Category Archives: Forests

A Fatal Incompatibilty: Big Business and Human Survival

Dramatic as the title of the article is, it is becoming increasingly clear that this is not hyperbole or hysterics. It is the only logical conclusion one can arrive at if one analyses the facts of our current situation as a species.

Commerce has existed for thousands of years, with private and government-owned companies providing goods and services for sale, largely unregulated for most of that time. Of course, government has always had the capacity to intervene where business practices have been found to be unsafe or unethical, for the protection of society.

As economies have developed beyond a mostly agricultural foundation into a consumer-driven industrial system, corporations have gained increasing economic, social and political influence. Although there is now an enormous quantity of legal regulation in relation to the conducting of business (in the developed world particularly) corporations exert such a huge influence on countries (democratic or otherwise) that we could accurately be described as living in an age of corpocracy. The infiltration of governments by corporate interests is so severe that governments are almost powerless to prevent the wholesale destruction of our environment and huge damage to humanity without causing a worldwide economic collapse.

Most corporations are not owned by one or a few individuals any more. Generally a large number of unknown individuals (shareholders) own them, to whom the directors are solely answerable. In almost all cases, the priority of the shareholders is the maximising of dividends and share prices, which companies achieve by creating as much profit as possible within a given time frame; e.g., per quarter year.

As a result of this priority of creating profits, above all other activities, companies have a long history of ignoring ethical concerns or paying lip-service to such issues in order to avoid any negative impacts on profitability. Considering the continual impact of corporate donations and lobbying on the political process and subsequent regulation, it is clear that corporations have deliberately attempted to prevent or diminish assessment and legislation that might adversely affect them.

There are a multitude of examples of big business attempting to conceal nefarious practices or to prevent any actions to control or end them. It would be easy to write a huge tome on the subject but here I am only going to refer to a few of the most famous and serious examples of corporate irresponsible behaviour.

The production of energy that fueled the industrial revolution, the expansion of commerce, science, technology and the massive growth of human populations is a dirty business. This began with the discovery of coal and its crucial role in the use of steam power. It was clear from the start that coal was at times dangerous to mine, potentially explosive and extremely dirty to burn, as is still the case today. Crude oil and natural gas have long since overtaken coal as energy sources of prime importance, but these too are flammable/explosive and extremely damaging to the environment when burned but particularly so if leaked. Nuclear power, the youngest of the destructive energy industries, likes to portray itself as clean when the reality could not be more different. Apart from well-known polluting disasters such as Three Mile Island, Sellafield, Chernobyl and Fukushima, nuclear power produces huge quantities of troublesome waste that remain radioactive. This waste remains dangerous for centuries or millenia and the industry still has no way to decontaminate it or to guarantee permanent safe storage.

Throughout its history the energy industry has downplayed or dismissed health and environmental concerns in order to continue maximising profits – any changes that have arisen have been fought against and succeeded only due to overriding public pressure. Examples of this are the smog and acid rain from coal burning, lead poisoning due to tetraethyl lead in petrol, radiation leaks in nuclear power stations, oil and gas spills in the marine environment and most recently contamination of land and water from fracking. In each case, despite clear scientific evidence to the contrary, the energy industry has attempted to dismiss dangers, conceal or discredit incriminating data, avoid accepting responsibility and minimising reparations for disastrous incidents.

Even now, when overwhelming scientific evidence proves that these industries are polluting, unsafe and detrimental to all life on Earth, they continue not just to fight for their survival but try to expand and curtail any attempts to contain them. All this is still occurring despite almost universal government and public acknowledgement of the need to gradually close down these industries in order to secure the future of humanity.

The same problem is to be found in a wide variety of other industries. The tobacco industry is one of the most obvious examples – for decades it has fought against regulation despite knowing, all along, that its products are dangerous and entirely detrimental to health. The pharmaceutical industry was most famously scandalised by the Thalidomide catastrophe of the 1950s and 1960s but despite many benefits to humanity this industry is also responsible for repeated cover-ups, creating wide-scale dependency on addictive prescription drugs, over-prescription of antidepressants, causing antibiotic resistance through over-use and environmental pollution, all in the name of profit expansion.

Plastics, an offshoot of the oil industry, seemed like a manufacturing miracle but it has turned out to be a nightmare for humanity and a vast number of the world’s species. Despite increasing evidence of planet wide pollution and damage to huge numbers of species, including humans, the industry continues to fight against change and much needed regulation instead of attempting to transition to bio-plastics and reinvent itself.

Another major offender is the agricultural and food industry, which has been hugely responsible for the degradation of the environment. Apart from continual reckless deforestation, agriculture is responsible for damaging top soil run-off and pollution of rivers and seas with pesticides and fertilizers. In the 1960s DDT famously caused huge numbers of bird, insect and animal deaths as well as dangers to humans leading to it being banned. Despite improvements in regulations, pesticides continue to have a catastrophic effect on the environment (bees in particular) and contamination of our food and water is still occurring all across the globe. Irresponsible farming practices are degrading the environment, increasing desertification, causing water contamination and biodiversity loss; overfishing is depleting the oceans; genetically modified organism of questionable safety are entering the food chain, all of which is despite wide-spread public opposition.

These are just a few areas that I’ve chosen, but the list is almost endless – in virtually every area of industry and corporate activity attempts have been and are being made to circumvent or decrease regulation, deny responsibility and avoid adopting practices that will affect profitability. Self-regulation and government regulation has almost entirely failed to prevent unchecked growth at the expense of humanity and the environment we depend on. Perhaps the side-effects of industrial society were not so evident decades ago and one can assume businesses generally are not created with the intention to destroy the fabric of life. However, due to decades of solid scientific evidence, no-one can plead ignorance any longer regarding the dire situation humanity has placed itself in.

Short-sighted as it is, governments are so influenced by the corporate sector and by fear of economic instability that they are able to offer little more than token gestures or reforms over such a long timescale that they are too little, too late. Apart from a sudden and catastrophic economic collapse, there is little to indicate that the behemoth of corporate big business is likely to change its destructive practices in any significant way or stop attempting to prevent or diminish restrictions upon it.

So given, that the corporate world is most likely to continue to act against the greater interests of humanity (and ultimately itself) what can we do about the situation? Although we may feel powerless as individuals to effect change in the world, especially when faced with the enormous power of the corpocracy, we do in truth wield massive economic power. In the absence of governments fighting our corner with any sincerity, it is up to us to wield the only weapon we have in the effort to force corporations to change their ways.

The one and hugely powerful weapon we have is our choice as consumers. What corporations want and need most of all is our money; without it they cannot function and without consumers to buy their products they have no reason to exist. While campaigning to governments should not be abandoned, it is of unpredictable worth, with no guarantee of success – another approach is required. Direct action in the form of consuming less or withdrawal of custom has an immediate and severe effect on any business if enough people are prepared to take part.

If we meekly wait for government regulation to kick in and curtail the rampant irresponsibility of the corporate sector, then there is little chance of major change happening before the collapse of human society is unpreventable. If, however, we as concerned consumers, vote with our wallets and also let companies know why we are doing so, then businesses that wish to survive will be forced to change. In a revitalized society where the consumer calls the shots businesses that are able to embrace environmentalism, revolutionize their products and methods will succeed. In the past, when businesses that failed to adapt to new trends or new technology they simply disappeared, sometimes extremely rapidly. That is still the case today. Businesses that fail to adapt to consumer demand for ecologically responsible trade and a move away from putting profit above all else can be forced to change their stance or face extinction.

Personally I would rather suffer the economic effects of irresponsible businesses ceasing to exist than see the continued rapid extinction of species and degradation of our planet. Ultimately we as individuals have the power to change our own behaviour and demand that corporations change theirs. The time available to bring this transition about is not unlimited. In a decade or two it may already be too late; now is the time to turn the tables on big business and force it to change its ways.

In the Eye of the Crow

You ever wonder what a Martian might think if he happened to land near an emergency room? He’d see an ambulance whizzing in and everybody running out to meet it, tearing the doors open, grabbing up the stretcher, scurrying along with it. ‘Why,’ he’d say, ‘what a helpful planet, what kind and helpful creatures.’ He’d never guess we’re not always that way; that we had to, oh, put aside our natural selves to do it. ‘What a helpful race of beings,’ a Martian would say. Don’t you think so?

― Anne Tyler, The Accidental Tourist, April 2002

Respite. Oregon Coast. Tidepools, grey whales, seals and sea lions, puffins and eagles, riotous rookeries and crashing tides, Milky Way and bioluminescence.

One large emotional palette from which to paint new images, and to recharge batteries, reset some clocks, and reflect.

Yet, how can a thoughtful person go minutes or hours or days with a blank mind, or into some levitating meditative state without all those deaths by a thousand cuts eating at the conscience?

Death by a thousand laws, by a thousand penalties, by a thousand codes/regulations/permits; death by a thousand fines/levies/fees; death by a thousand firings/sackings/diminishments of our collective humanity. Death by a thousand tons of toxins in our community’s air, water, soil, education system, legal framework, urban planning. Death by a thousand seconds of celebrity culture, insane fake news, mauling media, lecherous lawyers, junkyard scientists, medical malpractitioners. Death by a thousand broken treaties, broken laws for the One Percent, broken promises, broken bureaucracies.

How can you not wake up, look in the mirror, and be angry? Really angry at the state of the world, at the state of inequities, at the state of billionaires capturing our souls by the gigabytes to the 1,000th power, billionaires foreclosing on our jobs, our schools, our communities, our safety, health, sanity?

John Trudell said a lot about that, waking up angry every single day . . . decrying what whites like to think are the great civilizers of the world (themselves) – what whites think western civilization is:

The great lie is that it is civilization. It’s not civilized. It has been literally the most blood thirsty brutalizing system ever imposed upon this planet. That is not civilization. That’s the great lie, is that it represents civilization.

John Trudell

Think about it: going into tourist space has more curves and dangerous cliffs to negotiate than being in the mix 24/7. The mix, man: fighting for homeless, fighting for the drug addicted, fighting for students, fighting for our people’s health, fighting for clean air, water, soil, money. With each overfed, overpaid/-paying, overly obnoxious and arrogant tourist, with every 30-foot RV with Lexus SUV in-tow, with every Indian Pale Ale microbrewery pitcher consumed and mountain of fried clams gobbled up, well, reflection isn’t just looking at Ursula Minor and Major as the tide goes out and the Dungeness crabs come in.

Reflection is seeing the human species as a cancer. Self-centered, violent, believing there is a dung heap for the rest of the scum and a golden city for the vaunted, valued, human. More specifically, here’s sentiments from Susan Sontag, not to be taken lightly:

If America is the culmination of Western white civilization, as everyone from the Left to the Right declares, then there must be something terribly wrong with Western white civilization. This is a painful truth; few of us want to go that far. … The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone—its ideologies and inventions—which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself.

Scheme of things, the scale of the glass half full or glass half empty. The hierarchy of needs, and the implosion of those who have and those who do not. Peter Principle of the most incompetent, the most ethically challenged, the most philistine, the most ignorant, the most self-aggrandizing, the most murderous and sociopathic, rising to the top – in governments, parliaments, boardrooms, corporations, militaries, schools, hospitals . . . et al.

A Pacific Coast that was once sane and peopled by Salish Tribes, now one with pink-skinned folks like Gremlins scurrying about to stake out more retail space, more consumer opportunities, more territory yanked from anything left in a fractured “natural world.” Five days of being on the coast, and it was all white people looking for saltwater taffy and goofy expensive humpback whale blown glass monstrosities. Unending kitschy stuff while the Anglo Saxon/Caucasian minds funnel through moving lips to purge out strings of commentary that are insipid, childish, all bundled up in the “where are we going to eat breakfast next and then find a nice seaside table to sip that Pinot while we stay comforted in our great white world?” Not an African-American, Black, Indian, Native American in sight.

The smartest things in the air out here along the Oregon Coast are the corvids and thousands upon thousands of sea birds, falcons, bald eagles and osprey. It certainly isn’t the thoughts, words and actions of humanity here, from Newport south all the way to Golden Beach. We are talking about unending caravans of motor homes with full-sized SUVs in tow, the other traffic feeding a crisscross onto summer home beaches, some of them two-month-stay homes, and a lot of real estate for sale, properties moving from one hand to the next and a world of tourists devoid of color. It’s five days, and no Mexican-American families, no African-American families. It’s as if the US of A is that alt right David Duke land of the white Christian.

Disconcerting, being out here for a respite for myself and my significant other. Tough jobs both of us manage back in Portland, and the getting away from the woods and rivers where we live and work, to the Oregon Coast is a deserving break. But, again, bizarre, really, the lack of diversity as if the USA, with 335 million citizens, is not about to largely (percentage wise) transform into a country of non-white-Germanic-Anglo people.

State of the mind of white Americans tied to their whiteness, their Crypto Christian/Crypto Zionist earth razing and financialization schemes to corner everything we do, see, hope for, dream of, create, think of, believe in, live for, die for, hold dear, propagate as a market, it’s a sickness sent out to all corners of the world through the London School of Economics-Oxford-Yale-Stanford-Yeshiva type of recruiting as slick and effective as any School of the Americas or West Point!

Trump is Obama is Clinton is Bush is Andrew Jackson is Nixon is Roosevelt is Washington. Whiteness is the key to civilization, even with our one outwardly mixed-race CEO. He excels as a man of white civilizers holding the key to final subjugation. Obama, who is like a Stepford Son!

But let’s pause on the sheer demographics and exponentiality of the globe’s racial make-up coming onto the 8 or 9 billion mark:

One demographer, who didn’t want to be named for fear of being called racist, said: ‘It’s a matter of pure arithmetic that, if nothing else happens, non-Europeans will become a majority and whites a minority in the UK. That would probably be the first time an indigenous population has voluntarily become a minority in its historic homeland.’

Lee Jasper, race relations adviser to the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, predicted a similar future, telling The Observer : ‘Where America goes, Europe follows 30 years later. There is a potential for whites to become a minority in some European countries.’

In Europe, with its 40,000-year-old indigenous white population, the rise of a non-white majority may not be greeted with such equanimity.

In the United Kingdom, the number of people from ethnic minorities has risen from a few tens of thousands in 1950 to more than 3 million now.
•In Italy, the birth rate is so low that, without immigration, the population is predicted to decline by 16 million by 2050.
•The United States government predicts that non-hispanic whites will become a minority in the country by 2055.
•The United Nations predicts that 98 per cent of world population growth until 2025 will be in developing nations.
•The population of Europe is expected to drop from 25 per cent of the world total in 1900 to 7 per cent in the next 50 years.

— Anthony Browne, The Last Days of a White World, Guardian, September 3, 2000.

No matter how quickly the demographics shift in the US of A, correcting and redressing the past biggest injustices of Native American genocide by the white economists, bankers, clerics, militaries, serfs into this country will never happen. First Nations aboriginal peoples used to have this land to themselves. But now, less than one percent of the population they teeter on complete historical banishment, as the largest growth groups are among Latinos (largely derived from Spain), and Asians, (largely from China and the Philippines).

This state of the world a la Oregon Coast is a state of people not able to get under the skin of how messed up the country is, has been and is continually going. No large conversations about those things, even the ones who adore and lust after Trump, they just move along in a world of retail relationships, one where the food is talked about while eating it, where the weather is detailed beyond absurdity, and where no serious talk about our collective and individual pain ever unfolds.

Whites are lobotomized by debt, depression, deceit, emasculation, Hollywood, F-U Book, the Billionaire Mile High Club of Data Dealers, overeating/under-nutrition, delusions, and dreams of a UFO End Times or New Times.

I attempt to gauge how illiterate folks are along the coast, looking at stuff in museums, people trying to understand the scheme of 70 percent of the globe’s surface (oceans) on all life, and their attempts at trying to understand the clouds above and the winds below.

The corporations-TV-jefes have done a very good job, alongside the schools, media, ignorant politicians, and celebrities, AND scientists, of denuding the western mind of anything real or pressing, anything resembling a solution to the unfolding ills of climate warming, oceans rising, resources dwindling, bodies toxifying, communities eroding.

This vast Pacific Coast is, of course, under the gun as acidification of the waters around Oregon is ramping up due to all sorts of upwellings, smokestack-tailpipe spewings. Species are collapsing. More people are moving into the tsunami belt here, and more woods/forests are being clear cut. More cars, more CO2 pushed out of internal combustion machines and burning of other fossil fuels all the way up the Industrial Age chain our factory technology 12,000 miles away from Depoe Bay. This is a big thing, ocean acidification, and the Oregon Coast is sort of the testing ground for the rest of the world tied to this double-headed monster – climate changing (warming) and ocean acidification.

The Surfrider Foundation is working hard on this project to understand how Oregon’s coast will be affected by lower PH levels. Take a look at this amazing web site and organization, a coalescing of forces that very few tourists and locals alike know even little about. Here, the news not fit to broadcast or turn into a Netflix drama (sic):

Canary in the Coal Mine

Whiskey Creek Hatchery became the ‘Canary in the Coalmine’ for Oregon’s shellfish industry in 2007 when their oyster larvae experienced a massive die off. Scientists determined that the lower pH of the seawater they were pumping in from Netarts Bay was preventing the larvae from growing their shells.

On a map of Oregon, find the coastal town of Newport. Draw a straight line directly west, perfectly perpendicular to the coast, out into the mighty Pacific 200 nautical miles from the blinking beacon of the Yaquina Head lighthouse. You’ve just sketched the Newport Hydrographic Line. Nearly everything we know about the function of Oregon’s coastal ocean ecosystem has been learned from samples collected at these stations between 1961 and … well, last week.

The technology used along the Newport Line has evolved with the times. Since 2006, autonomous underwater gliders (the first two were named “Bob” and “Jane” after Bob Smith and Jane Huyer) have been patrolling it 24/7. At this very moment, two gliders resembling small yellow missiles are swimming their lonely way, diving and surfacing in an undulating path, collecting data on temperature, salinity, water clarity, ocean currents and more.

