Martin Sivak, Argentine journalist who specializes in Bolivia and has written a biography of Evo Morales that is a bestseller across South America. It’s called Jefazo: Un Retrato Intimo de Evo Morales (Big Boss: An Intimate Portrait of Evo Morales). He has been following Evo Morales since the mid-1990s and was in Bolivia just last month.
Jim Shultz, is the Executive Director of the Democracy Center in Cochabamba, Bolivia. He writes a blog on the situation in Bolivia that can be found at DemocracyCtr.org.
A fragile dialogue between the Bolivian government and its opponents seemed to inch forward Tuesday as President Evo Morales and opposition governors from the country’s restive eastern provinces agreed to begin talks. They had previously appeared to break down when the Bolivian army arrested one of the opposition governors, Leopoldo Fernandez from the rightist Podemos opposition party. The attorney general accused the governor of genocide. He had governed the province of Pando, where between fifteen and thirty pro-Morales peasants were killed last week. Meanwhile, the Peace Corps has withdrawn its 2,500 volunteers from Bolivia, and the US State Department is organizing at least two evacuation flights for US citizens who want to leave the country. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
A fragile dialogue between the Bolivian government and its opponents seemed to inch forward Tuesday, as President Evo Morales and opposition governors from the country’s restive eastern provinces agreed to begin talks. They had previously appeared to break down when the Bolivian army arrested one of the opposition governors, Leopoldo Fernandez from the rightist Podemos opposition party. The attorney general accused the governor of genocide. He had governed the province of Pando, where between fifteen and thirty pro-Morales peasants were killed last week.
Speaking in La Paz Tuesday, President Morales said he hoped to reach a pact with the opposition governors.
PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: The governor of the department of Tarija, following the instructions of his department and in the name of four other governors, came to help in the efforts made by the vice president of the republic. At this moment, talks continue. I called an emergency meeting of the social movements that are also in the government’s house revising the document. That has been moving forward until now, because it is not about making an agreement that some regions won’t follow later. Twice I have heard leaders ask that they lift the roadblocks, but they don’t do it, because they are not taking into account their request. We hope that in the course of the day, we can agree on the points proposed up until now.
Meanwhile, the Peace Corps has withdrawn its 2,500 volunteers from Bolivia. The State Department is organizing at least two evacuation flights for US citizens who want to leave the country. The White House has also placed Bolivia, as well as Burma and Venezuela, on a list of states that had “failed demonstrably” to meet their counter-narcotics obligations.
Assistant Secretary of State David Johnson noted the Drug Enforcement Administration was forced to move its operations from Chapare, one of Bolivia’s largest coca-producing areas, last week. Speaking on Tuesday, he said Bolivia has failed to act aggressively against the cultivation and trafficking of illegal drugs.
DAVID JOHNSON: This is the first year that the President has determined that Bolivia has failed demonstrably. This was not a hasty decision. Bolivia does have a number of effective US-supported coca eradication and cocaine interdiction programs. However, Bolivia remains a major narcotics-producing country, and its official policies and actions have caused a significant deterioration in its cooperation with the United States. President Morales continues to support the expansion of illicit coca leaf production, despite the fact that current legal cultivation far exceeds the demand for legal traditional consumption and exceeds the area permitted under Bolivian law. Much of the surplus coca leaf production is traded in unregulated so-called legal markets and is diverted to cocaine production.
We turn right now to journalist Martin Sivak. He has written four books on Bolivia. His latest is a bestselling biography of Evo Morales. It’s called Jefazo, which translates to “Big Boss.” We welcome you to Democracy Now!
Your response to what’s happening?
Yeah, I think that, as you said, there is no place for a national [inaudible] agreement. However, I don’t buy this foreign approach to Bolivia that claimed that Bolivia is going to go into a civil war. I think there is space for negotiation. That’s the will, the eager of President Morales. I think that there is space to combine both agendas: the autonomy agenda and the national constitution.
At the same time, the conflict will persist, because there is really an important clash. Evo Morales — the agrarian reform, the nationalization and the inclusion of majorities, that’s the hallmark, the main point of his government — is going to be always receiving, you know, the — a restriction from the eastern part of the country.
We’re also joined on the phone by Jim Shultz. He’s with the Democracy Center in Cochabamba. He’s actually right now speaking to us from Argentina and has been running a blog on Bolivia that can be found at democracyctr.org.
Jim, the US involvement in all of this, telling all Americans to leave, the Peace Corps is pulling out, now putting them on the list with Burma and Venezuela?
You know, first of all, thanks for paying attention to this story again, Amy. I mean, you can watch — when you listen to the Secretary of State and you watch the events this week, you can see the United States isolating itself from Latin America almost by the hour. I mean, here you have the presidents of South America meeting in an emergency session in Chile to figure out how to help Bolivia, and Washington is busy whining about one ambassador being sent back and still hasn’t commented on the fact that thirty people, at least — probably many more — were massacred by the opposition. So, I mean, I think this is a watershed week for the United States basically painting itself almost out of the loop in terms of Latin America.
I mean, significant that it was hosted, this emergency meeting, by one of the moderates of Latin America, Michelle Bachelet, the president of Chile. The significance —
I also think it’s significant that it was the two women presidents that convened this.
Your response to that, Martin Sivak? And what does this all mean?
I think that, you know, the decision of Evo Morales to increase Bolivian sovereignty in terms of designation of [inaudible] in the drug — in the war against drugs, in terms of economy, it’s a turning point in the relationship between Bolivia and the US, and now we are seeing the reaction of the US to this new national sovereignty.
Jim Shultz, do you think the US is trying to topple Morales?
Well, that’s been speculation on the internet all week, and I think it’s not black and white. I think the ambassador, Philip Goldberg, was an extraordinarily arrogant and incompetent diplomat. And for him to go and meet with these opposition governors on the eve of their launching these attacks on Morales and calling for his resignation, I mean, what he said to them is known to them and the ambassador, but he is beyond clueless in terms of how this appears in Bolivia and the rest of Latin America.
Well, we’ll have to leave it there. We’ll certainly continue to follow what is taking place in Bolivia. Our guests, Jim Shultz, executive director of Democracy Center in Cochabamba, Bolivia; and Martin Sivak, journalist. He lives here, though spent many years in Bolivia. His latest book, Jefazo, “Big Boss,” about Evo Morales.
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