Bolivia: Solidarity activists need to support revolutionary process; Rumble over jungle far from over

March from TIPNIS arrives in La Paz. Photo by Dario Kenner.

By Federico Fuentes

November 20, 2011 -- Green Left Weekly/Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The recent march in Bolivia by some Indigenous organisations against the government’s proposed highway through the Isiboro Secure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) has raised much debate among international solidarity activists. Such debates have occurred since the election of Bolivia's first Indigenous president, Evo Morales, in 2005 on the back of mass uprisings.

Overwhelmingly, solidarity activists uncritically supported the anti-highway march. Many argued that only social movements — not governments — can guarantee the success of the process of change.

However, such a viewpoint is not only simplistic; it can leave solidarity activists on the wrong side.

Kevin Young’s October 1 piece on Znet, “Bolivia Dilemmas: Turmoil, Transformation, and Solidarity”, tries to grapple with this issue by saying that “our first priority [as solidarity activists] must be to stop our governments, corporations and banks from seeking to control Bolivia’s destiny”.

Yet, as was the case with most articles written by solidarity activists, Young downplays the role of United States imperialism and argues the government was disingenuous in linking the protesters to it.

Others went further, denying any connection between the protesters and US imperialism.

The Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian East (CIDOB), the main organisation behind the march, has no such qualms. It boasted on its website that it received training programs from the US government aid agency USAID.

On the site, CIDOB president Adolfo Chavez, thanks the “information and training acquired via different programs financed by external collaborators, in this case USAID”.

Ignoring or denying clear evidence of US funding to such organisations is problematic. Attacking the Bolivian government for exposing this, as some did, disarms solidarity activists in their fight against imperialist intervention.

But biggest failure of the solidarity movement has been its silence on US and corporate responsibility for the conflict.

Overcoming underdevelopment

The TIPNIS dispute was not some romanticised, Avatar-like battle between Indigenous defenders of Mother Earth and a money-hungry government intent on destroying the environment.

Underpinning the conflict was the difficult question of how Bolivia can overcome centuries of colonialism and underdevelopment to provide its people with access to basic services while trying to respect the environment. The main culprits are not Bolivian; they are imperialist governments and their corporations.

We must demand they pay their ecological debt and transfer the necessary technology for sustainable development to countries such as Bolivia (demands that almost no solidarity activists raised). Until this occurs, activists in rich nations have no right to tell Bolivians what they can and cannot do to satisfy the basic needs of their people.

Otherwise, telling Bolivian people that they have no right to a highway or to extract gas to fund social programs (as some NGOs demanded), means telling Bolivians they have no right to develop their economy or fight poverty.

Imperialism aims to keep Third World countries subordinate to the interests of rich countries. This is one reason foreign NGOs and USAID are trying to undermine the Morales government's leading international role in opposing the grossly anti-environmental policies, such as the Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) scheme.

REDD uses poor nations for carbon offsets so corporations in rich countries can continue polluting. Support for REDD was one of the demands of the protest march.

Young says “our solidarity should be with grassroots revolutionaries, anti-imperialists and defenders of human rights, not with governments or parties”. But, as the TIPNIS case shows, when governments are trying to grapple with lifting their countries out of underdevelopment, the demands of social movements with competing sectoral interests may clash.

In fact, some of the most strident supporters of the highway were also the very same social movements that solidarity activists have supported in their struggles against neoliberal governments during the last decade.

In such scenarios, you can only choose between supporting some social movement demands by dismissing legitimate demands of others, as many did with the TIPNIS case.


Lasting change can only come about when social movements begin to take power into their own hands when social movements become governments.

It is this objective that Bolivia's social movements set. They forged their own political instrument through struggle ― commonly known as the Movement Towards Socialism ― and won a government they see as their own.

Having gone from a position of “struggle from below” to taking government from the traditional elites as an instrument to achieve their goal of state power, these social movements have begun winning control over natural resources and enacted a new constitution.

Converting the constitution’s ideals into a new state power remains a task for the Bolivian revolution. But its success depends on the ability of “grassroots revolutionaries, anti-imperialists and defenders of human rights” ― operating within and without the existing state ― to struggle in a united way.

Our solidarity must be based on the existing revolutionary struggle in Bolivia, not a romanticised one we would prefer.

A permanent state of protests may be attractive for solidarity activists, but ultimately can only translate into a permanent state of demoralisation unless social movements can go beyond opposing capitalist governments and create their own state power.

Refusing to support the struggles as they exist illustrates a lack of confidence in the Bolivian masses to determine their own destiny. It also displays an arrogance on the part of those who, having failed to hold back imperialist governments at home, believe they know better than the Bolivians how to develop their process of change.

Mistakes are made in any struggle. But such mistakes should not be used to try and pit one side against another. We should have confidence that these internal conflicts can be resolved by the social movements themselves.

Bolivia: Rumble over jungle far from over

By Federico Fuentes

November 20, 2011 -- Despite the government reaching an agreement with Indigenous protesters on all 16 demands raised on their 10-week march onto the capital, La Paz, the underlying differences are far from resolved.

On October 24, Bolivia’s Plurinational Legislative Assembly approved a new law banning the building of any highway through the Isiboro Secure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS).

Many groups supported the highway, which would have connected the departments of Beni and Cochabamba, and provide poor rural communities with greater access to markets and basic services.

However, it was opposed by 20 of the 64 Indigenous communities in TIPNIS. It became the central rallying point of the march led by the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian East (CIDOB). The march gained a lot of sympathy, particularly among urban middle-class sectors, after police meted out brutal repression against protesters on September 24.

Bolivia's President Evo Morales immediately denied giving orders to repress the protest. Apologising for the terrible event, Morales ordered a full investigation into the police attack.

Nevertheless, some important mobilisations in solidarity with the marchers were held in the days afterwards.

In response, government supporters took to the streets on October 12. Hundreds of thousands of Indigenous peoples, campesinos (peasants), miners and neighbourhood activists from El Alto flooded the capital.

Having reached La Paz on October 19, march leaders sat down with Morales and government ministers for two days to reach agreement on their demands. These demands ranged from opposition to the highway to land reform and the right of Indigenous peoples to receive funds in return for converting forests within their traditional lands into carbon offsets.

It did not take long for the dispute to reignite, this time over the word “untouchable”, which was inserted into the TIPNIS law at the request of march leaders.

According to the government, the term “untouchable” required the immediate expulsion of all logging and tourism companies operating within TIPNIS, in some cases illegally.

However, march leaders who opposed the highway defended the industrial-scale logging within TIPNIS. This includes two logging companies who operate more than 70,000 hectares within the national park and have signed 20-year contracts with local communities. The government denounced the presence of a tourist resort within TIPNIS, equipped with two private airstrips to fly foreigners willing to pay US$7600 to visit the park.

Of this money, only $200 remains with local communities that have signed the contract with the foreign company.


