Category Archives: USAID

Who’s Funding the White Helmets?

You’ve no doubt heard of the White Helmets, aka the Syria Civil Defense. They claim to be a neutral entity in Syria. They say they are just helping people caught in the middle of a civil war. But are they? Follow the money and you will find numerous ties to government funding from not only the U.S., but the U.K., Netherlands, Denmark and Germany. We untangle these ties to the White Helmets in a Reality Check you won’t get anywhere else.

Bolivia’s TIPNIS Dispute

As has become a standard operating procedure, an array of Western environmental NGOs, advocates of indigenous rights and liberal-left alternative media cover up the US role in attempts to overturn the anti-imperialist and anti-neoliberal governments of Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Evo Morales in Bolivia.

This NACLA article is a recent excellent example of many. Bolivia’s TIPNIS (Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Secure) dispute arose over the Evo Morales government’s project to complete a road through the park, opposed by some indigenous and environmental groups.

As is NACLA modus operandi, the article says not one word about US and right-wing funding and coordination with the indigenous and environmental groups behind the TIPNIS anti-highway protests. (This does not delegitimize the protests, but it does deliberately mislead people about the issues involved).

In doing so, these kinds of articles cover up US interventionist regime change plans, be that their intention or not.

NACLA is not alone in what is in fact apologetics for US interventionism. Include the Guardian, UpsideDownWorld, Amazon Watch, so-called “Marxist” Jeffery Webber (and here), Jacobin, ROAR, Intercontinentalcry, Avaaz, In These Times, in a short list of examples. We can add to this simply by picking up any articles about the protests in Bolivia’s TIPNIS (or oil drilling in Ecuador’s Yasuni during Rafael Correa’s presidency) and see what they say about US funding of protests, if they even mention it.

This is not simply an oversight, it is a cover-up.

What this Liberal Left Media Covers Up

On the issue of the TIPNIS highway, we find on numerous liberal-left alternative media and environmental websites claiming to defend the indigenous concealing that:

(a) The leading indigenous group of the TIPNIS 2011-2012 protests was being funded by USAID. The Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian East (CIDOB) had no qualms about working with USAID — it boasted on its website that it received training programs from USAID. CIDOB president Adolfo Chavez, thanked the “information and training acquired via different programs financed by external collaborators, in this case USAID”.

(b) The 2011 TIPNIS march was coordinated with the US Embassy, specifically Eliseo Abelo. His phone conversations with the march leaders – some even made right before the march set out — were intercepted by the Bolivian counter-espionage agency and made public.

(c) “The TIPNIS marchers were openly supported by right wing Santa Cruz agrobusiness interests and their main political representatives, the Santa Cruz governorship and Santa Cruz Civic Committee.In June 2011 indigenous deputies and right wing parties in the Santa Cruz departmental council formed an alliance against the MAS (Movement for Socialism, Evo Morales’s party). CIDOB then received a $3.5 million grant by the governorship for development projects in its communities.

Over a year after the TIPNIS protests, one of the protest leaders announced he was joining a right-wing, anti-Evo Morales political party.

(d) The protest leaders of the TIPNIS march supported REDD (Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). The Avaaz petition (below) criticizing Evo Morales for his claimed anti-environmental actions also covered this up. As far back as 2009 “CIDOB leaders were participating there in a USAID-promoted workshop to talk up the imperialist-sponsored REDD project they were pursuing together with USAID-funded NGOs.”

REDD was a Western “environmental” program seeking to privatize forests by converting them into “carbon offsets” that allow Western corporations to continue polluting. That REDD would give Western NGOs and these indigenous groups funds for monitoring forests in their areas.

(e)These liberal-left alternative media and environmental NGOs falsely presented the TIPNIS conflict as one between indigenous/environmentalist groups against the Evo Morales government (e.g. the TIPNIS highway was “a project universally[!] condemned by local indigenous tribes and urban populations alike”). Fred Fuentes pointed out that more than 350 Bolivian organizations, including indigenous organizations and communities, even within TIPNIS, supported the proposed highway.

CONISUR (Consejo de Indígenas del Sur), consisting of a number of indigenous and peasant communities within TIPNIS, backed by Bolivia’s three largest national indigenous campesino organizations, organized a march to support of the road. They argued that the highway is essential to integrating Bolivia’s Amazonia with the rest of the country, as well as providing local communities with access to basic services and markets.

