Bolivia: The letter of the law and the law of power

By Guillermo Almeyra, La Jornada, Mexico

May 18, 2008 -- The letter of the law is one thing, and quite another is the power that imposes it and makes it real. For this reason, it is absurd to fall for the fetish of the written legal text while forgetting the balance of power which gives it validity and allows its application. For if said balance is unfavourable, the legal or constitutional text is nothing more than a dead letter.

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales declared a recall referendum for the offices of president, vice president and departmental governors in all of Bolivia. Since this referendum was approved in the Senate due to the jealousy of right-wing PODEMOS leader Tuto Quiroga (faced with the increasing leadership of the right by the Santa Cruz oligarchy) and since its expected result threatens various governors and thus divides the right-wing alliance, and since Evo Morales and vice-president Alvaro Garcia Linera are sure to be ratified in their posts, there are some who see this measure as a skilful move, but the truth is somewhat different.

In the first place, between now and August much water may pass under the bridge. The right will present many fait accompli, while the government adheres strictly to the text of the constitution (which the right rejects and whose modification it demands) whilst trying to generate the maximum number of votes for the future referendum. The right, by contrast, will be taking economic, judicial, social and military measures to consolidate its illegal power.

To top it all off, if Evo Morales again wins the referendum (as he surely will) and the handful ofracist oligarchs in Santa Cruz, busy building their parallel state, are also ratified, the catastrophic stand-off will continue, but at a more intense and more serious level, since this time there will be no peaceful means to resolve it. As the government fights its legal fight, Santa Cruz organises its paramilitaries, creates its own system of tax collectors and blackmail of the big multinationals – as well as its own anti-national judicial system – organises the region’s de facto external trade, tries to incorporate local indigenous peoples (who have old scores to settle with La Paz) into their illegitimate legislature, provides social services for everyone, all together with a minimum salary double that of the rest of the country, to see if it can buy any misguided individuals.

Moreover, Quiroga accepted the idea of the recall referendum, but he did it so that the government would not carry out a referendum on the maximum size of rural properties, which would have delivered a powerful blow to the Half Moon [Bolivia’s secessionist eastern provinces -- trans.] and would have been an important instrument for peasant mobilisation and organisation by imposing a huge redistribution of agricultural land. Although his rule may be questioned, Evo Morales appears in La Paz, discussing power in and of La Paz (when everybody effectively knows he won’t be recalled), whilst his enemies build a Camba (white, bourgeois) state against the Colla (indigenous) state and rapidly construct a nucleus of power that is undoubtedly supported by the multinationals and all other reactionary forces, together with the United States. While Evo Morales organises an election, the right instead organises his illegal and violent overthrow, and will reject the results of the referendum if it so pleases, the same way it has rejected the constitution.

Antonio Peredo’s proposal to try the cruceño leaders for sedition in a court of law has a firm legal basis and would make it clear, if they were found guilty, that this is not a question of autonomy, nor is it a mere dispute over the interpretation of the law or the Magna Carta, but an attempted coup d’etat, usurpation of legal power and a secessionism promoted by delinquent outlaws for racist and classist reasons.

But this would require the government’s use of force in applying its judicial ruling. That is, a turning not only to the police and the armed forces which don’t want the country to be divided, but also to the organised capacity of the campesinos, cruceños throughout the country, and the social organisations which the government would only be prepared to mobilise in extremis when it is in danger of losing everything. Now, the government’s timid and inadequate reactions communicate hesitation, confusion and defeat to the millions of workers and poor marginalised people who support it, while in the opposing camp, the arrogance and initiative of the cruceño racists inspire the national and international right with confidence.

Has nobody in La Paz read the history of the Spanish revolution. The Republicans lost, among other reasons, because they didn’t liberate the colonies and thereby deprive Franco of the Muslims, and because they carried out no agrarian reform (thus delivering to Franco the Galician and Navarran peasants), and because they held back the revolution in order to ``save the Republic’’, thereby losing both in the process.

Does nobody remember Danton, who said that in a revolution you need audacity, audacity and always audacity?

What is certain is that if Evo Morales does not immediately adopt urgent agrarian measures and mobilise his mass support to squarely face a situation national emergency, it is doubtful that he will be able to neutralise the influence of the right over vast sectors of the urban middle classes who have, above all, nationalist motivations – nationalisation of hydrocarbons, the destruction of the traditional oligarchic circle and social improvements in all the key areas.

[Argentinean-born academic Guillermo Almeyra is professor of social relations at UAM-XochimilcoUniversity and professor of contemporary politics at UNAMUniversity, as well as editorial writer at La Jornada (Mexico). He is a member of the editorial council of Sin Permiso. Translation by David Montoute. Original: ``La Ley y La Fuerza’’,]

Submitted by Mpho Ramaano (not verified) on Thu, 05/29/2008 - 17:09


The current wave of attacks on foreign nationals in the slummy townships of Alexander, Diepsloot and elsewhere in the country is very regrettable indeed. So far 42 people have been reported killed and over 25 000 displaced in such related attacks across the country. In the mean time liberal right wingers, petty bourgeois politicians and their establishment thinkers continue to moralise the issue, talking much and explaining nothing, as if xenophobia is an innate human characteristic.

