bartolinas-playground-poster

Talk, Sep 29 in SF: Unarmed Militants and Irrepressible Uprisings in Bolivia

Unarmed Militants and Irrepressible Uprisings:
Beyond Violence and Nonviolence in Bolivia

Twenty-first century Bolivia is the scene of one of Latin America’s most dramatic revolts against neoliberalism, including two popular overthrows of elected presidents. Compared with classical models of revolution, recent revolts around the world have expanded more quickly, involve enormous numbers of people, and rely far less on armed violence as a means. Anthropologist Carwil Bjork-James conducted in-depth research on Bolivia as an ethnographer of street protest, and an oral historian of the country’s active grassroots movements. In this talk, he looks at urban Bolivian activists who organize road blockades and strike waves as unarmed militants: people who face armed police with little more barricades and the force of will. Unarmed militants fight back in uneven battles in order to hold physical space, obstruct the flows of daily life, and impose social costs, yet claim some of the moral purity of principled nonviolent activists and survivors of military dictatorship.

This talk places these Bolivian experiences in a global conversation among unarmed militant practices and theories from Oaxaca, Argentina, Egypt, and North America. It also questions the way a black-and-white binary between advocates of nonviolence and proponents of armed struggle have hidden successful experience that can’t be defined as either. What options, examples, and strategies are we missing when we are too quick to draw this line?Read More »

EnfrentamientoPanduro-Aug16-AFP

Cooperative Mining Protest leaves Vice Minister, Five Protesters Dead in Bolivia

Vice Minister Rodolfo Illanes, in charge of Bolivian security forces within the Ministry of Government, was killed Thursday night after being held captive by protesting cooperative miners. Illanes was part of a negotiating team sent arrange talks with a national protest campaign. He went to Panduro, a town on the La Paz–Oruro highway, Thursday morning, where he was taken hostage by members of the Federation of Cooperative Miners (Fencomin). Later in the day, he was brutally beaten to death and then left on the side of the highway. His capture and death came on the second of two deadly days of confrontations between miners and police attempting to disperse their blockades of Bolivia’s principal highways.

Recent confrontations around the government’s effort to clear road blockades by cooperative miners have been unusually violent and intense. Two miners died of gunshot wounds on Wednesday at Sayari (on the Oruro–Cochabamba highway), Fermín Mamani (25 years old) and Severino Ichota (41), according to national government prosecutors who have opened investigations of their deaths. A third, Rubén Aparaya Pillco, was reportedly shot dead on Thursday at Panduro, near where Illanes was being held. At two more miner’s lives were cut short: Freddy Ambrosio Rojas (26) died on Saturday after suffering severe injuries while holding dynamite at the Panduro confrontation. Pedro Mamani Massi (41) suffered a gunshot to the head and suffered brain death in the hospital;  he remains on life support without prospect for recovery. he died on September 1 and was mourned by his family in El Alto.

As part of my research, I have been compiling a database of deaths in political conflict in Bolivia during the current (post-1982) democratic period. This work is still in process, but can help to put current events into context. This week’s events make 2016 the deadliest year since 2008, with 13 fatalities. In February, six municipal workers died in the city hall of El Alto (the nation’s second largest city) as the result of an arson attack by protesters. In January, soldiers beat a trucking worker to death during a pressure campaign by that sector.

Deaths in Bolivian protest have been less common under the presidency of Evo Morales than in the past and killings by state security forces (army and police) make up a smaller fraction of deaths than under Morales’ predecessors. We’ve identified 91 deaths during Morales’ ten years in office (including those this week), and fewer than a third of them were carried out by security forces. Meanwhile, at least twenty-one deaths under the Morales administration have come in conflicts among mineworkers or between mineworkers and community members: 16 in 2006, two in 2008; one in 2012; and two in 2015. Two cooperative miners were killed by police during 2014 protests in Cochabamba, during a confrontation in which police were also taken hostage. Altogether, four members of the police or military have died in political conflicts since 2006. Vice Minister Illanes is the first senior official to be killed.

This confrontation does not herald a general confrontation between state and society or among larger political forces. No other sectors have joined Fencomin’s protests and the group is at odds with waged mine workers who play a key role in the national labor movement. Cooperative miners are longtime allies of the MAS government, backed President Morales’ re-election in 2014, and endorsed another term for him as recently as May.

