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by Lee Siu Hin
Monday, Oct. 20, 2003 at 1:54 AM
Americas Watch: Urgent Actions on Colombia, Mexico and USA
An occasional news series from PeaceNoWar.net
October 19, 2003
What happened in Bolivia truly shows the power of people's movement, the struggles against American empire and U.S.-supported semi-colonial puppet regime. However, let's don't forget there's still have many struggles lie ahead on Mexico, Colombia and of course, in the United States.
Lee Siu Hin
bolivia-2.jpg, image/jpeg, 216x242
1) Urgent-argentine organizer arrested in chile (From: MGgracielam9@aol.com)
2) MISSING COLOMBIAN WORKERS (From: Severina.Rivera@CLRlabor.org)
3) SUPPORT MEXICAN WORKERS ILLEGALLY FIRED FOR ORGANIZING! (From: Severina.Rivera@CLRlabor.org)
4) United States: SUPPORT FARMWORKER LEGALIZATION! (From: Severina.Rivera@CLRlabor.org)
5) HASTA LA VICTORIA SIEMPRE (IMC)
6) Q/A on Bolivia (Z-Net)
7) Facts on Bolivia's Gas and Oil Industry (AP)
8) U.S. Military Sends Team to Bolivia (AP)
1) Urgent-argentine organizer arrested in chile
Robertito, an argentine unemployed worker (mtd solano) was arrested after a protest of the mapuches, an originary community of the south of south america. he remains incomunicado in a police station in osorno, chile. we are very worried about his well being. if anybody has contacts with human rights organizations that can help us, please contact graciela at the argentina autonomista project immediately - firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-223-8445 or 802-272-5606 (cell)
An urgent call to all organizations and comrades (friends/supporters) for solidarity!
Today, October 17th, our comrade Roberto Leonardo Lopez, DNI24184674 (national Id#), was detained after participating in a demonstration to reclaim the rights of the indigenous Mapuche communities in Chile. At the time Roberto was visting these communities.
When the group was leaving the demonstration, he was detained. He is incomunicado in the police precinct of Osorno, telephone number 011-54-566-426-3555.
We demand his release! We ask for your support and solidarity. We hold the Chilean government responsible for his situation and for anything that may happen to our comrade.
FOR WORK, DIGNITY, and SOCIAL CHANGE
Llamamos a la solidaridad urgente a todas las organizaciones y compañeros !
An urgent call to all organizations and comrades (friends/supporters) for solidarity!
Hoy, 17 de Octubre, nuestro compañero ROBERTO LEONARDO LOPEZ, DNI24184674, fue detenido después de haber participado en una manifestación de reclamo por los derechos de las comunidades mapuches en Chile.
Today, October 17th, our comrade Roberto Leonardo Lopez, DNI24184674 (national Id#), was detained after participating in a demonstration to reclaim the rights of the indigenous Mapuche communities in Chile.
Roberto se encontraba de visita en dichas comunidades.
At the time Roberto was visting these communities.
Cuando se estaban retirando de la manifestación lo detuvieron. Se encuentra incomunicado en la comisaría de Osorno, te. 005664263555.
When the group was leaving the demonstration, he was detained. He is incomunicado in the police precinct of Osorno, telephone number 005664263555.
Exigimos su libertad! pedimos apoyo y solidaridad. Hacemos responsable , al gobierno chileno por su situación y cualquier cosa que le suceda a nuestro compañero.
We demand his release! We ask for your support and solidarity. We hold the Chilean government responsible for his situation and for anything that may happen to our comrade.
POR TRABAJO, DIGNIDAD Y CAMBIO SOCIAL
FOR WORK, DIGNITY, and SOCIAL CHANGE
2) MISSING COLOMBIAN WORKERS
ASK Colombian President to Intervene to Save Lives of
Missing Trade Unionists
The United Steelworkers of America (USWA) has called on
U.S. and Colombian officials to take immediate action to
locate Colombian workers David Vergara and Seth Cure and
return them to their families.
