Category Archives: Environment

Palestine,Israel, the US: How the South Pacific Countries are Selling their Votes

Here it goes again! Several countries of Oceania (also known as South Pacific Nations), or however you want to call that vast, beautiful but thoroughly devastated part of the world, have voted “for Israel”, “for the United States’ proposed resolution at the United Nations”, and therefore, “against Palestine”.

As reported on December 22, 2017 by Al Jazeera:

The United Nations General Assembly has voted by a huge majority to declare a unilateral US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “null and void”.

At an emergency session of the General Assembly on Thursday, 128 countries voted in favour of a resolution rejecting US President Donald Trump’s controversial decision on December 6.

Nine countries voted against, while 35 abstained.

Trump had earlier threatened to cut aid to UN members who would vote against his decision.

Did scarcely inhabited island-nations that are lost in the middle of a tremendous body of water, go crazy?

Before Crossing in Kiribati

After all those horrific nuclear experiments committed there, against their people, by the United States, France and the UK; could local people sincerely believe that the truth as seen from Washington is the only legitimate truth on Earth?

After the naked modern-day colonialism, which is being implemented by Australia, New Zealand, and France, and, of course, by the United States, have the people of Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia become blind?

After total dependency, after decades of humiliation and virtual slavery, do the inhabitants of Oceania believe that their fellow victims in Palestine do not have the right to live in their own state, without barbed wire; that they shouldn’t have their own historical capital?

The answer to all these question is, actually: “No”.

They do what they are doing simply and only because they have no choice.

*****

When working on my book, Oceania, travelling all over the South Pacific, I visited a Jesuit priest and the region’s prominent intellectual, Francis X. Hezel. Our encounter took place in the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) – Pohnpei.

Father Hezel has been amassing important materials and documents in his private archive, proving beyond any doubts that the US occupation of Micronesia after WWII led to a dramatic decrease of life expectancy and the standard of living of the islanders. He explained:

Life here became shorter, and much worse than under the Japanese imperial rule. And this was not some ‘Communist propaganda’. It is written right here, in the report produced during that period by the US Department of State.

But back to ‘voting’, or what is often called “vote selling”. Father Hezel offered a very explicit story to illustrate the reality:

One day I had an entire television crew from Israel parked at my office. I had no idea what they were doing here. Why would they travel so far, to such a small and insignificant country? Finally I understood: the Israeli public was fascinated with this place; they wanted to know who are those people who keep voting in the U.N. against most of Security Council resolutions, in this way supporting Israel and the United States against the entire world…

In my book Oceania, I later wrote:

Pacific Island votes at the UN are openly for sale, especially when peace in the Middle East is at stake. To illustrate the absurdity of the game: at a time when several countries in the region are becoming uninhabitable as a result of global warming, both Nauru and Kiribati, itself one of the sinking nations and therefore a victim, voted against the Kyoto Protocol.

But it is not only profit that propels tiny nations in Oceania to sell their votes; it is also the fear of retribution.

“In the late 90’s our government voted at the UN against the US on the issue of landmines, recalled the then Foreign Minister of Marshall Islands (RMI), Tony deBrum. “As a result, our party lost the elections.”

In December 2017, out of the nine countries that voted against the UN resolution, one was the United States itself, while the other eight were: Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Marshall Islands, FSM, Nauru, Palau, and Togo. Two were de facto US semi-colonies in Latin America, ruled by brutal pro-Washington cliques, one a tiny and dependent African nation, while four were the Micronesian and Polynesian nations and, of course, Israel.

*****

The Pacific Island nations are selling their votes, for profit or out of fear.

US Star Wars base on Kwajalein, Marshall Islands

The West is also using them in an attempt to isolate China.

Presently, six countries of Oceania have fully established diplomatic relations with Taiwan, after being, as was described to me by the former Foreign Minister of RMI, Tony deBrum, “encouraged” by the West.

Stumps of palm trees – Kiribati

These countries are: Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu.

At least three of them – Tuvalu, Marshall Islands and Kiribati – are at the frontline of the climate change disaster: they are becoming uninhabitable due to the global warming and consequent rising of sea level.

China is the only country that has been willing to, altruistically, help the countries of Oceania: by building anti-tsunami walls, by planting mangroves, by elevating schools, hospitals and government buildings, or by building sports facilities in places where around 90% of adults is suffering from diabetes, often due to dumping there some of the most unhealthy food from the US, Australia and elsewhere.

The more successful China got in helping South Pacific nations, the more ‘encouragement’ Taiwan received from the West; an ‘encouragement’ to come, to corrupt local ‘elites’, and to push China away. Any country that recognizes Taiwan as an independent nation gets diplomatic relations with China (PRC) broken immediately. Everyone knows it. And there is not one Western country that would take such an insane step.

After China leaves, the countries of Oceania can only rely on the pathetic, cynical and hypocritical “foreign aid” offered by the West, while their corrupt leaders negotiate with New Zealand and Australia the final ‘evacuation project’. Entire countries like Tuvalu may soon be forced to move abroad.

*****

The selling of votes by South Pacific Island nations appears to be shameful, but, in fact, it is nothing else than an act of total desperation.

The Empire has reached great mastery in implementing the “divide and rule” strategy.

The victims, often defenseless and robbed of everything, are forced to vote against those who are suffering similar fate at the opposite side of the world.

Palestinians are involuntarily living in a cage.

People of Oceania, who used to be the greatest seamen, are surrounded by the vastest expanse of water on Earth, but in the same time they are confined to tiny specks of land, often scarred by Western military bases. Trash and decay are everywhere. Hopelessness rules.

Palestinian kids in Gaza

Oceania knows almost nothing about ‘modern Palestine’. Palestinians know almost nothing about Oceania.

Empire looks dumb but it is not. It is ‘only’ evil. It knows everything about both parts of the world. And it is torturing them relentlessly and with perverse sadistic delight.

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

• Originally published in New Eastern Outlook

Warring on Plastic: David Attenborough, Britain and Environmental Missions

Few documentaries have had quite this impact, so much so that it has ushered in the unfortunate combination of war and plastic, two terms that sit uneasily together, if at all.  Tears were recorded; anxiety levels were propelled as Sir David Attenborough tore and tugged at heart strings in his production Blue Planet II.  The oceans, warned the documentary maker, are becoming a toxic repository, and humans are to blame.

