Ecuador has come under fire for scrutinizing non-profits like Accion Ecologica, many of whom get millions from Europe and North America.
Ecuador, the tiny South American nation sandwiched between Colombia and Peru, rarely makes waves in the English-speaking world’s corporate mediascape. Last year, news traveled far on at least two occasions.
First, with an earthquake that killed at least 673 people. Second, when the government moved to investigate and potentially dissolve a nonprofit called Accion Ecologica in connection with deadly violence between members of an Amazonian tribe and police sent to protect a Chinese-operated mining project.
Ecologists and prominent activists friendly to the group, including heavy-weights such as Naomi Klein, called out what they characterized as a callous repression and criminalization of Indigenous people protecting the unparalleled richness of the Amazon and alleged state prejudice against an underdog non-profit organization that was only there to save the rainforest and its inhabitants.
Ecuador’s socialist government, on the other hand, sees the “underdog” label as misplaced.
NGOs may be seen as do-gooders, but that’s not always the case. As a country historically vulnerable to the whims of powers in the North, Ecuador has, under the administration of the outgoing President Rafael Correa, put up a guard against a new kind of public diplomacy from abroad that focuses on gaining the favor of civil society to indirectly execute their political priorities.
NGOs are flagged when they operate outside the bounds of the law and their stated objectives, indicators of potential pressure from outside funders to protect their interests rather than those of nationals.
“We’re an Ecuadorean NGO, born here in Ecuador and working for 30 years in the defense of the rights of the environment and of communities across the country, and for that work we are very well known, even at an international level,” Alexandra Almeida, president of Accion Ecologica, told teleSUR.
“But that doesn’t mean that a foreign organization could manipulate us with anything — with funds, with nothing — that’s how we operate.”
NGOs have rarely had to justify their work to anyone, let alone prove that they act for the good of the people only. But Ecuador is not an ordinary country. Rich in resources but export dependent, authorities are attempting to manage the many foreign hands trying to pull the country’s development in their favor.
Silent Action Meets Loud Reaction
This government is the first to scrutinize NGOs, but their scrutiny has not been limited to Accion Ecologica.
In 2012, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa boldly declared that NGOs have been entering the country like never before during the previous decade. Many, backed by foreign states and foreign money, are out to destabilize the state, Ecuadorean leaders stated.
“Their interest is not the country, impoverished sectors, natural resources or strengthening democracies,” said Paola Pabon, director of the National Ministry of Political Management, which is responsible for tracking NGOs, in an interview with teleSUR last year. “What interests them is having control over governments, having influence over civil society to create elements of destabilization.”
Executive Decree 16, which went into effect in 2013, created a system to catalogue the financing, decision-making and activities of every registered social organization — a total of over 46,000 in the country, including non-profits, unions and community organizations, among others.
The resulting action saw 26 foreign NGOs expelled from the country for a lack of transparency and compliance with national law; in brief, for declaring themselves “non-governmental organizations” while acting on behalf of foreign governments. Among the more high-profile cases was Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical missionary relief organization that received funding and support from USAID. Fifteen others were given two weeks to get their activities in order.
A handful of Indigenous organizations, which had previously mobilized against Correa’s government, attacked the decree via the Constitutional Court. Two years later, Ecuador reformed the regulations with Executive Decree 739, which fine-tuned the reasons for closing an NGO — the main one, “diverting from stated objectives” — and, caving to demand, eliminated the requirement for organizations to register projects financed from abroad.
Donor Nations: Generous or Greedy?
The trend that prompted Ecuador’s law was not without precedent.
Through the U.S. Agency for International Development, known as USAID, and the linked but publicly independent National Endowment for Democracy, known as NED, the United States pumped over US$100 million into Venezuela to create 300 new organizations credited with contributing to the coup d’etat against Hugo Chavez in 2002. In a similar move, USAID admitted that it tried to provoke a “Cuban Spring” by setting up Zunzuneo, a kind of Cuban Twitter, to circulate calls to protest.
The most common nonprofits close to foreign governments and private interests are those that stand tallest against their states. In Ecuador, that tends to be groups that work closely with Indigenous communities, with those protecting their right to their land and with those defending women and the environment. Funding by private foundations and corporations, while more widespread, is far less transparent and tougher to quantify. Big names like the Ford Foundation and Open Society, however, are well known for injecting funds into NGOs in the global south to advance specific political visions.
But the United States isn’t the only country to have funneled funds to Ecuador through NGOs.
Official numbers from Ecuador’s Chief Administrative Office of International Cooperation, or SETECI, show that since Correa assumed office in 2007 until 2015, foreign NGOs have managed over US$800 million from abroad. Top givers include the U.K. and Spain, followed by several European states.
No one, however, beats the United States. In that same period, the U.S. sent over twice the amount of money of the next-highest donor, with a total of over US$282 million and 780 projects, or 35 percent of all funding.
Of those funds, which only count NGOs based abroad that invested in local or regional projects, 13 went to projects in the Amazon led by non-profits like Care International, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the World Wildlife Fund, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Mitsubishi Corporation Foundation for the Americas. Projects based in Morona Santiago, the province where the anti-mining protests that led to the death of a police officer broke out, brought in over US$1 million from the U.S. since 2007.
The flow of funds is indicative of a broader attitude between receiver and giver, who “take advantage of the assumption that they have a perfect democracy, which is completely false – there’s a paternalistic attitude that must be regulated,” said Fernando Casado, research fellow at the National Institute for Higher Studies on public administration in Ecuador and Venezuela. Conversely, a flow in the opposite direction would immediately raise suspicion from developed countries, he added.
Yet money itself doesn’t tell the full tale: the funds are tied directly to foreign policy objectives, Casado told teleSUR. “The powers of the North have changed strategy.”
Each state has its own way. Germany, which has had 151 NGO projects in Ecuador since 2007, is known for meddling in affairs of developing countries through its Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, or BMZ. When SETECI found that three-quarters of its funds went toward stopping another mining project in the Amazon’s Yasuni region last March, it kicked the German agency out of Ecuador.
