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Editor’s Page

 

Things are happening in Latin America


Evo Morales

 

Things are happening in Latin America that the top guns of the Bush administration aren’t noticing. There must be some people in the bowels of the State Department who are taking notice, but Bush and Co. are occupied with other, admittedly more important things – more important in the short term, that is. The rest of the world is equally preoccupied with the same things: Iran, Iraq, Africa, North Korea, etc., so who can be bothered with Latin America?

The thief in the night is not bothering to tread lightly. He’s making a lot of noise but no one is listening. Take, for example, Evo Morales, the newly elected president of Bolivia:   

 

“Thanks to Pachamama, Mother Earth, thanks for the Coca Plant.

 

We, Aymaras and Quechuas, original nations of the Andes, have survived the onslaught of the white man until today thanks to our coca leaf. From the moment the white man came to our land he has tried to control our leaf for his own enrichment. He has abused it here and now he is abusing it everywhere else. Since it has escaped his control he is intent on destroying it.

He has labeled our sacred plant a drug, to be prohibited and eliminated under universally binding drugs conventions. With these conventions the United Nations have offended and betrayed the Aymara and

Quechua Nations.

Under the cover of these conventions and after impoverishing our people with their neoliberal policies, the United States government, foremost enemy of the Indians, has used its dollars to bribe the officials of Bolivia, corrupt its institutions and pit white Bolivians against us. Recently the United States Embassy in La Paz has funded a mercenary force with orders to eliminate the coca plant and the Indians defending it.

Coca is not a drug!

This lie has to be called. The moment has come for us to stop the menace of annihilation of the coca plant and our communal ways of living. The coca plant has sustained us through all adversities until today and we will strive, with all our might and with her help, to thwart the white man's wicked plans.

Like other plants coca is a medicine, a holy plant. Thanks to coca we have withstood the untold sufferings brought upon us by the white man's unholy war on drugs.”

 

Evo Morales is himself an Aymara who became the leader of his brother coca-producing farmers, and he is determined to allow the continued cultivation of the plant. In fact, he has no choice, for he was elected on that promise. He also promises to nationalize the country’s natural recourses, mainly natural gas. All this puts him on a collision course with the United States. Is he stupid? I think not. He claims that coca can be grown and exploited for medicinal and cosmetic purposes alone: “Sí to coca, no to narcotics!” Whether he is sincere and whether this is possible is anyone’s guess. The narco-traffickers certainly won’t take it lying down. And the United States? They have a powerful weapon: foreign aid, i.e, money, a considerable amount which now goes to Bolivia, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti. And exactly what does nationalization mean to him in practice? Fidel Castro confiscated foreign (mostly U.S. owned) capitalist property. He has survived, but he put Cuba into an economic and human rights hole from which its people have yet to emerge. Evo may be thinking of a different approach, such as modifying contracts with the multinationals in order to give a larger share of the pie to Bolivia, which would then be used for the benefit of the poor. Fidel, incidentally, is extremely popular in all of Latin America, and this despite his being a dictator, especially among young people. Why? He is the charismatic leader of a tiny island off the coast of the United States who has been able to defy the United States for over four decades. 

Bolivia is a special place in another way. Its population consists of a majority of “native Americans”. They are mostly very poor, uneducated (ignorant but not stupid) and oppressed. But they have begun to wake up, perhaps to enter into the “consciousness soul” stage of development – to use a Rudolf Steiner concept. And Evo Morales is their leader.

I watched his inauguration on television. The first to be inaugurated was the vice-president, an individual who is the complete opposite of Evo: tall, thin, graying, impeccably dressed with perfect Spanish. Evo, when he was sworn in, had tears in his eyes. But then he spoke for two and a half hours, with infrequent glances at notes. It was mostly about the injustices endured by the indigenous people over the centuries and his intention to change this – now. The rambling style was effective but not original. It is strongly reminiscent of Fidel Castro, Juan Domingo Perón or, lately, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

Other Latin American countries are apparently swinging to the left as well, the most important being Brazil. The president, “Lula” da Silva, also emerged from the people as a worker, then as a labor leader. He has not initiated a socialist revolution, however. In fact, he has been criticized for being too friendly with capitalist industry and governments. He remains enormously popular despite a recent corruption scandal within his government and party which would have ended the career of a less dynamic politician.

The U.S. press has characterized Argentina’s Nestor Kirchner as left wing. Well, considering Argentina’s history replete with military dictatorships, this description may have some merit. Objectively, however, it is nonsense. Kirchner is a Peronist, and Perón was an elected dictator, who knew how to pander to his poor “shirtless ones”. But today most Argentine politicians merely pay lip service to Perón and Evita as untouchable Argentine saints. Kirchner, Lula and Chavez have formed an intimate circle for the cameras and all are on friendly terms with Fidel, which means nothing, or at least very little, in practice.  

Chile’s president elect is the socialist Michelle Bachelet, who was a prisoner when Pinochet was the dictator. Her party, though, is the same one the outgoing president, Ricardo Lagos, presided over. And Chile’s burgeoning economy has much to thank Pinochet’s capitalist “reforms” for its success. Relations with the U.S. are excellent, including a fair trade agreement.

Uruguay has Tabare Vazqueza, a physician, also called leftist, but on good terms with the U.S., much better ones than those with its big brother neighbor, Argentina.

Peru’s front running presidential candidate is also said to be a leftist. I haven’t mentioned Central America, where the tendencies seem to be similar.

All these governments talk about helping the poor, distributing the wealth, nationalism, patriotism, and at the same time Latin American unity. Several strongly criticize the United States. They are all also anxious for foreign investment. Do they speak with forked tongues? Yes. Those who have been in power for a while, although they have seen economic statistics climb in their favor, have not succeeded in sharing the wealth. The poor are still poor, and they are the many. Will they eventually succeed? I don’t know. Latin American socialism is no longer of the Marxist variety, but rather on the European model. But this is not Europe and ideals are not facts of life.                     



Frank Thomas Smith