Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hundreds of thousands rally in Managua on July 19

On July 19 well over 200,000 Sandinistas rallied in Managua’s Plaza La Fe and the Plaza de la Revolución to celebrate the 29th anniversary of the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship and the victory of the Popular Sandinista Revolution. It was at the same time a powerful demonstration of mass support for the Sandinista government led by President Daniel Ortega. And it was a frank and demolishing reply to the right wing opposition that has recently carried out two national protest demonstrations of from 15 to 20 thousand people at the most.

The rally was addressed by Aleida March Guevara (Che’s widow), Cuba’s Vice President Esteban Lazo, the presidents of Venezuela (Hugo Chávez), Paraguay (Fernando Lugo), Honduras (Manuel Zelaya), and Daniel Ortega.

The speeches can be heard on the website of Managua’s Radio La Primerisima at

Felipe Stuart C.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Fidel on Colombia, FARC and opposition to US intervention: `Pax Romana'

By Fidel Castro Ruz

July 5, 2008 -- I basically drew the data [below] from statements made by William Brownfield, US ambassador to Colombia, from that country's press and television, from the international press and other sources. It's impressive the show of technology and economic resources at play.

While in Colombia the senior military officers went to great pains to explain that Ingrid Betancourt's rescue had been an entirely Colombian operation, the US authorities were saying that “it was the result of years of intense military cooperation of the Colombian and United States’ armies”.

“`The truth is that we have been able to get along as we seldom have in the United States, except with our oldest allies, mostly in NATO', said Brownfield, referring to his country's relationships with the Colombian security forces, which have received over US$4 billion in military assistance since the year 2000.''

“…on various occasions it became necessary for the US Administration to make decisions at the top levels concerning this operation.''

“The US spy satellites helped in locating the hostages during a month period starting on May 31st until the rescue action on Wednesday.”

“The Colombians installed video surveillance equipment, supplied by the United States. Operated by remote control, these can take close-ups and pan along the rivers which are the only transportation routes through thick forests, said the Colombian and US authorities.''

“US surveillance aircraft intercepted the rebels' radio and satellite phone talks and used imaging equipment that can break through the forest foliage.''

“`The defector will receive a considerable sum of the close to one- hundred-million-dollars reward offered by the government’, stated the Commander General of the Colombian Army.”

On Wednesday, July 1, the London BBC reported that Cesar Mauricio Velasquez, press secretary at Casa de Nariño (Colombian Government House) had informed that delegates from France and Switzerland had met with Alfonso Cano, chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

According to the BBC, that would be the first contact with international delegates accepted by the new FARC chief after the death of Manuel Marulanda. The false information of the meeting of two European envoys with Cano had been released in Bogota.

The deceased leader of the FARC had been born on May 12, 1932, according to his father's testimony. Marulanda, a poor peasant with a liberal thinking and a Gaitan follower, had started his armed resistance 60 years back. He was a guerrilla before us; he had reacted to the carnage of peasants carried out by the oligarchy.

Communist Party of Colombia and FARC

The Communist Party he later joined, the same as every other in Latin America, was under the influence of the Communist Party of the USSR and not of Cuba. They were in solidarity with our revolution but they were not subordinated to it.

It was the drug-traffickers and not the FARC that unleashed terror in that sister nation as part of their feuds over the United States market. They caused powerful bomb blasts and even blew up trucks loaded with plastic explosives destroying facilities and injuring or killing countless people.

The Colombian Communist Party never contemplated the idea of conquering power through the armed struggle. The guerrilla was a resistance front and not the basic instrument to conquer revolutionary power, as it had been the case in Cuba. In 1993, at the 8th FARC conference, FARC decided to break ranks with the Communist Party. Its leader, Manuel Marulanda, took over the leadership of that party’s guerrillas which had always excelled in their narrow sectarianism when admitting combatants as well as in their strong and compartmented commanding methods.

Marulanda, a man with a remarkable natural talent and a leader's gift, did not have the opportunity to study when he was young. It is said that he had only completed the 5th grade of grammar school. He conceived a long and extended struggle; I disagreed with this point of view. But, I never had the chance to talk with him.
The FARC became considerably strong with more than 10,000 combatants. Many had been born during the war and had known nothing else. Other leftist organistions rivalled the FARC in the struggle. By then the Colombian territory had become the largest source of cocaine production in the world. Then, extreme violence, kidnappings, taxes and demands from the drug producers became widespread.

Real peace

The paramilitary forces, armed by the oligarchy, drew basically from the great amount of men enlisted in the country's armed forces who were discharged from duty every year without a secure job. These created in Colombia a very complex situation with only one way out: real peace, albeit remote and difficult as many other goals humanity has set itself. This is the option that, for three decades, Cuba has advocated for that nation.

While our journalists meeting in their 8th Congress debated the new technologies of information, the principles and ethic of social communicators, I meditated on the abovementioned developments.

I have expressed, very clearly, our position in favour of peace in Colombia; but, we are neither in favour of foreign military intervention nor of the policy of force that the United States intends to impose at all costs on that long-suffering and industrious people.

I have honestly and strongly criticised the objectively cruel methods of kidnapping and retaining prisoners under the conditions of the jungle. But I am not suggesting that anyone lay down their arms, when everyone who did so in the last 50 years did not survive to see peace. If I dared suggest anything to the FARC guerrillas, that would simply be that they declare, by any means possible to the International Red Cross, their willingness to release the hostages and prisoners they are still holding, without any preconditions. I do not intend to be heard; it is simply my duty to say what I think. Anything else would only serve to reward disloyalty and treason.

I will never support the pax Romana that the [US] empire tries to impose on Latin America.

Julio 5 de 2008
8 y 12 p.m.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Ortega warns of a popular insurrection against rightwing attempts to topple Sandinista government

[ This report is based on news coverage from Managua’s Radio La Primerisima. Source: ]

By Felipe Stuart C.

On Saturday, July 5, President Daniel Ortega warned the US Embassy financed opposition to avoid provoking the people. Ortega spoke to thousands of sympathizers in an act commemorating the 29th anniversary of the retreat of revolutionary forces from the capital during the popular insurrection against the Somoza dictatorship. Youth made a strong presence in the vast throng, along with public sector unionists and militants of the FSLN and the Citiznes’ Power Councils (CPC).

The original June 27, 1979 retreat from Managua to the city of Masaya, about 26 kilometers southeast of the capital, was a tactical operation. It included the urban guerrilla forces of the Sandinista National Liberation Front and thousands of civilians, following several weeks of resisting the assaults of the Somocista army (Guardia Somocista) in the western and eastern barrios of the city.

The guerrillas left the eastern barrios in total silence under cover of the dark. Some six thousand civilians joined the retreat because they feared being killed when the army entered the barrios that had been held by the Sandinistas. When the army detected the procession half way on its march to Masaya, they proceeded to bombard it from the air and with artillery, causing dozens of casualties. But the Guardia failed to block the success of the operation whose additional objective was to reinforce the taking of the southern cities of the country. Less than a month later, these forces would bring about the total defeat of the National Guard of the dictator Anastasio Somoza.

In his message to the rally at the beginning of the commemoration, Ortega said, “We render homage to all the heroes and martyrs on this day. We say to them that will never betray their ideals and their principles. We are Sandinistas, we are anti-imperialists, we are revolutionaries, we are solidary, socialists. And we will keep on defending our ideals and our principles in all battlefields.

“We love peace, but we are ready to resort to the arms of steel if they try to bring down the power of the people.”

Ortega added that “it would be better for those who are on the take from the US embassy to respect the norms and not provoke the people. We want reconciliation but not at the cost of the poor and enrichment of the rich.”

“Wherever our enemies look for us, there they will find us. Wherever the country sell-outs look for us, there they will meet us. Wherever the traitors look for us, there they will find us. Wherever those on the take from the Yankee embassy look for us, there they will encounter us, ready, as our great poet Rubén Darío would say, to raise steel arms of war and the olive branch of peace. We love peace, but we are also ready to take up arms if they try to overthrow people’s power, citizens’ power – what they are now calling a dictatorship. If they try to overthrow the “dictatorship,” which for us is nothing more than the power of the people, the power of the poor, then they are again going to run up against the insurrection of the people, with the insurrection of the masses, with the insurrection of the poor.”

Ortega warned those conspiring to bring down the Sandinista government to think though the logic of their actions. “It would be better for those who are conspiring, for those financed by the Yankees, for those who are financed by the imperialists, to respect the institutional norms that exist in our country; it would be better for them not to provoke the people, to not provoke the poor, to not provoke the farmers, because this power is of the people, it is greatly esteemed Sandinista power.

“It is the power of the people, Sandinista power, a red and black power to defend the country’s blue and white flag. Only (Augusto C.) Sandino with the red and black standard knew how to defend the blue and white flag of the country; only the Frente Sandinista, inheritor of Sandino’s flag, this red and black flag, has known how to keep on defending the blue and white flag of the homeland.”

Ortega argued that this “is the only way that Nicaraguans can enjoy peace and tranquility. We want reconciliation, but not at the cost of exploitation of the poor, nor at the cost of making the rich richer, and the poor, poorer, not at the cost of robbing campesinos of their land, or depriving the people of access to health care and education."

"All these conquests were taken from our people beginning in 1990, but are now being regained by the Nicaraguan people through the Government of National Unity and Reconciliation. We have been recovering those conquests since January 10, 2007; we are defending those conquests, and we will keep on recovering more conquests and defending new conquests under the chant of Homeland or Death (Patria Libre o Morir)!”

