the fourth time in three years, angry popular demonstrations
have overthrown a South American government. The demonstrations
that shut down Bolivia -- and the government response
that killed at least 80 demonstrators before the inevitable
resignation of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada
-- came on the heels of popular uprisings already
in Argentina, Ecuador, and Peru.
Venezuela, similar popular anger in 2001 helped prevent
a U.S.-backed military coup that would have overthrown
Hugo Chavez. And a similar grass roots movement resulted
in an unprecedented, landslide electoral victory for
Luis Ignacio da Silva as President of the continent's
largest country, Brazil.
media coverage of the Bolivian uprising was predictably
narrow in its focus and incomplete in its coverage.
The spark for the protests was the proposed export
by Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (nicknamed The Gringo
- in part because after years in the U.S. he speaks
Spanish with a thick American accent) of Bolivia's
newly discovered natural gas reserves, the second
largest in South America. Two American companies,
Pacific LNG and Sempra, were to export the gas to
the U.S. through Chilean ports. By last week, as Samcjez
de Lozada fled office, hundreds of thousands of Bolivians
from all sectors of society were blockading every
city in the country and over a thousand people had
joined a hunger strike.
Bush Administration dismissed the unrest as the
result of Bolivians' age-old resentment toward Chile.
This is sort of like saying American citizens resented
Enron or millions around the world marched against
Bush because they didn't like Texans. Well, Texans
may not be exactly the coolest dudes in the world
but there was a much larger issue at stake. Bolivians
were far more upset at where the gas would be going
and who would profit than the route it would take.
And even this misses the point. Bolivia's gas wars
were about far more than gas.
is South America's poorest country, and the historic
export of its natural resources is a major reason.
From colonial silver to the now- declining tin mines,
a good deal of the wealth generated by Bolivia's mountains
has flowed to a handful of families -- including that
of Sanchez de Lozada, who has now joined the ranks
of deposed Latin American dictators living in Miami.
But even more of the wealth has left the country in
the pockets of foreigners, mostly northward bound.
Bolivians were protesting because with yet another
natural bounty discovered in their midst, they are
determined this time not to get fleeced. This put
them in direct conflict with the economic policies
of Washington and outfits like the IMF and the World
Bank, for whom the word fleece is basically
protests were a far more widespread variation of the
water wars of three years ago. Those demonstrations
arose when Bolivia second largest city, Cochabamba,
proposed to privatise its water supply and award it
to Bechtel -- now one of the American Bush-freindly
companies winning lucrative no-bid contracts to run
formerly public facilities in Iraq.
scheme was eventually halted by the protests, but
Washington and major international creditors like
the IMF have continued to relentlessly pressurise
Bolivia and other Latin American countries to privatise
services like the Republics bin collections.
Such schemes have been a central source of dissension
within the now-paralyzed World Trade Organization,
and are also a major reason the U.S. has been pushing
so hard for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (whose
next negotiating session is set for next month in
-- surprise! -- Miami). Withdrawal from the FTAA was
one of the Bolivian protesters' key demands.
issue that actually shut down the WTO's Cancun meetings
last month (see my article Cancun
- Whose Setback and Whose Opportunity? in last
Septembers The Blanket), agricultural
dumping by U.S. and E.U. -based corporations, has
also been central to the Bolivian protests. Those
protests were originally initiated by rural indigenous
farmers, coping with both the rock-bottom commodity
prices caused in part by the Americans and with American-led
efforts to eradicate their one remaining lucrative
crop -- coca, which was a central commodity in Bolivian
culture long before Americans discovered ways to abuse
it and America's government decided to destroy it,
everywhere, at any cost.
so-called Andean Initiative, in which the U.S.
military has been participating in the defoliation
of much of the Andes, is piling up a consistent track
record for seriously pissing off the locals. The mighty
Andes mountains, with some 50 peaks over 20,000 feet
in height, are rugged terrain running through five
countries. Of those countries, Bolivia, Peru, and
Ecuador have all seen mass protest overthrow Washington-friendly
governments since 2000; in Venezuela, the protests
instead foiled Washington; and in Colombia, the Bush
Administration continues to sink ever more deeply
into a bloody civil war against the armed movements
and their allies.
the partial exception of Peru, where protesters also
railed against the human rights abuses of Alberto
Fujimori's brutal, U.S.-backed dictatorship, the
common thread in every one of South America's
recent popular revolts has been public anger toward
free trade and the economic policies demanded
by the United States and U.S.-controlled institutions
like the IMF and World Bank. Ironically, one commodity
that is already freely crossing borders is these uprisings
themselves. Each has their own circumstances, but
across the continent, each country's movement for
democracy, economic self- determination, and governments
free of cronyism and corruption has been drawing lessons
and inspiration from its counterparts.
four decades, Washington has attempted to impose its
economic policies on South America, often under the
boots of authoritarian regimes. One country after
another -- Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Peru -- has been
touted as an economic miracle, while in each
country the gap between the wealthy and everyone else
has dramatically widened.
momentum is now all in the other direction. One country
after another has rejected these policies -- often,
most spectacularly in Argentina, only after corporate
greed and crippling foreign debt has destroyed the
national economy. Only one country in the American
continent is conspicuously embracing such policies
now -- running up staggering foreign debts, reducing
taxes for the wealthy, discouraging trade unionism
and workplace or environmental protections, allowing
corporations to move their wealth offshore, and intentionally
enriching its wealthiest citizens while the rest of
the country staggers under a listless economy.
country, of course, is the United States, which is
attempting, it tells us, to establish democracy in
the Middle and the Far East, Africa and who knows
where else. Perhaps we should be paying more attention
to what the people of Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador,
Venezuela, Peru, and now Bolivia have had to say about
George Bush's economic vision for America. And register
our practical solidarity with those whore fighting
the Empire with whatever means necessary and possible.
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