New Internationalist

Behind the victory

January 2006

US troops build up in Latin America as another progressive government is elected

In a landslide victory just before Christmas last year, Evo Morales was elected President of Bolivia. He has pledged to nationalize the country’s gas reserves, legalize coca leaf production for traditional use, rewrite the constitution with the participation of diverse social sectors and reject harmful free trade policies.

Such plans make the Bush Administration nervous and corporate investors cringe. Efforts to destabilize this hopeful Government are already under way. Hundreds of US troops arrived in Paraguay on 1 July 2005 and are reportedly utilizing an airbase 200 kilometres from the border with Bolivia. Analysts in the region believe the troops could be poised to suppress both leftist movements in Bolivia and the Morales Administration.

According to US officials, the questionable military activity in Paraguay is for health and humanitarian efforts. However, State Department reports do not mention any such initiatives. They do, however, explain that funding for the Counter-Terrorism Fellowship Program (CTFP) in the country doubled in 2005. One report explains: ‘CTFP provided funds for Paraguayans to attend courses on the dynamics of international terrorism… and application of intelligence in combating terrorism.’

Analysts in Latin America believe that the US Government is using the threat of terrorism as an excuse to extend its influence in a region shifting further to the left, away from the interests of the White House. US officials say the triple border area (where Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil meet) is a base for Islamic terrorist networks. In Washington, Morales has been called a ‘narco-terrorist’ for his organizing work among poor coca farmers in Bolivia.

But Orlando Castillo, a Paraguayan human rights leader, said the goal of US military operations in his country is to ‘debilitate the southern bloc… and destabilize the region’s governments, especially Evo Morales…’

The US has a bloody history of intervention in Latin America. Declassified documents prove that the US Government played key roles in the coups against democratically elected leaders such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 2002 and Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973. Like these progressive governments, the Morales Administration should pose a serious threat to US hegemony.

While direct US military intervention in Bolivia via Paraguay is possible, other methods of destabilization are already under way. Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the US Government has spent millions to support discredited right-wing political parties and stifle grassroots movements in Bolivia. Between 2002 and 2004, a grant from the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) allowed for the training of 13 ‘emerging political leaders’ from right-wing parties in Bolivia. These 25- to 35-year-old politicians were brought to Washington for seminars. Their party-strengthening projects in Bolivia were subsequently funded by the NED.

During an interview with Morales, I asked him about the pressure he may receive from the US Government. ‘We, the indigenous people, after 500 years of resistance, are retaking the power,’ he said. ‘The US Government does not understand our way of life and our philosophy. But we will defend our proposals, our way of life and our demands with the participation of the Bolivian people.’

Benjamin Dangl

Read more at>, an online magazine uncovering activism and politics in Latin America, which Benjamin edits.

This column was published in the January 2006 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 386

New Internationalist Magazine issue 386
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