Ingrid Betancourt's liberation

Ortega used the rally to explain his government’s response to the freeing of Ingrid Betancourt and other FARC captives in Colombia. He welcomed the captives’ liberation, but pointed out that only a political solution can bring about peace in that country. President Ortega reminded his listeners that the FARC is not alone in holding political prisoners. “The Colombian army holds captive thousands of human beings; human beings are being held captive not just on one side, but on the other, and they have been submitted to terrible tortures.

“There are signs of harsh treatment of captives by the guerrillas, but also of torture and violation of human rights and disappearances committed by the army and its paramilitary groups.”

Ortega re-affirmed that under no condition would Nicaragua betray its commitment to the three women who were wounded in the attack on a FARC encampment in Ecuador that resulted in the death of dozens of people including FARC leader and negotiator Raúl Reyes. The three include two Colombians (Doris Torres and Martha Pérez) and the Mexican Lucia Morett; they have been granted safe haven in Nicaragua. Ortega stated that the Mexicans who were present in the encampment had no military role, but were there as part of a peace initiative. Nicaragua has rejected the Colombian governments demand that the three women be sent to Colombia to face “terrorism” charges. Ortega, in a speech earlier this week warned Colombian president Uribe not to send death squads into Nicaragua to try to kill the three “muchachas.”

The FSLN leader drew a graphic contrast between the Colombian army attack in Ecuador and the liberation of the group of prisoners including Betancourt and three US CIA agents. “Imagine the contrast. On the one hand they resort to state terrorism to attack an encampment in Ecuadoran territory, killing dozens of Colombia, Ecuadoran, and Mexican brothers and sisters, and gravely wounded these three young women; on the other hand, two or three days ago, without firing a single shot, they managed to rescue 15 people.

“What does this tell us? That it is possible to win release of prisoners without firing a single shot, it is possible to attain a negotiated liberation, without firing a sing shot.”

Ortega offered Nicaragua’s unconditional support to a peace process in Colombia. But, “we insist that the Colombian government and its army renounce any resort to acts of terrorism against their own brothers, Colombian brothers, Latin American brothers….”

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Michael Lebowitz: The spectre of socialism for the 21st century

The following is the keynote address to the annual meeting of the Society for Socialist Studies, Vancouver, June 5, 2008. It was originally titled ``Building socialism for the 21st century''.

IMHO, this talk is one of the best and most readable accounts of the historic issues and dilemmas posed in the Venezuelan Bolivarian revolution towards a 21st Century socialism. It is taken from the Australian publication LINKS at

Those who find this article stimulating and educational should definitely check out Lebowitz's book Beyond Capital.

Beyond Capital
By Michael A. Lebowitz, 2nd Edition, published by Palgrave Macmillan, 2003

It is an essential read for anyone interested in understanding the essential contributions of Marx to the concept of socialist liberation and the transformational potential of working people.

Felipe Stuart C.


By Michael A. Lebowitz

A spectre is haunting capitalism. It is the spectre of socialism for the 21st century. Increasingly, the characteristics of this spectre are becoming clear, and we are able to see enough to understand what it is not. The only thing that is not clear at this point is whether the spectre is real – i.e., whether it is actually an earthly presence.

Consider what this spectre is not. It is not the belief that by struggling within capitalism for reforms that it is possible to change the nature of capitalism -- i.e., that a better capitalism, a third way, can suspend the logic of capital (except momentarily). Nor is it a focus upon electing friendly governments to preside over exploitation, oppression and exclusion -- i.e., to support barbarism with a human face. Indeed, this spectre does not accept the premise that you can challenge the logic of capital without understanding it. Very simply, the spectre of socialism for the 21st century is not yesterday’s liberal package -- social democracy. Further, this spectre is not a focus upon the industrial working class as the revolutionary subjects of socialism, a privileging whereby all other workers (including those in the growing informal sector) are seen as lesser workers, unproductive workers, indeed lumpenproletariat. Nor does it suggest that those industrial workers by virtue of the difference between their productivity with advanced means of production and their incomes (i.e., the extent of their exploitation) have a greater entitlement to the wealth of society than the poor and excluded.

In the conception of socialism for the 21st century, socialism is not confused with the ownership of the means of production by the state such that (a) it is thought that all that is necessary for socialism is to nationalise and (b) that everything not nationalised is an affront. Indeed, this spectre does not emphasise the development of productive forces without regard for the nature of productive relations (such that gulags, dictatorship and indeed capitalism can all be justified because they develop the productive forces and thereby move you closer to socialism and communism).

Nor, for that matter, does it think of two post-capitalist states, socialism and communism, separated by a Chinese wall; in the concept of socialism for the 21st century, there is no separate socialist principle of ``to each according to his contribution’’ which must be honoured. Rather, there is simply the recognition that the development of the new society is a process and that this process necessarily begins on a defective basis -- in other words, with defects such as self orientation. Precisely for this reason, this recognition of existing defects, the battle of ideas -- an ideological battle against the old world -- is central to the concept of socialism for the 21st century.

Finally, socialism for the 21st century is not based upon democracy in the classic sense. By that, I mean that it is not based upon the concept of representative democracy -- that institutional form in which rule by the people is transformed into voting periodically for those who will misrule them. All these fall into what I call yesterday's socialist package.

Marx and the centrality of human development

So, if the spectre of socialism for the 21st century differs from yesterday's liberal and socialist packages, what is it?

First of all, it is a stress upon the centrality of human development. In this respect, it is a restoration of the focus of 19th century socialists. It is the vision of a society with the goal (according to Saint-Simon) of providing to its members ``the greatest possible opportunity for the development of their faculties’’, a goal to which Louis Blanc referred as ensuring that everyone has ``the power to develop and exercise his faculties in order to really be free’’ and of a society in which, according to Friedrich Engels, ``every member of it can develop and use all his capabilities and powers in complete freedom and without thereby infringing the basic conditions of this society’’. This vision of human development which is central to socialism for the 21st century was unquestionably Marx’s vision (Lebowitz, 2006: 53-60)

The Young Marx envisioned a ``rich human being’’ -- one who has developed their capacities and capabilities to the point where they are able ``to take gratification in a many-sided way’’ -- ``the rich man profoundly endowed with all the senses’’ (Marx, 1844: 302). ``In place of the wealth and poverty of political economy’’, he proposed, ``come the rich human being and rich human need’’ (Marx, 1844: 304). But, it was not only a young, romantic, so-called pre-Marxist Marx who spoke so eloquently about rich human beings. In the Grundrisse, Marx returned explicitly to this conception of human wealth -- to a rich human being -- ``as rich as possible in needs, because rich in qualities and relations’’; real wealth, he understood, is the development of human capacity -- the ``development of the rich individuality which is as all-sided in its production as in its consumption’’ (Marx, 1973: 325).

Could anything be clearer? This is what Marx’s conception of socialism was all about -- the creation of a society which removes all obstacles to the full development of human beings. He looked ahead to that society of associated producers, where each individual is able to develop her full potential -- i.e., the ``absolute working-out of his creative potentialities’’, the ``complete working out of the human content’’, the ``development of all human powers as such the end in itself’’ (Marx, 1973: 488, 541, 708). In contrast to capitalist society in which we are the means to expand the wealth of capital, Marx in his book Capital pointed to that alternative society, ``the inverse situation in which objective wealth is there to satisfy the worker’s own need for development’’ (Marx, 1977: 772).

The workers’ own need for development -- there is the spectre, there is the impulse for a new society. In his Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx projected that in the cooperative society based upon the common ownership of the means of production, the productive forces would have ``increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly’’ (Marx, 1875: 24). As he described it in the Communist Manifesto, our goal is ``an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’’ (Lebowitz, 2003: 202-5). Our goal, in short, cannot be a society in which some people are able to develop their capabilities and others are not; we are interdependent, we are all members of a human family. Thus our goal must be the full development of all human potential.

`These ideas live today’

There’s more here than a 19th century view. That these ideas live today can be seen very clearly in the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela. In its explicit recognition (in Article 299) that the goal of a human society must be that of ``ensuring overall human development’’, in the declaration of Article 20 that ``everyone has the right to the free development of his or her own personality’’ and the focus of Article 102 upon ``developing the creative potential of every human being and the full exercise of his or her personality in a democratic society’’ -- this theme of human development pervades the Bolivarian Constitution.

Further, there is something there that you don’t find in the liberal conceptions of human development underlying the UN Human Development Index. This constitution also focuses upon the question of how people develop their capacities and capabilities -- i.e., how overall human development occurs. Article 62 of the Bolivarian Constitution declares that participation by people in ``forming, carrying out and controlling the management of public affairs is the necessary way of achieving the involvement to ensure their complete development, both individual and collective’’. The necessary way. And, the same emphasis upon a democratic, participatory and protagonistic society is present in the economic sphere, which is why Article 70 stresses ``self-management, co-management, cooperatives in all forms’’ and why Article 102’s goal of ``developing the creative potential of every human being’’ emphasises ``active, conscious and joint participation’’.

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This focus upon practice as essential for human development was, of course, Marx's central insight into how people change. It’s not a matter simply of spending more on education, health and social services. Remember Marx's early comment on Robert Owen’s conception that what was needed to change people was to change the circumstances in which they exist. Marx (1845) emphatically rejected the idea that we can give people a gift, that if we just change the circumstances in which they exist they will be themselves different people. You are forgetting, he pointed out, that it is human beings who change circumstances. The idea that we can create new circumstances for people and thereby change them, he insisted, in fact divides society into two parts -- one part of which is deemed superior to society. It is the same perspective that Paulo Freire (2006: 72) subsequently rejected in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed -- the concept that ``knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing’’.