More than eight million tons of plastic eventually finds an oceanic destination.  Decomposition will take centuries.  For Attenborough, one scene from the series stood out.

In it, as snowflakes settle on the ground, a baby albatross lies dead, its stomach pierced by a plastic toothpick fed to it by its own mother, having mistaken it for healthy food.  Nearby lies plastic litter that other hungry chicks have regurgitated.

For Attenborough, plastic supplies a certain demonology for the environmental movement, a vast and urgent target that requires mass mobilisation and action.

There are fragments of nets so big they entangle the heads of fish, birds, turtles, and slowly strangle them.  Other pieces of plastic are so small that they are mistaken for food and eaten, accumulating in fishes’ stomachs, leaving them undernourished.

To firstly declare war against something deemed valuable, even indispensable, to preservation, distribution and storage over a multitude of products, to name but a few purposes, is lofty.  To also identify the casus belli against the inanimate again finds haunting resonance with other failed conflicts: the war against drugs, for instance, or that against terrorism. Will this war go the same way?

Guilty consciences are powerful motivators, and fewer guiltier than the affluent, or mildly affluent.  Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May is one, a figure who has decided to embrace the environmental cause with vote grabbing enthusiasm.  “In the UK alone,” she intoned, “the amount of single-use plastic wasted every year would fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls.”

May’s direction is far from surprising.  There is Attenborough propelling a movement, and there are the votes that went begging in 2017.  A Tory think-tank, Bright Blue, found that many who refused to vote for her party in the last general election considered environmental initiatives key. Its polling “shows that climate change is the second highest issue younger people want senior politicians to discuss more, second only to health, and actually the top issue for 18- to 28-year-olds.”

In getting on the cart against plastic, May has attempted, unconvincingly, to reassure critics that moving Britain out of the EU would not result in a lowering of environmental standards.  Britannia will remain responsible.  Her government, she spoke with confidence at London Wetland Centre, would “leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it”.

What Sir David says, goes, though May has suggested a slow approach that would eradicate all avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042.  (What, then, is unavoidable?  The question remains unanswered.)  “Plastic-free” aisles are to be encouraged; taxes and charges on takeaway containers are being proposed.  None of these, it should be noted, entails Parliamentary regulation, retaining the old British approach of gradualism in action. No revolutions, please.

Supermarket chains smell climbing profits, luring the ecologically minded to shelves and fridges like willing prey.  One such outlet is Iceland, a chain that wasted little time getting on the radio and airwaves to ride the green belt.  Targets have been advertised, and it promises to remove plastic packaging from all its own labelled products over the next five years.  Even better, goes the fine print, it will enable those with less heavily laden wallets to shop and stay green.

Companies such as Proctor & Gamble, makers of Head & Shoulders Shampoo, have collaborated to produce a recycled shampoo bottle using plastic found in beaches.  This, in turn, pads out it advertising campaigns.  Use our shampoo, and feel good about yourself.

The guilty consciences were whirling and emoting on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday as callers spoke of efforts to spend a week free of plastic, but ignobly failing before their friends, neighbours and fellow citizens, all of whom had managed to go one day further.  There were accounts about how French and German supermarkets ensure that fruits and vegetables are free, emancipated from the confines of plastic, and, it would seem, ready to salve the conscience of the green consumer.

In Britain, Attenborough’s environmental influence has become priestly for such individuals as Oswestry schoolteacher Mandy Price.  She has roped her daughter in as well in what has become a social media campaign featuring #doitfordavid, shared 125,000 times within a matter of hours.  “It has been shared on every continent apart from Antarctica,” praises Emily Davies of the Border Counties Advertiser.

This arms race of satisfying a bruised conscience has an undeniable merit in so far as it acknowledges some of the disastrous consequences of humanity’s addiction to the accessible and the easy.  Ambitious Mandy, for instance, speaks of her Facebook page “receiving photographs from lots of different people who are collecting plastic, even from holidaymakers in Cuba who have seen the posts and have recorded their own two-minute beach clean on the beautiful oceans there.”

But within such wars lie the seeds of, if not failure, then the coming of another problem.  In the British case, enduring snobbery is pointed to.  In Australia’s Northern Territory, environmental groups conceded in dismay that a ban single-use plastic bags less than 35 microns in thickness introduced in 2011 had not reduced plastic bag litter at all. On the contrary, the amount had increased.

This is a battle against human behaviour, against patterns of consumption and use in the human estate. It is, if nothing else, an attempt at behavioural adjustment and revolution.  Such a tall order, such a mission, but one that provides Mandy with rosy affirmation rather than dimming scepticism.

To Liberate Cambodia

A long-standing French protectorate briefly occupied by Japan during World War II, Cambodia became independent in 1953 as the French finally withdrew from Indochina. Under the leadership of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia remained officially neutral, including during the subsequent US war on Indochina. However, by the mid-1960s, parts of the eastern provinces of Cambodia were bases for North Vietnamese Army and National Liberation Front (NVA/NLF) forces operating against South Vietnam and this resulted in nearly a decade of bombing by the United States from 4 October 1965.

In 1970 Sihanouk was ousted in a US-supported coup led by General Lon Nol. The following few years were characterized by an internal power struggle between Cambodian elites and war involving several foreign countries, but particularly including continuation of the recently commenced ‘carpet bombing’ of Cambodia by the US Air Force.

On 17 April 1975 the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), otherwise known as the Khmer Rouge, took control of Cambodia. Following four years of ruthless rule by the Chinese-supported Khmer Rouge, initially under Pol Pot, they were defeated by the Vietnamese army in 1979 and the Vietnamese occupation authorities established the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), installing Heng Samrin and other pro-Vietnamese Communist politicians as leaders of the new government. Heng was succeeded by Chan Sy as Prime Minister in 1981.

Following the death of Chan Sy, Hun Sen became Prime Minister of Cambodia in 1985 and, despite a facade of democracy, he and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) have been in power ever since. This period has notably included using the army to purge a feared rival in a bloody coup conducted in 1997. Hun Sen’s co-Prime Minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, was ousted and fled to Paris while his supporters were arrested, tortured and some were summarily executed.