On September 29, 2003, Vergara and Cure, officials of the
mining union SINTRAMIENERGETICA, disappeared from their
abandoned vehicles en route to a meeting to discuss
upcoming labor contract negotiations with the Drummond
The clothes and personal effects of Messrs. Vergara and
Cure were discovered with their vehicle, and combined with
intelligence gleaned by SINTTRAMIENERGETICA, which has
worked closely with the USWA, has led to the conclusion
that the two men are alive and in the custody of armed
In a letter to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, USWA
President Leo W. Gerard noted with alarm that quick action
of Colombian officials is necessary to save the men's
Gerard's letter noted that the forceful abduction of
Vergara and Cure "is tragically reminiscent of the forced
capture and subsequent murders of Valmore Locarna, Victor
Orcasita and Gustavo Soler - all employees of Drummond and
officials of SINTRAMIENERGETICA."
Locarno, Orcasita and Soler were murdered in 2001 by
paramilitaries who forcefully removed them from buses
taking them home from their work at the La Loma Drummond
mines to their homes. The paramilitaries then murdered
Colombia - by far the most dangerous country in the world
for labor activists. It holds the record for the murders
of trade union activists.
#### SAMPLE LETTER ###
October 10, 2003
Presidente de la República de Colombia Dr. Alvaro Uribe
Velez c/o Embassy of Colombia Washington, D.C. By Fax:
Re: Forced Disappearance of David Vergara & Seth Cure
Excelentísimo Sr. Presidente:
I am writing to express my alarm and grave concern upon
hearing today of the forced disappearances, and possible
murder, of David Vergara and Seth Cure. Srs. Vergara and
Cure are employees of the Drummond Company in Colombia and
are members of the mining union, SINTRAMIENERGETICA.
On September 29, 2003, Srs. Vergara and Cure were
apparently abducted from the vehicle they were driving
from Barranquilla to Valledupar where they were to meet
with fellow union officials in preparation for upcoming
contract negotiations. The clothing and personal effects
of Srs. Vergara and Cure were found with their vehicle,
but Srs. Vergara and Cure have not been seen since
September 29, and they never showed up for their union
This disturbing event is tragically reminiscent of the
forced capture, and subsequent murders, of Valmore
Locarna, Victor Orcasita and Gustavo Soler -- all
employees of Drummond and officials of SINTRAMIENERGETICA.
We implore you to investigate this crime immediately and
to try to locate Srs. Vergara and Cure. It is our
understanding that the mining union federation,
FUNTRAENERGETICA, has already petitioned the Colombian
Ministry of the Interior to investigate this crime, but as
yet to no avail. In the event Srs. Vergara and Cure are
still alive, your quick action is needed to save their
cc: Colin Powell, U.S. Secretary of State (By Fax 202
Hon.William Wood, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia (By Fax 57 1
Matthew Johnson, Labor & Human Rights Attache (By Fax 57 1
Joaquin Romero, Secretary General FUNTRAENERGETICA (011 57
Fernando Londono Hoyos, Ministro Interior y Justicia (011
57 1 286 8025)
Email to: Campaign for Labor Rights: email@example.com
For further information: www.uswa.org and
3) SUPPORT MEXICAN WORKERS ILLEGALLY FIRED FOR ORGANIZING!
1. Contact the Mexican Embassy in Washington.
2. Contact TOMMY HILFIGER, WETSEAL AND FEDERATED
3. Donate to the Dismissed Workers Fund.
After workers at the U.S. owned Tarrant Mexico-Ajalpan
factory in Puebla Mexico took action to demand improved
working conditions, factory management fired seven worker
leaders on July 16, 2003. The workers responded by forming
a union, the Only Independent Union of Tarrant Mexico
Company Workers (SUITTAR), and signing up over 700workers
by the end of July. In August the company illegally fired
more than 200 workers at the Ajalpan plant.
Tarrant has fired hundreds of workers at its other plants
in Mexico as well. They also have reportedly been fired
illegally, denying them of their legally entitled
Tarrant has refused to allow Ajalpan client Levis to
conduct an independent audit of the situation, blocking
Levis from being able to enforce its code of conduct. In
effect, Tarrant has told Levis to take their business
elsewhere rather than respect worker rights and negotiate
with the union. Levis will therefore terminated its
production with Tarrant.