Rather than defending some kind of romanticised “communitarianism”, much of the motivation behind the march was an attempt by community leaders to defend their control over natural resources as a means to access wealth.

The same is true of many of those groups that have demanded the law be overturned and the highway go ahead. Campesinos and coca growers see the highway as an opportunity to gain access to land for cultivation.

These differences underpin the divergent views regarding the new land law being proposed by campesino groups, but opposed by groups such as CIDOB.

The CIDOB advocates large tracts of land be handed over to Indigenous communities as protected areas. Campesino groups are demanding more land be distributed to campesino families.

These differences have led to a split in the Unity Pact, which united the five main campesino and Indigenous organisations despite longstanding differences.

This is perhaps the most important division to have opened up within the Morales government’s support base. But is far from being the only one.

The TIPNIS march served as a pretext for opposition parties based among the urban middle classes to break down government support in these sectors.

Right-wing campaign

On October 16, Bolivians took part in a historic vote to elect judges to the Constitutional Tribunal, the Agro-environmental Tribunal and Magistrates Council.

The corporate media used exit poll figures to announce that most had nullified their votes as opposition parties had called for. But the final result showed a different picture.

As votes from rural areas began to be counted, the supposed crushing victory for null votes was whittled away. The final results showed valid and null votes tying at 42%.

The opposition tried to turn the vote into a referendum on Morales.

Despite attempts to portray the null vote as a “progressive” protest vote against Morales, the results clearly showed that opposition to the election of judges was strongest in the right-wing controlled departments of the east and in the urban middle and upper class sectors.

In rural and poor urban areas, such as El Alto, valid votes overwhelming won out.

The null votes came from the same middle-class sectors that came out onto the streets of La Paz in support of the Indigenous march, and who spat out racist epitaphs against Morales and indigenous government supporters when they marched through the capital.

Meanwhile, territorial conflicts between various departments and local councils scrambling for resources and access to central government funding continue to provide headaches for the government.

Morales called a national summit for December to bring together the country’s social movements to collectively come up with a new “national agenda”.

The likelihood, however, of achieving consensus for a national development plan among competing social organisations, all with their own sectoral interests and who have seen that it is possible to twist the government’s arm by protesting, will no doubt be a difficult task.

[Federico Fuentes edits Bolivia Rising.]

From GLW issue 904


The following exchange is unfolding at the LA Solidarity list:

An interesting article, and I agree with most of it. However, the
characterization of my position was rather dishonest: Nowhere in my
article, or anywhere else, have I "downplay[ed] the role of United States
imperialism." In fact, a large portion of what I spend my time writing is
centrally focused on US imperialism and opposition to it. Nor did I "argue
[that] the [Morales] government was disingenuous in linking the protesters
to" US imperialism, per se, or argue that there were no links between the
marchers and the US government. What I did say was that "the government is
disingenuous in using these facts to try to discredit the *entire *

The government has repeatedly accused the protesters of being tools of US
imperialism, NGOs, and the Bolivian right, and blame the media for its
smear campaign. These accusations have a partial basis in truth: the right,
probably the US, and maybe Brazil, *are *trying to manipulate the situation
for their own gain. Much of the Bolivian media *has *been dishonest in its
reporting. And the TIPNIS movement is not monolithic?*some* indigenous
protesters *have* conferred with these right-wing forces, and some may
indeed have ulterior motives. But the government is disingenuous in using
these facts to try to discredit the entire movement.

My overall position was quite different from what Fuentes implies: like
Jeffery Webber and other critics of certain MAS policies, I believe---and
emphasized clearly in my post---that our first priority should be defending
governments like Bolivia's against imperialism and the right, but that this
imperative should not prevent us from developing a more nuanced and
less-Manichean understanding of realities on the ground, one that both
acknowledges the accomplishments of a government like Bolivia's and
criticizes its shortcomings or failures. I don't see any inherent
contradiction between solidarity and criticism, and one might well argue
that the former is impossible without the latter.

I agree that Bolivia is a very complex situation---it's not simply
corporations and elites pitted against the poor, it's also segments of poor
people pitted against other segments of poor people. In such cases,
informed debate is certainly essential. But deceptive renderings of others'
arguments only clouds the debate.

Kevin Young


Both articles are available online for all to read and judge for
themselves as to whether i have been "dishonest" or "deceptive".

However, there are a few important points that need to be clarified:
the Morales government was always clear in its denunciations that key
leaders of the march had direct links with USAID (including receiving
funds) . This assertion is not only backup by the variety of
documentation presented by the government but also by the march
leaders themselves. CIDOB, which was the main organisation behind the
march, and which openly states this fact on its website (see for
example the document CIDOB-USAID listed under its projects on its own
website here…)
Within the document, march leader and CIDOB president Adolfo Chavez
explicitly states his thanks for the "information and training
acquired via different programs financed by external collaborators, in
this case USAID?. Moreover the document states that the entire
leadership of CIDOB (which also includes other march leaders such as
the indigenous deputy Pedro Nuni) participated in this program.

If the fact that the Morales government openly condemns the presence
of USAID means that a movement is discredit, surely the blame lies
with those have chosen to work with USAID not with the government for
simply stating a fact accepted by all (except some solidarity
activists). Moreover, if "our first priority [as solidarity activists]
must be to stop our governments, corporations and banks from seeking
to control Bolivia?s destiny? then surely we should not criticise
those in third world countries who are denouncing the presence of
USAID but rather join them in criticising USAID (let it be clear that
i said here USAID and not the march leaders, who i have never
denounced in any article i have written).

Now did this mean the government denounced the entire movement? the
simply answer is no. On various occasions Morales and others
explicitly called on those within the march to question the march
leaders as to why this was occurring. That is, they differentiated
between those leaders that had openly collaborating with USAID (and
other foreign NGOs) and those who were participating in the protests
due to legitimate greviances but who were being manipulated (according
to the government) by the march leaders. To present the situation as
anything different (that is, that march leaders have no direct link
USAID and that the government was simply attempting to discredit them)
only disarms solidarity activists in carrying out our first priority.

This is the case with Young's article. It is true that there is much
general talk in the article of opposing imperialism, but in the end
such talk must be concrete. If we are for solidarity and against US
intervention (including via USAID) then we must campaign against its
presence and alert those in our countries to also denounce such
actions. Instead Young presents USAID interference as something that
occurs outside of the influence of CIDOB (or at best is marginal). He
"US intervention, in addition to a variety of other harmful impacts,
tends to discredit legitimate dissent within these countries?much of
which comes from the left of the governments in power, as in the case
of the TIPNIS conflict (though again, right-wing forces have also
latched onto the issue for political gain)."

