[by Gerry Foley]
A latent civil war in Bolivia was defused temporarily by a holiday truce and the Morales government’s offer of “dialogue” with its right-wing opposition. But the rightists continue to consolidate a regime of reactionary and racist terror in the southeastern provinces, known as the “Media Luna” (the “Half Moon”), and in some border areas, notably Sucre, the country’s judicial capital.
The southeastern provinces, called “prefecturas,” have a majority Caucasian or mixed population, and have historically been dominated by the right. The highlands, or “Altiplano,” has a predominately indigenous population, which forms the national majority and has a radical tradition.
One of the objectives of the rightists was to transfer the political capital of the country from La Paz, which is in the highlands and subject to the pressure of the radicalized masses, to Sucre, which is in an intermediate zone. Pushing this demand, the rightists organized riots in Sucre that forced the prefect of the province, a member of the ruling party, to flee and plead for asylum in Peru.
The opposition-governed “prefecturas” have in fact seceded from the country for most practical purposes. (Formal secession would be difficult because U.S. imperialism and the neighboring bourgeois governments undoubtedly fear that the breakup of the Bolivian state could create dangerous instabilities in the region.).
It is possible that the local conflict between a reactionary racist ruling class in the Media Luna and a government that claims to represent the indigenous majority has developed a dynamic of its own. But the secessionist right is the pillar of bourgeois power in Bolivia and, however reluctantly, in the last analysis U.S. imperialism will continue to rely on it.
The most important of the southeastern provinces has long had an important fascist tradition represented by the Falange, as well as other groups. Many of the local landowners are German and south Slavic refugees from the defeat of Nazism in Europe. As it happens, the chairman of the Santa Cruz Comite Civico is a Branko Marinkovic.
The “Civic Committees” in the separatist provinces are parallel government bodies, along with the newly formed Provisional Autonomist Assemblies. The rightists have whipped a campaign of hysteria about a possible influx into the lowlands of indigenous peasants from the more densely populated Altiplano. The “autonomists” are demanding that that the royalties paid by foreign companies exploiting Bolivian natural resources go first to the prefectural governments, which can then decide how much they want to send to the national government, and that the prefectures establish their own citizenship rules.
Most of the available agricultural land and the most profitable resources (oil and natural gas, as well as iron and magnesium) are concentrated in the southeastern prefectures. The natural resources on which the Bolivian economy was based in the past – the silver, lead, and tin mines – are concentrated in the highlands, and their profitability has been declining for a long time.
Thus, Morales cannot allow the rightists to erect their own kingdom in the southeast. But he has not shown any determination to fight them effectively. From the beginning of his government he has tried to make an accommodation with them, initially even claiming to favor autonomy of the prefectures. He made no attempt to mobilize the indigenous peoples of the lowlands, who occupy many of the oil and gas-producing areas, to demand their own rights.
He says he relies on the army to defend the integrity of the country. This is the same army that protected the former neoliberal presidents, who were overthrown by mass upsurges, and the same army that was the basis of the Barrientos dictatorship, which liquidated the gains of the 1952 Bolivian revolution and was rooted above all in the southeast. And he is trying to reinforce his political authority by calling a referendum to renew his mandate.
His remedies are like trying to cure a disease with a paralytic poison. They run directly counter to the only effective means of fighting the right – that is, mobilizing the poor masses of the country to take their fate in their own hands by establishing their own organs of direct democracy and taking full control of the country’s economy.
In the last election, Morales and his party, the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), won 54 percent of the vote nationally but lost the government of key prefectures to the right, which are now the spearhead of the right-wing uprising against his government. The right in the southeastern provinces is not going to be impressed by an electoral majority in the indigenous highlands. And in the southeastern provinces and some other areas, like Sucre, all opposition to the rightists has been driven underground.
It is necessary for the workers movement and the poor and oppressed population to oppose the attempts of the right to overthrow the Morales government. But they cannot do this effectively if they subordinate themselves to it. They need to mobilize independently and fight for their own interests and their own demands.