Since this article was written, the legitimate president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, has been overthrown in a US-sponsored coup.
The huge profits to be made from Bolivia’s massive reserves of lithium (essential in the production of electric cars) are just one of the factors being pointed to by commentators seeking to explain imperialism’s desire to replace Evo Morales’s popular government with one under their control.
The finger of blame has primarily been pointed at populist Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who is committed to rolling back environmental protections of the Amazon in order to exploit its untapped riches. Bolsonaro had presided over a significant increase in the rate of deforestation of the Amazon since his election. (Financial Times)
On 19 August 2019, the US space agency Nasa released this update via its earth observatory:
“With the fire season in the Amazon approaching its midpoint, scientists using Nasa satellites to track fire activity have confirmed an increase in the number and intensity of fires in the Brazilian Amazon in 2019, making it the most active fire year in that region since 2010.
“Fire activity in the Amazon varies considerably from year to year and month to month, driven by changes in economic conditions and climate. August 2019 stands out because it has brought a noticeable increase in large, intense, and persistent fires burning along major roads in the central Brazilian Amazon, explained Douglas Morton, chief of the Biospheric Sciences laboratory at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight centre.
“While drought has played a significant role in exacerbating fires in the past, the timing and location of fire detections early in the 2019 dry season are more consistent with land clearing than with regional drought.” (Uptick in Amazon fire activity in 2019, Nasa Earth Observatory, 19 August 2019)
A further update from the earth observatory added new context to unfolding events:
“Since the beginning of August 2019, Nasa satellites have observed several fires near the border of Bolivia, Paraguay, and Brazil. (Note that this area is not in the Amazon rainforest.)
“On 25 August 2019, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired images of one of the larger fires, which was burning north of the Paraguay River near Puerto Busch. The first image was made using OLI bands 4-3-2 (visible light). The second image includes observations of shortwave-infrared light in order to highlight the active fire. Recently burned areas appear black.
“Images from Nasa’s Modis sensors indicate that this fire likely burned first in Paraguay and then spread into Bolivia and Brazil by 19 August 2019.” (Fire burns in Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil, 25 August 2019)
Climate change – a hard power tactic of control?
Although Bolsonaro deserves condemnation for his policies, which are undoubtedly contributing to the destruction of the Amazon, what cannot be ignored is the way that corporate media and politicians have manipulated a moderately severe event into a cataclysmic disaster for the planet – bringing along with them environmental ‘nongovernmental’ organisations (NGOs), celebrities and woke environmentalists, who have all been declaring the ‘end times’.
The media have maintained a consistent, uniform and straightforward message: The fires are an unprecedented disaster for the Amazon rainforest, and Bolsonaro is responsible for burning the planet down.
This is misleading on both counts.
“Douglas Morton, chief of the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, uses satellite imagery to track fire activity and deforestation around the world.
“He said the Amazon is not on track for a record this year.
“‘Our satellites allow us to go back to 2000 and compare 2019 fire activity all the way back to the beginning of this century,’ Morton said. ‘Fires in 2019 haven’t reached the levels they were at in the early part of the 2000s.’ …
“In the early 2000s, another bout of international outrage over fires in the Amazon pushed the Brazilian government to implement a national action plan to deal with deforestation. From 2004 to about 2014, it was incredibly successful.
“The Federal Plan of Action for the Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Legal Amazon relied on real-time collaboration between government agencies to stop deforestation fires as they were happening.
“But in 2015, the Brazilian economy fell into a deep recession, and deforestation rates started to rise again.
“‘It wasn’t that the government was no longer focused on [the anti-deforestation] environmental policies,’ de Bolle said. ‘It was really that, because of this very deep recession, they ran out of money, and they were no longer able to fund a lot of these initiatives.’” (As fires continue to rage in the Amazon rainforest, who is really to blame? by Meg Kelly and Sarah Cahlan, Independent, 7 October 2019)
What is of note is how quickly the fires entered and exited the focus of the ‘mainstream’ corporate media. In the run up to the G7 meeting, held in France between 24-26 August, there was wall-to-wall coverage of the fires, but almost immediately after the summit had concluded, media interest took a nosedive.
French president Emmanuel Macron was at the forefront, leading the criticism of Bolsonaro at the G7 summit. He declared an ongoing “international crisis” and suggested that an international statute to protect the rainforest may be needed “if a sovereign state took concrete actions that clearly went against the interest of the planet”.
