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These articles from the corporate media describe dramatic recent events in Bolivia. Be sure to see Maria Tomchick's excellent analysis (below these articles).

Bolivia's Poor Proclaim Abiding Distrust of Globalization


Published: October 17, 2003

A PAZ, Bolivia, Oct. 15 — The many Indian protesters who choked the streets and highways of this Andean nation again on Thursday may be poor and speak broken or accented Spanish, but they have a powerful message.

It is this: no to the export of gas and other natural resources; no to free trade with the United States; no to globalization in any form other than solidarity among the downtrodden peoples of the developing world.

The force of that message may yet topple President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, who tried to quell the unrest by offering a package of concessions late Wednesday night that the protesters rejected.

Instead they vowed to continue with demonstrations meant to force his government to abandon a plan to export natural gas to the United States through a port in Chile. The protests have already left more than 80 people dead over the past month.

Sensing that public support for the president, weak to begin with, has all but vanished, opponents of the gas export plan have now moved to press their advantage.

"The blood that has been spilled is something sacred," Felipe Quispe, leader of the indigenous group that initiated the protests, said in response to Mr. Sánchez de Lozada's offer, made in a televised speech. "So we can't negotiate and we're not even going to talk."

Several thousand workers, mostly miners from the south and coca growers from the north, were reported to be marching on the capital Thursday. The armed forces demanded that they disperse, saying that the military would erect barricades to prevent them from entering La Paz, but the warning appeared to have gone unheeded.

More than merely threatening the longevity of Bolivia's government, the protesters have lent new energy to the discontent already percolating throughout the region.

Across South America, labor unions, student and civic groups and a new wave of leaders — Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, and Néstor Kirchner in Argentina — are expressing similar doubts about who actually benefits from a free flow of international trade and investment.

But nowhere have those doubts been expressed as forcefully as in this poor nation of eight million people, increasingly divided along class and racial lines. A majority of Bolivians have Indian blood, descended from the original inhabitants of this continent who got a foretaste of globalization centuries ago with the age of exploration and the arrival of European colonizers.

"Globalization is just another name for submission and domination," Nicanor Apaza, 46, an unemployed miner, said at a demonstration this week in which Indian women in bowler hats and colorful layered skirts carried banners denouncing the International Monetary Fund and demanding the president's resignation. "We've had to live with that here for 500 years, and now we want to be our own masters."

He and many other protesters see an unbroken line from this region's often rapacious colonial history to the failed economic experiments of the late 20th century, in which Bolivia was one of the first Latin American countries to open itself to the modern global economy. The $5 billion gas pipeline project is only the latest gambit.

Starting with the end of a military dictatorship two decades ago, Bolivia embraced the free-market model. State-owned companies were sold off. Foreign investment was courted. Government regulation was reduced, all in the name of a new era of growth and prosperity.

The policies brought to heel runaway inflation. But otherwise, the average Bolivian has had little to show for the government's embrace of policies urged on it by the United States, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, now the focus of so much resentment.

Exports have actually declined compared with their level 25 years ago. Growth has stalled for the past five years. Unemployment has soared, and Bolivia remains the poorest country in South America, with a per capita income of less than $950 a year — by some calculations, less than it was before the free-market reforms. "After 21 years, the economic model in place has not solved the problems of poverty and social exclusion," said Carlos Toranzo of the Latin American Institute for Research here.

The leading spokesman for the discontented here is Evo Morales, the charismatic 43-year-old leader of the coca growers' federation. As presidential candidate, he finished barely one percentage point behind Mr. Sánchez de Lozada in the election last year after a campaign that called for reversing the economic course.

While few development experts see much benefit from reinforcing economic barriers around an already landlocked nation, talk of self-reliance has taken on great appeal.

"If you talk to average people about the Free Trade Area of the Americas or even the gas export law, they really don't know that much about them," said Eduardo Gamarra, a Bolivian scholar who is director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Florida International University in Miami. "But Evo Morales and others have shrewdly used those ideas as a flag which plays on their deepest fears, the loss of identity and the giving away of what they consider to be their national patrimony."

At a recent regional anti-globalization forum in Argentina, Mr. Morales maintained that the United States and multinational companies have "a plan to exterminate the Indian" in order to seize control of the riches of Bolivia and neighboring countries.

