate to endanger the very lives they claim to be protecting, in order to prevent exposure. The frantic orchestration of the actions endangering the life of the President of Bolivia makes this conclusion unavoidable.
The August 6 Security Council meeting under the Presidency of Argentina re-enforced the credibility of the United Nations. The Government of Argentina and her courageous sister nations of Latin America have thrown down the gauntlet on behalf of the majority of the citizens of this planet.
- Argentine President Urges Re-think of UN Security Council (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Mercosur complains to Ban Ki-moon on US global espionage and EU affront towards Bolivia’s Evo Morales (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Analysis from National Endowment for Democracy Used in The Atlantic, with Significant Errors and Omissions
This month, readers of The Atlantic were treated to a lengthy article documenting alarming threats to democracy in certain Latin American countries with progressive and leftist heads of government. The piece, written by Kurt Weyland and titled “Why Latin America is Becoming Less Democratic,” is riddled with significant errors and mischaracterizations. Perhaps even worse, editors at The Atlantic didn’t make clear that the article was first published in a “journal” that is funded by the U.S. government.
The original article was published in the Journal of Democracy, which has long focused on providing analysis to justify U.S. government intervention abroad. The Journal of Democracy is an official publication of the National Endowment for Democracy’s (NED) International Forum for Democratic Studies. Although nominally a “nongovernmental” organization, the NED receives most of its funding from the U.S. Congress. In 1991, Allen Weinstein, who helped found and then became the NED’s acting president, told the Washington Post, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA” .
Some examples of the NED’s work include using U.S. government resources to fund groups and individuals involved in the short-lived 2002 coup d’état in Venezuela, and two years later funding organizers of the recall effort against then-president Hugo Chávez. One of the NED’s core grantees is the International Republican Institute, which played a major role in overthrowing the democratically-elected government of Haiti in 2004.
These are just a few examples that highlight the NED’s disreputable history in Latin America, which would take far more space than a blog post to tell. While it clearly would have been worth noting the source of the article, the article itself is full of both factual errors and egregious mischaracterizations. To keep this post brief, I’ll only review a few of the most egregious errors here.
- Weyland writes: “Since the third wave reached Latin America in 1978, the region had seen only occasional threats and temporary interruptions of democracy in individual nations.”
This statement is only reasonable if one completely ignores the U.S. government’s role in the region, which constituted a threat to democracy that was neither “temporary” nor limited to “individual nations.” Throughout the 1980s, the U.S. conducted a massive and well-organized campaign, especially in Central America, using Cold War pretexts to install and support leaders who would foster favorable conditions for U.S. business interests.
In Nicaragua, the campaign involved massive illegal military aid to the contra paramilitary forces who used those weapons to kill health care workers, teachers and elected officials in their fight against the democratically-elected Sandinista government, bringing condemnation from the World Court, as well as Amnesty International, Americas Watch and other human rights groups and international bodies.
At the same time, the U.S.-backed Guatemalan General José Efraín Ríos Montt, massacred and tortured the people of Guatemala — with U.N. estimates indicating over 200,000 were killed or disappeared in acts of genocide. The same Cold War premise of fighting “communists” was used to justify large-scale atrocities in El Salvador and Honduras. Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, the U.S. supported brutal dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Haiti, Brazil, and other countries, and militarily invaded Grenada (1983) and Panama (1989). More recently, of course, the U.S. supported coups in Venezuela, Honduras and Haiti.
It could not be more clear that democracy in Latin America is threatened and actually has been compromised on many occasions by the U.S.’s foreign policy, especially in the post-1978 period that Weyland names. Rewriting history to minimize and erase these events serves the interests of the U.S. government, so it is perhaps no surprise that publications like the Journal of Democracy carry out this work diligently, but when government propaganda makes its way into independent publications like The Atlantic without comment, it is cause for alarm, especially when there are numerous factual errors.
- Weyland writes that “Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina (2007-), whose fervent supporters take inspiration from Chávez, is eyeing constitutional changes and renewed reelection.”
Fact check: President Cristina Fernández has not said anything to this effect. She has proposed constitutional amendments focused on reforms to the judiciary, and she has already addressed the Argentine congress specifically, saying that she is not planning to pursue reforms that would allow her to run for a third consecutive term. Weyland would be right in noting that some of her supporters floated the idea of a third term, but Weyland’s claim as written is simply not true. If this seems like a minor point, consider that Honduran ex-president Manuel Zelaya’s support for a non-binding referendum on a constituent assembly was misreported in the media as a bid to extend his presidency and was used as a justification for his removal both within Honduras and internationally. Weyland perpetuates this myth, saying that Zelaya “was stopped” before he could “boost the presidency’s powers and pave the way toward indefinite reelection to that office.” By presenting the coup that removed Zelaya as an event that forestalled a nondemocratic turn, in particular saying nothing about events following the coup, much of Weyland’s argument supposedly in favor of democracy in Latin America is rendered moot.
- “That Venezuela had already fallen under nondemocratic rule was confirmed in October 2012 by Chávez’s unfair reelection, achieved with the help of intimidation tactics, tight restrictions on the opposition, and the massive misuse of the state apparatus.”
The 2012 elections in Venezuela were declared free and fair by election accompanying groups and by monitors such as the Carter Center, which noted that “the whole opposition leadership, including, most importantly, Capriles himself, unequivocally reject those claims [of election fraud favoring Chávez], stating that the results reflected the will of the electorate.” Journalists and human rights watchers monitoring the electoral process praised the system while giving detailed reports about what they saw.
- “With its electoral façade and progressive rhetoric about helping the excluded, the soft authoritarianism that is taking hold in parts of Latin America has an attractive face.”
In sweeping statements such as this one, Weyland casts doubt on both the electoral victories and the policies of progressive and left governments in Latin America. He suggests that the people’s will is not represented in the official outcomes of national elections, and even if left-wing politicians seem popular that is because they trick and/or intimidate citizens and do not deliver on promises to the poor and other disenfranchised sectors of society.
Actually, these are not elections whose legitimacy is seriously questioned by any but those on the extreme right. And the implication that progressive and left governments are limiting their policies to “progressive rhetoric,” is absurd. The overall trend in the countries that have elected progressive and left leaders has been the enactment of policy alternatives to neoliberalism, and their effect has been large reductions in income inequality, a reduction in poverty, and provision of health care, education and important services to many people who previously could not access them. These policies have included reforming and regulating the financial sector in Ecuador, investing oil profits into social missions in Venezuela, and successfully managing a large financial crisis and debt default in Argentina — resulting in only one quarter of negative economic growth followed by nine years of some of the highest growth in the region.