The United States has several agencies do its work, the most prominent being USAID, NED — funded through money allocated to USAID by Congress — and the Broadcast Board of Governors. The stated missions: to promote development, democracy creation and a free press, respectively, while strictly adhering to U.S. foreign policy priorities.
“We should not have to do this kind of work covertly,” said former head of NED Carl Gershman on CIA missions to the New York Times in 1986. “It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the CIA. We saw that in the 60s, and that’s why it has been discontinued. We have not had the capability of doing this, and that’s why the endowment was created.”
What Givers Want
The “work” the United States has set out for Ecuador — according to a 2016 Office of Inspector General report on the U.S. embassy leaked by WikiLeaks — is “to mitigate the effects of the contentious political environment created by the Ecuadorean Government” with the help of other government agencies, which play a “critical role.”
The report, intended for the eyes of the BBG and Congress, said the embassy was “actively engaged with civil society leaders and nongovernmental organizations to increase Ecuadorean awareness of and support for U.S. policies and values, promote Ecuadorean civil society and government accountability, and strengthen environmental initiatives.”
To set up a climate conducive to U.S. meddling, the U.S. Government Accountability Office included Ecuador on a shortlist with Colombia, Egypt and the West Bank/Gaza the year Correa was elected to closely study public opinion in “specific, targeted public awareness campaigns.”
It also either commissioned or was the beneficiary of a study from Stratfor, a secretive intelligence company contracted by the State Department and the U.S.’s multinational titans, which evaluated the extent to which Ecuador is manipulable by NGOs. The 2013 report, leaked by WikiLeaks, focused especially on how NGOs can influence trade policy and corporate regulation. Its conclusion: based on a scale likely defined in relation to other developing nations, Ecuador is fairly resilient to NGO pressure but has submitted in certain instances.
USAID sends hundreds of millions to local projects in Ecuador, some less explicitly political, but some indirectly benefiting opposition groups, according to U.S. Ambassador in Ecuador Adam Namm. BBG affiliate, TeleAmazonas, has been accused of fomenting strong opposition rhetoric against Correa. And the NED spends over US$1 million annually on dozens of local programs with broad objectives like “promoting citizen oversight of elected officials,” “monitoring due process and the independence of the judicial system,” “monitoring the use of public resources in government advertising” and “facilitating dialogue and consensus on democracy.”
Both Germany’s BMZ and USAID are back in Ecuador following a deluge of NGO activity after the April earthquake. The workload of the National Ministry of Political Management has peaked ever since, said Pabon.
The Sneaky Alliance With Mother Earth
One pet project of USAID was the Conservation in Managed Indigenous Areas, or Caiman, which ended before Correa took office but was among several USAID programs to conserve the country’s biodiversity and promote alliances between Indigenous communities and private businesses.
Caiman worked with various groups working in ecological and Indigenous rights, including Accion Ecologica. For several years, Caiman had Accion Ecologica help them battle against the Ministry of the Environment and train park rangers to oppose contamination from oil and mining.
Whether or not USAID or foreign foundations have funded Accion Ecologica directly is unclear. Unlike many others in the industry, the non-profit does not publish its financial information on its website, and refused multiple requests from teleSUR for copies of audits. When asked, the organization’s president said she does not know specifics on foreign funders and could not answer.
Almeida did say that Accion Ecologica receives funds from Europe — from individuals, “small organizations, alliances, groups that form” around fundraising events on ecological issues. She did not say how much or cite specific names but mentioned Italy and Belgium.
A 2012 investigation from Andes, an Ecuadorean state publication, found that both Accion Ecologica and the Regional Foundation of Human Rights Advising, another powerful nonprofit, are financed by the European Commission, Oilwatch, the Netherlands embassy and a few international ecological networks. Almeida said the accusations were false.
While Europe may be the principal interested party in the success of Accion Ecologica, the U.S. is also well known to have played an active role in similar battles.
In 2013, the year after Correa took the lead against foreign NGOs and a year before he expelled USAID, Bolivia accused USAID of spending US$22 million to divide Indigenous groups on the exploitation and nationalization of oil in their lands.
“Since the right can’t find arguments to oppose the process of change, it now turns to campesino, Indigenous and native leaders who are paid by several NGOs and foundations with perks to foment a climate of conflict with the national government to deteriorate the process of unification that the country is experiencing,” said Morales as he gave USAID the boot.
Beyond Accion Ecologica
“Theoretically speaking, NGOs shouldn’t exist,” said Casado. NGOs operate within a logic of narrowing, minimizing and weakening the role of the state so they can keep filling holes in public services and keep their jobs, which are at risk of disappearing if the state works as it should, added Casado.
“They elect themselves representatives of civil society in general,” and yet their role is limited and entirely reliant on and responsive to funding, which at the end of the day remains in their pockets. Other social organizations and popular movements, said Casado, operate only on conviction.
If an NGO is completely free to operate without regulations, a country would open itself to any corporate and foreign interest that found an open hand, he argued. Latin America is intimately familiar with that process — of consolidating power in the monied class — and NGOs back similar corporate interests, only with a more benevolent face.
It’s near-impossible to identify the perfect case of foreign intrusion — and, as in Accion Ecologica’s case, near-impossible to prove. Multiple factors are always at play, from the ideology of individual members to the decision-making process to however events play out on the ground. Casado said that the first step to uncovering hidden interests is financial transparency — a move that faces stiff opposition precisely for the interests that it could reveal.
Ecuador’s answer is to carefully collect records and draw a clear line between what is acceptable and what is not. Foreign NGOs, state the decree, cannot participate “in any form of party politics, any form of interference or proselytism, any threat to national security or public peace or any other activity not permitted under their migratory status.”
When Accion Ecologica testified before the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of the Environment, it argued that it had been doing the same work — protecting the rainforest — for decades, always in a peaceful manner. The evidence presented showing they provoked violence through a series of tweets in and around the time of violent clashes was “a bit absurd, very absurd,” said Almeida.
