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.
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).
- No Love For McDonald’s In Globalization-Wary Bolivia (mintpressnews.com)
- 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)
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.
Spain has apologized to Bolivia for its parts in the recent incident, in which Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane was forbidden to fly over some European countries on the rumors that US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden was onboard.
Ambassador Angel Vazquez delivered on Monday the official apology to the Bolivian Foreign Ministry in La Paz.
Varquez gave a statement acknowledging an “apology for the obstacle and the hardships caused to the president.”
France, Spain, Portugal and Italy all refused to allow Morales’ plane, which was flying home on July 2 from Moscow, to cross their airspace.
The presidential plane was forced to land in Vienna, Austria where it was searched by authorities on false rumors that US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden was on board.
The Bolivian Foreign Ministry accused the Europeans of bowing to US pressure when it banned Morales’ plane.
After the incident, Morales revealed that Spain’s ambassador to Austria had tried to conduct a search of the aircraft.
“We recognize publicly that perhaps the procedures used in the Vienna airport by our representative were not the most effective,” said Vaszquez.
“We regret this fact … the procedure was not appropriate and bothered the president (Morales), putting him in a difficult situation.”
The incident also caused strong condemnation from several countries in Latin American, including Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who called it a “provocation” that concerned” all of Latin America.”
Meanwhile, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia have all offered asylum to Snowden, who is holed up at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport since June 23, when he landed in Russia from Hong Kong.
South American countries belonging to the Mercosur trade bloc have decided to withdraw their ambassadors for consultations from European countries involved in the grounding of the Bolivian president’s plane.
“We’ve taken a number of actions in order to compel public explanations and apologies from the European nations that assaulted our brother Evo Morales,” explained Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, who revealed some of the agenda debated during the 45th summit of Mercosur countries in Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo.
The decision to recall European ambassadors was taken by Maduro, Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez, Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff, and Uruguay’s President, Jose Mujica, during the meeting.
Member states attending the summit expressed their grievances with “actions by the governments of France, Spain, Italy and Portugal” over the July 2 incident, when the aircraft carrying President Evo Morales back to Bolivia after attending an energy summit in Moscow was denied entry into the airspace of a number of EU member states.
The small aircraft, which required a stop-over before completing its flight, was forced to make an emergency landing in Austria after a circuitous flight path.
It was later revealed that the European countries’ actions were prompted by accusations made by the US ambassador to Austria, William Eacho, who alleged that American whistleblower Edward Snowden had been taken on board to help him gain political asylum in Latin America.
“The gravity of the incident – indicative of a neocolonial mindset – constitutes an unfriendly and hostile act, which violates human rights and impedes freedom of travel, as well as the treatment and immunity appropriate to a head of state,” the Mercosur nations affirmed in the joint statement.
The incident was further described as a “discriminatory and arbitrary” decision by European countries, as well as a “blatant violation of international law.”
Those of us who have been saying that the US has become a weak, or at least more ordinary power among many in the world because of its military failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and because of its economic decline, will have to recalibrate our analysis after watching the pathetic behavior of the leaders of Russia, Germany and France under pressure from the Obama administration not to allow Edward Snowden to gain asylum in those countries or even to escape his purgatory in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
Last night, in an astonishing display of fawning obedience to the demands of US leaders, France and Germany first announced that they would not grant asylum to Snowden, despite broad popular support by French and German people for such an offer of aid to the embattled whistleblower. Then, France and Portugal abruptly refused to allow a Bolivian aircraft carrying the country’s president, Evo Morales, from a state visit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, to land for refueling in their countries, saying that they were concerned he might be flying Snowden to asylum in Bolivia.
Although Spain said eventually it would allow the Morales plane to refuel in the Canary Islands, it did not have enough fuel to get there and had to be diverted to Vienna, where, astonishingly, it was then searched like a drug-smuggling flight over Bolivian protests. Snowden was not aboard. A furious Morales immediately blamed the US Department of State for the whole incident — a charge that no one has disputed, though of course the US is refusing to comment.
