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.
The statue of Juana Azurdy is a gift from Bolivia to Argentina. | Photo: telam
Bolivian President Evo Morales’ visit to his Argentina counterpart Cristina Fernandez Wednesday will focus not only on bilateral agreements between the two nations, but also South America’s independence history, Cuban news agency Prensa Latina reported.
The two South American leaders will inaugurate a monument to independence heroine and South American guerrilla military leader Juana Azurduy.
The 15-meter high (52 feet) bronze statue has been erected outside the presidential palace in Buenos Aires in the place that a monument to Christopher Columbus once stood.
Festivities throughout the week will celebrate the monument’s inauguration as a symbol of “Patria Grande,” a term that roughly translates as “Big Homeland,” used in Latin America to refer to the integration process in the region.
The statue, which will be Argentina’s largest once officially revealed, was made by sculptor Andres Zerneri, who began working on the statue three years ago with the help of a team of 45 assistants.
Zerneri said Azurduy led battles that were fundamental for South American independence and her legacy is part of the longstanding regional defense of Patria Grande.
Morales and Fernandez will also further consolidate bilateral ties with the signing of various agreements, including energy integration deals laying the foundation to build an electrical line connecting Yaguaca in southern Bolivia to Tartagal in northern Argentina.
Government sources have said that the meeting reinforces the relationship between the two South American nations linked by trade, political ties, and Bolivian immigration to Argentina, according to Prensa Latina.
After concluding talks in Argentina, both Morales and Fernandez will travel to Brazil for a summit of the regional organization Mercosur, during with Bolivia could be welcomed as a full member of the bloc.
Argentina has ordered the seizure of assets belonging to foreign drilling companies operating in the vicinity of Falklands / Malvinas Islands, saying they have failed to obtain the necessary permissions from Buenos Aires to conduct exploration.
A federal judge in Tierra del Fuego, Lilian Herraez, has ordered authorities to seize the assets of five companies drilling for oil in the Falklands worth $156 mn. The measure was ordered following a request of a prosecutor from the Office of Economic Crime and Money Laundering (PROCELAC).
According to the prosecution, the order to seize assets was issued for “illegal activities of exploration, search and eventual extraction of hydrocarbons in proximity to the Falkland Islands” because the companies in question failed to obtain permits issued by “the competent authority in Argentina.”
According to a legal brief, the order involves halting the activities of the semi-submersible “Eirik Raude” rig and the floating dock“Noble Frontier”. Herraez also ordered the seizure of all vessels.
The five companies mentioned are: Premier Oil Plc, Rockhopper Exploration Plc, Falkland Oil and Gas Ltd, Noble Energy Inc and Edison International Spa. Three of them are UK based, one is American and the fifth is French-owned, based in Italy.
It remains unclear how these companies’ assets are supposed to be appropriated from territory officially under the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the United Kingdom. The companies in question do not generally hold any assets in Argentina or use Argentine waters, a source told Reuters.
However, the Argentine prosecutor’s office said it “had identified the assets of the foreign companies and discovered that one of them, the US firm Noble Energy, has a local office registered in Argentina.” Authorities will move to freeze those assets, it said.
“The foreign ministry will be notified of the court order so that by diplomatic means and in compliance with international treaties it can be carried out,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
In April, a group of British exploration companies found oil and gas in an area north of the Falkland Islands. The oil was discovered by the Eirik Raude floating drilling rig as part of an eight month exploration campaign. Argentina has predictably not been happy about the exploration activity, which is bound to further inflame tensions over the island’s disputed ownership.
In Argentina, the Falkland Islands are known as the ‘Islas Malvinas.’ The dispute between the UK and Argentina over the sovereignty of the islands has reemerged in recent years under President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
Latin American countries should discuss removing all US military bases from their soil, a top official of integration organization UNASUR suggested. The issue may be discussed next month at the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama.
The Summit of the Americas on April 10 and 11 is to be attended by regional leaders, with 31 nations already confirming attendance. UNASUR Secretary-General Ernesto Samper suggested that the summit would be a good place to “reassess relations between the US and South America.”
“A good point on the new agenda of relations [in Latin America] would be the elimination of US military bases,” the former Columbian president told the news agency EFE.
He added that the bases were “a leftover from the days of the Cold War and other clashes.”
Samper also blasted Washington’s habit of taking unilateral steps to pursue its goals in Latin America. The latest example is the US declaration of Venezuela as a threat to its national security, he said.
