[Marxism] Roger Burbach on Bolivia

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Jan 22 15:30:12 MST 2006

Bolivia's Evo Morales: Original Mandate for a Social Revolution
By Roger Burbach

Cochabamba, Bolivia. The inauguration of Evo Morales as the first president 
of Bolivia of indigenous origins marks a watershed in the history of the 
Americas. The "caras" as they are called, the whites and mestizos who have 
dominated Bolivia for centuries, are being replaced by an Indian who 
represents the county's true majority.

Perhaps the most important ceremony in Bolivia this week occurred the day 
before Morales formal inauguration as president when over 50,000 Indians 
from Bolivia and around the Americas assembled in the ruins of the ancient 
Indian city of Tiwanaku. There the "Power of the Original Mandate" was 
conferred on Morales.

But will Morales be able to truly liberate the Indians of Bolivia, to 
empower them to take control of their lives, to improve their social and 
economic lot?  In countries like Peru, Ecuador and Mexico, history is 
replete with betrayal by national leaders with Indian blood as well as by 
presidents placed in office by Indian movements.

Evo Morales' inauguration however appears to mark a dramatic change. His 
presidency is the result of an ongoing massive social upheaval that has 
profoundly shaken the country. Bolivia may be a poor nation, but it has 
some of  the richest popular mobilizations witnessed in Latin America over 
the past decade or more.

On my trip to Bolivia this week I consciously avoided La Paz, partially in 
hopes of not being trampled in my wheel chair with my fractured ankle as 
thousands of visitors, reporters and foreign dignitaries took to the narrow 
streets of the capital. I instead came to Cochabamba, Bolivia's third 
largest city with just under a million inhabitants. It is here that Evo 
Morales made his home for many years. On Thursday he had an informal 
gathering at his humble abode before departing for La Paz to take up 
residence at the presidential palace. He spoke emotionally of his sense of 
loss at leaving Cochabamba, saying "I hope to return every month to be in 
touch," adding, "people here will need to tell me if I am fulfilling my 
commitment to help the most needy in the country."

Much has been made of the uprising of the poor communities in Los Altos on 
the plateau above La Paz that shook the foundations of the entrenched 
political system of the country. In October, 2003 they descended on the 
capital to oust President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, and then in June, 
2005, his successor Carlos Mesa. As part of the accord that installed the 
head of the Supreme Court as interim-president, general elections were 
called for December, 2005, leading to Evo Morales triumph.

But it is in Cochabamba and the adjacent semi-tropical province of Chipare 
that one finds the true roots of the popular struggle that lifted Evo 
Morales to the country's presidency. It is here that the Movement for 
Socialism, Morales' political party, was founded.

Like many others of Indian origin, Evo migrated to the Chipare as a young 
man from the Bolivian highlands as many of the tin mines were closed and 
labor unions disbanded in the name of modernizing the country's mining 
industry. The growing of coca plants in Chipare became the primary economic 
activity of the immigrants. Clearing unoccupied lands, the new peasants 
brought with them their rich indigenous communal and union traditions. They 
formed a network of local unions, or syndicates, grouped together in seven 
federations. In 1989, the highly personable and self-effacing Morales 
became president of the seven federations of coca growers, or "cocaleros" 
as they are called.

 From the late 1990s onwards, the cocaleros have fought an intense war 
against the US sponsored "coca zero" program in Chipare. Intended to uproot 
and destroy all coca plants, the US militarized the region, setting up four 
military bases while training and advising special Bolivian battalions. As 
a small coca grower, Pedro Rocha, told me while tending his plants, 
"nothing was sacred, our homes were invaded and even burnt, our belonging 
were stolen or tossed into the fields, many of us were beaten and arrested, 
and our subsistence crops along with our coca plants were trampled and 

The cocaleros lead by Morales organized massive resistance to the 
eradication program, reaching out to other national unions and to 
international human rights organizations. Roads were blockaded in the 
Chipare for more than a month at a time as the local unions rotated their 
members, women and men, day and night, to stop all traffic through the 
center of the country.

As the war was unfolding in Chipare, the city of Cochabamba erupted with 
massive demonstrations in 1999-2000 against Bechtel, the US corporation 
that had taken control of the city's water supply as part of the 
privatization of public utilities occurring throughout Bolivia.  The 
citizens won the "water war," forcing Bechtel out, and giving heart to the 
rest of Bolivia, doubtlessly helping inspire the people of Los Altos to 
move on the very seat of government in La Paz. The subsequent change in 
presidents also boomeranged in Chipare, as a weakened President Mesa was 
forced to negotiate a truce with the cocaleros in late 2004, allowing each 
family to grow one-sixth of an hectare of coca plants.

The militancy of Cochabamba and Chipare is palatable as Evo Morales takes 
over the presidency. As Pedro Rocha declares: "Bolivia's presidents have 
all had their special military guards. We will be Evo Morales special 
guards, ready to rise up, making sure that no one dares to touch him so he 
can change our country, taking control of our natural resources and ending 
the privileges of the rich."

Morales in his inaugural address on Sunday, January 22, echoed the 
struggles of the people of Chipare and Cochabamba: "We cannot privatize 
public needs like water. We are fighting for our water rights, for our 
right to plant coca, for control over our national resources." He added: 
"we need to end the radicalism of neo-liberalism, not the radicalism of our 
unions and our movements."

Paraphrasing Morales discussion of the mission of the Movement for 
Socialism that brought him to office, he said: "Socialism does not come 
from a small group of leaders; it comes from a fight, from a communal 
struggle. Socialism is an original mandate, it means social justice, the 
participation of all."

Roger Burbach is currently traveling in South America. In Chile the Spanish 
edition is being released of his book, "The Pinochet Affair: State 
Terrorism and Global Justice." See the Web Site: www.globalalternatives.org

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