Leaflet distributed by the LRP at the Left Forum in New York (June 7-9, 2013)
The Left Forum website touts its featured speaker at the Sunday plenum as follows:
“Alvaro García Linera is one of Latin America’s leading Marxist intellectuals. His life is marked by a deep commitment to the struggles of indigenous peoples and the working classes of Bolivia.”
This is public relations rhetoric that no fighter for social justice should accept. Vice President García Linera is second to President Evo Morales in the ruling party (MAS – Movement Towards Socialism). This is a capitalist government that has been violently repressing mass movements of those very “indigenous peoples and the working classes” in Bolivia. The Bolivian government also participates in the United Nations “stabilization” force in Haiti, enforcing U.S. imperialism’s super-exploitation in that country too.
The League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) has produced this short statement for distribution at the Left Forum in the hope that it will cause attendees to look beyond the surface image presented by García Linera and his admirers and to see the reality of the struggles of workers and social movements that have been under escalating attack. We hope that it will encourage more people to act in solidarity with the masses of people in Bolivia who have been super-exploited and oppressed for so long. And we hope it will prompt more people to consider our view that no kind of capitalist state, however “progressive” its pretensions, is capable of meeting the needs of the workers and oppressed peoples, including the need to live in a world safe from environmental disaster. Workers’ revolutions that overthrow capitalism are the only road to a world of peace and freedom, and for them to succeed, a revolutionary vanguard party leadership is needed that is prepared to stand with the masses when figures like García Linera turn against them.
A major class struggle in Bolivia took place just this past May when a strike was called by the country’s largest union federation (the Central Obrero Boliviano; COB). Tin miners from the town of Huanuni were a leading force in a nationwide indefinite strike over the inadequate pensions offered to workers. Bolivia’s pensions system is an example of how the country’s government protects capitalist interests at workers’ expense – employers are required to cover only 3 percent of the cost of pensions, with the rest coming from workers’ paychecks.
The pension issue galvanized other low-paid workers to join in the strike, notably factory workers, teachers and health care workers. The strikers and their supporters massively blocked roads and mobilized people in marches and gatherings at key places all across the country. The mass movement clearly demanded that pensions for workers be funded by the highly profitable private corporations in conjunction with the state. Yet the response of “progressive” President Morales and Vice President García was the bald-faced lie that the demand was only for a small cabal of “greedy” miners and that it was totally unaffordable!
Over 400 protestors were arrested across the country during the course of the two-week strike.
In one horrific case of police brutality, police fired shots against factory workers carrying out a road blockade in Parotani. Five workers were seriously injured – Benedicto Aguilar , Edgar Choque Tupa, Raúl Ergueta, Rubén Salazar and Limbert Sarijama.
The government also slandered the strikers, asserting that they and their supporters were undertaking a right-wing coup, not a genuine strike. Morales said: “In seven years as president we have defeated four attempted coup d’états; above all this COB mobilization is showing itself to be a rightist conspiracy. However, we are convinced that we are defeating another coup d’état.” This is an abomination, an amalgamation of super-exploited workers with coup attempts by the openly pro-imperialist, racist and anti-worker right-wing oppositionists.
Protest against the repressive and violent practices of the Bolivian government towards its own people is not limited to revolutionary socialists. In Bolivian newspapers and magazines there has been no shortage of articles and editorials by liberal and radical commentators lamenting the behavior of the government, reflecting a feeling shared by many people throughout the country.
The Bolivian government still appears to have majority support among the electorate. But the level of support is going down dramatically, given the general sense that the main promises of MAS and the Morales-García team have been betrayed. The first promise was that the highly profitable hydrocarbons sector (oil and gas) would be nationalized. However, the nationalizations were only nominal, and four major transnational companies – Petrobras (Brazil), Total (France), Repsol (Spain) and BP (Britain) – control 80 percent of production. The great redistribution of wealth that was promised as a result of dramatically higher government revenues has not occurred, although there have been some improvements. The largest union federation, COB, and the largest highland and lowland indigenous organizations, CONAMAQ and CIDOB, have already withdrawn their support from this government and broken with MAS. The people represented by these groupings have suffered through years of bitter conflicts with the regime and are opposing the government from the left.
The biggest uproar in Bolivian society in recent years came as a result of a major clash between the government and an indigenous struggle in the East of the country. In 2011 the government announced a big project to cut a highway across the TIPNIS (Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Secure), a large nature preserve that is also home to three distinct minority indigenous groupings. Tsimané, Yuracaré, and Mojeño-Trinitario peoples live in this area. Protection of TIPNIS had been constitutionally guaranteed because of its crucial ecological value and because it had been demarcated as an autonomous living area for these peoples who have suffered great oppression historically.
Many people had already understood that the 2008 Constituent Assembly process had betrayed the cause of indigenous liberation: in particular, it defended the maintenance of most of the large landed estates, leaving far less land to be distributed to impoverished peasants and encouraging a fight for land between different groups. But the movement to defend TIPNIS put the government’s disdain for the indigenous people it claimed to champion in sharp relief.
