“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, December 18, 2005

between the devil's capitalism and God's own country

The election to watch this week is … the one in Bolivia. Those looking for some good Bolivian blogs should check out the Evo Morales leaning Blog from Bolivia. The guy who runs that blog, Jim Schultz, is one of those astonishing, tireless lefties willing to work in obscurity and discomfort for years to see the People, united, will not always be defeated.

Mapp is another Bolivian blog with useful, worms-eye view of the election, to the right of Schultz.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Bolivian election, to my mind, is the growth of a indigenous reaction, long in coming, to forty years of narco-repression in Latin America. Bush’s favorite government, Uribe’s in Colombia, just made a deal with narco-growers that the U.S. is winking at. The deal is: Colombia will not allow judicial extradition. In return, these growers – most of them on the paramilitary right – have “agreed” to stop producing the one thing that makes them money. Agreements like that are very useful, if you have run out of tissuepaper in your bathroom – otherwise, they are just the kind of joke that makes the American war on narcotics such a frustrating imperial experiment. In order to support the old semi-fascist elite so dear to the D.C. heart, the U.S. has always gone out of its way to support the biggest narco exporters and their political stooges. But in order to continue placate the conservative forces of coercive moralism in the U.S., the D.C. crowd is forced to periodically whip up the anti-drug frenzy.

In Bolivia, things are easier. Evo Morales is a former coca grower and an ally – shudder – of Hugo Chavez. This is a quote from the Guardian article about Evo:

“Coca is at the centre of Bolivia's election campaign. Mr Morales, 46, comes from a mining family, but when the mining sector collapsed at the end of the 1970s his family, like many others, moved from the high plains in the east near La Paz and turned to agriculture in the lower, central lands. Coca was the most lucrative crop, a plant revered for its curative properties and role in indigenous rituals; but then the US cracked down on drugs, coca growers became criminals and the sector collapsed. Today a limited amount of coca is grown in Bolivia.
"I want to make an alliance with the US, with others, a real alliance against drug trafficking, but not against the cocaleros [coca growers]," Mr Morales says, sitting in his campaign headquarters at La Paz. "Zero cocaine, but not zero coca." A handsome man, with a mop of black hair, he is usually clad in black jeans, T-shirt and fleece and has a reputation as something of a swinging bachelor.
He fidgets, looking around the room as questions are asked, but when it is his turn to talk, he engages. "For the US," he continues, "the war on drugs is an excuse to better control other countries. In Latin America it is narco-terrorism. In Iraq, preventative wars and weapons of mass destruction. And what do they really want? To control the oil."

Oddly, Evo Morales is campaigning both to do something stolidly capitalistic – reinstate the market in a highly competitive product – and against capitalism. However, the against capitalism motif may be highly exaggerated -- and exaggerated by two sides -- touristic lefties in search of a Che Guevara high, and beefchewing righties in search of a coup -- according to this analysis in Open Democracy. Myself, I wouldn't put the odds on Bolivia in the wrestling match between Bolivia and the Behemoth, which is why I hope that Morales just neglects all enforcement of anti-coca law, without overturning it explicitly. The bigger question to my mind is: can the old path of dependence that comes from being a primary product producer be modified, even overturned, by smart economic policies? Of course, the U.S. will try its best to make that an academic question by subverting democracy in Bolivia, if the outcome goes to Morales. Look for two things: the natural gas rich region of Bolivia has a separatist movement that will be receiving a mysterious influx of money, soon; and then the traditional coup, preceded, of course, by the Washington Post editorial about what an undemocratic dictator was elected by the democratic process. Perhaps the WP can have its old fave, Henry Kissinger, write another op ed piece.


Brian Miller said...

But, as with Brazil, is the Bolivian electorate unrealistic in its expectations? ""GIVE" us good jobs" is the cry. How, and who? Can Bolivia be anything but dirt poor?

Maybe he will be a Chavez-style populist leader who channels natural gas revenues to social programs, while it lasts. Long term, though, Bolivia will remain poor?

roger said...

Poverty in Bolivia, I think, has a social cause, and also has a social, or various social, solutions. There is a peculiar curse that comes with being endowed with a high demand raw material like oil or natural gas. The exporter country can get wealthy -- but not being wealthy, does not have the preliminary social structure to maintain such a neutral control over the resource as to contribute to the overall benefit of the country's inhabitants. Where the chance of wealth is high, the amount spent on human capital (education, health, environment) is low, the risk of seeing that wealth evaporate -- expropriated by first world investors and a small native elite -- is high.

Now, to my mind, this story has been going on for long enough that we have different models, and some of them are good models. The Gulf states with low populations still have managed to spread some of the wealth around - the higher the population, though, as in Saudi Arabia, the higher the inequality. And there is Norway's famous example. All of which means that a Bolivian government that was serious about using its resources to bring the countries masses out of poverty should not bring to that task a particular theory so much as an empirical curiosity. I am sure that if Morales wants to consult with the Norwegians on this, or the Kuwaitis, or the Omanis, they will oblige. As well as, of course, the Venezualans.

The first step, however, is not to pitch your rhetoric so that you piss off the Americans right away. The second step should be sending feelers to booming markets, like China and India, who are definitely looking for the product. The hardest step -- vide Venezuela -- is to keep a small latifundia-based elite from capturing the revenues, in alliance with the various corporations.

That is, admittedly, a giant task.

Brian Miller said...

I wish them well, also. There is something that has always fascinated me about Andean culture. In 6th Grade, I made a giant clay model of an Inca city (I was a BIGGGGGG NERD :) It would be nice to see a different model than Neoliberalism develop-perhaps without the demagogic politics and scary element of the Chavez regime?

If there is a modium of social peace, I would love to see La Paz and Sucre (and Lake Titicaca) And hear some of that amazing music.