In contrast, Marx introduced the concept of revolutionary practice -- ``the coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change’’ -- the red thread that runs throughout his work. He talked, for example, of how people develop through their own struggles -- how this is the only way the working class can ``succeed in ridding itself of the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew’’. And he told workers that they would have to go through as much as 50 years of struggles ``not only to bring about a change in society but also to change yourselves, and prepare yourselves for the exercise of political power’’. And, again, after the Paris Commune in 1871, over a quarter of a century after he first began to explore this theme, he commented that workers know ``they will have to pass through long struggles, through a series of historical processes, transforming circumstances and men’’ (Lebowitz, 2003: 179-84).

Always the same point -- we change ourselves through our activity. This idea of the simultaneous change in circumstances and self-change, however, is not limited to class struggle itself. It is present in all activities of people -- i.e., every process of activity has two products -- i.e., joint products -- the change in circumstances and the change in the actor. This obviously applies in the sphere of production as well. As Marx commented in the Grundrisse, in production ``the producers change, too, in that they bring out new qualities in themselves, develop themselves in production, transform themselves, develop new powers and ideas, …new needs and new language’’. Here, indeed, is the essence of the cooperative society based upon common ownership of the means of production -- ``when the worker cooperates in a planned way with others, he strips off the fetters of his individuality, and develops the capabilities of his species’’.

How far, of course, this is from the idea that what you have to do is build up the productive forces and thereby transform the conditions in which people exist, transforming their being and their consciousness! But what other inferences flow from these principles -- the focus upon human development and upon revolutionary practice, that simultaneous changing of circumstances and self-change? Let me suggest that these two principles constitute the ``key link’’, the key link we need to grasp (in Lenin’s words) if we are to understand the concept of socialism for the 21st century.

Consider, for example, what this means for the process of production. If people are prevented from using their minds within the workplace but instead follow directions from above, you have what Marx described as the crippling of body and mind, producers who are fragmented, degraded, alienated from ``the intellectual potentialities of the labour process’’. There’s no surprise that Marx looked forward to the re-combining of head and hand, the uniting of mental and physical labour -- i.e., to a time when the individual worker can call ``his own muscles into play under the control of his own brain’’. But, more than a simple combination of mental and manual labour within the sphere of production is needed. Without ``intelligent direction of production’’ by workers, without production ``under their conscious and planned control’’, workers cannot develop their potential as human beings because their own power becomes a power over them (Marx, 1977: 450, 173).

`Protagonistic’ democracy

What kind of productive relations, then, can provide the conditions for the full development of human capacities? Only those in which there is conscious cooperation among associated producers; only those in which the goal of production is that of the workers themselves. Clearly, though, this requires more than worker-management in individual workplaces. They must be the goals of workers in society, too -- workers in their communities.

After all, what is production? It’s not something that occurs only in a factory or in what we traditionally identify as a workplace. When we understand the goal as that of human development, we recognise that production should not be confused with production of specific use-values; rather, as Marx noted, all specific products and activities are mere moments in a process of producing human beings, who are the real result of social production. And, that points to the importance of making each moment a site for the collective decision making and variety of activity that develops human capacities.

Implicit in the emphasis of the concept of socialism for the 21st century upon human development and how that development can occur only through practice is our need to be able to develop through democratic, participatory and protagonistic activity in every aspect of our lives. Through revolutionary practice in our communities, our workplaces and in all our social institutions, we produce ourselves as ‘rich human beings’ -- rich in capacities and needs -- in contrast to the impoverished and crippled human beings that capitalism produces.

In contrast to the hierarchical capitalist state (which Marx understood as an ``engine of class despotism’’) and to the despotism of the capitalist workplace, only a revolutionary democracy can create the conditions in which we can invent ourselves daily as rich human beings. This concept is one of democracy in practice, democracy as practice, democracy as protagonism. Democracy in this sense -- protagonistic democracy in the workplace, protagonistic democracy in neighbourhoods, communities, communes -- is the democracy of people who are transforming themselves into revolutionary subjects.

How else but through protagonistic democracy in production can we ensure that the process of producing is one which enriches people and expands their capacities rather than crippling and impoverishing them? How else but through protagonistic democracy in society can we ensure that what is produced is what is needed to foster the realisation of our potential?

If there is to be democratic production for the needs of society, however, there is an essential precondition: there cannot be a monopolisation of the products of human labour by individuals, groups or the state. In other words, the precondition is social ownership of the means of production: this is the first side of what President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has called the ``elementary triangle’’ of socialism: (a) social ownership of the means of production, which is a basis for (b) social production organised by workers in order to (c) satisfy communal needs and communal purposes.

Let us consider each element in this particular combination of distribution-production-consumption.

A. Social ownership of the means of production

Social ownership of the means of production is critical because it is the only way to ensure that our communal, social productivity is directed to the free development of all rather than used to satisfy the private goals of capitalists, groups of individuals or state bureaucrats. Social ownership is not, however, the same as state ownership. Social ownership implies a profound democracy -- one in which people function as subjects, both as producers and as members of society, in determining the use of the results of our social labour.

B. Production organised by workers

Production organised by workers builds new relations among producers -- relations of cooperation and solidarity. As long as workers are prevented from developing their capacities by combining thinking and doing in the workplace, they remain alienated and fragmented human beings whose enjoyment consists in possessing and consuming things. And, if workers don’t make decisions in the workplace and develop their capacities, we can be certain that someone else will. Protagonistic democracy in the workplace is an essential condition for the full development of the producers.

C. Satisfaction of communal needs and purposes

Satisfaction of communal needs and purposes focuses upon the importance of basing our productive activity upon the recognition of our common humanity and our needs as members of the human family. Thus, it stresses the importance of going beyond self-interest to think of our community and society. As long we produce only for our private gain, how do we look at other people? As competitors or as customers -- i.e., as enemies or as means to our own ends; thus, we remain alienated, fragmented and crippled. Rather than relating to others through an exchange relation (and, thus, trying to get the best deal possible for ourselves), this third element of the elementary triangle of socialism has as its goal building a relation to others characterised by our unity based upon recognition of difference; through our activity, then, we both build solidarity among people and at the same time produce ourselves differently.

And, this concept of solidarity is central because it is saying that all human beings, all parts of the collective worker, are entitled to draw upon our ``communal, social productivity’’. The premise is not at all that we have the individual right to consume things without limit but, rather, that we recognise the centrality of ``the worker's own need for development’’. Further, our claim upon the accumulated fruits of social brain and hand is not based upon exploitation. It is not because you have been exploited that you are entitled to share in the fruits of social labour. Rather, it is because you are a human being in a human society – and because, like all of us, you have the right to the opportunity to develop all your potential.

At the same time as a human being in a human society you also have the obligation to other members of this human family -- to make certain that they also have this opportunity, that they too can develop their potential. As a member of this family you are called upon to do your share -- a concept also present in the Bolivarian Constitution: Article 135 notes ``the obligations which by virtue of solidarity, social responsibility and humanitarian assistance, are incumbent upon individuals according to their abilities’’.

Look at the direction that this key link -- human development and the simultaneous changing of circumstance and self-change takes us:

- to democratic decision making in the workplace and the community

- to a focus upon building solidarity and new socialist human beings rather than relying upon exchange relations and material self-interest (which Che Guevara — whose 80th birthday would have been today -- warned us leads to a blind alley)

- to a new conception of the state as one which is not over and above civil society (i.e., a state of the Paris Commune-type) -- i.e., a state which Marx wrote is our own ``living force’’, our own power, rather than a power used against us

- and, for that matter, this key link of human development and revolutionary practice leads us to recognise the need for a political instrument which respects the creative energy and revolutionary practice of masses rather than substitutes its own wisdom. In short, a political instrument which embraces the revolutionary pedagogy of Rosa Luxemburg when she argued: ``The working class demands the right to make its mistakes and learn in the dialectic of history. Let us speak plainly. Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee.’’

Is the spectre real? Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution

The outlines of the spectre, socialism for the 21st century, become increasingly clear. The question remains, however, is the spectre real? Does it have an earthly presence? Especially, since this vision of the spectre draws so much upon the discourse of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, it is important to ask what the reality is there.

Certainly, socialism for the 21st century has been explicitly on the agenda in Venezuela since Chavez’s closing speech at the January 2005 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, when he surprised many people by saying, ``We have to re-invent socialism.’’ At that time, Chavez emphasised that ``It can’t be the kind of socialism that we saw in the Soviet Union, but it will emerge as we develop new systems that are built on cooperation, not competition.’’ Capitalism has to be transcended, he argued, if we are ever going to end the poverty of the majority of the world. ``But we cannot resort to state capitalism, which would be the same perversion of the Soviet Union. We must reclaim socialism as a thesis, a project and a path, but a new type of socialism, a humanist one, which puts humans and not machines or the state ahead of everything.’’

Without question, there has been progress in this direction. Starting in 2004, oil revenues from the newly recaptured state oil company were directed to new missions which have been providing people with basic prerequisites for human development -- education, health care, adequate and affordable food. Important steps, too, have been taken to develop each side of the elementary socialist triangle:

Social property: There has been an expansion of state property, which can be a threshold to socialist property (because it is possible to direct state property to satisfy social needs). In addition to the expansion of state sectors in oil and basic industry, to last year’s acquisition of strategic sectors such as communications, electric power and the recovery of the dominant position for the state in the heavy oil fields has been added this year so far a major dairy company and most recently the steel company (SIDOR) that had been privatised by a previous government. Further, the offensive against the latifundia has resumed with several land seizures (or ``recoveries’’), and new state companies (including joint ventures with state firms from countries such as Iran) have been created to produce means of production like tractors.

