The Bolivian crisis is much more serious than many people realize. Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales, Daniel Ortega and Carlos Lage (standing in for Raúl Castro) had an emergency meeting last Wednesday, April 23 in Caracas; that’s how serious it is. Machetera is running to catch up with a series of interrelated translations, to shed more light on the events from a Latin American perspective. This is the first in that series.
Pablo Villegas explains for Rebelión why April may be the last month of life for many Bolivians, young Bolivians in particular. The article is long, so you may wish to copy, paste and print.
The Colombia/Santa Cruz Axis
Pablo Villegas – Rebelión
An Autonomy Without Law or Reason
The problem between the government and the autonomists is that the latter demand greater prerogatives than the states [within Bolivia], comparable only to those assumed by Kosovo in its secession from Serbia.
The autonomy movement confirmed its separatist character on April 3, with the presentation of a Governing Program for Santa Cruz to begin on May 4. This includes, among others, the creation of an Autonomous Assembly – a parliament in reality – a regional police force, autonomous exports and a self-contained tax system. Given the separatist character of the future government, an attempt to suspend the provision of fuel to departments outside Santa Cruz is a troubling possibility, one which would generate an extremely dangerous situation.
The autonomists, who’ve gone ahead with their openly secessionist actions, have hypocritically argued in their statute, their willingness to continue strengthening the unity of the Bolivian state and recently assured an OAS delegation that they were not trying to divide the country, yet days later, in a presentation of their governmental program, a prefect said: “After May 4th, I don’t know if the name of the highest authority in this Department will be Governor, President or simply Prefect.”(2)
The seditious position of the autonomists was radicalized after the call for a referendum on May 4, without respect to established norms, for which it was declared illegal by the National Electoral Court. Faced with this situation, people of such stature as the Prefect of Beni, E. [Ernesto] Suárez (3) and the Secretary General of Beni’s Civic Committee, J.J. Hurtado, refused to recognize the president of the Court “because he is just another government employee.”(4) They also refused to recognize the Electoral Law, establishing their own “legality,” as acknowledged by the Vice President of the Parliamentarians of Beni, C. Velasco, who said, “What more legitimacy is wanted if many citizens are signing the books…in support of autonomy?” (5)
The autonomists also refuse to recognize any international law or organization. In their Statute, the only legal body they invoked was the OAS’s Inter-American Democratic Charter, but having selected this organization on the basis of its respect for legality, now according to Senator R. Yáñez of the Podemos party: “The OAS is not a credible organization due to the fact that it is run by Señor Miguel Insulza, Hugo Chávez’s acolyte and anointed one.”
The European Union also refused to send election observers because of the illegality. Therefore, the aforementioned senator stated that the agency “cannot decide hastily because it doesn’t know what’s really going on…”(6) and Klinsky, a Podemos parliamentarian, said that the referendum doesn’t need anyone’s recognition in order for the results to be valid.(7) The Senate President Ortiz (Podemos), for his part, stated that “there’s no ambassador anywhere who can say what is legal or illegal in Bolivia, and if they have said this, they would be meddling in [Bolivia's] internal affairs.” (8.)
Furthermore, one of the largest newspapers in Santa Cruz, pretending that the separatists have legal support, maintained: “…we are within the framework of the law, and we are within the framework of international law through the resolutions issued by the United Nations and other sectors who’ve signed on who recognize the people’s rights, [and] the right of autonomy.(9) This, without citing any law or resolution or even which sector (!) has signed on.
Finally, as international orphans, the President of Santa Cruz’s Electoral Court (now that the National Court is not recognized) unmasked their real love and master, when he suggested the possibility of bringing in representatives from the United States as election observers.
We are therefore, facing people for whom there is no international law or body that has any validity and when they say that there are certain people who are in favor, they don’t say who they are. Any state official who doesn’t submit to them is characterized as bought and paid for by the government, and if they happen to be an international official, then they’re Chávez’s puppet or, ignorant of the “true reality.”
