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U.S.-supported ‘referendum’

Oligarchs trying to break up Bolivia

Published May 8, 2008 10:00 PM

On May 4, massive demonstrations of Indigenous people, peasants, workers and students took place all over Bolivia to protest an attempt by wealthy landowners and business heads to divide their country. These demonstrations got little attention in the international media emanating from the imperialist countries.

Mass demonstration in support of national unity.
Photo: Granma.cu

What they focused on instead was the “referendum for autonomy” in the province of Santa Cruz, which had been declared illegal and unconstitutional by the progressive government of Evo Morales.

The Indigenous people in Bolivia have been ignored, persecuted and exploited for 500 years. But today they are defending their rights, the unity of their country, and the national government led by Morales, Bolivia’s first Indigenous president.

U.S. imperialism has been carefully orchestrating a divisive strategy in Bolivia that it plans to apply in other countries of the region as well, including Ecuador and Venezuela. Santa Cruz is one of nine Bolivian provinces. The vote for “autonomy” is meant to destabilize the Morales government and divide the country, much as Kosovo was separated from Yugoslavia. In fact, some of the same actors are busy at work in Bolivia. The current U.S. ambassador there is Philip Goldberg, who was instrumental in the separation of Kosovo.

Concentrated wealth

Santa Cruz, in the eastern lowlands of Bolivia, is part of the Media Luna (half moon)—a crescent that includes the provinces of Pando, Tarija and Beni. The Media Luna is also the wealthiest part of the country, generating 44 percent of the gross national product. A right-wing opposition to the Morales government is entrenched there, with its leadership centered in Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz is the largest province in Bolivia, with almost one third of the national territory. Its capital, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, is the largest city in the country, with nearly 1.4 million people. Santa Cruz alone generates 30.63 percent of the GNP.

Home to a white European oligarchy, it is also vehemently racist. Many of the oligarchs are “latifundistas” who own huge farmlands that produce export goods like soy, rubber and cattle.

One of those landowners is Ronald Din Larsen, a U.S. citizen who has lived in Bolivia for many years and owns 141,203 acres in Santa Cruz. According to Bolivian authorities, Larsen doesn’t even have a Bolivian registration or identity card, yet his family is actively opposing the land reform proposal of the Morales government that would break up these large estates and make land available to poor Bolivians. When Vice-Minister of Land Alejandro Almaraz made a recent visit to Santa Cruz, he was attacked by a gun-toting group instigated by Larsen, according to the news agency ABI.

Santa Cruz is where most of the transnational corporations have their headquarters. It also has the largest reserves of natural gas, petroleum and other minerals.

The province’s business owners are organized in the Santa Cruz Civic Union, headed by Branko Marinkovic, a Croatian capitalist with close ties to the U.S. Embassy. Carolus Wimmer, national secretary of the Venezuelan Communist Party, told Venezuelan television that some members of the Croatian oligarchy in Bolivia had been expelled from Socialist Yugoslavia after World War II as fascist sympathizers. The Croats settled in several Latin American countries with the help of the CIA.

Marinkovic and Rubén Costas, the administrator of the province, are the leaders behind the separatist movement in Santa Cruz. Their armed wing, the Santa Cruz Youth Union, is a violent group closely allied to the Falange, a fascist organization active in the 1940s and 1950s that seems to be resurfacing.

In search of jobs, thousands of people from the highlands in the west have moved to Santa Cruz, particularly members of the Indigenous Aymara and Quechua nations. In Santa Cruz they face discrimination and often racist violence, perpetrated mostly by the fascist youth group.

Illegal referendum

The referendum on autonomy was illegal under the Bolivian constitution. Even the United Nations and the Organization of American States, no champions of progress, opposed the referendum. Gen. Luis Trigo, head of the Bolivian Armed Forces, publicly denounced it as affecting “the security and the defense of the Bolivian State.” He pointed out that some of the articles establish local control over legislation, all transport by land, river, air and roads, as well as the airwaves, security and defense.

It is in fact a project to provide legal cover for setting up a new country.

Informal polls show that the majority of the people in Santa Cruz did not know the exact contents of the referendum.

In an effort to deceive, the oligarchy’s media reported on May 5 that the “Yes” option approving autonomy won by more than 80 percent. In the U.S., the Washington Post echoed those numbers in an article that quoted Marinkovic as saying, “It’s a historic day, and tomorrow we have more work to do. ... We have to determine a new course for Bolivia, and it won’t be an easy task.”

Morales, in a televised speech, said, “This poll, which is illegal and unconstitutional, was not the success that they hoped for. ... Between the abstention rate of 39 percent, the votes ‘no’ and the blank ballots, that is practically 50 percent.” The turnout for the “referendum” had been low.

Interior Minister Alfredo Rada, in an interview with Telesur, stated that the elections were marked by “violence, confrontations and irregularities.” He said some names were erased from voters’ lists and 20 people were injured in confrontations with the fascist youth group. In a neighborhood called Plan 3000, a stronghold of the Morales party, the fascist youth picked a fight against the Indigenous and peasant residents, shouting racist epithets. The residents shouted back, “Get out fascists” and “Long live Evo.”

People in Santa Cruz who support Morales had seized and burned ballot boxes in rejection of the referendum. In the process, they found many supposedly blank ballots were already marked with the Yes option. They immediately called the press to announce the fraud.

In a Telesur broadcast, Morales also accused the United States of funding the opposition. “The Embassy of the United States is the one that leads this conspiracy,” he said, adding that “the U.S. ambassador is the great defender of the division of Bolivia, of the anti-constitutional attitudes, of those groups that do not want equality for our peoples, of the groups that want to steal from our country.”

Articles from different sources mention that USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy have given million of dollars to the opposition groups in the name of the “fight against drug trafficking.” (See, for example, www.coastalpost.com/08/04/18.html.)

E-mail: [email protected]