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EVO MORALES: WHITE MAN, YOU ONLY HAVE YOURSELVES TO BLAME

by : fi
Tuesday January 10, 2006 - 06:11
1 comment
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This month, cocaleros (coca farmers) champion Evo Morales was victorious in Bolivia’s presidential elections, with 51% of the vote. His triumph at the polls is a direct challenge to the US’s anti-narcotics campaign in the region, with Morales defending the production of the coca leaf - which, when refined, produces cocaine.

Cocaine: the white man’s invention

The coca leaf is traditionally chewed by the indigenous people of Bolivia to alleviate altitude sickness, a practice that predated the European conquest. The leaf is a stimulant and hunger-suppressant. The Spaniards initially banned the "Satanic" leaf, but when they discovered its qualities, they legalised it and taxed it to support missionary work.

It was not until the mid-19th century that the Europeans discovered the cocaine alkaloid erythroxyline. Coca was fermented in drinks - the origin of Coca-Cola - and exported throughout North America and Europe. Sigmund Freud lauded the properties of cocaine and Captain Scott used it in his infamous expedition to Antartica. However, when cocaine was found to be a habit-forming drug that posed a threat to the state, the substance was banned. Nevertheless, the popularity of cocaine among Europeans and North Americans has led to strong growth, with celebrities snorting the purer premium blends while "crack" cocaine (an impure substance mixed with baking powder) appeals to the poorer market. Cocaine also has positive uses in medicine as a pain-killer. If it were not for cocaine, medical advances could have been held back by decades.

Cocaine: Bolivia’s answer to economic liberalisation

In Bolivia, Western cocaine habits have been a safety net, pulling it through the worst excesses of free market capitalism. While Bolivian coca farmers, mostly concentrated in the east and south of the country, only receive a small portion of the total price of the drug, coca farming is one of the few cash crops that indigenous campesinos (peasants) can make a living from. In fact, many redundant tin miners took up coca farming. Virtually every other commodity produced in Bolivia has witnessed falling prices, leading to a deterioration in the country’s terms of trade.

Take, for instance, the decline in tin mining. While only a small proportion of the Bolivian population was involved in tin mining, the industry had a multiplier effect through the the economy and represented an important source of economic growth. Bolivia’s wealth was founded on tin, but the US’s Reagan administration effectively destroyed the International Tin Council, which was not given the funds to continue to buy up tin and maintain a minimum price. The US argued that falling demand no longer justified guaranteed prices, but no-one ever gave the Bolivians an alternative - apart from cocaine.

Ten years ago, I attended a reception at the Bolivian embassy in London, where the American First Secretary was complaining about the Bolivian government’s failure to combat cocaine production. The Bolivian ambassador replied: "If you want a free market in tin, then you’ll have to accept a free market in cocaine."

It is fair to say that not all Bolivia’s problems can be blamed on the US. Political instability and economic mismanagement under the Banzer administration of the 1980s played a part in Bolivia’s downfall. The country’s problems were compounded by the neo-liberal Nueva Política Económica (NPE, New Economic Policy) introduced in 1985 by President Paz Estenssoro at the same time as the collapse in international tin prices. The NPE lifted price controls, ended subsidies and dollarised the economy.

The NPE succeeded in curbing hyperinflation, but its aggressive liberalisation formula coupled with declining tin prices led to a loss of 75% of the workforce at the Corporación Minera de Bolivia (Comibol, Mining Corporation of Bolivia), the state-owned corporation that underpinned Bolivian economic activity. The Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB, Bolivian State Petroleum Company), which produced 80% of the country’s oil and gas, was also forced to sack a third of its workforce. Unemployment escalated from around 5% to over 20%, forcing many Bolivians into poverty. By the end of the 1980s, the cocaine industry was the only sector paying the bills and bringing in US dollars.

The wars: the rise of a critique of neo-liberalism

After the collapse of tin mining came the "water wars" (2000) and the "gas wars" (2003), which saw the consolidation of popular uprisings against neo-liberal economic policies. Through these struggles, Bolivia witnessed the radicalisation of the impoverished indigenous population. The water and gas wars centred on issues that resonated with the problems faced by the tin industry: economic stability and the control of natural resources. But this time, the Bolivians were determined to save their economy from plunder from multi-national corporations and the austerity of free market economics.