To War! As if it Were a Game
The Santa Cruz Civic Committee (CCST), as part of its international campaign, addressed the International Human Rights Federation (FIDH), denouncing the government of Evo Morales for “its campaign of spying and persecution of citizens.” The FIDH response, instead of being sympathetic, was a harsh condemnation of the Committee for the attacks, harassment, threats and murders by radical perpetrators of the human rights defenders and campesino leaders fighting against impunity and for more equitable land distribution, by radical perpetrators. The Union of Santa Cruz Youth, described by the FIDH as a “type of paramilitary group” sponsored by the CCST, stands out as one of these perpetrators. As proof, it brought up the December 2006 attack by more than 100 people, among them even members of the Indigenous Central PAIKONEKA from San Javier, where property and historical archives compiled over more than 20 years by the Permanent Human Rights Assembly in Santa Cruz de la Sierra NGO, led by Adalberto Rojas, were destroyed in an attack by an armed group from the Union of Santa Cruz Youth.
The FIDH also condemned the CCST for sponsoring attacks against the rule of law and democratic governance in Bolivia, for multiple attacks on people for being indigenous or supporting the government, for its secessionist and racist attitude and discourse, for calling for military disobedience, for pressuring the country’s authorities to maintain social inequalities and assuring impunity for their crimes, for exercising complete control over public officials of the departments, including elected officials and the mass media, for selecting and controlling judicial operations and the police. In a nutshell, the FIDH accused the Committee of having established a dictatorship in Santa Cruz, to encourage paramilitaries and to act as such.
These groups are not something alien to autonomy movements. The Statute provides for the creation of another police force that judging by its objective – protection of property and departmental authorities, not to mention those of the state – is plenty suspicious. Now it’s clear that it is an attempt to create its own armed force to confront the state, something that became evident with the push for a referendum, where the aforementioned “kind of paramiltary,” would be given police powers. Furthermore, on April 3, the Committee’s president and the Prefect announced that Santa Cruz would have its own regional police force, in other words, without any legal backup. In respect to the Armed Forces, up until now they’ve only confined themselves to public insults against their commander; other actions remain unknown.
The belligerence of the autonomists is indicative of the fact that they do not wish to separate from Bolivia in order to live in peace and on their own, but to drag in other departments, forcing the rest of the country under their own law, topple the national government and thereby block all negotiation, regardless of whether or not this results in a war. Marinkovic, the CCST President, has stated that war is approaching and within this framework, said: “…the mothers of Santa Cruz should know that…we’re going to spill the blood of their children responsibly.” Here it’s clear that on the one hand, as a soldier his boots are on backwards, because a soldier would never make such an offer to the mothers of his soldiers; and on the other, if he believes he can spill blood responsibly, say a fourth of a liter per soldier or something like that, he has no knowledge whatsoever of modern warfare, despite the abundance of evidence.
In 2003, the president of the most powerful military in history, that of the United States, launched his war against Iraq, but four years later, it goes on without an end in sight, and the same is happening in other places such as the half-century long war in Colombia, the one in Somalia and Afghanistan, among others. That’s in respect to war’s duration. In respect to its size, all these wars threaten to extend themselves more than was originally thought. Apart from that, the terrorist attacks in Spain and England by people from the Middle East are another example. In terms of human losses, it’s well known that more than 90% of the victims of modern wars are civilians and this does not necessarily depend on the technology used.
Nevertheless, the separatists intend to mislead the youth into thinking that war will be like going out to party one day and coming back the next, covered with medals. It’s possible that these youth will return, but considering that 90% of the victims are civilians, it’s probable that what they will find on their return will prove that this “thing of men” is for idiots. Iraq is an example. A study done by Opinion Business Research published on January 28th, found an average of 1.26 deaths per family in the survey.
This is similar to what happened when the Chaco War beckoned the two most hapless countries in Latin America, Bolivia and Paraguay, who’d barely come out of other wars, destroyed and decimated. The Bolivians were made to believe that they’d be dining in Asunción on the war’s first day. The reality was completely the opposite, such that years later, at the moment when the war ended, the enemy soldiers came out of their trenches to embrace them as brothers, weeping, because they had finally understood the stupidity of that war. Meanwhile 120,000 from both countries remained dead behind them. The Bolivian fighters understood that the war had been caused by Standard Oil. And this cost Bolivia around 60,000 dead, and never recorded figures of the maimed and traumatized. The worst, however, and the most difficult to count, was the future that had been squandered with the money spent on war and the human sacrifice that might have been put toward the country’s construction. This is not to say that history repeats itself, but rather that the same history continues. Just as yesterday the people fought a war for a company, Standard Oil, now they will fight one for an entire group of oil companies and their empire – which in reality is behind the current crisis – and their international allies. But there’s a difference. This war will be internal and judging from similar cases, the prospects are dreadful.