Aircraft carrying national leaders have absolute diplomatic immunity under international law and moreover, Bolivia would have the absolute right to grant Snowden amnesty, and to bring him to its territory, whether or not he had a valid passport. As the leader of a sovereign nation, Morales has every right to carry anyone he wants on his plane with him back to his country.
Bolivian President Evo Morales, forced under US pressure to land in Vienna to have his returning plane searched for Snowden, calls the blocking of his flight from Russia to Bolivia a “kidnapping,” and “act of aggression” and an “offense against all the whole Latin region.”
That France, Portugal and Austria would so violate such basic diplomatic rules suggests that the US (which of course has long demonstrated that it views diplomatic rules and international law as applying only to others, but not itself) has some powerful leverage to exert behind the scenes. The more so because this whole incident makes leaders like French President Francois Hollande, who only the day before had suggested his country might consider Snowden’s asylum appeal, look foolish, and because this aggressive and hostile action taken against the leader of a sovereign nation makes France, as well as Portugal and Italy, look pathetic and ridiculous at a time that public sentiment across Europe is solidly in support of Snowden. (An activist friend in Germany reports that sentiment there in support of Snowden and even of granting him asylum is “probably at about 80%,” and that is probably also true in France.)
This latest incident, which has incredibly not been protested either by Russia’s Putin, from whose country the disrupted flight originated, and who was Morales’ official host, also exposes Putin and Russia as being under America’s thumb. Who could have imagined Putin allowing a meeting of leaders in his own country to be so shamed by US intervention involving diversion and impoundment of a foreign leader’s return flight home without a loud protest and even some counter action. At a minimum the US ambassador should have been called in to be tongue-lashed by the Russian president. Yet even Russian state television station RT-TV, in its report on the halting of Morales’ plane and the unprecedented search of a state leader’s plane in Austria, carried no comment from Putin or the Russian government on the insult and outrage.
Has the US, with its incomprehensibly massive spy network, just demonstrated that it now has a power greater than its nuclear arsenal: a dossier perhaps on almost every leader in the world with which it is able to blackmail even the likes of Hollande, Merkel and Putin? It is hard to come up with another explanation for the way this incident played out.
We will have to see now whether Morales, a popular leader from an impoverished indigenous background who is clearly no coward and who is probably too clean to be blackmailed, will make good on his assertion made in Moscow that Snowden would be welcome in Bolivia. Russia could recover a modicum of its self-respect by flying him there on a Russian plane to avoid similar US-orchestrated interference. Venezuela’s new president, Nicolás Maduro, who has also spoken favorably of granting asylum status to the National Security Agency whistleblower, should also step up at this point. Since he is still in Russia, he could offer to bring Snowden back home with him, and dare the nations of Europe to try and stop him.
Europeans are pissed off already at the US, in the wake of National Security Agency leaker Snowden’s latest revelation that the US was aggressively spying on its European allies, both at their and the European Union’s embassies in Washington, and in Europe itself, gleaning not information about terrorism, but inside-track knowledge about trade negotiation positions and other areas of disagreement or negotiation.
Leaders in Germany, France, Italy, and other European countries are demanding that the US cease its spying on them, and give a “full accounting” of the spying that it has been engaging in. But given the steady stream of lies coming from the NSA, the Obama Administration, Secretary of State John Kerry, and other American sources, why should they believe anything they are being told? Most Europeans understand now that all this bluster from their leaders is just that: bluster.
Europe’s leaders have shown themselves to their own people to be sell-outs in the pocket of the US. As several commenters on the website of the German magazine Der Spiegel, which last week ran a cover expose about the NSA spying program directed against European leaders, have written, Germany’s and France’s leaders have sold out their countries and people by caving in to US demands. As one person wrote: “Our government has sold us out and is beyond help.”
