Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Evo in America

NEW YORK (digitalwarriormedia): Since arriving in New York City to attend the United Nations’ General Assembly, President Evo Morales has played soccer with Bolivian youths on Manhattan’s east side, addressed an historic gathering of world leaders on climate change and even made an appearance on one of America’s most popular satirical television programs – Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. All of this before his speech in front of the UN on Wednesday evening.

This is Morales’ second visit to the Big Apple and while speaking at Cooper Union on Monday night, he offered insight into the movement that elected an indigenous president and continues determined to transform Bolivia. His manner and insight often drew laughter and cheers of solidarity from the audience.

He shared anecdotes from his political beginnings as a coca farmer and labor leader in Cochabamba. Still - almost two years into his presidency - Morales continues to express a degree of suspended disbelief that a man of his humble means could be elected president.

He recalled an ancestral law of, “Don’t Steal, Don’t Lie, Don’t be Lazy” – an Incan concept even greater than common tenants of the nation’s Constitution. In keeping with this tradition, his days in the Presidential Palace often begin at 5 a.m.

One of Morales’ first decrees as president was to cut the salaries of all government officials in order to demonstrate a commitment to battling corruption.

He indicated a willingness to earn less than his monthly salary of 15,000 bolivianos, but Bolivian law prohibits government officials from receiving a higher salary than the President, and he can not ask his colleagues to work for less.

Often criticized in the international media for populist policies, Morales explained that by nationalizing the nation’s hydrocarbon sector, the government’s earnings rose from $300 million to $2 billion in less than 2 years.

He noted that Bolivia’s economy had experienced its first surplus since 1960 - all of this in a nation that is rich in natural resources but historically crippled by corruption.

And while Bolivia is still experiencing growing pains with unresolved structural problems, slow-moving state agencies and difficulties with justice ministers, Morales cautioned against believing news stories that sensationalize the events occurring in Bolivia.

Morales and the MAS party continue forward as opposition parties receive support from the U.S. government – an issue he says should be of concern to U.S. taxpayers who deserve to know where their tax money is being spent.

He also stated that the American public should expel ex-President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, instead of allowing the U.S. government to offer a human rights violator safe haven.

In his most recent meeting with the U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia - where they discussed Iran, visas and mutual cooperation - Morales told Ambassador Goldberg that there must be transparency between the two nations before real cooperation can exist.

He continues his stance that even small countries have dignity and sovereignty and can decide with which countries they will seek diplomatic relations. As such, Morales will host Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Bolivia on Thursday - where they will discuss bilateral cooperation - much to the consternation of the U.S. and other western nations.

Last year when Morales stood before the General Assembly, he displayed a coca leaf and called for the rights of indigenous people to their culture and traditions as he denounced the international policies that contaminate the environment and permit war.

This year he is expected to speak extensively about the environment and put forth a dialogue that examines the root causes of climate change - namely rapid capitalist development, over- consumption and the concentration of wealth.

And although the words of President Bush and President Ahmadinejad may be generating the most international press and attention, it is likely the words of an indigenous labor leader from a small, landlocked country in the Americas will offer the most food for thought and hope for a more equitable and prosperous future.


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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Bolivia’s Coca Policy Working, Says U.S. Report

NEW YORK (digitalwarriormedia) – The Morales administration’s “Coca Yes, Cocaine No,” policy has been validated by the results of a U.S. State Department report sent to Congress on Friday.

The report concluded that the Bolivian government has improved measures to fight the illicit production and sale of coca – the main ingredient in cocaine.

Under U.S. law, countries that fail to demonstrate significant efforts to combat the spread of illicit narcotics may be penalized with a cut-off in certain types of aid.

The recently completed report says Bolivia made progress last year, including the successful eradication of more than 5,000 hectares (12,360 acres) of coca in 2006. It also found that Bolivia met adequate benchmarks to stave off any financial sanctions, despite coca production increasing slightly since 2005.

In an interim report released earlier this year, the U.S. criticized Morales for failing to deal with increased coca production. And there was a recurring debate about whether the Bolivian government should continue to receive U.S. aid, with Washington delaying its decision.

As a result of this most recent report, the Bush administration decided to waive penalties against Bolivia which could have resulted in the loss of more than $100 million in aid.

However, the U.S. did criticize the Bolivian government for failing to give adequate support to drug abuse prevention programs, and publicly address the dangers that excess coca production, drug production and consumption pose to Bolivian society.