The current main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was founded in 2012 by merging the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party. Emblematic of Cambodia’s ‘democratic’ status, more than two dozen opposition members and critics have been locked up in the past year alone and the CNRP leader, Kem Sokha, known for his nonviolent, politically tolerant views, is currently imprisoned at a detention centre in Tboung Khmum Province following his arrest on 3 September 2017 under allegations of treason, espionage and for orchestrating anti-government demonstrations in 2013-2014. These demonstrations were triggered by widespread allegations of electoral fraud during the Cambodian general election of 2013.

On 16 November 2017 the CNRP was dissolved by Cambodia’s highest court and 118 of its members, including Sokha and exiled former leader Sam Rainsy, were banned from politics for five years.

Cambodian Society

Socially, Cambodia is primarily Khmer with ethnic populations of Chinese, Vietnamese, Cham, Thai and Lao. It has a population of 16 million people. The pre-eminent religion is Buddhism. The adult literacy rate is 75%; few Cambodians speak a European language limiting access to western literature. Most students complete 12 years of (low quality public) school but tertiary enrollment is limited. As in all countries, education (reinforced by state propaganda through the media) serves to intimidate and indoctrinate students into obedience of elites. Discussion of national politics in a school class is taboo and such discussions are rare at tertiary level. This manifests in the narrow range of concerns that mobilize student action: personal outcomes such as employment opportunities. Issues such as those in relation to peace, the environment and refugees do not have a significant profile. In short, the student population generally is neither well informed nor politically engaged.

However, many other issues engage at least some Cambodians, with demonstrations, strikes and street blockades being popular tactics, although the lack of strategy means that outcomes are usually limited and, despite commendable nonviolent discipline in many cases, violent repression is not effectively resisted. Issues of concern to workers, particularly low wages in a country with no minimum wage law, galvanize some response. Garment workers are a significant force because their sector is important to the national economy. Land grabbing and lack of housing mobilize many people but usually fail to attract support beyond those effected. Environmental issues, such as deforestation and natural resource depletion, fail to mobilize the support they need to be effective.

Having noted that, however, Cambodian activists require enormous courage to take nonviolent action as the possibility of violent state repression in response to popular mobilization is a real one, as illustrated above and documented in the Amnesty International report “Taking to the streets: Freedom of peaceful assembly in Cambodia” from 2015.

Perhaps understandably, given their circumstances, international issues, such as events in the Middle East, North Korea and the plight of the Rohingya in neighbouring Myanmar are beyond the concern of most Cambodians.

Economically, Cambodians produce traditional goods for small local households with industrial production remaining low in a country that is still industrializing. Building on agriculture (especially rice), tourism and particularly the garment industry, which provided the basis for the Cambodian export sector in recent decades, the dictatorship has been encouraging light manufacturing, such as of electronics and auto-parts, by establishing “special economic zones” that allow cheap Cambodian labour to be exploited. Most of the manufacturers are Japanese and despite poor infrastructure (such as lack of roads and port facilities), poor production management, poor literacy and numeracy among the workers, corruption and unreliable energy supplies, Cambodian factory production is slowly rising to play a part in Japan’s regional supply chain. In addition, Chinese investment in the construction sector has grown enormously in recent years and Cambodia is experiencing the common problem of development being geared to serve elite commercial interests and tourists rather than the needs (such as affordable housing) of ordinary people or the environment.

Environmentally, Cambodia does little to conserve its natural resources. For example, between 1990 and 2010, Cambodia lost 22% of its forest cover, or nearly 3,000,000 hectares, largely to logging. There is no commitment to gauging environmental impact before construction projects begin and the $US800m Lower Sesan 2 Dam, in the northeast of the country, has been widely accused of being constructed with little thought given to local residents (who will be evicted or lose their livelihood when the dam reservoir fills) or the project’s environmental impact.

Beyond deforestation (through both legal and illegal logging) then, environmental destruction in Cambodia occurs as a result of large scale construction and agricultural projects which destroy important wildlife habitats, but also through massive (legal and illegal) sand mining, poaching of endangered and endemic species, with Cambodian businesses and political authorities, as well as foreign criminal syndicates and many transnational corporations from all over the world implicated in the various aspects of this corruptly-approved and executed destruction.

In the words of Cambodian researcher Tay Sovannarun: “The government just keeps doing business as usual while the rich cliques keep extracting natural resources and externalizing the cost to the rest of society.” Moreover, three members of the NGO Mother Nature – Sun Mala, Try Sovikea and Sim Somnang – recently served nearly a year in prison for their efforts to defend the environment and the group was dissolved by the government in September 2017.

Cambodian Politics

Politically, Cambodians are largely naïve with most believing that they live in a ‘democracy’ despite the absence of its most obvious hallmarks such as civil and political rights, the separation of powers including an independent judiciary, free and fair elections, the right of assembly and freedom of the press (with the English-language newspaper The Cambodia Daily recently closed down along with some radio stations). And this is an accurate assessment of most members of the political leadership of the CNRP as well.

Despite a 30-year record of political manipulation by Hun Sen and the CPP, during which “Hun Sen has made it clear that he does not respect the concept of free and fair elections”, which has included obvious corruption of elections through vote-rigging but also an outright coup in 1997 and the imprisonment or exile of opposition leaders since then, most Cambodians and their opposition leaders still participate in the charade that they live in a ‘democracy’ which could result in the defeat of Hun Sen and the CPP at a “free and fair” election. Of course, there are exceptions to this naïveté, as a 2014 article written by Mu Sochua, veteran Cambodian politician and former minister of women’s affairs in a Hun Sen government, demonstrates.

Moreover, as Sovannarun has noted, most Cambodians still think international pressure is effective in keeping the CPP from disrespecting democratic principles which they have violated up until this day. Right now they wait for US and EU sanctions in the hope that the CPP will step back. He asks: “Even assuming it works, when will Cambodians learn to rely on themselves when the ruling party causes the same troubles again? Are they going to ask for external help like this every time and expect their country to be successfully democratized?”

