Friday, May 30, 2008

Llorando se Fue

Classic Kjarkas

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Not 'Fit to Print'

The New York Times claims to publish everything "Fit to Print". They along with the rest of the Western news media, usually interested in covering dramatic happenings in Bolivia, have obviously decided, by of virtue of their complete silence, that the latest events this past weekend in Sucre, Bolivia do not warrant anyones attention. (You know no one is interested when the only English language coverage is Cuban Granma International.)

What I am referring to was the cancellation of Evo Morales trip to the city on May 25 (a national holiday) after violent intimidation of his supporters by Sucre residents in favor of returning the capital to Sucre- the same people who previously forced the Constituent Assembly to leave their city after violent clashes in November 2007. Specifically, a crowd lead by university youth assaulted campesino delegates from rural municipalities of Chuquisaca (Sucre is the provincial capital), in Sucre to publicly receive central government funds from Morales, for their opposition to moving the capital back to Sucre and support of the MAS government. The campesinos were then forced under threat of further violence to disrobe (pictured above) in Sucre's central public plaza, hold the Chuquisaca flag (bearing the Spanish Imperial Cross), and apologize for not supporting Sucre's demands- kiss the steps of the Casa de la Libertad, where Bolivia's indigenous were originally made legal nonpersons in the drafting of the country's first constitution; all the while their ponchos (symbol of indigenous identity) were burned.

Even Sucre's conservative yellow rag El Correo del Sur (a usually propagator of racist vitriol) was forced to confront the obvious ugly racism of this practical lynch mob. But the western media has decided these happens to be a nonevent- not one word. I wonder why? Could it be that the underlining racism motivating conservative opposition to Evo Morales has been laid so bare that the previous euphemisms used by Western press to describe the pro-Sucre Capital movement as popular "street protests" will no longer fit, so it is best just to ignore the whole affair altogether? Will someone begin to make the connections as to who the main contingent of these "university youth" actually are? The presence of the Falange Socialista Boliviana? Activist arm of Sucre's conservative Comite Civico, the "Inter-institutional Committee", led by Rector of the University of San Francisco Xavier, Jaime Barrón? We will have to wait and see.


Thanks Inca Kola News for finding an additional English language newswire for the story, IPS.

Additionally read The Crime of Indigenous Insubordination by Jubenal Quispe at Bolivia Rising, and Colonial Backlash by Nick Buxton at Open Viens.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Note to Simon Romero

It recently dawned on me that New York Times correspondent Simon Romero (pictured left) has now been to Bolivia, specifically Santa Cruz, on at least three or four occasions since late 2006 to cover the conservative opposition movement for regional autonomy against Evo Morales' new government. Yet in all that time and research, Simon has managed to miss one group of the most prominent supporters of Santa Cruz autonomy. This particular group only happens to be the most violent and widely discussed "grupo de choque" in Bolivia, claiming to have a membership of several thousand- but who's keeping track anyways? The mere mention of the Union Juvenil Crucenista has never appeared once in any his reporting. Maybe he doesn't believe they exist?

It is odd that Simon has never mentioned their existence, because he has likely already interviewed several members. Founded in 1957 by a fascist (literally), the Santa Cruz Youth Union, has long lasting ties to the city's elite business Civic Committee, come Comite Pro Santa Cruz- the leading organization of the autonomy movement. The Union acts as the militant, violent enforcement arm of the autonomy movement- staging protests, enforcing general strikes, and recently "providing security" for the illegal Santa Cruz autonomy referendum on May 4th- an ignored fact that might of had something to do with the violence witnessed on the day of the vote (reported by Simon) in the pro-MAS indigenous slum of Santa Cruz, Plan Tres Mil. They did physically assault the Catholic pastor Adalid Vega in San Ignacio on May 18th, outside of Santa Cruz city (a site of MAS support), after claiming he opposed the autonomy vote.

So in the spirit of good journalism, I have offered some visual pointers to assist Simon in identifying these characters- and maybe mention their presence for the consideration of the New York Times' distinguished and high readership, but not like Romero reads this blog anyways. So here goes:

They really exist.

They use easily identifiable symbols...

...and admire certain ideals.

They carry big, pointy sticks.

...and beat the shit out of people.

Bolivians have already figured it out, why can't Simon?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Al Jazeera on Bolivia, "Inside USA" Part 1

Al Jazeera, through its "Inside USA" program with Avi Lewis (Naomi Klein's husband), recently put together a decent program on Bolivia. I like how they actually interview Bolivians- what a journalistic concept!

