learning from bolivia & venezuela

I think that what is happening in South American right now would serve as a fantastic example for countries in the so-called Middle East. It was brilliant, just brilliant to watch Chávez and Morales kick out their U.S. ambassadors. What if Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan followed suit? What if the Palestinian Authority told Bush and Rice and company they were no longer welcome here?

Countries that the U.S. has spent decades on intervening in, creating coups, training militias to fight in, creating massacres if not genocides in have basically had a reprieve since September 11th given that the U.S. fixated its energies on Western Asia instead. Thus, we’ve seen a revival of the left in places like Bolivia and Venezuela and solidarity among the political left. And we’ve also seen the increasing freedom from U.S.-backed dictatorships and coups in the region, all of which always included large-scale disappearances, massacres, and of course state-sponsored terrorism:

Former military dictator Jorge Rafael Videla and 16 other military leaders in Argentina will be prosecuted on charges of conspiring to kidnap and kill political activists in a scheme known as Plan Condor, developed by Henry Kissinger and George Bush Sr., head of the CIA at the time. Dictators in Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina killed opponents in the 1970s and 80s under the plan, also known as Operation Condor. The United States and Latin American military governments developed Operation Condor as a a transnational, state-sponsored terrorist coalition among the militaries of South America. In Argentina alone some 30,000 people were disappeared as result, leaving loved ones to seek justice decades later.

Instead of solidarity aligned with U.S.-backed dictators, it seems there is real solidarity not only between Venezuela and Bolivia, but also Honduras, El Salvador, Argentina, and Brazil. I’m sure those watching the news or reading the newspaper in the U.S. are horrified by the idea that these countries would kick out their U.S. ambassadors. But here is a perfect example for the world to examine the dangers of soft power and the ways in which the U.S. always uses “aid” as a means to corrupt and control other countries (this is why many smart Palestinians and Lebanese refused to have anything to do with USAID projects):

In the midst of the violence and property destruction, Bolivian president Evo Morales declared U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg “persona non grata” and asked him to be expelled, suggesting he is aiding organizations behind the violence and sabotage. Despite numerous requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act, the U.S. has not turned over all the names of recipient organizations of USAID funds. Bolivia is a major recipient of USAID money, with millions of dollars sent to groups there. The U.S. also funds groups in Bolivia through the National Endowment for Democracy and related organizations.

“USAID is not supposed to be a clandestine organization, but nevertheless the U.S. government refuses to divulge which groups in Bolivia are supported with U.S. tax dollars,” Weisbrot said. “By providing clandestine aid to groups that are almost certainly in the opposition, it gives the impression that the U.S. is contributing to efforts to destabilize the Bolivian government.”

The U.S. Embassy in Bolivia has been implicated in a number of events that suggest it may be seeking to undermine Morales’ government. In February of this year it was revealed that the Embassy had repeatedly asked Peace Corps volunteers and a Fulbright Scholar to spy on people inside Bolivia. USAID has an “Office of Transition Initiatives” operating in Bolivia, funneling millions of dollars of training and support to right-wing opposition regional governments and movements.

Thus, there is a clear trajectory here of USAID as well as the Peace Corps and Fulbright alike being asked to or doing shady things for the U.S. government. It’s not wonder that those of us who have had Fulbright scholarships, for instance, are often viewed with suspicion (and we should be!). And yet there is more–check this out on Goldberg, the former ambassador to Bolivia:

Goldberg is known by Bolivians and many in the policy world as “the Ambassador of Ethnic Cleansing” for his previous role as Special Assistant to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, one of the architects of the breakup of Yugoslavia. He also promoted the separation of Serbia and Montenegro, and helped foment conflict between Serbian and Albanian forces in Kosovo. It would seem that Goldberg has a particular knack for promoting racial and ethnic divisions, and that doing so has been central to his political career. Among Goldberg’s closest friends are Croatian businessmen in Santa Cruz, who happen to be leaders of the opposition’s “Nación Camba” movement and the local “Civic Committee,” one of the main proponents of destabilization in Bolivia.

I’m sure that none of this gets reported in the American mainstream media. I can see it now: Morales is being portrayed as a leader belligerent to democracy and freedom. And if American troops were not already overextended they would surely have touched ground by now (or those trained in the School of the Americas would do the dirty work for them).

But here is what we can learn from this example of standing up to the U.S., standing up for justice. Because what they are standing up to is the usual divide and rule tactics that the U.S. and other imperial powers have always used and will continue to use. We can see parallels in Palestine with the Zionist state propping up Hamas in the early days and the Americans arming Fatah now; this is great for the U.S. and Israel: both of them think that it is far better and easier to have Palestinians killing themselves. It makes it easier for them to point at Palestinians and pretend like they can prove their racist claims.

But there is another precedent here, which I think is more pressing at the moment. As I read in the news today that Abbas may or may not be ready to sign an agreement selling most Palestinian refugees rights further down the river (as if that is possible), I cannot help but think that it would be such an amazing coup for the PA–or better yet reviving the old PLO, or just Palestinians around the world more generally–to just say no to such unjust compromises that only ever force Palestinians to submit to the Israelis while they never do anything or give anything; they only know how to take. Here is what is troubling me in particular:

Among the important points of this document is that Palestinians would give up the right of return for the Palestinian refugees who were dispossessed from their land in 1948 by the Jewish gangs.

On the other hand, statements Ahmad Qurie, the chief Palestinian negotiator and Dr. Sa’eb Ereikat, chair of the negotiations’ department who assured that no agreement has been reached are meant to absorb the expected rejection of such an agreement.

The document explains that only 15 to 20 thousand refugees will be allowed back to their land on a 10-year timetable, however, they are not allowed to return with their children and grand children. This means that people aged 60 – 80 would constitute the majority of the returnees.

Really, there are no words for the level of disgust and despair I feel over the ways in which these leaders sell out their people. I want to put them all on a plane and make them witness Chávez’s example up close. We have so much to learn–especially from indigenous leaders like Morales who finally have taken their country back and are working hard to keep it for the people. Just for a counterpoint, here is how Americans still treat its indigenous population. Take a look at a Native American community from New Orleans and how it continues to be dispossessed by the state:


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