The overwhelming majority of people in the West who know about the TIPNIS protests, or the Yasuni protests in Ecuador, where a similar division between indigenous groups took place, never learned either from the liberal-left media or the corporate media, that indigenous groups marched in support of the highway or in support of oil drilling.

Therefore, this liberal-left media is not actually defending “the indigenous.” They are choosing sides within indigenous ranks, choosing the side that is funded and influenced by the US government.

(f) The TIPNIS conflict is falsely presented as Evo Morales wanting to build a highway through the TIPNIS wilderness (“cutting it in half” as they dramatically claim). There are in fact two roads that exist there now, which will be paved and connected to each other. Nor was it wilderness: 20,000 settlers lived there by 2010.

(g) Anti-highway march leaders actually defended industrial-scale logging within TIPNIS. Two logging companies operated 70,000 hectares within the national park and have signed 20-year contracts with local communities.

(h) They often fail to note that the TIPNIS marchers, when they reached La Paz, sought to instigate violence, demanding Evo Morales removal. Their plot was blocked by mobilization of local indigenous supporters of Evo’s government.

If we do not read Fred Fuentes in Green Left Weekly, we don’t find most of this information. Now, it is true that some of the media articles did mention that there were also TIPNIS protests and marches demanding the highway be built. Some do mention USAID, but phrase it as “Evo Morales claimed that those protesting his highway received USAID funding.”

Avaaz Petition Attacking Evo Morales over TIPNIS

The TIPNIS campaign, which became a tool in the US regime change strategy, was taken up in a petition by Avaaz. It included 61 signing groups. Only two from Bolivia! US signers included Amazon Watch, Biofuelwatch, Democracy Center, Food and Water Watch, Global Exchange, NACLA, Rainforest Action Network.  Whether they knew it, whether they wanted to know it, they signed on to a false account of the TIPNIS conflict, placed the blame on the Bolivian government, target of US regime change, and hid the role of the US.

US collaborators in Bolivia and Ecuador are painted as defenders of free expression, defenders of nature, defenders of the indigenous. The US government’s “talking points” against the progressive ALBA bloc countries have worked their way into liberal-left alternative media, which echo the attacks on these governments by organizations there receiving US funds.  That does not mean Amazon Watch, Upside Down World or NACLA are themselves funded by the US government – if it somehow exculpates them that they do this work for free. Even worse, much of this propaganda against Evo and Correa appears only in the liberal-left alternative press, what we consider our press.

The USAID budget for Latin America is said to be $750 million, but estimates show that the funding may total twice that. Maria Augusta Calle of Ecuador’s National Assembly, said in 2015 the US Congress allocated $2 billion to destabilize targeted Latin American countries.

This information, how much money it is, what organizations in the different countries receive it, how it is spent, ought to be a central focus of any liberal-left alternative media purporting to stand up for the oppressed peoples of the Americas.

Yet, as Fuentes points out:  “Overwhelmingly, solidarity activists uncritically supported the anti-highway march. Many argued that only social movements — not governments — can guarantee the success of [Bolivia’s] process of change…. with most articles written by solidarity activists, they] downplay the role of United States imperialism…. Others went further, denying any connection between the protesters and US imperialism.”

Why do they let themselves become conveyer belts for US regime change propaganda?

Why did this liberal-left media and NGOs let themselves become conveyor belts for US propaganda for regime change, legitimizing this US campaign to smear the Evo Morales government?

Some of it lies in the liberalish refusal to admit that all international issues can only be understood in the context of the role and the actions of the US Empire. As if conflicts related to countries the US deems hostile to its interests can be understood without taking the US role into account. Some liberal-left writers and groups do understand this, just as they do understand they may risk their positions and funding by looking to closely into it.

It seems easier to not see the role the Empire plays and simply present a liberal-left “critique” of the pluses and minuses of some progressive government targeted by the US. That is how these alternative media sources end up actually advocating for indigenous groups and environmental NGOs which are US and corporate funded. They even criticize countries for defending national sovereignty by shutting down these non-governmental organizations, what Bolivian Vice-President Linera exposes as “foreign government financed organizations” operating in their countries.