Weyland’s reference to an “electoral façade” betrays the central goal of the NED: what sociologist William Robinson refers to as “promoting polyarchy.” As opposed to experiments in direct democracy occurring on various levels in countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia, the NED ultimately promotes only representative forms of democracy, or polyarchy. In Robinson’s definition, this is “a system in which a small group actually rules, and mass participation in decision-making is confined to choosing leaders in elections that are carefully managed by competing elites.” In Venezuela, Chávez’s Bolivarian project did away with a polyarchic system, and across much of the continent NED-backed parties and candidates have failed in election after election. When Washington’s candidates don’t win, often the elections are depicted as illegitimate and sometimes the electoral process is attacked – as seen with the most recent Venezuelan election, or with the U.S.’ interference, via the OAS, in Haiti’s last presidential election.
- “As soon as [Chávez] was elected president of Venezuela, he set about revamping the country’s institutional framework. First, he called a constituent assembly.”
Weyland’s claims here come after stating that “graver and more sustained danger is coming from the leftist variant” of populism than the rightist version, but is the Venezuelan constituent assembly really evidence of anti-democratic tendencies? No again. Calling for a constituent assembly was exactly what Venezuelans elected Chávez to do. Ending the ossified political arrangement known as “Punto Fijo” – in which political parties routinely alternated in and out of power – and calling a constituent assembly were key campaign promises he made ahead of the 1998 elections. Chávez was fulfilling his campaign promises– a much more infrequent phenomenon in the U.S.
- “[Ecuadorean president Rafael] Correa also seized on a 2010 police rebellion—painted by him as a coup attempt—as a pretext for cracking down on independent social and political forces.”
Many observers both in and outside of Ecuador characterize the events of September 30, 2010 as an attempted coup d’état: after assaulting him with tear gas, rebelling police officers later held the president hostage in the hospital where he was being treated. The coup attempt was condemned as such by presidents and representatives of UNASUR, foreign dignitaries such as the president of Spain, and the OAS. Weyland and The Journal of Democracy may be taking the U.S. government’s line, one of the few countries that declined to recognize the events as a coup attempt, even though then-Secretary of State Clinton did issue a statement in expressing “our full support for President Rafael Correa.”
- “Bypassing or subjugating intermediate institutions such as firmly organized parties, the leader—often a charismatic figure—establishes face-to-face contact with large number of citizens. In earlier decades, mass rallies were crucial; now-a-days, television allows populists to reach their followers ‘in person.’ Chávez hosted a regular Sunday talk show.”
Calling for respect of “firmly organized parties” in Venezuela in the context of Chávez’s rise in politics obscures that one of the central political problems in Venezuela during the 90s was deep distrust in the main political parties and their “Punto Fijo” arrangement, which Robinson describes as a polyarchic system.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that President Obama has a weekly address on YouTube, and yet he is not derided as an illegitimate president because of his use of social media. Presidents and major politicians all over the world have Twitter and Facebook accounts that they use to communicate with constituents, and many even make appearances on talk shows. Is such “face-to-face contact” somehow nefarious?
- “In Bolivia, the Morales government shut the opposition out of decisive stages of the constitution drafting process.”
Weyland is again telling only half the story, which in this case is worse than none. The truth is that opposition legislators boycotted stages of the constitution drafting process because they disagreed with the direction in which things were going. Bolivia had elected its first indigenous president, with massive support from the country’s social movements, and he was facilitating a transformation of society to one in which a racial minority and tiny elite did not wield power over the majority of Bolivians. Evo Morales’s election drew comparisons to the symbolic end of apartheid in South Africa with the election of Nelson Mandela, and the new constitution was compared to the Freedom Charter.
It is not surprising that extreme elements in the opposition boycotted the process of installing a new constitution that cemented the rights of the indigenous majority, and it is misleading to describe these events as a “populist” power-grab.
This has been a brief review of some major claims that Weyland uses in arguing his point, namely that “democracy in the region is facing a sustained, coordinated authoritarian threat” from the progressive and left governments in Latin America. I have detailed not only mischaracterizations and significant omissions, but also argued for more independence in the practice of journalism. One of the responsibilities of a well-functioning press is to clearly indicate when articles are reused from sources funded mostly by the U.S. government.
 Ignatius, David. “Innocence Abroad: The New World of Spyless Coups.” The Washington Post. Sep 22, 1991: C1. Print.
- Laughing at Snowden’s Asylum Requests (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Washing U.S. Hands of the Dirty Wars: News Coverage Erases Washington’s Role in State Terror (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Bolivian president Evo Morales today inaugurated the first factory for coca-based products, highlighting their health benefits and medicinal uses.
The new plant, opened in a suburb of La Paz, will process around 75,000 tonnes of coca leaf a year to make drinkable infusions, such as coca mate and teas.
Coca cultivation is illegal is much of world, but permitted in Bolivia. In January the UN agreed to exempt Bolivia from its 1961 ruling to criminalise the coca leaf, one that Morales called a “historic error“.
“It’s good for me,” said Morales of chewing the coca leaf at the inauguration of the new factory. “Many people are fighting diabetes with coca – that has been proven.” The president also pointed to a Harvard University investigation from the 1990s that found considerable health benefits could be derived from eating coca.
The factory will be administered by the Association of Coca Producers (Adepcoca), and was built with support from the national and city governments, as well as the EU.
Morales added that he would present the coca products to his Ecuadorian counterpart Rafael Correa on the fringes of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) summit to see about exporting the goods.
Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia are the world’s principal coca producers.
- Brand Bolivia: The Coca Campaign (brandopia.typepad.com)
- No Love For McDonald’s In Globalization-Wary Bolivia (mintpressnews.com)
- The Cocaleros and the rise of Evo Morales (gtsociology.wordpress.com)
This essay will explore the impact that the Cocaleros and Evo Morales have had on Bolivia over the recent history. The impact of the Cocaleros will be shown in their central role in establishing a platform for Morales to rise to prominence on. Morales’s impact will be explored through examination of specific changes enacted in his time as President, specifically establishing a new constitution, reforming extraction of Bolivia’s vast gas reserves and reforms related to the coca plant. To begin certain contextual factors of Morales’s changes will be established.
