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Bolivian crisis unites South America against US

By Rodrigo Acuńa - posted Tuesday, 14 October 2008


Despite the lack of in-depth coverage by the international media, the recent political crisis in Bolivia has made two things clear.

For a start, it seems the government of Evo Morales still has the backing of the majority of the population and, until now, most of the rank and file of the armed forces.

Second, the crisis has allowed South American countries to rally behind Morales through the new Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in contrast to the US led Organisation of American States (OAS) - traditionally the forum to discuss such matters.

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Having won the presidency in 2005 by 54 per cent - the largest electoral victory in the country's history - Morales' Movement for Socialism (MAS) took office after a backlash against neoliberal economics and the mobilisation of Bolivia's indigenous peoples who represent over 60 per cent of the population.

While some social movements have been far from happy at the pace of change, the MAS administration has taken many measures to address poverty.

Renationalising the hydrocarbons sector, the government from 2004-2007 increased its revenue by $US1.3 billion - approximately 10 per cent of GDP - according to the Washington based Center for Economic and Policy Research.

In 2007, six new national hospitals were built as MAS - with Venezuelan funds and through the aid of Cuban doctors and teachers - has been aiming to establish basic health care and education for Bolivians.

Placing his administration to a recall referendum last August, Morales triumphed by 67.4 per cent of the vote making inroads by up to 20 per cent into opposition territory such as the resource-rich eastern departments of Beni, Pando and Tarija.

None of these trends have curtailed the actions of the local opposition and Washington from destabilising the Morales government.

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Soon after their defeat in the referendum, the opposition, headed by right-wing separatists and their paramilitary groups in Santa Cruz, engaged in violent demonstrations and takeovers of government buildings.

Scenes of opposition leaders, often of European decent, insulting Morales as that "bloody Indian" trade unionist became all too common as their followers beat up MAS supporters (including unarmed women) and burnt down government offices.

In El Porvenir, Pando, some 30 peasants were killed while up to as many as 40 persons have disappeared in what one analyst called the worst massacre "since right-wing President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada presided over the slaughter of more than 70 unarmed protestors in October 2003".

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First published in ABC's Unleashed on September 30, 2008.



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About the Author

Rodrigo Acuńa is a PhD candidate in International Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney. A recipient of Benchmark Prize in Hispanic Studies by the University of New South Wales, he was also runner up for Open Prose in the Unsweetened 2007 Literary Journal. He writes regularly on Latin American affairs and has presented seminars at various Australian universities on political developments in Venezuela, as well as other Latin American countries.

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