Democracy Returns to Bolivia

By |24/October/2020|

After a year of rightwing political persecution, corruption and instability in Bolivia, the leftwing Movimiento al socialismo (MAS) has recaptured power in a stunning electoral victory.

In Bolivia’s election on 18 October, Luis Arce of the Movement towards Socialism (Movimiento al socialismo, MAS) won with 55 per cent of the vote, trouncing his nearest rival Carlos Mesa from the rightwing Citizen Community (Comunidad Cuidadana) party on 28 per cent.  Finishing in a lukewarm third place is Creemos (We believe), the party of far-right Santa Cruz business leader and 2019 coup ringleader Luis Fernando Camacho. On Wednesday, Camacho’s running mate Marco Pumari found himself pelted with eggs, tomatoes and orange peel when he arrived in the highlands to his hometown of Potosí.

The MAS’ victory represents a clear repudiation of the neoliberal and overtly racist political project launched by Bolivia’s elites in the wake of the coup last November.

There was a  record voter turnout of 88.4 per cent and, barring the conservative strongholds of Santa Cruz, Beni and Tarija, the MAS obtained a majority in all departments.  In the Senate, 20 out of 36 senators are women and most of these are affiliated to the MAS.

The MAS’ victory can be explained, in part, by the litany of failings and petty brutalities enacted by the coup government over the past year. It has been mired in corruption scandals, including the alleged multi-million-dollar fraudulent purchase of unsuitable ventilators at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. The regime has presided over a spiralling rate of covid-19 cases, with at least 8,000 dead out of a population of 11 million, the third-highest COVID-19 death rate in the world, according to Statista. The strong economic credentials of Arce, a UK-trained economist and ex-economy minister, will undoubtedly have done much to swing votes from middle-class voters away from Mesa.

A year ago, then-president Evo Morales was forced to flee the country in a police-military coup following the mobilisation of rightwing protestors in urban centres after the October 2019 elections. Since then, political repression and the demonisation of the MAS by the unelected rightwing government generated a climate of fear. Arrest warrants have been widely issued against critical journalists and MAS-supporting trade unionists and political figures.

In a country historically structured by race, class, racial and rural-urban divisions have recently resurfaced with disturbing prominence. In the aftermath of the elections last year, 35 anti-coup protesters were killed in state massacres in Senkata, outside the city of El Alto and Sacaba, in the coca-growing region of Cochabamba. Many MAS officials had their homes burnt down. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that the deaths were the result of security forces using ‘unnecessary or disproportionate use of force against protesters’.

For some, this year has also brought back memories of the dark days of the dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s. In 1980, Luis García Meza seized power in a violent military coup. His one year presidency was characterised by severe brutality and the assassination of

Chile Edges Closer to Historic Vote

By |21/October/2020|

While Chile’s upcoming plebiscite is likely to approve changing the constitution imposed under the Pinochet dictatorship, doubts about the process remain.

This 18 October marks the first anniversary of the ‘Estallido Social’ in Chile which began with student rebellion over metro fare hikes, and culminated in months of protests and socio-economic demands. These came from a wide coalition of groups, from trade unions to feminists, which came together to press for a new constitution, that is, to remove the constitution enacted by ruthless dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1980.

The Sebastián Piñera administration appears to be yielding to demands for change, in the face of increasing discontent at the levels of inequality, and has agreed to hold a plebiscite on 25 October to decide whether the current constitution should be replaced. Yet the months preceding the historic vote have been marred by allegations of brutal human rights abuses and attempts to damp down popular expectations.

Despite a general belief that the Apruebo vote will win, providing the catalyst to finally enable change in one of the world’s most unequal economies and feeble democracies, some sectors remain sceptical that the plebiscite will lead to any real change to Chile’s extreme free-market systems.

Two questions

The government has promised that two questions will be posed in the plebiscite, the first ‘that a new constitution should be drawn up’, with the option of Apruebo (I agree) or Rechazo (I disagree). The second question is to determine, if the Apruebo vote wins, the method for drawing up the new constitution, either an Asamblea Constituyente (Constituent Assembly), or a Comisión Mixta (Mixed Commission) made up of representatives of the present Congress and citizen groups.

Most groups which backed the protest support the Asamblea Constituyente option, floated in October last year as the protests got underway, adamant that a Comisión Mixta would be manipulated by politicians elected under the existing flawed system established under the dictatorship. But some campaigners fear that the process of choosing who takes part in the Asamblea will still exclude many in the popular movements.

