Thursday, October 02, 2008

Defend Bolivia's Democracy

Respect Bolivia's Democracy
By Bill Fletcher, Jr.- Executive Editor
October 2, 2008

There is a struggle underway in Bolivia which has been
largely overlooked or misrepresented in the mainstream
circles in the USA. For the first time ever in Bolivia,
the majority of the population exercises its rights as
fully recognized citizens through electoral and civic
participation. Efforts to battle poverty and
illiteracy, the largest societal ills, are underway.
Indian families, who for centuries suffered the
consequences of racist policies, including economic
deprivation, and physical violence, (much like African
Americans, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans in the
USA) are finally respected and recovering their

While one would have hoped for enthusiasm here at home,
the response to Bolivia's efforts within establishment
political circles in the USA has been less than
welcoming. Under the leadership of Evo Morales, that
country's first Indian president, Bolivia is pursuing a
national economic development plan to uplift all of its
citizens. According to a 2005 United Nation Development
Programme report, at least six out of ten Bolivians
have incomes below the poverty line, and wealth
polarization is very significant between those at the
bottom, and the rich elite which has traditionally
dominated Bolivian society. The infant mortality rate
fares no better and is one of the worst in the region.
Faced with this reality, the Bolivian government
understands that rectifying its historical inequalities
is no small feat, but nevertheless, a necessary one for
the nation to advance.

In North America in the late 1800's, the Confederate
States of America seceded from the United States of
America and waged a bloody civil war against the North.
Wealthy landowners plotted to keep the wealth of the
South to themselves and out of the hands of Northern
industrialists who were developing the nation at a
rapid pace. While the retention of economic and
political power by Southern elites was the real issue
at hand, racist arguments and slavery (the basis for
their wealth) were used to justify their treasonous
actions to the world.

Today, an analogous secessionist movement is underway
in Bolivia's wealthiest region, Santa Cruz. After a
referendum vote recently ratified Evo Morales as
Bolivia's democratically elected president by an
overwhelming majority, there should be no more support
given to such illegal measures. This province holds
abundant natural resources and much of Bolivia's wealth
is derived from its natural gas, farmland, iron ore,
water and forests. As their constitution reads, these
riches should be used for the development of the entire
society, not for the benefit of a few.

Currently, democracy is on the line as a small sector
of opposition actors known to use racist violence
against the poor, have called for the overthrow of the
president and for secession. They have done so by
utilizing the national media which has mobilized the
most radical right-wing sectors to take to the streets
and engage in civil disobedience. Unfortunately, these
actions have been all but civil, including the
instigation of violence. Although the Bush
Administration has chosen to stand by those calling to
secede and in so doing support the most racist and
backward elements of Bolivian society, it is the hope
of fair and genuinely democratic-minded people that
Bolivia's right to sovereignty and respect for its
constitution will be honored by the United States.

Secession, and the balkanization of Bolivia would be a
disaster for the people of Bolivia (and the region),
just as such processes have been disasters in Eastern
and Central Europe, Africa and Central Asia. The
nation-state is tasked with helping to redistribute the
wealth of a country. In those countries with
enlightened leaders, such redistribution pays attention
to historic injustices that must be repaired. For this
reason, we in the USA should be very careful before
responding favorably to abstract calls for democracy
that actually hide the ambitions of the wealthy elites.
After all, in our own history the Confederate States of
America claimed that they were fighting a war against
Northern alleged aggression and oppression. Most
histories, however, tell a very different story.

We in the USA should respect Bolivia's right to self-
determination and refrain from unhelpful interference.
Just as the struggle against secession in North America
between 1861-65 was an internal matter for the people
of the USA to settle, so too is it for the people of
Bolivia today.
______ Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher,
Jr., is the Executive Editor of, a
Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies,
the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and
co-author of the book, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis
in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice
(University of California Press), which examines the
crisis of organized labor in the USA.

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