Bolivia may be just the start
EFL National Post from World Wire

Wracked by deep social and racial divisions and plagued by profound economic problems, Bolivia has just passed through its worst crisis in two decades.

But it is the rest of Latin America that should feel uneasy.

Weeks of deadly clashes between government troops and indigenous peoples, leftist labour leaders and student groups saw Bolivia’s streets barricaded, its capital placed under siege and its elected president forced to flee.

While Bolivia’s revolution may be rooted in poverty, it is also anchored in racism and has a distinctly undemocratic leftist flavour.

After decades of being left out of the country’s power structure, Bolivia’s native peoples took the lead in weeks of violent protest that left dozens dead and the country paralyzed before former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada finally resigned on Friday and fled to Miami.

The trigger for the massive street protests was a government plan to sell Bolivia’s natural gas to the United States and Mexico by exporting it to Bolivia’s archrival Chile. But the proposed pipeline project was a symbol for something much more troublesome -- the government’s inability to improve the economy or to transform a long entrenched culture of social exclusion that has effectively shut out the Indian majority.

Despite two decades of democratic reform and economic turmoil, Bolivia remains the poorest country in South America. Unemployment officially stands at 12% and six in every 10 people live on less than US$2 a day.

Agriculture, the backbone of the country, employs more than half the workforce but it accounts for only about 23% of the country’s gross domestic product. And only 2% of Bolivia’s land is arable.

For most farmers, who overwhelmingly are natives, the future holds hope for nothing more than a hardscrabble existence. Twenty per cent of indigenous children die before their first birthday and 14% more die before they reach school age.

Nearly two decades of economic liberalization, in which successive governments, under the guidance of the International Monetary Fund, have privatized public companies and mines and moved to modernize the oil and gas industries, has failed to improve the lives of ordinary people.

"The constitution is like a mirror, but we have never seen our faces reflected on it," says Felipe Quispe, a leader of the indigenous Pachakuti Party and one of the opposition leaders who led the street protests.

Evo Morales, a fiery leftist opposition leader of Aymara Indian descent and another leader of last week’s rebellion, wants to see the creation of a constitutional assembly of Indian people to create a new Indian-led government.

Mr. Morales lost Bolivia’s past election by just 1% of the vote to the now-deposed president, Mr. Sanchez de Lozada. Rather than wait for another turn at the polls in 2007, he jumped at the opportunity to lead a mob in the streets.

In the past, Mr. Morales has said, "Latin America must build many Cubas" and has promised "oil and gas must return to the Bolivian people."

In Miami, Mr. Sanchez de Lozada charged: "Democracy is under siege by co-operative groups, political groups and unions that don’t believe in it."

He angrily predicted the alliance of Indian coca growers and leftist labour leaders that forced him to resign may lead to "a narco-labour government that could lead to the disintegration of the country."

By removing Bolivia’s president through street protests, democracy may already be damaged right across Latin America.

Huge swaths of Central and South America are vulnerable to just the same combination of opportunistic populism, economic despair and racism. Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay, Mexico and most of Central America all have racial and class tensions similar to those of Bolivia.

Indigenous movements may already be reshaping Latin America’s political arena.Bolivia’s revolution could be the spark that ultimately ignites something far more significant than a simple reform movement.
Like many Americans, I don’t pay much attention to South America. I think that we are going to discover that that is a big mistake here shortly.

Another article of interest is from Newsday: Dumping of Bolivian President Not Unusual
Posted by: Super Hose 2003-10-22