Since 2009, the most intense conflicts in Bolivian society have occurred within the broad grassroots left coalition that backed the rise of Evo Morales to power. The government has routinely alleged that protests from within the grassroots left have an anti-government political agenda, and did so again this week, but these claims are often unsubstantiated. The 2006-08 conflict between the Morales government and secession-oriented right-wing movements has long since concluded, and is unrelated to the current protests.Read More »

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 1.31.36 PM

Bolivia’s new business model: Custom laws for foreign investors

At last November’s Investing in the New Bolivia event, the Evo Morales government rolled out the red carpet for foreign corporations, with a little help from the Financial Times. Standing before an audience of executives and investment managers (no officials below the Chief Officer level allowed) at the Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan, President Morales made a personal plea for the need for foreign investment:

We are accelerating our investment—the big problem that we have is with [our] private companies … Bolivian private companies are very small, and not even the state has the companies to build [on the scale we need]. This is what obliges us to come hear and propose to you to see how you can be of service, how you can be our partners.

Y estamos acelerando en tema de inversión—el gran problema que tenemos es con las empresas privadas,  … nuestros empresarios bolivianos son muy pequeños, ni el estado tiene empresas para construir. Este es lo que nos obliga venir acá plantearles a ver como pueden prestar servicio, pero pueden ser socios.

Development Minister Rene Orellana took it from there. In addition to a secure investment environment, secured by three new laws protecting investors, the Bolivian government offered direct support for investors. Orellana proposed that the government’s legislative and executive powers would be put at the disposal of foreign investors. Working together with investors, the state could “define or approve concrete norms, let me say laws or even Supreme Decrees, to support the initiatives to invest in Bolivia. So we are open to have a bilateral dialogue with those who are interested in investing in Bolivia” (originally in English).

At the center of this push is energy: generating electricity (mostly from large dams) and extracting fossil fuels. While exporting gas is the largest contributor to Bolivia’s trade surplus and the country has nearly doubled production since 2006, the sector has long struggled to find new gas resources and has been hard hit by falling prices. The state-owned gas producer YPFB has not found a major new field since the 1990s. For long- and short-term reasons, the Evo Morales government has declared attracting new investment in hydrocarbons a strategic priority.

In newly published interviews with Erbol, two experts on the oil and gas sector, Francesco Zaratti and Hugo del Granado argue that the Bolivian government is custom-tailoring laws to the needs of foreign corporations, Total . In December 2015, Bolivia passed an Incentives Law (Law 767: Ley de Promoción de inversión en exploración y explotación hidrocarburifera, full text) that transfers 12% of hydrocarbon tax revenue to a special fund to reward companies that make large investments in the sector. State incentives total US$2.89 billion. Zaratti argues the law had one particular company in mind:

“Mi criterio particular es que estas dos leyes son trajes hechos a la medida de algunas empresas. Por ejemplo, la primera ley de incentivos de diciembre del año pasado parecería estar hecha a medida de Total, con el fin de que pueda desarrollar el campo Incahuasi y Aquío, reservas conocidas, pero que no se volvían comerciales porque había algo que impedía a Total hacer la inversión necesaria para adecuar al campo.”

“My personal view is that these two laws are suits made to the measure of certain companies. For example, the first Incentives Law of December of last year seems to be made to fit Total, with the goal of it developing the Incahuasi and Aquío Field, whose [gas] reserves are already known but which has not been commercialized because something prevented Total from making the necessary investment to prepare the field.”

In May 2016, the government proposed amending the Incentives Law to extend the  production contracts of oil and gas corporations willing to commit at least $350 million to exploratory drilling or at least $500 million to exploration and production. Potential beneficiaries of this amendment include Repsol, Total, Pluspetrol, Panamerican, Petrobras, YPFB Andina, and British Gas. The amendment passed last week.

By returning tax funds guaranteed to regional and local governments, universities, and the Indigenous Fund, the Incentives Law rolls back one of the major gains of Bolivia’s partial nationalization of gas, demanded by the 2003 protests and delivered in 2006. However, the Morales government insists any short term losses will be made up when new investment produces a larger pie of gas export revenues beginning in 2017.

For now, a precedent has been set: even plurinational Bolivia will modify its domestic laws to attract and subsidize foreign corporate investment. The slide from 21st-century socialism to 21st-century capitalism continues.

InvestingNewBolivia-NameCards

Bolivian government tells investors: “The era of nationalization has already finished.”

“We have now finished the legal framework in order to invite foreign investment to come to Bolivia. This legal framework is mainly composed by three things, the Law of Investments, the Law of Public Companies, and the Law of Conciliation and Arbitrage. These three laws have been already finished. They have been also conciliated, elaborated […]

OEP-PieChart

Bolivia voters set a limit on President Evo Morales

As previewed on this blog, Bolivians went to the polls on February 21 to decide on whether the 2009 Constitution should be amended to allow Evo Morales to run for a fourth term in 2020. There was strong participation, with 84.45% of registered voters going to the polls (a stronger showing than the 2015 regional election, but below the turnout in the last national vote). The result was a narrow but convincing defeat for Morales and the MAS party: 51.30% of voters rejected the constitutional change. (Final results)

Here are five quick things to take away from this result.

