[News] Hunger Strikes in Bolivia, Summits in the Caribbean
news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Apr 16 12:08:52 EDT 2009
April 16, 2009
Hunger Strikes in Bolivia, Summits in the Caribbean
Latin America Changes
By BENJAMIN DANGL
After Bolivia beat the Argentine soccer team led
by legendary Diego Maradona by 6 to 1, Maradona
told reporters, "Every Bolivia goal was a stab in
my heart." Bolivia was expected to lose the April
1 match as Argentina is ranked as the 6th best
soccer team in the world, and Maradona enjoys
godlike status among soccer fans. This story of
David and Goliath in the Andes is just one of
various events shaking up the hemisphere.
Bolivian President Evo Morales just completed a
five day hunger strike to push through
legislation that allows him to run again in
general elections this December. And at this
weekends Summit of the Americas US President
Barack Obama will meet with Latin American
presidents who may end up giving some economic
advice to their troubled neighbor in the north.
Evo Morales on a Hunger Strike
When opposition party members in Bolivia left a
Congress session on April 9, refusing to pass a
bill that would allow for general elections in
December of this year, Evo Morales began a hunger
strike while thousands of government supporters
rallied in the streets in support of the bill.
Morales began the fast to pressure opponents into
passing the legislation, which in addition to
enabling elections, would give indigenous
communities broader representation in parliament
and give Bolivian citizens living abroad the
right to vote in the December elections. The
opposition blocked the bill in part because they
said it would give Morales more power and did not
significantly prevent the possibility of
electoral fraud. On April 12, opposition members
returned to Congress when Morales agreed to
changes regarding a new voter registry.
During his hunger strike, Morales slept on a
mattress on the floor in the presidential palace
and chewed coca leaves to fight off hunger.
Morales said that this was the 18th hunger strike
he participated in; before becoming president,
Morales was a long-time coca farmer, union
organizer and congressman. He said the longest
hunger strike he had been on lasted 18 days while
he was in jail, according to Bloomberg. But
Morales wasnt alone: 3,000 other MAS supporters,
activists, workers and union members also
participated in the hunger strike, including Bolivians in Spain and Argentina.
Early in the morning on April 14, once it was
official that the Senate passed the bill, Morales
ended his strike. "Happily, we have accomplished
something important," he told reporters. "The
people should not forget that you need to fight
for change. We alone can't guarantee this
revolutionary process, but with people power it's possible."
This controversy erupted just weeks after
Bolivias new constitution was approved in a
January 25 national referendum. Among other
significant changes, the constitution grants
unprecedented rights to the countrys indigenous
majority and establishes a broader role for the
state in the management of the economy and natural resources.
Summit of the Americas: Cuba, Obama and Chavez
On April 17-19 the Summit of the Americas will
take place in Trinidad and Tobago. Most of the
hemispheres presidents will be in attendance. It
will also mark the first meeting between
Presidents Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez.
Before the larger Summit begins, a Summit for the
Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA)
will take place in Venezuela from April 14-15.
Those planning to attend this gathering include
President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Evo
Morales, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, and
others. Chavez announced that this ALBA meeting
will take place with the objective of formulating
common positions to bring to Trinidad and Tobago,
including plans regarding the formation of a
regional currency, called the Sucre. These
leaders are also likely to lead the push for an
end to the blockade against Cuba.
Chavez said that if the US wants to come to the
Summit "with the same excluding discourse of the
empire on the blockade then the result will
be that nothing has changed. Everything will stay
Cuba is a point of honor for the
peoples of Latin America. We cannot accept that
the United States should continue trampling over the nations of our America."
In a recent column, Fidel Castro noted that Obama
planned to lift travel and remittance
restrictions to Cuba, but that that wouldnt be
enough the blockade still needs to be lifted.
"[N]ot a word was said about the harshest of
measures: the blockade," Castro wrote. "This is
the way a truly genocidal measure is piously
called, one whose damage cannot be calculated
only on the basis of its economic effects, for it
constantly takes human lives and brings painful
suffering to our people. Numerous diagnostic
equipment and crucial medicines -- made in
Europe, Japan or any other country -- are not
available to our patients if they carry U.S. components or software."