Some of it lies in the widely held anti-authoritarian feeling in the US that social movements “from below” are inherently good and that the government/the state is inherently bad. The reporting can be informative on social movements in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia where the people struggle against state repression. But when these social movements in Ecuador or Bolivia were able to win elections and gain hold of some real state power, reporting soon becomes hostile and misleading. “Support social movements when they struggle against governmental power; oppose them once they win government power,” they seem to say. Their reporting slides into disinformation, undermining our solidarity with other struggles, and covering up US regime change efforts. Upside Down World is an excellent example of this.

Some of it lies in what many who call themselves “left” still have not come to terms with: their own arrogant white attitude they share with Western colonizers and present day ruling elites: we know better than you what is good for you, we are the best interpreters and defenders of your socialism, your democracy, your human rights. They repeatedly critique real or imagined failures of progressive Third World governments – targets of the US.

Genuine solidarity with the peoples of the Third World means basing yourself in opposition to the Empire’s interference and exposing how it attempts to undermine movements seeking to break free from the Western domination.

Some of it lies in deep-rooted white racist paternalism in their romanticizing the indigenous as some “noble savage” living at one with nature in some Garden of Eden. Providing these people with schools, health clinics, modern conveniences we have, is somehow felt not to be in their best interests.

A serious analysis of a Third World country must begin with the role the West has played.  To not point out imperialism’s historic and continuing exploitive role is simply dishonest, it is apologetics, it shows a basic lack of human feeling for the peoples of the Third World.

A function of corporate media is to conceal Western pillaging of Third World countries, to cheerlead efforts to restore neocolonial-neoliberal governments to power. However, for liberal-left media and organizations to do likewise, even if halfway, is nothing other than supporting imperialist interference.

The True Stories That Fake News Tells: The Forced Sterilization of Women

I am constantly amazed in this day and age where Americans have a President who touts anything he doesn’t agree with as “fake news” that is the moment that people grow cynical of the term.   Despite Donald Trump’s ability to shun astute critique of his politics, the term does carry currency in terms of how true or false news stories are.  But it is not just American media that is stuck within this paradigm of readers never knowing what is or is not true, the British who have a nationally subsidized media whereby residents in the UK must pay a TV license are subjected to another sort of “fake news,” namely, the endless stream of trivia regarding the Royal Family.

What is “news” today can range from the entirely vapid stories of an impending Royal Wedding to the recent story of a pedophile found in his cell with his penis chopped off.  The former is entirely not newsworthy and stokes the fire of many British who resist paying television taxes because of this sort of abuse of public funds to cover “fluff” and the latter is largely untrue. Yet, both stories are widespread because who doesn’t want to read about a pedophile who has come to his just-deserved end or the happy royal marriage between a Hollywood actor and a prince?

And this is why fake news has become so prevalent: the market forces of advertisement rewards social media shares. Conterminous to this reality of capitalism and social media there is a recent study published in Science last week, untrue stories are shared at far higher rates than factual new items:

About 126,000 rumors were spread by ∼3 million people. False news reached more people than the truth; the top 1% of false news cascades diffused to between 1000 and 100,000 people, whereas the truth rarely diffused to more than 1000 people. Falsehood also diffused faster than the truth. The degree of novelty and the emotional reactions of recipients may be responsible for the differences observed.

And this paradigm of news “out there” ranging from the entirely fantastical to the well-researched and objectively true means that readers are either constantly suspicious about what they read or just more gullible about the intake of news given the paucity of time to research every media byte.

For instance, last fall when the cryptocurrency market began to rise ever so speedily, many people wrote me to ask me about bitcoin and if the stories were true about its reputed rise.  The quality of fake news is so wide-ranging today in subject matter and analysis that it is hard for people to recognize the difference between actual true news, fake news, and as I found out yesterday when posting a satirical piece about a man who abandoned his family to live out his dream of living life as a squirrel. Indeed, at times it is difficult to recognize fake news from real news simply because reality is also troublingly “unreal” and indistinguishable from fable.