‘This is not a plebiscite that has been called for by the people. It is one initiated by Chile’s corrupt political class that has benefited over the last 30 years,’ says Michel Saez, an activist from La Legua, a working-class area in Santiago that was a symbol of resistance and militancy during the Pinochet regime. ‘We, the people, have taken to the streets to ask for a Constituent Assembly, free, sovereign and plurinominal. The political class have twisted our demands to their advantage and to protect Piñera’s interests. We have now been presented with two options: Mixed Commission or Constituent Assembly, neither of which include us, grassroots movements.’

Minorities excluded

Michel fears that the plebiscite will not affect any real social changes, and appears to believe that the option for a Constituent Assembly will be removed. ‘We don’t want another fraud like the 1988 plebiscite [when Pinochet was forced to step down as head of state by the No

Film Review: Sur

By |13/October/2020|

Pino Solanas’ 1988 film is a microcosm of the relationship between a person and their country which tells the story of persecution in Argentina during the 1976-83 military junta.

If El Exilio de Gardel (The Exile of Gardel) is Fernando ‘Pino’ Solanas’ film about his own exile and the agony of those who had to leave their homeland following the 1976 coup which installed Argentina’s military junta, the focus of his next film, 1988’s Sur (South), is the exile of those who stayed in Argentina; those political activists, strikers and union workers, cast out from their homes and imprisoned by General Videla’s regime.

The year is 1983; the dictatorship has fallen. Banners with political slogans hang from windows, balconies and power cables in every street. A mysterious shroud of mist envelops Buenos Aires. We sense a great demonstration has taken place, where thousands have marched in the now-deserted streets. It is in this obscure atmosphere that Solanas sets the epic journey of Floreal, imprisoned for five years, and now, at last, returning home to his wife and kid – a moment he has both feared and greatly anticipated. But before returning to his estranged Penelope, Floreal takes a moment to stroll around the city he once knew so well. Sur is the story of this stroll, in which he meets the ghost of an old friend, El Negro, who died while Floreal was in prison. El Negro brings a message of hope and love, and begins to narrate Floreal’s own story. Revelations about the past are brought forth, to both Floreal and the audience, who gradually start making sense of the magnificent fresco Solanas paints before us.

The street becomes a stage where his memories, the characters of his life – some of them apparitions, some of them ghosts – come to materialise. This permeability of the street, at night, drenched in darkness, brings Sur close to the mise-en-scène of a stage play, with the emotional beats of the film guided musical intervals from the great tango partnership of Ástor Piazzolla’s and Roberto Goyeneche. A grand message for revolutionary hope, Sur belongs to a movement of relentless political cinema, but Solanas’ film is also revolutionary from a purely formal standpoint. The film presents itself like a sumptuous mosaic which ties the personal to the political.

The influence of playwright Bertolt Brecht is notable, not only for the inspiration this artist had on political art in general, but also in the formal aesthetics of Sur. Solanas takes the Brechtian ‘quotation device’, used when characters narrate and re-live an experience or an anecdote on stage (thus ‘quoting’ a moment from their own life) to an entirely new cinematic level, when El Negro tells Floreal about his own death. The scene of his death materialises before Floreal’s eyes as El Negro narrates and, at the same time, falls victim to a policeman’s gunshot. The standard flashback would have separated the different ‘time-frames’, with El Negro’s voiceover narration unifying the two, but Solanas here fuses both

Bolivia, the Left and International Solidarity

By |13/October/2020|

Labour Party MP Jeremy Corbyn discusses the upcoming elections in Bolivia with the country’s former vice-president Álvaro García Linera, as well as the future of the international left.

Following years of struggle by indigenous, peasant and working-class movements, Bolivia voted for Evo Morales’s Movement to Socialism (MAS) in 2005. By nationalising the country’s gas and utilities, expanding public investment and redistributing wealth, the MAS achieved major reductions in poverty and inequality, as well as expanding the role of indigenous people in public life.

In 2019, the country’s elite removed Evo Morales in a coup justified by baseless allegations of electoral fraud, introducing an authoritarian regime which has committed flagrant violations of human rights and reversed the progressive policies introduced previously. Since then, the social movements that brought the MAS to power have been leading resistance to the regime through a succession of strikes and blockades in protest against ongoing attempts to postpone elections, as well as corruption and its inept response to Covid-19. With elections currently scheduled for 20 October, the MAS are leading in the polls.

This unprecedented discussion between Alvaro Garcia Linera, who served as Vice-President of Bolivia under Evo Morales, and Jeremy Corbyn, until recently leader of the Labour Party, focuses on their experiences of building socialism in the face of elite resistance, and will discuss how the Left can rebuild following defeats. The discussion is chaired by Mariela Kohon, Senior International Officer at Britain’s Trades Union Congress.