To be sure there was a wave of tough talk only days earlier, with, for example, Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament, saying that the NSA is like the Soviet-era KGB, and with leaders of countries like Ireland and Norway saying that they might consider amnesty for Snowden, but only if he could reach their soil first — a ludicrous requirement, since there is no international law requiring such silliness. Any country can grant asylum to any person it wishes, wherever that person may be at the moment. They cannot offer protection, of course, except in an embassy or in-country, but that’s different from just offering a grant of amnesty. Indeed, the mere fact that the US has cancelled Snowden’s passport doesn’t mean his passport cannot be respected as a travel document by another country. How, in fact, when you think about it, would a country know that a person’s passport had been “cancelled” unless the issuing nation had issued some kind of news release about it as the US did in Snowden’s case? There’s no international registry of global passports. Those records are held closely by each country and in fact are supposed to be secure. Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Norway, Ireland or any other country that had said at any point that it would be willing to accept Snowden, could stamp their visa on his passport and accept him on their planes. (Even the US Passport Office accepts an old, expired passport as an identity document when one is applying for a new one.)
After this abject display of rank servitude in the interest of the US Imperium by some of Europe’s most powerful nations, if little Bolivia and/or Venezuela don’t step up and show Europe how sovereign nations are supposed to act, it will be up to the people of Europe and Latin America to act.
Already, Latin nations seem to be rallying, with protests across the continent, and with Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, and Cuba’s retired leader Fidel Castro expressing anger at the diversion of the Morales plane. An “urgent” Latin American leadership meeting is planned over the crisis, and if it is not just talk, this could indicate that the US may have overstepped in insulting a region that has been growing increasingly assertive about resisting US diktats.
Certainly, following the latest revelations in the Guardian, Der Spiegel, and elsewhere showing that the NSA has been vacuuming up data on millions of Europeans, and with former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden stating publicly that the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution — the one that at least used to protect Americans’ right to privacy and from government search and seizure — “is not an international treaty,” the anger among Europeans at US spying is swelling too, and with it, support for the embattled whistleblower Snowden.
We can only hope that the revelations of outrageous US intelligence abuses and violation of Europeans’ privacy rights will continue, that the rage against the US among ordinary European citizens will grow. We can only hope that with that growing rage, a desire to stick it to the US by protecting Snowden will grow too, until some European leader finally sees it as a popular or necessary move to offer him asylum.
This latest abomination in the treatment of Bolivia and its leader, which has shamed France, Portugal, Austria, Italy and Russia, will be a great test of how angry the peoples of those countries are about their leaders’ servile behavior towards the US.
Of course, we in the US should be the most outraged of all, but sadly, there is probably even less chance that a majority Americans will get angry at all this than that Europeans will.
‘An act of aggression and violation of international law’ is how Bolivia’s UN envoy described Austria’s decision to search the Bolivian presidential jet for NSA leaker Edward Snowden. The envoy has pledged to make an official complaint to the UN.
Envoy Sacha Llorentty Soliz told press in New York that he had no doubt the decision to search the plane originated from the US.
Austrian authorities grounded Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane in Vienna early on Wednesday morning due to suspicions that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was on board. Morales refuted speculation that Snowden had stowed away on the plane and allowed authorities to conduct a search.
“Our colleagues from the airport had a look and can give assurances that no one is on board who is not a Bolivian citizen,” Austrian Deputy Chancellor Michael Spindelegger told press, saying rumors that Snowden might be on board were untrue.
The move to detain the presidential plane triggered a wave of furious rhetoric from Latin American leaders who alleged it had been “kidnapped by imperialism.”
Morales called on the countries who had cancelled air permits for the presidential flight to explain their decision.
“The governments of France, Spain and Portugal must explain to the world the reasons behind this delay,” said Morales, adding that these actions were indicative of the “repressive policies” of some EU countries.
“This is an excuse to try and frighten, intimidate and punish me. An excuse to try and gag us in the fight against the dominant economic powers,” said Morales.
Morales finally flew out of Vienna on Wednesday morning after being detained for over 12 hours in the airport. He will stop of in the Canary Islands to refuel before flying on to La Paz, the capital of Bolivia.
“USAID Develops a Bad Reputation Among Some Foreign Leaders,” read a May 7 Los Angeles Times headline, followed by the subhead:
The U.S. Agency for International Development doesn’t just offer aid to the poor, it also promotes democracy, which is seen as meddlesome or even subversive.
Fighting poverty and spreading democracy–what’s not to like?