In the end, the government’s case did not hold, and the Environment Ministry concluded there was not enough credible evidence to shut down the group. Accion Ecologica credited “pressure” from its supporters, as its representatives continue to urge for a deregulation of NGOs.
“It’s not only NGOs, but also any organization that will be at risk, especially their right to free expression and the right to free association” if the decree regulating NGOs remains intact, said Almeida.
Her position echoes those taken up by opposition politicians, whose one commonality is their depiction of Correa’s government as one systematically trouncing on citizens’ rights and freedoms.
In an election year, rhetoric makes the difference.
Dianileysis Cruz contributed reporting.
The Bolivian cooperatives’ protests and their August 25 killing of the Bolivian Vice Minister of the Interior Rodolfo Illanes requires us to question our assumptions about cooperatives. What are the Bolivian mining cooperatives? Most began during the Great Depression as miners banded together to work a mine in common. However, like many cooperatives in the US that arose out of the 1960s, they have turned into small businesses. Regardless of their initial intentions, cooperatives existing in a surrounding capitalist environment must compete in business practices or go under.
The Bolivian mining cooperatives themselves underwent this process, and have become businesses whose owners hire labor. Roughly 95% of the cooperative miners are workers, and 5% are owners. It is common for the employed workers to be temps, or contracted out employees as we refer to them here. They have no social security, no job security, no health or retirement benefits.
The mining cooperatives made ten demands on the government, and during the second week of August, they announced an indefinite strike if the government did not meet their demands, later adding another 14 to the first 10.
The three most significant demands included rejection of the General Law of Cooperative Mines, which guaranteed cooperative employees the right to unionize, since they are not cooperative co-owners. The cooperatives owners did not want their workers represented by unions.
Reuters, and the corporate press, true to form, falsely claimed the opposite, that the cooperative miners were protesting against the government and demanded their right to form unions.
A second demand was loosening of environmental regulations for the mining cooperatives.
The third key demand was to revoke the law disallowing national or transnational businesses from partnering in cooperatives. At present cooperatives have 31 contracts with private businesses, most signed before the Evo Morales era.
The cooperatives want the right to form partnerships with multi-nationals and exploit the natural resources without the laws protecting the environment. Opening the cooperatives to such privatization ran counter to what was voted on in the Constitution: “The natural resources are the property of the Bolivian people and will be administered by the State.”
The Evo Morales government nationalized Bolivia’s natural resources in 2006. Because of this the government share of the profits with corporations from the sale of gas and other natural resources has risen from around 15% to 85%. Previously under neoliberal governments, about 85% of the profits went to corporations. As a result, the Bolivian state has gained an extra $31.5 billion through 2015, which it has used to develop industry, infrastructure, schools, health care and hospitals to the mostly Original Peoples population. It has also provided many subsidies for the poor, benefiting 4.8 million Bolivians out of a population of just over 10 million. This has cut in half the number of Bolivians living in extreme poverty.
During the August cooperatives’ protests, the Evo Morales government had repeatedly stated it was open to dialogue, but pointed out it cannot violate the Constitution when faced with the demands of the cooperatives, which are thinking only of their personal profits.
Vice Minister Illanes went to meet with the miner cooperatives’ leaders of the FENCOMIN, Federacion de Cooperativas Mineras. He was tortured and killed and so far 9 have been charged, including the President of FENCOMIN, who was a leader in the violent protests.
Before this, Bolivian TV broadcast news of rioting miners charging at police, hurling stones and even sticks of dynamite. The police responded with tear gas to disperse the protesters. A number of police were injured during the protests. On August 24, two miners were shot at close range during the road blockades. If the police were responsible, it contravened the order of President Morales not only not to shoot, but to not bring firearms in the area of the road blockades.
Vice Minister of Coordination with Social Movements, Alfredo Rada, said after the murder that the issue of the mine cooperatives should be part of a national debate. He pointed out the cooperative workers are exploited by the owners, who have created a hierarchy inside the organizations for their private benefit. Rada added, “We respect true cooperativism, where all are equal, but these companies have been converted into semi-formal capitalist businesses.”
After the murder of Vice-Minister Illanes, Evo declared, “Once again, the national government has squashed an attempted coup.” He added that the miners had planned to entrench themselves at the roadblocks they had established and that documents confiscated from the offices of the cooperative miners mention “overthrowing the government.” He stated that some of the private business and cooperatives’ owners had deceived their workers.
The US has sought to undermine Evo Morales, going back to his first presidential election campaign. Bolivia’s Cabinet Chief Juan Ramon Quintana stated over the past eight years the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has funded around 40 institutions in Bolivia including economic and social centers, foundations and non-governmental organizations, at a total amount of over $10 million. US soft coup efforts reached their heights during the separatist movement by the rich white elite in the Media Luna, and during the TIPNIS protests in 2011.
In the fall of 2015 the US developed the Strategic Plan for Bolivia to reverse the progressive popular changes in Bolivia and restore neoliberal-neocolonial rule. This was written by Carlos Alberto Montaner, a counter-revolutionary Cuban exile, US Congresspeople such as Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, in charge of USAID for Latin America, and chief leaders of the Bolivian opposition. One early result was the defeat of the Bolivian referendum to allow Evo Morales to run for president for a third term.
Venezuelan President Maduro has pointed out that the Dilma coup and the killing of the Bolivian minister, are part of an imperialist attack on the progressive governments of Latin America. “It is a continent-wide attack by the oligarchies and the pro-imperialist right wing against all the leaders, governments and popular movements, progressive and revolutionary left” said Maduro. “With Dilma in Brazil, with Evo in Bolivia, Correa in Ecuador, with Daniel in Nicaragua and with all the peoples and social movements of Latin America, Venezuela is going to struggle for a sovereign, independent, humane, and popular future.”
So far the US anti-war, anti-interventionist movements have not strongly responded to the escalating US coup attempts against progressive elected Latin American governments.