The problem, Sovannarun argues, is that “Cambodians in general do not really understand what democracy is. Their views are very narrow. For them, democracy is just an election. Many news reports refer to people as “voters” but in Khmer, this literally translates as “vote owners” as if people cannot express their rights or power beside voting.”

Fortunately, recent actions by the CPP have led to opposition leaders and some NGOs finally declaring the Hun Sen dictatorship for what it is. But for Sovannarun:

Democratization ended in 1997. The country should be regarded as a dictatorship since then. The party that lost the election in 1993 still controlled the national military, the police and security force, and the public administration, eventually using military force to establish absolute control in 1997. How is Cambodia still a democracy?

However, recent comprehensive research undertaken by Global Witness goes even further. Their report Hostile Takeover “sheds light on a huge network of secret deal-making and corruption that has underpinned Hun Sen’s 30-year dictatorial reign of murder, torture and the imprisonment of his political opponents”.

So what are the prospects of liberating Cambodia from its dictatorship?

To begin, there is little evidence to suggest that leadership for any movement to do so will come from within formal political ranks. Following the court-ordered dissolution of the CNRP on 16 November 2017 at the behest of Hun Sen, “half of their 55 members of parliament fled the country”. And this dissolution was preceded by actions that had effectively neutralized the opposition, with two dozen opposition members (including CNRP leader Kem Sokha) and critics imprisoned in the past year alone, as reported above, and the rapid flight of Opposition Deputy President Mu Sochua on 3 October after allegedly being notified by a senior official that her arrest was imminent. But while Mu Sochua called for a protest gathering after she had fled, understandably, nobody dared to protest: “Who dares to protest if their leader runs for their life?” Sovannarun asks.

Of course, civil society leadership is fraught with danger too. Prominent political commentator and activist Kem Ley, known for his trenchant criticism of the Hun Sen dictatorship, was assassinated on 10 July 2016 in Phnom Penh. Ley was the third notable activist to be killed following the union leader Chea Vichea in 2004 and environmental activist Wutty Chut in 2012. But they are not the only activists to suffer this fate.

In addition, plenty of politicians, journalists and activists have been viciously assaulted by the security forces and members of Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit and/or imprisoned by the dictatorship. In fact, Radio Free Asia keeps a record of “Cambodian Opposition Politicians and Activists Behind Bars” for activities that the dictatorship does not like, including defending human rights, land rights and the natural environment.

Moreover, in another recent measure of the blatant brutality of the dictatorship, Hun Sen publicly suggested that opposition politicians Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha “would already be dead” had he known they were promising to “organise a new government” in the aftermath of the highly disputed 2013 national election result. He also used a government-produced video to link the CNRP with US groups in fomenting a “colour revolution” in Cambodia.

In one response to Hun Sen’s “would already be dead” statement, British human rights lawyer Richard Rogers, who had filed a complaint asking the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the Cambodian ruling elite for widespread human rights violations in 2014, commented that it was simply more evidence of the government’s willingness to persecute political dissidents. “It shows that he is willing to order the murder of his own people if they challenge his rule”. Moreover: “These are not the words of a modern leader who claims to lead a democracy.” Whether Hun Sen is even sane is a question that no-one asks.

So what can Cambodians do? Fortunately, there is a long history of repressive regimes being overthrown by nonviolent grassroots movements. And nonviolent action has proven powerfully effective in Cambodia as the Buddhist monk Maha Gosananda, and his supporters demonstrated on their 19-day peace walk from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh through war ravaged Khmer Rouge territory in Cambodia in May 1993, defying the expectations of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) coordinators at the time that they would be killed by the Khmer Rouge. However, for the Hun Sen dictatorship to be removed, Cambodians will be well served by a thoughtful and comprehensive strategy that takes particular account of their unique circumstances.

A framework to plan and implement a strategy to remove the dictatorship is explained in Nonviolent Defense/Liberation Strategy with Sovannarun’s Khmer translation of this strategy here.

This strategic framework explains what is necessary to remove the dictatorship and, among consideration of many vital issues, elaborates what is necessary to maintain strategic coordination when leaders are at high risk of assassination, minimize the risk of violent repression while also ensuring that the movement is not hijacked by government or foreign provocateurs whose purpose is to subvert the movement by destroying its nonviolent character as well as deal with foreign governments (such as those of China, the European Union, Japan and the USA) who (categorically or by inaction) support the dictatorship, sometimes by supplying military weapons suitable for use against the domestic population.

Sovannarun is not optimistic about the short-term prospects for his country: Too many mistakes have been repeated too often. But he is committed to the nonviolent struggle to liberate Cambodia from its dictatorship and recognizes that the corrupt electoral process cannot restore democracy or enable Cambodians to meaningfully address the vast range of social, political, economic and environmental challenges they face.

Monbiot Is a Hypocrite and a Bully

It is time for George Monbiot’s legion of supporters to call him out. Not only is he a hypocrite, but he is becoming an increasingly dangerous one.

Turning a blind eye to his behaviour, or worse excusing it, as too often happens, has only encouraged him to intensify his attacks on dissident writers, those who – whether right or wrong on any specific issue – are slowly helping us all to develop more critical perspectives on western foreign policy goals than has ever been possible before.

I do not lightly use such strong language against Monbiot, someone I once admired. But his column this week drips with hypocrisy as he accuses the right wing media of being the real villains when it comes to “no-platforming”. Monbiot writes:

But perhaps the real discomfort is that the worst no-platforming of all takes place within our newspapers. In the publications most obsessed with student silliness, there is no platform for socialism, no platform for environmentalism, no platform for those who might offend the interests of the proprietors. …

I believe that a healthy media organisation, like a healthy university, should admit a diversity of opinion. I want the other newspapers to keep publishing views with which I fiercely disagree. But they – and we – should also seek opposing views and publish them too, however uncomfortable this might be.

What free speech advocate would disagree with that? Except it is Monbiot himself who has been using his prominent platforms, at the Guardian and on social media, to discredit critical thinkers on the left – not with reasoned arguments, but by impugning their integrity.