"How much longer will the natural resources of Latin America remain in the hands of transnational companies?" he asked.

That suspicion is rooted deep in this country's bitter history. In the colonial era, silver from the mines of Potosí provided Spain with the wealth that allowed it to forge a global empire, and in modern times, tin made a few families, like the Patiños, fabulously wealthy.

"The wealth has always left the country and enriched foreigners, rather than staying here to improve our lives," said Pascuala Velázquez, an egg vendor of Aymara Indian descent, "but we cannot allow that to happen this time with the gas."

Rather than export gas and other resources, the protesters insist that they be used to help build an industrial base. But Bolivia does not have the money to carry out such a program on its own, and as a diplomat who represents a South American country asked, "Who in their right mind is going to be willing to invest in a country that is so unstable and hostile to foreign capital?"

Perhaps another president could have convinced Bolivians of the merits of the gas project, expected to quadruple the country's exports over the next decade. But Mr. Sánchez de Lozada, 73, a loyal ally of Washington and a millionaire former mining executive, is regarded here as so much a puppet of the foreign and domestic economic interests that his every word is suspect.

One demonstrator, Remberto Clavijo, a shoe repairman of Quechua Indian descent, said, "He has governed this country for the benefit of the gringos and the multinational companies and the Chileans, not for the Bolivian people."

Bolivian mob hurls dynamite
By Alistair Scrutton
La Paz
October 17, 2003

Bolivia's army fought to stop a column of dynamite-wielding miners from streaming into the besieged capital on Wednesday, leaving two dead as a popular uprising against the President spread.

A Catholic priest said two miners were killed and nine other protesters injured 110 kilometres outside La Paz as a convoy of miners threw dynamite at soldiers manning a roadblock.

Thousands of coca farmers and workers, including miners who tossed dynamite sticks down cobbled colonial streets, rallied in the centre of La Paz only blocks away from a presidential palace guarded by a ring of riot police and armoured vehicles.

La Paz was under siege as the Government of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada appeared to be crumbling in acrimony.

In an effort to placate the demonstrators, the President announced late on Wednesday that his Government would call a referendum seeking approval of natural gas exports, the main cause of the unrest.

As the trouble worsened, the administrative capital became a ghost town. Shops were shuttered, buses were idle and the airport was closed. Stone barricades were erected in the streets. President Sanchez de Lozada was sheltering in the palace.

Striking tin miners from the south and more peasants from the Yungas jungle lowlands are converging in two columns on the capital. Large demonstrations and road blockades have paralysed the rest of the country. At least 55 people have been killed and more than 100 hurt in the past four days.

"For God's sake, Goni, go!" shouted student Rene Roca, draped in a multicoloured Inca flag. Goni is a common name for the President, whose free market policies are blamed for the poverty of this landlocked nation.

The month-long revolt against Mr Sanchez de Lozada's US-backed policies has resulted in a steady stream of fatalities.

Angry Bolivians say a decade of neo-liberal, cost-cutting privatisations and pro-US policies, advocated by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, have increased poverty in a country where more than 60 per cent live below the poverty line.

"The people have control of the streets and are refusing to recognise the authority of the state," said Alvaro Garcia Linares, a sociologist at the University of San Andres in La Paz. "This is a social rebellion against an economic model that has not brought the expected results."

During the past few days the Government has split and there are signs that the President may be losing the confidence of the armed forces.

On Monday, Vice-President Carlos Mesa withdrew his support from Mr Sanchez de Lozada, the Minister of Economic Development resigned and one of the President's main coalition partners threatened to pull out of the Government.

Manfred Reyes Villa, a conservative and leading member of the ruling alliance, said his party would support the President only if he called a referendum over the gas plans - a demand since complied with.

"We want a government that represents the people of Bolivia, not the transnationals," said Edmundo Novillo, MP for the Movement to Socialism.

- Reuters, Guardian, New York Times

Maria Tomchick has written an excellent analysis of Bolivia:

Not Just About Gas

by Maria Tomchick

Last week the president of Bolivia resigned in the face of widespread strikes, protests, and a crippling blockade of Bolivia's capital city, La Paz, and its other major cities. The US press largely ignored the tumult in South America's poorest nation and, when the protests were covered at all, they were described as a reaction against the Bolivian government's plans to build a natural gas pipeline through neighboring Chile to the sea.