Stansfield Smith, Chicago ALBA Solidarity, is a long time Latin America solidarity activist, and presently puts out the AFGJ Venezuela Weekly.
Bolivia will expand gas extraction by more than 20 million cubic meters daily or more than 33 percent by 2020, Minister of Hydrocarbons and Energy Luis Alberto Sanchez said Thursday.
The discovery of new gas fields was announced jointly by the Spanish company Repsol and the Bolivian state-owned oil and gas company YPFB this February, which increased the country’s gas reserves by 40 percent.
“The total gas production now is approximately 60 million cubic meters per day. By 2020, through putting important projects into operation aimed at preventing a drop of gas fields reserves and guaranteeing supplies to domestic and foreign markets, the production is expected to grow for more than 20 million cubic meters,” Sanchez said as quoted by ABI News Agency.
As of 2013, Bolivia’s gas reserves were estimated at about 302 billion cubic meters. According to the Repsol Bolivia President Diego Diaz, gas deposits on the Caipipendi block are assessed as additional 115 billion cubic meters.
Russian gas giant Gazprom also expressed interest in work in Bolivia. During the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in June, Gazprom, Bolivian Ministry of Hydrocarbons and Energy and YPFB signed a road map on the implementation of projects in the country, in particular, exploration, production and transportation of hydrocarbons, as well as the use of the liquefied natural gas (LNG).
The Bolivian government rejected an offer by U.S. tycoon Bill Gates, who said he would donate 100,000 chickens to reduce poverty in developing countries.
Gates, through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said he would send 100,000 chickens to twenty countries, among them Bolivia, as a donation through the Heifer International Organization with the purpose of “reducing poverty” and “improving nutrition” of people in the countrysude.
Bolivian Minister of Rural Development and Land, Cesar Cocarico said this announcement was rude. “Unfortunately the view of some people, especially in ‘the empire,’ still see us as beggars,” said the Cocarico.
“He does not know Bolivia’s reality, he thinks we are living 500 years ago, in the middle of the jungle, not knowing how to produce,” said Cocarico. “Respectfully, he should stop talking about Bolivia, and once he knows more, apologize to us.”
According to the Gates foundation, a farmer raising 250 chickens per year could hypothetically make up to US$1,250 dollars.
“It’s pretty clear to me that just about anyone who’s living in extreme poverty is better off if they have chickens,” said Microsoft’s co-founder Gates in a blog. “In fact, if I were in their shoes, that’s what I would do — I would raise chickens.”
“There is no investment that has a similar rentability percentage than to raise chickens,” said Gates in his statement, after presenting the initiative in New York.
Gates says that these animals are easy and inexpensive to raise, empower women, and can help feed children in poor families, “because chickens are small and stay close to home.”
Bolivia’s government, led by President Evo Morales, says the nation already produces 197 million chickens annually, and has the capacity to export 36 million. The country’s economy has almost tripled in size over the last decade, with its GDP per capita going from US$1,200 in 2006 to US$3,119 in 2015.
The International Monetary Fund predicts that Bolivia’s economy will grow by 3.8 percent in 2016, making it the best performing economy in South America.
In Bolivia, a CIA-backed military coup led to the overthrow of leftist President Juan Torres. Following the coup, dictator Hugo Banzer had over 2,000 political opponents arrested without trial, tortured, raped and executed.
Adolfo Perez Esquivel voiced his opposition to celebrations over the conviction of 15 military officials in Argentina. In his view, there is nothing to celebrate.
Perez Esquivel, recipient of the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize, said Friday that Plan Condor was a conspiracy to kill leftist movements in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In his view, there is no reason to celebrate the conviction of those who participated in Plan Condor in Argentina. An Argentine court found 15 military officials guilty Friday.
“Plan Condor should never have happened,” the Argentine Nobel laureate and human rights defender wrote on the social network Twitter.
Photographs of the disappeared in Argentina. Photo:Colección AGRA, Archivo Memoria Activa
After the sentencing of several of the military officials, Chilean journalist and diplomat Odette Magnet said “justice was achieved, but we need the truth,” referring to her sister Maria Cecilia Magnet who was disappeared during the dictatorship in the country.
The journalist explained that for 40 years she has played an active role in seeking the truth about repression during the military dictatorships in Latin America.
“I want to know where they are, where (the death squads) threw them, where all the victims of this macabre plan are,” Magnet said. Officials from the dictatorships across Latin America would often throw victims out of helicopters and airplanes into the ocean.
“Nobody knows what really happened to our people, we have no information because the murderers do not speak, they will not talk and that is very frustrating because we have the facts,” Magnet concluded.
April 16 is the International Day Against Child Slavery in South America. The day marks the death of Iqbal Masih, a Pakistani child who was sold into slavery and murdered at the age of 12. El Movimiento Cultural Cristiano commemorated the young child’s life by vowing to bring awareness to the plight of children forced into labor, especially in South America.
teleSUR English looks at some innovative approaches the progressive governments of Ecuador and Bolivia are taking to combat forced child labor and improve working conditions.
In Ecuador, the government follows a strictly prohibitionist policy. The current Labor Code formally prohibits the employment of children under 15 years old, while the labor day for teenagers over 15 cannot exceed six hours per day and 30 hours a week, without interfering with his or her education.
The Ecuadorean state also implemented various measures and agreements with the production sector, in order to reduce child labor. As a result, both sectors that have employed the highest number of children – agriculture and trade – have reduced their figure by 66 and 15 percent respectively.
As a result, the number of working children under 15-years-old has dropped by almost nine percent since 2007 according to the government, which plans to eradicate child labor by 2017.
Two other factors have helped to make the difference in recent years: one, the improvement of the global employment situation in the country in recent years; and two, better and free access to school, reducing school desertion of children.
Nevertheless, according to a 2015 UNESCO report, rural areas remain the most affected, as children work five more times than in urban areas, while Indigenous children are fives time more affected than Mestizo children. Girls are also still employed to do household work without receiving any remuneration.