Social production: While the government has continued to seek ways to encourage worker-management, in particular by supporting cooperatives and recovered factories, this side of the triangle is the least developed so far. In part, this is because of opposition within the state to worker-management in strategic sectors such as oil and energy, and in part because of opposition from traditional trade unions to co-management structures and workers’ councils. What has been happening is a continued search for forms, and the government has moved from exploring cooperatives as the desired form, to EPS, companies of social production (which made commitments to workers and communities), and now to the exploration of the concept of socialist companies. Everyday, I hear of new ideas in this direction. At this point, this aspect is a work in process. However, it does appear that a previous model of 51% state ownership and 49% ownership by a workers’ cooperative is being replaced by focus upon 100% state ownership with workers’ control. Progress in this area, unfortunately, has been held up by the chaos and intense battles between Chavist trade union currents, and that has been a source of incredible frustration for many -- including Chavez. In this process, Chavez continues to exhort the working class to play a leadership role. After this year’s takeover of the dairy producer Los Andes, he argued that ``workers' committees must be created, socialist committees, in order to transform the factory from inside. The workers must know what is happening in the company, participate in decision-making in the firm.’’ And, after the decision to nationalise SIDOR, he announced that the government was a government of the working class. At this very point, the nationalisation of SIDOR after major struggles by the steel workers has re-animated the organised working class; and our institute (Centro Internacional Miranda) has organised roundtables between tendencies and currents that would not have been possible several months ago.

Production for social needs: Throughout the country, there are many experiments attempting to link producers and consumers directly -- especially in the sphere of agricultural products and in local trading with local currencies. To be able to identify social needs, though, continuing social institutions are required; and the most significant advance that has occurred is the development in 2006 of the new communal councils which are able to identify the needs of their communities. These councils are an extraordinary experiment in bringing power to people in their neighbourhoods -- creating an institutional form in which they can diagnose their needs collectively and determine the priorities for their communities. Of course, the idea of participatory diagnosis and budgeting is not unique to Venezuela; that is occurring in a number of communities elsewhere (and the most famous example is Porto Alegre in Brazil). But what is unique in Venezuela is the size of the units in question. Communal councils are formed to represent in urban areas 200-400 families (which can be 1000 people) and in rural areas as few as 20 families. It means that the councils are choosing not distant representatives but, rather, their neighbours, people they know well -- and not as representatives but as voceros, spokespersons for the ultimate decision-making body, the general assembly (which, of course, meets in the neighbourhood, thus allowing everyone to participate). In the communal councils you have the embryo for a new state from below. And that was recognised explicitly by Chavez last year when he proclaimed ``All Power to the Communal Councils’’. Now, of course, the communal councils are small, and the problems of society go well beyond those that can be resolved at the neighbourhood level. That is understood, and Chavez has called the councils themselves the cell of a new socialist state. They are seen as the building blocks -- essential because they are allowing people to develop confidence and capacities in dealing with problems they understand. (Observing the sense of pride in these communities is very moving.) However, it is obviously necessary to begin to combine the communal councils into larger associations in order to deal with larger problems. And that is precisely what is happening now with the creation of pilot projects to combine some of the more advanced groups of councils into socialist communes. The process envisioned is very clearly one of trying to build a new state from below.

So, is this spectre of socialism for the 21st century, with its focus upon human development and practice, real? Clearly, it is not just words. There is truly an attempt to make socialism for the 21st century real. But, can it succeed?

Can socialism for the 21st century succeed?

You might wonder, why am I even posing this question -- given evidence that the desire is there and knowledge that the great oil revenues available provide the means!

Three years ago, I gave a talk in Venezuela called ``Socialism doesn’t drop from the sky’’, which has been very widely circulated in Venezuela (largely because Chavez has talked about it a number of times on television); it is also a chapter in my book, Build it Now: Socialism for the 21st Century. One aspect of the title of that essay refers to the obvious point that socialism obviously is necessarily rooted in particular societies -- which is to say that it must be developed in societies with particular histories. To understand the possibilities for success in Venezuela, you have to know something about the nature of that society.

Now, I can’t give you a complete, balanced account of Venezuela in the time left. So, I’ll just stress just some of the characteristics which suggest significant obstacles to building socialism for the 21st century in Venezuela.

When you talk about Venezuela, you have to begin with oil. Not only the effect of oil exports upon the hollowing-out of the economy such that local manufacturing and agriculture effectively disappeared as the result of an exchange rate which made it much cheaper to import everything rather than to produce it domestically. It’s an extreme example of what is called the ``Dutch disease’’: despite rich agricultural land, Venezuela was importing 70% of its food. So, massive migration from the countryside to live in the cities, e.g., in the hills surrounding Caracas -- 80% of the population is urban, maybe 10% engaged in agriculture. And as for industry, it was largely import processing -- processing food, assembling cars and assorted other import-related sectors. Oil production itself doesn’t generate many jobs, so we have to think about unemployment, an informal sector (about 50% of the working class) and poverty -- extreme social debt and inequality.

Add to that economic effect, the effect upon state and society. Unlike the classic picture of a state resting upon civil society, upon the social classes, in Venezuela, civil society rests upon the state. Contrary to Engels’ sneers at Tkachev, in Venezuela the state indeed has been suspended in mid-air -- or, more precisely, suspended upon an oil geyser. Thus, the state has been the supreme object of desire -- or, more precisely, access to the state for the purpose of gaining access to oil rents has been a national preoccupation. And, in this orgy of rent seeking within a poverty-stricken society -- a culture of corruption and clientalism, parasitic capitalists who don’t invest, a labour aristocracy with trade union leaders who sell jobs, a party system which functions as an alternating transmission belt for elections and access to state jobs, a state which mostly does not work because it is filled with incompetent sinecurists but, when it does, is completely top-down. These are just a few characteristics worth mentioning.

All of this was present in Venezuela when Chavez was elected in 1998. And, you would have to be truly naïve to think that it disappeared when Chávez came to office. On the contrary, it pervades Chavism -- the corruption, the clientalism, the nature of the state, the nature of the party (including the new party – PSUV -- currently being built), the gap between the organised working class and the poor in the informal sector -- it’s all there! And, you will recognise that it is entirely contrary to everything in the concept of socialism for the 21st century.

Socialism doesn’t drop from the sky. It is necessarily rooted in particular societies. And, these two souls which currently beat in the breast of Venezuela are clearly at war. Chavez often cites [Italian Marxist Antonio] Gramsci about how the old is dying and the new cannot yet be born (although he leaves out the part about how a great many morbid symptoms appear at that time). Precisely because of these two opposed tendencies, when I write about Venezuela, I always stress the internal struggle within Chavism as the main obstacle to the success of the Bolivarian Revolution. Obviously, it is not the only obstacle -- there is the existing oligarchy, the latifundists (who are the most reactionary and violent part of the opposition), the existing capitalists in their enclaves of import processing, finance and the media (which has been their main weapon) and, of course, US imperialism. Not only was the US complicit in the 2002 coup which briefly removed Chavez and in the oil lockout and sabotage later that year, but it also funds and trains the opposition, orchestrates the international media blitz against Venezuela (currently with the assistance of magical laptop computers produced by its Colombian clients), and it is in the process of bringing the US navy back to patrol the waters off Venezuela.

Imperialism is no paper tiger. And, clearly, solidarity with the Bolivarian process is essential by those outside the country who value the concepts and developments I have described. However, I stress the internal obstacles to socialism within Chavism -- the emerging new capitalists (the ``bolibourgeoisie’’), the high officials (both from military and vanguardist traditions -- it is difficult to see the distinction) who are opposed to power from below in workplaces and communities (and, thus opposed, in this respect, to human development and revolutionary practice), the party functionaries and nomenklatura. Why do I stress this? Because I consider this the ultimate contradiction of the revolution; and, I think the struggle between this ``endogenous right’’ (the right from within) and the masses who have been mobilised is the ultimate conflict which will determine the fate of the Bolivarian Revolution.

Who will win?

Who will win? I have to tell you honestly that I don’t know. My daily mantra in Venezuela is ``pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will’’. I can tell you that Venezuela is no place for a revolutionary who suffers from bipolar disorder. There are the days of depression and despair; there are the days of manic exultation. In the end, it will all depend upon struggle, class struggle, and when it comes to class struggle, there are no guarantees.

But let’s assume a worse-case scenario -- that the process in Venezuela degenerates, that it proceeds to demoralise its supporters, is defeated in one way or another by defectors, domestic capitalists, the military or imperialism. Let’s assume, in other words, that this particular earthly manifestation of the spectre of socialism for the 21st century is no more.

What will be left? A spectre -- but one with much more substance than Marx and Engels could write about in the Communist Manifesto in the mid-19th century. A spectre -- but one which is capable of becoming a material force by grasping the minds of masses. A spectre -- but one which is absolutely essential to our survival because of another spectre.

Think about this concept of socialism for the 21st century. About the focus upon human development as the goal, upon a democratic, participatory, protagonistic society as the necessary way for the complete development of people, individually and collectively. Think about the idea of communal councils in which people can collectively decide upon their needs, where they simultaneously change circumstances and themselves. Think about democracy in the workplace, about ending the divide between thinking and doing and being able to draw upon the tacit knowledge of workers to be able to produce better. Think in general about this concept of revolutionary democracy which is central to the concept of socialism for the 21st century.

