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Evo in danger ? My impressions of Bolivia.

Is Evo in danger after the August 10 referendum ?
My impressions of Bolivia


Bolivia has certainly changed. In La Paz, I attended a large reception
given by the Cuban ambassador. Mojitos, buffet, dances... Where was it
held? In the ceremonial hall of... the Bolivian army. Yes, the one that
killed Ché.

Bolivia has certainly changed, but not everyone wishes it well. We had come
to get an idea first hand with some progressive intellectuals from about 15
countries. Frei Betto, Ernesto Cardenal, Ramsey Clark, François Houtart,
Luis Britto Garcia, Pascual Serrano... A few days of meetings and exchanges
with Bolivian intellectuals, representatives of the Indian communities,

It's a sensitive moment. The rightwing is trying to split away the wealthy
regions of the country's East. To frustrate this operation, President Evo
Morales, in the middle of his mandate, has called for a revocatory
referendum, this Aug. 10. It's a sort of vote of confidence. It puts his
legitimacy in play, but also that of the prefects of departments, including
those who belong to his opposition. The rightwing is trying to sabotage the
referendum and people fear incidents...

We will see who is behind these incidents, which role the United States
plays, and the CIA, and a really strange ambassador, and also Europe...

Strong impressions

Strong impressions. Physically, first of all. La Paz is at an altitude of
11,800 feet. Its airport at 13,100. We arrived in the night, short of
oxygen, at the brink of passing out. Very attentive, the young people who
welcome us have us sit down calmly, while they deal with our luggage and
let us catch our breath.

The first day will be devoted to rest and acclimatization. With Luis, a
Venezuelan friend, we take a small tour, taking small steps from one bench
to the next, in one of the most beautiful capitals of the world. Imagine an
immense basin, bordered by the imposing mountains Huayna Potosí (20,000
ft.) and Nevado Illimani (21,200 ft.), not far from the lake Titicaca, the
highest navigable lake of the world. Here, water boils at 176° F instead of
212° F at sea level. And no street is flat.

What is striking about La Paz, in winter in any case, is the gentle
climate, sunny and fresh. And the gentle people. Everywhere, you are
welcomed with kindness, with a kind of quiet serenity. Indians wear heavy
clothing with superb multi-coloured shawls. And of curious small "bolo"
hats, black, brown or gray. Sometimes, they also carry impressive loads.
Two-thirds of the population are Indians.

The importance of the Indian communities

"An Indian president? The white racist oligarchy still won't accept it,"
Evo confides to us. I began to understand all the wealth of this Indian
heritage while visiting with Bolivian friends in Tiwanaku, the capital of
an old Incan empire...

We are on the very high plateau of the Altiplano, bordered by mountains.
Here, Indians live under difficult conditions, from farming and raising
animals. Not a cloud in the sky, an incredibly pure air, you can still feel
the nighttime chill.

Tiwanaku was an immense city, whose excavations have hardly begun. A
hundred local Indians are busy restoring the temple, an enormous pyramid in
terraces. It was a very advanced civilization, which constructed its
buildings based on a thorough knowledge of astronomy. It had created a
metallurgical and textile industry. It cultivated more than 200 different
kinds of corn and 400 kinds of potatoes, of which one species could be
frozen and remain edible for ten years. The system of irrigation was very
sophisticated with a very precise slope so that the stones would heat the
water enough to prevent it from freezing. This system was so sophisticated
that today the Agriculture Ministry will revive it to develop agriculture
on the terraces. Water is rare here, a treasure.

An Indian elder carries out a ritual ceremony with our group, a sort of
sacrifice of small symbolic objects, to celebrate the unity with the cosmos
and to gather the wishes that we form. Emotion.

It is no about glorifying the past for its own sake, but to preserve the
common memories and values and integrate them into the new society. A
Bolivian journalist explains the importance of community here: "It is a
strong element of Bolivia. Look here, according to international
statistics, a Bolivian peasant has an average income of 50 dollars per
year. You may as well say that he is dead! Except if one understands that
the communal economy is the basis of our life here. "

In short, it's an invaluable heritage that must not be lost.

One Bolivian in four must emigrate

Strong impressions also regarding social realities in this country. In La
Paz, the upper classes live at the lower end of the city, below 10,000
feet, where one breathes more easily. Lower classes, on the other hand, in
El Alto: at over 13,000 feet. Small trade, small craft industries, a little
animal husbandry in the high plateaus... Life is hard.