In Bolivia, the context is slightly different, as poverty affects more people than in Ecuador: an estimated 850,000 children work in Bolivia according to a 2012 UNESCO report, including 120,000 in the dangerous mining sector. This represents 17 percent of the total labor force, which makes Bolivia the country with the highest ratio of child labor per population.
First, following a prohibitionist approach similar to Rafael Correa in Ecuador, the progressive government of Evo Morales finally ceded to the pressure of a large movement of child workers, organized since the 2011 in a union called Unatsbo.
In December 2013, they protested strongly against a reform of the Labor Code prohibiting further child labor. As the protest turned violent with clashes against the police, their mobilization was largely covered in the media, and Morales finally agreed to hear their requests at the presidential palace.
After months of tough debates in Congress, on Aug. 6, 2014, lawmakers eventually approved the government’s proposal to allow children from 10-years-old to work, yet only if the activity is not “dangerous” and if it does not harm the child’s access to education. In Bolivia, children usually need to work if they want to continue studying, because their parents usually cannot afford the school expenses, even with the governmental help allocated since Morales’ government.
Many professionals working with children in Bolivia admitted that the measure represented a significant improvement for children, providing legal protection in the many cases where they are exploited, and access to health services, at least until Bolivia can totally eradicate poverty.
Since Morales has been in power, the extreme poverty rate declined from 38 percent to 21 percent, and the government has vowed to reach below 10 percent by 2020.
Cuba is known for sending medical personnel overseas as part of its medical brigade program which was launched during the 1959 Revolution.
The Bolivian Health Ministry thanked Cuban doctors and the Cuban government Friday for the solidarity offered to their country as part of Cuba’s medical internationalism over the past 10 years.
Ariana Campero, the head of agency of the decade-long program, congratulated the local partners and conveyed greetings from President Evo Morales. “Thank you very much to Fidel Castro, Commander Raul Castro and the Cuban people. We are sending you all an embrace of solidarity from Bolivia.”
According to Dr. Pavel Noa, the national coordinator of the mission, the most important results that protrude from the mission encompass more than 63 million consultations offered to the Bolivian people, 179,282 surgical interventions performed and a total of 86,983 lives saved.
Medical workers are often believed to be Cuba’s most important export, having served in countries all over the world and in particular in Latin America, Africa and, more recently in Oceania.
Dr. Alina Ochoa, head of Medical Assistance Brigade, stressed the importance of cooperation in the healthcare sector and said the aim was to ensure the health of the Bolivian people. “Cuba has a long and successful history in providing medical staff worldwide, which was ratified in Bolivia with the presence of more than 700 collaborators.”
The representative of the Pan American Health Organization, Luis Fernando Leanes, acknowledged the work of the Cuban mission, which he described as wonderful and very important. “How nice to be in this country and see Cubans and Bolivians working together for peace and welfare”, he said.
Cuba´s efforts in providing medical services to the poor have been acknowledged internationally as it was among the first countries to respond when the World Health Organization called for medical staff to help with the Ebola crisis. Fidel Castro proudly described the 12,000 medical volunteers who signed up as “an army of white coats”.
The probe involves 12 former state officials in total, including opposition leader Samuel Doria Medina, over alleged economic crimes.
The Bolivian National Assembly approved Saturday the decision to probe former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada over “prejudicial contracts to the State, anti-economic behavior and unfulfillment of duty,” the Congress presidency said in a report sent to AFP.
Sanchez de Lozada, who is a fugitive from Bolivia’s justice system is currently living in the United States since he was accused in 2006 for violation of human rights. He was governing Bolivia during the privatization of various state-run companies, particularly the railway firm ENFE in 1995.
Sanchez Lozada is accused of having under-sold the state shares for an amount of US$13 million, while its value was estimated to reach US$29 million.
Lawmakers approved a report issued by the legislative commission of justice, which was issued after a year investigation into the capitalization and privatizations of public companies carried out between 1990-2001.
The General Attorney’s Office will now be in charge of the judicial proceedings before the country’s Supreme Court.
Sanchez de Lozada fled to the United States in 2003, after riots and clashes with security forces resulted in the death of 60 people, known as the “Black October massacre” ending de facto his presidential term.
The United States granted him asylum, while the Bolivian government is still demanding the U.S. extradite him.
New film Our Brand is Crisis doesn’t tell us how a president who authorized the massacre of indigenous Bolivians has lived with impunity in the US for 12 years
Our Brand Is Crisis, a new feature film produced by George Clooney and “inspired by true events,” tells the story of a presidential campaign in a fictional Latin American country that is besieged by social unrest.
In real life, the country is Bolivia, the year was 2002, and the candidate was Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (“Goni”), a deeply unpopular former president who was propelled to victory by the nefarious campaign strategies of prominent U.S. polling and marketing consultants Greenville Carville and Shrum. Goni, a U.S.-educated millionaire mine owner, won the election with only 22% of the popular vote.
What the film doesn’t show is what happened less than a year later. In October 2003, Goni authorized the violent repression of indigenous citizens who were protesting the privatization of Bolivia’s oil and gas reserves, and the proposed export of cheap gas to the U.S. through Chilean ports. The results were 68 dead and 400 injured, including onlookers and children. Most of the violence took place in El Alto, the indigenous city overlooking La Paz that was the epicenter of Bolivia’s “Gas War.”
The massacre sparked a popular uprising that led to Goni’s resignation, followed by a chain of events culminating in the 2005 election of Evo Morales as Bolivia’s first indigenous president. Goni and his defense minister Carlos Sánchez Berzaín fled to the US, where they have lived for 12 years in comfort, relative obscurity, and with full impunity, shielded by successive Republican and Democratic administrations.
Bolivians, though, have not forgotten. This past month, in what has become an annual ritual, families, survivors, and friends of the victims marched in El Alto, together with hundreds of supporters from popular and neighborhood organizations, to commemorate the events of “Black October” and demand that the perpetrators of violence be brought to justice.
