For Bolivia's indigenous majority there is no going back. The election in 2005 of Bolivia's first indigenous president, Evo Morales, marked a watershed — a before and after in Bolivia's history — after more than 500 years of struggle against imperialism and colonialism. It marked a conscious step forward by Bolivia's indigenous majority in its struggle for justice and equality.
As Morales pointed out in an August 22 interview with the BBC, right from the start Bolivia's right wing "said this little Indian is only going to be president for three or four months. That day passed and now they say this little Indian is going to be here for a long time, we have to do something about it; and that means encouraging confusion or destabilisation."
That is why today a resurgent right wing is determined to destabilise the country and government — even if it means plunging the country into civil war or provoking a violent military coup — to bring down Morales, and with him the hopes and dreams of millions of indigenous and non-indigenous people, not just in Bolivia, but throughout Latin America and the world.
Distribution of racist material inciting people to "bring down this Indian shit", provoking violent confrontations, holding civic "stoppages" enforced by fascist youth groups, and smuggling arms into the country — these, and more, are ingredients in a conspiracy to overthrow Morales. The public faces of the right wing, centred in the wealthy departments (states) of the east, are the opposition governors and the unelected, business-controlled civic committees — in Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni and Tarija — now openly joined by the civic committee of Cochabamba and Chuquisaca. Behind them stand the gas transnationals, large agribusiness and the US empire, all of whom benefited from ransacking Bolivia's enormous natural wealth while pushing the country to the position of the poorest in South America.
But their task will be far from easy. The election of "this little Indian" came on the back of a wave of social rebellion, fuelled by an increasing rejection of neoliberalism and the emergence and growth of national and indigenous pride, based on the celebration of the country's indigenous peoples and recuperation of its natural resources. It was also the result of a conscious decision more than 10 years ago by the indigenous, campesino and coca-growers' movements to move "from resistance to power" and construct their own "Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the People" — more commonly know by its electorally registered name, Movement Towards Socialism (MAS).
Gaining the support from an important section of the country's middle class and intellectuals for its project, MAS was able to win the 2005 national elections, crushing the traditional politicians whose subservience to the US empire had almost led to the total suffocation of the country.
Today, the Bolivians who due to their skin colour were previously excluded from the plaza in front of the presidential palace, and who protested outside it to overthrow other governments, have begun to take over the positions of power. This act has been a powerful catalyst in rebuilding the self-esteem of the people, who now proclaim with pride their indigenous roots.
The central task entrusted to the MAS government was to convoke a constituent assembly in order to "refound" Bolivia, ending injustice and recognising the rights of the previously excluded indigenous majority.
However, more than a year since the assembly's inauguration in Sucre in August 2006, it is yet to vote on a single article for the new constitution. The same political minority that ruled over the demise of the country today cries out in defence of "democracy" and "autonomy", with the objective of protecting its political enclaves and economic power and mobilising sectors of the white and mestizo middle classes of the east and west against the government.
The stalling tactics and latest round of violent protests by the right wing, this time in Sucre, threatened the security of the assembly, forcing some indigenous delegates into hiding in order to avoid racist attacks. On September 7 the assembly directorate voted to suspend sessions for a month as it was unable to guarantee security.
On September 10, more than 10,000 campesinos and indigenous people marched through Sucre in a show of force to defend the constituent assembly and national unity. Unlike the scenes of violence over the previous weeks, the streets of Sucre were filled with a festive tone.
Later in the day, during the 10,000-15,000 strong Social Summit, the social organisations resolved to "defend, including with our lives, the constituent assembly and this process of irreversible profound change being driven forward by the historic forces of our peoples and the indigenous, originario and campesino nations, together with the popular organisations".
Furthermore, the social movements declared themselves to be in a "state of emergency" and committed themselves to organising Committees in Defence of the Constituent Assembly, adding that, if necessary, they would undertake "other more radical measures".
In its manifesto, the summit outlined 18 strategic points behind which the participants would mobilise to ensure they are enshrined in the new constitution. Among them are the creation of unitary, plurinational, communitarian and democratic state; nationalisation of natural resources; taxes on large fortunes; the expropriation without compensation of latifundios (large land-holdings) and the immediate distribution of their land; re-election and revoking of mandates of any elected authority; and the confiscation of all goods implicated in acts of corruption.
For now the situation in Sucre has calmed down; the opposition's threats of further actions starting on September 10 were called off. A new round of dialogue has been convoked to see if it is possible to overcome the impasse.
But the tension remains, and one can only speculate how long the calm will last. The directorate of the assembly has signalled it will reject a court ruling overturning the assembly decision to remove the issue of the location of Bolivia's capital from debate (the right-wing fuelled conflict over whether to locate it in La Paz, the current political capital, or Sucre, the current constitutional capital, helping trigger the latest confrontation). The future of the constituent assembly and Bolivia hang in the balance.
The indigenous and campesino mobilisation was an important step taken by the social and indigenous movements in defence of the constituent assembly. However, as Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera pointed out in the lead-up to the protest, "To wear down the old powers will cost a lot, it will be conflictive, the population needs to be conscious of this, and the best way to defend the continuity of the process of change is through democratic mobilisation to back this transformation and to put an end to the history of these old elites".
Mass democratic mobilisations and the organisation of the people will be central to maintaining unity amongst the movements and avoiding provocations by the right wing. The right wing's strategy depends on stirring up anger among the exploited and oppressed who refuse to ever go back to the old Bolivia, with the aims of triggering violent reactions and creating chaos.
The government and social movements need to demonstrate that they are the only ones able to provide real stability and change for all Bolivians. This is necessary in order to appeal to the middle classes sectors that, due to mistakes by MAS, now feel alienated from the government — something the government itself has acknowledged and that it has begun to remedy. It is also critical to maintaining support among the armed forces.
Internationally, it is vital for the governments and peoples of the world to voice their solidarity and make clear that they will reject any attempts to trigger a civil war, or an ensuing US/UN military occupation or illegitimate government.
Undoubtedly the US elite sees Bolivia as the weak link in the emerging Bolivia-Cuba-Venezuela "axis of hope" in Latin America. Moreover, Bolivia's government and the indigenous revolution is helping stimulate indigenous struggles in the region — something Washington fears and will not tolerate.
On September 9, Venezuela's socialist president Hugo Chavez, sitting next to Morales, warned on his Alo Preisdente TV program: "If US imperialism attacks our peoples, using their lackeys in Venezuela and Bolivia, they can be sure that we're not going to wait with our arms crossed. If that occurs, we will shout with Che Guevara, and then one, two, three, four, five, or 10 Vietnams will have to be created in Latin America."
To date, neither the governments of Argentina or Brazil have spoken out about the growing threat to Bolivia. A clear statement by these two and other South American countries rejecting a civil war, military coup or invasion of Bolivia, would be a strong blow against the US empire's designs.
Now is the time for all intellectuals, union militants, solidarity activists, political parties and progressive minded individuals who believe in real justice and equality to raise their voices in defence of Bolivia and its government, which is leading an important process of change providing hope and inspiration to millions of indigenous and oppressed people around the world, to ensure that the US and its lackeys cannot get away with crushing this movement for social liberation.
[Federico Fuentes is editor of Boliviarising.blogspot.com. Eduardo Yssa from the National Coalition for the Defense of Water, Basic Services, the Environment and Life of Bolivia will be participating in the Latin America and Asia Pacific International Solidarity Forum in Melbourne, October 11-14. Visit http://solidarityforum2007.org for more information.]