Bolivia: ‘I am a Marxist’: Morales challenges imperialism

When Bolivian President Evo Morales told the 7th Summit of the ALBA countries on 16 April that ‘I want to declare myself Marxist, Leninist, communist, socialist’ and dared the Organisation of American States (OAS) to expel him for this statement, he was not just expressing solidarity with Cuba, expelled by the OAS for ‘Marxism-Leninism’ in 1962, but showing how far he and the Bolivian revolution have travelled since his election in December 2005. The reactionary separatists in Santa Cruz and the wealthy east of the country have been unable to overcome the isolation that followed their failed civic coup of September 2008 (see FRFI 206). In developments during April and May:

• An attempt by the bourgeois opposition in Congress to frustrate the implementation of Bolivia’s new democratic constitution failed after Morales went on hunger strike to mobilise popular support;
• A plot to assassinate the president was broken up after police killed three mercenaries and arrested two others in a Santa Cruz hotel;
• Papers released in the US have exposed the extent to which the imperialists supported attempts to break up the country through the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

At stake in Congress was a Transitional Electoral Law to implement the country’s new constitution and enable elections to take place in December 2009. The opposition tried to block the law using its majority in the Senate, despite a 61.5% majority in favour of the constitution in the January 2009 referendum. On 9 April, as a 60-day deadline to pass the legislation approached, Morales went on hunger strike to mobilise the masses. As people gathered outside Congress, the opposition started to back down, and their attempts to disenfranchise Bolivians living abroad – mostly Morales supporters – were defeated. With the government making concessions on the number of congress seats reserved for indigenous people (reducing them from 14 to 7, but not to the three demanded by the reactionaries) and agreeing to establish an electronic electoral register this year, the law was passed on 14 April.

The conspiracy to assassinate Morales was exposed after police tracked down a gang which had bombed the Santa Cruz home of Cardinal Julio Terrazas on 15 April whilst he was away. The ringleader was Eduardo Rozsa Flores, a Bolivian with a Croatian background like many Santa Cruz separatist leaders. In an interview taped in September 2008 for a Hungarian TV station and broadcast after his death in the shoot-out, Rozsa Flores said he had been invited by the opposition in Bolivia to set up an armed force in the Santa Cruz ‘nation’, saying that ‘We are ready... to proclaim independence... Santa Cruz is ready to separate from Bolivia.’ Rozsa Flores had been the leader of a mercenary brigade in the reactionary war of Croatian independence from Yugoslavia. The police investigation has already resulted in arrests of Santa Cruz business leaders, and members of the neo-fascist Union of Santa Cruz Youth. A similar mercenary gang was responsible for the murder of 20 Morales supporters in Pando on 11 September 2008 on the instructions of the department’s secessionist prefect, Leopoldo Fernandez.

That US imperialism has been involved in recent secessionist plots was confirmed following the release in early May of papers relating to USAID’s Bolivian operations. In 2004, before Morales’ electoral victory, it set up an Office for Transition Initiatives in Bolivia to fund separatist projects and has spent more than $97m in ‘decentralisation’ and ‘regional autonomy’ projects since 2002. Other funding has gone to opposition political parties, and to create a network of 3,000 ‘observers’ as an allegedly ‘independent’ body to monitor Bolivian elections. No wonder Morales has declared that: ‘The US has no right or authority to speak of democracy, because they are the ones that foster coups, military coups, just as they are now arming a civic coup in Bolivia.’ On 1 May, in front of a huge and enthusiastic demonstration in La Paz, Morales announced the nationalisation of AirBP, a subsidiary of British Petroleum which supplies aviation fuel to Bolivia’s airports, further undermining the grip of the multinationals. The Bolivian people have pushed imperialism onto the back foot in their country.

Robert Clough

FRFI 209 June / July 2009