The Bolivian Right wing and transnational interests invest millions of dollars to buy new leadership, invent causes lacking in credibility, promote discontent, and destabilize a process that is at the service of all.
Juan Carlos Zambrana Marchetti (*) – Washington, EEUU
“What the heck is happening to the Bolivians?” many people abroad asked themselves in October 2003, reading the news that social organizations had surrounded the Palace of president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, and that the armed forces repressed the people with lethal weapons. They did not understand that in Bolivia, a country where protests had been a means of struggle against dictatorship, mere constitutionality was not enough to guarantee governability. Also needed was the government’s loyalty to national interests, as in its democratic evolution the nation had to undergo the false democracies of puppet governments, which served transnational corporate interests that imposed neoliberalism, looting, and exploitation.
I explained then that the people, in attempting to protect themselves, institute their government, but when the latter betrays its mandate by giving 82 percent of the oil industry to the transnational companies in order to comply with the Washington Consensus, and raises taxes on an impoverished population in order to pay the interest on the national debt, the people have the right to protest and to demand change, in order to bring about a different government more loyal to their interests.
What is incomprehensible now is that, just when that poor and indigenous populace for the first time was able to take back from the elites the representation of the political space that belonged to them, and made a turn of 180 degrees in the direction of the country, the waves of protest and destabilization are exacerbated rather than disappearing. The only logical explanation is that, historically, Bolivia as a country has been battered, first by imperialism and then by the dictatorships and neoliberalism.
The problem is that during the resistance against those abuses the Bolivian people made use of protests so much that now, having defeated neoliberalism, that inclination to protest is used by extremists from Right and Left: the former, to turn around the process of change, and the latter, to radicalize it.
They even coordinate forces, knowing that the people are accustomed to the myopia of seeing only sectarian and ill-understood interests, failing to see the common good or the overall plan of the government for taking the country out of its backwardness.
“The Indian knows how to protest, but not how to govern,” was the racist concept with which the whites always acted politically to manipulate the people against their own interests. It’s an erroneous concept, of course, but one that, incredibly, still works, and that now is used even by anti-Evo mestizo and indigenous leaders, as well as, obviously, by the Bolivian Right and transnational interests, which invest millions of dollars to buy new leadership, invent causes without credibility, promote discontent, and create the destabilization that we see currently.
“Evo protested his way to power, and only by means of protests will he be overthrown,” concluded the Right after its overwhelming electoral defeat, when it realized that it could no longer show its face in the ideological battle between looting and the defense of the country, nor facing the reality that the indigenous people had decided to take from the Right definitively the representation of the overwhelming political space that belonged to themselves. “We’ll screw him with his own medicine,” they concluded, and with the help of its private media convinced the people, and even the President that, having marched in the past, he now lacks moral authority to oppose the marches.
That’s why, when all is improving in Bolivia, the protests worsen, and the enemies of change hide their faces and find new puppets. Political operators infiltrate different social sectors to promote destabilization under any pretext and to spread disinformation, seeking to create the vicious circle of action and reaction even if it is all absolutely false.
The media show images of indigenous people, or of the new political agents, now looking like indigenous people, protesting against an indigenous government. The headlines report step by step the internal mechanisms of the rise in violence that previously they ignored.
Demands, states of emergency, measures of force, the radicalization of pressures, hunger strikes, “crucifixions,” roadblocks, valve closures, marches, and more marches.
It is ironic that the most legitimate government that the Bolivian people have had has been infected with a Trojan-horse virus that is manipulated from afar, and which, if it is not eliminated, will destroy the government from within. I think it’s time to regulate in Bolivia not just the instances in which direct democracy will unfold, but also protests.
If China is the world’s model of economic growth, and its partner the United States is the supposed Mecca of democracy, then Bolivia must recognize the common element that those two powers of opposing ideologies share with the rest of the democratic world: ensuring respect for governability and social peace, in order to preserve the conditions for growth, respect for democracy, welfare, and prosperity. Among the most basic rights of the human being are those of free movement, access to public transportation and to the health system, and basic conditions of social peace that allow the people to work in dignity toward their happiness.
It is true that PEACEFUL protest is a right. It cannot be prohibited, but it needs urgently to be regulated, so that it can be exercised without violating the above-mentioned rights.
Strikes and marches must be lawful, and regulated and protected by law as legitimate forms of popular expression, but blockades, valve shut-offs, and attacks against public or private property are crimes that must be sanctioned. Following are some examples of how protests are regulated in other countries.
Marches may represent sectors, but without being political-partisan, as the latter contest ends, as far as the streets, on election day, when the Congress becomes the voice of the representatives of the people and is strictly regulated by democratic principles.
The promoters of a march must obtain a permit from the relevant authorities, so that both parts can be responsible for the peaceful carrying out of the march.
The march will follow a programmed route, as the government will need to prepare logistically in order to maintain order. The march will use only one lane of a highway, or half a street, so as to permit circulation on the other half. The police will have the obligation of enforcing the norms as well as of protecting the marchers. The permit application will be free when for its purposes the forces available and in place are sufficient; but, when the marches are long, and the protection of the same requires the deployment of special police forces, observers, medical personnel, etc., the expenses will be paid by the organizers of the march.
The application will be signed by all of the organizers, who from that moment on shall be responsible on their part for maintaining order. All political-partisan infiltration, including financing, shall become a crime of sedition, instigation and illicit association to commit a crime, which must be punished with imprisonment of the material actors, as well as of those who planned and financed the acts at issue.
Should the police repress the marches unjustly, they should be charged and tried; but, at the same time, should the marchers provoke and create clashes, they should be judged according to law. Material damages also cannot remain in impunity, and would be paid for by the organizers.
It’s no easy task to define the exact limits of behavior in a democracy in order to safeguard the rights of all, but it is up to the Plurinational Assembly to carry out the debates necessary to arrive at that definition.
Bolivian democracy is in reality still young and little refined, but it is genuine, courageous and innovative. It is an example for the world in many respects, but, while in that evolutionary process, it is urgent that it cease to be so vulnerable, achieving a level of respect for public order and institutions.
If in Bolivia the legitimacy of the government emanates not just from the voting booths, but also from its loyalty to national interests, the government of Evo Morales has all the moral authority to do what may be necessary, because it is not a puppet and servile government of the transnational corporate interests that imposed neoliberalism, looting, and exploitation. Even if Trotskyists and fascists say otherwise in trying to radicalize or turn back the process of change, the people have ratified their confidence in the president in two consecutive elections.
The truth is that the majority of the people are tired of being mistreated.
(*) Correspondent of Cambio in the United States.