Denied a platform

It started with his unsubstantiated claim that scholars like Noam Chomsky and the late Ed Herman, as well as the acclaimed journalist John Pilger, were “genocide deniers and belittlers”. It now focuses on childish insinuations that those who question the corporate media’s simplistic narrative on Syria are Assad apologists or in Vladimir Putin’s pay.

But worse than this, Monbiot is also conspiring – either actively or through his silence – to deny critics of his and the Guardian’s position on Syria the chance to set out their evidence in its pages.

The Guardian’s anti-democratic stance does not surprise me, as someone who worked there for many years. I found myself repeatedly no-platformed by the paper – even while on its staff – after I started taking an interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict and writing about the discomforting issue of what a Jewish state entails. My treatment is far from unique.

Now the paper is denying a platform to those who question simplistic and self-serving western narratives on Syria. And Monbiot is backing his employer to the hilt, even as he professes his commitment to the publication of views he fiercely disagrees with. That’s the dictionary definition of hypocrisy.

‘Selfless’ White Helmets?

The latest instalment of the Guardian and Monbiot’s long-running battle to silence Syria dissidents arrived last month when Olivia Solon, the paper’s technology writer living in San Francisco, developed a sudden and unexpected expertise in a controversial Syrian group called the White Helmets.

In the western corporate media narrative, the White Helmets are a group of dedicated and selfless rescue workers. They are supposedly the humanitarians on whose behalf a western intervention in Syria would have been justified – before, that is, Syrian leader Bashar Assad queered their pitch by inviting in Russia.

However, there are problems with the White Helmets. They operate only in rebel – read: mainly al-Qaeda and ISIS-held – areas of Syria, and plenty of evidence shows that they are funded by the UK and US to advance both countries’ far-from-humanitarian policy objectives in Syria.

There are also strong indications that members of the White Helmets have been involved in war crimes, and that they have staged rescue operations as a part of a propaganda offensive designed to assist Islamic extremists trying to oust Assad. (Solon discounts this last claim. In doing so, she ignores several examples of such behaviour, concentrating instead on an improbable “mannequin challenge”, when the White Helmets supposedly froze their emergency operations, in the midst of rescue efforts, apparently as part of a peculiar publicity campaign.)

Guardian hatchet job

Whatever side one takes in this debate, one would imagine that Monbiot should have a clear agenda in support of hearing evidence from all sides. One might also imagine that he would want to distance himself from Solon’s efforts to tie criticism of the White Helmets to a supposed “fake news” crisis and paint those critical of the group as Putin-bots. According to Solon:

The way the Russian propaganda machine has targeted the White Helmets is a neat case study in the prevailing information wars. It exposes just how rumours, conspiracy theories and half-truths bubble to the top of YouTube, Google and Twitter search algorithms.

Those are the same algorithms that have been changed in recent months to make sure that prominent leftist websites are increasingly difficult to find on internet searches and their writers’ views effectively disappeared.

Yet Monbiot has been using social media to promote Solon’s cheerleading of the White Helmets and her hatchet job against on-the-ground journalists who have taken a far more critical view of the group.

As set out by Prof Tim Hayward, the Guardian’s response to criticism of Solon’s piece has been typical. The comments section below the article was hastily closed after many criticisms were voiced by readers. The journalists who were singled out for attack by Solon were denied a right of reply. A group of concerned academics led by Hayward who submitted their own article, which detailed publicly available evidence to counter Solon’s simplistic account of the White Helmets, were ignored. Meanwhile, the Guardian’s editors and the reader’s editor have ignored all efforts by these parties to contact them.

Given his claim to be an uncompromising defender of free speech and a fierce advocate of providing platforms to those who can back up their arguments with evidence, however discomforting, one might have assumed that Monbiot would at the very least have lobbied on behalf of Hayward and his fellow scholars. But not a bit of it. Yet again he has joined the dogs of the corporate media baying for blood. Instead he turned to Twitter to claim Hayward and Piers Robinson, an expert on propaganda, had “disgraced” themselves.

Undermining climate concerns

The many tens of thousands of leftists who defend Monbiot, or turn a blind eye to his hypocrisy, largely do so because of his record on the environment. But in practice they are enabling not only his increasingly overt incitement against critical thinkers, but also undermining the very cause his supporters believe he champions.

Climate breakdown is a global concern. Rewilding, bike-riding, protecting bees and polar bears, and developing new sustainable technologies are all vitally important. But such actions will amount to little if we fail to turn a highly sceptical eye on the activities of a western military-industrial complex ravaging the planet’s poorest regions.

These war industries fill their coffers by using weapons indiscriminately on “enemy” populations, spawning new and fiercer enemies – while often propping them up too – to generate endless wars. The consequences include massive displacements of these populations who then destabilise other regions, spreading the effect and creating new opportunities for the arms manufacturers, homeland security industries, and the financial industries that feed off them.

A true environmentalist has to look as critically at western policies in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela and many other areas of the globe as he does at UK policy in the Welsh hills and the Lake District.

All indications are that Monbiot lacks the experience, knowledge and skills to unravel the deceptions being perpetrated in the west’s proxy and not-so-proxy wars overseas. That is fair enough. What is not reasonable is that he should use his platforms to smear precisely those who can speak with a degree of authority and independence – and then conspire in denying them a platform to respond. That is the behaviour not only of a hypocrite, but of a bully too.

Transition Towns Offer Hope for the Future

In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!
— Donald J. Trump

Reading tweets like this from President Trump incites a mixture of humour and sadness in me.  I can’t even tell which sentiment is stronger at this point.  Since his exiting the US from the Paris Agreement last year it is difficult to take this person seriously about any utterance he makes on the environment, to include his suspicion that “global warming” is a theory advanced “by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”  The entire planet is suffering previously undocumented shifts in temperature that have been recorded since 1880 and we are facing a pollution crisis that has resulted in people in certain cities around the planet having to don face masks to leave their homes.  And just yesterday Trump announces that he “feel[s] strongly about the environment.”