The blockade against Cuba will likely be a hot
topic of debate at this weekends Summit, and
will be partly fueled by tension between Obama
and Chavez. Explaining the failure of the Bush
administration in the region, Obama once said, it
is "No wonder, then, that demagogues like Hugo
Chavez have stepped into this vacuum. His
predictable yet perilous mix of anti-American
rhetoric, authoritarian government, and checkbook
diplomacy offers the same false promise as the
tried and failed ideologies of the past."
Yet a closer look at the region will show that
the rise of leaders like Chavez is a result of
more than just neglect on the part of the empire
it has to do with the disastrous impact of
neoliberalism in the region, and a desire among
Latin Americans to seek out alternatives.
Considering the current economic crisis in the
US, Obama could learn a thing or two from the
policies of leaders like Chavez, who is
incredibly popular in Venezuela, works in
solidarity with many of the region's leaders, and
has developed sucessful economic policies in his
country. At the upcoming Summit, Obama should put
into action something he said when meeting with
the G20: "We exercise our leadership best when we are listening."
Latin America Changes
Those expecting an end to the same old Cold War
tactics toward Latin America from Washington may
be surprised when Obama continues to treat the
region as a backyard. Yet whether or not the
perspective from Washington changes, Latin
America is certainly a different place than it was 30 years ago.
I asked Greg Grandin, a professor of history at
New York University, and the author, most
recently, of Empire's Workshop, if another
US-backed coup such as the one that happened
against socialist Chilean President Salvador
Allende in 1973 would be possible in todays
Latin America. He said, "I dont think it would
be possible. There isnt a constituency for a
coup. In the 1970s, US policy was getting a lot
more traction because people were afraid of the
rise of the left, and they were interested in an
economic alliance with the US. Now, the [Latin
American] middle class could still go with the
US, common crime could be a wedge issue that
could drive Latin America away from the left. But
US policy is so destructive that it has really
eviscerated the middle class. Now, there is no
domestic constituency that the US could latch
onto. The US did have a broader base of support
in the 1970s, but neoliberalism undermined it."
Grandin explained that in the 1960s and 1970s,
security agencies in Latin America built up their
relationship with Washington to "subordinate
their interests to the USs cold war crusade."
There was a willingness among the Latin American
middle class to do this, Grandin explained, and
the US was also interested in building the
infrastructure and networks to ensure that the
regions new dictators fanaticism could be led
by anti-communism. "Now in South America, there
has been a wide rejection to subordinate their
military to the US," Grandin explained. "In a
2005 defense meeting in Quito, Ecuador [former US
Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld attempted
to elevate the war on terror in the region [as a
military priority], and it was roundly rejected.
As of now, I dont think there has been a
willingness for Latin America to serve as an
outpost of this unified war [on terror]."
Grandin wrote in a 2006 article that the Pentagon
has tried to "ratchet up a sense of ideological
urgency" in the war on terror in Latin America.
but these pleas have fallen on deaf ears. "The
cause of terrorism," said Brazil's Vice President
José Alencar, "is not just fundamentalism, but misery and hunger."
However, the Latin America Obama will visit this
weekend is already significantly different than
the one Rumsfeld tried to convince in 2005.
Obamas counterparts in the south are generally
more independent and leftist than they were even
four years ago. But all that can change, and at
least some of it depends on how Obama works with or ignores - the region.
Outside of Obamas influence, one question
remains: will changes made by leftist leaders in
Latin America be irrevocable, even if the right
regains power in the region in the next five
years? Not according to political analyst Laura
Carlsen of the Americas Program in Mexico City,
"In order for that to happen it would take more
than just a change in the government, and I find
it unlikely for anything like that to happen in
the short term. It took years for the left in
power to build up these social movements and the
development of alternatives. It was the result of
that process that brought these governments into
power, and to reverse it you would have to silence or repress these movements."
I asked Grandin the same question. "It depends,"
he said, "the changes seemed pretty irrevocable
in the 1970s and with Reaganism and militarism
The failure of neoliberalism is certain, but its
hard to say what the response will be in the long term."
This weekends summit, where Obama and Chavez
will shake hands for the first time, might offer
some glimpses into the regions future.
Benjamin Dangl is the author of
Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements
in Bolivia," (AK Press). He is an editor at
UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and
politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com,
a progressive perspective on world events. Email bendangl(at)gmail.com
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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