“In a globalized world like the present one, you can’t ask for global rules for the economy and maintain unilateral rules for politics. No country has the right to judge the conduct of another and even less to impose sanctions and penalties on their own,” he stressed.
The Panama meeting has already been declared historic as it will be the first one attended by Cuba since 1962, when it was expelled from the Organization of American States (OAS), the event’s organizing body. In 2014, the US and Canada blocked the proposal to readmit Cuba, which drew criticism from UNASUR and a boycott of last year’s summit of the Americas by Ecuador and Nicaragua.
This year Cuban President Raul Castro will have an opportunity to meet his US counterpart Barack Obama, marking progress in the restoration of US-Cuban relations after decades of alienation.
Samper said that the Cuban-US rapprochement should not overshadow Washington’s conflict with Caracas, which is also sending a delegation to the Panama summit, the continued operation of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, US militarization of the continent and other issues.
The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) is a regional integration organization that includes 12 members and two observer nations. It was formally founded in 2004 and became fully functional in 2011, when its Constitutive Treaty entered into force following ratification by member states. UNASUR is headed by a president chosen from heads of member states, but the secretary-general performs the bulk of the organizational work.
Fifty-four Colombian girls were sexually abused by US troops and military contractors between 2003 and 2007, claims a new report by the country’s reconciliation commission. None of the perpetrators were ever prosecuted because US forces had immunity.
The claims are part of an 800-page report by an independent commission established by the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group. The commission’s goal is to determine the causes and document the consequences of the civil war that has ravaged the country for 50 years and claimed over seven million lives.
“There exists abundant information about the sexual violence, in absolute impunity thanks to the bilateral agreements and the diplomatic immunity of United States officials,” Renan Vega, of the National University of Colombia in Bogota, told Colombia Reports.
Vega authored the portion of the report documenting the allegations of sexual abuse by US military personnel and contractors, deployed in the country under ‘Plan Colombia’ to back the government against FARC and cocaine cartels.
Most of the abuses allegedly took place in Melgar, a town in the province of Tolima, located 61 miles (98 km) southwest of Bogota. In one instance, contractors based at Tolemaida Air Base were abusing more than 50 underage girls and making pornographic videos.
In another instance, in 2007, one US sergeant and a security contractor were accused of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl. An investigation by Colombian prosecutors established that the girl had been drugged and assaulted inside the military base by Sergeant Michael J. Coen and contractor Cesar Ruiz. Both were flown out of the country, as terms of the US-Colombian Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) gave US personnel immunity from local laws.
The girl and her family left Melgar and moved to Medellin, claiming harassment and threats from the US-allied government forces.
The Colombian daily El Tiempo reported that Melgar was dealing with a ”a growing societal problem” of sexually exploited minors, “augmented by the presence of foreigners, especially those from the United States tied to oil and military endeavors.” The newspaper reported that there had been 23 formal complaints in 2006 and 13 in 2007. Left-leaning news site El Turbion corroborated the numbers.
According to the government, 7,234 Colombian women were registered as victims of sex crimes during the conflict.
Uruguay’s president, Jose “Pepe” Mujica, a former guerrilla who lives on a farm and gives most of his salary to charity, is stepping down after five years in office, ending his term as one of the world’s most popular leaders ever.
Mujica, 79, is leaving office with a 65 percent approval rating. He is constitutionally prohibited from serving consecutive terms.
“I became president filled with idealism, but then reality hit,” Mujica said in an interview with a local newspaper earlier this week, according to AFP.
Some call him “the world’s poorest president.” Others the “president every other country would like to have.” But Mujica says “there’s still so much to do” and hopes that the next government, led by Tabare Vazquez (who was elected president for a second time last November) will be “better than mine and will have greater success.”
Mujica said he succeeded in putting Uruguay on the world map. He managed to turn the cattle-ranching country, home to 3,4 million people, into an energy-exporting nation, Brazil being Uruguay’s top export market (followed by China, Argentina, Venezuela and the US.)
Uruguay’s $55 billion economy has grown an average 5.7 percent annually since 2005, according to the World Bank. Uruguay has maintained its decreasing trend in public debt-to-GDP ratio – from 100 percent in 2003 to 60 percent by 2014. It has also managed to decrease the cost of its debt, and reduce dollarization – from 80 percent in 2002 to 50 percent in 2014.
“We’ve had positive years for equality. Ten years ago, about 39 percent of Uruguayans lived below the poverty line; we’ve brought that down to under 11 percent and we’ve reduced extreme poverty from 5 percent to only 0.5 percent,” Mujica told the Guardian in November.