Nothing could be clearer: the problem is not that USAID is involved in
providing training to key march leaders, it is that the presence of
USAID elsewhere (although it is not clear where) discredits the
"legitimate dissent" of CIDOB "which comes from the left of the
governments". He adds that right-wing forces tried to latch on to the
protest, but doesnt explicitly names who these forces are (does he
mean USAID, or the right wing Bolivian parties or the Santa Cruz Civic
Committee or the right wing corporate media who also supported the
march?). Nor is it clear how USAID programs that have been underway
well before the march, and which involved most of the key march
leaders, are attempts after the fact to "latch onto the issue for
political gain". For USAID, there was no need to latch, one because it
was already present, secondly because the demands put forward by the
march, which equated to converting TIPNIS into a carbon off-set so
that corporations could continue destroying the planet, was one they
had no problems accepting.

As to the overall position put forward in Young's article, my problem
is that while claiming to develop a nuanced position of solidarity and
criticism, in actual the opposite is put forward. A nuanced positions
surely must accept the fact of the important direct influence of USAID
among most of the march leaders. Moreover, it must take a position on
the promotion of grossly anti-environmental policies pursued by
Western governments such as REDD. Yet this is absent from the article,
largely because it would cut across attempts to present a false
scenario in which pristine social movements dissenting "from the
left" are waging battle against a pro-development government that
according to Young "one might rightly argue... has not even attempted
a 'radical social transformation'". The simple fact is that the
struggle today in Bolivia is not as it was prior to 2005, that is one
of social movements versus imperialism and its puppets in government,
but is instead characterised by one in which social movements and
government (the government of social movements as some have called it)
are battling against imperialism.
Young refuses to accept this because for him "our solidarity should be
with grassroots revolutionaries, anti-imperialists, and defenders of
human rights, not with governments or parties" even if those very same
social movements have formed their own party (the MAS) and won

Will the government and social movements make mistakes? Of course, it
would be impossible otherwise. But in the end i have more trust in
social movements that have actually led struggles to overthrow
governments and begun changing their country than i do with the
criticism of activists (such as myself) who have failed miserably to
do the same at home. My starting point is one of humbleness and
respect for those movements, and based on the fact that i am an
outsider whose only influence can be in holding back my government
from intervening in countries and processes such as those in Bolivia
(much like the position taken by organsations such as CONAIE from
Ecuador see…).
Moreover, i believe that the idea that offering criticism from afar,
written in a language which the overwhelming bulk of Bolivian's do not
understand, will somehow contributing constructive criticism is a
fallacy. While it might make us feel better it does little to actually
believe solidarity with the real-life struggles underway.

Finally, the idea that solidarity is only possible with criticism is
really an attempt by some to hide their real position which is based
on opposing the path that the Bolivian social movements have taken,
one based on gaining governmental power and from there advance their
struggle. Hence why few of those that offer "critical" viewpoints have
criticised the direct links between the march leaders and USAID, their
support for REDD, the insistence on denying the communities in TIPNIS
the right to a proper consultation process and many other things that
could be criticised. Instead criticism is solely directed at the
government as if some how it is separate from the social movements or
in fact against them, as opposed to being seen by the movements as
their government.

Rather than criticise the Bolivian government or Bolivia's social
movements (which cannot be separated from one another), i prefer to
defer to their wisdom to resolve their own issues. In the meantime i
will continue to denounce the presence of US and Western government
interference, no matter what form it takes or if it might "discredit"



Again, there are a number of problems with this logic and representation of
reality, and I'm not going to devote the time to addressing all of them.
But for one, Fuentes's claim to be a "humble outsider" who doesn't presume
to offer an opinion on Bolivia is belied by the tone and substance of his
writing, which takes a clear position: the Bolivian government is
synonymous with the country's genuine social movements and the popular
will. I don't so much fault him for taking a position---which is often
inevitable, despite our best efforts, and especially given that Bolivian
social movements are not monolithic---but for claiming not to. The idea
that he's simply a messenger "deferring to the wisdom" of Bolivians is

In Bolivia, Fuentes's position itself is far from uncontested among the
country's social movements and popular sectors. Most of these movements
have a position more nuanced than Fuentes's: they recognize that the MAS is
far better than its neoliberal predecessors but are strongly critical of
many MAS policies (e.g., the pseudo-nationalization of hydrocarbons in
2006, or the continued heavy reliance on transnational mining
corporations). Yes, the MAS government has its origins in the country's
social movements and is significantly more democratic and "organic" than
other governments, but that doesn't mean that the government is always
representative of popular movements. Most Bolivian activists would probably
tell you that when it's not representative of those interests, it needs to
be held accountable via popular protest (I base this statement not on
observations "from afar," but from recent observations in La Paz and El
Alto). But social movements that criticize MAS policies from the left are
virtually absent from Fuentes's argument, since for him the government is
logically synonymous with the country's genuine social movements. In
reality, we can't simply "defer to the wisdom" of Bolivian movements,
because those movements are not always in agreement with one another or
with the government.

The implied argument is that solidarity activists must faithfully and
unquestioningly support the Bolivian government in whatever it does,
because the Bolivian government denounces US imperialism and specifically
USAID. This position wrongly assumes that the Bolivian government is always
the most anti-imperialist actor in the country. And on many issues (e.g.,
economic and fiscal policy) the government is significantly more
conservative than many of the country's progressive social movements. More
generally, the danger in blind support for governments that simply declare
themselves anti-imperialist is that we don't recognize those governments'
crimes against their people or the fact that they're not even that
anti-imperialist; Qaddafi and Ahmadinejad are two good examples of how this
logic can be dangerous when carried to its extreme. Obviously Morales is
not in this same category, but this facile logic is likewise dangerous in
the case of Bolivia.

I agree with Fuentes on many aspects of Bolivia, although this agreement is
not evident in his characterization of my position. For instance, I have
never assumed that the TIPNIS marchers are "pure", authentic, or
unproblematic representatives of Bolivia's indigenous peoples or
environmental concerns---in fact, I referenced Fuentes on this point in my
original article! I don't doubt his good intentions, but I think we
seriously differ on our conception of what anti-imperialism and solidarity
look like in complicated situations like Bolivia's.


Of course the idea that the Morales government represents a "government of
the social movements" is contested by some in the social movements and
popular sectors (and of course outside these sectors) something i never
denied. In fact some leaders of CIDOB now accuse the Morales government of
being a "genocidal" government (see,
although i would say this is a pretty big call on their part and disturbing
that no such accusations have been made by CIDOB during previous government
that actually committed massacres. But the truth is that such "contested
visions" are much more prevalent among foreign activists than they in

It is plainly false to say that "most of these movements" are to the left
of the government and adopt the "nuanced" position put forward by Young.
This is why he offers us no evidence except for some discussions he had
with some people solely in El Alto and La Paz but none of whom are named so
we have no idea who they are. This i might add is a constant problem in
discussing the realities on the ground in Bolivia: the unwillingness or
inability to back such assertions with facts.

But let's put Young's position to the test of the real facts exposed in
recent few months to see if most social movements are to the left of the
government and dont see it as their government.