So yesterday, I came upon a story which I shared on Facebook where my stream there is largely a bookmarking of stories I hope to read in the not-too-distant future.  The story I posted is entitled “Big Pharma Co. Has License Suspended As Vaccine Sterilizes 500,000 Girls” and immediately upon posting the thread was flooded with skeptical comments asking if this is true, one wondering why the British media hadn’t reported this, and even one posting to a fact-checking website which rates news stories on the conspiracy range from “none” to “tin foil hat.”

This article received a “mixed” review.  And on Snopes, this related to a story from 2014 which was labelled as “false” despite the origins of the story being factually correct:  a press statement released on 7 October, 2015 by the Catholic Health Commission of Kenya – Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) who state their concerns that the Tetanus Toxoid vaccine (TT) might be laced with Beta human chorionic gonadotropin (b-HCG). This press release expressed concern for the role played by sponsoring development partners since such programs had “previously been used by the same partners in Philippines, Nicaragua and Mexico to vaccinate women against future pregnancy.”  A component of experimental birth control vaccines, b-HCG caused alarm to these bishops as it is common knowledge that development aid has historically and negatively affected the bodies of women—especially those of women of color.

Anyone who has lived in countries outside the west becomes acutely aware as to how “humanitarian aid” is peddled, offered up as the panacea to all social and medical ills, when, in fact, such aid usually debilitates local economies, medical practices, and educational institutions.  And view the video of the man at the center of this debate, former Kenyan Prime Minister, Raila Odinga (1992-2013), who has spoken at length on his concerns. Watching this video, it is clear that Odinga is no biologist and that his statement does not account for presence of b-HCG. Similarly, the Washington Post report on this subject makes clear that the results are inconclusive either way due to how the sample of this vaccine was analyzed.  Still many remain cautious about dismissing the accusations, such as Keith Donovan of Georgetown’s Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics, stating:

[T]here are aspects of this that need to be raising red flags because of history and because of the way it was all being done. But raising red flags doesn’t mean that there’s something that actually has occurred.

What Donovan is getting at here is the importance of understanding how women’s bodies have been historically controlled by colonizing forces, especially with regards to their reproductive capacity.  The accusations which target this long-running vaccination program sponsored by the WHO and UNICEF, inoculates women of reproductive age against tetanus in a country where tetanus is a deadly health problem.  Yet the phrase “women of reproductive age” mentioned in the same sentence as any UN organization or NGO will set off alarms for many who have seen the horrors of mass sterilization programs which, oddly enough, British media has rarely covered.

One of the most infamous mass sterilization projects in recent history was that carried out by the Peace Corps in Bolivia in the 1960s and early 1970s. This resulted in the Peace Corps being thrown out of the country in 1971, in large part because of the production of one of Bolivia’s most important films on the topic, Blood of the Condor (Yawar Mallku), by Jorge Sanjínes (1969), which informed the people as to what this US agency was doing to women.  This project involved Peace Corps volunteers distributing contraception, even inserting IUDs into indigenous Quechua women, without their informed consent.  This set off a series of accusations which in turn fueled rumors about widespread US-funded sterilization programs.  Through the 1980s there was a distrust of all US programs, food products, and birth control products.  Meanwhile in this same period, between 1965 and 1971, an estimated 1 million women in Brazil had been sterilized. And in Mexico in 1974 there was a massive sterilization program which gave an anti-fertility vaccine to 1,204 females under the guise of “family planning.”

In Colombia, between 1963 and 1965 more than 400,000 women were sterilized in a program funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. And in the Philippines, where similar concerns of the tetanus vaccine was blamed for sterilizing women just last year, USAID has sponsored family planning programs there to the tune of $40m, with poor women being offered money to go through the sterilization procedure in rural villages.  The Philippines has a long history of sterilization projects dating back to the 1970s which has resulted in a healthy skepticism about any “vaccines” that Filipina women will logically view with great suspicion.

In recent years, there have been numerous reports from the Gauteng province of South Africa of women who are HIV+ people told that sterilization is the “best form of contraception” and others who have been sterilized without any consent whatsoever. Similar reports have been emerging from Uganda, Namibia, and Slovakia as well. In Israel, the government has been sterilizing Ethiopian immigrants to the country with a notable decline in their birthrate in the country. And both Kenya and Chile have various important court cases which specifically address the illegality of forced sterilization in well-documented cases. It is no surprise that the former Prime Minister of Kenya is suspicious of a vaccine that has been called into question by the Catholic Health Commission of Kenya.

