Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Hostility to Venezuela, the Bolivian Election, Action

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs noted yesterday [COHA Memorandum to the Press, "The State Department’s Shannon," Tuesday, December 20, 2005] that the new Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs, Thomas Shannon is continuing his predecessor, Roger Noriega's hostility to Chavez's Venezuela. Speaking to the House International Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, "his indignation was selective: while both U.S. mainstay ally Colombia and the Haitian interim government, which was almost completely invented by U.S. officials, had attempted to pack their supreme courts, Shannon chose to only indict Venezuela for such a democratic lapse. Also, while Shannon is ever sensitive to tendencies and directions that are weakening Venezuelan democracy, he is hardly in a position to soundly denounce crimes that Chávez may commit in the future but is not guilty as of now."

The COHA piece continues:
In an outright warning to Morales, Shannon noted to Chilean daily La Tercera that while he hoped to have a good relationship with Bolivia’s government, this would “depend on the type of relationship they want to have with the U.S.,” and remarked that “much will depend on the type of policies that are carried out, particularly economic, energetic and anti-narcotic policies.” This proclamation reeks of Washington’s attempt to coerce regional leaders into accepting its self-serving policies, such as the FTAA, while slyly threatening those who do not comply.

Similarly, an article in The Scotsman [JEREMY MCDERMOTT AND ALFONSO DANIELS, "Bolivian election result makes US anxious," The Scotsman, 20 Dec 2005] comments:

The State Department issued a veiled warning when its spokeswoman, Amanda Rogers-Harper, said: "As with all nations, the quality of our relationship will depend on the convergence of our interests, and that includes counter-narcotics issues.

"We continue to support the government of Bolivia's long-standing counter-narcotics policy, and we expect the next government to honour its international commitments."

The article also provides some useful background:
BOLIVIA has its first indigenous Indian president after a landslide victory that leaves relations with the United States at a historic low and Washington's war on drugs in tatters.

Evo Morales, 46, who was the clear favourite, far exceeded expectations, with exit polls and quick counts of the ballots showing him passing the 50 per cent barrier.

He will be the first president to do so since the country returned to democracy in 1982.

But the overwhelming victory could push his reforms farther than originally planned. A euphoric Carlos Villegas, MAS's main economic adviser, told The Scotsman in the middle of celebrations at the party's headquarters, that the nationalisation drive will now be more ambitious. "The state will recover 100 per cent ownership over the hydrocarbon industry. We'll offer multinationals [including British Gas and BP] the option to recover their investments and generate a reasonable return, not the outrageous amounts they're making right now."

While the nationalisation issue most concerns Britain, drugs are central to the US relationship with the poorest South American nation.

Bolivia is the third largest producer of cocaine in the world, after Colombia and Peru. For many rural voters, particularly the farmers of Chapare, from where Mr Morales comes, the key issue was the decriminalisation of the growing of coca. Coca is an everyday feature of Bolivian life. Many people chew it to keep working at the high altitudes and all foreign visitors to La Paz, the Americas' highest capital, are offered coca tea to help ward off altitude sickness.

At the moment only 12,000 hectares of coca crops are legal, the amount calculated to supply traditional demand for leaves. Mr Morales has said this is not enough and more effort must be made to industrialise the legal products derived from the coca leaf. He insists a study must be commissioned to evaluate coca demand. Meanwhile, coca growing will be decriminalised.

Cocaine, which is the refinement and crystallisation of a coca extract, is not used in Bolivia and is a foreign invention. However much of Bolivia's coca production is sold to drugs traffickers, producing 90 tonnes of cocaine a year. Brazil recently expressed concern about Bolivian-sourced cocaine on its streets. The US fears that Mr Morales' plans to legalise coca production will create a bonanza for drugs traffickers to buy, undermining the multi-billion-dollar war on cocaine.

Also of deep concern to the White House is Mr Morales's friendship with outspoken critics of the Bush administration such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro. Mr Morales has said he will accept no bullying from the White House and wants dialogue, "not a relationship of submission".

Washington now has few friends in South America. Only Colombia's Alvaro Uribe is a stalwart ally and even he seems to be distancing himself, last week rebuking the American ambassador to Bogota for interfering in internal affairs.

The rest of South America divides into those fervently opposed to George Bush, headed by Mr Chavez, and other left-wing governments like that of Brazil, which keep Washington at arm's length. The US looks to have lost control of its "back yard".

Mark Weisbrot provides further context in a December 20, 2005 Institute for Public Accuracy email.
Evo Morales' election in Bolivia will be seen and analyzed here mostly in political terms. ... But we would do well to step back from the politics for a moment and look at this election in economic terms. Bolivia has also been subject to IMF
agreements almost continuously (except for eight months) since 1986. And it has done what the experts from Washington have wanted, including privatizing nearly everything that could be sold. ... The country's Social Security system was also privatized. But nearly 20 years of these structural reforms -- or 'neoliberalism' as Morales and most Latin Americans call it -- have brought little in the way of economic benefits
to the average Bolivian. Amazingly, the country's per capita income is actually lower today than it was 25 years ago. ... Evo Morales is now the sixth candidate in the last seven years to win a presidential race while campaigning explicitly against 'neoliberalism.' The others were in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Uruguay. And there will likely be more in the near future, as there are 10 more presidential elections scheduled in Latin America over the next year.

Lastly, an action from the Fellowship of Reconciliation:

According to the community of San José de Apartadó, at 9am on December 14, paramilitaries approached a member of the Peace Community at the bus terminal in the municipal capital of Apartado, saying, ''I want to warn you because I knew you years ago, you and your family should leave San Josesito because at the end of the year we are planning an incursion to carry out a massacre. It will be between the 24 and 31 [December] or around that time, we are negotiating with the police and army so that they are not implicated and we can enter and leave the area freely.''

At the same bus terminal on 12 December, two paramilitaries allegedly approached a bus which was going towards San Jose de Apartado. One of them reportedly threatened the passengers: ''Take it is easy because your time is almost here.''

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible:
¨ calling for full and impartial investigations into reported paramilitary threats against members of the Peace Community, for the results to be made public, and for those responsible to be brought to justice;
¨ calling for all measures, deemed appropriate by these communities, to be taken to guarantee their safety in line with the resolution issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Senor Presidente Alvaro Uribe Velez
Presidente de la Republica
Fax: 011 57 1 337 5890/342 0592


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