Clearly the social movements on this issue were divided - on one side we
had CIDOB and CONAMAQ - two smaller rural-based indigenous organisations
which were not particularly at the forefront of the struggle against
neoliberal governments - actively supported and lead the march against the
government, with the support of seemingly a majority of the COB leadership
(but not its base as evidence by the failure of its "general strike"
shortly after the repression against the march) and big support from middle
class sectors, such as those in La Paz who came out in droves to welcome
the march.

The strongest supportors of the government proposed highway were the three
largest rural indigenous campesino organisations (CSUTCB, FNMCB-BS, CSCB),
and extend to some 300 other social organisations. At best this scenario
could be presented as an equally balanced split, although this is difficult
to maintain. particularly when we look at the massive march in support of
the government that occurred on October 12, which brought together not just
the 3 organisations named above but also cooperative miners, the miners
federation, important sections within El Alto, the coca-growers and others
to fill the streets of La Paz and a number of other major cities across the
country. Even if we take as given that the welcome parade for the
indigenous march was of comparable size there was one key difference.
Unlike the pro-government march, an almost indifference was shown by El
Alto to its entrance. Instead the biggest supporters of the indigenous
march were middle class sectors, many of whom support the opposition MSM
party and who at best have had an ambivalent attitude to the government and
were far from at the forefront of the struggles to overthrow previous
neoliberal governments. In summary, far from TIPNIS representing a case
were most movements opposed the government from the left (and here im
leaving aside as to how "leftist" demands such as REDD are, or how
progressive it is to work with USAID), the opposite is true. Most
indigenous, campesino, urban poor and working class sectors came out to
support their government (even if in some case they opposed the highway as
some sectors did), while a few sectors opposed the government with the
support of the middle class of La Paz.

2) Elections for Judicial power

This was another example where many claimed that the null vote represented
a strong left wing message to the govenrment opposing its authoritarianism
and its mishandling of the TIPNIS scenario. Again i'll leave aside the
issue of how "progressive" it is to go against a process that aims to
democratise a historically-corrupted section of the state and whose result
was the mas entrance of indigenous people, women and youth into these
structures for the first time. Which sectors actually voted for candidates
and which voted null?

If we go by departments (states) we see that in all the traditional MAS
support bases and the heartland of the most militant social movements the
majority did not nullify their vote (as called for by opposition parties
and many of the sectors who supported the indigenous march and called on
people to nullify their vote by writing TIPNIS on the ballot paper). This
includes La Paz, Oruro, Cochabamba and Potosi. Meanwhile in the right-wing
controlled departments of the east the null vote won. Unless the centre of
gravity of progresive politics has now swung to Santa Cruz this trend would
seem to fly in the face of those that said the null vote was a strong
expression of leftist dissent to the government.

Breaking it down further we see that the trend away from the initial higher
null vote (which many used to proclaim its absolute victory) towards a
final technical draw demonstrates that in rural areas the percentage of
those that voted for candidates in the elections as opposed to nullifying
their vote was even greater. So again no evidence here of most social
movements dissenting from the left as many claimed.

Does this mean that social movements are monolithic or that there is no
dissent? Of course not! In fact the recent summit of the Unity Pact was
clear evidence of this. Here some 800 delegates from local, regional and
departmental organisations that comprise the 3 main indigenous campesino
organisations (CSUTCB, FNMCB-BS, CSCB) came together with some leaders and
grassroots affiliates of CONAMAQ, and a few grassroots representatives from
CIDOB to discuss the future of the process of change. Clearly the lack of
presence of an important section of CONAMAQ (though it is not clear what
was the share of its affiliate that participated and abstained) and the
fact that CIDOB had a parallel summit shows differences and divisions
(although i would argue this is a tremendously negative development post
the TIPNIS dispute rather than a positive step forward).

What did the summit decide? Many things including demands that the Unity
Pact have a direct presence in meetings of the cabinet, the call of several
ministers to be sacked, opposition to the government's idea of eliminating
subsidies on fuel (at least for now), plus a range of demands for more (not
less) development such as industrialisation of nickel, land redistribution
for production (not national parks or indigenous territories) and yes, a
highway through TIPNIS. So clearly these sectors that defended their
government over the TIPNIS issue are willing to fight for their demands and
oppose the government on issues they dont agree with.

However at the same time they reaffirmed their support for THEIR government
and the process of change, and called for the expulsion of all the
"traitors" to the process, including some leaders of CONAMAQ and some of
the left intellectuals that have recently left the government and now
oppose it.

As we see, the problem is not that "social movements that criticize MAS
policies from the left are virtually absent from Fuentes's argument", the
problem is that those such as Young attempt to turn reality on its head and
present a picture that is false. There is just no evidence to prove that
most social movements are to the left, or do not see the Morales government
as their own government.

It is a bit hard to more directly take up his arguments such as "on many
issues (e.g., economic and fiscal policy) the government is significantly
more conservative than many of the country's progressive social movements"
because again no concrete examples are put forward but he does refer to two
in passing: "the pseudo-nationalization of hydrocarbons in 2006, or the
continued heavy reliance on transnational mining corporations."

Regarding the first, I know of no significant mobilisation that has
occurred to denounce the pseudo-nationalization carried out by the Morales
government, although im happy to have one pointed out to me. In reality, no
other policy enacted during the first Morales government was more supported
(over 80% across a variety of pro and anti-govt polls done). Those small
sectors that on paper denounce the government for selling out have not been
able to mobilise any support behind their cause, hardly evidence of most
social movements being to the left of the government on this issue.

As to the second issue - nationalisation of mines - it was in fact the mine
workers in the private mines who opposed attempts by the Morales government
to do just that earlier this this year. Again, i know of no significant
attempt by mine workers to takeover mines and demand their nationalisation.
Moreover, the cooperative miners (by far the biggest sector of mine
workers) have actively opposed the idea of mine nationalisations. How all
this represents the idea that most social movements are criticising the
government from the left is beyond me.

Where does all this leave us? It is clear that Bolivia's social movements
are not monolithic or simply puppets of the government. But the reality is
not one of "most social movements" being to the left of the government, nor
that they do not view the government as their own. They do view it as their
government, and therefore fight to the death to defend it (as they did
against the September 2008 coup attempt) and at the same time make sure
that the government carries out its demands. The challenge of course is
that many times these demands are contradictory, they represent the
interests of only a sector of broader support base of the government and
sometimes come into conflict with the demands of others (as we saw with

In this scenario, activists had two choices: pick sides (as most did), or
leave it in the capable hands of the social movemetns and their governments
to resolve. The first position required downplaying the presence of
imperialism (Young has yet to deny or oppose the fact that march leaders
did in fact directly receive training and funds from USAID) and only
supporting one section of the social movement (which is idealised and whose
mistakes are covered) against the others (who are ignored or demonised as
lackeys of the government). The second position allows us to direct our
fire at the real culprits, imperialism, while "deferring to the wisdom" of
the Bolivian social movements explaining to people otuside Bolivia that
these issues and challenges can only be resolved by allowing them to
resolve their own problems free of all foreign interference. Young argues
that in reality it is impossible to "defer to the wisdom of the social
movements" given the complexity of the situation, I would argue it is the
only one that real solidarity activists could take.