A copy of Levis public communication on Tarrant is
www.usleap.org/Maquilas/maquilatemp.html#Tarrant. A Levis
representative met with the union and the Centro de Apoyo
Al Trabajador (the CAT- the local NGO supporting the
union) in Mexico and the company has talked with other
Tarrant clients and the Mexican government officials about
the situation. The CAT and the union are in discussions
with Levis regarding other steps Levis might take.
The Workers Rights Consortium's (WRC) September 15, 2003
interim report on the situation at the Tarrant Ajalpan
factory is now available online at
On September 1, 2003 Tarrant Apparel Group leased their
Mexican facilities to a third party, later identified as
major Tarrant shareholder, Kamel Nacif Borge, Mexico's
"denim king." They also changed the name of the Tarrant
Ajalpan factory to United Apparel Ventures to reflects its
merger with Azteca Productions International, which is
owned by two brothers of Tarrant CEO, Gerard Guez.
TOMMY HILFIGER has pulled out of Tarrant altogether,
claiming that this reflects a previous business decision
but there is no indication that the company has intervened
with Tarrant about its anti-union activity. The company
has been slow to discuss the situation and their decision
to leave smells suspiciously like a classic cut-and-run
response to a worker rights campaign.
FEDERATED DEPARTMENT STORES and THE WET SEAL represent
important Tarrant clients, although they are not sourcing
from the Ajalpan plant specifically. Federated responded
to US/LEAP stating that they do not intervene at factories
where their product is not being produced and that their
code of conduct does not include respect for freedom of
association. The Wet Seal has yet to adequately address
the situation at Tarrant's Ajalpan plant.
Two other major Tarrant clients, THE LIMITED and CHARMING
SHOPPES, are in the process of intervening with Tarrant
and are not priority campaign targets at this time.
MEXICAN LABOR BOARD REJECTS UNION RECOGNITION
The local labor board of Puebla (JLCA) announced on Oct.
6, 2003 that it had denied SUITTARs request for legal
recognition. Workers are asking for people to contact the
Mexican government in protest of this
They denied the registration based on flimsy, de minimus
(1) the union did not provide a second photo copy of the
petition for registration,
(2) one name of the approximately 750 workers listed in
the union;s petition was spelled wrong; and
(3) the date that the independent union was formed was the
same as the date of the election of its executive
committee representatives (the board claims that these two
events should have occurred on separate days.)
The JLCA has a legal responsibility to notify the union of
any missing documentation (e.g. a second photocopy) but
failed to do so. Their stated reasons are pretext and
reflect the boards long-standing opposition to the
establishment of democratic trade unions in the
1. CONTACT THE MEXICAN EMBASSY IN WASHINGTON.
(a) Express your objection to the decision of the Local
Conciliation and Arbitration Board of Puebla to deny legal
registration for the SUITTAR union at Tarrant-Ajalpan and
(b) ask that the embassy contact Mexican Secretary of
Labor Carlos Abascal Carranza and ask that he intervene
immediately with Puebla state authorities to ensure that
the rights of the SUITTAR union are respected, that the
Tarrant-Ajalpan workers get union recognition, and that
illegally fired workers are promptly reinstated.
Ambassador Juan José Bremer Embassy of Mexico in the
United States, 1911 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. Washington,
D.C. 20006 Tel: (202)728-1600 Fax: (202)728-1615 E-mail:
2. CONTACT KEY TARRANT CLIENTS. Ask these companies to
urge Tarrant and the Puebla State Government to comply
with the brands codes of conduct and Mexican labor law.
State that they should immediately contact Tarrant Apparel
Group, as well as Azteca Productions International,
calling on the apparel manufacturing companies to address
the workers demands. Cite the WRC report that highlights
worker rights abuses at the Tarrant Ajalpan factory.
Tarrant Management must:
1. Reinstate illegally fired workers.
2. Grant legal recognition to the SUITTAR worker union and
remove the company-selected union.
3. Negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with
TOMMY HILFIGER: Dave Dyer, CEO 25 W. 39th St., New York,
Tel: (212) 840-8888 Fax: (212) 548-1818 E-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org, cc: email@example.com,
FEDERATED DEPARTMENT STORES, INC. James Zimmerman,
Chairman of the Board 7 West Seventh Street, Cincinnati,
OH, USA 45202 Phone: (513)579-7000 Fax: (513)-573-2951
THE WET SEAL, INC. Peter Whitford, CEO 26972 Burbank,
Foothill Ranch, CA, USA 92610 Phone: (800) 735-7325 Fax:
(949) 699-4046 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cc copies to:
TARRANT APPAREL GROUP AND TARRANT MÉXICO Gerard Guez,
Chairman and CEO, Tarrant Apparel Group 3151 E. Washington
Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, USA 90023 Phone: (323) 780-8250
Fax: (323) 881-0379 E-mail:email@example.com
Kamel Nacif Borge, Major Stockholder, Corazón Reyes, PL
México Director, Tarrant México Edgar Allen Poe #231,
Colonia Polanco, México, D.F., México CP 11550
Fax: (52) (55) 5255-1009 E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org,
Gabriela Bringas, Administrator, Tarrant México - Ajalpan
Carretera Tehuacán ; Teotitlan, Km. 18, Ajalpan, Puebla,
México CP 75910 Fax (52) (236) 372-3348
AZTECA PRODUCTION INTERNATIONAL/INNOVO GROUP Paul Guez,
Owner and Major Stockholder and Hubert Guez, President
5804 E. Slauson Ave., Commerce, CA, USA 90040 Phone: (323)
890-9660 Fax: (323) 890-9680 E-mail: email@example.com,
3. DONATE TO THE DISMISSED WORKERS FUND: SUITTAR workers
are also asking for economic support for the families of
unjustly fired workers. To donate to the SUITTAR workers
see their fundraising request and/or donate online by
visiting the Sweatshop Watch webpage (click on the "donate
now" and place "Tarrant Mexico-Ajalpan" in the purpose
field). Donations can also be sent to: Sweatshop Watch/CAT
310 Eighth Street, Suite 303 Oakland, CA 94607 Tel:
Please send copies of your correspondence to Campaign for
Labor Rights: firstname.lastname@example.org
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE TARRANT CAMPAIGN PLEASE VISIT
4) United States: SUPPORT FARMWORKER LEGALIZATION!
E-mail your U.S. senator and representative today and urge
support of the new bipartisan legislation for farm worker
An historic bipartisan agreement, negotiated by the United
Farm Workers and the nations major grower groups, has been
reached on legislation for farm worker legalization. Help
protect those who put the rich bounty of fresh fruits and
vegetables on Americas dinner tables. These hard working
people accept risks no other American workers endure. They
pay taxes but enjoy few, if any, benefits while performing
some of the most important labor in our nation: feeding
America and much of the world. They constantly live in the
shadows of fear, making them easy victims of abuse and
This bill would (1) create a legalization program enabling
undocumented farm workers to earn legal immigration if
they have been working in the U.S. and continue to work in
agriculture for a period of time; and (2) make reforms in
the existing agricultural guest worker program, the H-2A
temporary foreign agricultural workerprogram.
Please e-mail your senator and representative, and ask
them to support the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits
and Security Act of 2003, a compromise bill by Senators
Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Larry Craig (R-ID), and
Representatives Howard Berman (D-CA) and Chris Cannon
Send your e-mail today by logging on to www.ufw.org and
click the link: legalization
Please copy Campaign for Labor Rights: email@example.com
5) HASTA LA VICTORIA SIEMPRE
The Resistance Intensifies - "Que Se Vayan Todos"
TODAY rally at the Bolivian Embassy in Washington, DC (3015 Mass Ave) 5-7pm
Despite Sanchez De Lozada's attempts to diffuse the Bolivian uprising with
dubious offers of a referendum on gas exports, protesters continue to
demand nothing less than his resignation. Fighting has spread throughout
Bolivia, with major clashes between police and protesters taking place as
far away as Patamacaya, 60 miles west of La Paz. The heaviest fighting,
however, has moved from El Alto to La Paz, where barricades and a general
strike have ground the economy to a halt. As a tenuous ring of riot police
surround the Presidential Palace, protesters are planning to widen their
barricades with a network of trenches about the city. Miners from outlying
regions continue to stream towards the capital, bearing dynamite and arms,
to confront the sections of the military still loyal to El Goni.