And so, the report seems to suggest, there’s something a little off about foreign leaders, nine in recent years, who’ve expelled the agency. Why else would Bolivian President Evo Morales expel an anti-poverty group from his “impoverished” country, if he wasn’t just a little bit crazy? And Russian President Vladimir Putin can’t be playing with a full deck either; he recently expelled USAID and a bird lovers group.
Of course, these leaders and other USAID critics aren’t crazy; they argue that USAID undermines national sovereignty and democracy. The story includes charges that USAID manipulates the internal politics of host nations, but it leaves the allegations unexplored and lets supporters bat them away. In one case, reporter Paul Richter quotes an anonymous U.S. official on USAID critics:
“This is the empire striking back,” said a senior Obama administration official, who asked not to be identified because of diplomatic sensitivities. He insisted that USAID does not try to undermine governments.
Someone doesn’t have a firm grasp on the meaning the word “empire,” which applies much more accurately to U.S.’s role in these relationships. A fact that might be better understood by the reader if Richter had bothered to mention USAID’s sordid history of bolstering U.S. imperial goals.
USAID’s publicly stated goals include “furthering America’s foreign policy interests in expanding democracy and free markets.” Readers aren’t told about that, nor are they informed that in pursuing these goals the agency has frequently partnered with the CIA, as in the ’60s and ’70s when its now-closed Office of Public Safety trained foreign police in counterinsurgency techniques–including torture. Not exactly what jumps to mind when one imagines a democracy-promoting institution.
The report also fails to mention how for decades USAID has undermined popular democratic organizing in Third World countries by, among other things, creating parallel “popular” organizations, such as labor unions, in order to weaken authentic grassroots movements.
And just last month, U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks revealed that USAID and its Office of Transition Initiatives had been secretly tasked with destabilizing Venezuela’s democratically elected government. As historian and U.S. foreign policy critic William Blum points out, USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives
is one of the many euphemisms that American diplomats use with each other and the world–they say it means a transition to “democracy.” What it actually means is a transition from the target country adamantly refusing to cooperate with American imperialist grand designs to a country gladly willing (or acceding under pressure) to cooperate with American imperialist grand designs.
But mentioning any of that might make USAID critics look rational, even like defenders of democracy. Which is, of course, crazy–if your worldview requires a belief that U.S. interests are synonymous with democracy.
At a speech celebrating May Day in Bolivia today, President Evo Morales announced the expulsion of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) from the country. According to the AP, Morales stated:
“The United States does not lack institutions that continue to conspire, and that’s why I am using this gathering to announce that we have decided to expel USAID from Bolivia.”
The role of USAID in Bolivia has been a primary point of contention between the U.S. and Bolivia dating back to at least 2006. State Department spokesperson Patrick Ventrell characterized Morales’ statement as “baseless allegations.” While State Department spokespeople and many commentators will characterize USAID’s work with oppositional groups as appropriate, a look at the agency’s work over the past decade paints a very different picture.
Documents obtained by investigative journalist Jeremy Bigwood show that as early as 2002, USAID funded a “Political Party Reform Project,” which sought to “serve as a counterweight to the radical MAS [Morales’ political party] or its successors.” Later USAID began a program “to provide support to fledgling regional governments,” some of which were pushing for regional autonomy and were involved in the September 2008 destabilization campaign that left some 20 indigenous Bolivians dead. Meanwhile, the U.S. has continually refused to disclose the recipients of aid funds. As a recent CEPR report on USAID activities in Haiti concluded, U.S. aid often goes into a “black box” where it becomes impossible to determine who the ultimate recipients actually are.
Some of these USAID programs were implemented by the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) from the period 2004-2007. A document obtained by CEPR through a Freedom of Information Act request, reveals the role OTI plays in U.S. foreign policy. The document notes that OTI “seeks to focus its resources where they will have the greatest impact on U.S. diplomatic and security interests,” adding that “OTI cannot create a transition or impose democracy, but it can identify and support key individuals and groups who are committed to peaceful, participatory reform. In short, OTI acts as a catalyst for change where there is sufficient indigenous political will.” It was through OTI that USAID was funding regional governments prior to the September 2008 events.
While USAID has since closed the OTI office in Bolivia, and overall funding levels have been greatly reduced, USAID has still channeled at least $200 million into the country since 2009.