Upon assuming the Presidency in early 2006, Morales announced his “zero cocaine” policy. Morales agreed to eradicate excess coca crops grown illicitly, while also supporting coca growing families in the Yungas region by proposing to increase the legal coca production limit from 12,000 to 20,000 hectares (29,650 to 49,420 acres).

"For us, it is a way of life, but coca is not cocaine. Traditionally, Bolivians have not processed it into the narcotic drug cocaine. We completely oppose that. I am saying no to ‘zero coca’, but yes to ‘zero cocaine’." stated Morales last year.

The plant has held traditional medicinal and spiritual purposes for the nation’s indigenous population for centuries. Critics of U.S. drug policy contend that Bolivia does not have a domestic cocaine problem and the international drug markets of the U.S., Canada and Europe are the real culprits, not poor coca farmers.

Bolivia is the world's third-leading producer of coca and the government began voluntary eradication in the Yungas region last year. New, integrated alternative development approaches were implemented to negotiate voluntary eradication measures among Bolivia’s cocalero constituency.

Morales’ administration is well aware of the opposition to forced coca eradication by Bolivia’s coca farmers and it has supported coca reduction through voluntary means by negotiating directly with the farmers and their unions.

The Bolivian government is also supporting the industrialization of coca and the exploration of an international legal market for coca products in medicine, toothpaste, shampoo, liquors and foods.

Morales vowed to find industrial uses for the traditional plant and the European Union agreed to fund a study for such a purpose.

In September 2006, President Morales presented a coca leaf while giving his speech before the United Nations 61st General Assembly. He announced the importance of coca in the traditions of indigenous people and that the plant does not warrant a place in UN conventions as a narcotic drug.

A former coca grower himself, Morales remains the head of the nation’s largest coca farmer’s union based in Chapare.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Morales Calls National Celebration as UN Passes Declaration

Cochabamba, Sept 13 (DigitalWarriorMedia). – President Evo Morales Ayma celebrated the approval of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People by the General Assembly of the United Nations, describing it as a historical victory.

Morales was in Cochabamba on Thursday, distributing 115 tractors to 45 municipalities of the department and to the Federación de Regantes Cochabambinos. The President interrupted his speech to inform the crowd of the UN’s approval.

He noted how this passage was a historical landmark for the indigenous movement and recalled the many years of struggle in which the attempts of indigenous peoples to obtain respect for their rights were undone in the corridors of the international institution.

“I bring an important, historical announcement to you, not only of a national but international level. They finished informing us that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People has been approved, after 20 years of debate, in the United Nations,” Morales expressed before the crowd that had gathered to receive the tractors.

He announced that 11 countries abstained from voting, 4 voted against, but 143 countries approved the Declaration presented to the plenary session of the General Assembly, by Peru’s Ambassador to the UN, Luis Enrique Chávez.

The four votes against the declaration were from the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Those abstaining were Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, the Russian Federation, Samoa and Ukraine.

Morales expressed that this was a great passage in the fight for indigenous people and that the rights that native peoples had always possessed, but which had been denied to them, will now be exerted totally.

The declaration which consists of 46 articles, prohibits discrimination against indigenous peoples, promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them, and their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own visions of economic and social development.

It also indicates respect for the rights of the world’s indigenous people to their lands and access to the natural resources of their territories, the preservation of traditional knowledge and the right to self-determination.

According to Morales, these rights were never accepted by countries before, but that now they were accepted internationally with a massive vote in favor of indigenous people.

The President recalled previous meetings held with international representatives in Geneva - in the Commission on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples - that some countries, especially the United States, indicated natives belonged to a sub-national class, a third category of citizenship.

He acknowledged that the fight of the ancestors and leaders such as Tupac Katari and Bartolina Sisa - who committed themselves to fighting against injustice, inequality and racism - is now translated into a fortified movement on a world-wide level.

“Those of us who still deal with the ignorant ones, idiots, animals now understand, that the entire world recognizes that it is necessary to eliminate racism,” asserted Morales while denouncing the groups that look “to knock down the Indian President” because they can not accept that poor men are making changes in Bolivia.

International Call

The Head of State announced that in order to commemorate this historical event that he will summon the international indigenous movement to Bolivia from October 10-12.