Discussions about the fire also affected ongoing negotiations of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Mercosur (a trade bloc of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay). (EU, Mercosur strike trade pact, defying protectionist wave by Philip Blenkinsop and Leika Kihara, Reuters, 28 June 2019)
President Macron and Irish president Leo Varadkar both threatened to refuse to ratify the trade deal, worth billions of dollars to Brazil, unless the country committed to implementing environmental protections. (Amazon fires: Brazil threatened over EU trade deal, BBC News, 23 August 2019)
The speed at which Bolsonaro has changed tack from declaring fire data to be ‘lies’ to sending in the military and banning land-clearing fires for 60 days at the end of August suggests that environmentalism backed up with the threats to a nation’s economy can be an effective tool in forcing compliance upon unwilling nation states. (Financial Times, 24 and 29 August 2019)
In other words: do what we say, or else.
Why was Bolsonaro targeted?
The reason Bolsonaro became public enemy number one overnight is not immediately apparent.
President Macron, of course, has a vested interest in the Amazon, as the French colony of Guyana is situated in the region. Moreover, by taking a strong line against Brazil, the French president can appear tough on climate change while not having to take any meaningful steps towards preventing global warming at home in France.
However, what seems more likely is the aim of ensuring that the imperialists are able to control the Amazon – its minerals, its pharmaceutical treasures and its precious woods.
Another possibility must also be borne in mind by all anti-imperialists. Venezuela, currently the number one Latin-American target in the sights of the US regime-change machine, shares a border in the Amazon with Brazil.
It is not inconceivable that the imperialists wish to abrogate to themselves the right to ‘protect’ the Amazon by use of troops (either theirs or those of their regional proxies) in order to provide a cover for amassing a military force on Venezuela’s southeastern border. (Map of the Amazon rainforest)
As anti-imperialists, we must be able to filter the fact from the spin and to recognise the imperialists’ ulterior motives. Bolsonaro undoubtedly has allowed land clearance to recommence and is part of the problem, but the point that is never mentioned by corporate media or imperialist politicians is that whoever is in power, Brazil’s economy is too fragile to allow it effectively to preserve the rainforest.
What they do not want workers to understand is that under capitalism, even with the best of intentions, the necessary steps to safeguard the planet cannot consistently be taken – the ‘business cycle’ of boom and bust dictates whether resources are available for such ‘secondary’ concerns as ensuring humanity’s future. When economic crisis hits, austerity dictates that they are not.
The imperialists who loot Brazil via their local proxies are part of this problem; they cannot provide any solution. It will certainly not advance the cause of protecting the environment (which is ultimately dependent on humanity’s liberation from imperialism) for imperialist troops to be parachuted in to ‘guard’ (ie, control) the region’s resources.
It is the capitalist-imperialist system that condemns a country like Brazil, so rich in natural and human resources, to its apparently permanent state of economic fragility. It is the capitalist-imperialist system that stops humanity from taking the necessary steps to ensure our environment is protected.
Extinction Rebellion does imperialism’s bidding
Amid the drama unfolding in relation to Bolsonaro and the Brazilian rainforest, Extinction Rebellion (XR) found a new target for condemnation in the form of progressive Bolivian president Evo Morales, and were quick to place the blame for fires in Bolivia at his doorstep.
On 26 August, an article was published on the self-styled ‘radical left-wing’ Novara Media’s website titled ‘It’s not just Brazil’s forests that are burning, Bolivia is on fire too’, authored by a prominent member of Extinction Rebellion, Claire Wordley.
XR even went so far as to organise protests outside Bolivia’s embassies across Europe.
Through these acts, XR found itself ahead of the curve, with the Guardian and the Independent rushing to catch up and throw their weight behind the ‘Morales = evil dictator’ plotline.
On 27 August, the Independent ran with the headline: ‘The world believes the Amazon is in trouble because of Bolsonaro. Instead, they should look to Bolivia.’ (Harriet Marsden)
While the Guardian on 2 September went for ‘“Murderer of nature”: Evo Morales blamed as Bolivia battles devastating fires’. (Dan Collyns)
In her article for Novara Media, Ms Wordley blamed Morales for the fires ravaging the Amazon, declaring him to be as “damaging as … the capitalists Morales claims to hate” and characterising his responses to the fires as having been forced upon him by climate-conscious citizens.
What should be interesting to readers about Wordley’s article is that it is almost entirely dependent upon claims made by Bolivian ‘activist’ Jhanisse Vaca Daza, who can only be described as a professional regime-change operative.
Ms Vaca Daza has founded an NGO called Ríos de Pie, whose purpose is to spread anti-Morales propaganda. She has also been appointed as manager of the ‘Freedom Fellowships’ that have been issued by the Human Rights Foundation, an organisation which in effect functions as a training network for activists working to overthrow leaders that Washington wants to depose.
Vaca Daza has been instrumental in issuing Freedom Fellowships to ten ‘anti-authoritarian’ activists in places that include Venezuela, Nicaragua, Russia, and Hong Kong, all of which the US/Nato imperialists are working overtime to destabilise.