None of this implies "the idea that solidarity activists must faithfully
and unquestioningly support the Bolivian government in whatever it does".
What it explicitly states is that we should leave it to the social
movements and their government to work out their own internal problems,
rather than campaigning internationally to denounce the government, in many
cases unfairly and on the basis of misleading information (as occurred with
the TIPNIS issue). Solidarity activists should instead campaign against the
real enemy, which is not Morales, nor the government, nor the social
movements with their variety of demands.

Finally, the attempt to draw any parallel between Morales and Qaddafi or
Ahmadinejad is nonsense. Neither of the two represented a "government of
the social movements" or a peoples government despite any anti-imperialist
position they may have taken historically or continued to do so today (i
really dont think this is the place to debate the nature of these regimes
so i will leave my position on them at that).

A more serious parallel however could be draw between the different
approach to Libya taken by Morales (and i would add the overwhelming bulk
of Bolivia's social movements none of whom protested the government's
position) and some solidarity activists. While the Morales government
remained steadfast in its position that this was an internal conflict that
should be resolves internally and denounced any foreign intervention, many
solidarity activists were to busy putting forward "nuanced" positions that
denounced Qaddafi for being the worst monster alive (rather than explaining
the role of imperialism) and paraded the rebels as the "real
revolutionaries", all the while ignoring the real threat (which became a
reality) of military intervention. The results of such a "nuanced"
position, or more correctly "this facile logic", are clear for all of us to
see today.

Federico Fuentes


Ok, I'm done with this discussion. It's impossible to debate someone who so
consistently distorts your positions; in this latest response, I'm said to
be guilty of "drawing a parallel" between Morales and Qaddafi/Ahmadinejad,
which I explicitly do not do, and (yet again) "downplaying imperialism." I
encourage anyone who's interested to read the debate between Fuentes and
Webber found here: My original post is at….
can also read Webber's book *From Rebellion to Reform in Bolivia*. I don't
totally agree with Webber on everything, but his position (with all the
concrete evidence that Fuentes craves) is a much-needed antidote to
Fuentes's. Webber points to many concrete examples regarding the issues
that I raised.

Before signing off, two quick points: On the issue of mine nationalization,
the recent miners' federation congress called for nationalization. On that
of hydrocarbons nationalization, the original demand emanating from the
Oct. 2003 "gas war" was for a genuine nationalization, and this continued
to be broadly supported by the population thereafter. Of course the May
2006 pseudo-nationalization did not inspire massive protests, because
people recognized it as at least a positive step forward and because the
negative consequences of this half-measure weren't immediately apparent.
The fact that there weren't massive street protests doesn't mean that it
was exactly in line with popular demands.

Kevin Young

I believe it is quite disappointing and a real shame, given the importance
of some of the issues being raised in this discussion not just for Bolivia
solidarity activists but more generally for those fighting in solidarity
with the peoples of Latin America, that Young has simply decided to take
his bat and go home. Many of these same debates are being had in regards to
what approach solidarity activists should have to struggles in other
countries such as Venezuela and Honduras, and given this is a public list
of solidarity activists, Im sure that attempts to clarify positions would
have been much appreciated by all who. Im also sure we are all more than
capable of being able to decide for ourselves if positions are being

It may be the case that Young's position is just to "nuanced" for me, who
apparently holds a very simplistic position, but i fear that instead Young
is just running away from having to answer the real questions in debate.
Lets again go through these one by one to avoid any misrepresentations.


Young disagrees with my characterisation of his article as one
that"downplay[ed] the role of United States imperialism." In
response, I pointed out that Young believes that in the case of TIPNIS,
CIDOB (the main organiser of the indigenous march) and USAID the problem
for him was not that there was clear links between the march leaders but
rather that, as he wrote "US intervention, in addition to a variety of
other harmful impacts, tends to discredit legitimate dissent within these
countries?much of which comes from the left of the governments in power, as
in the case of the TIPNIS conflict (though again, right-wing forces have
also latched onto the issue for political gain)." Young maintains that
USAID presence elsewhere helps discredit the TIPNIS protest and that it was
only afterwards that "right-wing forces" (possibly including USAID)
attempted to latch on to the protest.

In actual fact, as evidenced by CIDOB's own website, USAID is directly
involved with most of the march leaders who have participated in USAID run
training programs. Young's response has been silence on this issue. If this
is not "downplaying" the very specific role of USAID in this dispute then i
dont know what is.

2) "Most" social movements are "to the left" of the Morales government

>From here Young instead decides to argue that the difference between our
positions is not the issue of imperialism or USAID but that I have failed
to understand the reality of Bolivia, where "most" social movements are
actually to the left of the Morales government. Moreover, while they defend
the Morales government against imperialism, "most" social movements do not
view it as their government. He did not give much evidence though to back
this claim.

In response i pointed out how in the two most important events in Bolivia
in recent months - the TIPNIS dispute and the judicial elections - most
social movements actually clearly stated their support for their government
(without this meaning they weren't willing to criticise certain policies)
and how the majority of Bolivia's popular sectors participated in the
judicial elections (rather than cast a null vote as called for by
opposition parties and some social movements who supported the TIPNIS
march). In Young's follow up response he does not challenge these facts,
perhaps because he accepts them to be true.

I also noted that Young made reference to opposition by "most" social
movements to the government's policy on gas nationalisation and mine
nationalisation. In response i pointed to the fact that no other measure
had received more widespread support among the Bolivian masses than the gas
nationalisation (at the time 88% supported the move according to an Ipsos
poll see; while
this figure may have declined i have seen none that would support the idea
that "most" social movements opposed the government's policy).

Regarding mine nationalisation i said that evidence showed that among
miners themselves (state-employed, in the private sector, and cooperative
miners) the later two, who make up around 90% of all miners rejected
government plans to implement further nationalisations. In both cases
evidence points to "most" social movements actually supporting the
government's policy or being to its right.

Young responded by saying that on the issue of gas nationalisation "The
fact that there weren't massive street protests doesn't mean that it was
exactly in line with popular demands". This may or may not be true, but no
evidence is provided to prove his argument. I would argue the continued
high support for this measure and the complete absence of any mobilisation,
if not against atleast calling on the government to go further, would
however seem to indicate that it is false to say "most" social movements
are to the left of the government on this or that the policy enacted by the
government did not broadly fall in line with the demands of the people.
Surely if they didnt fall in line with these demands there would have been
at least some expressions of dissent on the streets, given Bolivia's social
movements are hardly known for holding back from protests things they dont
agree with.

