Friday, May 06, 2005

Venezuelan Chavez funding Evo Morales in Bolivia? (Ana Arana Responds)

I recently heard a talk by Ana Arana, who has worked as a journalist primarily in South and Central America for the past few decades for big papers such as the Miami Herald and US News and World Report. The information she provided during the talk on Colombia was interesting, as were her suggestions to young writers just starting out. Yet a couple of comments she made about Bolivia disturbed me, particularly her assumption that Evo Morales, an indigenous, coca grower/union leader in Bolivia, was receiving funding from Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez to support protest movements in Bolivia.

I’ve heard this stated many times before, but have never seen any proof of it. One of Arana’s reasons for saying Chavez is funding Morales was that Cuba is too far away - and who else could it be? I said it doesn't take money to protest. Her response what that it's difficult to organize anything, it was difficult to organize this talk...

I worked as a freelance writer in Bolivia during the gas war conflict in 2003, when ex-president Sanchez de Lozada was kicked from office and the gas exportation plan was postponed. I met Evo and other indigenous and leftist leaders throughout the conflict. Evo shares his apartment with other people because he could not afford a better place to stay. His "office" in Cochabamba is a worn out union building with cracks in the walls.

As Arana admitted in her talk, protests are very difficult to coordinate. I was deeply impressed with the organizational power and persistence of Bolivian activists, many of whom had terribly low financial resources. To many protesters, exporting the natural gas reserves for a meager price to the US was the last straw in a long history of exploitation. Eighty people died and four hundred were wounded during the conflict, which lasted over a month. They were protesting because they wanted to, not because they were paid to.

During the Gas War, Evo's union group of coca farmers from the Chapare played a minor, if not insignificant, role in the uprising. More involved leaders in this rebellion and others included indigenous leader Filipe Quispe, (Mallku) and Roberto de la Cruz, Oscar Olivera of the water privatization uprising against Bechtel, and the Bolivian Central Union leader Jaime Solares. Meanwhile, Evo's name is used outside of the country as if he is the sole leftist leader in Bolivia.

On another note, Arana mentioned that the success of the social movements in Bolivia is nearly impossible because most Bolivians are uneducated, and that though they can overthrow a president, they cannot govern themselves. Many Bolivian activists I met believed they could do a much better job than a government which has worked to placate foreign investors over caring for its own citizens and has for decades been controlled by the IMF/World Bank and the US through its war on drugs. Ex-president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (who was ousted from office during the gas war) had a degree from the Univ. of Chicago and that didn't necessarily make him fit to govern Bolivia...

I emailed Ana Arana an earlier version of this blog. Her response is pasted below:

From Ana Arana:

Hi, thanks for your note. And I really appreciated your thoughts and questions. On the point of Bolivia: Nobody has proof of Evo's financing, but it seems to be the common point raised by a number of people. I did not say that Evo is paying his protesters, but it takes some money to build a political movement. Yes there are other leftist leaders in Bolivia, but often the most charismatic leader becomes the international icon of the movement (remember Comandante Marcos). Evo's group benefits from a strong tradition of grassroots organizing in Bolivia. But you know more about the Bolivian present situation. I have not spent much time as a reporter there, and only know the country in a more general way. I've done a couple of media trainings there in the last year, but have not delved deeply on the issue of the protests and Evo's group. He will be around and be important in the future.

On the issue of Bolivians not being educated for self government, my point was that education is a big problem for the Bolivia, as it is in the rest of the hemisphere, if not the world. Until basic social needs are met and the education system serves the general population, these countries will have trouble building strong democratic institutions.

It sounds like you really have gotten a good grasp of the current Bolivian situation right now. It will be a good story in the coming years, and right now you have the time to build good relationships with leading people in the country. I think the next wave of Latin America political crises are in the making right now. It will take committed journalists who are interested and have no battle fatigue to bring those issues to readers in the U.S. Ana Arana


"Clarin also carried an interview with former Bolivian President Carlos Mesa, who said that although the sympathy between Mr Chavez and Mr Morales was widely known, he had not seen any evidence of Venezuelan interference."

If the president who was forced from office by Bolivian protesters doesn't believe Chavez was funding Morales, then why is this rumor even being spread? If Mesa doesn't have proof, and nobody else does...