Still, let us not forget where such eugenicist notions of sterilization originated.  From the early twentieth century, the eugenics movement in the UK was born which led to the formation of the Eugenics Education Society in 1907. This organization campaigned for the forced sterilization of mentally disabled women, a program supported by mostly Labour MPs such that by 1931 there was a draft bill proposed in Parliament to this end. On the other side of the Atlantic, sterilization laws were enacted in 32 of the US states between 1907 and 1937 only to be repealed from the 1970s onward. Although the sterilization was to affect the bodies of both males and females in the United States, the focus of sterilization would come to bear its weight on the bodies of women.

For instance, in California, even when the state’s eugenic sterilization law was repealed in 1979, other legislation paved the way for operations in state prisons to sterilize female inmates. Between 2006 and 2010, there were 146 female inmates in two of California’s women’s prisons who received tubal ligations with at least three dozen of these procedures directly violating the state’s own informed consent process. Not surprisingly, the majority of those who were sterilized were not only first-time offenders, but largely African-American and Latina. The logic as explained by the physician responsible for these surgeries, Dr. James Heinrich: that the state would save money “compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children—as they procreated more.” In 2013, a journalist at the Center for Investigative Reporting published on this story which eventually led to the passage of a bill banning sterilization in California state prisons.

And sterilization campaigns have been more than common outside of prisons in the United States and its territories such as the case of Puerto Rico where from the 1930s to late 1960s mass sterilization was underway such that by 1965, a survey revealed that one-third of Puerto Rican women were sterile.  Similar to the surgeries undertaken in prisons was the rationale rooted in the desire to save the government’s money from women who were perceived as reproducing at high rates, especially when Puerto Rican immigrants were coming to the US in the 1970s. Also, there was the fear that Latinos might edge out “white America” which is why so many Latina women in Puerto Rico, New York City, and California were specifically targeted by the government for sterilization throughout the 20th century.

African American women have also been the targets of population control throughout the country’s history and have been disproportionately affected by sterilization abuse. In North Carolina, the state which has one of the worse records for sterilization abuse, 65 percent of its sterilization procedures were performed on black women despite the population of black women in that state hovering at 25 percent.  The case Madrigal v. Quilligan (1978) was ground-breaking in that, even if the judge ruled in favor of the doctors who abusively coerced Latina women into sterilization, this case set the precedent of informed consent, underscoring the obligation to provide forms in multiple languages for non-native English speakers.

So while some are outraged by the claims of UNICEF and the WHO being accused of sterilizing women in countries like Kenya and the Philippines, others view the historical veracity of what similar agencies have done historically and more recently (eg. USAID’s support of Peru’s sterilization of indigenous women from 1997 through 2002 where “USAID provided $18 million to CARE for training doctors to perform sterilization and supplying sterilization equipment used in the coercive campaigns.”1

What is important to take away from these reports is that the suspicion exercised over the control of women’s bodies by foreign agencies and/or by these agencies exercising their monetary power through local politics needs to be regarded with great scrutiny.  Has the Kenya Accreditation Service (Kenas) truly suspended Agriq-Quest Ltd’s license as a testing laboratory? I called their corporate number this morning and received no answer and went onto their Facebook page only to find it removed.  I went onto the Kenas’ website to see that Agriq-Quest Ltd is delisted.

The whole story has not been told and we have only a few blips of information here and there that can easily seem like fake news, or a story that western media doesn’t really care to tell. The larger question is why more western media isn’t concerned about the medicalization of the bodies of teenage girls and young women to the extent that the WHO and the UN are given carte blanche to create policy and to avoid answering any and all questions put to them about these policies.

What consoles me about seeing Odinga’s statement to the press is not that the reports about sterilization are necessarily inaccurate, but they reveal a healthy dose of cynicism towards foreign agencies that have never had these peoples’ best interest at heart.  We need to applaud the reports that may be inaccurate since they at least stick their neck out for the lives and rights of women to have a say in their corporeal autonomy, reproductive health, and lives.

  1. Peru’s Ministry of Health, “Final Report Concerning Voluntary Surgical Contraception Activities,” July, 2002.

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.