After Latin America’s anti-drug war proved a failure, the South American country became the first in the world to fully legalize marijuana, with Mujica arguing that drug trafficking is in fact more dangerous than marijuana itself.
One of the most progressive leaders in Latin America. Muijica also legalized abortion and same-sex marriage and agreed to take in detainees once held at the notorious Guantanamo Bay. Six former US detainees, who were never charged with a crime, came to Uruguay in December as refugees. The six included four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian. Although they were cleared for release back in 2009, the US was not able to discharge them until Uruguayan President offered to receive them.
Mujica, a former leftist Tupamaro guerrilla leader, spent 13 years in jail during the years of Uruguay’s military dictatorship. He survived torture and endless months of solitary confinement. Majica said he never regretted his time in jail, which he believes helped shape his character.
Mujica’s kindness speaks volumes: He refused to move to Uruguay’s luxurious presidential mansion to live in a farm outside Montevideo with his wife and a three-legged dog named Manuela. Pepe gives away about 90 percent of his salary to charity, saying he simply doesn’t need it. He drives an 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.
Last year, Mujica turned down a $1 million offer from an Arab sheik who offered to buy his blue car. Pepe refused to sell the vehicle, saying it would offend “all those friends who pooled together to buy it for us.”
In January, a young Uruguayan man posted a message on his Facebook page recounting how Mujica and his wife picked him up while he was hitchhiking.
“On Monday, I was looking for a ride from Conchilla and guess who picked me up on the road?” Gerhald Acosta wrote on his Facebook post January 7. “They were the only ones who would stop!”
“When I got out, I thanked them profusely because not everyone helps someone out on the road, and much less a president,” the man told Uruguay’s El Observador newspaper.
US sanctions against Russia can be considered as economic terrorism, said acting Bolivian President Evo Morales in an interview to RT. He also revealed his secret job aspiration.
“This [US sanctions against Russia] is genuine economic terrorism. The country that thinks it can dominate the world is making a mistake,” says Morales.
“I think that US President Barack Obama doesn’t’ know what is going on in other countries and continents.”
According to Morales, a single country “cannot rule in this multipolar world,” as all the issues should be “settled in cooperation among the states; that’s what the UN is for.”
“Thus I condemn and reject these kind of actions [US sanctions against Russia],” said the president, adding that Bolivia shares “the struggle of the Russian people.”
“I express my solidarity with Russian people and their President [Vladimir Putin],” he added.
Morales recently coasted to victory in the country’s presidential elections. He won the third term, securing 60.5 percent of the vote according to a count released by local TV channel ATB.
“This win is a triumph for anti-imperialists and anti-colonialists,” Morales announced from the balcony of his palace to thousands of supporters. He dedicated his victory to Cuba’s ex-President Fidel Castro and the late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez.
Morales took office in 2006, and after the latest victory will remain the state leader until January 2020.
Under Morales’ term the number of Bolivians living in extreme poverty reduced and he delivered economic growth of more than 5 percent a year.
In an interview with RT, he noted that one of the main political purposes for Bolivia will be fighting poverty.
“I hope that nobody will have the childhood I had: without electricity, telecommunications, drinking water,” said Morales, adding that he often drank water from a pond when he was a child.
According to the Bolivian president, the country has achieved in just nine years what it hitherto couldn’t achieve in 180.
“I want to speak of my experience. How important it was to start from the bottom: poverty. That’s why I always say that my nation is my family. Homeland is my soul. Bolivia is my life.” … Full article
The Economist’s Bello column this week has a column entitled “Memory is not history“, which argues that “there are dangers [in South America’s] intellectual fashion for “historical memory”.” It goes on to accuse “the left” of “rewriting history” – in fact, of imposing “memory” over an accurate “history”.
I would argue that the piece contains several important distortions, aside from trying to lump together a region from Colombia down to the Southern Cone.
The historical truth silenced by “memory” is that the cold war in Latin America was fought by two equally authoritarian sides.
But it was not. To take the example of Argentina, yes, there were Montoneros and there were incidences of left-wing violence before the 1976 coup. But to suggest that the small leftist group, which was largely destroyed before the military took power, was in any way equivalent to the forces of the State is very far off the mark.
The Economist points out that some human rights groups in Argentina tend to use the figure of 30,000 disappeared and it contrasts this with the nearly 9,000 victims recorded by the CONADEP commission. It is inaccurate and unfair to use the CONADEP list to undermine estimates of the disappeared, and I explained why in detail years ago. See also here for more on the numbers.