While the attacks continue to spread across the country with more people losing their lives and what little shacks they call homes, politicians and their liberal intellectuals refuse to correctly diagnose the cause of attacks, taking refuge in conspiracy theories such as “third force”. Such is the poverty of liberal morality. For me this atrocious violence is a supra-moral issue that is rooted in the material conditions within which the working class of South Africa finds itself post-1994. Even though the political establishment refuse to concede to this fact, some liberal commentators and petty-bourgeois intellectuals like President Mbeki’s younger brother Moelesti Mbeki have began to recognize its material basis, even though they shy away from locating its historical rootedness.

We need to realize that the anger of the people in Alexander is genuine and justified, although misdirected. It is a response to the betrayal they continue to suffer in the hands of their once trusted leaders and comrades which subject them to a life of poverty, unemployment, crime and disease. Therefore, examining the root of the current xenophobic attacks cannot be located in any context outside this betrayal and the current triumph of neo-liberal global capitalism.

We could ask a question, therefore, as to why would politicians like Ngxakula and Carsels have us believe that some “third force” is behind these attacks? To understand this convenient divergence from the real truth, we must understand how much pain the truth will inflict on their social position, how it will hurt their economic status. The petty bourgeois politicians would rather lie to the masses than have these masses’ anger redirected [correctly] against them.

Accepting the “third force” argument will be protecting the material interests of the rich owning class. We have to realize that xenophobia, racism, sexism and homophobia, and other such human rights violations are a product of modern day class society, that no one is born a refugee or foreigner, and neither is one born Zimbabwean, Mozambican or South African. We are human beings before we are certain nationals and before social conditions push us to, either legally or illegally; cross our national boarders in search of peace and better livelihoods abroad.

The failed socio-economic conditions in the townships coupled with an influx of desperate economic and political refugees have only exacerbated living conditions in slummy South African townships. However, this influx is itself not the cause of local suffering. But unable to diagnose the real problem to their suffering local citizens direct their anger at the already pressed foreigners. But, while it is true that there is, to some level, a contestation of jobs and other basic resources such as shelter, they are not enough to trigger a xenophobic outburst. We need to examine this closely with careful eyes.

The anger of the people in Alexander, Diepsloot and elsewhere is not out of some genetically inherent intolerance to foreign nationals. It is an expression of intolerance to over 14 years of socio-economic degeneration (pauperization, unemployment and homelessness, and disease) in their townships which sadly manifests itself through this violence against working class foreigners.

Why is it that this happens in townships and not suburbs? It is mainly because these societal triggers of intolerance (unemployment, homelessness and disease etc.) are overwhelmingly encountered among a people at community level in townships, that is why the attacks are not universal but class based. That’s why it is the working class that suffers. The rich owning class and their parasite upper-middle classes do not feel a pinch of these violent encounters because of their socio-economic position.

This is a working class prejudice and has historic origins in the period of transition to democracy. The politico-socio-economic decisions of our reformist liberal politicians in CODESA are at the centre of working class townships’ economic degeneration. Trotsky argued in Their Morals and Ours, that “there is, therefore, no greater crime than deceiving the masses, palming off defeats as victories, friends as enemies,…These means can serve only one end: lengthening the domination of a clique already condemned by history.”

Therefore, if we locate these xenophobic atrocities in the failure of the negotiated settlement and the 1996 class project, we will realize that it was just a matter of time – this was bound to happen, and unless the status quo changes the worst shall follow.

Remember that since the democratic dispensation in ’94, and the advent of GEAR and other such related policies in ‘96, South Africa has become one of the most unequal countries in the world with concentrated wealth (estates and golf courses) of new dollar-billionaires in Kempsbay, Sandton and Broad-lands living alongside dire poverty in Joe Slovo, Alexander and Greenside informal settlements. It is this stark contradiction that has brought frustration in the working class of Alexander and elsewhere thus setting them against their class equals of other nations as easy target.

President Mbeki’s failed mediation in Zimbabwe has not made matters any better for either us or the foreign nationals themselves. Therefore, in seeking solutions, we need to realize that deploying the army and police, and appealing for calm with promises to apprehend suspects (“third force”) behind the attacks in the midst of such huge collapse of social fabric will not help the situation. Neither will deporting foreigners free them from the grips of their human rights violators. These will only suppress the public outburst of violent and insurgent masses, for a while, but not mend the broken socio-economic conditions of the masses or patch relations between citizens and foreign nationals in townships. We need decisive intervention that will lift our people, both foreigners and locals, from socio-economic desperation.

Zimbabwe’s economy is plunging into extinction and its human rights policy is almost non-existence, thus putting its people at the risk of starvation and murder as the recent election feuds may show. With this reality at hand, foreigners, both legal and illegal, will keep coming back.

To guard against this deepening into a national crisis that throws our nation into barbarism, South Africa needs to review its macro-economic policies, impose a moratorium on unemployment by putting the Right to Work as a constitutionally guaranteed right, and initiate some Employment Guarantee Schemes similar to India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme so that we could be able to put more people into work, provide healthcare and shelter, feed and clothe the poor etc.. It’s only when conditions for the development of people’s livelihoods seem possible that they will abandon such perceptions as xenophobic attacks, to phase each other out of the competition for jobs and other essentials.

Remember this is a war of victims against victims. The residence of Alexander, Diepsloot and elsewhere are victims, but the foreigners are victims of victims. Unless people’s economic conditions change for the better the worst is yet to come.

Mpho Ramaano, writer and poet,is an activist of the Right to Work Campaign in Turfloop -Limpopo.