The second poorest country of Latin America, Bolivia has seen one of four
of its children emigrate. Why? For centuries, this land was colonized by
Spain. And all the benefit of its mining wealth, extracted at the cost of a
murderous labor in semi-slavery, were carried to Europe. For decades, its
gas and its oil benefited only a handful of rich people, but most of all
some transnational corporations, especially European-based. The North bled
the South thoroughly, leaving behind only misery.

And conflicts. Evo Morales, president for two-and-a-half years, did not
fall from the sky. His presidency is the fruit of long years of worker and
peasant resistance. The Indian communities have always been exploited,
excluded and scorned by a white racist elite, dependent on the United
States and Europe.

That's where poverty and underdevelopment arise. But when the Bolivians, to
survive, take care of housework in Europe, they are treated like criminals
and thrown into prison. Even children! Evo Morales courageously denounced
the recent "Directive of Shame" which will make it possible all European
countries to imprison the criminals, sorry, the immigrants, for up to 18

Precisely, before leaving, I met with immigrant workers in Brussels, in
particular the Latinos and Latinas. In struggle for months to obtain
papers, i.e., their rights, their dignity. Confronting ministers who
completely ignored them, they had to risk their lives: hunger strike,
climbing cranes... Since they greatly appreciated Evo's letter to the E.U.,
they asked me to give a small message of gratitude to the Bolivian
president. I did. It brought a smile to his face.

In fact, when you see the poverty here, the very low wages, the lack of
industry, one understands why so many Bolivians must emigrate. But, when
investigating further, one also understands that Europe is a dirty
hypocrite who bears a heavy responsibility for this emigration. We will
return to this later...

What has Evo accomplished?

But first of all let us take a look at what Evo accomplished in
two-and-a-half years ... He nationalized oil and gas. Would you like to
know why the corporate media calls the Colombian President Uribe "good" and
Evo Morales "bad"? Very simple. The former cut the taxes of the
transnational corporations from 14 percent to... 0.4 percent. To help these
transnationals get installed locally under optimum conditions, the
Colombian paramilitaries drove four million peasants off their land. The
latter, Morales, in order to combat poverty, dared to return to the
Bolivian nation the wealth it owned.

By nationalizing its hydrocarbon resources, Evo multiplied the public
revenues by five and gave himself the means for relieving the most urgent
evils: illiteracy has dropped by 80 percent, a part of the children working
in the streets have returned to school, schools teaching in the Indian
languages Aymara and Quechua have been established (20,000 graduates), free
health care is already available for half of the Bolivians, a "Dignity"
pension for those over 60, credit with zero-percent interest for products
like corn, wheat, soy and rice. Thanks to Venezuelan aid, 6,000 computers
were made available, especially at schools. Thanks to Cuban aid, 260,000
people had eye operations. Elsewhere in Latin America, they would be
condemned to be blind, because they are poor.

Moreover, the public investments to develop the economy increased greatly.
Bolivia eliminated its fiscal deficit, repaid half of its foreign debt (now
down from $5.0 to 2.2 billion), reconstituted a small financial reserve,
multiplied employment in the mines and the metal industries by four, and
doubled the production and the incomes of these industries. The industrial
GDP passed from $4.1 to $7.1 billion in three years. A thousand tractors
were distributed to peasants. New roads were built.

In short, Bolivia advances. Not quick enough, some say. For these people,
Evo is not moving hard enough against the rightwing and the big landowners.
It is a debate that must be carried out among those who live on the spot
and can appreciate the situation, with all its possibilities and dangers.
And by understanding that it is not enough to say "Do it" to bring a
country out of poverty and dependence. By knowing that it is necessary to
take account of the relationship of forces with the rightwing, which is
agitating and sabotaging. By taking account of the army (Will all its
generals be loyal to the government under all conditions?).

Another negative factor: "The legal system remains completely corrupted,"
was confided to me by... the highest ranking magistrate in La Paz. "It is
an old caste that protects itself and the interests of the rich. It's a
business, truly. However, we have threatened the immediate recall of any
judge caught in an obvious crime. But it is a difficult battle."

And precisely, when I was there, the courts came rushing to help the
rightwing by trying to prevent by a legal battle the holding of the

But there is danger much greater than the legal system...