Bolivia’s history is one of exploitation, whether it be the colonial Spanish exploitation of the vast silver deposits of Potosi’s Cerro Rico in the Sixteenth Century, or the exploitation of the vast natural gas reserves by multinational corporations (MNCs) throughout the late 1980s and 1990s (Artaraz, 2012). The historically continuous exploitation of Bolivia’s vast natural resource wealth has been felt by the Bolivian people as a lack of sovereignty (Dangl, 2007; Artaraz, 2012). Politics in Bolivia since the foundation of the republic in 1825 has proved difficult (Dunkerley, 2007). An incomplete revolution in 1952 was defeated by a military coup in 1964, by 1982 democracy had formally been re-established, however political power was concentrated in the hands of a minority elite, unrepresentative of the vast majority of Bolivians (Dunkerley, 2007; Morales, 2011; Artaraz, 2012). In response to the unrepresentativeness and corruption that was characteristic of Bolivian politics, especially since 1982, the general attitude of the population to politics was one of dissolution. However, the international perception of Bolivian politics during the 1990s was excellent, Bolivia was seen as a shinning example of neoliberalism, it had opened itself up to MNCs, it had low public spending and it was conforming to US War on Drugs through eradication of the coca crop (Dunkerley, 2007; Klein, 2011). This being said there has always been a strong thread of resistance running through Bolivian society. Emblematic of this until the 1980s were strong trade unions, particularly mining unions, however the closure of tin mines and the loss of over 20,000 jobs in 1985 wrought huge destruction (Dangl, 2007; Klein, 2011). The mining union’s loss was the Cocaleros’ gain as many newly unemployed miners moved east to the Chapare region and took their unionising skills with them (Artaraz, 2012).
The movement of miners to the coca growing area of El Chapare proved hugely significant for Bolivia. The miner’s background in unions helped structure the organisations of Cocaleros and their resistance to law 1008 and the eradication efforts of the government (Crabtree, 2005). The government stepped up eradication policy in 1997 with President Hugo Banzer advocating a ‘zero coca’ policy (Crabtree, 2005, p. 38). Not only attempting to defend their livelihoods the resistance of the Cocaleros was hugely symbolic for two reasons. One, the resistance represented a defence of a traditional Andean symbol – the coca leaf which has been a central symbol of Andean culture for centuries, and two, the fight against US imperialism and defence of Bolivian sovereignty (Crabtree, 2005; Dangl, 2007; Artaraz, 2012). It was through the organisation of the Cocaleros’ resistance that Evo Morales came to prominence, he rose up to become the leader of the largest Cocaleros union (Crabtree, 2011; Artaraz, 2012). The resistance of the Cocaleros transformed into active political participation throughout the 1990s, with a key moment coming in 1994 with the ‘Law of Popular Participation’ (PPL) (Artaraz, 2012, p. 46) being enacted. PPL decentralised power to newly created municipalities, which provided a base for limited representation of local groups (Klein, 2011; Artaraz, 2012). In 1995 the Cocaleros joined with other indigenous social movements to create the ‘Political tool for Sovereignty of Common People (IPSP)’ (Dangl, 2007, p.49). The established political parties and the electoral commission denied recognition of the IPSP as a political party and so the IPSP took on the name of MAS (Movement for Socialism) in 1999 to be able to stand for election (Dangl 2007; Harten, 2011). The notion of a political tool as was the IPSP and MAS is crucial as it demonstrates the bottom-up design of MAS; the primacy of the social movements that make it up – it is for their use, not for politicians (Harten, 2011). MAS is a tool to use not to be used by. The first leader was Evo Morales.
Despite MAS and Morales’s lineage being directly traceable to the Cocaleros, since coming to power in 2005 they have widened their base to include all social and indigenous movements, as well as trying to curry favour with the urban middle class (Harten, 2011). Morales’s skill as a leader, and a central plank of MAS’s electoral success, is his ability to galvanise and shape a vast array of indigenous and social protest movements into a unified political project (Salman, 2007). Like the miner’s influence in organising the Cocaleros, Morales and MAS have taken the general anger and dissatisfaction of a wide array of social/indigenous protest movements and formed them into a coherent political articulation (Salman, 2007).
A key election pledge made by Morales before his victory in 2005 was to write a new constitution to enshrine the rights of the indigenous people of Bolivia, who despite making up the vast majority of the population  have been marginalised in Bolivian politics, and Bolivia in general throughout the country’s history (Artaraz, 2012). The new constitution, which was ratified in January 2009, casts Bolivia as a ‘plurinational’ state (Republica de Bolivia, 2009 in Albro, 2010, p. 78). The plurinational characterisation of the state highlights the rise in stature indigenous groups have experienced alongside the rise of Morales to the Presidency (Albro, 2010; Assies, 2011; Artaraz, 2012). A symbolic – as well as practical – codification of the new constitution is the classification of the coca leaf as not a drug in its natural form, the protection of this central symbol of Andean culture is also a direct challenge to US classification (Assies, 2011). Another strengthening of the legal recognition of indigenous people is shown in the codification of Andean ethics – ‘ama qhilla, ama llulla, ama suwa (don’t be lazy, don’t lie, and don’t be a thief)’ (Assies, 2011, p. 112); the new Bolivian constitution is not just a document to rule by, it is a document to live by – crucially an Andean indigenous life. The representation of indigenous groups by the constitution is also reflected in Morales himself as he straddles the two most prominent indigenous identities, the Aymara and the Quechua (Crabtree, 2011); his family background is Aymara, but he grew up within a Quechuan area and so is a potent figure for the raised stature of Bolivia’s indigenous population. Whilst physically embodying the indigenous identities of Bolivia, Morales’s politics are also of an indigenous nature, which can be classified as ‘sindicato democracy’ (Conzelman, 2010, p. 5). This is a democracy typified by high levels of direct community accountability; a focus on consensus; individual responsibility to the community; subordination of the individual to the community; economics that work for the community (Conzelman, 2010). The sindicato democracy of Morales, in the language of the liberal democratic tradition he has widened and strengthened the public sphere, he has established a non-exclusionary public sphere, he has empowered civil society (Fraser, 1997; Albro, 2010; Conzelman, 2010; Artaraz, 2012). As noted above, there has always been a strong theme of resistance in Bolivian politics, occurring within civil society, but the codification of indigenous rights within the new constitution has undoubtedly strengthened civil society (Assies, 2011). The pre-eminence of indigenous identity in the new constitution evidences the strengthening of sovereignty of Bolivia, it also points to the reclamation of Bolivia for Bolivians, what Postero (2010, p.19) has called ‘indigenous nationalism’, which is emblematic of Morales’s political project.
