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The End of Bolivia? By: Michael Radu
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, December 26, 2005


If fascism is simply defined as statism plus racism and hatred of democracy, December 18 witnessed its coming to power in Bolivia, Latin America's poorest, as well as its most dysfunctional and unstable, country. Since achieving independence in 1825, Bolivia has had 189 official military coups (one every 11 months, on average), and since 2000 it has had five presidents, two of whom were democratically elected and chased out of office by radical mobs led by Evo Morales, who on December 18 received a slight majority in the presidential election. So much for the Bolivians' thirst for democracy.

Judging by its voters' behavior Bolivia, which has a population of 9 million, seems interested in remaining South America's poorest country. The country is both a major producer of coca and a loser in all its wars (most of which it started) against its five neighbors. In many ways it is a black hole in the heart of South America, which is precisely what makes it strategically important and explains Ernesto "Che" Guevara's having chosen it to jumpstart a communist revolution throughout the continent. Other than coca, Bolivia’s only major resource is the natural gas in the lowland departments of Santa Cruz, Beni and Tarija.

Demographically, Bolivia is sharply divided between the 55 percent Indian  (Aymara and Quechua) highlands around the capital of La Paz and the 45 percent mestizo and white population of the lowlands, centered on Santa Cruz. Thus, the gas, relatively advanced agriculture, and managerial skills are all in the non-Indian areas, while mobs, political radicalism and, to some extent, numbers are in the Indian majority region, including the capital.

Hence, the December 18 vote pitted individuals at the two poles of Bolivia's demography, political culture, and race. Jorge Quiroga, 45 years old, who served as president between 2000-02 following the resignation of terminally ill Hugo Banzer (whose vice-president he was), was educated as an industrial engineer at Texas' A&M University, worked for IBM, married an American and climbed Mt. Everest. He leads the Democratic and Social Power - Podemos party and advocates free markets, free trade and coca control, as well as cooperation with the United States.

Evo Morales, a 46-year-old Aymara Indian, did not finish secondary education. He led the coca planters in the Chapare region, was expelled from Congress in 2002 under accusations of terrorism related to violence against U.S.-funded coca eradication efforts, and was second runner-up in the 2002 presidential elections. He and his Movement toward Socialism (MAS) party are vocal admirers, and benefit from the largesse of, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. They revere Che Guevara and the legalization of coca and nationalization of the gas fields and companies' assets. They grandly describe themselves as a "nightmare" for Washington.

But this is not just a case of a country that was polarized between two opposed ideological approaches and two very different leaders simply letting the people decide. Just like his mentor Chavez, the author of two failed coups against elected governments in Venezuela, Morales' idea of democracy is "If I win, fine; if not, 'the people' will bring me to power anyway" – as was demonstrated by his direct involvement in the overthrow of two constitutional presidents in the last three years by mob action. Morales election will make what remains of Bolivian democracy a charade. It will also revive a disturbing memory of Chile in 1970, when Salvador Allende was elected with a third of the vote but interpreted that as a mandate for revolution – which is precisely what Morales does.

One problem, which will force a reaction from Bolivia's neighbors, is that the non-Indian, productive, and indeed progressive regions – mostly Santa Cruz and Tarija – are not ready to tolerate the destruction of their livelihoods by a racist and socialist Indian regime in La Paz, and thus may well be prepared to secede – peacefully or not – if Morales is elected and implements his program.

Bolivian neighbors Brazil and Argentina, both have enormous interests in the gas of Tarija, which is largely exploited, extracted, and used by their own state-owned companies and which Morales has threatened to nationalize (in fact, confiscate their assets, in disregard of contracts). So far, Brasilia and Buenos Aires have either kept mum or, as President Lula of Brazil stated, saw a great thing in an Indian's being a Bolivian candidate. Peru, where a local clone of Morales, Ollanta Humala, is running on a similar platform of Indian racism 
and "socialism" and who has a similar history of violence against the democratic system, is currently second in polls leading up to next year's presidential elections. As to Chile, the mortal enemy of Morales and virtually all Bolivians, Morales is pushing an aggressively revisionist policy, with open encouragement from Hugo Chavez, seeking the "recovery" of sea access lost in 1885. A new military conflict with Chile, which Bolivia will no doubt lose, is therefore highly probable.

And then there is Washington. Morales' destruction of democracy in Bolivia has been tolerated by the Bush administration for years. Hence the absence of any serious reaction when mobs led by Morales overthrew constitutional presidents Gonzales de Lozada and Carlos Meza, even though Morales' promised legalization of coca will made a joke of America's decades-old efforts to control and limit coca production in South America.
Morales claims a historic right to cultivate coca because the Incas did it – except that even the Incas controlled production. In Bolivia, it was never cultivated in the Chapare – that was a 1980s development, far from "traditional," led by the likes of Morales and openly intended to make big money from cocaine, not from Indians chewing the leaves. Interestingly, when a military junta under Garcia Meza in 1980 got rich from drug trafficking, it was labeled "fascist," but now that Morales is openly proclaiming his intention to do basically the same thing, he calls it "progressive" and "traditional." Naturally enough, Morales claims, as does most of Latin America's Left, that coca is a "traditional" Andean culture hence a "right" of Indians to produce it. That is totally false – the overwhelming majority of coca is now produced in areas (Chapare in Bolivia, Alto Huallaga in Peru) where it was never ever produced historically, and the only reason for that is the money from cocaine. Traditional coca cultivation is elsewhere and that, at any rate, is more than enough for local, traditional (and actually useful) use. What Evo Morales and his ilk claim is a right to cocaine trafficking under an "indigenous" mask.

In dealing with Bolivia's dysfunctional political
culture, Washington has long fallen behind, out of either discretion or a misguided reliance on Bolivia's neighbors to act in their own self-interest. It may not be too late, if the United States takes some very simple and clear decisions. To begin with, no more aid, in any form whatsoever, for an Evo Morales regime; second, insistence on La Paz's respecting international rules regarding property, on behalf of the threatened Brazilian, Argentine, and European companies; third, severe sanctions against Bolivia – including withdrawal of diplomatic recognition, bans of travel by officials, even indictments in U.S. courts – if coca growing is legalized; and fourth, diplomatic, economic, political or other support for any of Bolivia's neighbors who are threatened by a Morales regime. If this leads to the end of Bolivia as we know it, so be it. To hide behind respect for "democracy" when faced with the dubious election, under threat of civil war, of an openly anti-democratic individual is an insult to democracy.

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Michael Radu is Senior Fellow and Co - Chair, Center on Terrorism and Counterterrorism, at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.


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