“The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is pleased to announce the creation of the Freedom Fellowship, a unique programme that awards ten human rights advocates, social entrepreneurs and non-profit leaders from authoritarian countries around the world with the unique opportunity to dramatically increase the impact of their work … The fellows will work with HRF staff and a team of specialists to improve leadership, movement building, fundraising, marketing, and digital security.” (HRF announces the Freedom Fellowship, 21 May 2019)
For more information on Jhanisse Vaca-Daza, we recommend the excellent article on the Grayzone website. (Western regime-change operatives launch campaign to blame Bolivia’s Evo Morales for Amazon fires by Wyatt Reed, 29 August 2019)
While it is true that earlier in the year the Bolivian government allowed small farmers to burn some areas of forest land to clear way for crop production, it’s worth pointing out that although the media is using fears over the ecological destruction of the Amazon to attack President Morales, the majority of fires in Bolivia have occurred outside the rainforest.
“Morales in July issued a decree allowing controlled burns and clearing of lands. While people are supposed to obtain prior permission, authorities say most of the fires have been started illegally.
“Morales also granted an amnesty for people caught burning fields illegally last year.”
“While some of the fires were burning in Bolivia’s share of the Amazon, the largest blazes were in the Chiquitania region of southeastern Bolivia, a zone of dry forest, farmland and open prairies that has seen an expansion of farming and ranching in recent years.” (Bolivia battles vast fires as Brazil’s Amazon crisis captures world attention, South China Morning Post, 28 August 2019)
Bolivia, like all developing nations, struggles at times to balance economic development with environmental concerns. However, President Morales’s response to the fires has been prompt and decisive – in stark contrast to the foot-dragging of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro.
In late August, the Bolivian government hired a Boeing 747 supertanker, which discharged 1,892,330 litres of water over affected areas in just a few weeks. The government also put into action five helicopters, which have dropped 873,720 litres, and contracted aircraft, dropping a further 39,610 litres. Thousands of firefighters, soldiers, police and volunteers were mobilised to help tackle the blazes.
Bolivia was able to report an 85 percent reduction in fire hotspots on 28 August after just eight days of the massive operation, with the UN recognising and praising these efforts. (Bolivia’s Amazon fire hotspots reduced by 85 percent, Telesur, 28 August 2019)
Furthermore, President Morales went on to announce an ‘ecological pause’, during which the sale of fire-affected land has been prohibited. This effectively prevents profiteers from selling newly-cleared land for ranching and land cultivation and nullifies the further temptation of individuals to set more forest fires for this purpose. Morales has also declared his intention to begin afforestation and reforestation in affected areas within the Chiquitania department of Santa Cruz. (Cambio.bo, 28 August and 10 September 2019)
“Now begins the stage of recovery of the fauna and flora of our Chiquitania. Together we managed to put out the fire and together we will begin the post-fire stage. We have learned many lessons and will prepare to take care of #MotherEarth for the good of future generations,” wrote President Morales on Twitter. (Bolivia and Nicaragua launch large reforestation plans, Telesur, 9 October 2019)
Why is Morales being attacked?
It is no coincidence that the opportunity to attack Morales was seized upon in the run-up to Bolivian presidential elections of 20 October.
Bolivian compradors and imperialist powers had hoped that Morales would be defeated in these elections as his policies, which overwhelmingly benefit the poor, are intolerable to imperialism. Since his time in office began, Morales has overseen land reforms, a trebling of the minimum wage and the nationalisation of energy resources.
Fortunately, for the poor of Bolivia and progressive-minded people alike, Morales won a third successive term in office, and for this, we offer him our congratulations. However, his victory has not been well received outside of his base of support amongst the poor.
“Mesa, a former president, backed by a collective of centrist and right-wing parties, has rejected the official tally, calling it ‘the result of fraud and a breach of the popular will.’
“The poll triggered a week of violent protests, with rival supporters clashing with security forces and each other in (Bolivian capital) La Paz and elsewhere.
“Mesa has called on his supporters to maintain their street protests. Thousands of demonstrators blocked streets in major cities around the country on Saturday, erecting barricades and waving the red, yellow and green Bolivian flag.
“Morales urged those who accuse him of fraud to provide evidence.
“‘We aren’t hiding anything, we aren’t lying … They’ve given no proof’ of fraud, he said on Saturday.
“Morales had said earlier that he would be happy to contest a second round – and do so ‘the next day’ – if anyone provided evidence of fraud.”
Violence from rival political supporters has marred the popular election victory. Mesa’s attempt to question the legitimacy of the result and his imperialist backing has led Morales to warn of a potential coup plot against his government.
These fears are certainly not unfounded – as recent events in Brazil, Venezuela and Nicaragua demonstrate. It is to be hoped that the Bolivian masses are strong enough to withstand these efforts to deprive them of their victory and the gains they have made.
Workers and progressive people everywhere must give every support to their struggle.