None of this mitigates the inexcusable barbarity of Pinochet or of the Argentine junta.
The problem is that it does. You can’t equate State terrorists with their victims, suggest that calculations of the disappeared are deliberately inflated, and then claim that you’re not weakening the accounts of the dictatorships’ crimes.
Memorials are a shorthand, yes. You can’t include the whole complexities of a country’s experiences on a plaque. Memory, in its wider sense, tends to include the testimonies of victims and relatives and it encompasses a whole range of commemorative acts, both formal and informal. Pulling out the memory/history dichotomy and reiterating the dos demonios theory (“each side was as bad as the other”) is a means of obscuring human rights abuses and seeking to paper over the crimes of the past.
Argentina’s Senate has passed a law that will let the country continue paying off its default debt by transferring international bond payments from New York to local banks, which would let other investors buy Argentine debt.
The scheme, to get around a US judge’s order to immediately pay back $1.6 billion to “vulture” hedge funds in Manhattan, is the initiative of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. The bill passed by a vote 39 to 27.
The initiative proposes to begin challenging payments through third parties, and allowing them to trade their bonds for new debt issued under Argentine law. Argentina’s state Banco de la Nacion could become the trustee for payments, replacing the Bank of New York Mellon. Another proposal is to make Paris a main destination for debt payments.
The US district court that ruled on Argentina’s debt maintains this is illegal.
Next week the law will be discussed in Argentina’s lower house Chamber of Deputies.
It is a brazen move against the ‘vulture’ funds that sent the country into default in July after demanding the immediate payment of $1.6 billion ($1.3 billion plus interest) in restructured debt, instead of the planned $539 million to bondholders. The ruling banned Argentina from making interest payment on restructured debt before settling with the New York hedge funds. The hedge funds had rejected Argentina’s requests to restructure the debt in 2005 and 2010.
“Sometimes there are court decisions that cannot be followed,” Miguel Angel Pichetto, head of the government’s Victory Front coalition in the Senate, said on Thursday.
Argentina has said it will take the US to the International Court of Justice for judicial malpractice.
“To pay the vulture funds would be very dangerous,” Pichetto said.
Washington has refused to allow the UN International Court of Justice (IJC) to hear Argentina’s claims that US court decisions on the country’s debt have violated Argentina’s sovereignty.
“We do not view the ICJ as an appropriate venue for addressing Argentina’s debt issues, and we continue to urge Argentina to engage with its creditors to resolve remaining issues with bondholders,” the US State Department told Reuters in an email.
The State Department sent an email with the same content to one of Argentina’s leading newspapers, the Clarin.
Argentina complained against Washington’s decisions on its debt to the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Thursday.
But according to existing norms, Buenos Aires needs Washington to voluntarily accept the ICJ’s jurisdiction for the proceedings to begin.
The US withdrew from compulsory jurisdiction back in 1986 after the UN court ruled that America’s covert war against Nicaragua was in violation of international law.
Since then, Washington accepts International Court of Justice jurisdiction only on a case-by-case basis.
On Friday, US District Judge Thomas Griesa, who oversees Argentina’s legal battle with hedge funds, threatened that a contempt of court order may be implemented.
Griesa said it will be put forward if Argentina continues to “falsely” insist that it has made a required debt payment on restructured sovereign bonds.
The warning caused confusion, as the judge didn’t specify who will face the punishment – Argentina or its lawyers.
It will be quite difficult to sanction the Argentinean state, as US federal law largely protects the assets of foreign governments held in the US, said Michael Ramsey, a professor of international law at the University of San Diego.
“You can’t put Argentina in jail, so I’m not sure what he’d have in mind besides monetary sanctions,” Ramsey said.
Later on Friday, Argentina’s economy ministry issued another statement, accusing the US judge of “clear partiality in favor of the vulture funds.”
“Judge Griesa continues contradicting himself and the facts by saying that Argentina did not pay,” the statement said.
Previously, Argentina announced the restructuring of 93 percent of its 2001 debt, but creditors holding the other seven percent of the bonds demanded full payment and initiated a legal battle.
A New York court ruled that Argentina had to pay $1.33 billion to the hedge funds, blocking the transfer of $590 million that Buenos Aires forwarded in order to cover its restructured debt.
The judge said Argentina had to start talks with the lenders that didn’t approve the debt restructuring and negotiate to postpone the payment with those who did agree.
With lenders unable to receive payment, international regulators and rating agencies announced Argentina’s ‘selective’ default.