The water wars were a response to escalating water prices that followed the sale of water services to Aguas de Tunari (a subsidiary of the consortium of London-based International Water Ltd And San Francisco-based Bechtel Corp). With water prices rising by 300%, riots ensued leading to the imposition of martial law. Eventually, President Hugo Banzer was forced to cancel the Aguas de Tunari contract to avert a revolution and turned over the city’s water supply to the Coordinadora de Defensa del Agua y la Vida (Coalition for the Defense of Water and Life), a coalition of trade unionists and activists.

The gas wars started as a nationalistic reaction against the export of gas via a part of Chilean territory claimed by Bolivia, but grew into a debate over the distribution of profits generated by the country’s gas reserves, the second-largest in Latin America. The protests culminated in the 12 October 2003 massacre of 30 people in El Alto, where demonstrators had cut off a road link to the capital La Paz. The massacre led to President Sanchez de Lozada’s resignation, but the assumption of power by his deputy Carlos Mesa did not resolve the dispute. Mesa refused to accede to popular demands for the nationalisation of gas. Evo Morales came to prominence as the protest leader, making the country "ungovernable". Mesa’s resignation in June 2005 did nothing to quell the protests which intensified as the opposition demanded an increase in tax on gas royalties from 18% to 50%.

Cocaine: the failure of US policy

The water and gas wars enabled Evo Morales to capitalise on indigenous radicalisation. He came second in the 2002 presidential election and is now the country’s first indigenous head of state - an achievement in itself, given the domination of the economy and political system by a predominantly white elite over a country that is 60% indigenous.

The defence of coca plantations was not an issue local to Chapare, nor was it about impunity for "narco-terrorists". Coca production became an emotive issue about Bolivian control of Bolivian resource and pride in indigenous identity, although Morales has stated that "there will be zero cocaine, zero drug trafficking but not zero coca", implying co-operation in the US’s anti-narcotics efforts. The free-market fundamentalism of the white men’s institutions of IMF and World Bank was so inimical to the interests of the indigenous peasantry, but at the same time there was a US-led war against only cash crop that could support them during the crises created by structural adjustment programming - the coca leaf.

With a mixture of promises and threats, the US has forced upon Latin America a war against the coca leaf, using a mixture of fumigation and military force. While in Colombia, coca production is primarily owned by a criminal bourgeoisie, in Bolivia it is a campesino enterprise. The war against drugs in Bolivia is essentially a war against the campesino, who is likely to be indigenous and living well below the poverty line. These people are not criminal barons, they are farmers. If they could earn as much money growing potatoes - another crop local to the Andes - instead of coca, the problem of cocaine production in Bolivia would be solved over-night.

Failure to offer an alternative to cocaine has made the US’s coca eradication programme redundant. In 2004, statistics indicate that Bolivian cocaine production fell 21.7% over the previous year from 115 tonnes to 90 tonnes. However, there are signs that farmers are replanting their coca bushes, with new bushes returning lower yields than the mature ones destroyed in government raids. Recent estimates produced by the UNODC show that coca acreage in Bolivia actually increased by 17% in 2004.

While the eradication programme has had limited success in stopping coca production in Bolivia, it has generated considerable hostility towards the US among Bolivia’s indigenous farmers. That anger has resulted in the election of Evo Morales, a populist whose only answer to poverty is the continued production of the coca cash crop. Morales is not a crime lord in the same sense as many Colombian politicians and it would be a mistake to portray him as such.

Radical Indigenism: next stop Peru

Morales is an Aymara Indian, hailing from the coca-growing region of Chapare, where resistance to the eradication has been strong. He represents Bolivia’s class struggle against global institutions and multi-national corporations. He is a source of stability for Bolivia and, if Western governments and corporations realise this, could signify an improvement in relations between investors and the Bolivian people. Indeed, Morales has shown signs of compromise in the past, for instance by backing Mesa’s referendum on the future of the gas industry. But if they continue to bash the Bolivians with threats and intimidation over Bolivia’s self-determination, they could find themselves staring at a new form of radical indigenism that surfaced once before in the jungles of Chiapas, Mexico, where the Zapatistas launched an indigenous revolt against neo-liberalism.

