[News] Hunger Strikes in Bolivia, Summits in the Caribbean

Anti-Imperialist News 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


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 
weekend’s 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 wasn’t 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 
Bolivia’s new constitution was approved in a 
January 25 national referendum. Among other 
significant changes, the constitution grants 
unprecedented rights to the country’s 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 
hemisphere’s 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 
the same
 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 wouldn’t 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 weekend’s 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 today’s 
Latin America. He said, "I don’t think it would 
be possible. There isn’t 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 US’s 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 
region’s 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 don’t 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. 
Obama’s 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 Obama’s 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 it’s 
hard to say what the response will be in the long term."

This weekend’s summit, where Obama and Chavez 
will shake hands for the first time, might offer 
some glimpses into the region’s 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

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