These remarkable instruments transmit about 10 percent of their data as they “fly,” communicating via satellite when they surface. When a battery gets low, the glider surfaces and calls home. Scientists retrieve it from a boat, switch the battery out for a fully charged replacement, download the full data set and release it. The gliders can be monitored and even controlled via a smart phone app.

Initially, studies along the Newport Line focused on physics — currents, temperatures and winds — in order to understand and characterize the most important oceanographic phenomenon in the region: wind-driven coastal upwelling. This process underlies nearly everything else that happens in Oregon’s ocean, from the flourishing fisheries to the presence of gray whales to the low-oxygen conditions and ocean acidification that have been in the news in recent years.

In a nutshell, summer winds blowing from the north push surface water to the west and drive the conveyor belt of deep, cold, nutrient-rich waters into the coastal zone, fueling the Northwest’s food webs.

Sometimes called “climate change’s evil twin,” a phrase coined by Oregon State’s Jane Lubchenco, ocean acidification is an insidious and unseen effect of rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere. The oceans have always absorbed CO2 from the atmosphere, but as levels of the greenhouse gas have climbed, primarily the result of fossil fuel burning, the oceans have taken in ever-higher amounts, leading to shifts in ocean chemistry.

Organisms from oysters to corals are considered sensitive. Over the past 200 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, average ocean-wide pH has dropped from 8.2 to 8.1. That may not sound like much, but on the pH scale, it amounts to a nearly 30 percent increase in acidity. Other researchers have found that highly acidified water can cause calcium shells made or used by many marine creatures to be harder to build or to dissolve. The net effects may be felt up and down the food chain. Animals in the intertidal and near-shore zones, including economically important species such as oysters and crabs, may be at risk.

‘The ocean may look the same, but the water is changing, especially on the Oregon coast,’ says Chan. Here’s why the Oregon coast is particularly vulnerable to acidification and thus an important place to study ocean chemistry.

A Deep-Ocean Conveyor Belt

The summer sun can warm your face, and the air can feel hot, but if you’ve ever been swimming along the Oregon coast, you know how cold the water can get. It gets especially chilly when north winds blow and push warmer surface water to the west. In its place, currents from deep in the ocean rise along our beaches and bays to replace it. This water — delivered by a process that scientists call upwelling — isn’t just colder; it also carries more nutrients that can fuel ocean life.

On the downside, it has less oxygen and tends to be acidified. Like the proverbial slow boat to China, it can take decades for deep ocean currents to travel to the West Coast. When it last touched the atmosphere at the start of its journey, CO2 levels were lower than they are today. In the future, the water upwelling along our coast will carry the memory of the annual increases in CO2.

Okay, so I cut and paste a lot here, but again, what are those crab cake bakes and flounder fries really about here along Oregon’s coastal water, which mostly originates in the North Pacific off Japan? Answer: Two cold, deep-water currents, one of which takes a decade to reach Oregon, while the second current brings those waters to the Oregon coast in about 50 years as it follows amazingly serpentine routes around the globe.

Now, here’s the physics and chemistry we don’t talk about when eating our dill-infused, olive tampenade-drenched salmon — cold water holds higher concentrations of CO2 than warmer water, so these circuitous currents start off with increased CO2 levels. Then while making their slow flow toward the U.S. West Coast, the biological activity by organisms living in that water layer — zooplankton, phytoplankton and other microorganisms — constantly generates CO2 until, by the time the ocean conveyor belt of water rises to the surface off the Oregon coast, its CO2 level has increased greatly. Then, as the water is exposed to our atmosphere after decades in the depths of the mother ocean, even more of the greenhouse gas gets absorbed. This is something most Americans can’t-won’t-don’t grasp – chemical changes caused by engines of biomechanics of currents, air, and pollution.

Okay-okay, not all tourists get into this level of science and deeper looks at how messed up the world is because of the Corporate Line and Power (One Percent) and the Collective Delusion of their Compliant Consumers (us). But truly, how can people in 2018 NOT go through the thought process of considering each and every bite we take, each mile we drive, each foot of earth we walk onto, each inch of clothing we buy, every trinket and every product we consume as part of the big picture?

That little oyster stand in Newport has its intended and unintended consequences already built in, all that embedded energy to get to the oysters (metal in the ships harvested in mines/smelted/galvanized; then fossil fuel dug up and piped in to propel those ships to sea); to harvest the bivalves, then to haul them back, and next to process, package and ship them out, and, finally, to attract people from all parts of the West Coast to consume them.

Yes, our own trip to get there and each nibble we make with the squeeze of a lemon, well, the footprint of Homo Sapiens-Consumo-Retailpithecus is dramatic. We are talking about those shellfish, now vulnerable to ocean acidification, all that fossil fuel to propel humans to the parking lot and propel foreign made utensils and plates and equipment to the little archetypal oyster shack, in Oregon, well, consequences are being laid out as I write this on the Cloud.

In a world where everything is a retail transaction, where no thought of how the stuff we stuff into our mouths got from farm to fork is expended, it’s no surprise we are cooked intellectually and as communities of me-myself-and-I cancers. Then, more onion peel pulled back: who are these owners of these small businesses in these small towns on the Oregon Coast? Do they care about the world, or their little zone, little hamlets or beach towns? Do they care about the rampant poverty, the growth of shaky families aging in place, in the death spiral of education and decent ways to be, to be human, in small style, while living in a world of entertaining ourselves to death and make-believe idealism and ideals tied to the rich and the famous or notorious?

Do they care Portland is filled with houseless people, homeless veterans, youth living on couches under an average of $80K in college debt, people like me working our tails off for the underpay the non-profit world of social services spreads like disease across the land? And that’s not just Portland, but Every Town USA. Do they care about fence line communities in Houston or the lead in water in Flint or the lack of electricity in Puerto Rico six months after a hurricane?

Do they care about words having universal meaning, or the poetry in being versus consuming, or the truths of human kind, or the lessons in evolving history, or the potentiality of real revolution, or the bigger power of changing him-or-her-self into a giver, no longer a taker, or being part of the smaller and bigger solution, while still grappling with their privilege, and then finally seeing the future of seven generations out being more important now than ever before?

Respite. Observation. A poem. Sanity:

Contemplating Nine Crows Jumping Mid-Air for Our Trail Mix near Yachats, Oregon

on the eve of partner’s 48th birthday

something about cobalt
tips, wings the black of eclipse
birds smarter than
parking lot humanity
tricksters, crowing along faded lines
jumping, leaping, barely flapping
corvid line of avian
harmonizing with wind
people looking into ocean sky

we asked crows into our lives
two of us tired of heavy
hearts, our own species
cancers, riotous Homo
sapiens, like the cracks
of coast cliffs
beaches we surmount
hoping gulls congregate

we never know when
light from animal brother
inches into our hearts
never know when whimsy follows
us into memory, love
how coal black birds
possess mental might

through tricks, we can’t stop
thinking birds, smarter
than human race, the Oregon
Pacific in the background
creek emptying into swells
we find harbor momentarily
comics like Charlie Chaplin
waddling, marching, the grip
of their sky, somehow
transformed into our world too

Ecuador Endangered

The tropical Andes of Ecuador are at the top of the world list of biodiversity hotspots in terms of vertebrate species, endemic vertebrates, and endemic plants. Ecuador has more orchid and hummingbird species than Brazil, which is 32 times larger, and more diversity than the entire USA.

In the last year, the Ecuadorean government has quietly granted mining concessions to over 1.7 million hectares (4.25 million acres) of forest reserves and indigenous territories. These were awarded to transnational corporations in closed-door deals without public knowledge or consent.

This is in direct violation of Ecuadorean law and international treaties, and will decimate headwater ecosystems and biodiversity hotspots of global significance. However, Ecuadorean groups think there is little chance of stopping the concessions using the law unless there is a groundswell of opposition from Ecuadorean society and strong expressions of international concern.

The Vice President of Ecuador, who acted as Coordinating Director for the office of ‘Strategic Sectors’, which promoted and negotiated these concessions, was jailed for 6 years for corruption. However, this has not stopped the huge giveaway of pristine land to mining companies.

From the cloud forests in the Andes to the indigenous territories in the headwaters of the Amazon, the Ecuadorean government has covertly granted these mining concessions to multinational mining companies from China, Australia, Canada, and Chile, amongst others.

Ecuador Cloud Forest

The first country in the world to get the rights of Nature or Pachamama written into its constitution is now ignoring that commitment.

They’ve been here before. In the 80’s and 90’s Chevron-Texaco dumped 18 billion gallons of crude oil there in the biggest rainforest petroleum spill in history. This poisoned the water of tens of thousands of people and has done irreparable damage to ecosystems.

Now 14% of the country has been concessioned to mining interests. This includes a million hectares of indigenous land, half of all the territories of the Shuar in the Amazon and three-quarters of the territory of the Awa in the Andes.

Please sign the petition and contribute to the crowdfund which will help Ecuadorean civil society’s campaign to have these concessions rescinded.

As founder and director of the Rainforest Information Centre (RIC), I’ve had a long history of involvement with Ecuador’s rainforests.

Back in the late ‘80’s our volunteers initiated numerous projects in the country and one of these, the creation of the Los Cedros Biological Reserve was helped with a substantial grant from the Australian Government aid agency, AusAID. Los Cedros lies within the Tropical Andes Hotspot, in the country’s northwest. Los Cedros consists of nearly 7000 hectares of premontane and lower montane wet tropical and cloud forest teeming with rare, endangered and endemic species and is a crucial southern buffer zone for the quarter-million hectare Cotocachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve. Little wonder that scientists from around the world rallied to the defense of Los Cedros.

In 2016 a press release from a Canadian mining company alerted us to the fact that they had somehow acquired a mining concession over Los Cedros! We hired a couple of Ecuadorean researchers and it slowly dawned on us that Los Cedros was only one of 41 “Bosques Protectores” (protected forests) which had been secretly concessioned. For example, nearly all of the 311,500 hectare Bosque Protector “Kutuku-Shaimi”, where 5000 Shuar families live, has been concessioned. In November 2017, RIC published a report by Bitty Roy, Professor of Ecology from Oregon State University and her co-workers,  mapping the full extent of the horror that is being planned.

Although many of these concessions are for exploration, the mining industry anticipates an eightfold growth in investment to $8 billion by 2021 due to a “revised regulatory framework” much to the jubilation of the mining companies. Granting mineral concessions in reserves means that these reserves aren’t actually protected any longer as, if profitable deposits are found, the reserves will be mined and destroyed.

Ecuador Rainforest

Long-tailed Slyph

In Ecuador, civil society is mobilising and has asked their recently elected government to prohibit industrial mining “in water sources and water recharge areas, in the national system of protected areas, in special areas for conservation, in protected forests and fragile ecosystems”.

The indigenous peoples have been fighting against mining inside Ecuador for over a decade.  Governments have persecuted more than 200 indigenous activists using the countries anti-terrorism laws to hand out stiff prison sentences to indigenous people who openly speak out against the destruction of their territories.

Fortunately, the new government has signalled an openness to hear indigenous and civil society’s concerns, not expressed by the previous administration.

In December 2017, a large delegation of indigenous people marched on Quito and President Moreno promised no NEW oil and mining concessions, and on 31 January 2018, Ecuador’s Mining Minister resigned a few days after Indigenous and environmental groups demanded he step down during a demonstration. On 31 January, The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, CONAIE, announced their support for the platform shared by the rest of civil society involved in the anti-mining work. Then on 15 February CONAIE called on the government to “declare Ecuador free of industrial metal-mining”, a somewhat more radical demand than that of the rest of civil society.

Ecuador Rainforest Stream

But we will need a huge international outcry to rescind the existing concessions: many billions of dollars of mining company profits versus some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth and the hundreds of local communities and indigenous peoples who depend on them.

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION TO SUPPORT THEIR DEMANDS.

From 2006, under the Correa-Glas administration, Ecuador contracted record levels of external debt for highway and hydroelectric dam infrastructure to subsidize mining. Foreign investments were guaranteed by a corporate friendly international arbitration system, facilitated by the World Bank which had earlier set the stage for the current calamity by funding mineralogical surveys of national parks and other protected areas and advising the administration on dismantling of laws and regulations protecting the environment.

After 2008, when Ecuador defaulted on $3.2 billion worth of its national debt, it borrowed $15 billion from China, to be paid back in the form of oil and mineral exports. These deals have been fraught with corruption. Underselling, bribery and the laundering of money via offshore accounts are routine practice in the Ecuadorean business class, and the Chinese companies who now hold concessions over vast tracts of Ecuadorean land are no cleaner. Before leaving office Correa-Glas removed much of the regulation that had been holding the mining industry in check. And the corruption goes much deeper than mere bribes.

The lure of mining is a deadly mirage. The impacts of large-scale open pit mining within rainforest watersheds include mass deforestation, erosion, the contamination of water sources by toxins such as lead and arsenic, and desertification. A lush rainforest transforms into an arid wasteland incapable of sustaining either ecosystems or human beings.

Without a huge outcry both within Ecuador and around the world, the biological gems and pristine rivers and streams will be destroyed.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Civil society needs an open conversation with the state. Ecuador has enormous potential to develop its economy based on renewable energy and its rich biodiversity can support a large ecotourism industry. In 2010 Costa Rica banned open-pit mining, and today has socioeconomic indicators better than Ecuador’s. Costa Rica also provides a ‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ to landholders, and through this scheme has actually increased its rainforest area (from 20% to just over 50%).

Ecuador’s society and government must explore how an economy based on the sustainable use of pristine water sources, the country’s incomparable forests, and other natural resources is superior to an economy based on short term extraction leaving behind a despoiled and impoverished landscape. For example, studies by Earth Economics in the Intag region of Ecuador (where some of the new mining concessions are located) show that ecosystem services and sustainable development would offer a better economic solution let alone ecological and social.

The Rainforest Information Centre is launching a CROWDFUND to support Ecuadorean NGO’s to mobilise and to mount a publicity and education campaign and to help advance a dialogue throughout Ecuador and beyond: ‘Extractivism, economic diversification and prospects for sustainable development in Ecuador.’

We have set the crowdfund target at A$15,000 and Paul Gilding, ex-CEO of Greenpeace International is getting the ball rolling with an offer to match all donations $ for $ so that every $ that you donate will be matched by Paul. Donations are tax-deductible in Australia and the US.

When you sign the PETITION you will reach not just to the President of Ecuador and his cabinet. The petition is also addressed to the other actors who have set the stage for this calamity, being:

  • The World Bank who funded a project which collected geochemical data from 3.6 million hectares of Western Ecuador including seven national protected areas and dozens of forest reserves thus doing the groundwork for the mining industry.
  • The international governments and NGO’s who funded the creation and upkeep of these Bosques Protectores and indigenous reserves and other protected sites and who now need to persuade Ecuador to prevent their good work from being undone.
  • The governments of the countries whose mining companies are preparing this devastation.

Australian senator Lee Rhiannon (who was part of helping us create Los Cedros 30 years ago) wrote to the Canadian Environment Minister on our behalf and the Canadian Embassy has expressed concern about the bad name Cornerstone is giving the other Canadian mining projects. They have asked us for a meeting to discuss the reports of bad business practices by the company. Likewise, the Chinese government is beginning to develop some guidance which will come into effect in March 2018. We are lobbying the Australian government to put pressure on BHP, Solgold and other Australian companies preparing to mine protected forests and indigenous reserves in Ecuador.

Visit Ecuador Endangered for more links to the history and causes of Ecuador’s mining crisis. There you will find research, detailed reports and news updates. Contact information can be found for those wanting to be involved in the campaign, which is being run entirely by volunteers. To let the Ecuadorean Government, World Bank and mining companies know you want them to invest in a sustainable future for all, a petition can be found here.

• Photos by Murray Cooper

• See maps here and here

Southeast Asia Getting Killed by Logging and Mining

When an airplane is approaching Singapore Changi Airport, it makes the final approach either from the direction of Peninsular Malaysia, or from the Indonesian island of Batam.

Either way, the scope for natural disaster under the wings is of monumental proportions.

All the primary forest of the Malaysian state bordering Singapore – Johor – is now gone and the tremendous sprawl of scarred land, mostly covered by palm oil plantations, is expanding far towards the horizon. The predictable plantation grid pattern is only interrupted by motorways, contained human settlements, and by few, mostly palm oil-related industrial structures.

On the Indonesian side, the Island of Batam resembles a horror apocalyptic movie: there is always some thick smoke rising towards the sky, and there are clearly visible, badly planned and terribly constructed towns and villages. Water around the island is of a dubious, frightening color. The environmental destruction is absolute. Batam was supposed to be the Indonesian answer to Singapore. Indonesia was dreaming about a modern mega city with a super airport and port, dotted with factories, research centers and shopping facilities. But the turbo-capitalist country hoped that all this would be created by the private sector. That was,  of course, unrealistic. What followed was an absolute disaster.

As it is now, Batam is nothing more than a series of ‘Potemkin Villages’, complete with several potholed four-lane roads that lead nowhere. As for the research: there is hardly any science even in Jakarta or Bandung, let alone here. After several attempts to ‘save face’ and to cover up this massive failure, the island has been allowed to ‘sink’ back to where it had already been for several decades: a huge whorehouse for predominantly Singaporean and Malaysian sex tourists; a cheap shopping district selling mainly counterfeit goods, a place notorious for lacking even the most basic public services.

No heads were made to roll for this monumental and thoroughly stupid set of failures. The obedient business-owned media is hardly ever critical of the Indonesian regime and its business ‘elites’. But the impact of the ‘Batam experiment’ is enormous – there is no intact nature left on the entire island.

*****

What goes on in the Southern Part of Southeast Asia?