This is not a concept just for Venezuela or Latin America or for the poor of the South. Why is this not a spectre that can appeal to Canadians in their communities and workplaces? Why is there not the potential for a political instrument here that can focus upon these aspects, that can put forward a vision and that can be a medium for coordinating these struggles from below?

I suggest that this is not just a nice wish -- it is a necessity. Because there is another spectre out there -- a spectre which is haunting humanity, the spectre of barbarism.

Think about capitalism. Its very essence is the drive to expand capital. The picture is one of capital constantly generating more surplus value in the form of commodities which must be sold, constantly trying to create new needs in order to make real that surplus value in the form of money. That constant generation of new needs, Marx noted already in the mid 19th century, is the basis of the contemporary power of capital.

Thus, a growing circle -- a spiral of growing alienated production, growing needs and growing consumption. But how long can that continue? Everyone knows that the high levels of consumption achieved in certain parts of the world cannot be copied in the parts of the world which capital has newly incorporated into the world capitalist economy. Very simply, the Earth cannot sustain this -- as we can already see with the clear evidence of global warming and the growing shortages which reflect rising demands for particular products in the new capitalist centers. Sooner or later, that circle will reach its limits. Its ultimate limit is given by the limits of nature, the limits of the Earth to sustain more and more consumption of commodities, more and more consumption of the Earth's resources.

But well before we reach the ultimate limits of the vicious circle of capitalism, there inevitably will arise the question of who is entitled to command those increasingly limited resources. To whom will go the oil, the metals, the water -- all those requirements of modern life? Will it be the currently rich countries of capitalism, those that have been able to develop because others have not? In other words, will they be able to maintain the vast advantages they have in terms of consumption of things and resources -- and to use their power to grab the resources located in other countries? Will newly emerging capitalist countries (and, indeed, those not emerging at all) be able to capture a ``fair share’’? Will the impoverished producers of the world -- producers well aware of the standards of consumption elsewhere as the result of the mass media -- accept that they are not entitled to the fruits of civilisation? How will this be resolved?

The spectre of barbarism is haunting humanity. And, what is the alternative to it? Yesterday’s liberalism -- social democracy -- has never understood the nature of capital and offers, accordingly, only barbarism with a human face. And, yesterday’s socialist package, with its promise of more rapid development of productive forces, its privileging of industrial workers and, its premise of a stage based upon a principle that we all must get in accordance with our contribution -- this is no alternative to the crisis humanity faces.

Whatever the ultimate fate of the Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela, its principal contribution has been to restore hope; it has done this by revealing that there is an alternative to neoliberalism and the logic of capital. The alternative offered by socialism for the 21st century points to the need to understand that, regardless of the luck of our birthplaces or our own past contributions, the accumulated fruits of social brain and hand belong to us all. Internationally, its alternative is ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, which has created links between Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia based upon solidarity rather than exchange relations. At the core of the alternative offered by socialism for the 21st century is the idea of building a society based upon relations of solidarity -- solidarity between producers, e.g., in formal and informal sectors, solidarity between those of the North and those of the South. At its core is the idea of producing consciously for communal needs and purposes and thereby building a society in which the free development of all is the condition for the free development of each.

So, let me conclude with a point that is completely unoriginal but which, so significantly, is being heard more and more these days: the choice before us is -- socialism or barbarism.

Let me add, though, that socialism doesn’t drop from the sky -- you have to struggle to make it real.

[Michael A. Lebowitz is professor emeritus of economics at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, and director of the Centro International Miranda, Caracas, Venezuela.]


Freire, Paulo. 2006. Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Continuum).

Lebowitz, Michael A. 2003. Beyond Capital: Marx’s Political Economy of the Working Class (New York: Palgrave Macmillan).

Lebowitz, Michael A. 2006. Build it Now: Socialism for the 21st Century (New York: Monthly Review Press).

Marx, Karl. 1844. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, in Marx and Engels (1975b), Collected Works, Vol. 3.

Marx, Karl. 1845. ‘Theses on Feuerbach’, in Marx and Engels (1976), Collected Works, Vol. 5.

Marx, Karl. 1875. Critique of the Gotha Programme, in Marx and Engels (1962), Selected Works, Vol. II.

Marx, Karl. 1973. Grundrisse (New York: Vintage Books).

Marx, Karl. 1977. Capital, Vol. I (New York: Vintage Books).

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Nicaragua -- new UNO opposition in the making?

Nicaragua’s anti Sandinista rightwing staged their “march of the thousands” against the Ortega government on June 27. Credible estimates place the crowd at between seven and ten thousand participants, many bused in from as far away as Chinandega and Matagalpa.

CAPTION: The song "Se va el caimán" -- "The alligator is on his way out" was choreographed and danced by thousands of demonstators, yesterday. From La Prensa, Managua.

The rally, ostensibly organized by civil society, was led by US-financed NGOs and benefited from an abundant supply of logistical support from other international and national NGOs. It was aided and abetted, and attended by a sizeable presence of supporters of the Sandinista Renovation Movement (whose most well know leader is Dora María Téllez) and of the Rescate Group (MpRS-Sandinista Recovery Movement, led by Mónica Baltodano and Henry Ruiz).

These self-proclaimed Sandinista organizations , it appears, felt no discomfort or shame at being immersed and lost in a swamp of pro-imperialist politicians and “civil society” imposters.

I watched the procession on Channel 12 whose managers and presenters were super enthused. The main claim stemming from the action is that people abandoned or “cast aside their fear” of the alleged government dictatorship. Unity has at last been found and all participants coincide that they have now a model to build an ongoing and growing force to bring down the government, or force Daniel Ortega into feeble retreat and obedience to the country’s oligarchy. The main leaders of this action are clearly forces close to the maverick liberal politician and banker Eduardo Montealegre, and the US Embassy with its network of leased NGOs in the country. All pretentions to the contrary, the MRS and the MpRS persisted in their role as caboose and the caboose’s caboose to the Montealegre train. They found themselves knee-deep in an alligator infested swamp of the most vile flunkies of the US embassy and the traditional oligarchy and financial elite of the country.

One of the main slogans of the action, directed against Daniel Ortega, was based on a cartoon by right wing caricaturist for La Prensa, M. Guillén (shown above). The slogan “Se va el caimán” (The alligator is on his way out) had its variations on the march such as “Que se vaya, que se vaya a Venezuela” (take off for Venezuela ). As I heard reference to these slogans and saw close-ups of some of the placards and banners I was reminded of the right wing mobilizations in Venezuela, or those that occurred in Chile in the months prior to the September 11, 1973 Pinochet coup.

Another memory also surfaced – April 25, 1990 in the main baseball stadium in Managua, at the changeover of government from Daniel Ortega to Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. By agreement, one-half of the invitees came from her political grouping, the UNO (National Opposition Union), and the other half from the FSLN. The FSLN crowd occupied the east side of the stadium, facing the afternoon sun. The UNO rightwing forces occupied the west side. When Daniel Ortega’s cavalcade arrived the thousands of UNO supporters chanted in unison” Que se vaya, que se vaya,” They were immersed in a sea of the blue and white national flag, just like the June 27 “civil society” rally last week. Of course, they had their equivalents of the MRS in their ranks as the UNO was a coalition ranging all the way from the US embassy crowd to the Contras to parties of the old left, still pretending to be Marxist. Another similarity is the pivotal role the newspaper La Prensa played in promoting and mobilizing both the UNO and today’s “united opposition.”

Perhaps the new anti-dictatorship coalition will adopt the name UNO –– for old times’ sake. It would be more than fitting.

La Prensa's "caimán" caricature is but one of dozens of examples of hate symbolism generated at the rally and in the newspaper La Prensa. Note, too, the disdain and contempt for Venezuela and the Bolivarian revolution. Fear and hatred of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela is almost a common denominator of the new NGO-based middle class here (this should be of no surprise given the vital role of US and European financing of these "bastions of civil society"), and of course, of the traditional oligarchy How far down the road of convergence the MRS and the Restate Group will go towards their rightwing allies regarding the Venezuela-ALBA alliance remains to be seen. The prognosis is not good.

Felipe Stuart C.

Monday, June 30, 2008

XIV Sao Paulo Forum: Left parties debate the current historic conjuncture

IV Sao Paulo Forum: Left parties debate the current historic conjuncture

By Inés Hayes, with reports from Montevideo by Cristina Camusso and Julio Louis.

Dilemma: From May 22 to 25, the XIV Sao Paulo Forum was held in Montevideo, Uruguay. Under the banner `The Latin American and Caribbean left in the new time, richness in diversity’, 844 delegates from 35 countries in Latin America, Asia and Europe participated in this historic meeting. The first encounter was held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1990. The debates over the crucial issues of the 21st century are embodied today in the governments which have emerged through the electoral road. The historic dilemma of reform or revolution once again returns to centre stage.

The Sao Paulo Forum was born in 1990 at the hands of the Partido de los Trabajadores (PT, Workers Party) of Brazil and the Partido Comunista de Cuba (Communist Party of Cuba). In the context of the disintegration of social and political struggle, the forum achieved an important task. Nevertheless, with the arrival of governments such as those of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, and the possibility of once again believing in socialism, the reformist and social democratic positions of some political organisations now clash with the dynamic embodied in new and old experiences of revolutionary organisations.