In Bolivia, a large proportion of the people do not reside in the places where they originated. In Santa Cruz, Pando, and Tarija, between 26 and 35% of their population were born elsewhere, in other departments; in Chuquisaca and Peni, between 13 and 14%, and this without counting their descendants born where they are presently residing. What will become of these people when the “responsible” war comes?
The first versions of the Statute dictated Bolivian (!) “control” of immigration. This has been corrected in the current statute, but in fact the tactic of separatism in order to bring people over to its side, has been based on identifying outsiders as a threat. Therefore the victims of the violence by groups mentioned by the FIDH have been those who could be identified as outsiders and the department’s indigenous. Evidently outsiders and indigenous exist who support autonomy but it’s not unusual for them to have been harassed or viewed with suspicion by the partisans of secession. Just as in the preparations for a referendum, these sectors will be the most exposed to the “responsible bloodshed,” which could begin with an ethnic cleansing in the style of Yugoslavia or Rwanda.
The separatists, sure of their victory and of having everything under control, have announced through the mouthpiece of Senator Bass-Werner that “As each region approves its referendum, its autonomous community and its birth in public life without being under the framework of the State’s Political Constitution [CPE], the next step will be to build a Federation of Autonomous Departments.” (10) This, apart from being yet another admission of illegality (“without being under the framework of the CPE”) is a delusion. Are we to believe that Tarija, with a population equal to 19% of the 2,029,471 people in Santa Cruz has any chance of autonomous survival against that? In their governmental program, the Cruceñas make plans for oil, but taking into account that theirs is running out and the huge fields are in Tarija, couldn’t they be thinking about Tarija instead? Are we to believe that Pando, whose population is 2.6% of Santa Cruz and with a disproportionate dependence on State granted revenues has any possibility of autonomous survival? To get an idea of the bigger picture, all the departments put together, Chuquisaca, Pando, Beni and Tarija are barely 66% of the population of Santa Cruz, with the same proportion of GDP (INE-2005). The first three together only account for 31%.
Based on history and recent cases or indications, it’s not unlikely that some departments could be torn by internal movements trying to annex themselves to neighboring countries, something that could make the conflict slide over the borders. One of the most exposed is Pando.
Another factor that should be taken into account is that Colombia’s President Uribe who came out of the Rio Group meeting severely chastised, has not given up his arguments in favor of unilateralism. Consequently, he’s continued with his provocative attitudes that delay normalized relations with his neighbors. Among them, his overlapping accusations against Bolivia and various Latin American countries, of housing FARC guerrillas. The objective is to destabilize the region, and the way things are going in Bolivia, the most likely point for an axis with Colombia is Santa Cruz. (Despite this we see Colombia as a mediator in the Bolivian conflict.)
In short, the separatists are invoking a demon – war – that they won’t be able to control. According to recent experience, forecasts about the duration and geographical reach of these kinds of wars are never certain and obviously, neither are the costs. But it is certain that more than 90% of the victims will be civilians and what little infrastructure and livelihoods that Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, could build, are military objectives and will be annihilated. There will however, be a beneficiary: the Empire, because this war corresponds with its geopolitical interests and could open up a fine arms market in this continent so lacking in wars, where the majority of national armies rely on antiquated weapons.
Why Die for a Lie?
This April could be the last month of life for many Bolivians, especially Bolivian youth. But why are they going to die? Does autonomy offer by any chance, solutions to the country’s biggest problems such as the maritime question, the foreign debt, the lack of industrialization, of science and technology?(11); our eternal dependence on export of raw materials, the lack of social security, setbacks in labor rights as well as the existence of large areas where they do not even exist, such as the autonomous departments as it just so happens? The health problem, that prefects believe in solving by building hospitals, the economic dependence on drug trafficking, the corruption, the bureaucracy, etc? Of course not! The majority of these subjects are not even mentioned and when they are – such as industrialization in the Statute – it’s only a passing mention, nothing concrete. In other words, at the bottom of all of this is the desire of the large landowners to seize the riches underneath their estates and maintain their holdings.