This event was held as part of The World Transformed 2020.

Best of the Web: September 2020

By |7/October/2020|

Our monthly selection of the best articles on Latin America from around the internet.

1) Exclusive: Secret Cables Reveal Britain Interfered with Elections in Chile (John McEvoy/Declassified UK)

Declassified Foreign Office files show that Britain conducted a covert propaganda offensive to stop Chilean leader Salvador Allende winning two democratic presidential elections – and helped prepare the ground for General Augusto Pinochet’s brutal military regime.

2) Colombians Take On Their Militarized Police (Christina Noriega/The Nation)

The police killing of an unarmed civilian in Bogotá has brought a new scrutiny to police violence in the country.

3) Six years after the Ayotzinapa disappearances, families continue to demand justice (Tanya Wadhwa/People’s Dispatch)

This September 26 marks the sixth anniversary of the forced disappearance of 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College in the town of Ayotzinapa, Mexico. The tragic anniversary also marks six years of the absence of justice and serves as a reminder of the impunity enjoyed by various politicians and officials of security forces involved in the case.

4) Medical Workers of Conviction: Speaking to Cuban Doctors Who Heal the World (Vijay Prashad/Monthly Review)

In 2004, Dr. José Armando Arronte Villamarín was posted to head a Cuban medical brigade in Namibia. Cuban medical personnel first came to southwest Africa in 1975 alongside Cuban soldiers; the soldiers had arrived there to assist the South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO) in the fight for the liberation of Namibia from the apartheid South African military.

5) How a Canadian Mining Company Infiltrated the Guatemalan State (Max Binks-Collier/The Intercept)

It was often when Rosa Elbira Coc Ich was cooking lunch in the communal outdoor kitchen of lote ocho, a village in Guatemala, that the helicopters would fly overhead, the gusts of air from their deafening rotor blades scattering her tomatoes, beans, herbs, and tortillas over the reddish-brown soil. the helicopters would hover just above the village huts, billowing up clouds of dust and dirt and blowing some of the iron sheets and palm-leaf thatching that served as roofs onto the ground.

6) Bolsonaro — the new Jim Jones (Jan Rocha/Latin America Bureau)

For the great denier, neither the pandemic nor the fires in the Amazon are happening. Jim Jones was an American preacher who in 1978 led thousands of his followers to move from the USA to Guyana and then commit mass suicide by drinking cyanide-laced Kool aid.

7) Paraguay’s pandemic response fails Indigenous communities (William Costa/Toward Freedom)

As the heat of another hot day of the unpredictable Paraguayan winter subsides, groups of women and girls in long, multicoloured skirts emerge into the open spaces of the Maká Indigenous community known as Nueva Colonia, in the city of Mariano Roque Alonso, just outside the Paraguayan capital Asunción.

8) The Revolutionary Life of Salvador Allende’s Daughter Beatriz Allende (Tanya Harmer/Jacobin)

Women revolutionaries are routinely obscured by the history books. But a new biography of Beatriz Allende — daughter and close confidante of Salvador Allende, and internationalist militant — helps shine a light on what it meant to be a woman

Book Review: Climate Strike

By |29/September/2020|

Today’s environmental movements, whose virtues and limitations are charted in Derek Wall’s cogently argued new book, should look to Latin America for lessons in building anti-imperialist agendas which combine all possible tactics.

Ecological activism has run the gamut from individual lifestyle changes to proposals for a Green New Deal, from communal self-sufficiency to global technological fixes, from lobbying and electoral campaigning to militant direct action. In his thought-provoking, well-written, cogently argued and thoroughly researched book, Derek Wall examines all of these strategies, their virtues and limitations, and displays an encyclopaedic knowledge of scientific debates, political processes and social and economic structures. He documents the history of Green parties, their successes, failures and contradictions. It is indeed essential reading.

In a sense, the book is not about climate change, at least not primarily: it is about epistemology, political theory, social psychology and communications theory. Wall’s main concern can be summed up in the title of a well-known pamphlet by one of the many theorists he draws upon, namely Lenin: ‘What Is To Be Done?’

Given that those likely to read the book will be involved in Green parties, Extinction Rebellion, school strikes or organisations such as Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth, Wall is not mainly concerned with demonstrating that man-made climate change is real or that its consequences are catastrophic. Rather, he addresses the problem of action and efficacy: why have all these organisations and movements signally failed to achieve radical action by governments and power-holders to halt climate change? Indeed, why have the mass of the population not responded to the message?

