[Marxism] John Kerry: Enemy of Latin American Grassroots Movements

Derek Seidman derekseidman at yahoo.com
Wed Aug 18 09:17:53 MDT 2004

In Counterpunch today...

Notes from Cochabamba
Kerry and Bolivia: To the Right of Bush?

Cochabamba, Bolivia.

On June 26, speaking to the National Association of
Elected and Appointed Latino Officials in Washington,
DC, John Kerry laid out a hardline against Latin
America's grassroots social movements, telling the
assembled officials that "we can't sit by and watch as
mob violence drives a president from office, like what
happened in Bolivia or Argentina." 

Four days later, in an op-ed in the Miami Herald, he
reiterated his position that the Bush administration
hasn't been foreceful enough in defending U.S.
economic interests in Latin America, writing that "In
Bolivia, Bush encouraged the election of a pro-market,
pro-U.S. president and did nothing to help the country
when riots shook the capital and the president was
forced to flee." 

The "mob violence" that drove Bolivan President
Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada from power last fall was a
largely nonviolent campaign of strikes, road
blockades, and street protests organized by labor
unions, coca growers, and indigenous people to prevent
Sanchez de Lozada from selling off the nation's
natural gas reserves to foreign corporations. 

Bolivia is the poorest country in Latin America, and
sustainable, locally directed development of the
country's natural gas fields may be the last, best
hope for the country's indigenous majority to lift
itself out of poverty. But Sanchez de Lozada, under
pressure from the U.S., wanted to sell off the gas
rights in order to pay off the country's debts to the
International Monetary Fund and the World Bank--debts
which date back to the military dictatorship of Gen.
Hugo Banzer, and which were incurred without the
consent of the rural poor who for the most part never
saw the benefit of the "development projects" driven
by the international fiananciers. Kerry is right that
there was violence in Bolivia last fall--but it mostly
came from the military and the police who attacked
unarmed demonstrators with tear gas, batons, and live

The U.S. sent additional military advisors to try to
help Sanchez de Lozada quell the insurrection during
his last days in power. Human Rights Watch confirms
that at least 59 people were killed by security forces
during the demonstrations last fall, and most Bolivian
human rights groups say that the actual number is
much, much higher. In La Paz, some police units did
reportedly side with the demonstrators and open fire
on the military. 

Not surprisingly, while some campesinos have been
arrested and tortured on flimsy or fabricated evidence
in connection with vague charges of inciting violence
against the military, the government hasn't even begun
to investigate most of the cases of police and
military violence against unarmed protesters. Refering
to the "mob violence" that drove Sanchez de Lozada
from power, is a little like rewriting the history of
the U.S. civil rights movement to talk about the
violence that ensued when a throng of civil rights
protesters defied the legal orders given by police
officers under the command of the democratically
elected mayor of Selma, Alabama. It's a classic case
of blaming the victim and obscuring the truth. Kerry
could learn a lot about democracy from the Bolivian

In a talk at the School for Authentic Journalism in
Cochabamba, Oscar Olivera, who helped to coordinate
successful campaigns against gas privatization and
water privatization, spoke of how a truly democratic
leader must remain in touch with and accountable to
the people. Quite a contrast to John Kerry who has
spurned his party's traditional progressive base and
who never even considered meeting with the
demonstrators outside the Democratic National
Convention. But Olivera and the popular movements he
represents have an even more important lesson for the
U.S. left. 

In recent months, a part of the Bolivian left, led by
Evo Morales of the Movement Toward Socialism party,
has renounced street protests and road blockades and
tried to earn a seat at the table in La Paz by playing
by the rules of electoral politics. Morales and his
supporters have taken to demonizing Olivera and others
who believe in grassroots, participatory democracy,
alternately accusing them of being unrealistic and of
having sold out the movement. 

For his part, Olivera has remained focused on the
strategic and philosophical differences between the
two tendencies. Speaking at the School for Authentic
Journalism, he said "Today in Bolivia there are two
currents within the social movements. The first
current is a reformist current looking for changes
within the political structure. Others in the social
movements are going toward the transformation of
political political and economic systems that aren't
working. I think the concept of power is important.
Some movements and leaders seem to think that power is
in the parliament and the office of the president. And
some think that, as in the water war and the coca war
and the gas war, power comes from below." 

To liberals who believe that incremental change can
bring about a more humane and responsive government,
Olivera says: "If you have a blind government and a
dead government that doesn't listen to the people,
victory can come much faster, History has placed us in
a decisive moment for the social movements, and we
have no choice but to keep on working for the power of
the people." 

We would do well to heed his advice. 

Do You Yahoo!?
Tired of spam?  Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around 

More information about the Marxism mailing list