According to The Ocean Cleanup, eight million tons of plastics enter the oceans every year, most of which has resulted in FIVE giant garbage patches (literally vortexes of pure garbage) floating in major bodies of water.  And I write “five” even though this number is relative given that just last summer another patch in the Pacific was found that is larger than Mexico and scientists are now grouping them together as singular, but larger, garbage patches such that now we have one spanning from off the coast of California all the way across the Pacific Ocean the the coast of Japan. Even shipping routes in smaller bodies of water, such as the North Sea.  And then there is the tragedy of marine life which is under threat from oxygen depletion, the ablation of ice sheets, the melting of massive icebergs, and the fact that coal is still the primary driver of most economies today.

First, I want you to take a look at Greg Shirah’s and Horace Mitchel’s Garbage Patch Visual Experiment, courtesy of NASA. This large expanse of garbage is avoidable and is not coincidental to this pattern.  This is a major trade route between North America and Asia and despite the movement of the waters in the oceans, this ecological disaster is exemplary of the damage we are inflicting on the planet. It is also the key to how we can stop.

Transition towns are gaining in popularity today as they seek to move populations towards self-sufficiency while reducing effects of peak oil, climate damage, and economic instability.  The transition movement has been growing since its 2005 inception in the town of Totnes (UK).  Rob Hopkins officially got the transition movement beginning the following year by prompting the community to address how it might stop contributing to the above-mentioned garbage vortex as well as other ecological and social problems through action, through change.

Everything Connects states of transition towns:

Transition towns are local communities proactively preparing for an oil-scarce future in a warming world by reducing their dependence on fossil fuels and helping mitigate climate change by re-localizing, shifting production closer to home and creating functioning communities with the idea that strong neighborhood networks will help towns to weather future energy shocks. Transition towns address the issues of peak oil, climate change and economic instability by creating a strong, connected, self-sufficient community.

Transition towns offer the ability for communities to reclaim their local economies, create an environment that nurtures entrepreneurship, rethink how we work and to allow individuals to update their skills or even retrain in order to realize this conceptual town. Transition towns have now spread to over 50 countries.  The models or approaches are potentially endless in number, the ethos of this movement is to account for ecological and economic impacts of human existence through smart gardening, architecture, and business models.

Yifeng Zhu’s wonderful thesis, “Floating City in the Pacific Garbage Patch,” documents ways in which we can change our current behaviour towards the planet from recycling nappies for “light soil” and/or earth architecture practices found in the Library Delft at the University of Technology in Delft, Netherlands.  And green architecture is just beginning to look at how we might redesign our buildings in ways that might absorb some of this “garbage”. The United Kingdom is one country that is tackling transition towns head on and has been since 2006.

In her report for the British government, “The Portas Review: An independent review into the future of our high streets,” Mary Portas writes that 97 percent of all groceries are sold through just 8,000 supermarket outlets with only 3 percent representing local business. Transition towns look at how to grow the 3 percent. Portas sums it up stating:

To really get high streets working for us I have thought about what Government – central and local – needs to do. But the public sector alone cannot create vibrant high streets, however hard they try. There is also a part that landlords and retailers must play. And, crucially, the part that all of us can play as people that meet, trade and shop in high streets around the country. Together everybody is going to have to give a little bit to help our high streets to be vibrant and successful.

While this model of the high street (in the US, “Main Street”) sounds a reverse from the development of hyper-modern and post-modern malls originating in the US during the 1960s, it’s probably because it is. Malls and the mass migration to large cities have left ghost towns throughout parts of the US. And where people have remained, we have witnessed massive economic impoverishment and lack of industry and jobs.

For every pound a local business generates, three times more income is created. Studies also show that towns with more independent businesses have more social capital, a higher quality of life, better civic organization, and fewer supermarkets. When a community wants to take responsibility for its economic future, it needs only find what its priorities are and start there. Renewal energy, food, planting, investment models?  All of these are options in the design of transition towns.

In London there are approximately forty-five transition initiatives in neighborhoods where people can influence policy, regulations regarding new businesses, green initiatives, and so forth. In Brixton in the south of London, there is the Brixton pound which you can pay by text and the local council do part of their payroll in the Brixton pound.  And Brixton is home to the country’s largest inner-city, co-operatively-owned renewable energy project on a social housing estate, with many homes powered by solar panels installed on the roofs of the poorest homes. And just a few miles to the south, Crystal Palace has a vibrant food market and community garden and a trash catcher’s carnival where everything is made from rubbish.  And in north London, Kilburn has been the site of an experimental garden being run from the Kilburn Jubilee tube line. There have been many more such garden projects underway in recent years.

Around the UK, there are many more examples of transition towns such as Bristol where the Bristol pound has a lot of support from the city with its mayor’s salary being paid in Bristol pounds. And the transitioning of the city has included the investment of £2.2 million in the Bath & West Community Energy which includes Community Share Offers.  This means that locals have the opportunity to invest relatively small sums in local energy schemes with a good return on their investment.  They have also committed to working with local businesses which translates to economic benefits of the renewable energy projects being retained locally.

And outside the of the UK, Transition Towns in forty-three countries around the world are seeing similar interests and shifts towards the local infrastructure and economy. In Norway there are 170 and in Japan there are 40, formed by people of both the left and right since ecological and local concerns are subjects that span political views.

And in the United States there are currently 163 transition initiatives that have focused on seven primary principles.  What is most interesting about initiatives I have visited is the focus on local economies in this age where being self-employed is quickly becoming the most common form of employment (currently approximately 34 percent of the total workforce, and is projected to be 50 percent by 2020).  For instance, REconomy is another UK initiative which works to network with communities to help them transform their local economies while becoming more sustainable.  What this means in practical terms is that investments and projects can stay local and outsourcing becomes a thing of the past which encourages a fair price for trade and fair salaries in return. This is clearly a push-back against globalization.

This also means that any shopping and production can be undertaken locally and any benefits to the consumer in the form of discounts or contracts extended for work, will go to the local community.  There are even more economists taking on transition in terms of future economic sustainability in an age where benefits in the UK are being slashed, putting poverty at unthinkable levels and in the US where the government’s draconian politics are inflicting harm on our nation’s poorest, these economies are vital. Detroit comes to mind as a model for how we need to organize with entrepreneurial innovation at the helm.