There are reports that the military is executing soldiers who refuse to
fire upon civilians. Thousands of women of the union Central Obrera
Boliviana have gone on hunger strike in Catholic churches, and even
traditionally conservative cities such as Santa Cruz have been blockaded
by protesters. Especially prominent among the protesters are the swarms of
indigenous people that have filled the streets of La Paz, struggling
against an apartheid-like government led by predominantly
TODAY 5-7pm RALLY AT THE BOLIVIAN EMBASSY IN WASHINGTON, DC (3015 Mass
6) Bolivia Q and A
Date: 10/17/2003 2:55:58 PM Pacific Daylight Time
Q/A on Bolivia
By Justin Podur
What is happening in Bolivia?
A massive popular mobilization is demanding the resignation of the President, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, and several ministers, including the Minister of Defense. On October 16 hundreds of thousands of demonstrators filled the main square in La Paz, Bolivia's capital. The presidential palace, guarded by tanks and trenches, is surrounded by demonstrators.
The mobilization arises out of a non-violent movement primarily involving Aymara peasants, an indigenous group making up about a quarter of Bolivia's population, based in El Alto, an Aymara city of some 700,000, but now extending according to Forrest Hylton, a knowledgeable researcher on Bolivia, to"the hillside neighborhoods of Upper Miraflores, Munaypata, Villa Victoria, Villa del Cármen, Villa Fátima and the Cemetery of La Paz".
In September, the movement had grown, in Hylton's words, to encompass "Rural and urban schoolteachers; students studying to be schoolteachers; parents of conscripts; retired miners; Aymara peasant leaders; inter-provincial truckers; university students from El Alto; the Bolivian Workers' Central (COB); all are on strike, some on hunger strikes. In addition to sectoral demands, each organization clamors for popular sovereignty over Bolivian gas and rejects the FTAA; most demand the resignation of Sánchez de Lozada and his draconian ministers, Yerko Kukoc, Minister of Government, and Carlos Sánchez de Berzaín, Minister of Defense, who are responsible for the massacre in Warisata on September 20, in which six Aymara community members-including eight year-old Marlene Nancy Rojas Ramos-were murdered after government forces moved in to evacuate several hundred tourists stranded for five days in (the town of) Sorata by road blockades. The massacre, let us note, took place the day after the National Coordination for the Defense of Gas mobilized 30,000 people in (the city of) Cochabamba and 50,000 in La Paz (the capital). In response to state terror, which made use of planes and helicopters, poorly armed but strategically placed Aymara community militias drove the army and police out of Warisata, Sorata and Achacachi." (2)
The movement's demands, in addition to the resignation of the President, are the formation of a new Constituent Assembly and a repeal of the privatization and foreign investment laws.
The movement has been met with terrible repression. There was a massacre in late September, and dozens more have been killed by police and security forces over the past week. About 60 people have been killed in the past month, with hundreds more injured, nearly all by bullet wounds from security forces. (3, 4)
What are the immediate roots of the current crisis?
The crisis is being called the 'Gas War'. It began with the government's plan for a .2 billion dollar natural gas pipeline project, controlled by a consortium of multinational energy companies including Repsol/YPF SA, British Gas (UK), Pan American Energy, BP PLC (UK), and Bridas Corporation (Argentina). This project was to export Bolivia's natural gas to the United States, via Chile.