One of the arguments they’ve used to seduce the people is that of “damned centralism” or “creeping centralism” of the State, to which all ills are attributed. But who has governed this centralism? They themselves; those who embraced the dictatorship of General Banzer in 1971 and have been an integral part of central power ever since. This central power has been used to grab land, forests and other resources, seizing them for themselves in a fraudulent manner, to obtain credit for which they aren’t charged, such as the cotton growers who were given access to the Treasury so that they might be paid by the public, to obtain grants, rebates, exemptions, liberations and illegal import/export facilities. Their privileged position in the State has allowed them to halt the development and application of labor legislation in rural areas, especially in the Media Luna, thanks to which they’ve maintained inhumane work regimens up until the present day. One of them is based on eternal indebtedness of the workers. Without the centralized State, they’d be nothing.
One factor of great importance for the landowners present power, was that of neoliberalism. It was implemented by the centralized State and had the effect of weakening our economy’s primary nature [as a producer of raw materials], and hence the strengthening of the landowners and greater concentration of the land. The pressure these same landowners created over the land generated a social movement whose power was growing until it converted itself into one of the decisive factors in the government’s fall in October, 2003. The leadership difficulties faced by successive governments due to this movement and others, brought them to cry increasingly in favor of autonomy. In other words, one of the causes of autonomism was the threatening growth of the popular movement, not that of centralism. Inasmuch as they could see that the movement’s strongest sector was in the country’s highest part, and that furthermore it might contaminate their peasants, they launched their racist campaign against the people. In this way, autonomy was adapted as a new formula to destroy the popular movement by dividing it on the basis of ethnicity, regional differences and resentments.
It should be noted that the oligarchs in the Media Luna are not alone. It’s not unusual that no other business-owner in any other department of the country has come out against autonomy. Lately the mining oligarchy has begun to demand autonomy in Potosi, something which coincided with the holding of the Congress of the Federation of United Mineworkers of Bolivia, where one of the most discussed subjects was the nationalization of the mines. It’s natural that the mining oligarchy and the unproductive hoarders of mining concessions (against whom the government has taken no action) should adopt autonomy as a way of dividing the miners and replacing their traditional concern about problems with a national scope, with a mental fixation on local, ethnic and regional issues.
The Oil Companies Speak Through the Landowners’ Mouths
Throughout the past century, Latin America acquired valuable experience in the fight against the oil companies, putting it in the forefront of nationalization activity. A key lesson from that experience, according to General Mosconi, is that “Two organizations, the taxing entity, and the private entity, cannot co-exist, for they represent antagonistic interests, destined to live in a struggle from which only once in awhile, the state organization will emerge triumphant.” For this reason, Mosconi reached the conclusion that a country would never be able to secure its own oil wealth if it did not establish a state monopoly over the oil production chain. Another oil veteran, Enrique Mariaca, explained the political reasons for the disadvantages faced by a taxing entity against the oil companies, arguing that the worst part of the transnational oil companies’ presence was that it constituted a sort of “super-state,” influencing the political and institutional life of the country, penetrating its media, the political parties, the business organizations and wielding enormous corruptive power.
These lessons, unfortunately, have been ignored by Bolivia. During neoliberalism, the oil companies had no kind of legal contract (12), only a private agreement with the government, by virtue of which they exploited hydrocarbon resources for years. With the current government, these businesses already have a contract approved by [Bolivia's] Congress, but this was done without waiting for the results of the audits under way at the companies. Nor did it take into account the extraction that had been done illegally over a period of years.
The cost of this policy has been very high for the government, for the businesses, as Mariaca warned, have influenced the country’s political and institutional life, penetrated the media, the political parties and so on…and have constituted the government’s and the country’s worst enemy. But even worse, it committed the serious mistake of not reforming YPFB (the Bolivian national oil company) or the Mining Corporation of Bolivia in order to act as a counterweight to the oil and and mining companies. One of the consequences is that the supply for the domestic fuel market is controlled by the companies.