Is nature of absolutely no concern to the Malaysian and especially Indonesian governments, business conglomerates and society?

The problem here is that everything above and below the ground has been, for years and decades, viewed as a source of potential profit. It is only valued if it can be exploited, if there can be a price tag attached to it. No sentimentality, no thoughts about beauty! Here, greed has already reached insane proportions.

Unbridled logging on Mahakam River, Kalimantan

Like in the West, big companies in several Southeast Asian countries are now running and selecting the governments. They are also controlling the mass media, infiltrating social networks. To criticize great logging and palm oil companies in Malaysia is lethal, literally suicidal, and almost no one dares to do it. In the past, some did, and died. The same can be said about ‘illegal’ gold mining, logging and other extraction ventures in Indonesia, where much of the unsavory mining and logging enterprises are in the hands of the police, military or of government officials (the interests of all three branches are also often intertwined).

*****

Places like Borneo and Sumatra are finished; almost all of their legendary wildlife habitats are devastated. Hundreds of species are gone or almost extinct. The once mighty, primary forests are squeezed into a few national parks, and even those are often being used for commercial farming, and also for palm oil plantations.

It is not just an issue of ‘disappearing beauty’ and biodiversity. Borneo (known as Kalimantan in Indonesia) used to be on par with Amazonia, functioning as the lungs of the Earth. It is the third largest island on our planet (and the largest one in Asia), and it is fully and some would now say irreversibly plundered. In Indonesia, deadly chemicals used on the palm oil plantations are killing tens of thousands of people with cancer, although you’d have to work deep in the villages to figure out the truth, as no reliable statistics exist and the issue is highly ‘sensitive’, as is everything that is horrible and sinister in this part of the world. Many rivers, including Kapuas, contain ridiculously high levels of mercury, the result of illegal but openly practiced gold mining.

Monstrous coal mine near Samarinda, Kalimantan

To see some parts of Borneo from the air is like observing an enormous, nightmarish and rotting wreck of a ship: black scars, brown scars, and dark zigzagging open veins of what used to be, a long time ago, tremendous and proud, as well as pristine, waterways.

What has been done to Indonesian-controlled Papua by Indonesian companies and by Western multi-national mining conglomerates is indescribable. Apart from committing genocide against the local population, the entire half of this tremendous island, which used to be inhabited by hundreds of local tribes, is now being ‘exposed’, forced open, and literally raped. Of course, as an anti-Communist warrior and obedient pro-business client state, Indonesia is almost never criticized by the West. The genocides it has been committing since 1965 are either sponsored or at least supported from Washington, London and Canberra.

Malaysian and Indonesian logging and mining companies do not stop at committing crimes at home – they go far, to other Asian countries, but also deep into Oceania, places like the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea (PNG), where I witnessed on several occasions the full destruction of both nature and human cultures; a nightmare which I described in detail in my book Oceania.

*****

I am relentlessly documenting what is happening to Southeast Asia in the books that I am writing (alone and with local authors), as well as in my upcoming films. I’m in the middle of producing a film about the fate of Borneo island, a place which is becoming dearer and dearer to me, the more devastated it gets.

The more I witness and the more I document, the more hopeless I often feel. It is because there seems to be almost no place which is capable of resisting the onslaught.

I am writing this essay on board Malaysian Airlines flights. The first one took me from the city of Miri (a state of Sarawak in Borneo, Malaysia) to Kuala Lumpur, the second from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok.

Serawak Malaysia, as it used to be

After filming on several occasions in the totally violated Indonesian Kalimantan, I hoped to see something optimistic in Malaysian Sarawak; something that could be used as an inspiration for the future of the incomparably poorer and much more corrupt Indonesian part of the island. This time I drove all around the city of Miri, and then I crossed the border and drove further into Brunei. I flew inside tiny propeller planes over the jungle, or what is still left of it. I took a narrow motorized makeshift canoe.

Yes, I saw few beautiful national parks and traditional longhouses. And I was surprised to find out that the filthy rich but politically and religiously oppressive sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, with its brutal and extreme implementation of Sharia Law, unbridled consumerism and worshipped oil industry, is actually doing incomparably better job than Indonesia and even Malaysia, at least environmentally. It is at least protecting its nature, including the rainforest. Brunei’s untouched, pristine native forest begins just a few miles from the coast, from its oil wells and refineries.

Pristine Brunei prime forest … a small propeller plane

But when I rented a narrow shabby longboat, deep in the interior of Sarawak, I encountered total misery and devastation. The road was great, most likely constructed precisely for moving quickly and efficiently, both timber and palm oil fruit. Several schools and medical facilities looked modern. But most of the locals do not live near the roads – they dwell, traditionally, along the rivers. And there, the situation is totally different: people residing in poor, primitive shacks, children and adults swimming in desperately polluted waterways, while stumps of trees ‘decorating’ stinking, muddy shores.

*****

Some would say that Southeast Asia is not alone. In many ways, the West already ‘rearranged’ its nature decades and centuries ago. In densely populated countries like Italy or Netherlands, very little of the original nature is left today. In the United States, the original meadows and pristine grasslands gave way to commercial fields; to agricultural mass production.

What shocks in Southeast Asia is not the fact that people want to make a living out of their land. It is the brutality of the systematic destruction of majestic mountains and hills, of mighty rivers, lakes, shores as well as the irreversibility of the changes that come with cutting down almost all native rainforest, replacing it with chemically-boosted palm oil and rubber plantations.

Most of those who would be allowed to see those monstrous coal mines dotting Indonesian Borneo would be terrified. Endless sprawls of palm oil (and literally imprisoned villages, squeezed by it as in a straight jacket) could perhaps outrage even the most hardened pro-market fundamentalists, who would bother to visit from other parts of the world.

Or maybe not… The multi-national ‘mining horrors’ that are being described to me by my friends and colleagues, who are presently working in Peru, are somehow comparable. What I saw in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) shows the same spite that many Western companies and governments have for the local people.

What I find truly ‘unique’ in Southeast Asia, is the totality of destruction. The number of animal and bird species that are already gone, or are disappearing or have been simply hunted down, or the number of hopelessly polluted rivers; the forests and jungles that are stolen from the native inhabitants.

The speed is yet another shocking factor. It is all happening extremely fast. No wonder that Green Peace put Indonesia on the list of the Guinness Book of Records as the fastest destroyer of the tropical forests on Earth.

What is left of the Indonesian forests is being either logged out or is systematically burning. Thick smog travels, periodically, from Sumatra to Singapore and peninsula Malaysia, creating a health hazard, shutting down schools and tormenting people suffering from asthma and other respiratory problems.

But Indonesia is big, the fourth most populous country on Earth. It does what it wants, and it appears that it cannot be stopped. Or more precisely, its rulers and business elites are doing what they want. And, as long as it fits into the agenda of their Western handlers (and it usually does), the country is enjoying almost total impunity.

Of course, those who are suffering the most are the local people themselves, as well as countless defenseless species, be they animals, birds, fish, trees, or plants.

Soon, nothing original will be left here. Billions of dollars will be made by those very few rich, and the poor majority will be stuck with the coolie’s jobs. The plundering of the environment is creating dependency syndrome and very little advancement for the society. The money flows, but not where it is supposed to flow.

Like in the Gulf, almost nothing or very little is being invested into science, technology, the arts and creative sectors.

Ruined islands and peninsulas will keep producing ‘blood fruits’. Land owners, corrupt politicians, middlemen and traders will keep getting outrageously rich. But the great majority of people will have to get used to living with a polluted and totally unnatural environment. They’d be stuck, in fact, most of them are already stuck, in some sort of depressing concentration camps surrounded by unnatural, hostile crops, and by the chemically-contaminated land.

Those beloved oilwells of Brunei

All this will continue until who knows what terrifying and bitter end, unless, of course, the people of Southeast Asia will finally wake up, and instead of accepting this present turbo-capitalist model, begin to think and dream about the “Ecological Civilization” and other marvelous cutting-edge philosophies that are flowing out from China and other non-conformist parts of the world.

• First published by New Eastern Outlook

The Environmental Christmas Hangover

Christmas may seem like a distant memory but the environmental effect of the annual consumer frenzy, over-indulgence and extravagance is lasting damage. And year on year the cost to the planet grows.

For the best part of a week in early January the street in which I live in London was littered with mountains of rubbish and discarded Christmas trees, real and fake. The use of both live and artificial trees as decorative emblems of Christmas is ecologically damaging and, like many aspects of this materialistic pantomime, needs to be consigned to a bygone era and replaced with either a naked corner, or a rented potted tree from a garden center, which can be returned to the growers afterwards.

In Europe an estimated 60 million live trees are bought, decorated and dumped; it’s around 30 million in America. The majority of real trees are grown specifically for Christmas so forests are not being depleted, but after the festivities most real trees are thrown away and as they decompose, methane (a greenhouse gas) is produced. Artificial trees leave their own carbon footprint due to their production and transportation. Most are made in China and amass a great many polluting air miles on route to their Western destination, and when discarded end also up in landfill sites. In order to make up for the amount of energy used in its production, according to The Woodland Trust, a plastic tree would need to be reused every Christmas for twenty years. Under the tree, of course, is to be found the Festive Icons – the presents. Worldwide, adults are said to spend on average $475 on gifts, half of which are unwanted, but in this throwaway world of ours, instead of returning them, most of these rejected trinkets are dumped in the rubbish bin and end up in a landfill site.

Christmas and rubbish are synonymous terms in more ways than one. It’s the time of year when the largest amount of consumer waste is produced and the overwhelming bulk ends up in a hole in the ground. Over 114,000 tons of plastic waste is estimated to have been produced in Britain over Christmas and not recycled, together with “more than 88,000,000 Sq. m of wrapping paper and 300,000 tonnes of card packaging”, The Times relates. In the Capital of Consumerism, America, a colossal $10 million is spent on wrapping paper, most of which is not recyclable, and the number of Christmas cards sold requires 300,000 trees to be cut down.

Then there’s the unbridled cruelty reserved for the animals that are raised for the festive table; around 10 million turkeys are eaten in Britain; it’s closer to 25 million in America, where the major turkey cull is Thanksgiving. The vast majority of birds stuffed and roasted are factory farmed. Their short lives are spent in appalling conditions and end when they are plunged head first into electrified stunning baths, after which they have their throats cut in the slaughterhouse. The industrial farming of turkeys is not just barbaric, like all animal agriculture it produces huge amounts of the greenhouse gases which fuel man-made climate change. Add in Christmas travel by road and air and the enormous environmental impact of Christmas begins to become clear: from 15th December to 4th January a record 52 million people in America took to the air and 97 million hit the highways. In Britain over thirteen million vehicles clogged the roads in the days leading up to the Big Day, and both Heathrow and Gatwick airports had their busiest days on record: around four million people in total, with record numbers taking long-haul flights. Aviation is a major source of greenhouse gases, and the further one flies the greater the environmental damage.

Simplicity and Sufficiency

Whilst the festive period allows much needed time for rest, and for some, warm family gatherings  (tense misery for others), in its current form it is little more than an exercise in mass consumerism. The ‘Christmas Spirit’, which suggests peace, brotherhood and ‘goodwill to all men’, is widely absent, replaced by an exaggerated version of how life is conducted the rest of the year; contemporary values (which are not values at all, of course) of greed and selfishness are relentlessly encouraged and to a large degree, prevail.

The ‘consumer culture’, of which Christmas is the pinnacle expression, is an essential part of the Neo-liberal economic system under which we live. It is maintained by insatiable desire and the false notion that happiness is to be found within the Christmas wrapping paper, the Black Friday Deals or Saturday shopping outings, in ‘success’ and sensory pleasure. However, far from creating the conditions in which contentment and joy can flower, discontent and conflict is maintained, and an atmosphere created for anxiety and depression to grow. As it is currently constituted, Christmas perpetuates and strengthens this materialistic and highly damaging approach to life – for humanity and the planet. Like much of contemporary living it needs to be simplified and re-defined, not necessarily in a way that corresponds to Christian doctrine, but in a manner rooted in what we might more broadly call ‘spiritual’, or simply human values: sharing, social/environmental responsibility, tolerance and kindness to one another and, crucially, the Earth itself.

A treeless, gift-free Christmas, where little or no travel is involved, and money usually spent on gifts is donated to an environmental charity, would be the ideal. If you can’t face Christmas without presents, then environmental considerations should be paramount when choosing what to ‘give’ – not necessarily what to ‘buy’. If we are to overcome the environmental catastrophe and reverse the colossal ecological damage, greed, selfishness and excess must come to an end, replaced by Simplicity and Sufficiency – and a new environmental consciousness urgently cultivated, at Christmas and throughout the year.

Ending Pollution Requires a Change in Attitudes

Pollution has become an everyday affair; a murderous way of life which, according to a report published in The Lancet, is responsible for the deaths of at least nine million people every year. The air we breathe is poisoned, the streams, rivers, lakes and oceans are filthy, — some more, some less — the land littered with waste, the soil toxic. Neglect, complacency and exploitation characterize the attitude of governments, corporations and far too many individuals towards the life of the planet, and its rich interwoven ecological systems.

The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, which is yet another cry for urgent collective action, found that pollution is responsible for a range of diseases that “kill one in every six people around the world”. This figure, while shocking, is probably a good deal higher because “the impact of many pollutants is poorly understood.” The landmark study establishes that we have reached the point when “deaths attributed to pollution are triple those from Aids, malaria and tuberculosis combined.”

Our selfish materialistic way of life is having a devastating impact on all forms of life; unless there is a major shift in attitudes the numbers of people dying of pollution will increase; contamination of the oceans will increase, deforestation and desertification will continue, and the steady destruction of all that is beautiful and naturally given will intensify. Until one day it will be too late.

Plastic oceans, poisoned air

Even climate change deniers cannot blame the natural environment for the plastic islands that litter the oceans, or the poisoned water and contaminated air. Pollution results from human activity, it “endangers the stability of the Earth’s support systems and threatens the continuing survival of human societies.” A sense of intense, life-threatening urgency needs to be engendered, particularly amongst the governments and populations of those countries that are, and have historically been, the major polluters — the industrialized nations of the World.

Although China has now overtaken the USA in producing the highest levels of greenhouse gas emissions, as the New York Times reports, America (which has 5% of the world’s population but produces 30% of the world’s waste), “with its love of big cars, big houses and blasting air-conditioners, has contributed more than any other country to the atmospheric carbon dioxide that is scorching the planet…. In cumulative terms, we [the US] certainly own this problem more than anybody else does,” said David G. Victor, a longtime scholar of climate politics at the University of California.

Russia and India follow the USA as emitters of the most greenhouse gases; then comes Japan, Germany, Iran and Saudi Arabia, which the World Economic Forum relates, has “on a per-country average, the most toxic air in the world.” Australia, Canada and Brazil should also be included amongst the principle polluters; as Brazil’s economy has grown so have the quantities of poisonous gas emissions, their effect made worse by deforestation of vast areas of the Amazon rain forests.

Indonesia, too, warrants our attention. This small country (3% of the global population) in the middle of the South Seas is a major polluter: It has the third largest expanse of tropical forest after the Amazon and Congo, and is cutting down trees at the highest rate on the planet; it produces approximately 5% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, is the second-largest contributor to marine plastic pollution after China and has some of the dirtiest water in south east Asia – only a third of the population having access to clean drinking water.

China also has a problem with polluted water; IBT reports that “Government analysis found that more than 80% of the water from its wells was not safe to drink…while about 60% of its groundwater overall was of poor or extremely poor quality.” Water pollution has reached serious levels in America as well: according to the Water Quality Project 32% of bays, 40% of the country’s rivers and 46% of its lakes are “too polluted for fishing, swimming or aquatic life.” The Mississippi River, which is amongst the most polluted rivers in the world, “carries an estimated 1.5 million metric tons of nitrogen pollution into the Gulf of Mexico every year. The resulting pollution is the cause of a coastal dead zone the size of Massachusetts every summer.”

Polluted rivers result in contaminated oceans; chemical fertilizers, detergents, oil, sewage, pesticides and plastic waste flow into the sea from inland waterways. Some pollutants sit on the surface of the ocean, many collect on the seabed where they are ingested by small marine organisms and introduced into the global food chain. The shocking condition of the seas was highlighted recently in the BBC production Blue Planet II. In a sequence that moved many to tears, an Albatross, having been at sea for weeks looking for food, was filmed feeding its chicks with bits of plastic collected from the surface of the ocean.

Recent research has identified 10 rivers as the source of 90% of the plastics in the oceans. Deutsche Welle reports that all of them run through densely populated areas where waste collection or recycling infrastructure is inadequate. Three of these filthy tributaries are in China, four more run through China, two — the Nile and the Niger (regularly the scene of oil spills) — are in Africa. The list is completed by the Holy Ganges in India, which serves as rubbish dump (almost 80% of urban waste is thrown into the river), utility room, bathroom, burial chamber and sacred temple.

Plastic waste is produced everywhere, but five Asian countries produce 60% of the global total, currently 300 million tons (only 10% is recycled): China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. If nothing changes it’s predicted that by 2025, plastic consumption in Asia alone could increase by 80 percent to over 200 million tons, and global consumption could reach 400 million tons. Greenpeace estimates that roughly 10% of all plastic ends up in the Oceans where it is thought to kill over a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals.

The statistics around pollution are numerous, shocking and all too depressing. Here’s a taste:

  • 5,000 people die every day through drinking unclean water.
  • About 80% of landfill items could be recycled.
  • 65% of deaths in Asia and 25% of deaths in India are due to air pollution.
  • Chronic obstructive respiratory disease (caused by burning fossil fuels indoors) is responsible for the death of more than 1 million people annually.
  • Over 3 million children under five die annually from environmental factors.
  • Worldwide, 13,000-15,000 pieces of plastic are dumped into the ocean every day.
  • At least two-thirds of the world’s fish stocks suffer from plastic ingestion
  • For every 1 million tons of oil shipped, approximately 1 ton is wasted through spillage.
  • A million plastic bottles are sold worldwide every minute; forecast to increase by 20% by 2021.
  • Around 1,000 children die in India annually due to diseases caused by polluted water.
  • There are more than 500 million cars in the world; there could be 1 billion by 2030.
  • Shoppers worldwide use approximately 500 billion single-use plastic bags annually. This translates to about a million bags every minute and the number is rising.