While much is being made in the mainstream media about popular resentment of Chile (Bolivia lost its outlet to the sea in an 1880 war with Chile) and the possibility of a Chilean port being used to export the gas, the movement's aims probably have more to do with self-determination than with this type of nationalism. In analyst Tom Kruse's words:
"Bolivia has enormous reserves of natural gas. However, how the gas is to be exploited, and who the benefits will accrue to, are heated political issues in Bolivia. There is good reason for the heated debate: Bolivia has passed through 3 major cycles of non-renewable commodity exports: silver through the 19th century, guano and rubber later that century, tin in the 20th century. These cycles for exports never laid the basis for a prosperous, productive and just society. On the contrary, Bolivia is one of the least prosperous and most unjust societies in Latin America. The question Bolivians are rightly asking is, 'how will this next round of non-renewable commodity exports be turned into real development?'" (5)
As Kruse notes, natural gas is now Bolivia's most important resource. But because of privatization and the rules governing private investment, the country captures very little benefit from the resource. Exporting .2 billion of natural gas to Brazil has brings the Bolivian government million in revenue. The sale of gas to the US would benefit Bolivia little more.
The President, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (also known as 'Goni'), has suspended the natural gas project and declared that he would accept a referendum on the issue. But after the massacres, the movement is refusing to stop short of his resignation. The Vice President, Carlos Mesa has distanced himself from Goni.
What are the historical roots?
The current conflict is a continuation of a mass mobilization that occurred in January-February of 2003. At that time, a movement of campesinos demanded the suspension of coca eradication, the repudiation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, and re-nationalization and an end to privatization. The security apparatus nearly divided (as it may yet do), but in the end remained with the government and repressed the movement, with over 20 killed and many more injured. (See Sebastian Hacher's reports, and others, on Bolivia Watch.) (6, 7)
The elections of June 2002 set Bolivia on the road to the current crisis as well. In those elections, a new party, the Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS) led by Evo Morales, a representative of the coca growers of the Chapare region, came very close to winning the election. MAS is a coalition of social movements, including peasants and worker's unions, with a strong stance against privatizations and corporate globalization. With 625 000 votes (22.46% of the registered voters), Goni's Movimiento Nacional Revolucionaria (MNR) was able to form a minority government in coalition with some other parties. MAS had won 580 000 votes (20.94%), after stern warnings from the United States Embassy that there would be reprisals of Morales's MAS were to win the elections. Despite his very shaky support and minority government, Goni treated his election and his US support as a mandate for aggressive neoliberalism and the drug war. Given that the popular movement's grouping, MAS, had just won a near-upset victory itself, it was in a good position to mobilize against Goni's program.
Bolivia has been the site of remarkably resilient and powerful people's movements, which managed to stop the privatization of water in Cochabamba in 1999-2000. (8)
Also important is the neoliberal 'opening' of the country itself in 1985. The decree (now famous, numbered 21060) was passed by President Victor Paz Estenssoro to stop inflation. It succeeded in stopping inflation by plunging the country into recession and beginning the period of structural adjustment. The tin mines, the main source of national revenue at the time, were sold to multinational corporations at very low prices with no benefit to the population. The state industries, which had been the basis of the national economy and its social welfare programs, were privatized. (9)
Paz Estenssoro was one of the presidents during the revolutionary period 1952-1964, when the mines were nationalized, the national union central was created, and universal suffrage enacted. It is ironic that he presided over the dismantling of the socially progressive programs his government had enacted decades before.
Between 1964-1982, with only brief interludes of civilian rule, Bolivia was ruled by repressive military dictatorships. The aspirations of the indigenous peasant majority were suppressed, as was organized labor and dissent generally, even though these powerful social sectors were never destroyed. Their rising expectations, especially those of the indigenous who today refuse to be excluded as they have historically been excluded, are crucial background in understanding Bolivia.
Who are the main actors? What are their interests and demands?
On the one side there are the popular movements, whose composition and demands have been described above. Not only do they have powerful support from the MAS in the parliament itself, but even the Vice President has renounced the violence of the regime.
Goni is a multi-millionaire with diverse mining and business interests and a long history in Bolivian politics (president between 1993-1997, for example, presiding over various privatizations). He is famous for speaking Spanish with a thick American accent and is known as 'the gringo'.
