Monday, December 26, 2005

Evo's face reflects the future

Recent events in Bolivia reveal much about what is wrong with US policy in most of the world. Wielding the “Big Stick” has always been the American approach in Latin America, and just like in the middle east, this approach is generating hatred and violence.

One of the elements which brought Evo Morales to power in Bolivia last week was his identity with and championing the cause of the cocaleros, or coca growers. Though this connection, and this policy promises to bring him grief from US policy-makers and the public, who will likely see it as some kind of “drug” issue and respond in typically blind fashion, it is in reality an indicator of his true strength and the extent to which he is a marker for the future of the world. Evo is the paradigm for the new world leader. An indigenous Aymara, he is an icon for the newly-aware indigenous people of the world.

These words from a July COHA (Council on Hemispheric Affairs) Report reflect the significance of this connection:

Opposition to this [US-led] source-crop eradication strategy is rife among Bolivians, the majority of whom belong to indigenous ethnic groups. These bodies maintain that coca is an Andean product whose domestication and use have been a part of indigenous culture for thousands of years. They feel their right to cultural determination and political autonomy should take precedent [sic] over the addiction of Americans to a relatively new European concoction.

The continuing net increase in coca acreage despite enthusiastic US-financed eradication efforts shows the extent to which the Bolivian farmers are opposed to foreign control of their lives and land. The report predicted that US efforts would backfire as they faced “an increasingly well-organized grassroots political opposition. This movement, led by former coca grower and now political leader Evo Morales, has revolutionized the power dynamic in Bolivia in favor of the marginalized indigenous majority. It is also responsible for catapulting Morales to his current level of popularity and increasing his prospects for becoming Bolivia’s next president.” Quite an accurate prediction!

The COHA report identifies Evo's popularity as stemming from “a longstanding political discontent over Washington’s reach in Bolivia among indigenous groups and the country’s poor working class majority,”noting that Bolivians are alienated by their own government's lack of responsiveness “and the history of foreign intervention, evinced through Morales’ promise to 'unite Latin America's 135 Indian nations to expel the white invasion, which began with the landing of Columbus in 1492.' The antagonism harbored by Bolivia’s indigenous toward the West, and the United States in particular, has its roots in U.S.-sponsored policies perceived by the indigenous community as unrepresentative of their most basic needs.”

Sounds like the way we feel here in the US!

Over 50 Bolivians have been killed in violence stemming from the coca conflict, and human rights abuses are rife. This conclusion from the COHA report identifies the seriousness of the implications of the recent election of Morales:


Is Anti-Americanism the Face of the Next Bolivian Administration?
At present, 70 percent of the 8.4 million Bolivians live below the poverty line. Most rural communities lack electricity and running water, and the country’s rates of infant and child mortality are the highest in South America. Coca eradication strategies cost Bolivians a total of $500 million each year. It is little wonder that the most marginalized populations in the Andean nation resent the United States for dramatically altering peasant livelihoods based on an epidemic of cocaine addiction it has failed to competently address back home. Over time, this resentment has snowballed into a deep distrust of state authority that has manifested itself in massive strikes and large-scale popular uprisings. In recent years, the result has been a trajectory of slow but steady deterioration of Bolivia’s highly volatile and increasingly disruptive social and political order. The past month’s events confirm that Bolivian society has reached a boiling point and today sits poised to drastically transform its political landscape, which could seriously compromise the U.S.’ security strategies in the region. Morales’ election to the presidency would mark a dramatic shift in Bolivian state politics away from American cooperation, and likely pose serious challenges to Washington’s future diplomatic and anti-drug endeavors, particularly when the capacity of the Western Hemispheric Affairs Bureau of the State Department is at an all-time low in its ability to creatively direct U.S. policymaking.

(The COHA report was prepared by Jessie Gaskell for the Washington Report on the Hemisphere. You can read the whole excellent article at the COHA site. For further reading and background on the Evo election, see the past two posts here.)

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