A significant sign of Morales’s impact since coming to power can be seen in the nationalisation of Bolivia’s vast reserves of natural gas (Kaup, 2010; Sivak, 2011). However this was not a total/traditional nationalisation, but a renegotiation of contracts between the state and MNCs (Kohl, 2010; Sivak, 2011). The state raised taxation and royalties charged to the companies from 18 per cent to 50 per cent, and in some particularly significant gas fields to 82 per cent for a short time, this initial extra rise was in order to recapitalise the state’s gas company YPFB (Kaup, 2010). What this demonstrates then is not a full or traditional nationalisation, but a significant imposition of the state within the economy – state capitalism rather than full socialism. The profits derived from the renegotiated contracts have been channelled into social welfare programmes such as education and health care (Kohl, 2010; Kaup, 2010; Crabtree, 2011).
The semi-nationalisation of gas, and the increased role of the state within the economy, points to the sindicato style of Morales’s political project. In this sense the economy is seen to work for the nation, profit for the community rather than individual profit. There has been criticism of this approach both from the left and right (Kaup, 2010). From the left are claims that Morales has not gone far enough, and that Bolivian gas should be totally nationalised (Kohl. 2010; Kaup, 2010). Bolivia’s contract with Brazil, which relies on Bolivian gas for up to 50 per cent of its total consumption, stipulates that 65 per cent of all daily Bolivian production be sent to Brazil (La Razón, 2007 in Kaup, 2010). Critics on the right claim that the sharp rise in rents charged by the State will discourage new investment and stifle current work, similar criticism is levelled at the use of the revenue for social programmes, arguing for its re-investment in the gas industry (Kaup, 2010). This demonstrates the tightrope that Morales must walk and his pragmatism in walking it. Regardless of criticism of Morales’s semi-nationalisation of gas, it has undoubtedly increased Bolivian sovereignty over one of its key natural resources and reduced the exploitation of the country by foreign actors; it has also greatly increased social welfare programmes that are vital in reducing social inequalities.
Another example of Morales’s pragmatism and the unique middle way between capitalism and socialism is the codification of private property and land laws set out in the 2009 constitution. Protection of private property is conditional on it having a ‘social-economic function’ (Assies, 2011, p. 115). Property must work for society, again evidencing the shift in relationship between the nation/civil society and the economy. Unlike in the neoliberal ideology where the economy is predominant to all other sectors of society, a predominance which is based upon the ultimate protection of private property and the rule of law, the social function required of private property in the 2009 Bolivian constitution predominates the social over the economic/legal (Plant, 2010; Wolff, 2013). In short the social-economic function demanded of private property points to a central theme of change under Morales, the subordination of the ‘rule of law’ to ‘the rule of the people’ (Wolff, 2013, p. 46). This subordination is unsurprising as it follows the logic of sindicato democracy. The fundamental nature of Bolivian politics has changed since Morales’s came to power. Under his Presidency the country has seen a diminishing of liberal political traits and a rise of what Wolff (2013) calls ‘post-liberal democracy’ (p.31), or as has been the case throughout the text sindicato democracy. The decline in the institutional role of traditional political organs such as the executive, judiciary ect. is reflected in the rise of participation outside of institutional boundaries seen in mobilisations rather than institutional participation through traditional methods – joining a political party (Wolff, 2013). To put it simply the post-liberal/sindicato democracy stemming from Morales’s rule is a much raw-er, more direct and less institutionally confined form of governance.
Whilst certainly not traditionally socialist, the political project embarked upon by Morales since his rise through the coca unions is one that can be characterised by its anti-neoliberal, perceptibly anti-American imperialistic neoliberalism (Sivak, 2011). Bolivia now does not receive any new loans from either the IMF or the World Bank, a sign of the rejection of the neoliberal conditions that these loans are based on and increased sovereignty of the country (Dangl, 2007; Sivak, 2011). A specific example of the rejection of American led policy, outside of the change in approach to coca growing, is seen in Morales’s decision to leave the ‘Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)’ (Sivak, 2011, p. 145) which is a free trade agreement used by the US to exercise influence and stifle the growth of regional trade blocs that could potentially damage US business interests in the area. Relatedly Bolivia’s joining of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) and the People’s Trade Agreement (PTA) with Cuba and Venezuela can be seen to represent – in one instance – anti-American/anti-neoliberal policies (Dangl, 2007; Sivak, 2011). The PTA is a good example of the sindicato theme of Morales in that it is based on mutually beneficial trade, something that cannot be said of FTAA (Dangl, 2007).
Morales’s close link to coca has had a key structuring effect on his politics. Whilst rising to a position of power through the coca grower’s unions, since becoming President he has pursued a surprising policy approach to coca (Dangl, 2007; Sivak, 2011; Artaraz, 2012). His approach may be taken as another example of his pragmatism, or the reformist nature of Morales and MAS as opposed to revolutionary (Webber, 2010). On the one hand Morales has been sympathetic to his Cocaleros roots in that he has codified coca as not a drug, in its natural form, in the 2009 constitution (Assies, 2011). Morales has greatly expanded the internal, legal, market for coca, which has greatly benefited small farmers as it has widened their platform to sell their crops (Dangl, 2007; Kohl, 2010). Eradication initiatives whilst still in place have been qualitatively changed, no longer are they violent and forced but are now voluntary and achieved through social control when a farmer grows over the 1,600m2legal limit (Dangl, 2007; Sivak, 2011). The change in the nature of eradication has vastly reduced the violence in the El Chapare region (Dangl, 2007). However, it is the fact that eradication efforts are still in place that has surprised many. Morales has focused his anti-coca policy on combating coca farming for cocaine production, but despite this the US since the Bush administration has continued to withhold certification of Bolivia as an ally in the War on Drugs (Sivak, 2011). Most significantly, despite winning consecutive elections with an increased majority, Morales has not repealed law 1008, the US-backed drug laws that have been shown to disproportionately affect small scale farmers as opposed to growers of coca for cocaine (Crabtree, 2005; Dangl, 2007).
Whilst not impacting as significantly as expected on coca laws, Morales has undeniably impacted on Bolivia. A concrete manifestation of his impact is the 2009 constitution, which primarily codified the rights of indigenous people, it has raised their stature in the country and it is hard to envisage it ever declining. The nature of democracy has changed vastly; Morales has overseen a drastic shift from neoliberalism to Andean sindicato democracy, which has reversed the dominance of the economy and put civil society, the citizens in charge. The empowering of the nation is also clearly seen in the semi-nationalisation of Bolivia’s gas reserves, and the new mutually beneficial trade alliances with other Latin American countries. The exploitation that has characterised Bolivian history since it’s colonisation is rapidly declining. Morales has facilitated ownership of Bolivia for Bolivians and is a shinning example of the strengthening of indigenous people.