As for Goni's regime itself, its supports are the mainstream media, the United States, and the repressive apparatus of the state. According to Forrest Hylton, even the middle class is beginning to defect, repudiating the violence of the regime: "The emergence of a middle class opposition is a new and welcome development that may tip the balance in favor of the Aymara working class and peasantry in the epicenter of conflict. "
Hylton sees two possible ways out of this impasse. The first is horrific to contemplate: "Sánchez de Lozada is negotiating with Manfred Reyes Villa, leader of the NFR (Nueva Fuerza Republicana, a party of the right that came in third in the 2002 election and is part of Goni's coalition) and once he has the support of Reyes Villa, Sánchez de Lozada will most likely declare a State of Siege. The president and his closest allies have calculated that by killing three to four hundred opposition leaders, intellectuals and students, and detaining between one thousand and twelve hundred, they can "pacify" the country. Though four US military officials are directing operations on the ground; though thousands of troops have been flown in from the eastern lowlands of Beni, Santa Cruz and Pando; and though the military high command issued a communiqué on October 13 in support of Sánchez de Lozada, a massacre of gross proportions a la Pinochet may be out of the question, because an important current within the high command recognizes the democratic nature of popular demands and would like to see the Minister of Defense, Carlos Sánchez Berzaín, dead. A State of Siege entailing mass killings and detentions could easily divide the army, at which point the war cry of the unarmed Alteños-'now for sure, civil war'-could materialize." The alternative is "that with the backing of the opposition movements, and before it's too late to stop the bloodshed, Vice-President Carlos Mesa calls an extraordinary session of Parliament to demand Sánchez de Lozada's resignation, the repeal of the laws regulating privatization and multinational investment, and the formation of a Constituent Assembly. Fifty-one years after its first national revolution, which brought the MNR to power, Bolivia is ready for another-one which will bury the MNR once and for all." (10)
What is the role of the United States?
The United States is backing Goni, who has accepted US drug war policies and IMF economic prescriptions wholeheartedly. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the US ``will not tolerate any interruption of constitutional order and will not support any regime that results from undemocratic means.'
This is a rather far cry from the US's behavior in April 2002, when it endorsed the military coup against Venezuela's president Chavez. At the time, the Venezuelan opposition shot several Chavez supporters and claimed that Chavez was responsible [see Wilpert's eyewitness account and material since (11)], claiming that Chavez should resign because of his responsibility in the deaths. The US repeated the Venezuelan opposition's claim that Chavez should resign because of these deaths, and that they essentially legitimated a military coup. But when Goni's regime is undoubtedly guilty of what Chavez's regime was accused of without such unequivocal evidence, the US insists that it "will not support any regime that results from undemocratic means." Meanwhile, as Hylton noted, US officials are helping to direct the repression on the ground.
The US's drug war policies have helped bring Bolivia to a boiling point. Coca leaf has been a key crop in Bolivia and throughout the Andean region for centuries, because of its nutritional value. During the centuries of mining exploitation, chewing coca leaf was indispensable for the survival of workers at high altitudes. After the neoliberal opening, coca became the only crop that enabled campesinos to earn a living - other crops did not fetch an economic price on the market and price supports were no longer available. A Foreign Policy in Focus review said of the US policy of eradicating coca farms that "aside from destroying the country's economy without providing alternatives, it has led to a greatly increased military presence in the Chapare coca-growing region and to widespread harassment, torture, and even murder of its indigenous people." (12)
The repression of coca growers was a 'success' in Bolivia: it displaced most coca production from Bolivia to Colombia. Now, Colombian peasants are being fumigated by the US drug war, while Bolivian peasants have been left with no livelihood and no recourse but to mobilize, and there has been no appreciable effect on drug consumption or abuse in the United States.
Also, historically, the US has trained some of the most repressive dictators in Bolivian history at its School of the Americas, among them Hugo Banzer, whose remarkable career and long links to the US are detailed in a story by Jerry Meldon (13)
US intervention in the region, based in Colombia and Ecuador, is increasing, targeting popular movements like that of Bolivia and regimes like that of Venezuela.
What is the role of the IMF?
The conflict is, at its core, about corporate 'globalization' of the type prescribed by the IMF. The IMF's structural adjustment programs, demanding reductions in public services, privatizations, and recessionary policies that throw people out of work, have been crucial in bringing the country to the crisis point. Neoliberalism is partly responsible for the 70% poverty rate in Bolivia. The natural gas exportation project itself was one encouraged by the IMF.