Regarding mine nationalization, Young tells us that "the recent miners'
federation congress called for nationalization." So? Firstly, one
resolution by one union federation is hardly proof that "most" social
movements oppose the government's policy on mining. Secondly, while the
congress may have voted for nationalisation, the very same miners who are
part of the federation and employed in the private mines the government
attempted to nationalised did more than just pass a resolution, they went
out on protest and threaten to go on strike against any move by the
government to gain control over the mines. In my eyes, actions speak louder
than words. Thirdly, even if we accept that one resolution proves that
"most" social movements want mine nationalisation, as i stated, the
government has also made clear it wants to do the same, the problem is that
those working in the mines, and who would be required to operate the
state-owned miners, oppose this course. Surely it is possible to see how
much of an important hurdle this could be to advance in this direction.
Hence why the Morales government has encouraged the more miliant miners in
the state-sector to convince their fellow workers of supporting

So again we see that in all these cases there is very little evidence to
prove that "most" social movements are to the left of the government, nor
that they do not view the Morales government as their government (even if
they have different opinions as to what thier government should do).
Moreover, i find it hard to see how in any of these cases i have
misrepresented Young's view. Perhaps most disturbing is the dismissive
attitude, accusing me of "crav[ing]" evidence, rather that attempts to
clarify debate by proving such evidence not just for me but for everyone on
this list.

Instead Young just refers us to a few articles and Webber's book. I have
read Webber's book (you can read by review of it here I will just note two things.

1) For those looking for evidence there to back up Young's assertion that
"most" social movements are to the left of the Morales or that they do not
see the Morales government as their government will be sorely disappoint.
As on this point, Webber and I agree (to a certain extent) and both
disagree with Young's position.

Webber writes that most campesino and worker unions are tied to the
government, the diference in Webber and my position is that he believed
this is due to "strategic co-optation and division" (p.10) while i believe
the link is based on a genuine relationship that exists between the
movements and there government (which is not without their contradictions).

Webber goes on to say that the Morales government policies "are slowly
generating cracks and conflict, expressed in episodic strikes and other
social movements such as those in the Colquiri mining district [were
workers oppose nationalisation - FF] in 2009, and the teacher, factory
worker, miner and health care worker strikes [for pay increases - FF] of
May 2010. These may signal the renewal of collective action from the left
of the MAS...." (p.11). That is, far from "most" social movements being to
the left of the Morales government, Webber is much more circumspect saying
that there are only "cracks" in what is other wise a situation
characterised by the major of labour and campesino unions supporting the
government. This cracks have only express themselves episodically, and
furthermore MAY (not definitely will) signal a revival of movements to the
left of the government. Hardly the same "nuanced" position put forward by

In this sense Webber is much more honest about this situation because he
knows the facts speak for themselves. He is also much more honest about his
views on the process as the whole. That is why he has no qualms in telling
the Bolivian social movements what they should do, and says that if they
want to bring about real change they "will need once again to express their
social power independently of the MAS if their aims and objectives are not
to be defeated or tamed beyond recognition under the current government'
(p.145) That is, they must break with the Morales government which will
only kill their struggle.

The main different between this position and the one expoused by Young is
that Webber is more honest both in his assessment of where "most" social
movements are at and in being open about stating his disagreement with the
current course they have taken for advancing their struggle. Young instead
just tells us that actually reality is what he says it is and therefore his
position just happens to coincide with this "reality".

The second point is that in my opinion, while there are many facts in
Webber's book (something i give him much credit for), there are also many
that are missing. I wont go into all of them, but just note one: According
to Webber the Morales government has continued to implement neoliberal
policies, and where "the record on poverty... shows that there is little to
celebrate" (p.201). While providing much
evidence to back up this claim he fails to mention the following:

* Under Morales Bolivia?s GDP has doubled, state control over the economy
has increased from 17% of GDP to 34% (a four-fold increase in monetary

* As a result of the real (not psuedo as Young claims) nationalisation of
natural gas reserves, government revenues from this sector have jumped from
US$673 million in the year before Morales came to power, to US$2235 million
in 2010, representing a rise of almost 350%.

* During the same time, public investment has increased five-fold.

* Similarly, over the same period, poverty levels have fallen from 60% to
49.6%, while extreme poverty has dropped from 38% to 25%.

* The gap between the richest 10% and poorest 10% has shrunk from 128 times
more wealth to 60 times.

* Average incomes have risen from US$950 in 2004 to US$1833 in 2010.

If only other neoliberal government could point to such gains! And im sorry
but anyone how believed that there is nothing to celebrate about the fact
that poverty rates have fallen by 20% and extreme poverty by 35% in five
years, and where the gap between the richest and poorest had more than
halved, shows a complete disregard for the tremendous changes that have
occurred and what they have meant for millions of ordinary Bolivians

One final note, it is interesting to note that all those "anti-imperialist"
with their nuanced positions who were so quick to jump onboard the
international media campaign to attack Morales over the TIPNIS dispute,
have been, just as the corporate media has been, totally silent on the
significant outcomes of the ALBA summit held in Bolivia on Nov 17-18, were
these governments set out their battle plan to confront imperialism at the
Durban climate change conference (for those interested in more you can read
my article ) Note that
unlike CIDOB, here the Morales government is clearly the most
anti-imperialist, as it rejects the pro-imperialist, USAID-promoted policy
of REDD and lays the blame of the environmental crisis on the real
criminals, the industrialised nations of the world.

I can only hope that those with their more "nuanced" position can see the
real importance of this battle that ALBA will wage and build solidarity
with it, write articles about etc, rather than do as some have already
begun to do, which is to try and discredit the Morales government saying
that TIPNIS shows its rhethoric is empty anyways while continuing to
support initiatives aimed at promoting pro-Western policies such as REDD
within Bolivia.



Alright, I'll take your bait one more time, but only to further clarify my
original position and respond to some of your newest misleading claims.
It's not fair to make deceptive claims attacking someone and selectively
misreading their prior statements, then insist that they continue
responding to your charges ad nauseam. I simply don't have the time, and I
seriously doubt whether this discussion is still constructive. I apologize
to anyone else on this list who's sick of this exchange. And I would like
to hear from others, not just Fuentes.

First is the implication that I've argued that 'there is nothing to
celebrate' in recent poverty/inequality reduction in Bolivia. If that
charge was indeed directed at me, it is too silly to bother refuting. If
the charge was in reference to Webber, and not me, then it was
disingenuous or at least sloppy because many of the statistics cited (e.g.,
poverty reduction) were released only recently and were not available to
Webber at time of writing. The trend in poverty reduction has really only
been apparent since 2008 with the implementation of new cash-transfer
programs (*P?gina Siete*, 24 Oct. 2011). These facts were thus not
"missing" from Webber's book: they didn't exist yet.

Similarly with climate change. I admire the Bolivian government's
leadership on this issue on the world level, and to charge me with ignoring
it is disingenuous. It's simply not reasonable to expect a short informal
email response to provide a comprehensive listing of every single
accomplishment of the Morales government. The fact that every brief online
article dealing with Jews or Judaism doesn't explicitly condemn the
Holocaust doesn't make the author a Holocaust denier.