This essay has traced the impact of the Cocaleros and Evo Morales on Bolivia by first establishing context. The impact of the Cocaleros was seen in that it was here that Morales began to climb the ladder to presidency. The Cocaleros were also crucial to the formation of MAS, which has now become the dominant force in Bolivian politics. Morales’s impact has been specifically outlined in the reforms to the gas contracts, the change enacted in coca eradication, the writing of a new constitution, and a fundamental change to the nature of Bolivian politics. Whilst the essay has focused primarily on Morales he would undoubtedly not be where he is today without the Cocaleros organisations, ironically the neoliberalism that has been severely diminished by Morales and MAS played a central factor in strengthening the Cocaleros unions which provided the platform for the progress of MAS and Morales.
Albro, R. (2010) Confounding Cultural Citizenship and Constitutional Reform in Bolivia. Latin American Perspectives. 37 (3) pp: 71 – 90.
Artaraz, K. (2012) Bolivia: Refounding the nation. Pluto Press, London.
Assies, W. (2011) Bolivia’s new constitution and its implications. In: Pearce, A. J. (ed) (2011) Evo Morales and the Movimiento al Socialismo in Bolivia: The first term in context, 2006 – 2010. Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London. pp: 93 – 116.
Conzelman, C. S. (2010) Agrarian Sindicato Democracy and Evo Morales’ new coca leaf politics: An Anthropological Perspective on Bolivian Strategic Culture. Florida International University: Applied Research Centre. [Online] Available: < http://strategicculture.fiu.edu/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=tLdP8tRmruY%3D&tabid=95> Accessed: 18/04/2013.
Crabtree, J. (2005) Patterns of Protest: Politics and Social Movements in Bolivia. Latin American Bureau, London.
Crabtree, J. (2011) Electoral validation for Morales and the MAS (1999 – 2010). In: Pearce, A. J. (ed) (2011) Evo Morales and the Movimiento al Socialismo in Bolivia: The first term in context, 2006 – 2010. Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London. pp: 117 – 142.
Dangl, B. (2007) The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. Ak Press, Edinburgh.
Dunkerley, J. (2007) Evo Morales, the ‘Two Bolivias’ and the Third Bolivian Revolution. Journal of Latin American Studies. 39 (1) pp: 133 – 166.
Fraser, N. (1997) Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the “Postsocialist” Condition. Routledge, London.
Harten, S. (2011) Towards a ‘traditional party’? Internal organisation and change in the MAS in Bolivia. In: Pearce, A. J. (ed) (2011) Evo Morales and the Movimiento al Socialismo in Bolivia: The first term in context, 2006 – 2010. Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London. pp: 63 – 91.
Hylton, F. (2006) The Landslide in Bolivia: Introduction to Alvaro Garcia Linera. New Left Review. 37 pp: 69 – 72.
Kaup, B. Z. (2010) A Neoliberal Nationalisation? The Constraints on Natural-Gas-Led Development in Bolivia. Latin American Perspectives. 37 (3) pp: 123 – 138.
Klein, H. S. (2011) The Historical Background to the rise of MAS, 1952 – 2005. In: Pearce, A. J. (ed) (2011) Evo Morales and the Movimiento al Socialismo in Bolivia: The first term in context, 2006 – 2010. Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London. pp: 27 – 61.
Kohl, B. (2010) Bolivian under Morales: A work in Progress. Latin American Perspectives. 37 (3) pp: 107 – 122.
Morales, W. Q. (2011) From Revolution to Revolution: Bolivia’s National Revolution and the “Re-Founding” Revolution of Evo Morales. Latin Americanist. 55 (1) pp: 131 – 144.
Postero, N. (2010) Morales’s MAS Government: Building Indigenous Popular Hegemony in Bolivia. Latin American Perspectives. 37 (3) pp: 18 – 37.
Plant, R. (2010) The Neo-Liberal State. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Salman, T. (2007) Bolivia and the Paradox of Democratic Consolidation. Latin American Perspectives. 34 (6) pp: 111 – 130.
Sivak, M. (2011) The Bolivianisation of Washington – La Paz relations: Evo Morales’ foreign policy agenda in historical context. In: Pearce, A. J. (ed) (2011) Evo Morales and the Movimiento al Socialismo in Bolivia: The first term in context, 2006 – 2010. Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London. pp: 143 – 173.
Webber, J. R. (2010) Carlos Mesa, Evo Morales, and a divided Bolivia (2003 – 2005). Latin American Perspectives. 37 (3) pp: 51 – 70.
Wolff, J. (2013) Towards Post-Liberal Democracy in Latin America? A Conceptual Framework Applied to Bolivia. Journal of Latin American Studies. 45 (1) pp: 31 – 59.
 Coca farmers
 Passed in 1988, bringing various US influenced anti-drug laws together and setting a maximum area for coca growing (Crabtree, 2005).
 MAS was a defunct party in all but name (Harten, 2011)
 Morales won an unprecedented absolute majority in the Presidential election of December 2005, winning in total 54% of the vote (Hylton, 2006).
 ‘Nearly 62% of its [Bolivia] people are native speakers of an indigenous language’ (INE, 2003; World Bank, 2008 in Postero, 2010, p. 19).
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- Evo Morales: No Need for US Embassy in Bolivia (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Bolivia: New Factory to Make Coca Products for Medicinal Use (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Thirty years ago, the international development community was abuzz with excitement. This was because it appeared that the perfect solution to poverty, exclusion and under-development had finally been found in the form of microcredit. As originally conceived, microcredit is the provision of micro-loans to the poor to allow them to establish a range of income-generating activities, supposedly facilitating an escape from poverty through individual entrepreneurship and self-help. Perhaps nowhere more than in Latin America was the excitement so intense. Stoked by the uplifting claims of Peruvian economist, Hernando de Soto , that a vastly expanded informal economy would prove to be the economic salvation of the continent, the U.S. government through the World Bank and its own aid arm, USAID, along with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), led the charge to establish the microcredit movement as the dominant local intervention to address poverty.
