The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Last week, it happened again. In Bolivia.
One, two, three, four Vietnams – remember Che?
Michael Youlton • 24. 10. 03

For 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.

In 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.

Irish 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.

The 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.

Bolivia 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 a sacrament.

Bolivia's 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.

The 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 Republic’s 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.

The issue that actually shut down the WTO's Cancun meetings last month (see my article Cancun - Whose Setback and Whose Opportunity? in last September’s 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.

The 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.

With 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.

For 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.

The 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.

That 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 who’re fighting the Empire with whatever means necessary and possible.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

24 October 2003


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Conduct Unbecoming
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A Political Nightmare
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Ireland: Repression, Violence, Segregation - The Realities of the Sectarian State
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Last Week, It Happened Again. In Bolivia.
Michael Youlton


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The Big Fella and the Big Lad
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Republicanism: Relevant and Not Going Away
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From Where Springs Hope
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Trashing Free Software
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