On October 12, a celebration will be prepared, in answer to the 1492 invasion of Christopher Columbus that imposed policies and programs that retarded the development of the country and sacked the nation’s natural resources.

Organizations of farmers, federations, and unions have been called upon to manage sending invitations to the 134 countries that voted in favor of the declaration so that the indigenous movements can participate in a grand celebration for the rights of the people.

Translated from ABI


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bolivia & Issues Within Representative Democracy

SUCRE, BOLIVIA (digitalwarriormedia) On Monday, thousands of government supporters marched to demand the return of the Constituent Assembly. Peasant farmers, coca growers and other MAS supporters peacefully rallied in a soccer stadium for the "Social Summit in Defense of the Constitutional Assembly”. They avoided Sucre's downtown area, preventing potential clashes with anti-government protesters.

The pro-MAS social movements passed a resolution and fifteen social organizations issued a “Manifesto to the Bolivian People” calling on all sectors to defend 18 strategic points in the new Political Constitution of the State. The manifesto addressed corruption, land reform, natural resources, establishment of a plurinational state, and autonomy - among other issues.

Organizers said supporters of the Assembly will camp out in Sucre until the lawmaking body is able to complete its work and have vowed to defend the process of the Constituent Assembly – even with their lives.

As of Friday, the Assembly was suspended for a month with delegates fearing for their physical safety after demands for Sucre to become Bolivia’s sole capital erupted into violence over the past few weeks.

Ongoing protests by university students and other opposition members resulted in clashes with police over the rewriting of Bolivia’s constitution, as government opponents waged street battles with police in the streets of Sucre.

Located in the Chuquisaca department, the violence in Sucre prompted the September 4 resignation of Governor David Sanchez - a MAS member who stated he did not want to be held responsible for the erupting violence.

Days of violent conflict left more than 60 people injured after students attempted to break into the historic theater building where Assembly delegates were meeting on September 5.

Eyewitness accounts recall black smoke and teargas filling as protesters burned tires and marched through the streets, increasingly with batons and sticks in their hands, crying "democracy yes, dictatorship no".

"I call on all our brothers and sisters, in all of civil society, in the country and the city, to reflect in order to find a solution. We constitutional delegates do not want to be victims of the capital issue," stated Constitutional Assembly president Silvia Lazarte as she announced the month-long suspension.

The capital issue revolves around a dispute that has simmered since the country's civil war in 1898, when the nation’s legislative and executive branches of government were moved from the southern city of Sucre to the highlands in La Paz.

In 1899, La Paz was designated the nation’s “administrative capital”. Sucre remained Bolivia’s “judicial capital” - home to the judicial branch of its government including the nation’s highest court.

Since August 2006, Sucre has also hosted the nation’s Constituent Assembly – the body responsible for re-writing Bolivia’s constitution.

Over the past year, the constitutional debates remained precarious. Previously, the Assembly stalled for four months over voting procedures as MAS supporters and opposition parties failed to reach agreement.

The conflict over the capital represents the greatest challenge to the Constituent Assembly to date. The “capital issue” has stirred violent emotions in the streets and within the Assembly itself - where on August 23, delegates broke out into fisticuffs during deliberations over including the capital issue on its agenda. As a result, the Assembly was temporarily suspended.

After missing its August 2007 deadline, the Assembly has until December 14 to present a draft of the new constitution for a national vote. The proposed body of law must be approved by two-thirds of the 255 lawmakers, and then ratified in a nationwide referendum.

President Morales expressed concern that this capital debate could derail the entire process. He asserts that Sucre’s infrastructure can not support all three branches of the nation’s government, but has expressed a willingness to move certain departments in an attempt to reach a compromise.

Government supporters claim wealthy landowners and the rightist opposition - clandestinely funded by U.S. interests - are behind the Sucre movement and are using it to block the work of the Assembly.

Morales supporters have accused the U.S. of channeling funds to Bolivian opposition groups in an effort to try to destabilize the country. A charge publicly leveled last weekend by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, who accused the U.S. government of subverting the constitutional process by funding opposition groups in Sucre. Washington has denied the charges.

For the nation’s historically marginalized indigenous population, the Constituent Assembly represents an opportunity to eliminate discrimination and promises of a better future. But the opposition says Morales' drive to rewrite the constitution is aimed at weakening his opponents and winning more time in office.


