Wednesday, February 20

Spying on Bolivia

When Bolivian President Evo Morales appeared on The Daily Show last year, John Stewart conducted an interview with the friendly and personable leader. Morales ended the interview jokingly asking not to be considered a member of the axis of evil. It seems that in some sense he now is. It is becoming an all too familiar story and the reasons for America’s change of heart towards the Andean nation may surprise you.

Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada Sánchez Bustamante, or Goni (known to the indigenous population as El Gringo), was president for two terms prior to Morales. He was educated in the United States and speaks English better than he speaks Spanish. In 2000 Bolivian water was sold to the American company Bechtel. Prices skyrocketed and cash strapped Bolivians took to the streets demanding affordable drinking water. In 2003, he put Bolivia’s gas reserves on sale. The people of Bolivia (led by Morales and other union leaders) blockaded attempts by the government to use Bolivia’s wealth to enrich foreigners. Goni sent in the army and around 50 unarmed civilians were killed, 200 wounded and more were arrested. Tens of thousands of protesters flooded the area eventually forcing Goni to resign. He fled to a ritzy suburb in Washington, D.C. where he resides today. In 2004, the Bolivian congress ordered his arrest under the charge of massacre. George Bush refuses to force Goni to return to Bolivia and face trial. Ironically, this is the same man that insists governments that harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves.

Morales was elected in 2005 in the election with the highest voter turnout since the country’s independence from Spain. This election was important because it signifies Bolivia’s break with imperialist powers and a groundswell of grassroots support. For once, wealthy elites weren’t running the country. Instead, a fully indigenous coca farmer from the mountains represented the population. Anecdotal accounts illustrate the monumental changes that the election made on Bolivian politics, starting with the faces of elected officials. The country, formerly under the colonial rule of Spain, where the majority of the population is poor indigenous campesinos (farmers), was run by people of Spanish descent. Policies by Evo’s predecessors, such as privatization of national resources, have contributed both to the pockets of the wealthy elite and the poverty of the indigenous people.

Since he has been in power, Evo has aligned himself with leftist, anti-imperialist South American politicians such as Hugo Chavez and Rafael Correa. These leaders reject western financial influence due to the highly unequal colonial social structure created in their countries. Although he is less confrontational and egotistical than his Venezuelan counterpart, the United States government has been on a campaign to undermine Morales’ government using our taxpayer dollars. Five of the richer, more affluent provinces of Bolivia fiercely reject the wealth redistribution and agrarian reform methods proposed by Morales to the point of threatening secession. According to declassified memos through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), our government has given 116 grants for $4,451,249 to help departmental (read: right wing) governments operate “more strategically”. This funding is in violation of Bolivian law passed last year requiring all international funding to be sent through the Bolivian government.

Foundations that have also been given money by the U.S. hold lectures promoting the same neo-liberal policies that almost led Bolivia to a civil war in 2003. The National Endowment for Democracy is one such foundation which was involved in the failed coup of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Recently, news broke that at least one U.S. government employee has asked at least one Fulbright Scholar and Peace Corps volunteers to spy on Venezuelans and Cubans operating in Bolivia. Both Venezuela and Cuba provide funding, doctors, and expertise to support their socialist ally Morales. A journalist traveled to Bolivia in order to give the U.S. government the benefit of the doubt. He asked to see some of the apolitical, developmental work that is supposed to be the purpose of USAID. After two weeks he was referred to a garment factory. The employees revealed that they receive hardly any work and meager pay. They refused to give their names because, they claim, if they criticize the program they are beaten.

South America is perhaps the largest punching bag for American imperialism in the world. Yet again, taxpayer dollars are going towards the undermining of a democratically elected government. Bolivia is a perfect example of the trend that seems to be growing across the continent. A country full of profitable national resources breaks free of colonial rule, elects leaders that more accurately reflect the majority of the population, and refuses to sell national resources to foreign companies. These countries have seen swells in grassroots efforts and political participation unimaginable in a society like ours. We frequently fall on the wrong side of these pro-democracy movements and our international reputation has suffered from it over the years. Our CIA has been responsible, either explicitly or through funding/support, in the overthrow of more than 50 governments, most of them democratically elected. A large number of them have been in South America. If we care so much about democracy, then why do we frequently find ourselves infringing on the democratic rights of sovereign nations?

Actions such as this do not alleviate the trend towards socialism to the south of us. As time goes on it becomes more and more obvious that we are not fighting a noble fight. Our taxpayer dollars are in use to allow the largest corporations in the world get richer at the expense of indigenous populations. Bolivia is the perfect example of what happens when the rich get too rich, and the poor get too poor.

Copyright: The Retriever Weekly

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