Latin America: 'Don't mess with us'

September 20, 2008

Arriving at the Palacio Moneda in Santiago, Chile, on September 14, where close to 35 years ago to the day Chile's left-wing president Salvador Allende was overthrow in a military coup, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declared that "in Bolivia a conspiracy is underway, an international conspiracy, financed and directed by US imperialism, just like that which occurred in Chile in 1973".

The day before he had warned that if something were to happen to Bolivian President Evo Morales, he would not remain with his "arms crossed".

"Just as I would die for Venezuela, I am willing to die for Bolivia", he proclaimed. "Resist Evo, win Evo, the people are with you!"

Chavez's comments came as the US-backed right-wing opposition dramatically escalated their campaign of violence aimed at overthrowing Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president.

Regional solidarity and integration

Chavez's words were backed by the action on September 11 when his government expelled the US ambassador in Caracas, in solidarity with Bolivia doing the same due to the US ambassador to Bolivia's role in destablising the country.

The announcement came less than 24 hours after the revelation of a planned assassination and coup attempt against Chavez involving retired and active military officials.

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya also suspended the planned reception of the credentials of the new US ambassador to his country, scheduled to occur on September 11.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa declared his government's total support for Morales and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega announced his government would hold no more meetings with Washington until after the November US presidential elections.

The outpouring of active solidarity culminated in the historic emergency summit of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur). Bringing together the heads of state the countries that comprise Unasur (Peru being the only country not present, but with Peruvian President Alan Garcia having publicly supported the Bolivian government against the coup), a resolution unanimously passed by the meeting noted "the tragic episodes 35 years ago in this very place that shocked all humanity".

"Faced with the grave occurrences reported in the sister Republic of Bolivia … the countries that make up Unasur express [t]heir fullest and decided support for the constitutional government of President Evo Morales, whose mandate was ratified by a wide margin in the recent referendum."

The resolution pledged Unasur to "create a support and assistance commission to the government of Bolivia".

This decision not only put an important brake on imperialism's plans for Bolivia, it demonstrated that a new political bloc existed in world politics. Working in a coordinated fashion, and explicitly excluding the US, South American countries of different stripes approved a common position in defence of one of their own — breathing life into the new organisation Unasur.

US offensive

Explaining the meeting's significance, newly elected Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo said: "This continent has changed a lot. Unasur met to defend life, democracy. In the '70s the dictators of Operation Condor use to meet to sow death and blood."

Lugo was referring to the military dictatorships imposed by Washington in South America to drown in blood the rising class struggles of the 1960s. Through such dictatorships, Washington was able to pave the way for the neoliberal onslaught of the '80s and '90s.

However, in the new century a wave of anti-neoliberal and anti-imperialist struggle is changing the face of Latin America. Protests and uprising have not only gotten rid of neoliberal presidents, but in some countries, such as Venezuela and Bolivia, have begun to chart a different future.

Long the backyard of the US, South America is creating is own neighbourhood.

Threatened by the rise of a potentially independent South America, US imperialism has launched an offensive.

Vice-president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Alberto Muller Rojas has explained that the events in South America cannot be understood without looking at what is happening in the Middle East and the Caucasian region.

"This is part of an almost desperate effort of the empire, which for some years now has been in a state of decadence", explained Muller Rojas.

On September 3, only 18 days after assuming the presidency, Lugo denounced a planned coup against his government, orchestrated by ex-president Nicanor Duarte and retired general Lino Oviedo.

A few days later, the centre-left president of Guatemala, Alvaro Colom, ordered the Presidencial Guard to take over the Presidential House after discovering a network of hidden cameras and microphones.

Today the focal point of the subversive against the anti-imperialist rebellion is Bolivia.

Role of the military

Overwhelming evidence exists for the active role of US ambassador to Bolivia Phillip Goldberg in helping organise the right-wing opposition. Bolivian media has revealed numerous secret meetings between opposition leaders and Goldberg, which have increased in recent months.