The best portion of the first part is the "debate" at the end between your typical opposition PODEMOS senator and, well known bad ass, Silvia Rivera in which Silvia puts PODEMOS (GOP talking points) bullshit in its place.

In the second part (below), I found it interesting how they spliced in an interview with Afroperuvian NYC rapper Immortal Technique. For me, he is representative of a new kind of Pan-American consciousness that could have real impacts in the future. It was also nice to see the ponchos rojos not pigeon holed as the "Andean Taliban". (Link-Part Two)

Al Jazeera on Bolivia, "Inside USA" Part 2

Friday, May 09, 2008

Meet Ronald Larsen, Pobre Patrón

Remember that lazy Latin American corespondent for the NY Times, Simon Romero, who thought fascists weren't so bad after all? Well he is back in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. And he thought he would take a break from misrepresenting the autonomy vote to visit a nice touristic nature reserve, Caraparicito, and chat with its owner Ronald Larson- that guy wanted by the police for kidnapping and leading an armed gang against visiting government officials. Romero might want to let the officials know how he got in there, the Ministry of Land and National Police have been trying to get into Caraparicito for months. Well, the product is today's NY Times piece "American Rancher Resists Land Reform Plans in Bolivia". Basically, I have to thank Simon Romero for vindicating my analysis of the story last month and my analogy of the Larsens to the cultural archetype Mr. Freedom! Rather than summerize my critique into one flowing prose, please entertain my thoughts as I go through Romero's piece and comment on it.

"CARAPARICITO, Bolivia — From the time Ronald Larsen drove his pickup truck here from his native Montana in 1969 and bought a sprawling cattle ranch for a song, he lived a quiet life in remote southeastern Bolivia, farming corn, herding cattle and amassing vast land holdings."

My bad, Ronald Larsen is just a Jeffersonian yeoman farmer, acquiring land in Bolivia (over 100,000 arces) through the shear beauty of his folksy voice. If you believe this bullshit, I hear the Brooklyn Bridge is going for a real low price these days.

"'I just spent 40 years in this country working my land in an honest fashion,” said Mr. Larsen, who resembled Clint Eastwood with his weathered features and lanky frame. 'They’re taking it away over my dead body.'"

Now the crazy comes out. That's right Larsen! Damn Injuns! Romero takes the lead:

"Mr. Larsen’s standoffs with the central government, replete with rifles, cowboys and Guaraní Indians, might sound like something out of the Old West. In fact, the battle playing out in the cattle pastures and gas-rich hills of his ranch, amid claims of forced servitude of Guaraní workers in the remote region, exemplifies Bolivia’s wild east."

Yeah!, wait... what was that about native "servitude" labor? Whatever, before we get there, let's hear about this Wild West Shoot Out!

"Tensions here erupted one day in February when Alejandro Almaraz, the deputy land minister, arrived before dawn at the entrance to Mr. Larsen’s Hacienda Caraparicito to carry out an inspection, a step usually taken before the government seizes ranches and redistributes them among indigenous farmers.

Both sides differ as to what happened, but everyone agrees that some violence ensued. 'I didn’t want this guy making any trouble, so I shut him up with a shot at one of his tires,' Mr. Larsen was quoted as saying last month by La Razón, Bolivia’s main daily newspaper.

Mr. Almaraz said he was kidnapped and held for a day on Mr. Larsen’s ranch. He responded to the incident by identifying the American rancher and his son Duston in a criminal complaint for “sedition, robbery and other crimes.”

Faced with a legal tussle over the standoff, Mr. Larsen now claims that he did not shoot at Mr. Almaraz’s vehicle. 'The tires were punched out with sharpened screwdrivers,' Mr. Larsen said. 'If I’d have been shooting at people that day, there would have been dead and injured.'”

(Note to Simon: the full original La Razon quote by Larsen included that claim that Deputy Minister of Land Alejandro Almaraz showed up on his property at night drunk and abusive)

So Larsen keeps changing his story, who cares? We all know indios like Almaraz are drunkards disrespecting the white man's ways. Almaraz was just carrying out his legal and constitutional duty to establish proper legal title among Bolivia's irregular landholdings and competing claims, the product of decades of unscrupulous business dealings and illegal donations made during the Banzer dictatorship. Oh yeah, and indigenous groups have a existing constitutional right to land surrounding their communities under the laws of Tierras Comunitarias de Origin. But enough with Ronald. I hear he has a nice looking son, who was named Mr. Bolivia in 2004.