Most political activists are well aware that rational debate and factual exposition are not sufficient to achieve change. Any popular movement has to address the question of power, and Wall makes clear from the start his agreement with Marxist analyses of capitalism and imperialism: to combat climate change is to combat capitalism. But to combat capitalism, as progressives of all varieties are well aware, is far from simple.

The longest chapter of the book deals with Extinction Rebellion (XR), whose uncompromising stand, direct action and creativity have had a dramatic impact in several countries, mainly in the developed West. Along with Greta Thunberg and the School Strike for Climate movement, it has injected a much-needed sense of urgency into climate politics. But as Wall points out, XR has failed to engage adequately with workers, minorities and the poor, sometimes displaying a sense of arrogant entitlement towards the anti-capitalist left and the excluded. Social movement theory helps us to understand the ups and downs of protest and the need to build enduring collective identities.

The author also engages, to his credit, with the ‘Climate Accelerationists’: the Trumps, Bolsonaros and their followers, recognising the social roots of such movements which cannot be reduced to the pernicious motives of their leaders. This leads into perhaps the most interesting chapter of the book, ‘The Unconscious, the Imaginary and the Real’, a perceptive discussion of epistemology and communication theory.

Wall is undoubtedly correct in arguing that multiple forms of

Celebrating 15 years of Cuba’s Henry Reeve Brigade

By |27/September/2020|

Vijay Prashad moderates a recent conversation with the actor Danny Glover and four doctors from Cuba’s Henry Reeve brigade, which has been fighting COVID-19 in 27 countries.

Selflessness, solidarity and working for the common good characterize what the Nobel Peace Prize should be about. These traits aptly describe Cuba’s Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade, which has saved over 80,000 lives since 2005 and has been fighting COVID-19 in 27 countries.

If you are intetested in petitioning the Nobel Committee to award Cuba’s Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade a Nobel Peace Prize, visit the campaign website.

The 50th Anniversary of Chile’s Popular Unity

By |27/September/2020|

Our eight Alborada Online event explores the 50th anniversary of Salvador Allende winning the presidency in Chile.

Event held on Thursday 10 September – for more info, click here.

::: Speakers:

Dr Victor Figueroa Clark is author of ‘Salvador Allende: Revolutionary Democrat‘ (Pluto Press, 2013)

Cristina Godoy-Navarrete was a supporter of the Allende government who after the coup was political prisoner under the Pinochet dictatorship. She left Chile in 1976 after being given political asylum by the UK.

Plus a special contribution from Jeremy Corbyn, British Member of Parliament (MP) with a long standing history of solidarity with progressive Latin American causes. He is the former leader of the UK Labour Party.

Chaired by Juliano Fiori (Alborada contributing editor)

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Best of the Web: August 2020

By |17/September/2020|

Our monthly selection of the best articles on Latin America from around the internet.

1) Snowflakes Hither, Yonder and In the Tropics: Ungentrifying Journalism from Brazil to Ecuador (Julian Cola/MintPress News)

The mammoth machine of mainstream and western media at-large tells us who is articulate enough, indeed worldly, mindful, and honest enough to saddle the demands required of international journalism.

2) The People of Brazil Must Know they Do Not Stand Alone (Claudia Webbe/Brasil Wire)

At the time of writing (August 26), Brazil has the second most cases (3,622,861) and deaths (115,309) from Coronavirus in the world. Many health experts believe these already horrendous figures are a massive under-reporting of the real situation.

3) Movements Sustain Historical Memory in Latin America (Diana Ramos Gutiérrez/NACLA)

From Mexico to Chile, the pandemic has not stopped social movements from demanding justice for human rights abuses.

4) European banks profiteering from environmental crimes in the Amazon (Aman Azhar/The Real News Network)

A recent study found that for years, private European banks based in Switzerland, France, and the Netherlands have provided billions of dollars for the extraction and trade of crude oil from the Ecuadorian Amazon to the U.S., leaving a trail of environmental devastation, violent crimes, and human misery.

5) The US contracts out its regime change operation in Nicaragua (John Perry/Council on Hemispheric Affairs)

An extraordinary leaked document gives a glimpse of the breadth and complexity of the US government’s plan to interfere in Nicaragua’s internal affairs up to and after its presidential election in 2021.

6) Venezuelan Guaidó coup regime is restoring relations with Israel, decade after Hugo Chávez broke ties (Ben Norton/The GrayZone)

The US-backed Venezuelan coup regime of Juan Guaidó is reestablishing ties with Israel and has opened a “virtual embassy” in Jerusalem, run by a right-wing rabbi who lives in Miami and wants Netanyahu’s help to fight “terrorism.”

