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Bolivian visit to Rossport Solidarity Camp
mayo | anti-capitalism | news report Tuesday June 20, 2006 00:43 by Terry - Rossport Solidarity Camp
Jose Sagarnaga, from La Paz in Bolivia, who is active in the London based Bolivia Solidarity Campaign spoke at the June Bank Holiday gathering in Rossport Solidarity Camp. I interviewed him on June 3rd, that interview follows this brief introduction to what is happening in Bolivia. There is a report and photos up about the gathering on indymedia uk here
The privatisation of natural resources, particularly gas, has been a major issue in the massive social struggles in Bolivia in recent years, as sections of the working class united around the goal of having the profits from that gas benefit them, through spending on schools, hospitals, and other social services, in what is one of South America’s poorest, but most resource rich, countries.
The first round of the “gas war” occurred in October 2003, when protestors blockaded gas exports, the military response was to kill approximately 80 people in the El Alto massacre. The popular response to this led to the resignation of then President Goni, he fled the country after emptying the central bank reserve.
On May 23rd 2005 a general strike began to realise the demands formulated in October, this led to overthrow of President Mesa, and on the 7th of June 2005 miners marched on the city of Sucre, to where the congress had fled, to prevent them from appointing another president friendly to the interests of the energy corporations.
In January 2006 Evo Morales, of the coca growers union, was inaugurated as president, and the demand for the nationalisation of gas has been largely forced on him by Bolivia’s social movements.
Hi Jose, could you start off by telling us what struck you most about your recent return to Bolivia?
The most striking thing I think was the level of radicalisation of the people, the level of politicisation of the normal citizens, they were aware of their rights and what they wanted from the government and were highly politicised and involved in activities within the movements and that was very striking.
Could you explain a little about the work the Bolivia Solidarity Campaign does and how that relates to what is going on in Bolivia?
We are trying to echo the activities of the social movements in Boliva in Europe, because the news doesn’t come out from Bolivia, it just stays there, so our task is to bring it out, to take out the news, and to link up with the struggles that are going on in Europe and finally to link up trade unions, but so far we are only working at a social movements level.
In the meeting yesterday you were saying that a crucial stage in the development of the struggle in Bolivia was that different sectors came together, e.g. coca growers, people opposing the privatisation of water, etc.., could you explain how this unity was achieved?
Yeah it was a very slow, tediously slow process, but it has to be done through small meetings in small communities, organising, passing resolutions, being very democratic, having a vote and the result of that vote has to be passed in the next neighbourhood in the next meeting, then another meeting, another vote and so on and Bolivia is a big country we don’t have very good roads and communications so this whole process can be very very slow, very tiring, and at the same time you have the right wing the ruling class media trying to undermine ideologically all our organisations and you have to be firm and try to be strong with your aims, so you are attacked from the right wing, and you are attacked also from inside because you have young people inside organisations they say no, no, this is too slow we need to make it faster so lets go get weapons and fight straight through the city. So the way we have done it is never romantic it is very slow and its is very time consuming but it has been demonstrated that it is the best way because previously we did try the other method which was the quickest, a group of young brave guys would go with guns and it didn’t work, so we are trying different ways.
Why is it that the nationalisation of gas became the central demand because if I understand it correctly from your talk yesterday maybe 7 or 8 years ago this was only an issue for the employees and former employees of that industry and it was much smaller an issue.
Yeah you are very right, the bigger issue 5, 6, 7 years ago was the coca growers because it was more like a cultural, we felt, the Bolivian people, that it was a cultural attack saying that you cannot plant coca leaves anymore because that is cocaine and that is it. That was the order from the United States. Culturally we have been under attack always, we couldn’t speak our language, we couldn’t practise our traditional religion, we couldn’t practise our music, now they were saying we couldn’t chew what we always chew which was coca and so that was the main issue and the oil wasn’t a big issue, that was only an issue for the former employees so they were doing their own campaign because they were unemployed and they saying it is unfair the way the company was privatised and so on. But again through small meetings and workshops, those people, that campaign of unemployed people from the oil companies they organised themselves and they went to convince the other campaigns that at the end of the day all of the issues is down to economics, even the coca growers was down to economics because the United States new perfectly that coca is not cocaine they knew that but they used it to win support from the people for their campaign, which they called the war on drugs but is really the war on poor people, they wanted to have control of the area where the coca growers are, so actually it wasn’t a cultural attack it was an economic attack what they were doing. So we managed to convince that all the issues were down to economics and that the other demands can be complied with if we have enough resources and the nationalisation of the oil companies would give these resources that we needed.
So what is the relationship between the movements in Bolivia and the current government?
With Evo Morales the relationship is a bit, we could call it stand by, we are still very very critical of the government, there is many little issues I could talk about that Evo Morales has already done wrong and so on, but overall people, and personally my heart is with Evo Morales and whatever he has done so far is quite good and I expected him to do that, but we repeat again and again among ourselves and among the social movements we cannot believe in and cannot trust the leadership because we have been betrayed, we have some many centauries of history that they always either disappear or they betray us so we cannot trust them. So we are in that position at the moment, we are on stand by, we are not putting too much pressure on him but we are very critical of his policies.
What has been your impression of your visit to Mayo?
Well I was very much impressed by the level of organisation that the camp has, it is something very inspiring, just the level of organisation, but at the same time the broadening of the campaign where I saw the Nigerian flag at the picket, very much an international campaign and highly political. When I do my report back to the Bolivia Solidarity Campaign I think they will be really inspired to hear about this.
Do you think it important for people in Bolivia to know that there is also a struggle here in the West, albeit at a much lower level?
Yes it is very important because we feel that we are fighting our own corner isolated but to know that, and also we think these corporations are only bad for the third world, for the poorest countries, but to learn that these multinationals are bad against everyone, they don’t discriminate between Europeans and South Americans, so to learn that keeps us going, and we learn from that, how the multinationals are trying to undermine the movements here, and also in South America, using the same arguments.
How do you think people here could assist the situation in Bolivia?
Well the best they can do is keep fighting, keep their resistance, imagine that the Rossport campaign is defeated well that will echo in Bolivia and it will demoralise the movements over there and it gives more strength to these multinationals to be even more abusive. Any small resistance here is reproduced in a Third World country probably ten times bigger because here you have greater capacity to spread the information.