One aspect of the opposition's plan has been to reach out to the high command of the Bolivian military. Together with the campaign of violent attacks against the armed forces, the aim is to undermine military support for the Morales government.

Since coming to power in January 2006, Morales has done much to win the military to his side. From increasing their budget and wages to actively involving them in the government's program of nationalisation and social programs, the Morales government has consciously tried to recreate the "military-peasant" pact of the past, this time led by the indigenous peasants.

However, as Chavez publicly denounced, sections of Bolivia's military high command carried out a "sit-down strike" during the recent wave of violence.

Referring to the role of the head of the army, general Luis Trigo, Chavez said on September 13: "Last night General Trigo went to Pando [following the government declaration of marshal law] but instead of responding to the presidential decree … he arrived and ordered the troops to their barracks, abandoning the airport and citizens' protection."

Chavez recalled the parallels with what took place in Venezuela during the short-lived coup of April 2002: "General Trigo is like those who hid themselves when I called on the radio to tell them to put Plan Avila in motion, which is a defence plan. And they hid.

"And later they kept the generals who wanted to fulfill their obligation from emerging."

Chavez added later that "despite the indecisive attitudes of Trigo and his people, soldiers and officers took the airport and are bringing Pando back to democracy".

Undoubtably, the strategy of the opposition is to win a section of the military to carry out a coup against Morales.

But today's South America is not that of the past. The absence of significant social sectors willing to support an ongoing military dictatorship currently makes such a path difficult.

Rather, the threat currently hanging over Bolivia, like in Venezuela where assassinations plots have been uncovered, is of open civil war — where only on the graves of tens of thousands of determined fighters could order be restored for the ruling elite.

The horrific massacre in Pando by paramilitaries — where some estimate that as many as 70 unarmed men, women and children were butchered — is only an indication of things to come if the right-wing opposition gets the upper hand.

Here lies the danger of the position promoted by Brazilian President Lula da Silva, who as part of his aspirations to be the "peacekeeper" of the region proposed a solution to the Bolivian crisis that necessarily involved the legitimate government and the fascist-minded coup-plotting opposition.

In expelling the real leaders of the counter-revolution (US ambassadors) from Bolivia and Venezuela, Morales and Chavez have made clear that such a compromise is impossible in a context where imperialism aims to drown the revolutionary process in each country in blood.

'Don't mess with us'

Importantly, the revolutionary people and government of Venezuela have assimilated this lesson. A crucial turning point in the Venezuelan revolution was the civic-military uprising in April 2002 that overthrew the pro-imperialist coup junta — with the pro-imperialist officers purged and control of the military won by the revolutionary government.

As part of deepening the anti-imperialist struggle, the PSUV has called for a Latin America-wide meeting of revolutionary parties for October 12.

In the wake of the revelations of a new coup plot, PSUV activist Gonzalo Gomez wrote in about the September 12 popular mobilisation outside the Fuerte Tiuna military barracks: "Civilians and soldiers mixed together as one single mass, in defence of democracy and in rejection of the coup plans promoted by the Venezuelan ultra-right and US imperialism."

"The mobilisation recalled images similar to those of April 13 [2002] at the gates of the most important military barrack in Caracas. Thousands of revolutionary activists, communal council and social movement activists, joined with hundreds of soldiers.

"The images spoke for themselves: the soldiers together with the people, ready to defend the constitutional government of their Commander Hugo Chavez Frias, ready to defend the Bolivarian, democratic, anti-imperialist revolution on the road towards a socialist transformation.

"The coup plotters and the empire should think twice before acting. Don't mess with us, the counter-coup will be crushing."

[Federico Fuentes works for Green Left Weekly's Caracas bureau. GLW is the only newspaper in Australia with a journalist based in Latin America. Subscribe now for ongoing coverage of the Latin American revolution, visit or call 1800 634 206.

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