Criminal neglect

Pollution and the environmental catastrophe more broadly is the result of insatiable consumerism, selfishness and individual and collective irresponsibility. It flows from a materialistic approach to living, rooted in desire and an unjust economic system that demands unbridled consumerism for its survival. Ideologically rooted Corporate Governments imprisoned in nationalism, and obsessed with short-term economic growth feed the system and the most important issue of the time is relegated to an afterthought, rarely spoken about by politicians who seem to believe that limitless development and mass consumerism is of greater importance than the health of the planet.

Designing policies that will clean up the air, the seas and rivers, and will preserve forests and farmland, should be the priority for all governments around the world, particularly the industrialized nations, who have been responsible for producing the majority of the filth and for cultivating the consumer culture that is perpetuating the crisis. But whilst governments need to take a leading role to stop pollution, individuals, all of us, need to change the way we think and how we live. It is imperative we consume less and that decisions regarding purchases should be made firstly with environmental considerations in mind.  Sufficiency and simplicity of living need to replace abundance, complacency and indulgence.

This demands a major shift in attitudes, not in 25 years, not in a year, but now. As Pope Francis rightly states in his groundbreaking papal letter ‘Care for Our Common Home’, “Our efforts at [environmental] education will be inadequate and ineffectual unless we strive to promote a new way of thinking about human beings, life, society and our relationship with nature. Otherwise, the paradigm of consumerism will continue to advance, with the help of the media and the highly effective workings of the market.”

The ‘market’, aided by the media, is not concerned by such liberal considerations as the welfare of the planet and the health of human beings; it is a blind monster with a compulsion for profit, and if the ecological networks within which we live are to be purified and healing is to take place it needs to be rejected totally. A new way of thinking is required that moves away from divisive selfish ways to inclusive, socially/environmentally responsible behavior based on a recognition that the environment we live in is not separate from us and that we all have a duty to care for it. This requires a fundamental change of attitudes.

“If we want to bring about deep change, we need to realize that certain mindsets really do influence our behaviour.” And, whilst there are many exceptions to this, the prevailing, carefully cultivated ‘mindset’ is a materialistic, self-centered one in which responsibility is passed to someone else, usually a government. It is a mindset that has been conditioned virtually from birth by the motivating mechanism of reward and punishment. This crude tool encourages deceit, undermines humanity’s essential goodness and relies on the stimulation of materialistic, hedonistic desire – the very thing that is fueling the environmental crisis – for its success. It is a method that may well work with corporations and to a limited degree with individuals, but a more potent and cleaner way to change the behavior of the population at large is the Way of Awareness: Awareness that we are brothers and sisters of one humanity, that cooperation, not competition is an inherent aspect of our nature and that that we are all responsible for the world in which we live. It’s up to us, each and every one of us, to consciously live in an environmentally responsible manner – no matter the cost or inconvenience, and to begin to repair the terrible damage we have done and continue to do to the natural world.

Eleven Years of the “Process of Change” in Evo Morales’ Bolivia

Evo Morales will soon have been the president of Bolivia for 12 years, heralding the ascent of the indigenous social movements to governmental power. This ended the apartheid system against the indigenous that existed for 500 years in Bolivia. Morales won in 2005 with 53.7% of the vote, followed by re-elections in 2009 with 64.2% and 2014 with 61.3%.

The country has made great strides in economic development, national sovereignty, women’s and Original Peoples’ rights, respect for Mother Earth, raising the people’s standard of living, level of education, and health care.

His presidency, which has brought an era of relative social peace and economic growth, has been the longest in Bolivia’s history. Since 1825, Bolivia has had 83 presidents with 37, almost half, by means of coup d’etat. Previous presidents typically lacked social legitimacy, representing a political system that excluded participation of the indigenous peoples, plagued by social and economic inequality, subjugated to foreign interests, and complicit with the looting of natural resources. By 2002, after years of neoliberal regimes serving foreign — mostly U.S. — corporations, the proportion of the rural population living in extreme poverty had risen to 75%.

The election of “Evo,” a campesino movement leader and head of the Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement Toward Socialism, MAS), began what his government describes as the “Process of Change” that shifted power away from Bolivia’s traditional elite, the mostly white owners of industry and agriculture, and toward the majority, the mostly indigenous workers and campesinos.

Reflecting on the historic significance of the changes underway in Bolivia, Morales declared:

We are the indigenous blood of Mother Earth. Until now Bolivia has been ruled by a few families that have all the political and economic power. They despise, humiliate, marginalize and hate the majority of the indigenous population. After 525 years of colonization, we indigenous peoples are part of the construction of a new Plurinational State and we have full participation in international political organizations and forums.

Why Has Economic Development Been so Successful During the Process of Change 

The MAS government undertook an anti-neoliberal program, which has enabled the economy to grow an average 5% per year since 2006, compared to 2.8% during the years 1951-2005. As a result, the Gross Domestic Product has grown four-fold from $9 billion in 2005 to $36 billion today. Bolivia has become the fastest growing economy in Latin America.

Economic strategy focused on regaining national sovereignty over the country’s natural resources and using this wealth not to enrich foreign multinationals but to raise the standard of living of the neglected people of Bolivia. In 2006 Evo Morales asserted public ownership over the country’s gas and oil resources, making foreign companies turn over extractive industry resources to the state. The state now fully controls sales, transport and distribution as well as key decisions regarding the extraction and refining of raw materials. The nationalization decree also forced foreign oil companies to renegotiate contracts with the new administration. Today, foreign corporations still extract most of Bolivia’s natural gas, but do so as contractors hired by the state, on the state’s terms.

Prior to the nationalizations (not only of gas and oil, but telecommunications, water, electricity, and a number of mines), foreign corporations pocketed about 85% of the profits generated by natural gas production. Morales increased the country’s profit share from gas from about 15% before his presidency to between 80-90%.1 In 2005, before nationalization, government gas revenues totaled $0.6 billion; in 2015 it was over four times as much, $2.6 billion – in fact, down from $4.5 billion in 2014. In 2015 all gas and oil revenues yielded $4 billion, making up nearly half of Bolivia’s export earnings.

Over ten years, Evo’s Bolivia has gained $31.5 billion from the nationalizations, compared to a mere $2.5 billion earned during the previous ten years of neoliberal policies. This vastly increased revenue, largely used to benefit the people, starkly exemplifies the extent the people have been robbed to serve foreign corporate interests.

By the end of 2013 the state-owned portion of the economy reached 35%, double that of previous neoliberal governments. The state has become the main generator of wealth, and public investment amounted to over $5 billion in 2016, compared to a mere $629 million in 2006.  Much of this new revenue funds the country’s impressive development, infrastructure, community projects, such as schools, gyms, clinics, roads, and subsidies for agricultural production. It is spent on the people’s health and education, on price controls for staple foods, on wage increases, and social security benefits.

This humane redistribution of national wealth away from corporate interests to serving the poor majority has allowed one in five Bolivians, two million people, to escape a life of poverty. Even the World Bank has recognized the country as world champion in income growth for the poorest 40% of its population.

In the United States, the government is taking the opposite course, turning its back on the poor. Here the poverty has grown over the same period, from 12.3% to 12.7%.2 Vacant homes number 18,600,000 – enough for each homeless person to have 6. The government cut food stamps by $8.7 billion in 2014, cut 500,000 poor from the program in 2016, with plans to slash $19.3 billion per year for ten years. Yet Washington increases the military budget this year by $80 billion, an amount that could make public college free.

For Bolivia to industrialize and diversify the economy, to move away from dependence on natural resource exports, is a difficult long-term task. The country did create 485,000 jobs in the productive sector between 2006-2010, and developed industries to process natural resources.3 It advanced significantly its agricultural production, now providing 95% of the country’s food.  Yet raw materials still account for 90% of Bolivia’s exports.

Big investments are underway in infrastructure construction, hydrocarbon exploration, industrialization of natural gas (for fertilizers and plastics), more lithium production, and electric power for export. “Here we have the presence of China, with cooperation without pre-conditions, with credit without conditions,” Evo Morales said, contrasting Chinese aid to Western aid.

New Social Programs to Eliminate Poverty

In Bolivia under Morales, poverty has declined from 60.6% of the population in 2005 to 38.6% in 2016. Extreme poverty (those living on less than $1.25 per day) fell from 38% to 16.8%. The real minimum wage has risen from 440 bolivars a month to 2,000 a month (from $57 to $287). Unemployment stands at under 4%, the lowest in Latin America, down from 8.5% in 2005.

Here are some of the measures to combat poverty:

  1. Electricity has been brought to 66% of rural homes by 2015, up from 25% in 2001.
  2. Over 127,000 homes have been created for low income Bolivians who lack housing. Another 23,000 homes will be built in 2018.
  3. The Juancito Pinto program aims to increase school attendance and reduce child labor. It presently reaches 2 million children, who each receive $28 annually upon finishing their school year.
  4. The Juana Azurduy program combats maternal and infant mortality, as well as malnutrition in children under two years old. Mothers can receive up to $266 from the program. UNICEF has pointed out the effectiveness of these social programs. Chronic undernourishment in children has sharply fallen from 27%, when the program started in 2009 to 16% now, and infant mortality has been cut in half just since 2008.
  5. The Renta de la Dignidad is a payment to the 900,000 Bolivians over 60 years old, who would otherwise receive no pension. Incapacitated and disabled people now receive 250 bolivianos ($36) monthly and guaranteed job placement in public and private institutions.

More than 4.8 million Bolivians – in a country of just over 10 million – today benefit from these  programs, programs that not just combat poverty, but improve public health and education.

Meanwhile in the United States, the bottom 90% of households are poorer today than they were in 1987.

Bolivia has cut income inequality by two-thirds, with the share of income of the top 10% vis-à-vis the poorest 10% has dropped from 128 to 1 in 2005 to 37 to 1 in 2016.

In the United States, after years of neoliberal programs, we have the shocking fact that the three richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the population.

Gains for Rights of Original Peoples

The country, after a national discussion initiated by Bolivia’s five main indigenous campesino organizations, adopted a new constitution. The new document recognized Bolivia as a Plurinational State, with equal status and autonomy for Original Peoples, and also reclaimed control over natural resources. The new government has even established a Ministry of Decolonization (with a Depatriarchalization Unit) to further the uprooting of the previous apartheid system. By 2011, 90 of the 166 elected representatives of the national assembly came directly from the ranks of the progressive social movements.4

Gains in Education and Health Care

Bolivia had an illiteracy rate of 13% when Evo Morales became president. After a mass literacy campaign that used Cuba’s YES I CAN program, 850,000 were educated and by 2008 Bolivia was declared free of illiteracy. The country is second to Cuba in Latin America in terms of funding education. There are now 16,000 educational establishments in the country, 4,500 of them were built since 2006 with the funds from the nationalized gas industry.

Life expectancy of Bolivians during Morales’ presidency has increased from 64 years to 71 years. This is partly the result of the almost 700 members of the Cuban medical brigade working in the country. Cuba’s Operation Miracle has also enabled 676,000 Bolivians to have had their vision restored. Moreover, around 5,000 Bolivians have obtained their medical degrees in Cuba, going back to their country to provide their services. The country now has 47 new hospitals and over 3,000 health centers being built.

Land Distribution and Food Self-Sufficiency 

Before Evo became president, 5% of property owners owned 70% of the arable land.5 From 2006-2010 over 35 million hectares of land (one third of Bolivia), was handed over to Original Peoples’ peasant communities to be run communally. This included government lands, large estates, and forest. Another 21 million hectares previously occupied illegally by large landowners were declared public lands, mostly protected forests.6 The land reform law expropriated underutilized lands, and permitted seizure of property from landowners employing forced labor or debt peonage. In all, approximately 800,000 low-income peasants have benefited. Of those who received titles to their land, 46% have been women. For the first time since the European conquest, small holders control 55% of all land. The government ensures that these small producers receive preferential access to equipment, supplies, loans, and state subsidized markets, key factors in enabling the country to become self-sufficient in food.

U.S. Interference and Regime Change Attempts

As John Perkins points out in Confessions of an Economic Hitman, any government pursuing anti-neoliberal economic policies or its own foreign policy independent of the United States, as the case with Rafael Correa’s Ecuador and Morales’ Bolivia, becomes a U.S. target for overthrow.

Evo Morales has become one of Washington’s most disfavored leaders in the Americas. Washington continues to be concerned about Evo revolutionizing the indigenous movements in the region, and  tries to tarnish his reputation as an indigenous movement leader.

Wikileaks documents show that the United States tried to undermine the presidencies of Evo Morales and Rafael Correa even before they were elected. Right after Evo’s inauguration, the U.S. ambassador made it clear to him that funding by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the World Bank and IMF depended on his “good behavior,” that is: back off nationalizing Bolivia’s petroleum resources.7 When Morales rejected these “orders,” including naming government ministers and military leaders without seeking prior U.S. embassy consent, Washington began financing Bolivian opposition groups seeking to overthrow the indigenous government.

Washington used USAID, NED [National Endowment for Democracy], IDB, World Bank, and IMF, to take punitive measures such as vetoing multilateral loans, postponing talks on alleviating Bolivia’s foreign debts, and discouraging international loans and grants. U.S. Ambassador Greenlee wrote in a cable, in January 2006, just months after Morales’ election, “U.S. assistance, the largest of any bilateral donor by a factor of three, is often hidden by our use of third parties to dispense aid with U.S. funds.” He noted “many USAID-administered economic programs run counter to the direction the GOB [Government of Bolivia] wishes to move the country.”

U.S. embassy cables showed Washington sought to create divisions in the social and indigenous movements that make up the support base of the country’s first indigenous-led government. Despite recognizing these were “traditionally confrontational organizations” vis-a-vis the United States, Greenlee believed that “working more closely with these social sector representatives” who expressed dissent towards Morales “seems to be most beneficial to [U.S. government] interests”.

USAID poured at least $85 million into Bolivia. Initially, the United States hoped to destabilize the government by training the separatists in the richer Santa Cruz area in the eastern lowlands. USAID money flowed to groups in these opposition-based areas, as part of “USAID’s larger effort to strengthen regional governments as a counter-balance to the central government.”8

Soon these eastern regions, the Media Luna, were in open rebellion, demanding a referendum on autonomy. Resulting protests led to the killing of at least 20 MAS supporters who had mobilized to crush the rebellion. The separatists’ goal was to divide Bolivia into two separate republics: a poor one governed by an indigenous majority and a much wealthier one run by European descendants in the areas home to the gas transnationals and large agribusiness.

The United States never denounced opposition violence, not even after the massacre of the MAS supporters. Moreover, the U.S. Embassy knew in advance of the opposition plans to blow up gas lines, but did not report it, nor even attempt to dissuade the opposition from doing so.9

Morales was soon to expel U.S. Ambassador Goldberg for his interference. Nevertheless, USAID “still channeled at least $200 million into the country since 2009.” USAID was eventually expelled in 2013.

Once the Media Luna separatist plan collapsed,10 USAID switched to courting indigenous communities by using environmental NGOs. The Aymaras – Morales is one — and Quechuas, Bolivia’s two largest indigenous peoples, live mostly in the highlands and central regions. The east is home to the remaining 34 indigenous peoples. In 2011 new anti-government protests in the east again arose, this time around a planned TIPNIS highway.

Protests against the Government around the TIPNIS (Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory)

The Bolivian government planned to build a highway –  actually to widen, pave and connect two roads with a 20-40 mile new connector – going through the TIPNIS. Western funded NGOs along with some local indigenous groups organized an international campaign against the MAS government, claiming Evo was repressing the indigenous and destroying untouched nature. This campaign was partly funded by USAID and received sympathetic reporting in NACLA, UpsideDownWorld, Amazon Watch, and other liberal-left alternative media, which either omitted or discounted the U.S. role.  Avaaz11 and allied NGOs in solidarity with the protest groups organized an international petition of protest. This foreign interference served to exacerbate a resolvable internal Bolivian dispute.

Fred Fuentes and Cory Morningstar wrote several exposés of this Western campaign against Evo, the covering up of the facts surrounding the TIPNIS road and the protests, including the USAID funding.12 Evo Morales even revealed transcripts of phone calls between the anti-highway march organizers and U.S. embassy officials, including calls right before the march set out.

That the TIPNIS protest leaders supported the REDD (Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), which would give Western NGOs and these indigenous groups funds for monitoring TIPNIS forests, was also not mentioned by liberal-left alternative media. REDD uses poor nations for carbon offsets so corporations in rich countries can continue polluting.

Many Western solidarity activists uncritically supported the anti-highway march. Many of their articles about the issue downplayed and made no mention of connections between the protest leaders and Washington and the Santa Cruz right wing. Eventually the issue was resolved through a consultation process, and 55 of the 69 TIPNIS indigenous communities agreed to the road.13

U.S. Manipulation Helped Cause Morales’ Loss in the 2016 Constitutional Referendum

The United States again intervened to influence the February 21, 2016 referendum to change the constitution to allow Evo Morales to run again for the presidency. A smear campaign against him took place, including false stories of his corruption, nepotism, and fathering a child with a lover, which led to him losing the vote. The day is now recognized as the “Day of the Lie.” On the 2017 anniversary, mobilizations around the country backed the Process of Change and rejected the previous year’s vote. Washington is already at work to block his renomination in 2019.

