Bolivian people fight to defend their gains

The masses of indigenous and poor confront the white racist owners of land and oil in a life-and-death struggle.

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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“The worst enemy of humanity is US capitalism. That is what provokes uprisings like our own against a system, against a neo-liberal model, which is the representation of unrestrained, savage capitalism.

“If the entire world doesn’t acknowledge this reality – that nation states are not providing even minimally for health, education and nourishment – then each day the most fundamental human rights are being violated.” – Juan Evo Morales Ayma

It was the iconic guerrilla leader Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara who once argued, in his capacity as the Cuban revolutionary government’s ambassador to the Tricontinental (OSPAAAL, the Solidarity Organisation of the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America), that the state of play in the national liberation movements of ‘Our America’ – everything south of the Rio Grande – would become an important barometer of the longevity of United States imperialism.

If he was correct, as he undoubtedly was, things don’t look good for the imperialists.

Che was murdered exactly 41 years ago, on the orders of Washington and the CIA, after being captured at the head of a group of internationalist freedom fighters in Bolivia. The US puppet dictatorship of General René Barrientos has long since gone; indeed, the general himself survived his famous victim by less than two years.

Major strides towards national liberation and socialism

And, after decades of neo-colonial bondage, the workers and peasants of Bolivia – the majority of whom come from the indigenous community – are now enjoying the promise of major strides in the direction of national liberation and socialism under current president Evo Morales and his Moviemiento al Socialism (Movement to Socialism).

It’s worth noting that the Spanish acronym for this movement, MAS, translates into English as ‘more’. And this is precisely what Bolivia’s toiling masses aspire to via a political programme prioritising land reform and the nationalisation of the oil and gas industries as well as tin, lead and silver smelting. Morales, himself an Amerindian, is also keen to encourage the teaching of indigenous languages in schools.

Other policies of the Morales government include full separation of the state from the Catholic church and the formalisation of a Latin American anti-imperialist axis centred on socialist Cuba and bringing in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and, of course, the revolutionary-democratic regime of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.

To this grouping might conceivably be added the newly-elected Paraguayan government headed by Fernando Lugo, a ‘liberation theologian’ and former Catholic bishop intimately involved in the struggle for land reform and against US-instigated corruption.

US imperialism and its faithful retainers in the Bolivian comprador bourgeoisie have never had a lot of time for Evo Morales.

Prior to his election to the presidency in 2005 – with, at 53 percent, the first absolute majority in the history of Bolivian bourgeois democracy – Morales had been the main leader of the trade union representing peasants growing coca.

In this role, he actively opposed Plan Dignidad (Plan Dignity), a bid by US imperialism to further impoverish and marginalise Bolivia’s indigenous majority by suppressing coca production – under the guise of a campaign against the export of cocaine.

Morales was subjected to serious intimidation, including death threats, during this struggle. But, while provoking the wrath of Bolivia’s neo-colonial authorities, he earned the lasting respect of the thousands of poor peasants whose livelihoods depend on the coca leaf.

The government newspapers of the day described him as “a communist and a thug”. Presumably he was a “thug” because he advocated – and used – physical self-defence in the course of his union’s struggles against the bosses.

We in the CPGB-ML are quite happy to be called communists; it’s an accurate description of our politics and our very raison d’être. But the bourgeoisie of every country has always been fond of using the word ‘communist’ as an epithet to try to discredit anyone fighting for a progressive cause, whether they’re really communists or not.

Morales – and he has been the first to clarify this – is not a communist. He is an anti-imperialist and a revolutionary democrat, whose vision for his country involves standing up against US imperialism, securing Bolivia’s resources for its own people and moving forward to some form of socialism.

Naturally, he enjoys the support of the actual communists in Bolivia, who are cheering him on and mobilising their cadres in support of his revolutionary anti-imperialist programme.

Codifying the revolution

As president of Bolivia, Evo Morales is seeking to codify the progressive changes taking place in his country by means of a plebiscite on the country’s new constitution, which has already been accepted by a special assembly convened late last year.

President Morales has already won one comprehensive victory in a referendum held on 10 August, which confirmed popular support for his policies against attempts by governors of the richer provinces to oppose ongoing redistribution of wealth and land in favour of the poor.

The national referendum on the new constitution, which allows for presidential re-election and aims to empower the long-marginalised indigenous majority, will take place on 7 December.

Morales’s popular policies have provoked a reactionary backlash that has thrown Bolivia into a serious crisis, but the toiling masses – loyal to their president and his political vision – have not allowed US imperialism and its local puppets to win the day.

In response to the government’s land redistribution programme, the large estate-owning latifundistas of the huge eastern province of Santa Cruz launched a rebellion that involved clashes with federal troops and the physical intimidation of peasants, workers and pro-Morales teachers, lawyers and students.

President Morales was even prevented from speaking in favour of the constitution by a well-orchestrated blockade of local airfields.

The local authorities of this and neighbouring provinces, while not seen to be actively participating in the anti-government violence, clearly have the interests of their (largely white) landowners and mini-oil magnates at heart. Crocodile tears have been shed over the ‘excesses’, but there has been a sudden and not entirely coincidental insistence on the right to regional autonomy – a right which was never laid claim to during the presidencies of a whole stream of US puppets who were prepared to ‘leave private property alone’.

A substantial part of the privately-owned arable land in the east of Bolivia has been lying dormant for years while its owners grow ever richer on speculation. The December referendum is seeking a mandate for the central government to expropriate and redistribute these holdings. Could the property-owners’ rebellion have something to do with this?

Similarly, the eastern part of the country is rich in oil and natural gas. Could the government’s decision to tax local oil revenues so as to fund the national old-age pension have something to do with the current situation? Surely not!

What we do know is that US imperialism has spent up to $125m sponsoring the white landowners’ secessionist movement in Santa Cruz and elsewhere. This is not surprising, given its propensity to intervene at the drop of a hat when its interests are threatened ‘in its own back yard’ – assassination bids against Fidel Castro, coup attempts against Hugo Chávez, the invasion of Grenada, funding the contras in Nicaragua … and the list goes on almost interminably.

Bolivian masses will fight

But what we do know is that ordinary Bolivian people, the workers and small peasants who have rallied behind Evo Morales and his revolutionary-democratic project, are not taking this provocation lying down.

In the course of a recent march on Santa Cruz, pro-government demonstrators carried banners bearing the slogan “The land is ours, and so are the guns in our belts.” Not hyperbole. Photos accompanying the news reports of this protest showed that there were, indeed, guns in the marchers’ belts, and we have no doubt that the Bolivian people know in which direction to point them, should the need arise.

The CPGB-ML expresses its firm solidarity with the Bolivian people, and their president Evo Morales, as they continue to struggle for a better life free of the chains of US imperialism.

> Opposition desperate to weaken MAS advances in Bolivia – June 2008