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A wave of protest sweeps the continent
Following hard on the tumultuous events in Chile which are still ongoing, Bolivia has erupted into protests, the government has fallen, Evo Morales has gone into exile in Mexico and a right-wing, ‘business-friendly’ senator from Santa Cruz has assumed the interim presidency. In Brazil, meanwhile, Lula has been released from prison, pending the exhaustion of various appeals. In Colombia, massive protests are continuing across the country, following a national strike on 21 November.
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Chile: the protestors expand their demands
The wave of protests we reported on last month has continued and expanded. From outside Santiago, we have reports from LAB correspondents in Arica and Talca. A seasoned political commentator and long-term friend of LAB gives his take on the process, while another calls it the Chilean spring.
After his initial belligerent response, Sebastian Piñera has been forced to scrap the hike in metro fares, increase the minimum wage and cut the price of medicine. Now he has had to go further, offering two referendums in 2020, one to set in train the writing of a new constitution (a key demand of the protestors) and a second one to adopt the finished product. Control of the process is still disputed, with Piñera and his allies attempting to confine it to the Congress and the protestors demanding true country-wide consultations. The toll of those killed (26) and injured (2,808) in the protests has mounted steadily, with graphic images of police brutality being widely shared. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have reported brutal beatings of prisoners and excessive use of force by police. Particular outrage was caused by statements by Piñera ally senator Andrés Allamand, who stated on television that ‘Without human rights violations, it is impossible to normalise the situation in the country.’
Elections on 20 October were highly controversial. President Evo Morales was running for a fourth term, in defiance of a plebiscite in February 2016 which narrowly decided against allowing this. The count was halted and when it resumed showed Morales with a just over 10 per cent lead over rival Carlos Mesa, sufficient to avoid a run-off. Opponents cried fraud and took to the streets. Bolivian journalist Sergio Mendoza, writing for LAB, points to the strong probability of fraud. This also was the verdict of the Organization of American States, whose impartiality, however, has been doubted. Morales eventually offered a second round and reform of the Electoral Tribunal, but it was too late. As demonstrations became increasingly violent, the police effectively mutinied, refusing to protect public buildings and the families of ministers and officials. The police and army ‘suggested’ to Morales that he resign. He did so, accepted an offer of asylum from Mexico and fled the country, together with Vice President Álvaro García Linera. Bolivia Information Forum (BIF) gives a detailed account of these events.
In the National Assembly, the Presidents of each chamber had also resigned. In the power-vacuum, second vice-president of the Senate, Jeanine Añez, was sworn in as interim president in an inquorate session boycotted by the majority MAS party of Evo Morales. John Crabtree explains the process and Añez’ affiliations. Sergio Mendoza argues that the source of the problem was Morales’ violation of democracy and that opposition to his extended presidency included former supporters, some trade unions and indigenous groups. A second report from BIF analyses the first actions of the new government and its close links with right-wing business sectors in Santa Cruz led by Luis Fernando Camacho.
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Events are developing rapidly, with ongoing demonstrations being violently repressed by the police. Abroad, Donald Trump and the British government welcomed the change of government. But others have denounced it as a coup d’etat. LAB considers that a change of government produced by action of police and the army constitutes a coup. The situation could have been resolved by new elections, which Morales had, albeit tardily, conceded. US native American Nick Estes believes Bolivia is becoming a military dictatorship. Former vice president García Linera describes the war now being waged against indigenous people, while Medea Benjamin gives an eye-witness account of police and army action against pro-MAS demonstrators in El Alto. However, Christian Aid reports the concerns of its Bolivian partners, some of whom believe the violence to be coming mainly from MAS. Fifty of them have co-signed a declaration calling for peace.
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The papal Synod on the Amazon has concluded in Rome. Other churches have backed the initiative. LAB partner Christian Aid worked with churches and local organizations in Brazil to develop an ecumenical liturgy called We Are the Amazon. Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (MAB), the Movement of those Affected by Dams, convened a meeting in Belém with the theme: ‘To defend the Amazon is to defend life itself’. Earlier, Linda Etchart had interviewed a group of young indigenous leaders in New York to lobby around the UN Climate Action summit, and Mongabay published an interview with Brazilian indigenous leader Alessandra Mundurukú.
LAB’s partner Agência Pública, from Sâo Paulo, reports on land conflicts and destruction in the Brazilian Amazon. In the coming months, LAB will be translating and publishing their articles on a regular basis. Amnesty International has published an impressive report on illegal land seizure in Rondônia and Mato Grosso. In Alto do Chão, Pará, police raided the office of the Health and Happiness Project (HPA), which had worked with volunteer fire-fighters to extinguish forest fires, accusing them of complicity in starting the fires – a key claim of Bolsonaro’s.
Lula da Silva has now been released from prison and has given several combative interviews. Brazilian journalist Pepe Escobar, who found Lula ‘ready to be the supreme catalyst of an integrated, progressive, “pro-people” New Global Left’, but warns: ‘If Lula follows a restricted script of merely reorganizing the Left, in Brazil, Latin America and even the Global South, the military system currently in place will swallow him whole all over again’.
In our second article from the FLACSO-Mexico and De Montfort University, Leicester team, Adrián Jiménez Sandoval looks at the very different experiences of two neighbouring communities in Oaxaca, Mexico, where a gold mine is affecting their lives.
Thanks to our addiction to batteries, especially for ‘green’ vehicles, lithium is likely to be one of the most important minerals in the coming decades. We look at the impact of lithium mining in Argentina and Chile, while an article on Counterpunch explores the lithium connection in recent events in Bolivia.
Tom Gatehouse has now started work on LAB’s next major book, The Heart of Our Earth – Community Resistance to Mining in Latin America. The generosity of donors to our limited ‘seed-funding’ appeal raised £7,133 – enough to pay Tom part-time for about 6 months. In January we will launch a full crowd-funding appeal, aiming to raise at least a further £10,000 to enable him to continue and, hopefully, complete the book.
The LAB Team