The struggles of Bolivia's popular movement are for self-determination against the outside control of institutions like the US, multinationals, and the IMF.
What is Bolivia's makeup?
Bolivia has about 8.5 million people. The indigenous are a majority in Bolivia, with the Aymara about 23% and Quechua 27% (statistics cited in Herbert Klein's 'Concise History of Bolivia', 2003). Despite its wealth of resources, it has long been one of Latin America's poorest countries with some of the lowest human development indicators. Neoliberalism has not helped in this, destroying the important state sector, reducing employment in a country wracked by unemployment and underemployment, and reducing social protections.
What can people outside do?
If a solution is not found, this crisis could end in a terrible repression. The United States seems to have vowed to back Goni to the end, but he is immensely unpopular. This is a case where international attention and solidarity can make a difference. A handful of US citizens have prepared a sign-on letter to the US government. (14)
Indigenous activists in Colombia and movements elsewhere in the region are working on actions in solidarity with the Bolivian movements. Predictably, the mainstream media has been paying almost no attention to these incredibly important events. Breaking that silence and communicating what is happening is crucial now, as it was in the 'water wars' of 1999-2000.
Where can I learn more?
ZNet's Bolivia Watch is presenting the analyses we can find in English . Other sites are posting analyses by writers like Forrest Hylton, Ben Dangl, Kathyrn Ledebur, and others. Translations are becoming available at Indymedia Bolivia
7) Facts on Bolivia's Gas and Oil Industry
Facts and figures on Bolivia's gas and oil reserves:
GAS RESERVES: Bolivia's gas reserves total 55 trillion cubic feet and analysts expect Bolivian demand for gas to only amount to 5 percent over the next several decades, leaving the country with extra gas to export. The reserves are located mostly in southern Bolivia and concentrated in Margharita field, about 1,000 miles south of La Paz.
EXPORTS: The International Monetary Fund has said if Bolivia's gas and oil exports can be increased over the next five years, the country could add an average of 1 percent to its annual growth domestic product. Current exports are mainly destined to Brazil and amount to 3.9 million.
THE PROJECT: Pacific LNG, an international consortium led by Repsol YPF of Spain and British Gas Petroleum, is spearheading a billion project to develop Bolivia's gas reserves principally for export to Mexico and power-generating plants in California. Gas would be shipped through a pipeline via Chile, the country's longtime rival. Officials estimate the project could generate 0 million in government revenues.
THE PLAYERS: Some seven companies control Bolivia's gas and oil reserves, including British Gas Bolivia, Brazil's Petrobras and Repsol YPF.
9) U.S. Military Sends Team to Bolivia
Sat Oct 18, 3:19 AM ET
WASHINGTON - A military team dispatched by the Pentagon is traveling to Bolivia to assess security at the U.S. Embassy following violent anti-government riots and the collapse of the government.
The team of fewer than six military experts was sent to La Paz, the capital, as the government of Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada was coming apart. Vice President Carlos Mesa took office as Bolivia's new president late Friday.
In a statement Saturday, the State Department said the United States regrets the events that led to fall of the government and commended Sanchez de Lozada "for his commitment to democracy and to the well being of his country."
"It is now the responsibility of Bolivians to take steps to end political polarization and to guarantee respect for human life and the rule of law," the statement said.
The outrage against the president was sparked by a controversial proposal to export natural gas to the United States and Mexico through neighboring Chile.
The American military planners will assess the situation on La Paz's streets and recommend possible changes to the embassy's evacuation and protection plans, said Army Lt. Col. Bill Costello, a spokesman for U.S. Southern Command.
Southern Command, responsible for U.S. troops in Central and South America, decided to send the team despite the lack of a request from either the State Department or the Bolivian government, Costello said.
"It's not something we've been directed to do," Costello said Friday. "The commanders, as they monitored developments, thought it was a prudent thing to do to look at the situation."
The United States normally has fewer than 30 military personnel in Bolivia, Costello said.
Costello said the team would take commercial flights into La Paz, although military planes have had to airlift thousands of stranded foreigners from there.
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