"His quiet style contrasts with that of his oldest son, Duston, born in Bolivia, reared in Nebraska and educated at Montana State University. While Mr. Larsen prefers to lie low at the family home in Santa Cruz, the provincial capital, Duston, 29, has been in the spotlight since moving here in 2004.

Now Duston Larsen is focused on guarding the family’s land, ahead of his marriage to Claudia Azaeda, a talk show host and former beauty pageant winner. Depicted in newspaper cartoons as a gun-slinging “Mr. Gringo Bolivia,” he basks in the showdown with Mr. Morales, an Aymara Indian who as Bolivia’s first indigenous president has made land reform a top priority in his efforts to reverse centuries of subjugation of the indigenous majority.

'Evo Morales is a symbol of ignorance, having never even finished high school,' Duston Larsen said."

What a sweet heart! They grow up so fast, don't they- learning how to articulate prejudice so quickly. Times Magazine put it so well, "U.S.-educated Duston Larsen, referring to Morales' efforts to empower Bolivia's indigenous, wrote on his MySpace page in 2007, 'I used to think democracy was the best form to govern a country but ... should a larger more uneducated group of people (70%) be in charge of making decisions, running a country and voting?'" Now I get it! Morales and the government are going about it all wrong, trying to directly address poverty in South America's poorest country by sharing in the natural wealth a bit more because they are stupid!, stupid Indians are so silly. They should get some proper guidance from the United States on that, God knows fifty plus years of advice and expertise from the United States and international financial institutions hasn't been enough to get through to these thick headed natives. Now, back to that ridiculous notion that the Larsen's have indigenous Guarani slaves.

"He vehemently asserted that ranch hands and their families were free to come and go, after the Larsens and other ranchers were faced with government claims that ranches in their region held their Guaraní workers in servitude; the government has used the charge to move ahead with land seizures.

The reality of life at Caraparicito and other ranches may be more complex than either side suggests. At Caraparicito, workers get work contracts, food, clothing, housing and education for their children at a schoolhouse on the ranch. But wages remain low, with senior farmhands earning less than $6 a day.

'We are not slaves,' said Oscar Robles, 52, a ranch hand for almost two decades. 'But we are not prospering. We just exist.'"

Ahem, actually Simon, what you have just described and witnessed qualifies under Bolivian Law as servitude labor, i.e. slavery. It is one of the quaint laws, hold over from the postrevolutionary reforms after 1952 of making latifundias (those huge land estates started by the Spanish Conquistadors with 'happy' natives living on and working them) illegal. Simon, expect your ass to be called into Bolivian court to provide testimony in future prosecution of the Larsens. However, Romero points out that will never happen because the forces of Santa Cruz Autonomy against that central government were victorious on Sunday, May 4th, in the referendum on the Santa Cruz Autonomy Statute.

"The combination of oil, guns and land becomes even more combustible when mixed with Bolivia’s volatile politics. In a sharp rebuke of Mr. Morales’s socialist-inspired policies, Santa Cruz Province approved measures on Sunday that would halt land redistribution and allow provincial officials to renegotiate some energy deals.

Such a vote, which some people in the province consider a possible precursor to secession, might be expected to halt the maneuvers around Caraparicito. Indeed, Mr. Larsen’s battle is being watched closely throughout Santa Cruz, where foreign agricultural settlers include Brazilians, Canadian Mennonites, Okinawans and a handful of Americans.


[In an interview with Juan Carlos Rojas, the director of Bolivia’s land reform agency] 'Larsen made it clear that he was above the law,' said Mr. Rojas, who emerged from an April standoff at Caraparicito with his face bloodied from a rock-throwing exchange. Echoing comments by Mr. Morales, he said Santa Cruz’s newly approved autonomy was 'illegal' in his view.'"

The next time Simon travels to a small Latin country he knows very little about, I recommend familiarizing himself with their basic laws and constitution, or at least asking someone with actual authority on the matter. Sunday's autonomy vote was illegal and has no binding dictate, this point is not simply a matter of interpretation by Morales' government, it was struck down as unconstitutional weeks ago by the National Electoral Court, furthermore no reputed election observers showed up to watch it because the vote was recognized as illegitimate by the international community. The current constitution does not recongize (provincial) departmental autonomy and the proposed constitution, which does, has not yet been enacted; it will also not recognize the right of provincial governments to have any authority over land redistribution or directly renegotiating energy exploitation deals. Instead as Rojas states:

“The last I looked, the Larsens were living in Bolivia and not the Republic of Santa Cruz,” Mr. Rojas said. “Despite Ronald Larsen’s resistance, we are going to get into his ranch.”

Wednesday, May 07, 2008