This struggle has gone through many phases. A dramatic turning point occurred on September 25, 2011 when police violently attacked indigenous protestors who were camping out during the course of a mass 60-day march from their Eastern homelands to the capital, La Paz, in the West. On that date, 500 police swarmed down on the encampment and rounded up over 700 protestors, many of whom were tied up and beaten. At least one child was killed. In order to justify treating the indigenous protestors as enemies of the state, the government claimed that the TIPNIS protest was part of a coup in the making, a slanderous accusation which we saw was used against the COB in the recent pension strike. In neither case, of course, could the government produce any proof of such a plot. In the case of the TIPNIS struggle, Morales also provoked the wrath of women’s rights organizations with an infamous speech in which he advised rural youth to “go out and seduce the Yuracaré women” to enlist their support for the highway project. (He was forced by the uproar to apologize for that remark.) The brutal violence and the scenes of humiliation of the people provoked widespread sympathy for the pro-TIPNIS movement across Bolivia and internationally. García Linera testified in a court proceeding that he and Morales had known nothing about the violence. But ex-government ministers have made convincing statements that the police were following government orders and that García Linera was lying. In fact, the government indicated in 2012 that it would dedicate itself to eradicating “extreme poverty” among indigenous peoples in the Tipnis areas for at least three years and supposedly would put the highway issue off the table until meeting that goal. But just the other day, on June 5, García Linera announced that the government is once again pushing to move forward with the highway project through Tipnis! CIDOB, the largest organization representing the native indigenous population of the Eastern lowlands, quickly scheduled a big meeting toward the end of June to discuss their next actions. The COB was already planning a major conference in late June to discuss launching a workers’ party based on the trade unions to run against MAS in the 2014 elections. The COB carried out sympathy strikes during the TIPNIS struggle, and the possibility of a united struggle of workers and indigenous peoples is probably the government’s greatest fear.
Since the U.S. government ousted Haiti’s populist former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, the country has been patrolled by a United Nations military force that serves a so-called “Stabilization Mission” known as MINUSTAH and trains the Haitian National Police (HNP). Independent human rights organizations have accused MINUSTAH and the HNP of conducting numerous atrocities against civilians.
Most notoriously, a devastating military assault was launched by the U.N. force on the Cité Soleil neighborhood of Port-au-Prince in 2005. This attack brought hundreds of troops, cannon-armed armored personnel carriers, helicopters, grenades, tear gas, and heavy automatic weaponry against a densely-populated civilian area, leaving dozens of people dead.
The Bolivian government contributes troops to MINUSTAH, whose real role is to enforce the U.S-backed neo-liberal economic program that undercuts the already weak social protections offered by the Haitian government. By suppressing workers’ organizing and enforcing the lowest wages in the hemisphere, MINUSTAH and the police carry out the dirty work that the imperialist profiteers prefer not to do with their own armed forces.
Genuine Marxists are committed to the causes and struggles of working-class and oppressed people everywhere. That means fighting everywhere and always against the attacks by capitalists and their politicians. In contrast, Alvaro García Linera is famous for insisting that Bolivia must go through at least another 50-100 years of capitalist development before a socialist project could be contemplated.
We hope to encourage all who are genuinely interested in the cause of the working class and oppressed, and who may not yet know very much about Bolivia, to do their own investigation as to the nature of the class conflicts that have occurred. We would be happy to refer readers to other sources in addition to our own articles, some of which are mentioned below.
1. For a fuller account of the current workers’ struggle, see the LRP Bulletin, Summer 2013. For background on Bolivia, see “Bolivia’s Unfinished Revolution,” in Proletarian Revolution No. 69 (2004) and “Bolivia: Revolutionary Prospects and Reactionary Threats,” Proletarian Revolution No. 74 (2005).
2. Spanish language readers can look, for example, at “Los mineros de Huanuni rebaten todas las mentiras del gobierno” or Arturo D. Villanueva, “Insurgencia en tregua: La reemergencia de la COB,” June 3, 2013.
3. A useful discussion of hydrocarbons policy (and the MAS government in general) can be found in Jeffrey Webber’s book, From Reform to Rebellion in Bolivia (Haymarket, 2011). Spanish language readers should also see Pablo Mamani Ramírez, “El Estado del 52 y el neoMNRismo del MAS,” June 3, 2013.
4. Statements in support of the COB strike and in opposition to the government’s divide and conquer policy during the strike were made by the major highland and lowland indigenous organizations, CONAMAQ and CIDOB respectively. Spanish language readers can find their remarks in the article “Indigenas: Evo Llama a Confrontar a la Poblacion”.
5. Emily Achtenberg, “Bolivia: TIPNIS Marchers Face Accusations and Negotiations,” August 26, 2011.
6. “Turning Point for Morales: Bolivian Police Repress and Detain Indigenous Marchers”
7. Sarah Hines, “An indigenous struggle against Morales,” August 29, 2011.