In Peru, Ollanta Humala (pictured), the leader of the nationalist Partido Nacionalista Peruano (PNP, Peruvian Nationalist Party), is growing in popularity ahead of the 2006 presidential election. Events in Peru have mirrored those in Bolivia, with massive social unrest and the emergence of a new form of politics that emphasises the country’s pre-European heritage. Humala has a similar platform to Morales: the defence of coca farmers and the nationalisation of natural resources. There is also a nationalistic anti-Chilean sentiment; Peru is currently engaged in an arms race with Chile, but mutual antagonisms stretch back more than a century to the War of the Pacific.

Humala goes further than Morales, though. He is an authoritarian nationalist who staged a failed coup against Alberto Fujimori in 2000 - in this sense, his career is similar to that of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, also a failed military coup leader. Humala is the friendly face of the Movimiento Etnocacerista, an explicitly racist movement that advocates ending mixed race marriages and preaches hatred against the whites of Peru, Chile, the US and Israel - roughly in that order. It is unclear just how far Humala genuinely supports the movement’s ideology and how much he is using it as a vehicle for popular mobilization. Peruvian Jewish leaders have accused Humala and his group is anti-semitism, although Isaac Mekler, the leader of the Jewish Association of Peru, joined the PNP this month and announced his intention to run for congress after meeting with Humala.

Humala has risen rapidly in popularity. A poll released in November put Humala in second place on 15%, ahead of Alan García of the main opposition Partido Aprista Peruano (PAP), who took 13.4%. García was slightly ahead of former interim president Valentín Paniagua of the Frente de Centro alliance. Lourdes Flores of the conservative Unidad Nacional coalition topped the poll on 25.6%. Flores was down two points on October’s CPI poll; Humala up 10. Even this understates his level of support. Regional polls put him at between 18% and 23% support in many areas in the south and he has taken first place in a number of highland regions (Arequipa, Ayacucho, Cusco, Huánaco, Puno and Tacna). He is expected to name cocalero leader Nancy Obregón as his running mate, capitalising on the anger and frustration of the indigenous campesinos over the government’s failure to legalise coca growing.

Not a panacea

Chávez, Morales and Humala do not represent a panacea for the problems faced by Venezuela, Bolivia and Peru. They have no new ideas, only a reworked Castroite critique and a new way of mobilising the poor and dispossessed. At least, Morales is no coup plotter, but someone who has fought from the grass-roots and through democratic politics.

Nationalisation has not proven to be a solution to either countries’ problems in the past. Anti-gringoism may be deep-seated, but taken to its logical extreme in Latin American politics, it becomes racism and xenophobia. What is needed is a complete policy overhaul by global institutions, with a democratisation in decision-making and voting power. For too long, the IMF has held governments hostage and the policies it has imposed have been contrary to the interests and desires of the poor. Meanwhile, the US has waged a war against the poor, with a violent assault of fumigation and militarisation in coca-growing areas, apparently indifferent to the fact that coca is the last hope for the indigenous campesino. This arrogance and aggression has prompted a backlash that is more hostile to US interests than anything that existed in these countries before Reagan’s voodoo economics cast its spell on international financial institutions.

The US and EU must also realise that they cannot have free market economics on their own terms. If the US and EU want a free market in tin, bananas and coffee, then they must also accept a free market in cocaine and marijuana. If the US and EU want the free movement of capital, then they must accept the free movement of labour and open up their borders to free immigration. If the US and EU want trade liberalisation, then they have to withdraw all farming subsidies and export credits. If the US and EU are hooked on cocaine (a product they invented and commercialised), then it is up to them to solve their own problems; why should hundreds of thousands of the poorest people in the world suffer because of social ills in Los Angeles and London?

If US and EU citizens don’t like this, then they will have to compromise with Latin America and work out a way of running world trade and investment on a more equitable, democratic and sustainable footing. Otherwise, their worst nightmares will come true. The Latin Americans will no longer dance to the tune of the white man. The days of hegemony are over.

Links

Neo-liberalism: Hasta La Vista in Latin America? - Larvatus Prodeo

Morales To Turn Inauguration Into World Summit - Red Independence

Morales Wins Bolivian Election - Leninology Submitted by danbrett on Sat, 2006-01-07 07:33.

 http://pbahq.smartcampaigns.com/nod...



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> EVO MORALES: WHITE MAN, YOU ONLY HAVE YOURSELVES TO BLAME
Saturday January 14 - 00:44 - Posted by a8c940d8d9615142...

Look out white people. The brown skin Nazis are on the way, their swastika is the coca leaf.







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