USAID and NED Funding of Oppositional Forces

According to Bolivia’s Cabinet Chief Juan Ramon Quintana, from 2006-2015 NED funded around 40 institutions in Bolivia including economic and social centers, foundations and non-governmental organizations, for a total of over $10 million. For 2013, the combined NED and USAID allocations for Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia totaled over $60 million, with the bulk of these funds destined to Cuba and Ecuador.

The Issue of  “Extractivism” in Bolivia

Linda Farthing notes that in world colonial and neocolonial history the exploitation of [Bolivia’s] considerable natural resources has also been nearly unparalleled.”  It included Spain’s richest gold and silver mine, one the richest tin mines, two of today’s largest silver and iron ore mines, half of the world’s lithium, and South America’s second largest gas reserves.  She adds, “It comes as no surprise that Bolivia’s history and environment have been dominated by relentless extraction.”

A central challenge facing Latin American governments is overcoming this dependency on raw material exports to a world market controlled by Western powers. This issue, who some present as “extractivism,” has become one of the main points of liberal-left and environmental NGO criticism of the positive changes in both Evo’s Bolivia and Correa’s Ecuador.

“Extractivism” is a deliberately politically neutral and ahistorical term that conceals the brutal history that created the present First World-Third World system. “Extractivism” glosses over what has been 500 years of mass murder of Original Peoples, their slavery and semi-slavery for the purpose of plundering their gold, silver and other natural resources.

The Third World remains dependent on raw material exports, with their economies fragmented into specialized extractive industries geared towards a world market controlled by the First World, alongside backward, low-tech domestic industries and a bloated informal sector.

Bolivia cannot compete in industrial production with countries with more modern institutions, citizens with a higher educational level, developed infrastructure, and with access to the sea. To break free from being a low-cost provider of raw materials, whether mineral or agricultural, will be a long process.

As Fred Fuentes notes, the question of “extractivism” centers on how a Third World country like Bolivia can overcome centuries of colonialism and neocolonialism to provide its people with basic services while trying to respect the environment. The main culprits are not Bolivian, but the Western governments and their corporations. Defenders of the indigenous and Bolivian must demand the West pay its ecological debt and transfer the necessary technology for sustainable development to countries such as Bolivia. “Until this occurs, activists in rich nations have no right to tell Bolivians what they can and cannot do to satisfy the basic needs of their people. Otherwise, telling Bolivian people that they have no right to a highway or to extract gas to fund social programs (as some NGOs demanded), means telling Bolivians they have no right to develop their economy or fight poverty.”

Environmental Achievements

Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Linera points out that Bolivia contributes 0.1% of the world’s greenhouse gases, but its trees clean 2% of the world’s carbon dioxide, resupplying that as oxygen. He attacks the Western “colonial, elitist environmental NGOs” for imposing their environmental demands on the Third World, saying they are blind to the Third World’s right to development.

Fuentes called out Western so-called defenders of Bolivia’s environment who attack Evo Morales over extractivism, for not devoting a single article on how the government has drastically cut deforestation 64% between 2010-2013. He asked, “why have media outlets, seemingly so concerned about Bolivia’s environment, failed to investigate what might be the steepest reduction in greenhouse gas emission per capita of any country in the world?”

They also do not mention that in South America, Bolivia has the greatest number of trees per inhabitant. Peru has 1,500, Brazil 1,400, Argentina 1,200, Colombia 1000, Ecuador, 600, Paraguay 2,500. Bolivia has 5,400. And this year they will plant another 5 million.

Misrepresenting the Morales government’s environmental record often aims to delegitimize Morales’ position not only as a leading spokesperson for the indigenous but in the global fight against climate change. Evo has rejected the carbon offset REDD schemes many Western environmental NGOs supported and clearly blames global warming on the First World’s capitalist operations. “I’m convinced that capitalism is the worst enemy of humanity and the environment, enemy of the entire planet.” He has demanded the Western rich countries repay their climate debt by transfer of technology and funds to the Third World.

Bolivia as a center of anti-imperialist social movements

The Bolivian government has sought to build political alliances with other governments and social movements in order to help strengthen the global forces for fundamental change. Liberal-left critics of Evo Morales, who attack him around TIPNIS, “extractivism,” even for being a neoliberal, so often willing to offer a checklist of measures for how Bolivian socialism should be built, so often willing to portray Evo Morales as backtracking after he took office, tend to go mum on his anti-imperialist measures, conferences, and statements.

Evo Morales has become an outspoken world leader against U.S. hegemony and has pushed hard to make Bolivia a center of anti-imperialist social movements. Bolivia organized a number of international conferences: People’s Summit on Climate Change (2010), Anti-imperialist and Anticolonial Summit of the Peoples of Latin America and the World (2013), Anti-Imperialist International Trade Union Conference (2014), the G77 Summit of 133 Third World nations (2014), the key promoter of the United Nations’ World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (2014), World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Defense of Life  (2015), World Conference of the Peoples For a World Without Borders towards Universal Citizenship (2017).

He has called for rich countries to pay climate reparation to those poorer ones suffering the effects of climate change. Warning of a coming “climate holocaust” that will destroy parts of Africa and many island nations, he called for an international climate court of justice to prosecute countries for climate crimes.

In 2016 he inaugurated a military “Anti-Imperialist Commando School,” saying: “We want to build anti-colonial and anti-capitalist thinking with this school that binds the armed forces to social movements and counteracts the influence of the School of the Americas that always saw the indigenous as internal enemies.”

Besides expelling the U.S. ambassador and USAID for their roles in coup plotting, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was expelled in 2009 for its actions against social organizations and for interfering with the actual struggle against narco-trafficking.

Evo Morales’ anti-cocaine program has resulted in land used for coca production being reduced by one-fifth since 2005.14 The OAS considers Bolivia’s program “a best practice…[worthy of] replication”; it is also praised by the UN Office of Drug Control. The DEA’s military base was transformed into the Cochabamba airport and renamed Soberania [Sovereignty].

“I am pleased to have expelled the U.S. ambassador, the Drug Enforcement Administration and to have closed the U.S. military base in Bolivia. Now, without a U.S. ambassador, there is less conspiracy, and more political stability and social stability.” And in reference to the IMF and World Bank, which had served to force Bolivia to divert funds away from social welfare programs, he added “Without the International Monetary Fund, we are better off economically.”

Speaking of the United States’ $700 billion military budget, Morales said: “If that money was used for cooperation or to fight poverty, we could solve so many [of the world’s social and environmental] problems.” Instead, “The U.S. creates and perpetuates international conflicts for profit….The capitalist system that [it] represents is not a policy that embodies the people of the United States but a policy of the transnational corporations, especially those that commercialize weapons and push for an arms race…they use any pretext against the anti-imperialist countries to subdue and dominate them politically and rob them economically. They’re after our natural resources“.

Challenges Facing The Process of Change

Evo has said that “the retreat of the left in Latin America is due to the incapacity of progressive governments to face a media war and the lack of political training of the youth”. Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera also pointed out that progressive governments have failed to promote a kind of cultural revolution alongside the political revolution; social programs have successfully lifted many out of poverty, creating a new middle class with new consumerist attitudes, without promoting a corresponding new value system; progressive governments must do more to tackle the entrenched corruption of the neoliberal years; the question of the continuity of leadership remains a challenge; and Latin American economic integration remains a weakness despite considerable advances in political regional integration.

Three factors may cause Bolivia’s Process of Change to stagnate and be partially reversed. It has not moved beyond anti-neoliberalism policies that have brought great benefits to the people, in a more anti-capitalist direction. While the MAS government has democratized the traditional Bolivian state, it has modified this bourgeois state but not replaced it with a new one that would be a superior tool for the indigenous campesino and working people to advance their struggle. It has not built an organization of activists committed to leading this struggle with the people.

Now coming on 12 years of the Process of Change, Bolivia is a new country under the leadership of Evo Morales and Garcia Linera. Each passing year is one more of social, political and economic transformation, of opening up national decision-making to the indigenous communities, peasant and worker social movements. Not only have the faces of those who govern radically changed, but the country itself. From one of the poorest countries in Latin America, it has become the leader in sustained economic growth. From a country founded on social exclusion to the point of apartheid, it has become a country of inclusion for all, where more than half the Congress consists of women, where illiteracy is eliminated, where the people have free health care and education, and have gained much greater control over the wealth of their natural resources.

  1. Linda Farthing gives different figures: “The total government take shot up to about 70 percent of production, making gas its primary income source with annual revenues jumping from $332 million before nationalization to more than $2 billion today.”
  2. These figures understate the actual figure as they exclude the 12 million undocumented, who are disproportionately poor.
  3. Federico Fuentes, “Bad Left Government” vs “Good Social Movements”? in Steve Ellner (ed.) Latin America’s Radical Left, Maryland:Rowman & Littlefield (2014) p. 110.
  4. Federico Fuentes. Bolivia’s Communitarian Socialism, Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions, Halifax, Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing; London, NewYork: Zed Books (2013) p. 86.
  5. Dangl, Ben, “The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia,” California: AK Press (2007) p.95.
  6. Federico Fuentes, Bolivia’s Communitarian Socialism, Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions, Halifax, Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing; London, New York: Zed Books (2013) p. 85.
  7. The Wikileaks Files: The World According to US Empire, London, New York: Verso (2015) p. 504.
  8. Ibid., p. 507; quote is from a US government cable. See also WikiLeaks Cables Reveal US Gave Millions to Bolivian Separatists and El informe de 2007 de la USAID.
  9. The Wikileaks Files: The World According to US Empire, (2015: 508). “The US had full knowledge of opposition groups’ terrorist plans, and yet did not denounce them,” Eirik Vold [author of Ecuador In the Sights: The WikiLeaks Revelations and the Conspiracy Against the Government of Rafael Correa] told Prensa Latina, adding that the US had prior knowledge of a planned attack on a natural gas pipeline, which resulted in a ten percent decrease in Bolivia’s gas exports to Brazil.”
  10. The Media Luna attempted coup broke under the pressure of several Latin American anti-neoliberal governments (Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, El Salvador, Ecuador y Nicaragua) issued a declaration in support of Bolivia’s constitutional government. Nevertheless, the US continued to maintain constant communication with the leaders of the separatist movement.
  11. It included 61 signers, only two from Bolivia. US signers included Amazon Watch, Biofuelwatch, Democracy Center, Food and Water Watch, Global Exchange, NACLA, Rainforest Action Network.
  12. Fred Fuentes, “Bad Left Government” versus “Good Left Social Movements”? in Latin America’s Radical Left  (2014) pp. 120-121.
  13. Linda C.  Farthing, Benjamin H. Kohl Evo’s Bolivia: Continuity and Change, Austin, University of Texas Press (2014) pp. 52-54.
  14. Drug seizures have almost tripled under Evo, Informe Presidencial, 22 de enero 2017, p. 12.

Eleven Years of the “Process of Change” in Evo Morales’ Bolivia

Evo Morales will soon have been the president of Bolivia for 12 years, heralding the ascent of the indigenous social movements to governmental power. This ended the apartheid system against the indigenous that existed for 500 years in Bolivia. Morales won in 2005 with 53.7% of the vote, followed by re-elections in 2009 with 64.2% and 2014 with 61.3%.

The country has made great strides in economic development, national sovereignty, women’s and Original Peoples’ rights, respect for Mother Earth, raising the people’s standard of living, level of education, and health care.

His presidency, which has brought an era of relative social peace and economic growth, has been the longest in Bolivia’s history. Since 1825, Bolivia has had 83 presidents with 37, almost half, by means of coup d’etat. Previous presidents typically lacked social legitimacy, representing a political system that excluded participation of the indigenous peoples, plagued by social and economic inequality, subjugated to foreign interests, and complicit with the looting of natural resources. By 2002, after years of neoliberal regimes serving foreign — mostly U.S. — corporations, the proportion of the rural population living in extreme poverty had risen to 75%.

The election of “Evo,” a campesino movement leader and head of the Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement Toward Socialism, MAS), began what his government describes as the “Process of Change” that shifted power away from Bolivia’s traditional elite, the mostly white owners of industry and agriculture, and toward the majority, the mostly indigenous workers and campesinos.

Reflecting on the historic significance of the changes underway in Bolivia, Morales declared:

We are the indigenous blood of Mother Earth. Until now Bolivia has been ruled by a few families that have all the political and economic power. They despise, humiliate, marginalize and hate the majority of the indigenous population. After 525 years of colonization, we indigenous peoples are part of the construction of a new Plurinational State and we have full participation in international political organizations and forums.

Why Has Economic Development Been so Successful During the Process of Change 

The MAS government undertook an anti-neoliberal program, which has enabled the economy to grow an average 5% per year since 2006, compared to 2.8% during the years 1951-2005. As a result, the Gross Domestic Product has grown four-fold from $9 billion in 2005 to $36 billion today. Bolivia has become the fastest growing economy in Latin America.

Economic strategy focused on regaining national sovereignty over the country’s natural resources and using this wealth not to enrich foreign multinationals but to raise the standard of living of the neglected people of Bolivia. In 2006 Evo Morales asserted public ownership over the country’s gas and oil resources, making foreign companies turn over extractive industry resources to the state. The state now fully controls sales, transport and distribution as well as key decisions regarding the extraction and refining of raw materials. The nationalization decree also forced foreign oil companies to renegotiate contracts with the new administration. Today, foreign corporations still extract most of Bolivia’s natural gas, but do so as contractors hired by the state, on the state’s terms.

Prior to the nationalizations (not only of gas and oil, but telecommunications, water, electricity, and a number of mines), foreign corporations pocketed about 85% of the profits generated by natural gas production. Morales increased the country’s profit share from gas from about 15% before his presidency to between 80-90%.1 In 2005, before nationalization, government gas revenues totaled $0.6 billion; in 2015 it was over four times as much, $2.6 billion – in fact, down from $4.5 billion in 2014. In 2015 all gas and oil revenues yielded $4 billion, making up nearly half of Bolivia’s export earnings.

Over ten years, Evo’s Bolivia has gained $31.5 billion from the nationalizations, compared to a mere $2.5 billion earned during the previous ten years of neoliberal policies. This vastly increased revenue, largely used to benefit the people, starkly exemplifies the extent the people have been robbed to serve foreign corporate interests.

By the end of 2013 the state-owned portion of the economy reached 35%, double that of previous neoliberal governments. The state has become the main generator of wealth, and public investment amounted to over $5 billion in 2016, compared to a mere $629 million in 2006.  Much of this new revenue funds the country’s impressive development, infrastructure, community projects, such as schools, gyms, clinics, roads, and subsidies for agricultural production. It is spent on the people’s health and education, on price controls for staple foods, on wage increases, and social security benefits.

This humane redistribution of national wealth away from corporate interests to serving the poor majority has allowed one in five Bolivians, two million people, to escape a life of poverty. Even the World Bank has recognized the country as world champion in income growth for the poorest 40% of its population.

In the United States, the government is taking the opposite course, turning its back on the poor. Here the poverty has grown over the same period, from 12.3% to 12.7%.2 Vacant homes number 18,600,000 – enough for each homeless person to have 6. The government cut food stamps by $8.7 billion in 2014, cut 500,000 poor from the program in 2016, with plans to slash $19.3 billion per year for ten years. Yet Washington increases the military budget this year by $80 billion, an amount that could make public college free.

For Bolivia to industrialize and diversify the economy, to move away from dependence on natural resource exports, is a difficult long-term task. The country did create 485,000 jobs in the productive sector between 2006-2010, and developed industries to process natural resources.3 It advanced significantly its agricultural production, now providing 95% of the country’s food.  Yet raw materials still account for 90% of Bolivia’s exports.

Big investments are underway in infrastructure construction, hydrocarbon exploration, industrialization of natural gas (for fertilizers and plastics), more lithium production, and electric power for export. “Here we have the presence of China, with cooperation without pre-conditions, with credit without conditions,” Evo Morales said, contrasting Chinese aid to Western aid.

New Social Programs to Eliminate Poverty

In Bolivia under Morales, poverty has declined from 60.6% of the population in 2005 to 38.6% in 2016. Extreme poverty (those living on less than $1.25 per day) fell from 38% to 16.8%. The real minimum wage has risen from 440 bolivars a month to 2,000 a month (from $57 to $287). Unemployment stands at under 4%, the lowest in Latin America, down from 8.5% in 2005.

Here are some of the measures to combat poverty:

  1. Electricity has been brought to 66% of rural homes by 2015, up from 25% in 2001.
  2. Over 127,000 homes have been created for low income Bolivians who lack housing. Another 23,000 homes will be built in 2018.
  3. The Juancito Pinto program aims to increase school attendance and reduce child labor. It presently reaches 2 million children, who each receive $28 annually upon finishing their school year.
  4. The Juana Azurduy program combats maternal and infant mortality, as well as malnutrition in children under two years old. Mothers can receive up to $266 from the program. UNICEF has pointed out the effectiveness of these social programs. Chronic undernourishment in children has sharply fallen from 27%, when the program started in 2009 to 16% now, and infant mortality has been cut in half just since 2008.
  5. The Renta de la Dignidad is a payment to the 900,000 Bolivians over 60 years old, who would otherwise receive no pension. Incapacitated and disabled people now receive 250 bolivianos ($36) monthly and guaranteed job placement in public and private institutions.

More than 4.8 million Bolivians – in a country of just over 10 million – today benefit from these  programs, programs that not just combat poverty, but improve public health and education.

Meanwhile in the United States, the bottom 90% of households are poorer today than they were in 1987.

Bolivia has cut income inequality by two-thirds, with the share of income of the top 10% vis-à-vis the poorest 10% has dropped from 128 to 1 in 2005 to 37 to 1 in 2016.

In the United States, after years of neoliberal programs, we have the shocking fact that the three richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the population.

