The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Bolivia: upcoming summit will test the Latin American anti-imperialist front

I'm still nibbling at the edges of the sources of the Great Indian Eruption that toppled a president. But a nice, discrete question arises which may help some of the pieces to fall into place.

Ten days or so ago, leader of the MAS and the cocaleros, Evo Morales, was at a conference in Mexico City with a bunch of fellow socialists, and, on October 24, regaled them a speech replete with the usual bollocks [1]. He finishes with a 150 word paragraph, which calls for
una gran cumbre entre Fidel, Hugo Chávez, Lula, para decirles: "estamos aquí, frente a la agresión del imperialismo estadunidense".
and ends tenemos otra alternativa: si queremos defender a la humanidad hay que derrotar el sistema, hay que derrotar al imperialismo estadunidense.

It just so happens that there is a summit on November 14-15, the Ibero-American Summit, which, by chance, is this year hosted by Bolivia at Santa Cruz [2]. The suggestion is, according to an AP piece (November 4), that Morales wants to host a parallel summit at Santa Cruz for the three big hitters in the Anti-Yankee League he named in Mexico [3]. He says that, of the three, Chávez has already agreed to come.

Now, a few weeks ago, as the revolt raged, I dare say the organisers were thinking they would have to remove the summit from Bolivia to the alternative venue of Madrid. Now, with things back on track, it's unlikely they would appreciate the sort of pantomime that Morales no doubt has in mind. The AP piece quotes a former Bol government spokesman as saying that
José María Aznar no veía con agrado la presencia de Castro en la Cumbre, por la andanada de calificativos que le lanzó a raíz de su condena al fusilamiento de disidentes cubanos...
Having to stand by whilst a bunch of arch-populist, globalophobe anti-American lefties whoop it up is not, I reckon, Aznar's idea of fun.

(His idea of fun, as we know, is to play the Mahatir over Gibraltar at every possible opportunity, with japes like closing the Spanish border on account of the mystery-bug cruise ship.)

So the Mesa government is put on the spot, with its first big international gig on the line. But so - much more interestingly - are the épater les bourgeois Big Three: representing the rich vein of je m'en foutisme that nowadays stands in the place of Marx as the ideology of the forces opposing capitalism, they have an opportunity to make a diplomatic splash, to place themselves with the Ruled, rather than the Rulers. Such cultural icons could launch a billion T-shirts with a spectacular denial of business as usual in the continent par excellence of the street carnival.

The La Razon editorial thinks they'll bottle it; I suspect it's right.

Meanwhile, Bolpress have a piece (November 4) saying that USG is pretty relaxed about the Hugo and Lula Show, with guest star Evo possibly taking a permanent slot sometime soon (he wishes!). It runs down a list of Andean region countries and then quotes Moises Naim, editor of Foreign Policy, as saying that
...ninguna de esas situaciones alcanza para que la subregión sea visible en la política exterior estadounidense.

The only Latin American topic that can interest USG is drugs:
...el asunto central de preocupación de Estados Unidos en el área sigue siendo la droga y su vínculo con la guerrilla en Colombia

Another great pick from Uncle Sam!

I'm not so sure about USG indifference. As the object of foreign policy actions, Latin America has the merits of its own defects: there's no threat of hideous destruction, as in North Korea; no big strategic economic issues, as with Middle East oil; none of the intensity of the political flak involved in anything to do with Israel. The fact that the continent doesn't matter that much means it lends itself to being tinkered around with. As does the fact that the US has been tinkering with it for nigh on two hundred years. Do-gooding south of the border has the pedigree of the Alliance for Progress - to name but one well-meaning scheme.

And these countries have amazing histories - far too colourful than could ever be good for them! They invite the interest of the policy wonk.

And there's the Hispanic angle: there are, I suspect, very few votes in helping Latin America for US presidential candidates right now. But the increasing profile of matters and persons Hispanic in US life - presumably reflected in State Department recruitment - will probably have an effect of focussing thoughts of policymakers on Latin American problems.

It's a hypothesis, at any rate!

Finally, AFP have a piece (November 3), referring to another piece in La Razon, to the effect that the three main groups in the Bolivian street opposition - Jaime Solares' COB, Quispe's CSUTC and Morales' MAS - are now committed to taking over the country's government. Solares and Quispe are interviewed by Razon for their respective organisations, Antonio Peredo, leader of the MAS in the lower house of Congress for his.

Quispe takes the hardest line, declining to rule out a violent overthrow of the current government, and emphasising the racial element to his claims:
...ya es hora de que las mayorías indígenas y originarias tomen el poder y gobiernen con la clase obrera y los gremios que, desde siempre, fueron maltratados, humillados y que quieren tener la oportunidad de iniciar un cambio en base a igualdad, paz y honestidad.

The workers and trade unions seem to be supporting cast: in Quispe's vision, the Indians rule the roost. (Shades of MEChA and its champion, busted flush Cruz Bustamante...)

Plenty of the usual bollocks from all three on the earthly paradise to come: but, as I think I've suggested before, that's not to say the stuff can be ignored. At first glance, it seems to confirm the potential for a divide and rule strategy - for an instinctive populist like Mesa to co-opt Morales with an agreement to ca'canny on coca eradication, and tempt the COB with more trade union rights.

And, though, for reasons explained earlier, the amount of leverage Mesa has over USG will be pretty limited, avoiding the embarrassment of seeing a proper revolution occur in Bolivia will have a price - which USG might be willing to pay in terms of soft-pedalling on coca eradication. (The trade-off gives cover for War on Drugs realists in USG - there must be some, surely?! - to argue force majeure, that revolution in Bolivia on Bush's watch is worse than some hard-to-quantify slippage in coca production targets.)

Or is it me that's dreaming now? Answers on a postcard...

  1. In English or the original Spanish. Marks are deducted for the editor's note to the English version referring to Morales as an Aymara. Whereas I am pretty sure that he is a Quechua - the only doubt arising from feeling the faint absurdity of a gringo 6,000 miles away laying down the law on the subject! His oppo and fellow member of their two-man mutual loathing society, Felipe Quispe, is the Aymara. Getting behind the apparent Tom-and-Jerry-ness of this arrangement is a key part of the job in hand here, sez me!

  2. The city in the department of the same name in the rich(er), lowland east of the country, home of agri-business and, together with Tarija department, the centre for separatist sentiment in Bolivia.

  3. Quoting an editorial in La Razon of La Paz (November 4 - or here). Another piece in the paper talks about the preparations for the genuine summit.

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