In this, the XIV edition of the encounter, it was possible to clearly distinguish the two positions. While these strategies are being debated within administrations such as those in Brazil and Uruguay, governments like those of Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Cuba start from the conviction that capitalism is intrinsically inhuman and has to be surpassed.

The opening of the forum was like a frozen snapshot. Almost as if it was an expression of desires, the Frente Amplio (Broad Front, Uruguay) opened the encounter focusing on the issue of governability, the construction of a more humane society, Latin American integration and the construction of another possible world based on more solidarity. Afterwards came the turn of the secretary of the PT, who put emphasis on the struggle against neoliberalism and on inclusion and integration.

The Cuban, Fernando Ramirez, changed the tone and climate of the encounter. Ramirez put forward the necessity of revolution and gave a historic outline of the situation of the continent when the forum first emerged 18 years ago. ``We are at the end of an epoch’’, he said. He was the first to mention Hugo Chavez and to talk about what the Bolivarian Revolution had meant for turning around the situation in the continent. Moreover, he assured that gaining access to government did not presuppose having access to power.

``We are witnessing an epoch of wars, of conflicts, of environmental problems and preventive wars by the United States’’, detailed Ramirez, mentioning the failure of Free Trade of Americas Agreement as well as the imposition of the free trade agreements in the continent. ``ALBA, Unasur, Petrocaribe and Petrosur are the real path forward’’, he emphasised. [ALBA is the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, an anti-neoliberal trading alliance led by Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia; Unasur unites two existing customs unions – Mercosur and the Andean Community – as part of a continuing process of South American integration; a Caribbean oil alliance with Venezuela to purchase oil at fair prices; Petrosur is a similar oil agreement involving Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina.] Ramirez outlined in detail the way in which the United States was financing the coup-plotting plans in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia and underlined the importance of the unity of parties and movements: ``The struggle for socialism must be constructed by each one of our peoples’’, he concluded.

Integration versus unity

During Saturday May 23, the speeches in support of socialism gained more strength. José Renaldo from the Communist Party of Brazil (Partido Comunista de Brasil) spoke of the structural crisis of capitalism and marked out Cuba as a permanent example [of the alternative]. Furthermore he highlighted the importance of Venezuela in once again placing socialism on the agenda and the necessity of counting on an anti-imperialist front in Latin America and the world. ``Unasur is a beacon in this sense’’, he assured

For his part, Ricardo Patiño, coordinating minister for policy in Ecuador, outlined the consequences of the Ciudadana Revolucion (Citizens’ Revolution) and the risky situation which Latin American finds itself in, denouncing the ``assassinations of Raul Reyes and other people in Ecuadorian territory’’ and said that [Colombian President] ``Uribe will have to prove that a country like Colombia possesses technology that no one else in the continent has’’. Patiño ratified what Correa had said in regards to establishing a Latin American regional organisation to replace the Organisation of American States, without tutelage and with Cuba. ``There is an attempt to destabilise Ecuador and regionalise the conflict through the use of preventive war doctrines. The Sao Paulo Forum should ratify its rejection of intervention and aggression against the countries of Latin America’’, explained the minister. Referring to the sovereign decision by Ecuador to dismantle the Manta US military base he said: ``There needs to be, on the part of the Sao Paulo Forum, a line of action, a collective labour to ensure that no United States base exists in our countries.’’

Moreover, Patiño highlighted the defeat of the right in electoral politics and the coup-plotting role of the mass media. ``Latin American unity has its central axis in Unasur. None of our countries will be able to triumph on its own: the socialist revolution must spread throughout all of Latin America’’, he concluded.

Following the potent speech by Patiño, there was an intervention by Roberto Regalado, member of the Communist Party of Cuba. ``We talk about neoliberalism but neoliberalism is the capitalism of our day’’, emphasised Regalado, confronting the positions of those who assure that capitalism can be humanised.

The Communist Party of Paraguay was also present in the forum. It argued in favour of its support for the recently elected president, Fernando Lugo, and pointed out the importance of the peasant movement. The Paraguay Communists assured that there was a programmatic agreement with Lugo, including over agrarian reform and the defence of Paraguayan sovereignty against United States’ intervention.

For their part, both the Partido Humanista and the Communist Party of Chile harshly criticised the Concertación government: ``[President Michelle] Bachelet and the [ruling] Concertación [alliance] are not involved in the Banco del Sur [Bank of the South], nor in Telesur [a new pan-Latin American TV channel based in Venezuela]. They did not allow Operación Milagros in Chile and the Concertación is intact, exactly how Pinochet designed it. One example of this is the repression against students and the [indigenous] Mapuche people, who are permanently attacked and persecuted.’’ The exposition was shorter than the others because the organisers of the forum signalled that their time had run out. ``It seems that the Concertación cannot be criticised here’’, said the speakers.

In concordance with a progressive viewpoint, Marco Aurelio Garcia, vice-president of the PT said that many different lefts exist, not just the reformist and revolutionary ones. He put forward the necessity of import substitution and the complementarity of sectors. ``This is a favourable moment for progressive countries’’, concluded Garcia.

Taking a Copernican shift, Osvaldo Peredo, member of the Bolivian MAS [Movement Towards Socialism] affirmed: ``We are embarking on a socialist project following the examples of Cuba and Venezuela.’’

Ortega: `Only socialism will make us free’

The closing speech, given by Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega, was also a counterweight to the positions more focused on the immediate problems of government and electoral issues. Without equivocation he assured: ``There is no good empire and bad empire, there is no good capitalism and bad capitalism. We need to bring down the tyranny of global capitalism and the power of the empire. Elections can no be seen as an end in themselves, this is not the goal.’’

The death of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) leader, Marulanda, traversed throughout all of Ortega’s speech. ``Marulanda was an extraordinary fighter in a struggle which is rooted in the deep inequalities faced by the Colombian people. The terrorist is the Yankee government, the European governments, not only because they use military force, but because they have been practising terrorism in a systematic way, assassinating human beings with their economic policies and eagerness to concentrate wealth’’, he stated.

Ortega ratified the example of Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela and classified Colombia as the most destabilising country in Latin America. ``War and narcotrafficking are the big business of the United States’’, said the Nicaraguan president, who also warned of the interventionist activity of the Fourth Fleet of the United States, deactivated since 1950. ``We need to redouble our capacity to struggle, only socialism will make us free’’, he finalised.

The dilemma between reform or revolution was present throughout all the discussions and debates in the forum. The mark of this encounter will be the struggle between those forces who propose to moderate capitalism and that those that openly come out on the side of the construction of socialism of the 21st century


[Translated with permission from America XXI, Issue No. 39, June edition,]

Sunday, June 29, 2008

El imprescindible…

Por Kintto Lucas

1. “Hay hombres que luchan un día y son buenos. Hay otros que luchan un año y son mejores. Hay quienes luchan muchos años y son muy buenos. Pero hay los que luchan toda la vida: esos son los imprescindibles”, decía Bertolt Brecht…

2. Dentro de la lucha social y política, son pocos, muy pocos, los que se pueden encuadrar dentro de esas características y, casualmente, la gran mayoría de esos pocos no son figuras de primeras planas…

3. En esa lucha, quien siempre ha sido y seguirá siendo imprescindible es el pueblo en colectivo, no el pueblo individual de las personas…

4. Nadie es imprescindible, ha dicho el Presidente de la República , Rafael Correa, y es verdad. En la resistencia al neoliberalismo no fue imprescindible un buró político, mucho menos el actual de Acuerdo País, fue imprescindible el pueblo en las calles, y particularmente el movimiento indígena muchas veces cortando carreteras…

5. Para cerrar el paso al TLC y a la OXY no fue imprescindible la publicidad de Vinicio Alvarado, en realidad ninguna publicidad porque no había dinero y porque los grandes medios solo daban paso a las posiciones a favor del TLC y la OXY. Alguna que otra radio como La Luna y alguno que otro periódico, como Tintají, se jugaron enteros contra la OXY y el TLC, pero no fueron imprescindibles. Imprescindible volvió a ser el pueblo…

6. Para posicionar en el imaginario de los ecuatorianos y ecuatorianas el significado del Plan Colombia, cuya última muestra fue el ataque de Angostura, no fue imprescindible la consistencia y mirada jurídica de derecha del Director Jurídico de la Presidencia , otrora abogado de León Febres Cordero. Fue imprescindible la denuncia y la información tenaz y constante de muchos durante mucho tiempo…

7. Para que Rafael Correa llegara a la presidencia no fueron imprescindibles unas encuestas que decían que podía ganar en la primera vuelta. Fue imprescindible que el pueblo, asumiera el peligro real que significaba Alvaro Noboa y la necesidad de cambios profundos…

8. Para que los ecuatorianos y las ecuatorianas digan SI a la nueva Constitución, como no tengo dudas ocurrirá, no es imprescindible quedar bien con la Iglesia , con los grupos agroalimentarios (mandato agrario mediante) o con las transnacionales mineras, es imprescindible que el pueblo sienta que ésta es su Constitución, que la mayoría de los artículos representan el cambio y un quiebre con el poder tradicional, que la Constitución no es un cuento sino un proceso transformador, popular y democrático…

9. Cada día que pasa, con mucha lucha interna, con mucho debate, se va consolidando una Constitución transformadora, en lo ambiental, en lo económico, en las relaciones internacionales... Quedará en falta en algunos temas, pero hasta ahora es mucho más lo que está. Y como seguramente la comisión de redacción no trastocará el rumbo de lo actuado, tendremos una Constitución inmensamente progresista y transformadora…

10, Para eso fue y sigue siendo imprescindible que el pueblo estuviera presente en el trabajo constituyente, fue y seguirá siendo imprescindible la dignidad colectiva de muchos asambleístas (entre lo cuales, con todos sus errores, ha jugado un papel fundamental Alberto Acosta, similar al que jugaba en su pelea contra el neoliberalismo cuando muchos revolucionarios del presente estaban encantados con las privatizaciones) que se han jugado y han luchado por un texto transformador, y buena parte de asesores que supieron defender principios...