Wikileaks cables reveal that the U.S. has long taken an adversarial approach to the Morales government, while even acknowledging the clandestine and oppositional nature of U.S. aid.
In one cable written by Ambassador Greenlee from January 2006, just months after Morales’ election, he notes that “U.S. assistance, the largest of any bilateral donor by a factor of three, is often hidden by our use of third parties to dispense aid with U.S. funds.” In the same cable, Greenlee acknowledges that “[m]any USAID-administered economic programs run counter to the direction the GOB [Government of Bolivia] wishes to move the country.”
The cable goes on to outline a “carrot and sticks” approach to the new Bolivian government, outlining possible actions to be taken to pressure the government to take “positive policy actions.” Three areas where the U.S. would focus were on coca policy, the nationalization of hydrocarbons (which “would have a negative impact on U.S. investors”) and the forming of the constituent assembly to write a new constitution. Possible sticks included; using veto authority within the Inter-American Development Bank to oppose loans to Bolivia, postponing debt cancellation and threatening to suspend trade benefits.
Another cable, also written by Greenlee, reporting on a meeting between U.S. officials and the Morales government notes that the Ambassador stated in the meeting, “When you think of the IDB, you should think of the U.S…. This is not blackmail, it is simple reality.”
Later cables, as reported by Green Left Weekly, show the U.S. role in fomenting dissent within indigenous groups and other social movements.
Not Why, But Why Not Sooner
The AP spoke with Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network, reporting that she “was not surprised by the expulsion itself but by the fact that Morales took so long to do it after repeated threats.” Given the amount of evidence in declassified documents that point to U.S. aid funds going to opposition groups and being used to bolster opposition to the Morales government, the expulsion indeed comes as little surprise. Further, as evidence continues to mount of the role of USAID in undermining governments, governments from across the region have become more openly critical of the U.S. aid agency.
As Brazilian investigative journalist Natalia Viana recently detailed in The Nation, USAID was funding groups in Paraguay that would eventually be involved in the ouster of President Lugo. Viana writes that through USAID’s largest program in Paraguay, they would end up supporting “some of the very institutions that would play a central role in impeaching Lugo six years later, including not just the police force but the Public Ministry and the Supreme Court.”
Additionally, the role of USAID in funding opposition groups in Venezuela has been well documented. A recently released Wikileaks cable reveals the U.S. government’s five point strategy for Venezuela, which the cable makes clear USAID worked to implement. The goals were; “1) Strengthening Democratic Institutions, 2) Penetrating Chavez’ Political Base, 3) Dividing Chavismo, 4) Protecting Vital US business, and 5) Isolating Chavez internationally.”
Last June, immediately following the Paraguay coup, the ALBA group of countries (of which Bolivia is a member) signed a declaration requesting that “the heads of state and the government of the states who are members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, immediately expel USAID and its delegates or representatives from their countries, due to the fact that we consider their presence and actions to constitute an interference which threatens the sovereignty and stability of our nations.”
At the time, President Correa of Ecuador stated that he was writing up new rules for USAID engagement in the country and that “If they don’t want to follow them, then ‘So long.’” While Bolivia may be the first of these countries to actually expel USAID, the question may not be why Bolivia is doing this, but rather why didn’t Bolivia do this sooner?
Bolivia’s President Evo Morales has received approval from the country’s constitutional court to run for reelection next year.
Bolivia’s Constitutional court president Ruddy Flores said on Monday that Morales could run for his third consecutive presidential term.
This is while only two consecutive terms are allowed under the country’s new constitution.
The court found Morales, 53, able to run since the president’s first term was not under the current constitution.
“The presidential term is computed from the time of the adoption of the new constitution,” Flores said.
Next year’s vote will be counted as Morales’ first reelection, under the ruling.
The ruling has sparked protests from the opposition.
Earlier this month, Morales said that Washington was planning to stage a coup in Venezuela, following the election of Nicolas Maduro as president.
Morales, the first indigenous president of South America’s poorest nation, was elected president in late 2005 and reelected in 2009.
During his years as president, Morales has nationalized private companies aimed at increasing state control over the country’s economy.
He also pushed for the formation of a new constitution.