  1. This vote on Evo Morales getting a fourth term wasn’t to some extent a referendum on Evo Morales, but it was not a referendum on leftism, indigeneity, or standing up to neoliberalism. Evo’s personal image took a major hit with the revelation of his affair with Gabriela Zapata, a young law student in 2006 and 2007 who later became a well-paid representative of CAMC, a major government contractor. This scandalous revelation brought a whiff of corruption to the president in the final week of campaigning. Meanwhile, a deadly arson apparently set by pro-government protesters in the El Alto city hall undermined the standing of the governing Movement Towards Socialism party.
  2. Despite these winds, public perception of Evo Morales remained fairly positive. Polls showed his approval at 58%, far ahead of the support level for term extension. So, a significant fraction of the public supports him in his third term, but refuses to grant him a fourth. A narrative, transplanted from Venezuela, of collapsing support for a leftist goverment simply does not apply to the Bolivian referendum.
  3. The NO campaign on the referendum united left and indigenous critics of the government, advocates of rotating leadership, and right-wing opposition. This kind of tacit alliance has never fully coalesced before, although it appeared to some extent in the successful, if ineffectual, calls for blank or null ballots in the 2012 judicial elections. It also is highly unlikely for these forces to come together again in national elections. Nonetheless, the referendum did prompt a number of left dissidents to step forward as possible participants in 2019 elections. It remains to be seen which of their political projects will endure, win ballot access, and compete in that contest.
  4. The MAS and the YES campaign have lost Potosí. While all four of the western capital cities—La Paz, Oruro, Cochabamba, and Potosí —voted agaist the referendum, the poor and left-identified city of Potosí did so overwhelmingly. Over 85% of Potosinos refused to back another term for Morales. The department was once a MAS stronghold and has no significant right-wing presence, but its capital has spearheaded major protest campaigns in 2010 and 2015 demanding greater investment and new jobs. Serious disenchantment with the national government has set in.
  5. The MAS has a major challenge in candidate selection for 2019. It simply hasn’t been cultivating middle-level leaders to become national figures. There are certainly high-level party loyalists, like Silvia Lazarte, and a few long-time cabinet members, including David Choquehuanca, but no obvious successor to Evo. Meanwhile, numerous prominent MAS members of the past have gone from rising stars, to despised free thinkers (libre pensantes), to ex-members of the party. Still, Bolivia’s presidential runoff system and demographic composition makes it very difficult for a right-wing or anti-indigenous candidate to win. The interesting question is whether a left outsider could make it into that second round.

Other commentary on the results:

Lliquimuni drillsite arises out of a cleared area in a cloud-shrouded forest

Lliquimuni test well in Bolivian Amazon fails

The joint Bolivian-Venezuela state oil company Petroandina has announced that its exploratory drilling well Lliquimuni Centro X1 failed to find commercially viable quantities of oil after 440 days of drilling. As previously covered here, the Lliquimuni oil block is among those posing the greatest future environmental risk in Bolivia due to its location in the fragile Amazon rainforest and the lack of any reliable infrastructure to pump oil and gas extracted at the site to outside markets.

The government of Evo Morales has made extravagant claims about the potential of the block, located in northern La Paz department, suggesting that as many as 50 million barrels of oil and 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas may be lie beneath the ground there. However, the $170-million dollar effort to find this oil has yet to produce a successful result. While oil and gas exist below the site, the quantities found would not be profitable to extract.

Undaunted, Minister of Hydrocarbons and Energy Luis Alberto Sánchez pledged to La Razón:

We will continue exploratory activities in the north of La Paz. We will not rest in the search for hydrocarbons; if the first well was not successful, the news isn’t discouraging since will will continue exploration in other wells until we find the reservoir that we know is there.

“Seguiremos las actividades exploratorias en el norte de La Paz. No vamos a descansar en la búsqueda de hidrocarburos; si bien el primer pozo no fue exitoso, la noticia no es desalentadora porque continuaremos la actividad exploratoria en otros pozos hasta encontrar el reservorio que sabemos que se encuentra ahí”

Despite his perseverance, the odds against a major oil complex in Lliquimuni have just gotten longer.