Gains for Rights of Original Peoples

The country, after a national discussion initiated by Bolivia’s five main indigenous campesino organizations, adopted a new constitution. The new document recognized Bolivia as a Plurinational State, with equal status and autonomy for Original Peoples, and also reclaimed control over natural resources. The new government has even established a Ministry of Decolonization (with a Depatriarchalization Unit) to further the uprooting of the previous apartheid system. By 2011, 90 of the 166 elected representatives of the national assembly came directly from the ranks of the progressive social movements.4

Gains in Education and Health Care

Bolivia had an illiteracy rate of 13% when Evo Morales became president. After a mass literacy campaign that used Cuba’s YES I CAN program, 850,000 were educated and by 2008 Bolivia was declared free of illiteracy. The country is second to Cuba in Latin America in terms of funding education. There are now 16,000 educational establishments in the country, 4,500 of them were built since 2006 with the funds from the nationalized gas industry.

Life expectancy of Bolivians during Morales’ presidency has increased from 64 years to 71 years. This is partly the result of the almost 700 members of the Cuban medical brigade working in the country. Cuba’s Operation Miracle has also enabled 676,000 Bolivians to have had their vision restored. Moreover, around 5,000 Bolivians have obtained their medical degrees in Cuba, going back to their country to provide their services. The country now has 47 new hospitals and over 3,000 health centers being built.

Land Distribution and Food Self-Sufficiency 

Before Evo became president, 5% of property owners owned 70% of the arable land.5 From 2006-2010 over 35 million hectares of land (one third of Bolivia), was handed over to Original Peoples’ peasant communities to be run communally. This included government lands, large estates, and forest. Another 21 million hectares previously occupied illegally by large landowners were declared public lands, mostly protected forests.6 The land reform law expropriated underutilized lands, and permitted seizure of property from landowners employing forced labor or debt peonage. In all, approximately 800,000 low-income peasants have benefited. Of those who received titles to their land, 46% have been women. For the first time since the European conquest, small holders control 55% of all land. The government ensures that these small producers receive preferential access to equipment, supplies, loans, and state subsidized markets, key factors in enabling the country to become self-sufficient in food.

U.S. Interference and Regime Change Attempts

As John Perkins points out in Confessions of an Economic Hitman, any government pursuing anti-neoliberal economic policies or its own foreign policy independent of the United States, as the case with Rafael Correa’s Ecuador and Morales’ Bolivia, becomes a U.S. target for overthrow.

Evo Morales has become one of Washington’s most disfavored leaders in the Americas. Washington continues to be concerned about Evo revolutionizing the indigenous movements in the region, and  tries to tarnish his reputation as an indigenous movement leader.

Wikileaks documents show that the United States tried to undermine the presidencies of Evo Morales and Rafael Correa even before they were elected. Right after Evo’s inauguration, the U.S. ambassador made it clear to him that funding by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the World Bank and IMF depended on his “good behavior,” that is: back off nationalizing Bolivia’s petroleum resources.7 When Morales rejected these “orders,” including naming government ministers and military leaders without seeking prior U.S. embassy consent, Washington began financing Bolivian opposition groups seeking to overthrow the indigenous government.

Washington used USAID, NED [National Endowment for Democracy], IDB, World Bank, and IMF, to take punitive measures such as vetoing multilateral loans, postponing talks on alleviating Bolivia’s foreign debts, and discouraging international loans and grants. U.S. Ambassador Greenlee wrote in a cable, in January 2006, just months after Morales’ election, “U.S. assistance, the largest of any bilateral donor by a factor of three, is often hidden by our use of third parties to dispense aid with U.S. funds.” He noted “many USAID-administered economic programs run counter to the direction the GOB [Government of Bolivia] wishes to move the country.”

U.S. embassy cables showed Washington sought to create divisions in the social and indigenous movements that make up the support base of the country’s first indigenous-led government. Despite recognizing these were “traditionally confrontational organizations” vis-a-vis the United States, Greenlee believed that “working more closely with these social sector representatives” who expressed dissent towards Morales “seems to be most beneficial to [U.S. government] interests”.

USAID poured at least $85 million into Bolivia. Initially, the United States hoped to destabilize the government by training the separatists in the richer Santa Cruz area in the eastern lowlands. USAID money flowed to groups in these opposition-based areas, as part of “USAID’s larger effort to strengthen regional governments as a counter-balance to the central government.”8

Soon these eastern regions, the Media Luna, were in open rebellion, demanding a referendum on autonomy. Resulting protests led to the killing of at least 20 MAS supporters who had mobilized to crush the rebellion. The separatists’ goal was to divide Bolivia into two separate republics: a poor one governed by an indigenous majority and a much wealthier one run by European descendants in the areas home to the gas transnationals and large agribusiness.

The United States never denounced opposition violence, not even after the massacre of the MAS supporters. Moreover, the U.S. Embassy knew in advance of the opposition plans to blow up gas lines, but did not report it, nor even attempt to dissuade the opposition from doing so.9

Morales was soon to expel U.S. Ambassador Goldberg for his interference. Nevertheless, USAID “still channeled at least $200 million into the country since 2009.” USAID was eventually expelled in 2013.

Once the Media Luna separatist plan collapsed,10 USAID switched to courting indigenous communities by using environmental NGOs. The Aymaras – Morales is one — and Quechuas, Bolivia’s two largest indigenous peoples, live mostly in the highlands and central regions. The east is home to the remaining 34 indigenous peoples. In 2011 new anti-government protests in the east again arose, this time around a planned TIPNIS highway.

Protests against the Government around the TIPNIS (Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory)

The Bolivian government planned to build a highway –  actually to widen, pave and connect two roads with a 20-40 mile new connector – going through the TIPNIS. Western funded NGOs along with some local indigenous groups organized an international campaign against the MAS government, claiming Evo was repressing the indigenous and destroying untouched nature. This campaign was partly funded by USAID and received sympathetic reporting in NACLA, UpsideDownWorld, Amazon Watch, and other liberal-left alternative media, which either omitted or discounted the U.S. role.  Avaaz11 and allied NGOs in solidarity with the protest groups organized an international petition of protest. This foreign interference served to exacerbate a resolvable internal Bolivian dispute.

Fred Fuentes and Cory Morningstar wrote several exposés of this Western campaign against Evo, the covering up of the facts surrounding the TIPNIS road and the protests, including the USAID funding.12 Evo Morales even revealed transcripts of phone calls between the anti-highway march organizers and U.S. embassy officials, including calls right before the march set out.

That the TIPNIS protest leaders supported the REDD (Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), which would give Western NGOs and these indigenous groups funds for monitoring TIPNIS forests, was also not mentioned by liberal-left alternative media. REDD uses poor nations for carbon offsets so corporations in rich countries can continue polluting.

Many Western solidarity activists uncritically supported the anti-highway march. Many of their articles about the issue downplayed and made no mention of connections between the protest leaders and Washington and the Santa Cruz right wing. Eventually the issue was resolved through a consultation process, and 55 of the 69 TIPNIS indigenous communities agreed to the road.13

U.S. Manipulation Helped Cause Morales’ Loss in the 2016 Constitutional Referendum

The United States again intervened to influence the February 21, 2016 referendum to change the constitution to allow Evo Morales to run again for the presidency. A smear campaign against him took place, including false stories of his corruption, nepotism, and fathering a child with a lover, which led to him losing the vote. The day is now recognized as the “Day of the Lie.” On the 2017 anniversary, mobilizations around the country backed the Process of Change and rejected the previous year’s vote. Washington is already at work to block his renomination in 2019.

USAID and NED Funding of Oppositional Forces

According to Bolivia’s Cabinet Chief Juan Ramon Quintana, from 2006-2015 NED funded around 40 institutions in Bolivia including economic and social centers, foundations and non-governmental organizations, for a total of over $10 million. For 2013, the combined NED and USAID allocations for Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia totaled over $60 million, with the bulk of these funds destined to Cuba and Ecuador.

The Issue of  “Extractivism” in Bolivia

Linda Farthing notes that in world colonial and neocolonial history the exploitation of [Bolivia’s] considerable natural resources has also been nearly unparalleled.”  It included Spain’s richest gold and silver mine, one the richest tin mines, two of today’s largest silver and iron ore mines, half of the world’s lithium, and South America’s second largest gas reserves.  She adds, “It comes as no surprise that Bolivia’s history and environment have been dominated by relentless extraction.”

A central challenge facing Latin American governments is overcoming this dependency on raw material exports to a world market controlled by Western powers. This issue, who some present as “extractivism,” has become one of the main points of liberal-left and environmental NGO criticism of the positive changes in both Evo’s Bolivia and Correa’s Ecuador.

“Extractivism” is a deliberately politically neutral and ahistorical term that conceals the brutal history that created the present First World-Third World system. “Extractivism” glosses over what has been 500 years of mass murder of Original Peoples, their slavery and semi-slavery for the purpose of plundering their gold, silver and other natural resources.

The Third World remains dependent on raw material exports, with their economies fragmented into specialized extractive industries geared towards a world market controlled by the First World, alongside backward, low-tech domestic industries and a bloated informal sector.

Bolivia cannot compete in industrial production with countries with more modern institutions, citizens with a higher educational level, developed infrastructure, and with access to the sea. To break free from being a low-cost provider of raw materials, whether mineral or agricultural, will be a long process.

As Fred Fuentes notes, the question of “extractivism” centers on how a Third World country like Bolivia can overcome centuries of colonialism and neocolonialism to provide its people with basic services while trying to respect the environment. The main culprits are not Bolivian, but the Western governments and their corporations. Defenders of the indigenous and Bolivian must demand the West pay its ecological debt and transfer the necessary technology for sustainable development to countries such as Bolivia. “Until this occurs, activists in rich nations have no right to tell Bolivians what they can and cannot do to satisfy the basic needs of their people. Otherwise, telling Bolivian people that they have no right to a highway or to extract gas to fund social programs (as some NGOs demanded), means telling Bolivians they have no right to develop their economy or fight poverty.”

Environmental Achievements

Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Linera points out that Bolivia contributes 0.1% of the world’s greenhouse gases, but its trees clean 2% of the world’s carbon dioxide, resupplying that as oxygen. He attacks the Western “colonial, elitist environmental NGOs” for imposing their environmental demands on the Third World, saying they are blind to the Third World’s right to development.

Fuentes called out Western so-called defenders of Bolivia’s environment who attack Evo Morales over extractivism, for not devoting a single article on how the government has drastically cut deforestation 64% between 2010-2013. He asked, “why have media outlets, seemingly so concerned about Bolivia’s environment, failed to investigate what might be the steepest reduction in greenhouse gas emission per capita of any country in the world?”

They also do not mention that in South America, Bolivia has the greatest number of trees per inhabitant. Peru has 1,500, Brazil 1,400, Argentina 1,200, Colombia 1000, Ecuador, 600, Paraguay 2,500. Bolivia has 5,400. And this year they will plant another 5 million.

Misrepresenting the Morales government’s environmental record often aims to delegitimize Morales’ position not only as a leading spokesperson for the indigenous but in the global fight against climate change. Evo has rejected the carbon offset REDD schemes many Western environmental NGOs supported and clearly blames global warming on the First World’s capitalist operations. “I’m convinced that capitalism is the worst enemy of humanity and the environment, enemy of the entire planet.” He has demanded the Western rich countries repay their climate debt by transfer of technology and funds to the Third World.

Bolivia as a center of anti-imperialist social movements

The Bolivian government has sought to build political alliances with other governments and social movements in order to help strengthen the global forces for fundamental change. Liberal-left critics of Evo Morales, who attack him around TIPNIS, “extractivism,” even for being a neoliberal, so often willing to offer a checklist of measures for how Bolivian socialism should be built, so often willing to portray Evo Morales as backtracking after he took office, tend to go mum on his anti-imperialist measures, conferences, and statements.

Evo Morales has become an outspoken world leader against U.S. hegemony and has pushed hard to make Bolivia a center of anti-imperialist social movements. Bolivia organized a number of international conferences: People’s Summit on Climate Change (2010), Anti-imperialist and Anticolonial Summit of the Peoples of Latin America and the World (2013), Anti-Imperialist International Trade Union Conference (2014), the G77 Summit of 133 Third World nations (2014), the key promoter of the United Nations’ World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (2014), World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Defense of Life  (2015), World Conference of the Peoples For a World Without Borders towards Universal Citizenship (2017).

He has called for rich countries to pay climate reparation to those poorer ones suffering the effects of climate change. Warning of a coming “climate holocaust” that will destroy parts of Africa and many island nations, he called for an international climate court of justice to prosecute countries for climate crimes.

In 2016 he inaugurated a military “Anti-Imperialist Commando School,” saying: “We want to build anti-colonial and anti-capitalist thinking with this school that binds the armed forces to social movements and counteracts the influence of the School of the Americas that always saw the indigenous as internal enemies.”

Besides expelling the U.S. ambassador and USAID for their roles in coup plotting, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was expelled in 2009 for its actions against social organizations and for interfering with the actual struggle against narco-trafficking.

Evo Morales’ anti-cocaine program has resulted in land used for coca production being reduced by one-fifth since 2005.14 The OAS considers Bolivia’s program “a best practice…[worthy of] replication”; it is also praised by the UN Office of Drug Control. The DEA’s military base was transformed into the Cochabamba airport and renamed Soberania [Sovereignty].

“I am pleased to have expelled the U.S. ambassador, the Drug Enforcement Administration and to have closed the U.S. military base in Bolivia. Now, without a U.S. ambassador, there is less conspiracy, and more political stability and social stability.” And in reference to the IMF and World Bank, which had served to force Bolivia to divert funds away from social welfare programs, he added “Without the International Monetary Fund, we are better off economically.”

Speaking of the United States’ $700 billion military budget, Morales said: “If that money was used for cooperation or to fight poverty, we could solve so many [of the world’s social and environmental] problems.” Instead, “The U.S. creates and perpetuates international conflicts for profit….The capitalist system that [it] represents is not a policy that embodies the people of the United States but a policy of the transnational corporations, especially those that commercialize weapons and push for an arms race…they use any pretext against the anti-imperialist countries to subdue and dominate them politically and rob them economically. They’re after our natural resources“.

Challenges Facing The Process of Change

Evo has said that “the retreat of the left in Latin America is due to the incapacity of progressive governments to face a media war and the lack of political training of the youth”. Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera also pointed out that progressive governments have failed to promote a kind of cultural revolution alongside the political revolution; social programs have successfully lifted many out of poverty, creating a new middle class with new consumerist attitudes, without promoting a corresponding new value system; progressive governments must do more to tackle the entrenched corruption of the neoliberal years; the question of the continuity of leadership remains a challenge; and Latin American economic integration remains a weakness despite considerable advances in political regional integration.

Three factors may cause Bolivia’s Process of Change to stagnate and be partially reversed. It has not moved beyond anti-neoliberalism policies that have brought great benefits to the people, in a more anti-capitalist direction. While the MAS government has democratized the traditional Bolivian state, it has modified this bourgeois state but not replaced it with a new one that would be a superior tool for the indigenous campesino and working people to advance their struggle. It has not built an organization of activists committed to leading this struggle with the people.

Now coming on 12 years of the Process of Change, Bolivia is a new country under the leadership of Evo Morales and Garcia Linera. Each passing year is one more of social, political and economic transformation, of opening up national decision-making to the indigenous communities, peasant and worker social movements. Not only have the faces of those who govern radically changed, but the country itself. From one of the poorest countries in Latin America, it has become the leader in sustained economic growth. From a country founded on social exclusion to the point of apartheid, it has become a country of inclusion for all, where more than half the Congress consists of women, where illiteracy is eliminated, where the people have free health care and education, and have gained much greater control over the wealth of their natural resources.

  1. Linda Farthing gives different figures: “The total government take shot up to about 70 percent of production, making gas its primary income source with annual revenues jumping from $332 million before nationalization to more than $2 billion today.”
  2. These figures understate the actual figure as they exclude the 12 million undocumented, who are disproportionately poor.
  3. Federico Fuentes, “Bad Left Government” vs “Good Social Movements”? in Steve Ellner (ed.) Latin America’s Radical Left, Maryland:Rowman & Littlefield (2014) p. 110.
  4. Federico Fuentes. Bolivia’s Communitarian Socialism, Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions, Halifax, Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing; London, NewYork: Zed Books (2013) p. 86.
  5. Dangl, Ben, “The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia,” California: AK Press (2007) p.95.
  6. Federico Fuentes, Bolivia’s Communitarian Socialism, Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions, Halifax, Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing; London, New York: Zed Books (2013) p. 85.
  7. The Wikileaks Files: The World According to US Empire, London, New York: Verso (2015) p. 504.
  8. Ibid., p. 507; quote is from a US government cable. See also WikiLeaks Cables Reveal US Gave Millions to Bolivian Separatists and El informe de 2007 de la USAID.
  9. The Wikileaks Files: The World According to US Empire, (2015: 508). “The US had full knowledge of opposition groups’ terrorist plans, and yet did not denounce them,” Eirik Vold [author of Ecuador In the Sights: The WikiLeaks Revelations and the Conspiracy Against the Government of Rafael Correa] told Prensa Latina, adding that the US had prior knowledge of a planned attack on a natural gas pipeline, which resulted in a ten percent decrease in Bolivia’s gas exports to Brazil.”
  10. The Media Luna attempted coup broke under the pressure of several Latin American anti-neoliberal governments (Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, El Salvador, Ecuador y Nicaragua) issued a declaration in support of Bolivia’s constitutional government. Nevertheless, the US continued to maintain constant communication with the leaders of the separatist movement.
  11. It included 61 signers, only two from Bolivia. US signers included Amazon Watch, Biofuelwatch, Democracy Center, Food and Water Watch, Global Exchange, NACLA, Rainforest Action Network.
  12. Fred Fuentes, “Bad Left Government” versus “Good Left Social Movements”? in Latin America’s Radical Left  (2014) pp. 120-121.
  13. Linda C.  Farthing, Benjamin H. Kohl Evo’s Bolivia: Continuity and Change, Austin, University of Texas Press (2014) pp. 52-54.
  14. Drug seizures have almost tripled under Evo, Informe Presidencial, 22 de enero 2017, p. 12.