In actuality, Bolivians turned out in the hundreds of thousands to protest a much deeper problem: the theft of the nation's natural resources. For the past 150 years, Bolivia has been through three major extraction/export cycles. In the 1800s it was silver, extracted by the Spanish colonial rulers to enrich themselves. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was rubber, which put money into the pockets of large landowners. Throughout the Twentieth Century it was tin, and Bolivia's small upper class is mostly composed of rich mine owners and executives (including Bolivia's recently booted president). With each extraction cycle, Bolivia's natural resources have been depleted, the proceeds pocketed by a few, and the vast majority of Bolivians starved, scratching out a living on less than $2 per day.

So when the second largest reserves of natural gas were recently discovered in Bolivia, the Bolivian people decided to draw a line. The proceeds from natural gas sales must not be used to enrich a few at the expense of many, the protesters said; the proceeds must go into funding social programs. In a nation where few homes have electricity, the people wanted the natural gas to be used for domestic consumption first before being shipped abroad to run power plants in the United States. Having played the privatization game and lost, Bolivians were ready to change the rules.

The protesters had a few key demands that were somehow always left out of US press reports. In addition to wanting the president--a man who spoke Spanish with a thick, American accent--to resign, they insisted that the government halt and roll back the privatization program. They called for a national referendum so all Bolivians could vote on whether Bolivia should export its natural gas. They called for a new constituent assembly that would represent all sectors of society--not just wealthy landlords and mine owners. They wanted increased spending on social programs, land reform, and higher wages. They wanted Bolivia to withdraw from the US-dominated Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Whether they will get any of these things remains to be seen. Certainly, they have won the first round with the ouster of President Sanchez de Lozada.

They've won something else, too, that's been widely ignored in the US press. The current Bolivian protests represent the success of a certain type of globalization that few people expected: the globalization of anti-globalization protests. Bolivia has been through mass demonstrations before, particularly in the 1999-2000 struggle that prevented Bechtel from taking control of a large water utility in Bolivia's second-largest city. That, too, was a protest against privatization, and a successful one. But it wasn't on quite the same scale as the current, massive, nationwide blockade that has involved nearly all sectors of Bolivian society: peasant farmers, indigenous Aymara and Quechua peoples, miners, public sector workers, barrio residents, transport workers, students, priests, union members, small businessmen, and intellectuals. This unity made the blockades and protests effective and will serve as an inspiration for future protests all around the world.

In addition, the Bolivian protests have pointed up the failure of US foreign policy in South America, which rests on two platforms. The first is drug eradication, which has put indigenous farmers out of business without providing alternative work. Certainly, peasant farmers can grow food crops for export, but global food prices are too low for them to make a living. Enormous North American and European corporate farms produce surplus food with governmental subsidies, and that surplus floods the world markets, driving commodity prices down. That's why there was such a big fuss over agricultural subsidies at the WTO. That's also why a South Korean farmer climbed onto the barricades at Cancun and stabbed himself in the chest: he could die slowly, heavily in debt and starving, or he could die quickly and make a statement that the whole world needed to hear. His was an individual protest; in Bolivia, however, unemployed peasant farmers have opted for mass protests over this issue.

The second US foreign policy concern in South America has been to create a showplace for free-market, neoliberal economic theory. By privatizing state industries, IMF technocrats have helped an elite group of very rich people to buy up South America's treasures on the cheap. By forcing cuts in social services, the same economists have driven poverty rates to all-time highs. In Bolivia, some 70-80% of the population lives below the official poverty line. Neoliberal theory has proved disastrous in practice in Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Argentina, Venezuela, and Brazil. All of these nations have been through recent upheavals over disastrous IMF policies.

Fortunately, the Bush administration's narrow focus on Iraq has opened up a space for change in South America. While Bush & Co. are absorbed with the Middle East, the US's Latin American sphere of influence has begun to deflate. Fortunately, no US troops are available for deployment to Bolivia to help the Bolivian army murder peaceful demonstrators. And while $87 billion is pouring out of the US Treasury into the black hole of Iraq occupation, no funds are available to prop up a president who was elected by only 22% of Bolivian voters.

It's exciting to watch the destruction of an old, corrupt system in Bolivia and the birth of a new one. Hopefully the Bolivian people can keep up the pressure and see their demands met.

For more information:

Bolivia Indymedia






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