11. En el libro Rafael Correa Un extraño en Carondelet señalaba que era posible aceptar la ambigüedad del gobierno en muchos temas hasta la aprobación de la Constitución , pero en la Constitución no hay espacio para ambigüedades, y luego de aprobada la Constitución será el momento de las definiciones…

12. Unido el objetivo del Si al de una Constitución transformadora, no revolucionaria, pero si de quiebre, como la que se está forjando palabra a palabra, pelea a pelea, volveremos a ver que el único imprescindible volverá a ser el pueblo…

13. Como me decía alguna vez ese gran revolucionario de la América que fue Raúl Sendic, el pueblo es estratega. El pueblo, abriendo surcos, moviendo máquinas, tragando el polvo, juntando rabia, caminando a pesar de todo, siempre caminado, el pueblo es el único imprescindible…

14. Aunque falte mucho por hacer, hay que hacerlo, y aunque el camino está lleno de contradicciones, hay que caminar, y eso es bastante aunque sea muy poco... El SÍ a la Constitución será resultado del camino, pero sobre todo del pueblo en el camino…

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bolivia: Between Popular Reform and Illegal Resistance

This excellent report needs no introduction. It is taken from MRZine at

by Chris Sweeney
Two members from a rightwing Santa Cruz youth group were arrested outside the Trompillo airport on June 19 with a rifle, telescopic sight, and 300 rounds of ammunition in a purported assassination attempt on President Evo Morales. In an unprecedented and highly questionable move, the accused were freed the very next day by a Santa Cruz attorney sympathetic to their separatist cause. This potentially violent scenario is telling of the fractious nature of politics currently unfolding in Bolivia, a country plagued by extreme social inequality and political marginalization.

Three days after the alleged attempt, a referendum aimed at increasing the autonomy of the Tarija department from the national government was resoundingly approved, marking the fourth such victory for the departmental autonomy movement in Bolivia over the past two months. While Morales hopes to strengthen the central government in an effort to equitably redistribute Bolivia's resource wealth throughout the country, his opposition, a number of departmental political leaders, aspire to increase their autonomy from the central government in order to preserve the privileged status the country's elite have enjoyed for centuries. The stage is now set for a dramatic showdown that will undoubtedly shape the future of Bolivia, the choices offered to its citizenry, and their prospects for more meaningful lives.

Bolivia's Natural Wealth

Bolivia is rich in natural resources. According to the CIA World Factbook, the landlocked Andean country has more than 650 billion cubic meters of proven natural gas reserves, second only to Venezuela in all of South America. Bolivia exports over 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually, making it the sixteenth largest exporter in the world. In addition, the country is home to a variety of mineral deposits, including zinc, tin, and silver. Consider also that Bolivia is a net exporter of crude petroleum, and the importance of the wealth of its vast commodity resources -- real and potential -- becomes abundantly clear. Possession of such valuable commodities should guarantee Bolivia prosperity on a national scale. However the reality for the majority of the population is far from this egalitarian ideal. Indeed, Bolivia is narrowly divided along geographic and ethnic boundaries by ideologies, language, race, cultural and fiscal policies that, until recently, have ensured that the majority remain impoverished while an economic and political elite few inordinately benefit.

Bolivia's Poor Majority

Bolivia's indigenous peoples, who account for well over half of the population, have been systematically oppressed for centuries. Living primarily as subsistence farmers in the arid western mountainous regions of the country -- the Andean Altiplano -- Bolivia's indigenous majority largely lacks access to basic educational, health, and economic opportunities. The Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress reports that over 80 percent of rural residents lack access to clean water and means of sanitary waste disposal. The 2007/08 UN Human Development Report ranks Bolivia languishing behind every country in the western hemisphere except for Guatemala and Haiti, with regards to life expectancy, educational opportunities, literacy, and GDP per capita. One may question how a country so blessed with natural riches can suffer such poverty.

The Rich Minority

Living conditions in the eastern lowlands, home to the country's mestizo (30 percent) and white (15 percent) populations, are dramatically different. Nestled in the corner of the Amazon, the tropical climate allows for much more arable land, evident by greater agricultural production as well as different land usage. In the east, large landholdings are not the exception but the rule. According to the United Nations Development Program, 25 million hectares of prime farmland is controlled by some 100 families. In comparison, the remaining 5 million hectares of farmland in the country are shared among 2 million campesinos. This lopsided pattern of land use is reminiscent of the hacienda system, the form of land organization utilized during the high days of Spanish colonialism.

The case of U.S. national Ronald Larson, who owns more than 140,000 acres of land in the eastern department of Santa Cruz, exemplifies the intensity uneven land distribution. The white landowner employs large numbers of indigenous farmhands, and although he is not an oppressive employer by any means, the fact that the existing land tenure system has tolerated a single individual being able to amass such extensive landholdings essentially guarantees the continuation of the rigid divide between rich and poor in Bolivia. Says one laborer: "We are not slaves, but we are not prospering. We just exist" ("American Rancher Resists Land Reform Plans in Bolivia," New York Times, 9 May 2008). As long as such vast tracts of land are held by a privileged few, the potential wealth hidden in Bolivia's soil will remain largely inaccessible to most of the population.

The large agribusinesses of the east have normally generated healthy profits, but it is what lies beneath the soil that traditionally has accentuated Bolivia's grievous earning gap. Most of Bolivia's natural gas and petroleum deposits are located in the wealthier and more educated eastern regions of the country, in such departments as Santa Cruz, Tarija, Pando, and Beni. Until recently, profits from the exploitation of their resources have been unfairly shared sparsely with the rest of the country through an imperfect tax system. The revenues that the energy sector has generated in the east are largely responsible for the development of the bulk of the financial markets and business services located there. As a result, this region enjoys a much higher cross-the-board per capita standard of living compared to the rest of the country.

Evo Morales and Democratic Reform

The marginalization of the masses is now being challenged by a populist indigenous movement. Evo Morales was elected President of Bolivia on December 18, 2005, running on the Movement for Socialism (MAS) party ticket. As president, he has introduced a new economic model aimed at the equitable redistribution of the nation's patrimony. "Capitalismo Andino Amazónico" (Andean-Amazonian Capitalism) represents a pluralist approach to economic growth designed to give every citizen equal access to Bolivia's literal goldmine. Vice-President Álvaro Gracia Linera explains, "Industry in Bolivia should learn to coexist with forms of self-organization and commercial development owned in particular by the people in the Andes and Amazon." The Agencia Nodo Sur (South Node Agency) explains that Andean-Amazonian Capitalism is neither socialism nor neoliberalism, but a system catering to the contemporary realities of Bolivia which recognizes communal, state, and private forms of economic organization as being equal under the law.

One of Morales' primary objectives as president has been to implement a new constitution that protects the rights of all citizens. To this end, the Bolivian Constituent Assembly approved a relatively moderate constitution in December 2007. Still, its approval was highly controversial. Members of the opposition party claimed that they were physically prevented from attending the proceedings by pro-government social movements, such as trade unions and coca growers; the MAS maintains that those who were absent from the vote on the constituent assembly were so in order to boycott the proceedings. Regardless, the draft constitution contains two progressive measures that, if promulgated, should quickly serve to benefit the majority of Bolivians. First, it creates the strong central government necessary to ensure the equitable division of the nation's natural resources amongst the citizenry. Second, the proposed constitution will respect regional autonomy while protecting the rights of indigenous groups on a level equal to their mestizo counterparts, so as to promote a more pluralist national cultural identity. This arrangement is being contested by some orthodox politicians who fear that allowing indigenous groups to practice traditional customs, especially in those regions with a mixed demographic profile, will further splinter an already badly fractured political system. Other contested issues include agrarian reform and the division of natural gas profits through taxes.

Morales Makes His Move

While the new constitution awaits ratification by the electorate, Morales has not waited to make his populist vision a reality. First, he has nationalized the all-important energy sector. On May 1, 2006 -- International Workers Day -- Morales ordered the army to reclaim gas fields, pipelines, and refineries throughout the country. He announced that "the state recovers ownership, possession and total and absolute control" of Bolivia's vast natural gas reserves ("Bolivia's Military Takes Control of Gas Fields," Reuters, May 2, 2006). The government demanded that private firms relinquish at least 51 percent of ownership to the Bolivian state energy firm, Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB), within 6 months. Although the existing private companies and multinationals based in Bolivia were not pleased by the above moves, they for the most part accepted Morales' terms. According to the BBC, the 10 largest private firms operating in Bolivia signed new contracts accepting the government's terms just days before the predetermined deadline lapsed.

However the nationalization process was not as "absolute" as it may seem. Indeed, the appropriation of the energy sector falls in line with the mixed-economic model of Andean-Amazonian Capitalism. The new agreement provides for state ownership of hydrocarbons and control of their sale. Some private companies will continue to operate production facilities, and may receive up to 50 percent of the value of production, so long as they respect the stipulations of law. On June 2, 2008, Morales shifted control of the natural gas pipelines previously owned by Ashmore Energy International and Shell Gas to YPFB because the foreign companies had failed to be in compliance with government regulations.

