[Marxism] Roger Burbach: The Final Battle in Bolivia

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Mon Nov 26 06:39:47 MST 2007

From: censa at igc.org [mailto:censa at igc.org] 
Sent: Monday, November 26, 2007 12:23 AM
To: FinalBattle
Subject: Final Battle in Bolivia

The Final Battle in Bolivia
By Roger Burbach

Evo Morales, the first Indian president of Bolivia, is forcing a
showdown with the oligarchy and the right wing political parties that
have stymied efforts to draft a new constitution to transform the
nation. He declares, "Dead or alive I will have a new constitution
for the country by December 14," the mandated date for the specially
elected Constituent Assembly to present the constitution.

Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linares states, "Either we now
consolidate the new state.with the new dominant forces behind us, or
we will move backwards and the old forces will again predominate." A
leading trade union leader, Edgar Patana, put it bluntly: "The final
battle has begun, and the people are prepared for it."

For over a year the oligarchy centered in the eastern city of Santa
Cruz has conspired to frustrate the efforts of the Constituent
Assembly in which the governing party, the Movement Toward Socialism
(MAS), and its allies hold 60 percent of the seats. First the right
wing parties in the Assembly, led by Podemos, insisted that a
two-thirds vote was needed even for committees to approve the
different sections of the new constitution.

When the opposition was overruled on this point, the oligarchy then
won allies in the city of Sucre, where the Constituent Assembly is
being held, by asserting that the executive and congressional
branches of government should be moved from La Paz to Sucre, which
used to be the center of government until the late nineteenth
century. This was also a racial strategy as La Paz and its sister
city El Alto are at the heart of the country's majority Indian
population that support Morales and mobilized in 2003 to topple an
oligarchic president in La Paz who murdered Indian demonstrators in
the streets.

In Sucre in recent months right wing militants have menaced and
assaulted delegates of MAS, including Silvia Lazarte, the Assembly's
indigenous women president. The Assembly has been effectively
prevented from functioning since August 15.

Then in a move to more equitably redistribute the country growing oil
and gas revenues, Morales in mid-October declared that a retirement
pension equal to the minimum wage would be extended to all Bolivians
that would come directly out of a special hydrocarbon fund. Morales
simultaneously cut the payments from the fund that go to municipal
governments like Santa Cruz with no congressional oversight. This
caused an uproar in the Media Luna (Half Moon) region, comprised of
the department of Santa Cruz and allied departments, with many of the
business interests of the country threatening to create shortages and
sew economic chaos by withholding their produce from the market.

Three hundred peasants, who came to Sucre last week to protect the
Assembly members in its efforts to reconvene, were violently expelled
from their sleeping quarters at the Pedagogical Institute by right
wing students and Lazarte was prevented from convening the Assembly.
Then Morales moved the Assembly meeting site to an old castle on the
outskirts of Sucre that also serves as a military school and
barracks. The head of the armed forces, General Wilfredo Vargas,
backed the meeting of the Assembly at the castle, saying "it has to
meet to continue .to modernize the state in all its features."

Then Vargas in a swipe at one of the regional political leaders
allied with the Media Luna who claimed that Cuban and Venezuelan
military units where in the country, declared: "No information exists
of such units. And if it were the case, they are military units of
the State and as part of the State they represent the Bolivian

The Bush administration is also jumping into the fray. Earlier this
year Morales denounced that US backed agencies and non- governmental
organizations that are providing direct support to right-wing
political parties and allied institutions, ordering that all such
funding would now be channeled directly through the government. Then
at the recent Ibero-American Summit in Santiago Chile, Morales
declared that "while we are trying to change Bolivia.small groups of
the oligarchy are conspiring in alliance with the representative of
the government of the United States," referring to the US ambassador
to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg. To support his claims a photo was shown
of Goldberg in Santa Cruz with a leading right wing business magnet
and a well known Colombian narco-trafficker, who had been detained by
the local police.

On November 15, the US State Department spokesperson, Sean McCormick,
responded by demanding that Morales stop launching "false" and
"unfounded" allegations of conspiracy by the ambassador. Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice called the Bolivian ambassador in Washington
to deliver the same tough message.

The delegates of the right wing parties led by Podemos boycotted the
meetings at the castle, declaring that the Assembly is "illegal." On
Friday 139 of the 255 Assembly members met and approved the broad
outlines of a new constitution to carry out the reforms championed by
Morales and the country's social movements. The next step is for the
Assembly to adopt the specific clauses and content of the

But before that process could begin, the opposition in Sucre, led
mainly by students and young people, violently took over all the
major public buildings using dynamite and Molotov coctails, demanding
the resignation of "the shitty Indian Morales." Parts of the city
were in flames as the members of the Assembly abandoned the castle on
Saturday, and by Sunday rioting mobs controlled Sucre, forcing the
police to retreat to the mining town of Potosi, two hours away. Three
people, including one policemen, are dead, with hundreds injured. The
right wing and the business organizations in Santa Cruz and allied
departments are threatening to declare autonomy and even talking of

"We are at a national impasse" says Manuel Urisote, a political
analyst and director of the Land Foundation, an independent research
center in La Paz. "The right wing led by the Santa Cruz oligarchy is
in open rebellion, but Morales, the Movement Towards Socialism and
the popular movements will not back down. The military is supporting
the president. As a national institution it intends to maintain the
territorial integrity of Bolivia and it will not accept decrees of
cession by Santa Cruz."

Roger Burbach is director of the Center for the Study of the Americas
(CENSA). (http://globalalternatives.org) His most recent article is,
"Ecuador's Popular Revolt: Forging a New Nation," NACLA's Report on
the Americas, Sept.-Oct., 2007. He is a Visiting Scholar at the
University of California, Berkeley.

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