7) Why Cuban Doctors Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize (Vijay Prashad/CounterPunch)

No wonder that there is an international campaign to have the Cuban doctors be honored with the Nobel Peace Prize. This aspect of Cuba’s work is essential to its socialist project of international solidarity through care work.

8) Colombia: The Flowers of Inequality (Lily Squires/Latin America Bureau)

The cut-flower export industry graphically illustrates economic and social divisions.

9) Class Struggle and Human Rights in the Bolivarian Revolution: An Conversation with Ana Barrios (Cira Pascual Marquina/Venezuelanalysis)

Ana Barrios has been a social worker and human rights activist for some thirty years. She is a member of the Surgentes collective, an Chavista organization that works to democratize society and strengthen popular power initiatives. She is also part of San Agustin Convive, a mostly women’s cooperative in the San Agustin barrio in Caracas.


10) Chilean animation pays tribute to land struggles of Mapuche indigenous peoples (Sounds and Colours)

Choyün, Shoots of the Earth tells the story of a young Mapuche woman returning from the capital Santiago to her ancestral southern home in the Araucania region, currently facing a social and environmental crisis.

Video: Jeremy Corbyn on Salvador Allende

By |11/September/2020|

Jeremy Corbyn discusses his life of supporting social justice in Chile and the enduring legacy of Salvador Allende, who died 47 years ago in the military coup of 11 September 1973.

‘The support around the world for Allende was absolutely massive.’ Jeremy Corbyn on the enduring legacy Chile’s socialist president Salvador Allende.

Corbyn spoke during Alborada’s online event ‘The 50th Anniversary of Chile’s Popular Unity‘ on 10 September 2020. The event marked fifty years since Allende was elected to the Chilean presidency on 4 September 1970, upon which he embarked on a massive programme to redistribute wealth that raised living standards for millions of people.

Allende died in the military coup of 11 September 1973, which took place 47 years ago today.

Watch Alborada’s online events.

How Benetton Abuses Mapuche Rights

By |10/September/2020|

Three years after the alleged forced disappearance of Argentinian activist Santiago Maldonado, the Benetton family continues to violate indigenous rights in Patagonia.

On 1 August 2017, the Argentinian activist Santiago Maldonado disappeared while protesting in defence of Mapuche indigenous rights on land owned by the Italian fashion company Benetton in the Chubut region of Patagonia. Following public outrage over the alleged involvement of security forces in his disappearance, Maldonado’s body was finally found on 17 October, in a river close to where he had last been seen.

An autopsy ruled that the cause of the activist’s death was ‘drowning and hypothermia’ and the case was closed in late 2018. However, forensic expert Enrique Prueger subsequently declared it impossible that Maldonado’s corpse had spent 78 days in the river and that it must have been placed there, some time between a few hours and ten days before it was discovered.

Prueger pointed out the unlikelihood that Maldonado had drowned in water only 30cms deep, while pollen found on his clothes should have dissipated after an extended period submerged. Moreover, how was it possible that divers had searched that stretch of river seven times and not seen the body?

In 2019, multiple complaints, including from Argentina’s Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (APDH) and Maldonado’s family, contested the original autopsy ruling. In September 2019, the Federal Court of Appeal established that Santiago died a violent death due to the actions of the National Gendarmerie of Argentina (GNA). Maldonado’s family and the APDH argued that the crimes included aggravated homicide by security forces and forced disappearance followed by death.

On 3 August 2020, the Alberto Fernández government, which took office in December 2019, accused several high-ranking officials in the preceding Mauricio Macri administration (2015-2019) of responsibility in the death of Santiago Maldonado. Those accused are former cabinet chief of the Ministry of Security, Pablo Nocetti, former national director of the Gendarmerie, Gerardo Otero, and Otero’s second-in-command, Ernesto Oscar Robino.

The accusations allege that the Macri government systematically violated the human rights of political opponents through illegal spying, the interference of intelligence services in the federal justice system and arbitrary detentions. Although Maldonado is not the only victim of state repression in democratic times in Argentina, his case is emblematic as it sheds light on the prioritisation of international profit over human rights, as well as corruption and authoritarianism under the Macri administration.

Beyond Santiago: Mapuche rights vs Benetton money

Maldonado disappeared in 2017 while demanding the return of ancestral Mapuche land, but the movement dates back to 2002 when the Benetton family – which bought the land in 1991 – displaced the indigenous community living there. The evicted Mapuche started a process of recuperation, arguing that the land belonged to them by right, as sustained by the Argentinian Constitution. This recognises the ethnic and cultural pre-existence of indigenous people and the possession and communitarian property of their traditional territories. Furthermore, the Benetton family was violating international law, such as the European Union’s Code of Conduct. By depriving

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