Eleven Years of the “Process of Change” in Evo Morales’ Bolivia

Evo Morales will soon have been the president of Bolivia for 12 years, heralding the ascent of the indigenous social movements to governmental power. This ended the apartheid system against the indigenous that existed for 500 years in Bolivia. Morales won in 2005 with 53.7% of the vote, followed by re-elections in 2009 with 64.2% and 2014 with 61.3%.

The country has made great strides in economic development, national sovereignty, women’s and Original Peoples’ rights, respect for Mother Earth, raising the people’s standard of living, level of education, and health care.

His presidency, which has brought an era of relative social peace and economic growth, has been the longest in Bolivia’s history. Since 1825, Bolivia has had 83 presidents with 37, almost half, by means of coup d’etat. Previous presidents typically lacked social legitimacy, representing a political system that excluded participation of the indigenous peoples, plagued by social and economic inequality, subjugated to foreign interests, and complicit with the looting of natural resources. By 2002, after years of neoliberal regimes serving foreign — mostly U.S. — corporations, the proportion of the rural population living in extreme poverty had risen to 75%.

The election of “Evo,” a campesino movement leader and head of the Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement Toward Socialism, MAS), began what his government describes as the “Process of Change” that shifted power away from Bolivia’s traditional elite, the mostly white owners of industry and agriculture, and toward the majority, the mostly indigenous workers and campesinos.

Reflecting on the historic significance of the changes underway in Bolivia, Morales declared:

We are the indigenous blood of Mother Earth. Until now Bolivia has been ruled by a few families that have all the political and economic power. They despise, humiliate, marginalize and hate the majority of the indigenous population. After 525 years of colonization, we indigenous peoples are part of the construction of a new Plurinational State and we have full participation in international political organizations and forums.

Why Has Economic Development Been so Successful During the Process of Change 

The MAS government undertook an anti-neoliberal program, which has enabled the economy to grow an average 5% per year since 2006, compared to 2.8% during the years 1951-2005. As a result, the Gross Domestic Product has grown four-fold from $9 billion in 2005 to $36 billion today. Bolivia has become the fastest growing economy in Latin America.

Economic strategy focused on regaining national sovereignty over the country’s natural resources and using this wealth not to enrich foreign multinationals but to raise the standard of living of the neglected people of Bolivia. In 2006 Evo Morales asserted public ownership over the country’s gas and oil resources, making foreign companies turn over extractive industry resources to the state. The state now fully controls sales, transport and distribution as well as key decisions regarding the extraction and refining of raw materials. The nationalization decree also forced foreign oil companies to renegotiate contracts with the new administration. Today, foreign corporations still extract most of Bolivia’s natural gas, but do so as contractors hired by the state, on the state’s terms.

Prior to the nationalizations (not only of gas and oil, but telecommunications, water, electricity, and a number of mines), foreign corporations pocketed about 85% of the profits generated by natural gas production. Morales increased the country’s profit share from gas from about 15% before his presidency to between 80-90%.1 In 2005, before nationalization, government gas revenues totaled $0.6 billion; in 2015 it was over four times as much, $2.6 billion – in fact, down from $4.5 billion in 2014. In 2015 all gas and oil revenues yielded $4 billion, making up nearly half of Bolivia’s export earnings.

Over ten years, Evo’s Bolivia has gained $31.5 billion from the nationalizations, compared to a mere $2.5 billion earned during the previous ten years of neoliberal policies. This vastly increased revenue, largely used to benefit the people, starkly exemplifies the extent the people have been robbed to serve foreign corporate interests.

By the end of 2013 the state-owned portion of the economy reached 35%, double that of previous neoliberal governments. The state has become the main generator of wealth, and public investment amounted to over $5 billion in 2016, compared to a mere $629 million in 2006.  Much of this new revenue funds the country’s impressive development, infrastructure, community projects, such as schools, gyms, clinics, roads, and subsidies for agricultural production. It is spent on the people’s health and education, on price controls for staple foods, on wage increases, and social security benefits.

This humane redistribution of national wealth away from corporate interests to serving the poor majority has allowed one in five Bolivians, two million people, to escape a life of poverty. Even the World Bank has recognized the country as world champion in income growth for the poorest 40% of its population.

In the United States, the government is taking the opposite course, turning its back on the poor. Here the poverty has grown over the same period, from 12.3% to 12.7%.2 Vacant homes number 18,600,000 – enough for each homeless person to have 6. The government cut food stamps by $8.7 billion in 2014, cut 500,000 poor from the program in 2016, with plans to slash $19.3 billion per year for ten years. Yet Washington increases the military budget this year by $80 billion, an amount that could make public college free.

For Bolivia to industrialize and diversify the economy, to move away from dependence on natural resource exports, is a difficult long-term task. The country did create 485,000 jobs in the productive sector between 2006-2010, and developed industries to process natural resources.3 It advanced significantly its agricultural production, now providing 95% of the country’s food.  Yet raw materials still account for 90% of Bolivia’s exports.

Big investments are underway in infrastructure construction, hydrocarbon exploration, industrialization of natural gas (for fertilizers and plastics), more lithium production, and electric power for export. “Here we have the presence of China, with cooperation without pre-conditions, with credit without conditions,” Evo Morales said, contrasting Chinese aid to Western aid.

New Social Programs to Eliminate Poverty

In Bolivia under Morales, poverty has declined from 60.6% of the population in 2005 to 38.6% in 2016. Extreme poverty (those living on less than $1.25 per day) fell from 38% to 16.8%. The real minimum wage has risen from 440 bolivars a month to 2,000 a month (from $57 to $287). Unemployment stands at under 4%, the lowest in Latin America, down from 8.5% in 2005.

Here are some of the measures to combat poverty:

  1. Electricity has been brought to 66% of rural homes by 2015, up from 25% in 2001.
  2. Over 127,000 homes have been created for low income Bolivians who lack housing. Another 23,000 homes will be built in 2018.
  3. The Juancito Pinto program aims to increase school attendance and reduce child labor. It presently reaches 2 million children, who each receive $28 annually upon finishing their school year.
  4. The Juana Azurduy program combats maternal and infant mortality, as well as malnutrition in children under two years old. Mothers can receive up to $266 from the program. UNICEF has pointed out the effectiveness of these social programs. Chronic undernourishment in children has sharply fallen from 27%, when the program started in 2009 to 16% now, and infant mortality has been cut in half just since 2008.
  5. The Renta de la Dignidad is a payment to the 900,000 Bolivians over 60 years old, who would otherwise receive no pension. Incapacitated and disabled people now receive 250 bolivianos ($36) monthly and guaranteed job placement in public and private institutions.

More than 4.8 million Bolivians – in a country of just over 10 million – today benefit from these  programs, programs that not just combat poverty, but improve public health and education.

Meanwhile in the United States, the bottom 90% of households are poorer today than they were in 1987.

Bolivia has cut income inequality by two-thirds, with the share of income of the top 10% vis-à-vis the poorest 10% has dropped from 128 to 1 in 2005 to 37 to 1 in 2016.

In the United States, after years of neoliberal programs, we have the shocking fact that the three richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the population.

Gains for Rights of Original Peoples

The country, after a national discussion initiated by Bolivia’s five main indigenous campesino organizations, adopted a new constitution. The new document recognized Bolivia as a Plurinational State, with equal status and autonomy for Original Peoples, and also reclaimed control over natural resources. The new government has even established a Ministry of Decolonization (with a Depatriarchalization Unit) to further the uprooting of the previous apartheid system. By 2011, 90 of the 166 elected representatives of the national assembly came directly from the ranks of the progressive social movements.4

Gains in Education and Health Care

Bolivia had an illiteracy rate of 13% when Evo Morales became president. After a mass literacy campaign that used Cuba’s YES I CAN program, 850,000 were educated and by 2008 Bolivia was declared free of illiteracy. The country is second to Cuba in Latin America in terms of funding education. There are now 16,000 educational establishments in the country, 4,500 of them were built since 2006 with the funds from the nationalized gas industry.

Life expectancy of Bolivians during Morales’ presidency has increased from 64 years to 71 years. This is partly the result of the almost 700 members of the Cuban medical brigade working in the country. Cuba’s Operation Miracle has also enabled 676,000 Bolivians to have had their vision restored. Moreover, around 5,000 Bolivians have obtained their medical degrees in Cuba, going back to their country to provide their services. The country now has 47 new hospitals and over 3,000 health centers being built.

Land Distribution and Food Self-Sufficiency 

Before Evo became president, 5% of property owners owned 70% of the arable land.5 From 2006-2010 over 35 million hectares of land (one third of Bolivia), was handed over to Original Peoples’ peasant communities to be run communally. This included government lands, large estates, and forest. Another 21 million hectares previously occupied illegally by large landowners were declared public lands, mostly protected forests.6 The land reform law expropriated underutilized lands, and permitted seizure of property from landowners employing forced labor or debt peonage. In all, approximately 800,000 low-income peasants have benefited. Of those who received titles to their land, 46% have been women. For the first time since the European conquest, small holders control 55% of all land. The government ensures that these small producers receive preferential access to equipment, supplies, loans, and state subsidized markets, key factors in enabling the country to become self-sufficient in food.

U.S. Interference and Regime Change Attempts

As John Perkins points out in Confessions of an Economic Hitman, any government pursuing anti-neoliberal economic policies or its own foreign policy independent of the United States, as the case with Rafael Correa’s Ecuador and Morales’ Bolivia, becomes a U.S. target for overthrow.

Evo Morales has become one of Washington’s most disfavored leaders in the Americas. Washington continues to be concerned about Evo revolutionizing the indigenous movements in the region, and  tries to tarnish his reputation as an indigenous movement leader.

Wikileaks documents show that the United States tried to undermine the presidencies of Evo Morales and Rafael Correa even before they were elected. Right after Evo’s inauguration, the U.S. ambassador made it clear to him that funding by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the World Bank and IMF depended on his “good behavior,” that is: back off nationalizing Bolivia’s petroleum resources.7 When Morales rejected these “orders,” including naming government ministers and military leaders without seeking prior U.S. embassy consent, Washington began financing Bolivian opposition groups seeking to overthrow the indigenous government.

Washington used USAID, NED [National Endowment for Democracy], IDB, World Bank, and IMF, to take punitive measures such as vetoing multilateral loans, postponing talks on alleviating Bolivia’s foreign debts, and discouraging international loans and grants. U.S. Ambassador Greenlee wrote in a cable, in January 2006, just months after Morales’ election, “U.S. assistance, the largest of any bilateral donor by a factor of three, is often hidden by our use of third parties to dispense aid with U.S. funds.” He noted “many USAID-administered economic programs run counter to the direction the GOB [Government of Bolivia] wishes to move the country.”

U.S. embassy cables showed Washington sought to create divisions in the social and indigenous movements that make up the support base of the country’s first indigenous-led government. Despite recognizing these were “traditionally confrontational organizations” vis-a-vis the United States, Greenlee believed that “working more closely with these social sector representatives” who expressed dissent towards Morales “seems to be most beneficial to [U.S. government] interests”.

USAID poured at least $85 million into Bolivia. Initially, the United States hoped to destabilize the government by training the separatists in the richer Santa Cruz area in the eastern lowlands. USAID money flowed to groups in these opposition-based areas, as part of “USAID’s larger effort to strengthen regional governments as a counter-balance to the central government.”8

Soon these eastern regions, the Media Luna, were in open rebellion, demanding a referendum on autonomy. Resulting protests led to the killing of at least 20 MAS supporters who had mobilized to crush the rebellion. The separatists’ goal was to divide Bolivia into two separate republics: a poor one governed by an indigenous majority and a much wealthier one run by European descendants in the areas home to the gas transnationals and large agribusiness.

The United States never denounced opposition violence, not even after the massacre of the MAS supporters. Moreover, the U.S. Embassy knew in advance of the opposition plans to blow up gas lines, but did not report it, nor even attempt to dissuade the opposition from doing so.9

Morales was soon to expel U.S. Ambassador Goldberg for his interference. Nevertheless, USAID “still channeled at least $200 million into the country since 2009.” USAID was eventually expelled in 2013.

Once the Media Luna separatist plan collapsed,10 USAID switched to courting indigenous communities by using environmental NGOs. The Aymaras – Morales is one — and Quechuas, Bolivia’s two largest indigenous peoples, live mostly in the highlands and central regions. The east is home to the remaining 34 indigenous peoples. In 2011 new anti-government protests in the east again arose, this time around a planned TIPNIS highway.

Protests against the Government around the TIPNIS (Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory)

The Bolivian government planned to build a highway –  actually to widen, pave and connect two roads with a 20-40 mile new connector – going through the TIPNIS. Western funded NGOs along with some local indigenous groups organized an international campaign against the MAS government, claiming Evo was repressing the indigenous and destroying untouched nature. This campaign was partly funded by USAID and received sympathetic reporting in NACLA, UpsideDownWorld, Amazon Watch, and other liberal-left alternative media, which either omitted or discounted the U.S. role.  Avaaz11 and allied NGOs in solidarity with the protest groups organized an international petition of protest. This foreign interference served to exacerbate a resolvable internal Bolivian dispute.

Fred Fuentes and Cory Morningstar wrote several exposés of this Western campaign against Evo, the covering up of the facts surrounding the TIPNIS road and the protests, including the USAID funding.12 Evo Morales even revealed transcripts of phone calls between the anti-highway march organizers and U.S. embassy officials, including calls right before the march set out.

That the TIPNIS protest leaders supported the REDD (Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), which would give Western NGOs and these indigenous groups funds for monitoring TIPNIS forests, was also not mentioned by liberal-left alternative media. REDD uses poor nations for carbon offsets so corporations in rich countries can continue polluting.

Many Western solidarity activists uncritically supported the anti-highway march. Many of their articles about the issue downplayed and made no mention of connections between the protest leaders and Washington and the Santa Cruz right wing. Eventually the issue was resolved through a consultation process, and 55 of the 69 TIPNIS indigenous communities agreed to the road.13

U.S. Manipulation Helped Cause Morales’ Loss in the 2016 Constitutional Referendum

The United States again intervened to influence the February 21, 2016 referendum to change the constitution to allow Evo Morales to run again for the presidency. A smear campaign against him took place, including false stories of his corruption, nepotism, and fathering a child with a lover, which led to him losing the vote. The day is now recognized as the “Day of the Lie.” On the 2017 anniversary, mobilizations around the country backed the Process of Change and rejected the previous year’s vote. Washington is already at work to block his renomination in 2019.

USAID and NED Funding of Oppositional Forces

According to Bolivia’s Cabinet Chief Juan Ramon Quintana, from 2006-2015 NED funded around 40 institutions in Bolivia including economic and social centers, foundations and non-governmental organizations, for a total of over $10 million. For 2013, the combined NED and USAID allocations for Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia totaled over $60 million, with the bulk of these funds destined to Cuba and Ecuador.

The Issue of  “Extractivism” in Bolivia

Linda Farthing notes that in world colonial and neocolonial history the exploitation of [Bolivia’s] considerable natural resources has also been nearly unparalleled.”  It included Spain’s richest gold and silver mine, one the richest tin mines, two of today’s largest silver and iron ore mines, half of the world’s lithium, and South America’s second largest gas reserves.  She adds, “It comes as no surprise that Bolivia’s history and environment have been dominated by relentless extraction.”

A central challenge facing Latin American governments is overcoming this dependency on raw material exports to a world market controlled by Western powers. This issue, who some present as “extractivism,” has become one of the main points of liberal-left and environmental NGO criticism of the positive changes in both Evo’s Bolivia and Correa’s Ecuador.

“Extractivism” is a deliberately politically neutral and ahistorical term that conceals the brutal history that created the present First World-Third World system. “Extractivism” glosses over what has been 500 years of mass murder of Original Peoples, their slavery and semi-slavery for the purpose of plundering their gold, silver and other natural resources.

The Third World remains dependent on raw material exports, with their economies fragmented into specialized extractive industries geared towards a world market controlled by the First World, alongside backward, low-tech domestic industries and a bloated informal sector.

Bolivia cannot compete in industrial production with countries with more modern institutions, citizens with a higher educational level, developed infrastructure, and with access to the sea. To break free from being a low-cost provider of raw materials, whether mineral or agricultural, will be a long process.

As Fred Fuentes notes, the question of “extractivism” centers on how a Third World country like Bolivia can overcome centuries of colonialism and neocolonialism to provide its people with basic services while trying to respect the environment. The main culprits are not Bolivian, but the Western governments and their corporations. Defenders of the indigenous and Bolivian must demand the West pay its ecological debt and transfer the necessary technology for sustainable development to countries such as Bolivia. “Until this occurs, activists in rich nations have no right to tell Bolivians what they can and cannot do to satisfy the basic needs of their people. Otherwise, telling Bolivian people that they have no right to a highway or to extract gas to fund social programs (as some NGOs demanded), means telling Bolivians they have no right to develop their economy or fight poverty.”

Environmental Achievements

Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Linera points out that Bolivia contributes 0.1% of the world’s greenhouse gases, but its trees clean 2% of the world’s carbon dioxide, resupplying that as oxygen. He attacks the Western “colonial, elitist environmental NGOs” for imposing their environmental demands on the Third World, saying they are blind to the Third World’s right to development.

Fuentes called out Western so-called defenders of Bolivia’s environment who attack Evo Morales over extractivism, for not devoting a single article on how the government has drastically cut deforestation 64% between 2010-2013. He asked, “why have media outlets, seemingly so concerned about Bolivia’s environment, failed to investigate what might be the steepest reduction in greenhouse gas emission per capita of any country in the world?”