Beyond his infamous responsibility for Black October, Goni is equally despised in Bolivia for overseeing a radical neoliberal program of privatization, austerity, and deregulation at the behest of the US government and international financial institutions. While helping to reduce hyperinflation, these free-market reforms also led to rising unemployment, deepening poverty, and transnational corporate control of Bolivia’s economy.
In 2004, after a concerted campaign by the victims’ families and human rights groups, more than two-thirds of the Bolivian Congress—including many members of Goni’s own party—voted to authorize a “trial of responsibility” for the perpetrators of the Black October violence. Seventeen former military and government officials, including Goni and Sánchez Berzaín, were charged with serious human rights crimes, including homicide, torture, and “genocide in the form of a bloody massacre.” Seven have been tried and convicted in Bolivia, receiving prison sentences of 3-15 years in a landmark 2011 case. However, under Bolivian law, those who fled into exile cannot be held legally accountable unless the government succeeds in extraditing them.
The Bolivian government’s initial petition for the extradition of Goni and Sánchez Berzaín, filed in 2008, was rejected by the U.S. State Department in 2012, seemingly because some charges lacked equivalency in U.S. law. A revised request, filed in July 2014, is still pending.
The obstacles to success remain formidable, including Goni’s long-standing dual citizenship, advanced age (85), and, especially, his close ties to powerful US politicians and business tycoons. In addition to his relationship with top Democratic political operatives James Carville, Stan Greenberg, and Bob Shrum (detailed in the original Our Brand is Crisis, an excellent 2005 documentary by Rachel Boynton), Goni was advised in his 2002 campaign by Mark Feierstein, who currently serves as Obama’s Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council. Greg Craig, Goni’s former attorney, coordinated Bill Clinton’s legal defense during his impeachment trial and later became Obama’s White House Counsel.
Last April, Goni was a featured speaker in a lecture series at Mercer University’s Center for Undergraduate Research on Public Policy and Capitalism, financed by the Koch brothers. More than 300 US solidarity activists, academics, and representatives of civil society organizations protested the event in a letter to the university president, requesting that video testimonies offered by the Black October victims’ families also be aired to provide a more balanced perspective.
Underlying the conflict over extradition is the fraught political relationship between Bolivia and the US that has persisted throughout the Morales era, characterized by mutual distrust and a tendency on both sides to exploit ideological differences for domestic political gain. The two countries have not had formal diplomatic relations since 2008, when Morales expelled U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg for suspected consorting with conservative opposition leaders who were actively seeking to destabilize his government—a suspicion subsequently borne out by Wikileaks cable revelations—and the US responded in kind.
In 2013, Morales also expelled USAID for meddling in domestic political affairs, an accusation that gained widespread traction due to the agency’s lack of transparency in funding. A few months later, the grounding of Morales’s presidential jet in Europe when the U.S. suspected that fugitive Edward Snowden might be on board substantially undermined a new “framework agreement” for bilateral relations negotiated by the parties in 2011.
Morales has repeatedly clashed with the U.S. over drug policy. In 2008, he expelled the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), symbol of the repressive U.S. War on Drugs, to embark on a new anti-drug trafficking strategy that acknowledges Bolivia’s traditional uses of coca and enlists the powerful coca growers’ unions in regulating their own activity through social control.
Despite a recent United Nations report documenting the success of this policy, in the form of a significant reduction in Bolivia’s coca-growing acreage, the U.S. has continued to “decertify” Bolivia for “failing demonstrably” to curb illegal drug trafficking. This means that the U.S. will likely continue to deny previously-granted trade preferences for Bolivia’s manufacturing exports, an economic sanction that Bolivia deeply resents. Recent revelations that the US has secretly indicted several top government officials and their associates as a result of a DEA drug sting have reinforced Morales’s suspicions that a vengeful DEA is working to undermine his administration.
Still, with the recent U.S.-Cuba thaw setting a new standard for diplomatic pragmatism in the region, there is good reason to anticipate that U.S.-Bolivia relations will improve. As with Cuba, a primary motivating factor is likely to be the availability of new markets for U.S. businesses in Bolivia, now that, with the end of the commodities boom, the Morales government has stepped up its efforts to attract foreign capital.
Just this past week, Morales showcased investment opportunities in Bolivia’s hydrocarbons, mining, energy, manufacturing, and tourist sectors at a New York City conference, “Investing in the New Bolivia.” The event, sponsored by the London-based Financial Times (FT), drew more than 150 corporate and financial representatives from the U.S .and around the world, with 34 companies (including Seattle-based Boeing) expressing significant interest.
Despite Morales’s warnings that foreign companies must partner with the government and not meddle in domestic politics —important differences from the neoliberal Goni era— Bolivia’s new pro-business climate could go a long way towards countering the recent history of ideological and rhetorical conflict between the two countries. Even so, with Goni’s still powerful bipartisan connections, it’s hard to say whether improved economic and political relations could elevate the status of Bolivia’s extradition request on the bilateral agenda. It’s also unclear whether extradition is still a top priority for the Morales government, or has been superseded by other nationalist causes—such as Bolivia’s demand for the return of its seacoast from Chile—that have gained new political traction.
Meanwhile, a civil suit filed against Goni in 2014 by the families of Black October victims, seeking compensatory and punitive damages under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act, is progressing slowly through the US courts. Last May, Goni was forced to submit to a 6-hour deposition, an emotional experience for the families— and the first and only time he has appeared in a judicial forum to account for his crimes. The families are also pursuing claims in the Bolivian courts to allow the assets of those convicted of Black October crimes to be auctioned off and paid to them as reparations.
Here in the US, solidarity activists have launched a parody website to tell the true story of state violence and impunity that lies behind the fictionalized Our Brand is Crisis. It includes video testimonies from the families of Black October victims and survivors and a petition demanding Goni’s extradition.
Emily Achtenberg is an urban planner and the author of NACLA’s blog Rebel Currents, covering Latin American social movements and progressive governments
The International Court of Justice in The Hague is preparing to rule this Thursday on whether or not it will hear Bolivia’s claim demanding access to the Pacific Ocean, which has revived an age-old dispute between them and neighboring Chile.