Third, I did not claim that most social movements are opposing the
government, yet by a semantic twist that somehow became my position. The
distinction I was making is more subtle: there is considerable evidence
that the population as a whole lies to the left of many of the Morales
administration's current policies. This dynamic manifests itself not
necessarily in massive street mobilizations or strikes (though there have
been some, organized by the Bolivian Workers Central [COB] last April over
wages, the COB one-day strike over the TIPNIS, and the well-known *
gasolinazo* protests in December), but in less dramatic ways. A 37 percent
approval rating for Morales (as of September, cited in my original article)
is hardly a resounding indication of popular support; yes, there may be an
urban bias in such polls, but it's still a pretty striking result, and a
huge drop from previous years and months. Likewise, the results of the
recent judicial elections (42 percent valid votes), which Fuentes cites
accurately but I think interprets mistakenly, suggest substantial
discontent, albeit not discontent with MAS ideals, as the right would like
us to believe. These figures suggest what I would call an 'enthusiasm
gap' it's not that the population is *opposed to* the government or
sympathetic to the opposition, but there *is* significant disillusion with
the government. To make myself absolutely clear, this does *not *mean that
there aren?t large and important social movement sectors (e.g., CSUTCB,
cocaleros, etc.) that still proclaim strong support for government
policies; again, something that I explicitly acknowledged in the post that
formed the target of Fuentes's original invective.

How many Bolivians consider the Morales administration 'their government'
is hard to measure, and the term itself is very ambiguous. If it means that
most Bolivians deeply sympathize with the stated goals of the government
and favor it over the neoliberal opposition, then yes, the term seems
accurate. But if it means that Bolivians blindly follow the MAS leaders,
have faith in them to fulfill popular demands without sustained popular
pressure, or don't have substantial critiques of them, then no. I'm not
sure how to get a better picture of rank-and-file Bolivians? attitudes. I'm
eager to see any poll results or other research that people can present.
But here I would add three caveats: 1) that mere attendance at a
government-sponsored rally (e.g., October 12) is not necessarily an
indication of strong agreement with government policies, given the
bloc-style recruitment to many such events, 2) that the degree of hierarchy
within many social movement organizations complicates our efforts to know
what rank-and-filers think, and 3) that on issues like the TIPNIS, which
have a disproportionately large effect on a minority of the population,
it's not enough to simply look at majority opinion and decide what's right.

Lastly, Fuentes keeps suggesting that I deny the links between CIDOB and
USAID, or that I'm somehow evading that question because it's inconvenient
for my argument. Again, back to my original post: I noted that those links
probably existed (when I said 'the right' I understood that to include the
US government). I certainly have many criticisms of CIDOB's leaders, and
not just over those ties. But do those links to USAID discredit the entire
organization, let alone the entire TIPNIS march and cause? (If the answer
to this question is yes, then would Bolivia's *cocaleros* and Evo also be
discredited? To my knowledge they accepted USAID funds up to 2008.) This
issue is an important one, and I would like to hear what others (besides
Fuentes) have to say on it.

These issues aside, the most important question is what we as foreigners
should do. Fuentes and I seem to agree on the need to prioritize the
struggle against imperialism, but we differ after that: I don't believe
that kneejerk support for left-leaning governments is wise. And if we're
trying to persuade the general public in imperialist countries, I think we
have much more credibility when we acknowledge the complexities of a
situation. We can make a convincing argument against imperialism while
recognizing that a government like Evo's has both virtues and vices, and in
fact I believe our arguments are more effective and more credible when we
do recognize those complexities.

About sources, I'm sorry that I haven't included a full bibliography and
list of interviews in my previous postings. I was under the mistaken
impression that this was an informal discussion and didn?t realize I needed
to be so meticulous. And I'll admit that I don't have the time right now to
be typing long email responses twice a day, and I really wasn't looking to
get dragged into this debate. I only responded because of the misleading
characterization of my position in the original article.




From Federico:

I will wait a few days to provide a more substantive reply to some of the stuff in Young's latest email (also because im busying hosting/translating for a representative from ALBA executive secretariat who is currently in my city and speaking at various public and bilateral meetings)

In order for the next email to focus solely on the key issues raised by Young (which i think have somewhat helped advance the debate) i just want to lay to rest some of the smaller issues raised by Young so that we can all focus on the real debate.

1) I never implied that you argued that “there is nothing to celebrate” in recent poverty/inequality reduction in Bolivia. The quote was clearly taken from Webber's book, and there is nothing i said that says that is your position.

As to being disingenous about the use of statistics, again here the facts speak for themselves: The book was published in 2011 using 2007 statistics. No one could honestly believe that no statistics appeared between 2008-2010 (in fact a quick google search found this article from June 2010 referring to a report showing extreme poverty was already declining between 2007-2008… and another from 2010 about a CEPAL report here…). So who is being disingenuous?

Finally, i would argue that a much more important reason for the downward trend beginning in 2008 was that the Morales government first needed to carry out a number of important structural changes (such as gas nationalisation) before having the resource to do anything to tackle poverty, and that moreover up until 2008 half of the country was ungovernable as the imperialist-backed right wing based in the east were constantly in rebellion attempting to overthrow the Morales govt. Basic survival and establishing foundations trumped the ability to smoothly implement some socialist paradise that so many believe the Morales government should have done overnight. But this has to do with the different between my position on solidarity with Bolivia and the more "nuanced" one advocated by Young so i well leave this for the next email.

2) It is totally false to say that the cocaleros received USAID funding. There is no evidence at all to back this claim and i imagine the reason you think this is the case that it is part of the slander campaign waged by others who also have a more "nuanced positions" and try and justify CIDOB's links to USAID by falsely raising this accusation. As USAID themselves point out (…) what did occur was that USAID was carrying out programs dedicated to the construction of infrastructure in the Chapare. No money to the coca-growers federation, no subversive training, rather the use of these programs in the area to win support for US govt policy. In response the coca-grower unions (whose anti-imperialism far outcedes that of CIDOB and many other social movements due to their direct confrontations with the US) expelled USAID from the area in 2008.

3) I dont recall anywhere demanding sources, just a few facts to back up assertions, why is that so much to ask in trying to clarify a debate?

4) My point on the ALBA summit was that all of the progressive news sources/NGOs (for example, NACLA, Dario Kenner's Bolivia Diary, Democracy Centre, Avaaz, the UK Guardian, etc) that dedicated article after article around the TIPNIS issue have been silent on this summit. Again it was not a reference to you nor a statement that very article must be prefaced by a list of all the governmetns achievements.

Finally, in the spirit of avoiding being accused of distorting anyones argument and advancing the debate further, i would like to be directed to any statement i have made here or in the numerous articles that i have written on Bolivia (or in fact made by anyone anywhere) that in any way could be construed to back the following assertions by Young of what my position is:

"But if [the term government of social movements] means that Bolivians blindly follow the MAS leaders, have faith in them to fulfill popular demands without sustained popular pressure, or don’t have substantial critiques of them, then no."