However, the sour reality that Latin America faces today is that all the excitement over microcredit was fundamentally misplaced. As I argue in a recent article [PDF] published in the Mexican journal Ola Financiera, the microcredit movement has likely proved to be one of the most destructive interventions brought to Latin America over the last 30 years. A growing number of Latin American governments and international development agencies are now finally reconsidering their once unconditional support for the microcredit model. So what went wrong? Let me point to a few of the most important problems.
First, the overarching outcome of the microcredit model in Latin America has been an increase in the supply of “poverty-push” informal microenterprises and self-employment ventures. Yet rather than creating a De Soto-esque foundation for rapid growth and poverty reduction, the very worst possible foundation for promoting long-term poverty reduction and sustainable development was created. As economists such as Alice Amsden, Robert Wade and Ha-Joon Chang have convincingly shown, the now wealthy developed countries and the East Asian “miracle” economies found that what is really needed to escape poverty is for the state to engineer an entirely different constellation of the “right” enterprises: that is, enterprises that are formalized, large enough to reap important economies of scale, can innovate, can use new technology, are willing to train their workers, can supply larger enterprises with quality inputs, can facilitate new organizational routines and capabilities, and can eventually export. Economic history shows, too, that financing the expansion of the “wrong” sort of informal microenterprises and self-employment ventures will simply not lead to sustainable development. As Ha-Joon Chang brilliantly points out, Africa has more individual entrepreneurs than perhaps any other location on the planet, and many more are being created all the time thanks to rafts of microcredit programs backed by the developed countries, yet Africa remains in poverty precisely because of this fact. Likewise in Latin America: by programmatically channelling its scarce financial resources (savings and remittances) into informal microenterprises and self-employment ventures, and so away from virtually all other higher-value uses, the continent has actually been progressively destroying its economic base.
Mexico exemplifies the microcredit trap created in Latin America. Its financial institutions have all proved to be adept at channelling their funds into hugely unproductive and all too often temporary informal microenterprises and self-employment ventures – so-called “changarros” – leaving the bulk of potentially growth-oriented, but low profit and high risk, small and medium industrial enterprise projects increasingly without financial support. Over the last two decades this “crowding out” trend has undoubtedly undermined Mexico’s once powerful industrial and technological base.
A very similar story emerged in Bolivia since the 1980s, where the U.S. government-supported push for microcredit has played a not-unimportant role in gradually destroying an economy that was once slowly industrializing under Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI) policies. Essentially, Bolivia’s carefully built-up raft of efficient industrial small and medium-sized enterprises was starved of funding and left to collapse. Resources were instead shifted into promoting the hugely unproductive and no-growth informal microenterprise and self-employment sector, which has, not surprisingly, dramatically expanded in recent years. Today, with nearly 40 percent of Bolivia’s financial resources now independently intermediated into these “wrong” sort of (micro)enterprises, the Bolivian government has its work cut out to try to stop the damaging de-industrialization trajectory underway in the country.
The second key problem with the microcredit model in Latin America arises from the fact that in the neoliberal 1990s it was aggressively commercialized and extensively deregulated. The primary motive for this move was to eradicate all government and international development community subsidies from the world of microcredit. The use of subsidies (typically to maintain low interest rates) was felt to be ideologically suspect by the main U.S.-based international development agencies, and it was also thought to unjustifiably add to the tax burden on business elites. With extensive advice and financial support provided by USAID, Bolivia was turned into the “best practice” example of commercialised microcredit, thanks mainly to BancoSol, the world’s first dedicated commercially-driven microcredit bank. Yet turning microcredit into a for-profit business under minimal regulation has proved to be a singular disaster: spectacularly damaging levels of Wall Street-style greed, profiteering and financial market chaos soon ensued. Microcredit effectively became the developing world’s very own version of the USA ’s sub-prime lending crisis.
In Bolivia, the commercialization of microcredit has been a major development disaster for the poor. First, Bolivia’s scarce financial resources were disastrously shifted into the “wrong” enterprises, as I just pointed out. Commercialization also directly precipitated the “microcredit meltdown” that Bolivia experienced across 1999-2000, an event that inflicted very serious long-term damage on the Bolivian economy. Crucially, however, commercialization has been a massive success for those managing and investing in Bolivia’s microcredit institutions. The elite group of individuals involved in running Bolivia’s main microcredit institutions, famously including BancoSol and its predecessor, PRODEM, have all become very rich indeed. High salaries, bonuses and dividends have been important to those most closely associated with the management and ownership of BancoSol. The first employees in PRODEM, an institution that has its origins as an NGO funded by the international community to “help the local community,” eventually made millions of dollars after they gradually took control of PRODEM and then brazenly sold it off to a Venezuelan bank. We should, of course, not be surprised to find that little trust, respect or solidarity exists between Bolivia’s poor and the microcredit sector supposedly established at great expense to help them.
Mexico’s experience also exemplifies the tremendous damage wrought by the commercialization of microcredit in Latin America. Even more so than in Bolivia , it is not the poor that have been benefitting from the increased supply of microcredit, but a small financial elite that has been quietly profiteering to a simply stupendous extent. Probably the best/worst example here is that of Banco Compartamos, an organization founded in 1990 as an NGO and making extensive use of international donor grant funding. Even with laudable goals written into its founding articles, very early on it became clear that the main intended beneficiaries of Compartamos’s operations were going to be its senior staff. After 2000, for example, the senior staff began to reward themselves with Wall Street-style salaries, bonus packages and cheap internal loans which allowed them to buy shares in Compartamos. Then in 2007, when Compartamos underwent the inevitable IPO, key senior staff really hit the big-time, with a number of them pocketing several tens of millions of dollars when they off-loaded their shares into the market. A number of external investors also made vast fortunes from their shareholdings in Compartamos, notably the Boston-based microcredit advocacy and investor body ACCIÓN, which saw an initial $1 million stake in Compartamos (of which $800,000 was actually a grant to ACCIÓN) rise in value to nearly $270 million. Note also that Compartamos generates the revenues to support such high financial rewards to senior staff by charging as much as 195 percent real interest rates on its microloans to mainly poor Mexican women.
Inevitably, the supply of microcredit has begun to reach its saturation point in Mexico. Compartamos’s growth has been nothing short of dramatic, while many other domestic microcredit institutions have also grown very rapidly. Compartamos has been the world’s most profitable microcredit institution for five of the past six years, and its nearly $100 million dividend payout to investors is now larger than the balance sheets of most other microcredit institutions. With such huge financial rewards made possible by lending to Mexico’s poor, the big profit-hungry international banks, such as Citigroup, have entered the market, clearly adding to the lending frenzy underway. However, real fears exist that Mexico cannot now avoid a destructive sub-prime-like “microcredit meltdown” episode not unlike the one that hit the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh in 2010. Indeed, it is well known that multiple lending to households has begun to reach epidemic proportions in many parts of Mexico, especially in the massively over-supplied state of Chiapas.