Bolivia brought its claim against Chile to the ICJ in 2013, based on almost a century’s worth of diplomatic and historical documents in which Santiago committed to resolve the issue of Bolivia’s access to the sea. The coastal territory was taken from Bolivia in The War of the Pacific (1879-1883) between the two countries, and Peru.
Meanwhile, the Chilean government says Bolivia’s claim has no bearing in the international court, saying the issue was resolved by a treaty signed by both nations in 1904, and has asked to have the claim dismissed.
Both countries were given four days with the ICJ earlier this year to justify their positions regarding how much jurisdiction the court should have on the territorial dispute. The court will finally announce their decision Thursday, which could go either way.
Both sides stand to gain economically by controlling the coastal region. For Bolivia – one of only two landlocked countries in Latin America – it could boost the country’s trade. According to figures from the World Bank, landlocked developing countries trade on average 30 percent less than coastal countries.
As a result of higher transportation costs, Bolivia’s exports are 55 percent more expensive than those from Chile and 60 percent more expensive than those from Peru, according to Global Risk Insights.
For Chile, many Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) terminals and pipelines are spread throughout its northern shoreline, the territory under dispute. LNG is imported by sea and is a major source of electricity for the country, which is not rich in hydrocarbons. It is unlikely Chile will be willing to give up this territory.
The Hague could rule either way Thursday. If it rules in favor of Bolivia and agrees to hear its claim, both countries will be invited to return to the court to present oral arguments as to why Bolivia thinks Chile has a legal obligation to negotiate sovereign access to the Pacific. Chile will of course argue the contrary.
This entire process, if it moves forward, will likely take another three to five years, with lawmakers saying any changes are not expected until at least 2020.
Bolivian President Evo Morales has said that he will commit to The Hague’s ruling, regardless of how it decides, explaining that the ICJ had been set up by the United Nations to achieve justice.
However, many speculate that regardless of ICJ’s decision Thursday, relations between the two South American nations have already been strained.
Forgotten / Olvidados is one of the most important Bolivian films to emerge recently, marking a high point of technical achievement for the country’s film industry. The film serves as powerful indictment of the military personnel who were responsible for thousands of deaths and disappearances of political dissidents in Latin America during Operation Condor, estimated at 30,000 forced disappearances, 50,000 deaths, and 400,000 arrests. Beginning in 1975 the political campaign of repression spanned across Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay—carried out by the right-wing military dictatorships and backed by the CIA. The ruthless campaign of suppression targeted opposition movements, including students, Marxists, Communists, and political parties that were deemed threats to the authoritarian governments.
Mexican actor, Damián Alcáraz plays General José Mendieta, a callous official tasked with the arrest, torture of dissidents under the guise of Operation Condor. General Mendieta shows some initial reluctance at carrying out the orders from his superiors. In his old age, the atrocities he committed in the past start to weigh on his psyche. The ruling class responsible for spearheading forced disappearances has rarely faced the justice system or been made to answer for their crimes. The perpetrators of such atrocities have grown old and frail, dying of old age, something denied to the many victims they executed.
After General Mendieta suffers a heart attack during a walk around the city, in which he encounters one of his former victims, he begins to craft a letter to his son Pablo (Bernardo Peña), now living in New York. In the letter he admits his involvement in the campaign of terror. In flashbacks we see how he was one of the masterminds of Operation Condor, where students, activists, and political opponents were followed, their meetings infiltrated by military personnel; when the order arrived, soldiers descended, forcibly taking their targets in broad daylight. The journalist Marco (Carlos Cotta) and his wife Luíca (Carla Ortiz) are among those taken by the military.
“Ramon Diaz. Thirty-nine. Monica Paz. Twenty-five. Luis Maldini. Sixty. Horacio Belette. Forty-two, Laura Gonzalez. Forty-three,” a jailed, dissident utters the names and age of those he shared his jail cell with the night before, but were taken away in the dark of the night by military forces. The repetition of their names serves as a mnemonic device to keep the identities alive, should any of the newly arrived prisoners manage to escape alive. While imprisoned the dissidents argue over their ideals that led to their imprisonment asking if their involvement in pursuit of social justice was it worth it.
The strength of the film lies in its painfully accurate portrayal of torture. The most powerful scenes occur in the jail cells, when the dissidents are subjected to torture and in the streets where protesters voice their opposition to the military dictatorship. The torture techniques used by the US officials in the Middle East against perceived terrorist threats were perfected decades earlier—in the CIA backed campaigns against political opponents in Latin America. When torture is still glorified by some political circles, the realistic portrayal of the toll of electrocution, water torture, rape, and isolation, dispels the fantasy that torture can be a useful method to extract information. The film makes evident, that anyone under duress will say what is needed to end the pain.
It is less successful in offering insight into the history of the region, offering but a glimpse of archival footage of US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and a brief look at the training of soldiers at the infamous School of the Americas by US military personnel.
Forgotten was directed by Mexican Carlos Bolado, whose filmography has focused on social justice themes including Tlateloco: Verano del 68, the documentary about the 1968 student massacre in Mexico City, and Colosio: The Assassination, a film about the murder of Mexico’s presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio. Filmed over 3 months in Bolivia, Chile and New York, the Chilean desert offers a lush backdrop—a jarring contrast against the brutality of the military repression.
The film was written and produced by actress Carla Ortiz who was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The film was years in the making, with Ortiz saying “that we urgently need to recuperate our historical memory, in order to not let history repeat itself” adding “it is important for the Americans to understand what their government keeps doing wrong or keeps on abusing its power for their benefit.” The disappearance of students, activists, and political dissidents, and the continued impunity and lack of prosecutions of the perpetrators of Operation Condor remains an injustice that plagues Latin America.
With the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of forty-three students from the Teachers College in Ayotzinapa, Mexico approaching, Forgotten reminds us that military repression has a long and painful history across the continent, the tactics employed by repressive military forces now, have been perfected through decades of forced disappearances of dissidents.