This is the Colombia-Santa Cruz Axis
On April 3rd, in the presentation of its program for government, the Prefect of Santa Cruz put the Cruceña demands in the same line as the agricultural protests in Argentina.(13) This reflects the impact neoliberalism in Latin America has had on the re-orientation of its economy, and therefore the growth and strengthening of sectors such as the landowners, whose production characteristics ally them with the financial transnationals, agribusiness, and the enormous energy and highway network of the IIRSA (Initiative for the Integration of South American Regional Infrastructure). The power that the landowners have acquired may limit the sovereignty or authority of the state in the regions where “their property” is located, and even influence the re-drawing of national territory. Indeed the process of regionalization on the continent over the last two decades had that effect and unfortunately, popular governments continue to implement it.
It’s important to bear in mind that the landowners or agribusiness are the economic operators and hence political financiers. This is evident in the landowner stoppage in Argentina which apart from the struggle over specific economic interests had wider objectives: punish the government for a series of trade agreements with Latin American countries, Venezuela among them, (14) and for its performance at the Rio Group meeting, where Cristina Fernandez harshly attacked unilateralism in international relations, something which went against U.S. foreign policy and now that of Colombia as well.
In view of the above, and keeping in mind the already obvious U.S. interference in the Bolivian crisis, we can understand how the secession of Santa Cruz could become a new Guantánamo, like Kosovo, where the Americans built a military base so large, it is visible from space.
The situation the U.S. would acquire in Santa Cruz would give it exceptional influence over an extensive area of great natural wealth (hydrocarbons, minerals, water and biodiversity) characterized by the predominance of agriculture-exporting landlords linked to the largest transgenic transnationals, over the densest network of transport and infrastructure in the IIRSA. From this position, the U.S. could agitate countries in the region, using the landlords and other basic sectors.
In conclusion, Bolivia’s problem is that the transnational oil companies, under the guise of autonomy, and in alliance with the most reactionary primary sectors, are bringing the people toward a fratricidal war. While the people bleed, they will continue to export Bolivia’s gas and the landlords, timber barons, miners, etc., will export their goods. This is what the Prefect of Santa Cruz has called “autonomous export” which will govern after May 5th. The question is: Who will buy items stolen from Bolivia? Who will permit the passage of stolen goods through their territory?
Here is where the solidarity and commitment to legality of the Latin American countries comes into play; even more so if they wish to avoid the establishment of a Colombia-Santa Cruz axis. The greatest hope is in the solidarity of the Latin American people and their organizations, to prevent the looting of the Bolivia and the foreign supply of the looters.
(1) Kosovo and Bolivia: “What’s Happening Here is a World War” Pablo Villegas, Rebelión, March, 2008
(2) The Prefect of Santa Cruz presented his program for government, La Prensa, April 3rd, 2008
(3) The Prefect disqualifies Exeni and says he is the government’s spokesperson, La Palabra, March 14, 2008
(4) Citizens in Beni organize themselves with a view toward a referendum on an Autonomy Statute, La Palabra, March 14, 2008
(5) Deputy says the government wants to strengthen the State’s powers, La Palabra, January 9, 2008
(6) The civic-business autonomy begins to isolate itself, Bolpress, April 1, 2008
(7) They consider the country’s situation to be dramatic now that they no longer believe in the government, El Mundo, March 30, 2008
(8.) The civic-business autonomy begins to isolate itself, Bolpress, April 1, 2008
(9) The Bolivian dialogue manages to be increasingly less understood “One has to protect oneself from these huestas bleeding the poncho.” El Mundo
(10) The illegality used to anger the autonomous separatist, Bolpress, April 2, 2008
(11) Article 44 of the Autonomy Statute of Santa Cruz establishes that religious education is a fundamental part of the teaching curriculum and the knowledge of the founding fathers, department leaders and Cruceña traditions be included in the curriculums of schools and colleges.
(12) According to Bolivian legislation, the oil contracts should have been approved by Congress, but in this instance, that did not happen. Because companies are obliged to know the law, they knew they were acting illegally.
(13) The Prefect of Santa Cruz presented his program for government, La Prensa, April 3rd, 2008
(14) The Empire directs acts of food and media terrorism, Matriz Sur, Aporrea, April 4, 2008
Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.