Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Update on violence in Bolivia

What was being called an 'ambush' this weekend, we now know was a massacre called for by the Right-wing 'autonomist' governor of Pando, Leopoldo Fernandez. He has recently been detained by the government. Apparently, he and his thugs were frustrated by the recall (which he helped instigate in an attempt to bring down the Morales government) referendum in which Pando voted 52% in favor of Morales.

Wielding automatic machine-guns, violent opposition paramilitaries opened fire on a 1000-strong unarmed protest march organized by peasants. The death toll has already reached 30, and is likely to increase as more than several hundred are reported missing.

Other opposition leaders have pledged to make "Bolivia ungovernable", unless the Morales government grants huge concessions to the reactionary opposition and ends plans to distribute resource revenues equitably.

In many areas of the country's "Media luna" region (the resource-rich, wealthy, white areas where the opposition is the strongest), the opposition appears stronger than it actually is. As Forrest Hylton has recently pointed out, this is due to the fact that the opposition (composed of the wealthy business elites and oligarchs) has virtually all control of the media outlets in their regions, owns most of the major economic institutions and has put its tremendous wealth in the service of arming, training and organizing groups prepared to mount a violent attack on the government should it try to assert its democratically-backed power to govern the country. While sizable, these groups of militant reactionaries do not find themselves in environments of unanimous support, as the results of the recent referendum in their prefects clearly demonstrate.

Here we see bolivia running up against a fundamental limitation of liberal capitalist democracy: despite having strong democratic mandates for change, the government is faced with a serious array of 'extra-political' (i.e. according to liberal-democratic orthodoxy, in which the public/private distinction occludes the economy from the realm of "politics" proper) obstructions that aren't all necessary constitued by violent acts. The wealthy elites under capitalism still control the central economic institutions that ensure that society can function (production and distribution of information, food, electricity, etc.), thus they can pull out a lot of stops should they face 'political' opposition in the form of democratic government. They can virtually shut down, lock-out, sabotage and strangle the economy if they like, which gives them tremendous power to push the government into considering their demands. (By the way, they've done it before in latin america: see what ITT and Big Business did to Allende before they resorted to a coup). This is all to say: they have leverage against the political government (not complete control over, but enough power to force compromises), even though they are not accountable to the public and are not subject to democratic authority.

This is a dangerous time for Bolivia and we can only hope that the Armed forces can regain order in the country, allow the December constitutional referendum to continue on schedule and crush the violent opposition thugs who are trying to exact compromises from the democratically-backed government through terrorism.

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