Behind the rightwing, the United States prepares a civil war

It is the new tactic of the United States. Finding themselves unable to win
a war of occupation, Washington is resorting to indirect war, war by
proxies. Currently, strategy of Washington is to try to foment a civil war
in Bolivia. For that, the provinces controlled by the rightwing and which
contain the greater part of the oil and gas reserves along with the large
agricultural properties tied to the transnationals, these provincial
regimes are multiplying their provocations to prepare to secede.

Having personally studied the secret actions of the great powers to break
up Yugoslavia (1), I made a point of drawing the attention of the
Bolivians, during some interviews: today, Washington will try to transform
their country into a new Yugoslavia.

Here are the ingredients needed for this deed: 1. Massive CIA investments.
2. An ambassador specialized in destabilization. 3. Experienced fascists.
With these ingredients, you can prepare a coup d'etat or a civil war. Or

First ingredient. As in Venezuela, the CIA is investing a lot in Bolivia.
Through its usual covers: USAID, National Endowment for Democracy,
Republican International Institute, etc. The right-wing separatist
organizations are abundantly subsidized. USAID, for example, financed Juan
Carlos Orenda, adviser of the extreme right Civic Committee of Santa Cruz
and author of a plan envisaging the secession of this province.

But they also support the more discreet organizations charged to sow
confusion and to prepare an anti-Evo propaganda. At the University of San
Simon of Cochabamba, the Thousand-year Foundation received $155,000 to
criticize the nationalization of gas and defend neoliberalism. Thirteen
young Bolivian right-wing leaders were invited for training in Washington:
$110,000. In the popular districts of El Alto, USAID launched programs "to
reduce the tensions in the zones prone to social conflicts." Read: to
discredit the left.

In all, millions of dollars have been handed out to all kinds of
organizations, student groups, journalists, politicians, judges,
intellectuals, businesspeople. The Spanish Popular Party, around Jose Maria
Aznar, takes part in these operations.

Second ingredient. Where does Philip Goldberg, the current ambassador of
the United States to Bolivia, come from? From Yugoslavia. Where he
accumulated a rich personal experience in how to split a country apart.
From 1994 to 1996, he worked in Bosnia for Ambassador Richard Holbrooke,
one of the strategists of disintegration. Then, he stirred up conflict in
Kosovo and fomented the split between Serbia and Montenegro. An expert, you
could say.

And not inactive. As the Argentinian journalist Roberto Bardini tells it:
"On June 28, 2007, a 20-year-old U.S. citizen, Donna Thi of Miami, was held
at the airport of La Paz for trying to bring into the country 500
45-caliber bullets that she had declared to customs were 'cheese.' Waiting
for her at the terminal was the wife of Colonel James Campbell, the chief
of the military mission of the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia. U.S. Ambassador
Philip Goldberg immediately intervened to obtain her release, saying that
it was only an 'innocent error.' The ammunition, he declared, was to be
used only for sport and show. In March 2006, another U.S. citizen, Triston
Jay Amero, alias Lestat Claudius, a 25-year-old Californian, carrying 15
different identity documents, set off 660 pounds of dynamite in two La Paz
hotels." (2)

Why did the U.S. export Goldberg from the Balkans to Bolivia? To transform,
I am sure, this country into a new Yugoslavia. Washington favors the method
of promoting separatism to retake control of natural resources or strategic
areas when governments act too independent, too resistant to the

Third ingredient. Experienced fascists. In Bolivia, Goldberg openly
supported and collaborated with Croatian-origin businesspeople in the
leadership of the secessionist movement. Particularly with Branko
Marinkovic, member of Federation of Free Entrepreneurs of Santa Cruz (the
secessionist province). A very big landowner, Marinkovic also pulls the
strings of the Transporte de Hidrocarbures Transredes (which works for
Shell). He manages the 3,750 miles of oil and gas pipelines that feed out
to Chile, Brazil and Argentina.

