Bolivia: US intervention exposed

October 31, 2008

Tensions continue to grow between the US and Bolivia as more evidence comes to light of the former's role in stoking right-wing opposition to the government of President Evo Morales.

On September 9, Morales expelled US ambassador Philip Goldberg from Bolivia, due to his direct role in the wave of violence that aimed to oust the elected government.

A September 10 document produced by deputies from the governing Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), Cesar Navarro, Gustavo Torrico, Gabriel Herbas and Rene Martinez, outlined Goldberg's subversive actions, including "a disinformation campaign" in the lead up to the August 10 recall referendum that Morales won with more than 67% of the vote.

Goldberg acted as the coordinating point between the various wings of the opposition, encouraging them to unite to try and defeat Morales in the vote.

After Morales's victory, "the only alternative left for Goldberg was to activate his 'Plan B'", aimed at plunging the country into violence, the document claims.

The aim was to either force a reaction from the military that would end with Morales's resignation, or to justify a potential UN military intervention.

The document stated: "Following the strategy proposed by Goldberg, the prefects implemented a medium term plan to destabilise the government via destruction of public institutions, takeovers, and persistent provocations (including beatings) of the Police and the Army …"

Branco Marinkovic, a large landholder and head of the right-wing Santa Cruz Civic Committee traveled to the US on September 1, where he was convinced "that the [destabilisation] plan is in its final stages and that all stops must be pulled out".

On his return eight days later, "a wave of violence was unleashed, with the burning of institutions and new acts of aggression against the Army and Police".

Continuous subversion

The US has continuously worked to overthrow Bolivia's first indigenous president since Morales won the 2005 elections and displaced the US' traditional allies from power.

One of Morales's first acts in power was to close the CIA office that had until then been operating in the presidential palace. For the first time since the reestablishment of democracy in 1982, the US had no say in the naming of government ministers or in the military promotions selection process.

Recent evidence gathered from a range of declassified US State Department documents and copies of emails among personnel of the government-funded US Agency of International Development (USAID) by investigative journalist Jeremy Bigwood help shed light on the extent of US intervention.

The documents, tracing back to 2001, demonstrate the central role of organisations such as USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in this subversion.

One of the declassified documents, a July 2002 letter from the US embassy, talked of a planned USAID political party reform project which would "help build moderate, pro-democracy political parties that can serve as a counterweight to the radical [MAS] …"

Another document reveals that NED brought 13 "emerging leaders" from Bolivia to the US between 2002 and 2004 to strengthen their right-wing political parties. At the same time they provided over US$128,825 to the Chamber of Industry, Commerce, Services and Tourism of Santa Cruz — one of the key organisations aligned to the opposition.

Evidence also reveals that USAID and NED funded seminars in support of regional autonomy, a key demand of the opposition prefects in Bolivia's east, who seek to keep control over land and natural resources in the area.

A series of emails from USAID functionaries in Bolivia also detailed attempts to form relationships between the US government and indigenous groups in the coca growing region of the Chapare (the sector from which Morales emerged) and the eastern departments, aiming, as Bigwood explained, to "create a common USAID-guided front against … the MAS".

In a September 18 IPS News article, Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research, pointed out that "USAID is not supposed to be a clandestine organisation, but by providing clandestine aid to opposition groups, it gives the impression that the U.S. is contributing to efforts to destabilise the Bolivian government".

Weisbrot was one of the 90 academics who signed a public letter to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on September 18 questioning the US government's role in the opposition violence that has rocked Bolivia.

The letter pointed out that since Morales's election, the US government has sent millions of dollars in aid to departmental prefects and municipal governments in Bolivia.

US retaliation

The US government continues to step up its international campaign against Bolivia, recently removing it from list of countries it believes are complying with the "war on drugs".

As a result, the Bush administration announced on October 18 that it would suspend trade preferences under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA). The move could potential leave some 20,000 to 30,000 Bolivians out of a job.

Under ATPDEA, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia receive duty-free status for most of their goods in return for their collaboration in fighting the illegal drug trade.

While the amount of coca — a leaf traditionally used by Bolivia's indigenous people that can also be manufactured into cocaine — grown in Bolivia increased by about 5% between 2006 and 2007, according to UN statistics, there was a 27% jump coca production in Colombia, a strong US ally.

Evidence of the real motivation behind the move was provided by a September 26 Reuters dispatch that stated that "the decision came one day after five leading U.S. business groups urged the Bush administration and Congress to consider ending trade benefits for both Bolivia and Ecuador because of what they described as inadequate protections for foreign investors in both countries".

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