Nevertheless, the question remains: has microcredit in Latin America in general, and Compartamos specifically, been helping the poor to escape their poverty? If the answer is broadly positive, then the spectacular financial rewards accruing to the providers of microcredit might be justified to an extent if meaningful benefits are accruing to the recipients – the poor. However, the unpalatable answer to this question is a resoundingly negative one: there is not a shred of real evidence to support the claim that Compartamos’s microcredit activities have played a role in resolving poverty. First consider that a U.K. government-funded study of virtually all previous impact evaluations of microcredit dramatically showed there is no empirical evidence anywhere [PDF] to show that microcredit has had a positive impact on poverty. Even long-standing supporters of microcredit now accept this extremely unpalatable fact.
More specifically, consider the findings of a just-released impact evaluation of Compartamos [PDF], financed by Compartamos itself and centrally involving one of the most high-profile microcredit supporters, professor Dean Karlan, who is based at Yale University in the U.S. In spite of Comapartamos’s huge presence in poor communities across Mexico, and its previous claims to be greatly helping Mexico’s poor, the impact evaluation team could only come up with a tiny amount of evidence of any positive impact arising from its activities. This was bad enough. But this tepid conclusion actually hides a much more disturbing fact, which is that the research team could only manage to arrive at this sliver of good news by effectively refusing to adopt/adapt an evaluation methodology that would capture the most important downsides to the microcredit model. One can only presume that this was felt necessary in order to ensure that they could come up with the required (very limited) positive impact result they later disingenuously claimed to have found, and which allowed Compartamos and other institutions involved to inevitably spin into the specious claim that Compartamos “generally benefits (its) borrowers”.”
Notably, the research team entirely overlooked so-called “displacement” effects – that is, the negative impact on incumbent microenterprises in the same community that lost business and income thanks to waves of new Compartamos-supported microenterprises. With most Mexican communities for a long time adequately served by simple informal microenterprises providing retail and other services to the poor, the arrival of rafts of new microenterprises operating in exactly the same sub-sector will inevitably have precipitated very large displacement effects. But these downside impacts were ignored. The team also failed to factor in the impact of exits, which is when a microenterprise fails – which the vast majority actually do, and usually very quickly – and the hapless individuals involved then have to either divert other funds (pensions, remittances, savings, etc.) to continue to repay their microloan, or else they lose assets lodged as collateral when they are forced into outright default.
But perhaps the most egregious downside impact ignored by the research team relates to the fact that they also chose to examine a very short and unrepresentative time period – introducing microcredit into a community where before there was none. This then allowed them to simply aggregate the short-term results in such virgin territory into a generally upbeat assessment of the longer-term impact. This is utter nonsense. By doing this, the research team chose to ignore, first, the fact that Compartamos has contributed to further inflating Mexico’s already over-blown and massively unproductive “changarros” sector, which a growing number of analysts now accept is creating an existential threat to the Mexican economy. Second, there was also no comment on the huge opportunity cost involved when scarce funds are gradually diverted away from the “right” enterprises. This silence prevailed in spite of the fact that even the neoliberal-oriented IDB had the guts to publicly admit in 2010 that this “crowding out” issue actually lies at the heart of Latin America’s recent history of poverty and exclusion. Third, you will find nothing in this impact evaluation that discusses the over-indebtedness problems that are clearly looming on the horizon for Mexico’s poor communities, and particularly for many of Compartamos’s long-standing clients.
The Latin American economies have all been ill-served by the microcredit model, which has provided, and continues to provide, a serious headwind to those governments in Latin America hoping to escape once and for all from poverty, exclusion and primitivizing development trajectories. That microcredit continues to attract such support today thus needs some explanation. I would argue it is down to two factors. First, the politics and ideology; principally the need by the U.S.-led international development community to ensure that individual entrepreneurship and self-help remain the only potential paths out of poverty for the poor in Latin America, and not the exercise of any form of “collective capabilities” through social movements, trade unions, pro-poor governments, or any other similarly “subversive” intervention that the poor might wish to collectively deploy to escape their poverty, and might even have voted for as part of the “pink tide” of leftist governments. Second, there is the issue of the massive wealth that a tiny financial elite has been able to generate for itself thanks to (over)lending to the poor, and which it is now, quite predictably, unwilling to forego. This wealth has allowed, among other things, for the microcredit industry to aggressively lobby governments, mount massive PR campaigns and effortlessly finance deliberately dodgy impact evaluations, all in order to persuade the key actors in Latin America to continue to support the microcredit model.
All told, Latin American governments urgently need to disentangle themselves from the egregious myths and neoliberal-inspired fantasies surrounding microcredit, and begin to completely re-think their (often imposed) allegiance to what has proved to be an ultimately destructive poverty reduction and local development model.
 Hernando de Soto (1986): El otro sendero: la revolución informal. Lima: ILD
Milford Bateman is a freelance consultant on local economic development and also, since 2005, a Visiting Professor of Economics at Juraj Dobrila at Pula University in Croatia.
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As the international uproar continues over last week’s grounding of Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane in Europe, after U.S. officials apparently suspected whistle-blower Edward Snowden of being on board, many questions remain unanswered about the United States’ role and motives.
But one thing is certain: if the U.S. government was seeking to intimidate Morales and other Latin American leaders who might consider harboring Snowden, its strategy has completely backfired. Instead, the incident has bolstered Morales’s domestic and international standing, consolidated regional unity, and emboldened the bloc of leftist governments that seeks to counter U.S. dominance in the region. It has also dealt a damaging, and potentially fatal, blow to the future of U.S.–Latin American relations under the Obama administration.
The crisis was set off by Morales’s statement on July 2 in Russia, where he was attending an energy conference, that he would be willing to consider a petition by Snowden for asylum. Later that evening, on his return flight to Bolivia, Morales’s plane was denied entry into the airspace of France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, forcing it to make an unscheduled landing in Vienna where it was diverted for 13 hours before receiving clearance to proceed.
