Will we be ready for the coming crisis with Bolivia?

News Analysis

Evo Morales of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) won an absolute majority in the Bolivian presidential elections Dec. 18. He will be sworn in on Jan. 22.

Morales comes from the Aymara ethnic group, who, with the Quechuas and others, form the majority of the Bolivian population, but who have been excluded from access to political power up to now, and who are mostly extremely poor. Morales has promised to reverse the neoliberal, “free trade” economic policies implemented by his predecessors.

In particular, he would like to put Bolivia’s large natural gas supplies under national control and use the profits from their sale to uplift the impoverished majority, as Chavez has used Venezuela’s national oil profits. As in the case of Chavez, the Bolivian elites protest this and are even threatening to make the gas-rich areas secede from Bolivia.

Furthermore, Morales has stated that he will withdraw from a U.S.-sponsored program for the eradication of the cultivation of coca leaf. This plant has been used locally as a medicine and condiment for centuries, but is also the main ingredient of cocaine. The efforts to eradicate coca leaf cultivation have caused widespread hardship to the already poor indigenous farmers in the whole Andean region.

In Bolivia, whose tin mining industry’s collapse left many communities with little alternative other than coca farming, the results have been particularly devastating. Morales promises that he will not allow cocaine production for export, but this is unlikely to deflect U.S. pressure and criticism.

Morales’ election means that most of South America is now ruled by left-of-center governments, including Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay and now Bolivia. In next year’s elections, it is likely that Mexico and perhaps other countries will also elect left-wing governments. These are social democratic or populist-nationalist regimes, not Marxist-Leninist ones, but they nevertheless thwart U.S. policy in the area by backing off from the programs of privatization, free trade, austerity and repression mandated by the IMF and World Bank and especially by the Bush administration.

So the White House sees them as messing with the interests of their favorite corporations. What are Bush and his cronies likely to do about this?

My guess is that they will do at least as much to destabilize and overthrow Morales as they have already done to Chavez of Venezuela. The destabilization effort is underway.

Earlier this year, the U.S. got the government of Paraguay to agree to a U.S. military presence in the Paraguayan Chaco region, bordering on Bolivia and in particular on Bolivia’s main natural gas reserves. The pretext is that there allegedly may be Al Qaeda elements among Arab immigrants in the region, which also borders on Argentina. The Paraguayan Congress agreed to give U.S. personnel based in the area immunity from prosecution under Paraguayan law. An initial group of 400 U.S. Marines are in the process of being sent to Paraguay, but the type of military facilities being constructed there suggest that capacity for a much larger force is being prepared.

Those of us who have followed these situations in the past will recognize the pattern. The Chaco border area will be full of CIA agents, contractor-mercenaries and other dangerous wildlife, who will operate without any kind accountability either to the US or the Paraguayan people. Bad things will start to happen, including provocations designed to justify a larger U.S. intervention.

A massive misinformation campaign about Morales and Bolivia is already underway, which is necessary for future U.S. intervention to go ahead smoothly without creating domestic counter-pressure on the Bush administration. Statements critical of the United States by Morales are being highlighted in the U.S. media without context, so as to give the impression that he is an “anti-American wild man.”

His position on coca leaf cultivation already has him described, and not only in the ultra-right media, as a major drug trafficker, a reincarnation of Pablo Escobar or perhaps Manuel Noriega (and we know what happened to them). All this is false, but that does not mean that they are not going to get away with it. After all, the thousands of lies published or broadcast every year in U.S. media about Cuba and Venezuela largely go unchallenged, and are even retailed by some people who consider themselves progressive. With such fecklessness on the left, they can get away with just about everything, and they know it.

When the U.S. attempted to overthrow Chavez of Venezuela in April of 2002, left and progressive forces in this country were not ready and did not respond quickly. Those of us who knew a little bit about the situation had to waste precious time explaining it, not only to the American people, but to the progressive intelligentsia also. Fortunately, the right-wing coup was thwarted by the Venezuelan people themselves, so Chavez’s survival did not depend on us.

When, in 2004, the U.S. and France overthrew president Aristide of Haiti and set up a puppet regime, we were once again not ready and there was only minimal protest in the United States. That time, they got away with it, or at least so it seems.

We must realize that a dead Bolivian is as dead as a dead Iraqi, that U.S. soldiers killed in Bolivia will be just as dead as those killed in Iraq, and that money wasted on invading Bolivia will be just as lost to the American people as if it were poured into the Iraq fiasco. So let’s start countering the lies and shining a light on the U.S. military buildup in Paraguay now, and not be taken by surprise when Bush makes his Southern Cone move.