GustavoCastroSoto

(translated) Environmental activist Gustavo Castro is in danger in the community of La Esperanza, Honduras

[Not my translation, but I urge you to take action in response. Want to act immediately? Click here. —CBJ]

[March 8 update: Gustavo Castro Soto remains in Honduras, where the government has extended its order forbidding him to depart to his native Mexico for 30 more days. Gustavo’s anti-mining organization, the Movimiento M4, has a new action alert (in English here|Spanish original) urging continued pressure.  ]

Below is an action alert put out this morning, March 7, by Otros Mundos/Friends of the Earth Mexico, the organization headed by Mexican Gustavo Castro Soto, who is the sole witness to the assassination of COPINH leader Berta Caceres. (Gustavo is also co-founder and board member of Other Worlds, and coordinator of the Central American-wide anti-dam network, M4.) Gustavo was providing peace accompaniment to Berta on her last night of life; he himself was shot twice. Gustavo was immediately detained in inhumane conditions by the Honduran government for days for “questioning.” Thanks to national and international pressure, he was finally released and was accompanied by the Mexican ambassador and consul to the airport in Tegucigalpa. He was just about to go through customs when Honduran authorities tried to forcibly grab him. The Mexican government successfully intervened, and put Gustavo into protective custody in the Mexican Embassy. Now, the Honduran government has prevailed and reclaimed Gustavo, taking him back to the town of La Esperanza, where Berta lived and was killed. Gustavo is in terrible danger in Honduran custody, as what he witnessed is an impediment to the government’s attempts to pin Berta’s murder on COPINH itself.

Please take the actions requested below. Like Berta, Gustavo is a key leader to popular struggles against corporate extraction, government malfeasance, and US intervention in Mesoamerica. As Berta was, Gustavo’s life is in grave danger.

(from Otros Mundos [original here])…

BREAKING! Gustavo Castro is in danger in the community of La Esperanza, Honduras
March 7, 2016

– To the Secretary of Human Rights, Justice, Interior, and Decentralization of Honduras
– To the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Honduras
– To the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico
– For national and international attention
– To all organizations defending human rights

At present, the Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro Soto, Coordinator of Other Worlds AC/Friends of the Earth Mexico, is adding to his statement in La Esperanza, Intibucá, southeastern Honduras, where he was the victim of an assassination attempt in which indigenous rights defender Berta Cáceres was murdered on March 3.

We are on HIGH ALERT because his departure from the Embassy of Mexico and transfer back to La Esperanza represent a high risk for his physical security and psychological wellbeing.

On Sunday, March 6, upon trying to leave Honduras, legally and under the protection of the Mexican Embassy in Honduras, he was arbitrarily intercepted by Honduran authorities before passing through immigration at the Tegucigalpa International Airport. They detained him under the justification that he needed to expand upon his declaration, but without notifying him of this previously.

We want to point out that Gustavo Castro in no way resisted making the full declaration that was asked of him, and he has accepted this request to expand his statement in the interest of clarifying the facts surrounding the assassination of Berta Cáceres, and to avoid the criminalization of members of COPINH.

Despite all of the requests made to ensure that this new declaration be made under proper conditions, to guarantee his physical safety and psychological well-being within the Mexican Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the General Prosecutor decided that Gustavo needed to make his statement in La Esperanza. We believe that this puts him in physical and psychological danger. We demand guarantee for Gustavo’s safety and security during the process of expanding his declaration and during his travel from the Embassy of Mexico in Tegucigalpa. We demand that the government of Honduras fulfill its promise to lift the immigration hold that prevented Gustavo Castro from immediately leaving Honduras after completing his required statement, since there is no reason to keep him in the country.

We ask everyone to act and help us demand Gustavo’s safety and security by contacting:

The Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico/Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores de México, (55) 3686 – 5100 y (55) 3686 – 5581
gobmx@funcionpublica.gob.mx
@SRE_mx

The National Commission on Human Rights of Mexico/Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos de México
(55) 56 81 81 25 |  (55) 54 90 74 00
cenadeh@cndh.org.mx
@CNDH

The Secretary of Human Rights, Justice, Interior and Decentralization of Honduras/La Secretaría de Derechos Humanos, Justicia, Gobernación y Descentralización de Honduras
(504) 2232-7800 y (504) 2232-8900
@sdhjgdhn

Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Honduras
(504) 2236-0200 y (504) 2236-03-00
cancilleria.honduras@gmail.com
@SRECIHonduras

Further contacts recommended by the Center for International Environmental Law. You can also use their online solidarity letter generator.

Honduran Embassy in United States
Email:consulado.washington@hondurasemb.org
Fax:202.525.4004

Honduran Embassy in Canada
Email:ambassador@embassyhonduras.hn
Fax:613 232 0193

Canadian Embassy in Honduras
Email:sjcra@international.gc.ca

US Embassy in Honduras
Email:irctgu@state.gov

CONADEH
Email:centrooriente@conadeh.hn
Email:secretaria.despacho@conadeh.hn