They also do not mention that in South America, Bolivia has the greatest number of trees per inhabitant. Peru has 1,500, Brazil 1,400, Argentina 1,200, Colombia 1000, Ecuador, 600, Paraguay 2,500. Bolivia has 5,400. And this year they will plant another 5 million.

Misrepresenting the Morales government’s environmental record often aims to delegitimize Morales’ position not only as a leading spokesperson for the indigenous but in the global fight against climate change. Evo has rejected the carbon offset REDD schemes many Western environmental NGOs supported and clearly blames global warming on the First World’s capitalist operations. “I’m convinced that capitalism is the worst enemy of humanity and the environment, enemy of the entire planet.” He has demanded the Western rich countries repay their climate debt by transfer of technology and funds to the Third World.

Bolivia as a center of anti-imperialist social movements

The Bolivian government has sought to build political alliances with other governments and social movements in order to help strengthen the global forces for fundamental change. Liberal-left critics of Evo Morales, who attack him around TIPNIS, “extractivism,” even for being a neoliberal, so often willing to offer a checklist of measures for how Bolivian socialism should be built, so often willing to portray Evo Morales as backtracking after he took office, tend to go mum on his anti-imperialist measures, conferences, and statements.

Evo Morales has become an outspoken world leader against U.S. hegemony and has pushed hard to make Bolivia a center of anti-imperialist social movements. Bolivia organized a number of international conferences: People’s Summit on Climate Change (2010), Anti-imperialist and Anticolonial Summit of the Peoples of Latin America and the World (2013), Anti-Imperialist International Trade Union Conference (2014), the G77 Summit of 133 Third World nations (2014), the key promoter of the United Nations’ World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (2014), World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Defense of Life  (2015), World Conference of the Peoples For a World Without Borders towards Universal Citizenship (2017).

He has called for rich countries to pay climate reparation to those poorer ones suffering the effects of climate change. Warning of a coming “climate holocaust” that will destroy parts of Africa and many island nations, he called for an international climate court of justice to prosecute countries for climate crimes.

In 2016 he inaugurated a military “Anti-Imperialist Commando School,” saying: “We want to build anti-colonial and anti-capitalist thinking with this school that binds the armed forces to social movements and counteracts the influence of the School of the Americas that always saw the indigenous as internal enemies.”

Besides expelling the U.S. ambassador and USAID for their roles in coup plotting, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was expelled in 2009 for its actions against social organizations and for interfering with the actual struggle against narco-trafficking.

Evo Morales’ anti-cocaine program has resulted in land used for coca production being reduced by one-fifth since 2005.14 The OAS considers Bolivia’s program “a best practice…[worthy of] replication”; it is also praised by the UN Office of Drug Control. The DEA’s military base was transformed into the Cochabamba airport and renamed Soberania [Sovereignty].

“I am pleased to have expelled the U.S. ambassador, the Drug Enforcement Administration and to have closed the U.S. military base in Bolivia. Now, without a U.S. ambassador, there is less conspiracy, and more political stability and social stability.” And in reference to the IMF and World Bank, which had served to force Bolivia to divert funds away from social welfare programs, he added “Without the International Monetary Fund, we are better off economically.”

Speaking of the United States’ $700 billion military budget, Morales said: “If that money was used for cooperation or to fight poverty, we could solve so many [of the world’s social and environmental] problems.” Instead, “The U.S. creates and perpetuates international conflicts for profit….The capitalist system that [it] represents is not a policy that embodies the people of the United States but a policy of the transnational corporations, especially those that commercialize weapons and push for an arms race…they use any pretext against the anti-imperialist countries to subdue and dominate them politically and rob them economically. They’re after our natural resources“.

Challenges Facing The Process of Change

Evo has said that “the retreat of the left in Latin America is due to the incapacity of progressive governments to face a media war and the lack of political training of the youth”. Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera also pointed out that progressive governments have failed to promote a kind of cultural revolution alongside the political revolution; social programs have successfully lifted many out of poverty, creating a new middle class with new consumerist attitudes, without promoting a corresponding new value system; progressive governments must do more to tackle the entrenched corruption of the neoliberal years; the question of the continuity of leadership remains a challenge; and Latin American economic integration remains a weakness despite considerable advances in political regional integration.

Three factors may cause Bolivia’s Process of Change to stagnate and be partially reversed. It has not moved beyond anti-neoliberalism policies that have brought great benefits to the people, in a more anti-capitalist direction. While the MAS government has democratized the traditional Bolivian state, it has modified this bourgeois state but not replaced it with a new one that would be a superior tool for the indigenous campesino and working people to advance their struggle. It has not built an organization of activists committed to leading this struggle with the people.

Now coming on 12 years of the Process of Change, Bolivia is a new country under the leadership of Evo Morales and Garcia Linera. Each passing year is one more of social, political and economic transformation, of opening up national decision-making to the indigenous communities, peasant and worker social movements. Not only have the faces of those who govern radically changed, but the country itself. From one of the poorest countries in Latin America, it has become the leader in sustained economic growth. From a country founded on social exclusion to the point of apartheid, it has become a country of inclusion for all, where more than half the Congress consists of women, where illiteracy is eliminated, where the people have free health care and education, and have gained much greater control over the wealth of their natural resources.

  1. Linda Farthing gives different figures: “The total government take shot up to about 70 percent of production, making gas its primary income source with annual revenues jumping from $332 million before nationalization to more than $2 billion today.”
  2. These figures understate the actual figure as they exclude the 12 million undocumented, who are disproportionately poor.
  3. Federico Fuentes, “Bad Left Government” vs “Good Social Movements”? in Steve Ellner (ed.) Latin America’s Radical Left, Maryland:Rowman & Littlefield (2014) p. 110.
  4. Federico Fuentes. Bolivia’s Communitarian Socialism, Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions, Halifax, Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing; London, NewYork: Zed Books (2013) p. 86.
  5. Dangl, Ben, “The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia,” California: AK Press (2007) p.95.
  6. Federico Fuentes, Bolivia’s Communitarian Socialism, Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions, Halifax, Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing; London, New York: Zed Books (2013) p. 85.
  7. The Wikileaks Files: The World According to US Empire, London, New York: Verso (2015) p. 504.
  8. Ibid., p. 507; quote is from a US government cable. See also WikiLeaks Cables Reveal US Gave Millions to Bolivian Separatists and El informe de 2007 de la USAID.
  9. The Wikileaks Files: The World According to US Empire, (2015: 508). “The US had full knowledge of opposition groups’ terrorist plans, and yet did not denounce them,” Eirik Vold [author of Ecuador In the Sights: The WikiLeaks Revelations and the Conspiracy Against the Government of Rafael Correa] told Prensa Latina, adding that the US had prior knowledge of a planned attack on a natural gas pipeline, which resulted in a ten percent decrease in Bolivia’s gas exports to Brazil.”
  10. The Media Luna attempted coup broke under the pressure of several Latin American anti-neoliberal governments (Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, El Salvador, Ecuador y Nicaragua) issued a declaration in support of Bolivia’s constitutional government. Nevertheless, the US continued to maintain constant communication with the leaders of the separatist movement.
  11. It included 61 signers, only two from Bolivia. US signers included Amazon Watch, Biofuelwatch, Democracy Center, Food and Water Watch, Global Exchange, NACLA, Rainforest Action Network.
  12. Fred Fuentes, “Bad Left Government” versus “Good Left Social Movements”? in Latin America’s Radical Left  (2014) pp. 120-121.
  13. Linda C.  Farthing, Benjamin H. Kohl Evo’s Bolivia: Continuity and Change, Austin, University of Texas Press (2014) pp. 52-54.
  14. Drug seizures have almost tripled under Evo, Informe Presidencial, 22 de enero 2017, p. 12.

In Age of Forest Fires, Israel’s Law Against Palestinian Goats Proves Self-inflicted Wound for Zionism

A ban by Israel on herding black goats – on the pretext they cause environmental damage – is to be repealed after nearly seven decades of enforcement that has decimated the pastoral traditions of Palestinian communities.

The Israeli government appears to have finally conceded that, in an age of climate change, the threat of forest fires to Israeli communities is rapidly growing in the goats’ absence.

The goats traditionally cleared undergrowth, which has become a tinderbox as Israel experiences ever longer and hotter summer droughts. Exactly a year ago, Israel was hit by more than 1,500 fires that caused widespread damage.

The story of the lowly black goat, which has been almost eliminated from Israel, is not simply one of unintended consequences. It serves as a parable for the delusions and self-destructiveness of a Zionism bent on erasing Palestinians and creating a slice of Europe in the Middle East.

The 1950 Plant Protection Law, one of Israel’s earliest measures, was introduced as a way to outlaw the black goat, also known as the Syrian goat, from large areas of the country. The goats had been the lifeblood of Bedouin farming communities.

At the time officials declared that the goat was damaging vegetation, especially millions of pine saplings recently planted as forests.

The trees were fulfilling an important Zionist mission, in the eyes of Israel’s founding fathers. They were there to conceal the rubble of more than 530 Palestinian villages the new state had set about destroying and prevent the return of some 750,000 Palestinians who were expelled during the 1948 war that founded Israel – what Palestinians call the Nakba, Arabic for “Catastrophe”.

Close by the ruins of the villages, Israel established hundreds of exclusively Jewish communities like the kibbutz and moshav to farm the former lands of the Palestinian refugees.

Both the ban on goats and the mass planting of European pines were part of Zionism’s efforts to sell the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians as “environmentalism” – a supposedly green agenda that is now being exposed as a sham.

Planting pine forests

Jews around the world were encouraged to drop pennies into charitable “blue boxes” as a donation to help the young state “redeem the land”.

In fact, the money was being mostly used to plant pine forests over the razed Palestinians villages, making it impossible for the refugees to return and rebuild their homes.

Additionally, the pine was useful because it was fast-growing and evergreen, shrouding in darkness all year evidence of the ethnic cleansing committed during Israel’s creation. And the forests played a psychological role, transforming the landscape in ways designed to make it look familiar to recent European immigrants and ease their homesickness.

Finally, the falling pine needles acidified the soil, leaving it all but impossible for indigenous trees to compete. These native species – including the olive, citrus, almond, walnut, pomegranate, cherry, carob and mulberry – were a vital component of the diet of Palestinian rural communities. Their replacement by the pine was intended to make it even harder for Palestinian refugees to re-establish their communities.

In charge of planting and maintaining these forests was the Jewish National Fund, an internationally recognised Zionist charity. Paradoxically, its website extols its work in Israel as “innovators in ecological development and pioneers in afforestation and fire prevention”. The JNF claims to have planted some 250 million trees across Israel.

In an indication of Israel’s success is selling these colonisation policies as environmentalism, the United Nations lists the JNF as having expertise in climate change, forestry, water management and human settlements. The UN also allows the organisation to sponsor panels and workshops at UN conferences around the world.

In September the JNF attended the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, where, it noted, it would be “presenting its activities in creating a greener world”.

Jewish farmer-warriors

The 1950 legislation, also known as the Goat Damage Law, continued Israel’s land colonisation policies – this time, not against the Palestinian refugees, but against the small number of Palestinian communities that had survived the Nakba.

By the end of the 1948 war, some 150,000 Palestinians were still clinging to their communities, chiefly in the north, in the Galilee, and in the south, in the semi-desert Negev, or Naqab. In 1952, under international pressure, these Palestinians were given citizenship.

Many of the surviving Palestinian communities knew little aside from an agriculture their ancestors had practised in the region for generations. But Zionism’s credo – that “Hebrew labor” would allow Jews to “make the desert bloom” and remake themselves as farmer-warrior “Sabras” – required that Palestinians be displaced from farming land.

Estimates are that some 70 percent of the land belonging to Palestinian communities in Israel was seized by the state – and is now held in trust for Jews around the world. Deprived of land and access to cheap water for agriculture, most Palestinian citizens were forced to become casual laborers, many of them working on building sites in the country’s center.

But one group was seen as a particular threat to the new Zionist ethos – and especially hard to turn into a captive labour force. The Bedouin were located in remote locations in the Galilee’s hills and the dusty plains of the Negev, and their pastoral way of life, herding goats and sheep, made it hard for Israel to control them.

‘Dunam after dunam’

The connection between the land and the goats – and the central role both played in maintaining Palestinian identity and reinforcing a tradition of “sumud”, or steadfastness – was identified early on by the Zionist movement.

One of its early slogans, referring to an Ottoman unit of land measurement, was “dunam after dunam, goat after goat”. The goal was to take Palestine piece by piece, so incrementally and quietly it would pass unnoticed in the rest of the world.

After the Nakba, Israel turned to aggressive containment policies against the Bedouin who had not been expelled outside the state’s new borders. These policies focused on both their lands and herds.

In 1965, the year before military rule over Palestinian citizens ended, a Planning and Building Law de-recognised almost all Bedouin communities. Their homes were declared illegal and they were denied all public services.

Israel’s goal was to pen the Bedouin up in a handful of urbanised “townships”, forcing them to abandon agriculture and become casual labourers in a Jewish economy, like other Palestinian citizens.

The 1950 Plant Protection Law struck an especially hard blow against the Bedouin. The black goats supplied them with milk for their own use and for sale, and the hides were used for tents and blankets.

As agriculture minister in the late 1970s, Ariel Sharon stepped up the campaign against the Bedouin – and similarly preferred to veil his policies as a bogus concern about ecology.

In his case, he had a private investment in the state’s success in “Judaising” the Negev and getting rid of most of the Bedouin: in 1972 he had acquired a vast ranch there, covering 4 sq km.

The land had formerly belonged to refugees from the destroyed Palestinian village of Houg, now imprisoned in Gaza. Palestinian physician and author Hatim Kanaaneh notes that the village’s only remaining structure, the mosque, was “serving as the pen for [Sharon’s] Arabian thoroughbred horses”.

The Green Patrol

Five years after be bought Sycamore ranch, Sharon created the “Green Patrol”, a paramilitary unit of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, whose tasks included seizing and slaughtering the Bedouin’s black goats.

Palestinian community activist Maha Qupty notes that in the first three years of the Green Patrol’s operations, the number of black goats was slashed by 60 percent, from 220,000 to 80,000. The patrol’s practices were so brutal that an official watchdog, the State Comptroller, censured the unit in his 1980 report.

The number of goats in Israel has fallen much further in recent years. A report in the Haaretz newspaper pointed out that by 2013 there were only 2,000 goats still grazing in and around the vast Carmel forest, next to Haifa, down from 15,000 before the Green Patrol’s establishment.

And it was in that same Carmel Ridge that the danger posed by the goats’ enforced disappearance first became apparent.

The extensive forest hugging the slopes of the Carmel Ridge was planted to enforce and conceal the expulsion of several Palestinian villages. But in 2010 the forest was engulfed in flames that ultimately claimed the lives of 44 people. The majority were warders travelling to Damun prison, where Palestinian political prisoners are held outside the occupied territories in violation of international law.

The fire, which raged for four days, required the evacuation of 17,000 people from their homes, including from sections of Haifa.

That blaze was a prelude to much more widespread fires a year ago, at the end of a long dry summer. Some 1,700 fires were reported across Israel and the West Bank, many of them in the forests Israel had planted over the destroyed villages. Haifa was again badly damaged.

Zionism’s self-inflicted wound

In both the 2010 and 2016 forest fire outbreaks, Palestinian citizens were accused by police and government officials of being responsible, despite a dearth of evidence – and convictions – to back up such claims.

Allegations of arson were a useful deflection from the reality: that the fires were a Zionist own goal. The danger posed by planting unsuitable European pine forests in the arid conditions of the Middle East had been aggravated by longer summers, as climate change kicked in, and by the destruction of the black goats. They had cleared the vegetation around the trees that prevented the fires from quickly spreading.

In fact, there had been warnings that these pine forests were a fire hazard long before the advent of significant climate change. Nearly 20 years ago, I visited a kibbutz on the edge of the Carmel Ridge where there had been a recent fire.

Nir Etzion sits on the agricultural lands of Ayn Hawd, which was a rare example of a Palestinian village that had escaped destruction – in its case, to be reinvented as a Jewish artists’ colony under a similar name, Ein Hod.

The staff at Nir Etzion told me a familiar and paranoid tale: that internal Palestinian refugees, living close by, had started the fire to drive them from their kibbutz. The kibbutzniks overlooked the fact that the refugees themselves were put in much graver danger by the fire.

As I recounted in my contribution to a book of essays, Catastrophe Remembered, experts were clear even then that the European pine forests on the Carmel Ridge were dangerous in the region’s dry conditions.

Repair historic injustice’

But until this month, the dreams of the Zionist movement – of disappearing all traces of a Palestine that existed before Israel’s creation – had proved far more potent than the danger of forest fires.

Paradoxically, it has taken Jamal Zahalka, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, to pry his colleagues from their delusions and face up to the reality of climate change.

Zahalka is the moving force behind the effort to repeal the 1950 law, justifying its revocation on a study by a good Zionist institution – the Technion, Israel’s renowned technical university. Its research has confirmed a wisdom that was obvious to generations of Palestinian farmers: that the goats graze on dry bushes and shrubs, and thereby suppress the risk of fires.

Zahalka has stated that the repeal of the 1950 law will “restore the goat’s lost honor” and “repair a historic injustice” for Palestinian farmers.

Zahalka has won backing from the agriculture minister, Uri Ariel, and Ayelet Shaked, the justice minister. Both are tightly linked to the settler movement, and Ariel is a director of the JNF.

But faced with the scientific evidence and the threat of more fires, Ariel has climbed down. “Goats are an important factor in fire prevention, and we want to encourage the act of grazing,” he now says.

Sadly, it has taken Israeli governments nearly 70 years to reverse their policy of destroying the black goat – a policy that intentionally sought to wreck Palestinian agriculture, and with it Palestinian communities, heritage and identity.