Friday, September 07, 2007

BOLIVIA: @ A Boiling Point

LA PAZ, Aug 29 (DigitalWarriorMedia) - In a move that has further polarized the country, opponents of President Evo Morales, called a 24-hour business strike in six of Bolivia’s nine departments.

The strike led to clashes that left three people injured and according to the government, $28 million in economic losses.

Organized by conservative opposition parties, the strike was a response to calls from civic leaders, the business community and local authorities in the eastern department of Santa Cruz, as well as the departments of Beni, Chuquisaca, Cochabamba, Pando and Tarija.

The origins of the strike lay in the vast political differences between its organizers and the Morales administration over three major issues: the Constitutional Court, the Constituent Assembly and regional autonomy.

The first involves charges brought by Morales against four members of the Constitutional Court, who he accused of obstruction of justice and overstepping their authority after they dismissed from the Supreme Court four interim magistrates who the president had appointed in late 2006.

The second was the decision by the governing party majority in the Constituent Assembly, which is rewriting the constitution, not to consider the opposition’s demand for the relocation of the seats of the executive and legislative branches from La Paz to the much smaller Sucre, where the country’s courts are located. This move has drawn the ire of residents in Chuquisaca department.

And the third was the opposition’s call for regional autonomy for eastern provinces. The departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, and Tarija have sought greater autonomy from the central government in La Paz, since a nation-wide regional autonomy referendum was held in August 2006. These departments hold the majority of Bolivia's resource wealth and regional governors have formed a quasi-collective, sometimes referred to as the "Media Luna" or Half-Moon Crescent, to counter the national influence of Morales supporters.

The departments that were not affected by the strike were La Paz, Oruro and Potosí in the west.

Violence Erupts

Two people were injured in the central city of Santa Cruz, one of whom was hit by a vehicle driven by members of the opposition Unión Juvenil Cruceñista party - a group that has been accused by Morales supporters of inciting violence and using paramilitary tactics.

The attacks occurred in the Mercado del Abasto where youths armed with sticks, shattered shop windows and destroyed furniture and other objects belonging to the vendors, most of whom are poor indigenous people who support Morales. The police intervened to prevent further clashes.

In the central city of Cochabamba, government supporters cleared streets blocked by pro-business civic committees, and a member of the anti-riot police was injured in incidents that broke out.

John Vargas, a former deputy minister of planning and the main architect of the government’s national development plan, told IPS that "the economic elites are afraid of losing their privileged access to political power and the advantages offered by control of the state."

He said the Morales adminstration is promoting a development model that is transforming the country by breaking with an old model based on commodity exports and a state apparatus that is directed by elites who have had a tight grip on power since colonization.

The new economic model, which is focused on the diversification of production and on expanding the participation and influence of other segments of society, especially the country’s long-marginalised indigenous people, has reduced the power of the regional elites, said Vargas.

Vargas claimed that Tuesday’s strike was aimed at defending the elite’s privileged access to the country’s natural gas and other resources, as well as government loans. He said the strategy of confrontation that the business communities and civic committees of Santa Cruz have followed over the last few months is losing steam while the government is being strengthened by the support of a broad range of social movements and sectors.

The Morales government and its supporters attempted for peacefully reforms adopted by the Constituent Assembly, however it failed to reach solutions to key unresolved issues, and now the political and social forces are taking to the streets, political analyst María Teresa Zegada told IPS. She described the situation as "disturbing."

"The questions of the transfer to Sucre, regional autonomy, and a multinational state" that would recognise different ethnic groups, as demanded by indigenous communities, "should have been resolved by the Constituent Assembly," said Zegada.

After the Constituent Assembly, decided not to debate the relocation of the executive and legislative branches to Sucre, work on the new constitution came to a halt on August 23rd.

"The leaders should find a solution to the collapse of the assembly. There is still time to avoid a scenario of outright confrontation, and to stand by and strengthen our institutions," she said.

The Morales administration is trying to engage civic leaders in Sucre in talks, and has offered to relocate some legislative committees to the city.

The government is prepared to negotiate a solution to the crisis triggered by the demand to transfer the capital to Sucre, and wants to salvage the Constituent Assembly, which failed to produce a draft constitution by the deadline of August 6. It's new deadline has been set for December 14th of this year.

Vice President Álvaro García Linera has called for a march by government supporters in Sucre on Sept. 10, to make sure the Constituent Assembly is allowed to continue working.

Edited from IPS Original Source