THE FACE OF AUTONOMY
On the 35th anniversary (give or take an hour) of Salvador Allende's death, it's worth casting one's eye at what's going down in one of Chile's neighbours - Bolivia.
Lenin's synopsis of the political violence which is sweeping through Eastern Bolivia at the moment usefully summarises the upheavals of the past couple of months and hints at the wider implications of this violence, but it glosses over the nature of that violence. For make no mistake, the Bolivian right-wing is employing tactics which are overtly Fascist. As this news report shows, indigenous people and government representatives have been subject to racist taunts and vicious beatings at the hands of young neo-Nazi Bolivians, who are in turn the pawns of financial and industrial capital.
To summarise, President Evo Morales came to power in 2005 after a wave of disaffection against the pro-Western neoliberal policies which had been pursued by his predecessors. The first Latin President of indigenous descent, Morales immediately split opinion, and his election terrified people with huge stakes in industry and those who believed that Bolivia was best run by Caucasians educated in Europe or the USA.
Many of Morales's policies have been fairly moderate, but the mere fact that he, an Indian, is President has proved to be revolutionary. The right-wing, based mainly in the resource-rich provinces of the East, has done everything it can to block his constitutional reforms of empowering indigenous people and reforming the ownership of land. In a referendum called earlier in the Summer, two thirds of Bolivians voted to keep Morales as President - yet, still the Governors of the Eastern provinces are determined to block his reforms and push for autonomy.
And so, President Evo Morales is more or less powerless. Even with legitimacy, law and overwhelming public support on his side, his cannot deliver his policies. Even by stepping foot in the Eastern half of the country, he risks his life. This teaches us a very real lesson about Parliamentary democracy: that it can only operate when the wealthy are in charge. The coups against Allende and, more recently, Chavez teach us that when Socialists are elected to power, the defenders of democracy backtrack and instead strive to defend their own capitalist interests. The same may prove to be true in Bolivia; the right-wing, anti-Morales contingent in the East of Bolivia have employed the most violent means to reach their end, yet they are never criticised by the Governments of the United States or Great Britain. Instead, Morales and his Movimiento a Socialismo government are accused of operating a dictatorship.
It is worth noting the methods employed against indigenous people by some of the neo-Nazi groups in Bolivia, methods which are legitimised by mainstream political leaders. There has routinely been
whippings, beatings with clubs and two-by-fours, and punching, kicking, and swarming captured on private and state media alike. All of this is accompanied by disgusting racist epithets, and legitimated by the departmental prefectures and civic committees who say Morales’ “dictatorship” brought it all on. Jorge Soruco, a human rights activist in the department of Beni, conveyed the exasperation of popular sectors loyal to the government living in the five departments in rebellion: “This is racist dementia, madness that we can’t allow. We are living in an era of insanity, where the people of the opposition… are confronting the people with situations of extreme violence.”
The torching of a local Entel phone company building has been defended by Santa Cruz Governor Ruben Costas, and the Santa Cruz Civic Committee President Branko Marinkovic has described it as a "peacful takeover" of state installations. They have neither constititional, legal or popular legitimacy on their side - and yet they are in the ascendent.
So, what is to be done? These two articles recommend different approaches to President Morales: to continue proposing negotiations to his rivals and to not rise to their bait; or to react with the full power of state force and show the right-wing rebels that, since they lack the support of the Bolivian people, they shall not be allowed to get away with their anarchy. Both approaches have their merits, but I tend towards the latter.
If Morales and MAS remain passive, they may lose the support of the popular movement which make up the foundation of their support and become overwhelmed by the psychotic violence of the right-wing. Morales is in charge of a Socialist government - he will gain no plaudits from the West, however conscientious his politics, since he does not represent their interests. In this situation, a coup seems ever more likely - like Chavez before him, Morales must manoeuvre himself into a position from which he can continue to represent the two thirds of Bolivians who voted him in.