The reality is that the previous model of the metropolis is no longer viable for a growing number of humans. Many are moving from the larger cities to which they flocked after university and are moving back to their countryside origins, others are opting for towns where walking and bicycle are sufficient means of transport locally, and many are finding that the most unsuspecting, even underpopulated areas of the country, are perfect settings for their skill sets. The ecological rewards can only be positive in this day and age of economic fragility, job insecurity, and the ability for many of us to work from long distances with work to be submitted online. Transitioning is not only sustainable and communal, but it is proving to offer a healthier and happier way of living.

Global Warming Stirs the Methane Monster

It’s January, yet methane hydrates in the Arctic are growling like an incensed monster on a scorching hot mid-summer day. But, it is January; it’s winter, not July!

On January 1st Arctic methane at 2,764 ppb spiked upwards into the atmosphere, which, according to Arctic News: “Was likely caused by methane hydrate destabilization in the sediments on the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean.”1  Once again, with emphasis, it’s January; it’s winter, and there’s little or no sunshine above the Arctic Circle. So, what gives? Why are alarming levels of methane spewing into the atmosphere in the dead of winter?

For starters, record low sea ice volume, which has been dropping like a leaden weight for years because of human-generated (anthropogenic) global warming. That’s a recipe for trouble, big time trouble as methane hydrates (lattices of ice that entrap methane molecules) get exposed to warmer water. In that regard, average sea ice volume throughout 2017 was at record lows.

Making matters worse yet, extraordinarily warm water currents flow into the Arctic from nearby ocean waters that have been absorbing 90% of global warming. Ergo, Arctic water in thin ice does not cool down without a lot of thick ice to melt the warm water currents. So, abnormally warm water remains into winter months and, in time, reaches sediments at the bottom of the ocean, disrupting methane hydrates, which have stored tonnes of methane over millennia. However, in due course, all hell breaks loose with large-scale methane eruptions, one of those “Naw, it can’t be happening” moments.

Here’s the problem: On average, sea surface temps were 23.35°F warmer during the period October 1 to December 30, 2017 compared to the 30-year average temperature. On October 25th, the sea surface was as warm as 63.5°F. For the Arctic, that’s hot, not just warmer. And, that brings forth a big-gulp question: What’s going to happen in summertime when methane hydrates are more exposed?

After all, methane (CH4) is a dominating greenhouse gas that makes carbon dioxide (CO2) look like a piker during initial years and packs the walloping risk of runaway global warming, which, in turn, threatens agricultural sources of food… not a good scenario. Imagine the chaos, considering the fact that “runaway” means totally out of control!

In all, an impending disaster seems destined to happen, but nobody knows when. It will likely occur unexpectedly by an ill advised, crass, blundering, philistine society blindsided by a scorched planet and extensive loss of foodstuff. Chaos spreads throughout when all of a sudden, unexpectedly, crops fail. One bad crop season follows another and another. For example, Syria, where its 2006-11 devastating drought caused 75% of Syria’s farms to fail and 85% of livestock to die. That’s a wipeout!

In the end, as crops fail, it’s too late to take remedial action beyond dealing with dystopian warring factions locked in bloodthirsty combat over morsels of foodstuff.

Not only that, one more nasty early warning sign of trouble is right around the corner: The National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC) January 3rd year-end headline reads: “Baked Alaska and 2017 in Review,” stating: “… notably high temperatures prevail over most of the Arctic, especially over Central Alaska.” That’s permafrost country! That’s where tonnes and tonnes and tonnes of methane lies in-waiting to spring loose into the atmosphere. After all, global warming is the kissing cousin to methane buried in permafrost.

And, of equivalent concern on a worldwide basis: “In 2016 – now and at least for another year, the hottest year on record – global sea ice extent suffered a precipitous drop, plummeting from a fairly average 2015 value to a new record low. Now, as we wrap up 2017, data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) shows that annual average global sea ice extent has dropped again, hitting an even lower record value.”2

Meantime, the two poles, north and south, are in the early stages of collapse. Scientists know it, and there is lots of chatter about geo-engineering and assorted methodologies to fix anthropogenic global warming before it consumes civilization in a fireball, but those proposals are in dreamland for the moment. Hopefully, one of their fix-it ideas works “to scale” because the planet is likely too big for geo-engineering schemes to work without some kind of unintended consequence, which may be worse than the original fix. In fact, nobody really knows for sure what will happen when the biosphere is forced to behave according to computer-designed plans. It’s an enormous undertaking!

Therefore, it is recommended that today’s push-button, screen-watching youth learn survival skills rather than playing games for hours on end, endlessly, moronically pre-occupied with electronic fantasy lands, because one day in the near future that fantasy turns to harsh reality, likely hitting hard, really hard.

After all, eco migrants, numbering tens of thousands, are already worldwide phenomena, especially along the southern and eastern Mediterranean Sea regions, where land is turning bone dry faster than anywhere else on the planet. It’s the start of the Great Global Warming Migration scenario… but, pray tell, where to?

  1. “Unfolding Arctic Catastrophe”, Arctic News, January 2, 2018.
  2. “Global Sea Ice Hits New Record Low for 2nd Year Straight”, The Weather Network, January 8, 2018.

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.

Life without Limits: The Delusions of Technological Fundamentalism

In a routinely delusional world, what is the most dangerous delusion?

Living in the United States, I’m tempted to focus on the delusion that the United States is the greatest nation in the history of the world — a claim repeated robotically by politicians of both parties.

In a mass-consumption capitalist society, there’s the delusion that if we only buy more, newer, better products we all will be happier — a claim repeated endlessly in commercial propaganda (commonly known as advertising and marketing).

I’m also white, and so it’s understandable to worry about the delusion that white people are superior to non-white people. And as a man, I reflect on the delusion that institutionalized male dominance is our fate, whether asserted to be divinely commanded or evolutionarily inevitable.

But all these delusions that rationalize hierarchies within the human family, and the resulting injustices that flow from those hierarchies, are less frightening to me than modern humans’ delusion that we are not bound by the laws of physics and chemistry, that humans can live beyond the biophysical limits of the ecosphere.

This delusion is not limited to one country, one group, or one political party, but rather is the unstated assumption of everyday life in the high-energy/high-technology industrial world. This is the delusion that we are — to borrow from the title of a particularly delusional recent book — the god species.