The film opens in theaters on September 18, in New York and October 2, in Los Angeles followed by a December release on HBO Latino.
Recent statements by Bolivia’s Vice President Alvaro Garcia regarding nongovernmental organisations in Bolivia have triggered a heated debate on the left.
At an Aug. 11 media conference, Garcia accused NGOs of acting like political parties seeking to interfere in Bolivia’s domestic affairs. While respecting their right to criticize government policies, Garcia said foreign-funded nongovernmental organisations needed to understand their place within Bolivian society.
“Does this group of comrades have the right to form an NGO and produce and publish what they want? Of course they have the right to do this, but foreign NGOs do not have the right to come to Bolivia and say I am supporting Bolivia’s development while they do politics and defend the interests of transnationals,” he said.
He highlighted the fact that foreign companies and governments were the biggest backers of nongovernmental organisations. “What do we say to them?” he asked. “Finance in your own country, there is no need for you to come and interfere in our country, our relationship with foreign governments and companies is very clear: service in function of our policy and usefulness in function of a sovereign state; but not for the purposes of covert political action…”
Garcia said foreign governments were using NGOs to push policies that sought to stunt Bolivia’s development under the guise of protecting the environment. The four nongovernmental organisations Garcia singled out in particular during the media conference have been among the loudest critics of his government’s environmental policies.
In response, a number of academics from across the world signed an open letter stating concerns for what they viewed as “threats, which if they became a reality, would imply a grave blow in terms of restricting civil rights, among them, freedom of expression and association”. They argued the real issue Garcia had with these NGOs was that they had criticized his government’s shortcomings.
Others have defended these nongovernmental organisations on the basis of their role in promoting environmental struggles.
Contributing to the debate with an article on Alainet.org, Carmelo Ruiz said Garcia’s comments come at a time when falling commodity prices are exacerbating the contradictions of his government’s “progressive extractivist model”. Furthermore, he argued the Morales government was facing the threat of a rise in social and environmental protests.
Faced with this dilemma, Ruiz said critical voices had chosen to point out that “protest and repression is inevitable in extractivism”, while government spokespeople have preferred to blame discontent on “imperialist manipulations.”
Like Ruiz, many have tried to portray Garcia’s comments as something relatively new. However, his criticisms of NGOs predate his election to office or recent conflicts with certain indigenous and environmental groups.
For example, Garcia criticized the role of NGOs in Sociology of Social Movements in Bolivia, a book many of his current critics still hold up as the most authoritative studies of its kind.
In a chapter focusing on the highlands indigenous organisation CONAMAQ, Garcia notes that nongovernmental organisation financing resulted in the organisation taking on certain “bureaucratic-administrative characteristics”. It also in part explained CONAMAQ’s propensity to act less like a social movement and more like a lobby group that sought to “negotiate and reach formal agreements with government institutions and multilateral support organisms.”
The book noted how in certain communities, NGOs had artificially propped up “ayllus” (which make up CONAMAQ’s base) to compete for local influence against more radical peasant unions.
Criticism of nongovernmental organisations’ role in co-opting and dividing social movements is also present in another book he co-authored, “We Are No Ones Toys.” Notably, they appear in a chapter dedicated to the conflict between indigenous groups and coca-growers in the Isiboro-Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS).
In 2011, conflict between these sectors over a proposed highway through the TIPNIS boiled over to become an issue of national, and even international significance for the Morales government.
Throughout the chapter, a number of references are made regarding the heavy influence NGOs had over indigenous communities.
Commenting in the book on the role of nongovernmental organisations in TIPNIS, local coca-grower leader Feliciano Mamani makes many of the same criticisms Garcia Linera made more than half a decade later in his book Geopolitics of the Amazon.
Mamani said: “NGOs and other interests that come for our natural resources, control indigenous people through money… where ever there are natural resources there are hundreds of NGOs confusing indigenous peoples and making false declarations….”
Since coming into office, Garcia’s criticisms of nongovernmental organisations’ relationship with social movements have not changed, however his public critique of NGOs has broadened to encompass other issues.
Garcia has argued that nongovernmental organisations had a huge influence over government ministries prior to Morales election. He recounts: “When we came into government in 2006, we found an executive carved up and handed over to embassies and [NGOs]… We could not do anything without authorization either from the embassies… or certain NGOs.”
This was in large part due to the fact that international loans and aid made up about half of the state budget for public investment.
The Morales government was able to quickly assert its control over state institutions as a result of its policy of nationalizing natural resources. Increased revenue from resource extraction put the government in the position where it could set its own policies, free of dependency or interference by foreign governments or NGOs.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, nongovernmental organisations’ hostility towards the Bolivian government has paralleled its loss of influence over state policies.
All this is also part of the context within which Garcia’s comments need to be placed.
Framing the debate however, as though it is simply about a government hiding behind the rhetoric of national sovereignty to crackdown on opponents – or alternatively, viewing all government critics as stooges for imperialism – will only lead to a dialogue of the deaf.
For starters, it should not be too hard to defend free speech at the same time as respecting Bolivia’s sovereignty.
The left has always opposed attempts by governments to crackdown on free speech, and should continue to do so when this occurs. But this is separate to the issue of allowing foreign governments and corporation to do as they please on Bolivian soil.
It is one thing to shut down nongovernmental organisations or jail opponents for what they say. Garcia has made it clear in his response to his critics that his government will not be closing down any NGO.
But it is quite another thing to deny the right of a sovereign government to control the flow of funds from hostile governments into its territory. Or is the left now going to argue that, in the name of “free speech”, foreign governments and corporations should be able to fund whoever they want in Bolivia?
We should use this opportunity to seriously discuss the various issues the debate has already thrown up. This includes, among others, the role of nongovernmental organisations in the Global South, how extractive industries have helped loosen foreign control over the Bolivian state, what alternative sources of funding might exist to enable this situation to remain, and what it would really take for Bolivia to overcome extractivism.