And when did these people come from Croatia? It should be recalled that,
during World War II, the German leader, Nazi Adolf Hitler established
fascist Greater Croatia where his collaborators, the Ustashis, set up death
camps (including one especially for children!) that carried out a terrible
genocide aimed at Serbs, Jews and Roma ("gypsy") people. (3) After the Nazi
defeat, the Croatian Catholic Church and the Vatican organized "ratlines,"
paths for the Croatian fascist criminals (and for German Nazi Klaus Barbie)
to escape. From Croatia in Austria, then onto Rome. And from there towards
Argentina, Bolivia or the United States. (4)

When it became known that Franjo Tudjman and the leaders of the "new"
Croatia born in 1991 had rehabilitated the former Croatian World War II
criminals, one would like to know if Mr. Marinkovic disavows all this past
or if, quite simply, he employs the same methods where he is now. As for
the United States, one knows that it rehabilitated and recycled a large
quantity of Nazi criminals and spies of World War II. The networks are
always useful.

What hides behind separatism

There. All the ingredients are ready to blow Bolivia apart... The dollars
of the CIA, plus the experts in provoking civil wars, plus the fascists
recycled as businesspeople. A civil war that would serve the interests of
the multinationals, but that international public opinion must absolutely
prevent. The Bolivians have the right to decide their fate themselves.
Without the CIA.

Because a secession would benefit only the elite. The Brazilian writer Emir
Sader has just written very precisely: "Today, one of the methods that
includes racism is separatism, the attempt to delimit the lands controlled
by the white race, by adapting and privatizing the wealth that belongs to
the nation and its people. We already knew these intentions in the form of
the rich districts that sought to be defined as municipalities, with the
goal that a share of the taxes taken by law from their immense richnesses
remains under their control to increase the revenue to their split-off
districts, behind which they sought to insulate and to use a privately
controlled security apparatus to guard their privileged life styles.(...)
The separatist referendum is an oligarchic, racist and economic device used
because they want to keep the greatest part of the wealth of Santa Cruz for
their own benefit and because the oligarchs want, moreover, to prevent the
government of Evo Morales from continuing the process of land reform and
extending all over the country." (5)

This autonomy, indeed, that means that the rich white people who have
always controlled Bolivia refuse to listen to the non-white majority in its
West. When one speaks about autonomy, Evo Morales answers: "Let us speak
about autonomy, not for the oligarchy, but for the people with whom we
struggle. These separatist groups which have just lost their privileges
were for a long time in the palace, they controlled the country and allowed
the plundering of our country, our natural resources, including its natural
resources, and the same with the privatization of our companies, and now
they once again want to reestablish this system which exposes their true
interest: economic control."

But it's not only the United States that intervenes in Bolivia...

The hypocrisy of Europe :
who thereby caused, "all the misery of the world"?

While hunting down undocumented workers, Europe slips into a sigh from the
genteel nobility: "We cannot after all give succor to all the suffering of
the world." Ah, well? But, actually, this misery, it is you who created it!
Your Charles the Fifth, your Louis XIV, your Elisabeth I and your Léopold
II happily massacred the "savages" to steal their wealth! This plundering
was the basis of European capitalism's rapid economic growth. And today
still your mining, agricultural and other corporations have not ceased to
plunder the raw materials without paying for them, have not ceased
dominating and deforming the local economies and blocking their
development! Isn't it you who have the debt--to repay the South?

Would this be dredging up the past? In the media, the Europeans in charge
like to say that today, they want only the best for Latin America and the
Third World...

"Completely false," confided to me with indignation Pablo Solon, who
represents Bolivia in the trade negociations between Latin America and the
E.U: "Bolivia exp-lained it to the E.U. Before the negotiations, we had
said that we would not negotiate a Free-Trade-style treaty. And we had
communicated our points of divergence regarding services, investments,
intellectual property and public property. The commission promised us that
these points would be on the table during the negotiations. That in
contrast with the "others," they would not try to impose a unique format on
us. But, when we met with Peter Mandelson, European commerce official, he
told us in a categorical and imperative way: 'This is a Free Trade
Agreement. Accept it or you're out of the talks.' I answered personally
that we were not going to exclude ourselves and that we were going to
defend our points of view until the end. Because Bolivia has many
industries which it must defend: steel, plastic, paper, which need
mechanisms to protect themselves, as was done for the emergent European
industries in the past."

Indeed, Europe showed that it is hyper-dominating and arrogant. It claims
it will impose on all of Latin America and the Caribbean the end of
subsidies that help to develop the local products, the suppression of the
import duties (but it refuses to do the same at home!), suppression of
every limit for European exports (refusing the reverse), the transfer
without limits of the qualified European labor, and the modification of all
laws protecting the local economies.

