Bolivia in crisis. Booting out the US Ambassador

Recently some conflicts between Latin American countries and the USA have been escalating due to the (omnipresent) fear for US intervention in the Latin America area, the ‘back yard of the USA’. As you certainly know, the USA has always seen Latin America as its ‘back yard’. And it is the people in this back yard that is very scared at this moment, but also expectant in regard to the US presidential elections.

Without doubt you can say that Latin America in the recent years moved to the left. Socialism, if you like to call it that. But socialism is still a dirty word in de US and obviously little is known about its definition. But don’t forget that socialism in Latin America is not more than something between the centre and the left-wing of the democrats in the US. It has nothing to do with communism, it is just a movement centring on the wellbeing of ordinary people. Giving the people, after so many years of corruption and exploitation a piece of the cake.

I will not talk about historical US (bloody) interventions in Latin America, such as Chile, Panama, Columbia, Grenada and many others. No, I just want to stipulate the (recent) interventions during the reign of the Busch/Cheney administration.

Let’s start with Bolivia, at this moment the centre of the conflict.
Bolivia, South America’s poorest country, is basically divided between the western highlands, home to the impoverished indigenous majority, and the rich eastern lowlands, where much of the population is made up of people of predominantly European (primarily Spanish) descent and where all the international corporations are sitting.

The support base of President Evo Morales, the country’s first-ever indigenous president, is largely found in the western altiplano. Meanwhile, several eastern provinces have been demanding autonomy and greater control over the rich farmland and natural gas reserves concentrated in that part of the country, and are staunchly opposed to any agrarian reform.
In the east, 90% of all land is owned by 10% of the large landowners, while in the western highlands, 90% of the indigenous campesinos (peasant farmers) own just 10% of the arable land.

The president wants to give more power to indigenous and poor communities, by carrying out land reform and redistributing gas revenues. That’s painful for the rich landowners and (mainly) Corporate America, which are bleeding the country. The answer to the intention of President Evo Morales is a movement (supported by the landowners and Big Oil) to declare the eastern states autonomous.
The opposition bloc tries to force the government to agree to the restitution to the provinces of a portion of the natural gas tax – 49 million USD – that the Morales administration has diverted to the payment of a universal pension of 26 USD a month to people over 60.

The governors of the lowlands provinces of Santa Cruz in the east, Beni in the northeast, Pando in the north, and Tarija and Chuquisaca to the south have made this one of the key demands in their opposition to Morales.
In response, the government argues that the funds diverted from the provinces for the universal pension are insignificant compared to the more than two billion USD that will be transferred to the provincial governments this year, a sum that is double the 952 million USD transferred in 2005.

The president of Bolivia’s Private Business Confederation, Gabriel Dabdoub, argues that a lack of government policies to foment private sector activity and attract investment has kept away 400 million USD a year in private (foreign) investment.
However, exporters are counting on a new record in sales of industrialised products and commodities, which according to the government will amount to more than 6 billion USD this year, compared to 4.78 billion USD in 2007.

A climate favourable to trade, with heavy foreign demand for commodities like natural gas – of which Bolivia has South America’s second-largest reserves, after Venezuela – oil, minerals and agri products accompanied by high international prices, has led to an increase in foreign exchange earnings in a country whose gross domestic product (GDP) stands at 14.7 billion USD. (Note: ExxonMobil’s annual revenue (similar to the GDP of a country) was USD 405 billion in 2007)

Gas revenues soared from 188 million USD in late 2001 to 1.57 billion USD in 2007, after the Morales administration, which took office in January 2006, forced foreign oil companies to renegotiate the terms of their contracts, thus increasing the royalties and taxes paid by the companies.

Over the past year, the leftwing Morales administration has accused the US embassy in Bolivia of offering its backing to provincial governments in Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, Tarija and Chuquisaca in their crusade for radical autonomy.
The decision to expel US ambassador Philip Goldberg came after major confrontations, such as the Bolivian Foreign Ministry’s report that the US ambassador had held a private meeting on Aug. 25 with the rightwing governor of Santa Cruz, President Morales’ main political opponent.
The following day, Ambassador Goldberg was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and asked for an explanation. Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca also asked Goldberg to be cautious in his contacts with opposition governors. Nevertheless Goldberg later paid a visit to the opposition governor of Chuquisaca, Savina Cuellar, on Sept. 4, further fuelling the government’s annoyance.

So it is no surprise, that Bolivian President Evo Morales has declared the US Ambassador Philip Goldberg “persona non grata”, after accusing him of aiding and abetting pro-autonomy opposition groups that are blocking highways and occupying government buildings, reducing the supply of natural gas to Brazil.
“I am not afraid of anyone, not even the empire (the United States),” Morales said when he instructed his Foreign Minister to inform the US ambassador in writing that he was no longer welcome in the country.

But indeed Latin America has all reasons to fear an intervention and even an aggressive active role plaid by the US to create a crisis. May I remind the reader the interference of US diplomats in the coup d’état in 2002 against Hugo Chavez and the attempts to frustrate the last presidential election in Argentina.

According to the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize winner Argentinean Adolfo Perez Esquivel the autonomy movement is just the landowners and corporations pretext to try to stop a far reaching revolutionary process in this Andean nation. The same is true for Venezuela with Hugo Chavez, Ecuador with Rafael Correa and more recently Paraguay with Fernando Lugo, where US attacks are growing, but fortunately “Latin American people have begun to speak with their own voices,” he added.

Latin America has been expecting an American military intervention for some time during this presidential election. At the end it was Georgia, where Busch/Cheney found their confederate, stupid enough to provoke Russia in an attempt to help the GOP to reign another 4 years. But, as said, Latin America, and particularly Venezuela, Bolivia and Paraguay, were and still are expecting American aggression to be in their area to steamroll the Dems, as all the signs are there.

This is in a nutshell the recent crisis and the reason to ‘boot out’ the US ambassadors of Bolivia as well as Venezuela.
But there is more. The recent presence of Russia in the Latin America area is due to the Busch/Cheney foreign policy of the last few months and the scary (for Latin America) sudden re-installment (after 60 years) of the 4th US Navy Fleet in this area.
Let me talk about this in my next post.

Facts in this post are based upon articles on the websites: WorldPress (a very reliable source regarding the relations between the US and Latin America) as well as Prensa Latina