This ideology of human supremacy leads us to believe that our species’ cleverness allows us to ignore the limits placed on all life forms by the larger living world, of which we are but one component. What we once quaintly called “environmentalism” — which too often focused on technical solutions to discrete problems rather than challenging human arrogance and the quest for endless affluence — is no longer adequate to deal with the multiple, cascading ecological crises that define our era: climate destabilization, species extinction, soil erosion, groundwater depletion, toxic waste accumulation, and on and on.

Playing god got us into this trouble, and more of the same won’t get us out.

This inability to accept the limits that come with being part of “nature” – a strange term when used to contrast with “human,” as if humans were somehow not part of the natural world – was on my mind as I read two new books about controversial topics that typically are thought of as social, not ecological, issues: Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own Body, edited by Heather Brunskell-Evans and Michele Moore, and Surrogacy: A Human Rights Violation, by Renate Klein.

[Disclaimer: I have met Brunskell-Evans in our shared work in the radical feminist critique of pornography, and Klein is co-publisher of Spinifex Press, which published my book The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men.]

Both books offer a feminist critique of the ideology and practices of these movements that herald medical/technological “solutions” to struggles with gender norms and infertility.

Brunskell-Evans’ and Moore’s book brings together researchers, activists, mental health practitioners and parents who question such practices as puberty suppression to block the development of secondary sex characteristics as treatment for gender dysphoria. Are such disruptions of a child’s development with powerful drugs warranted, given the lack of testing and absence of a clear understanding of the etiology of transgenderism? The authors challenge what has rapidly become the liberal dogma of embracing medicalized approaches to the very real problem of patriarchal gender norms (the demand that boys must act one way and girls another) that constrain our lives.

Klein marshals research and the testimony of surrogates to point out that another liberal dogma — affluent individuals have a right to “rent a womb” so they may have a child genetically related to them — involves considerable risks for the surrogate mother (sometimes referred to as the “gestational carrier”). The author’s assessment is blunt, but well supported: modern surrogacy is a form of exploitation of women and trafficking in babies.

Both books demonstrate the enduring relevance of the radical branch of feminism that highlights men’s attempts to control and exploit women’s reproductive power and sexuality as a key feature of men’s dominance in patriarchal societies. And both are critical of the naive celebration of high-tech medicine to deal with issues that stem from patriarchy’s rigid, repressive and reactionary gender norms.

Those radical feminist challenges dovetail with a radical ecological critique that reminds us that being alive — being a carbon-based creature that exists within the limits of the ecosphere — means that we should be skeptical of claims that we can magically transcend those limits. The high-energy, high-tech, human-defined world in which we live can lull us into believing that we are like gods in our ability to shape the world, and to shape our own bodies.

Of course, drugs, surgery and medical techniques routinely save lives and improve our lives, in ways that are “unnatural” in some sense. To highlight these questions does not mean that lines are easy to draw between what is appropriate and what is ill-advised. But we invite serious miscalculations when we embrace without critical self-reflection the assumption that we can manipulate our human-centered worlds without concern for the limits of the larger living world.

Many of us have experienced this in end-of-life care decisions for ourselves or loved ones. When are high-tech medical interventions that prolong life without concern for quality of life a mistake? I have had long conversations with friends and family about where the line should be drawn, not only to make my own views clear but to search for collective understanding. The fact that the line is hard to draw, and even harder to face when arriving at it, doesn’t make the question any less relevant. The fact that there is no obvious and easy answer doesn’t mean we can avoid the question.

Elective cosmetic surgery is perhaps the best example of the culture’s rejection of limits. All living things eventually die, and human appearance changes as we age, yet many people search for ways to stave off that aging or to change their appearance for other non-medical reasons. In 2017, Americans spent more than $15 billion on cosmetic procedures (surgical and nonsurgical), 91% of which were performed on women. The two most common surgical procedures are liposuction and breast augmentation. Although some people who get liposuction are overweight, it is not a treatment for obesity, and breast augmentation is rarely related to physical health. These procedures typically are chosen by people seeking to conform to social norms about appearance.

With this humility about high-tech human intervention in mind, how should we understand the experience of feeling at odds with gender norms? How should we reconcile the physical inability to bear children with the desire to have children? There are no obvious or easy answers, but I believe that as a culture we are better served by starting with the recognition that we are not gods, that we cannot endlessly manipulate the world without risking unintended consequences for self and others. How does the rejection of limits impede our ability to first examine and then resist the impositions of patriarchy, to find new understandings of sex/gender and new social relationships for caring for children?

At the planetary level, we have considerable evidence that our faux-god attempts to dominate the ecosphere — which started most dramatically with the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago and intensified with the exploitation of fossil fuels — now make the future of a large-scale human population uncertain. The lesson some of us take from that is to turn away from the “technological fundamentalism” that leads us to see all problems as having high-energy/high-tech solutions and consider different ways of living within the biophysical limits of the planet.

That same perspective is compelling on the level of these questions around gender and fertility. Here’s a sensible place to start: We should step back from the hyper-individualism of neoliberal ideology and examine more deeply how the institutionalized male dominance of patriarchy has shaped our collective thinking about gender and identity, and about women’s status and parenting. Such reflection reveals that the liberal ideology on transgenderism and surrogacy embraces the technological fundamentalism that embraces medical and market “solutions” rather than enhancing the sense of integrity that we seek.

Integrity is a key concept here because of its two meanings — adherence to moral principles and the state of being whole. We strive to act with integrity, and to maintain the integrity of both the living body and the larger living world. In hierarchical systems that reward domination, such as patriarchy, freedom comes to be understood only at the ability to control others and the world around us. Andrea Dworkin captures this struggle when she writes:

Being an object – living in the realm of male objectification – is abject submission, an abdication of the freedom and integrity of the body, its privacy, its uniqueness, its worth in and of itself because it is the human body of a human being.

Freedom in patriarchy is granted only to those in control, and that control turns other living things into objects, destroying the possibility of integrity-as-moral-principles and integrity-as-wholeness. Real freedom is not found in the quest to escape limits but in deepening our understanding of our place in a world with limits.

• First appeared in ABC Religion & Ethics (Australia)