Bolivian indigenous people lead democracy struggle

October 10, 2008

A popular uprising in Bolivia is defending its government and democratic institutions against US-inspired minority violence.

On September 23, about 20,000 peasants and miners marched on the eastern city of Santa Cruz, where the right-wing regional government has been encouraging terrorism and intimidation of Bolivia's indigenous majority and trying to oust the government of indigenous President Evo Morales.

Popular assemblies in La Paz, Cochabamba and elsewhere in the country added to the pressure against this disruptive minority, whose supporters have killed dozens of Bolivians in recent weeks.

The right-wing opposition's banner is "autonomy" for the provinces they rule, but their real goal is to return the rich oligarchy to power.

Morales, a man of peace, has refrained from using armed force against such illegality, seeking a dialogue with right-wing leaders and peaceful resolution of differences.

Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, was confirmed in office by a 67% majority in a national referendum in August. He was first elected in 2005 on a program including land reform, nationalisation of natural resources and a new constitution.

The Morales government acted vigorously on all three fronts, but progress has been stymied by forces loyal to the country's previous ruling elite and their backers in Washington.

US ambassador Philip Goldberg brazenly proclaimed his right to intervene in Bolivian political life. He met frequently with opposition leaders until Bolivia expelled him from the country September 10 for "conspiring against democracy".

Among the causes of opposition outrage is the government's decision to use some of profits from gas exports to fund the country's first universal pension plan.

Even more provocative to rich oligarchs is the Morales government's goal of ending the centuries-old exclusion of indigenous people. Their goal is to refound the nation on a "plurinational" basis — that is one of equality between each of Bolivia's indigenous nations and its Hispanic population.

Bolivian popular movements incorporate traditional indigenous values of collectivism and protection of the natural environment. Together with their government, they seek to rebuild Bolivia around these values, while urgently recommending them to the world at large.

For example, in addressing the United Nations General Assembly September 23, Morales warned, "If we continue the way we are, we will all be responsible for destroying the planet".

He proposed 10 principles to save life on earth, beginning with "putting an end to capitalism, the synonym for exploitation and pillage".

Morales urged "respect for Mother Nature, which is not a commodity", and called for taking energy, water and other basic services out of the hands of private business, making them public services and human rights.

Our goal, he said, must be "living well", an indigenous concept that includes living in harmony with one's community and the natural world.

In Bolivia, Morales's overwhelming victory in the August referendum opened the road for a vote to adopt the proposed constitution, scheduled for December 7. It was this prospect that drove rightists into a frenzy of violence and law-breaking over the last month.

On September 11, rightist gangs massacred more than 30 unarmed government supporters in the state of Pando.

The Santa Cruz marchers delivered their warning on September 23 and stopped short of taking the city. Meanwhile, the popular upsurge continues, strengthening Morales's hand against the violent minority.

But what of the foreign backers of this opposition in Washington?

As Morales said at the United Nations, "The combat of our people is a historic struggle against empire". Here Bolivia has received decisive support from the other peoples of Latin America.

On September 15, an emergency meeting of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) voted unanimously to pledge "fullest and decided support for the constitutional government of President Evo Morales".

The US government has been shut out of these deliberations.

[Originally published at For ongoing coverage of the struggles in Bolivia and Latin America, and to help us sustain a permanent bureau in Caracas (making Green left Weekly the only Australian paper with a journalist based in Latin America), subscribe to GLW at]

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