And moreover, the E.U. wants to impose the privatization of all state
services, goods and enterprises. Although already in 2000, out of the 500
largest companies of Latin America and of the Caribbean, 46 percent already
belonged to foreign corporations.

And moreover, the E.U. wants to impose patents on living things (Bolivia
has a very rich biodiversity coveted by the chemical and pharmaceutical
transnationals). But aren't living things, and water also, goods essential
for survival, an innate property that should remain with those who always
protected them and used them with care?

Ultimately, the E.U. wants to impose completely unbalanced treaties which
will wipe out the Bolivian companies. All that it seeks is that the
European companies can invade the markets freely. Thus they will ruin these
countries. Thus they will provoke emigration. An absurd system, no?

Who chooses immigration and why?

I wrote that Europe drove out the Latino immigrants. That is less than
accurate. Europe does not treat them all the same way.

On the one hand, European bosses import the best brains of the Third World,
and also the very qualified technicians. They are under-paid to increase
company profits. It is what Sarkozy and others call "selected immigration".
The boss selects those who will be likely to work for him. But this
brain-drain deprives the Third World of people whom it taught (at great
cost) and who would be necessary to its development. A new form of

On the other hand, Europe also welcomes a part of the non-qualified
workers. By leaving them without papers, therefore without rights, it
forces them to live in fear, to accept wages and working conditions that
constitute social reverses. It's an effective way to divide the working
class and pressure the other workers. That's how the "competitiveness" of
this virtuous Europe is manufactured. How Europe treats undocumented
workers is no aberration, but an essential moving part of an economic

To sum up: Europe stole from Latin America. Europe continues to steal from
Latin America. It stops the continent from nourishing its children. But
when those children are forced to emigrate, it imprisons them. Then, it
offers lessons of democracy and morality to the whole world.

The time has come

I could not remain in Bolivia a long time, but these people deeply
impressed me. I remember the thousands of demonstrators who went down, this
Sunday, towards the center of La Paz, crammed into their minibuses, cars or
taxis, Indians and whites, from the fairest to the darkest.

With astonishing calm and much less noise than in any demonstration in any
other part of the world. With a simple and noble determination. And in
their eyes you could read a determination: the time has come to put an end
to centuries of humiliations, the time has come for dignity for all, the
time has come to make misery disappear.

And I thought once again of those undocumented friends in Brussels, who
also demonstrated for their future and their dignity. The problem is
obviously the same one, in Brussels and La Paz: for whom must the wealth of
a country be used? And if this problem is not resolved in La Paz, the
millions of undocumented workers will continue to knock on Europe's doors.

And tomorrow?

How will this evolve? For August 10, an pro-U.S. polling institute, like
the majority of my contacts in La Paz, predicted a victory of Evo with 60
percent. On the other hand, some feared the influence of the problem of the
inflation and the increase in the cost of living. Still others fear that
the rightwing will launch violent provocations.

Whatever happens, the referendum itself will resolve nothing, neither in
one direction, nor the other. Evo Morales will still face the same problem:
the government is on the left, but it does not control the country's
economy, nor its media (which is in the hands of the big landowners and the
Spanish multinational Prisa), nor its universities, nor the Church, which
is on the side of the rich as usual on this continent. One cannot do
everything in two-and-a-half years. But, to advance, Evo will have to
succeed more than even in mobilizing the popular masses. His only strength.

In any event, after the referendum, the question will remain the same: will
the wealth of the country be used to enrich the wealthy and the
transnational corporations or to develop the country and overcome poverty?

To resolve this question in its favor, Washington is ready to do anything.
And the international progressive movement? How will it react against
disinformation and the preparation of a civil war?

The answer depends on all of us.

Michel Collon
La Paz - Brussels
August 2008

Translation from French: John Catalinotto

If you want to send to your friends, French and Spanish versions available
at <http://www.michelcollon.info/index.php>:

[1] Test-media Yugoslavia y Kosovo,
[2] Roberto Bardini, el embajador de la secesión, traducción francesa
vuelta a ver B.I., nº 133, junio de 2008.
[3] Michel Collon, Liars' Poker, IAC, New York, 2002, p. 78
[4] Operación Ratlines, documental de David Young amargo Chanel 4 TVES,
1991. Citado en El Juego de la mentira, p. 83.
[5] CEPRID, la CIA allí la oligarquía en contubernio contradijo a Bolivia,