In response to Bolivia’s persistent questioning, the four European countries have offered equivocal and somewhat contradictory—if not preposterous—explanations for their actions. France, which has apologized to Morales, says it didn’t realize that the Bolivian president was on the presidential jet. Portugal, originally scheduled as a refueling stop, says its airport wasn’t capable of servicing the plane. Italy now completely denies having closed its airspace.
Spain, after initially attributing the problem to the expiration of its flyover permit during Morales’s unexpected layover in Austria, later admitted that the United States had asked it to block the flight (although the United States has not acknowledged any role in the incident). At first, Spanish officials also claimed that the plane was searched for Snowden in Vienna at the behest of the United States—an action which, if taken without Bolivia’s permission, would constitute a violation of international law even more egregious than the denial of airspace to the presidential jet.
More recently, Spain has insisted (and Bolivia concurs) that it ultimately granted airspace permission upon Bolivia’s written assurance that Snowden was not on board the plane. Spain, which has sought to improve economic relations with Bolivia after being hit hard by Morales’s nationalization of its airport management and electric companies, has also offered to apologize.
The apparent willingness of four European governments to put U.S. interests ahead of international law and Bolivia’s rights as a sovereign nation—despite themselves being victimized by illegal U.S. spying activities—stands in sharp contrast to Latin America, where the detention of an indigenous president is seen as the latest grievance in a long history of colonial and imperial transgressions. Bolivian Vice President Alvaro García Linera has denounced the incident as an imperial “kidnapping.”
For many Bolivians, the episode is viewed as a deliberate effort by the U.S. government to punish Morales for his persistent anti-U.S. rhetoric and actions, including the expulsion of the U.S. Ambassador and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in 2008, and, most recently, USAID. It also strikes a special nerve since the United States hosts, and has refused to extradite, some of Bolivia’s most wanted criminals, including neoliberal ex-president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (Goni), facing charges of genocide in connection with the killing of 67 indigenous protesters during the 2003 “Gas Wars.”
Within hours of Morales’s detention, other leftist Latin American governments rallied in outraged solidarity with Bolivia. Argentine President Cristina Fernández labeled the incident “a remnant of the colonialism we thought had been overcome.” Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa tweeted, “We are all Bolivia!”
Along with expressions of support from ALBA, CELAC, Mercosur, and other regional blocs, UNASUR issued a statement condemning the action on July 4, signed by six heads of state (Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Suriname) who attended an emergency meeting. Governments from across the region’s political spectrum (including Mexico, Peru, Colombia, and Chile) closed ranks behind Morales.
On July 9, the OAS issued a consensus resolution expressing solidarity with Morales and demanding apologies and explanations from the four European nations (but not the United States.) Internationally, more than 100 UN member nations have collectively denounced the incident, bolstering Bolivia’s complaint before the UN High Commission on Human Rights.
The provocative detention of Morales undoubtedly precipitated the decision of three leftist Latin American governments—Bolivia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua (conditionally)—to offer asylum to Snowden, in open defiance of the United States. As journalist Stephen Kinzer has noted, with the U.S./ European rogue actions converting Snowden into a Latin American hero, the offer of asylum is politically popular in the region. This sentiment also stems from the regional legacy of dictatorship and political persecution, including the personal experiences of many leftist leaders. As Uruguayan President José Mujica (a former Tupamaro guerrilla) declared, “To all of us who have been persecuted, the right to asylum is sacred and must be defended.”
Broad regional support also makes it easier for any country offering shelter to Snowden to resist U.S. demands for extradition. As well, the mounting evidence of U.S. pressure on European and Latin American countries to deny sanctuary or transit assistance to Snowden, interfering with their sovereign decision-making processes, strengthens the case for asylum, legally and politically. U.S. officials have made it clear that any country aiding Snowden will be made to suffer, putting relations with the United States “in a very bad place for a long time to come.”
Still, in a region that remains heavily dependent on U.S. trade, the threat of U.S. retaliation through economic sanctions will be a major factor in the asylum calculus for any government, as illustrated by the recent case of Ecuador. After initially championing Snowden’s cause and apparently aiding his transit from Hong Kong to Moscow, Correa suddenly backed off after a phone call from Joe Biden, saying that Biden’s concerns were “worth considering.” While Correa has defiantly renounced Ecuador’s long-standing U.S. trade preferences as an instrument of “political blackmail,” he apparently hopes to replace them with an alternative set of duty-free waivers under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, an option that could be jeopardized by an asylum offer.
Similar considerations will no doubt be of concern to Venezuela and Bolivia, should either of their asylum offers materialize into reality (a complex proposition, given the many obstacles to achieving Snowden’s safe transit). While political relations between these countries and the United States have been polarized for some time—with the U.S. government still failing to recognize Nicolás Maduro’s April election—Venezuela still exports 40% of its oil to U.S. markets, and the United States remains as Bolivia’s third largest trading partner (after Brazil and Argentina). Bolivia also enjoys some of the same GSP trade preferences that Ecuador is seeking, which cover around 50% of its U.S. exports.
Still, the incident has greatly strengthened both Morales and Maduro domestically and internationally, corroborating their anti-imperialist worldviews. For Morales—newly characterized by García Linera as the “leader of the anti-imperialist presidents and peoples of the world”—the wave of solidarity responding to his personal victimization has consolidated his political popularity in a pre-election year. Recalling the 2002 presidential election when the U.S. Ambassador’s negative comments about candidate Morales catapulted him unexpectedly into second place, García Linera jokes that Obama has become Morales’s new campaign manager.
For Maduro, whose asylum offer is being promoted by Russia, the opportunity to champion Snowden’s cause and challenge the United States on a world stage, with substantial regional support, has allowed him to genuinely reclaim Hugo Chávez’s anti-imperialist mantle. “It provides the perfect opportunity for Maduro…to figure internationally, to show that he is a player among the big powers…and that he’s capable of challenging the United States,” says political analyst Eduardo Semetei.
In terms of overall U.S.-Latin American relations, the episode could be a defining moment for the Obama administration. As Kinzer notes, the downing of Morales’s jet may have reflected a genuine U.S. effort to capture Snowden—as opposed to a shot across the bow to intimidate Snowden’s potential supporters—but even so, the depth of misunderstanding as to how the incident would resonate in Latin America is telling. New daily revelations from Snowden’s data trove about massive U.S. spying programs in the region are adding fuel to the fire, further strengthening the leftist popular bloc—and confirming Glenn Greenwald’s assessment that the U.S. government has been its own worst enemy throughout this entire episode. It is difficult to imagine how the Obama administration can recover the region’s trust any time soon.