The idea behind the new arrangement is to retain the efficiency of a private company while securing profits for state use. The dual involvement of state and private interests effectively balances productive capacity and social welfare, a healthy approach to achieving the national prosperity that is too often absent in South America. Although it may be unnecessary in the long run, a strong central government is viewed by many political scientists as being necessary for Bolivia at the present time in order to deconstruct the racial and cultural barriers which have divided society over the decades. In this regard, Morales is attempting to mediate between several competing groups so as to create a unified Bolivia. It is clear that the overall success of Bolivia takes precedence over the benefits to any particular party, regardless of its respective affiliation. As he explained during the nationalization of a processing plant formerly owned by Glencore International AG, a Swiss mining company, "Companies that respect Bolivian laws that do not steal money from the Bolivian people, will be respected. But if the companies do not respect the laws, I have no other alternative than to recover those companies" ("Bolivia to Nationalize Mineral Plant," Associated Press, February 8, 2007).

The Moon Rises in Bolivia

Morales' reforms, however, have faced stiff opposition. Indeed, the constituency of his popular movement is fiercely opposed by the far more affluent mestizo minority, as the redistribution of wealth and resources threatens the power maintained by this elite class. The country's so called "Half Moon," where most of the opposition forces are based, is made up of the four previously mentioned hydrocarbon-producing departments situated along Bolivia's eastern border. These departments particularly have taken issue with the aforementioned redistribution of wealth, claiming that the earnings from natural gas production, for example, should stay in the region where the resource was found.

The big political debate, then, revolves around who should have first draw on the profits from the sale of natural resources. The current hydrocarbons tax (Impuesto Directo a los Hidrocarburos), drafted in 2005, divides 12.5 percent of hydrocarbon tax revenues between the four aforementioned producing departments; 6.25 percent goes to each of the five non-producing departments; and 56.25 percent goes to the national government. Having the majority of profits going to the national government seems to be the most appropriate policy in a country sharply divided since Spanish colonial times along ethnic, economic, and political boundaries because it allows the government to address these problems with a unified approach. Indeed, critics of Bolivia's current situation insist that a strong, transparent and democratic central government is needed to achieve meaningful reform. Morales' administration has thus far filled this role surprisingly well, given the obstacles it has had to face and the tenacity of his political foes.

The Vote for Autonomy

Leading the opposition to Morales is Ruben Costas, the prefect of Bolivia's largest and wealthiest department, Santa Cruz. Costas spearheaded a referendum, held on May 4, 2008, calling for increased regional autonomy and voiding some of Morales' reforms to prevent Santa Cruz's copious wealth from being redistributed to the entire nation. Key provisions of the entirely illegal referendum on autonomy, which Costas' side overwhelmingly won, reserves Santa Cruz the right to negotiate its own contracts with foreign oil companies and gives it control over the possession, distribution, and administration of its own land holdings. According to Bolivian federal authorities, Morales is in favor of granting some autonomy to both departments and indigenous communities, however only if this condition is pursued through a legal constitutional framework and will preserve the integrity of the nation. The May referendum in Santa Cruz clearly did not meet this criterion.

Nevertheless, pro-autonomy forces received more than 80 percent of the vote in all of the autonomy-seeking departments. Santa Cruz's results were replicated on June 1 in the smaller departments of Pando and Beni and on June 22 in Tarija. However, the legitimacy of the Tarija vote deserves even greater scrutiny than the others. There, the department prefect, Mario Cossío, refused to recognize a similarly illegal vote organized by his opposition on June 15 that selected a sub-prefect and departmental councilor. Cossío's critics claim that his position, clearly guided by politics and not the law, further undermine the results of Tarija's autonomy referendum.

A Growing Problem

The Tarija case is characteristic of the situation being played out on a national scale. Competing political groups are attacking each other through illegal means and neither side is willing to negotiate with its respective opposition. If these counterproductive methods continue, with neither side conceding to the other, it could trigger the political disaster that has thus far been avoided. Secession was once merely a threat used by the Half Moon departments to bring attention to their cause, but it is once again gaining steam in various forms. In Tarija, for example, residents of the Gran Chaco region have expressed interest in splitting from their current department and forming a new one. The proposed "Chaco" department, which would be the nation's 10th such political division, is indicative of the multitude of political alliances currently at play in Bolivia.

"MASismo has failed," said the conservative Costas, in reference to Morales' political party, "We have set out on a road towards a new republic and modern state that will be forged in the four autonomous provinces, until this becomes the most decentralized country in Latin America" (Franz Chávez, "Referendum Gives Major Boost to Autonomy Movement," IPS). The primary point of contention between Costas and Morales is the question of to whom autonomy should be granted. Morales wants to recognize regional, departmental, and indigenous groups in a mixed political system comparable to his diverse economic model. Meanwhile, Costas is trying to divide the country strictly along political and geographic boundaries without granting indigenous groups any special powers, a concession which he opposes because it would undermine his administrative capabilities as well as those of nation's other prefects. Although Costas is essentially proposing a federalist society, he is careful to avoid the term because of the negative connotations it produces in Bolivia, namely its association with the Federal War of 1899, in which mestizo elites first allied with and then betrayed native Aymara indigenous groups.

The Legal System: A Political Reality Check

Regardless of their successes, the aforementioned referendums were blatantly illegal. Two months before the Santa Cruz vote, the Bolivian National Electoral Court (CNE), the nation's highest governing authority with plenary jurisdiction over elections, declared the then planned referendums unconstitutional. Admittedly, the CNE is loaded with Morales' supporters -- including its president, José Exeni -- but the ruling was also backed by the Bolivian Congress and other institutional bodies. Several international organizations have also sided with the government; the OAS and the EU both chose not to send electoral monitors to oversee the referendums due to their illegality, representing a strong show of support for the CNE decision. Furthermore, the results of the referendums also have been rejected by the newly formed South American Union, UNASUR. Up to now, the U.S. has encouraged dialogue between the involved parties, but has otherwise remained mum on the issue.

MAS, using some creative mathematics, has nonetheless claimed victory in the referendums, citing a 38 percent abstention rate in Santa Cruz, 46.5 percent in Pando, 34 percent in Beni, and 35 percent in Tarija, according to the Latin Daily News. When these numbers are combined with those who voted "no" to autonomy, it can be established that the referendums have been rejected by 52 percent, 56 percent, 40 percent, and 55 percent, respectively, in terms of the absolute percentage of the electorate. In addition, MAS has brought attention to numerous omissions on voter registration lists and other irregularities designed to assist the opposition in its illegal bid for autonomy.

It is interesting to note that Costas, Cossío, and Bolivia's other prefects were elected by popular vote, and not selected by the president as is stipulated by law. Thus, Morales could demand the resignation of the leadership of this regional opposition, but according to Dr. Martin Mendoza, a Cambridge political science professor, this would be far too controversial a step to take during these tumultuous times. Such an action could ignite the political tension into outright violence. At least one person died during the Santa Cruz referendum and many were injured there as well as in Pando and Beni during skirmishes instigated by the anti-Morales, ultra rightwing Youth League (to which the two accused in the assassination attempt belong). Instead of exercising his constitutional power to preserve his presidency, Morales has opted to leave this decision up to the people through a new referendum.

An Uncertain Future

Responding to the opposition, Morales has called for another referendum aimed at gauging national confidence in the President and all of the prefects. According to this template, the contested leaders must be affirmed by at least the percentage they received when voted into office. If not, their positions will be vacated and new elections will be held. This "confidence vote" -- which is legally sanctioned -- is scheduled for August 10th. Some experts, including Juan Carlos Hidalgo of the Cato Institute, have claimed that the recall vote is a ploy by the opposition to delay a vote on the new constitution. Indeed, Bolivian law stipulates that only one national referendum can be held in any given year, so the August 10 vote will push back a vote on the constitution until at least 2009.

However this move by the opposition could very well backfire. Many of the opposition prefects are no longer confident that they will survive the recall vote and have thus joined forces under the Conalde (national democratic council) to voice their disagreement. On June 23, the prefects from the four aforementioned departments, along with Manfred Reyes Villa from Cochabamba, publicly rejected the upcoming referendum. None of these prefects were elected by a clear majority and their newfound hostility to the legally-sanctioned referendum is a telling sign that they fear dismissal by their constituencies in August. Instead they have called for the renewal of "national dialogue," which although necessary to quell the worsening political turmoil, is in this case guided by self-serving interests and for that reason serves only to confound the problem.

Meanwhile, in a recent opinion poll, 55 percent of respondents approved of the president, a slight increase from April. For this reason, it is widely believed Morales will win the upcoming vote. He was elected by 53.74% of voters in 2005, an unprecedented victory in Bolivian politics, so it is unlikely that he will be ousted in August. What matters, then, is the margin by which Morales wins. A clear victory will further legitimize his government, strengthen the MAS party, and expedite the referendum ballot needed to approve the new constitution. A narrow victory, however, may serve to unify the somewhat divided opposition and give it new leverage against Morales. Even if he loses, there is no constitutional mandate to legitimize the ouster of the president in such circumstances, so Morales will likely be able to stall the impact of any vote until the next scheduled elections in January 2011, at which time it may no longer be relevant.

Chris Sweeney is a Research Associate for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. This analysis was published on the COHA Web site on 24 June 2008. It is reproduced here for educational purposes.