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Morales under attack

Fake ‘environmental activists’ are using the Amazon fires to target the Bolivian president and his democratic socialist government, writes TIM YOUNG

THE US policy of seeking regime change in those Latin American countries that it cannot economically and politically dominate is now putting Bolivia and the government of Evo Morales in its sights, with the Amazon fires as the pretext. 

The US has a history of seeking to subvert the Morales government, with the last major CIA-backed effort, known as the “media luna” coup, taking place in 2008-09 as the right-wing opposition, knowing it couldn’t defeat Morales in democratic elections, initiated a wave of violence.

A decade later, with presidential elections this month, the context is the same. The latest poll by private Bolivian TV channel Unitel shows that President Morales has opened up a huge lead over right-wing candidate Carlos Mesa. 

As things stand, Morales would win in the first round with 40-plus per cent if second-placed Mesa is still more than 10 per cent adrift.

What the right in Bolivia is doing — aided by a clutch of so-called “environmental activists” and “human rights activists” — is to seize on the fires in the Chiquitania dry forest to try to make a two-pronged case against the president.

First, they claim that he failed to deal with the fires quickly enough, and second, that Morales is responsible for harmful environmental policies in the Chiquitania forest area that caused the fires in the first place.

Leading on this is Jhanisse Vaca Daza, a self-described “human rights activist.” Aided by operatives from USAid, she and her allies have pushed these lines of attack through a social media campaign with the hashtag #SOSBolivia. 

This echoes the #SOSNicaragua strategy employed by those supporting the attempted violent coup against the government of Daniel Ortega starting in 2018.

This is unsurprising, given that Daza studied in the Leading Non-Violent Movements for Social Progress programme at the Harvard Kennedy School, well known for fostering expatriate regime-change cadres from Latin America, including prominent figures in right-wing Venezuelan coup circles such as Leopoldo Lopez. 

As manager of the Freedom Fellowships programme funded by the Human Rights Foundation, she made her position clear by writing on the foundation’s page that, thanks to the Freedom Fellowship, she had co-founded a movement in Bolivia named Rios de Pie that “already is becoming one of the leading non-violent resistance movements to Evo Morales’s authoritarian regime.”

Both the charges she and her allies level against Morales simply don’t stand up.  

On the first accusation of inaction, while right-wing opposition candidate Carlos Mesa called for foreign aid to put out the fires, Morales acted swiftly, creating an Environmental Emergency Cabinet in Robore, in the department of Santa Cruz, to evaluate the situation, direct help and attend to the most urgent needs of the population.

Morales also hired a Boeing 747 “supertanker” to help extinguish the huge forest blazes, in the knowledge that Bolivia’s economy was robust enough to do so. 

Amid a social media clamour for Bolivia to accept external help, Morales was clear that he would accept help — if it was channelled through the Bolivian state and within the framework of the Paris Agreement. 

In doing so, he acted consistently, aware that international “emergency aid” from the US often leads to militarisation, occupation and the creation of patterns of dependency, such as that which took place in Haiti following devastating earthquakes.

Within eight days, the government was able to report that 85 per cent of the fires had been extinguished. 

Its prompt action in mobilising the army, emergency services, doctors and volunteers, and using helicopters, large firefighting planes and the supertanker — in contrast to Jair Bolsonaro sitting on his hands in Brazil — won praise from United Nations general assembly president Maria Fernanda Espinosa. 

Morales also announced that land sales in the region affected would be prohibited, to prevent ranchers and agro-capitalists from exploiting the devastated areas for financial gain rather than allowing them to be reforested.

The second accusation that Morales’s environmental policies are to blame flies in the face of established fact and the president’s deep commitment to promote awareness of climate change and take a leading role in the struggle for climate justice.

This commitment is enshrined in two key pieces of legislation. The Rights of Mother Earth Law of 2010 provides the general legal framework for the more comprehensive 2012 Mother Earth Law, epitomising Bolivia’s dedication to sustainable development, respecting the balance between human life and the natural environment and prioritising the rights and knowledge of the country’s majority indigenous population.

The law embraces the concept of “climate justice,” defined by the ability of all Bolivian citizens to “live well,” especially those who are most vulnerable to global warming. It reinforces the point that some states have more of a global responsibility to respond to climate change.

To encourage sustainable development of natural resources, it states that climate change trajectories should be accounted for when planning and zoning responsible land use, setting out six lines of action to reduce the risks posed by the phenomenon.

On the world stage, to help inform, support and mobilise social movements against climate change, Bolivia has also organised a number of international conferences following on from the People’s Summit on Climate Change in 2010.

Morales himself has called for rich countries to pay reparations to those poorer ones suffering the effects of climate change and advocated a dedicated court of justice to prosecute countries for climate crimes.

On the issue of deforestation, all of Bolivia’s forests are owned by the state, with 10 per cent under the management of private companies. 

While it is true that illegal logging takes place, the government has implemented a number of measures aimed at tackling this issue and reducing deforestation. 

As a member of the Amazon Co-operation Treaty Organisation, Bolivia has also worked with the other seven member countries to develop strategies aimed at curbing illegal logging in the Amazon region.

The contrast between the attacks on Morales and his democratic socialist government, both within Bolivia and through the call for pickets of Bolivian embassies worldwide (shamefully supported by Extinction Rebellion in London), and the free pass given to Bolsonaro’s extreme right wing by Daza and her associates is instructive.

While Daza promotes her Rios de Pie NGO as “spreading the use of non-violence as the main form of protest,” she has also warned elsewhere that “one citizens’ movement alone cannot guarantee Bolivians will not take to more radical measures. Violence is a real risk when people find their will overturned by authoritarian structures.”

Indeed, it is the right-wing opposition’s general strategy in Bolivia to use violent means if necessary to overthrow the government of Morales, an approach which has included a group of legislators seeking intervention by the US to prevent Morales becoming a presidential candidate. 

In the wake of the forest fires, with the government being lambasted by social media, there have already been small mobilisations against an indigenous group in Chiquitania and violent attacks on Movement for Socialism campaigners supporting Morales in Santa Cruz.

Despite the fires having been brought under control, the danger ahead lies in the ability of the right-wing opposition to capitalise on the narrative being stoked on social media to intensify its attacks on the legitimacy of the electoral process in the coming month.

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