"but we differ after that: I don't believe that kneejerk support for left-leaning governments is wise."

Where (or who) is arguing that the other alternative position is one where solidarity activists advocate "kneejerk support for left-leaning governments" and believe that "Bolivians blindly follow the MAS leaders"? I doubt actually that Young will find anything that could even in a distorted manner be interpreted as such and therefore should stop drawing straw arguments. What makes this all the more disappointing is that it comes from someone who constantly claims he is the one being misconstrued.



From Kevin:

I’m happy to see that you’re eager to engage on substantive disagreements, and I look forward to seeing the issues I raised before addressed in an honest way by you and others.

In the meantime, here are my quick responses to the objections you just raised:

“Where (or who) is arguing that...solidarity activists [should] advocate ‘kneejerk support for left-leaning governments’[?]…I doubt actually that Young will find anything that could even in a distorted manner be interpreted as such.”

In your original article on how “solidarity activists need to support the process,” you criticized leftist critics of certain MAS government policies for “refusing to support the struggles as they exist.” I interpret this statement to mean that issuing any critique of MAS policies (beyond just noting “errors”) is wrong for us to do. Instead, “when social movements become governments,” we need to stay silent and abstain from any utopian expectation for more radical change. I agree that we should try to avoid utopian expectations, but the demand that we “support the struggles as they exist” could be used to discredit any criticism, now or in the future, under the rationale that we’re being utopian or unreasonable. The demand also implies that there are only two options, and that left-wing critics of Morales oppose the government, at least unintentionally; in most cases this is false. You would obviously never explicitly advocate “kneejerk support,” but in my view this is basically what your position amounts to.

A key underlying issue here is the definition of what’s “utopian” to expect—that is, the extent to which the Morales administration indeed has the power to overcome the formidable structural obstacles that impede revolutionary transformation in Bolivia. This question has no easy answer, but it’s an important one. You're apparently very confident that the government has done everything within its power to transform the country. I agree that it’s done quite a bit, but my sense is that it hasn’t done everything in its power; Jeff Webber in his book and subsequent articles raises evidence to support this view (e.g., low inflation policy, Central Bank autonomy, lack of major agrarian reform, etc.). This is another key disagreement between you and me, though perhaps it’s a debate that can’t be easily or fully resolved.

“It is totally false to say that the cocaleros received USAID funding.”

My own knowledge of the coca growers’ history is pretty basic, but here I defer to two scholarly authorities on the topic (who, incidentally, have well-established anti-imperialist and anti-neoliberal credentials). As Linda Farthing and Ben Kohl noted in 2004, while residents of the Chapare coca-growing region overwhelmingly supported the MAS in elections, it was also true that “there is scarcely a campesino in the Chapare who has not participated in USAID Alternative Development at some time or other” (see, p. 193n). So as of 2004, the vast majority of coca growers had had some sort of ties to USAID, even if their organizations were not formally tied to it. One possible explanation is that they’re all tools of imperialism; another is that “in 2004, the US$25 million USAID/Bolivia has targeted for Alternative Development in the Chapare dwarfed the US$6.8 million combined budgets of the five Chapare municipalities and sub-municipalities” (ibid., p. 193).

Now, I agree that USAID funds a variety of projects, some more overtly subversive than others, and that we also need to consider the nature of those ties. My point is merely that in a poor and resource-starved country, the very fact of having ties to USAID shouldn’t automatically discredit a movement. And the line between subversive and more benign forms of USAID funding is not always clear; a purist might fault coca growers for participating at all in US-sponsored projects, under the logic that doing so helped legitimize the US government and its domestic allies. (For more info on the cocaleros’ 2008 decision to “cut ties with USAID”—which of course means that ties existed at one point—see….)

“I dont recall anywhere demanding sources.”

Fuentes, from November 22: “[Young] offers us no evidence except for some discussions he had with some people solely in El Alto and La Paz but none of whom are named so we have no idea who they are.”

Is this not a demand for sources?


A further exchange on USAID,the coca growers union and CIDOB

From Federico:

A dishonest and dangerous campaign has been waged by, on the one hand USAID and the right wing media, and on the other, some solidarity activists, to claim that Evo and the coca-growers union previously received funding from USAID. The purpose of this campaign is two-fold: to justify/excuse or downplay the nefarious role of USAID in Bolivia while undermining solidarity with the militantly anti-imperialist cocalero union and Morales government.

Following the truthful comments made by the Morales government that leaders of the indigenous march protesting a highway through the TIPNIS had received training from USAID, and the call by some officials to expel USAID from Bolivia, USAID put out a statement questioning why the government would take such a measure given the benefits that its programs had brought to the Chapare region, home to Morales' coca-growers union federation. As evidence they pointed to the millions spent on infrastructure programs.

Immediately, this information was disseminated among the right-wing corporate media, and also some progressive anti-Morales media outlets in Bolivia such as Bolpress and Erbol. This allegation was also taken up by some solidarity activists in order to point to a supposed hypocrisy on the part of the government in regards to USAID and to question whether it was such a bad thing that CIDOB leaders (the main organiser of the indigenous march) was receiving USAID training courses.

What began as a statement by USAID that it had carried out projects in the Chapare, quickly morphed into a allegation that in fact it was Morales and the coca-grower unions who were receiving USAID funding (at least until 2008, when they decided to expel all USAID programs from the Chapare). When challenged to point to any evidence that the coca-growers union had received any funding at all from USAID, the general response was silence.

Kevin Young however, on this list, argued that in fact he had evidence to prove that the coca-growers union had received USAID funding. He cited a footnote in an excellent study of the role of USAID in the Chapare that reads in full: "With 86% of the Chapare population voting for MAS, it is clear that not only Association members support the party, but so also do townspeople and even local police forces (Coca, 2003). Many observers note that there is scarcely a campesino in the Chapare who has not participated in USAID Alternative Development at some time or other." (see study here )

it is clear that nowhere in this footnote are the coca-growers unions mentioned, instead there is talk of "Association members" and of "campesinos" participating in "USAID Alternative Development". So its hardly conclusive evidence that the coca-growers union received funding, much less that this could be equated to training programs as is the case with CIDOB.

So what does the rest of the report have to say:

"While all agree that coca eradication will fail without economic alternatives, USAID has excluded local community leaders from participating in development planning." (p. 183)

Rather that support for USAID projects in the areas, USAID initiatives have "led to human rights abuses and contributed to widespread mistrust and suspicion of USAID's economic development projects." (p.183-4)

In large part this is due to the fact that "The bulk of US funding in the Chapare is not directed at the 'carrot' of Alternative Development, but rather finances the 'stick' provided by special police and military units which fight the coca/cocaine trade... much of the military and/or police action is directed at the coca-growing families, resulting in human rights abuses and harrassment." (p.187)

"Another fundamental characteristic of USAID programmes is that they have consistently demonised the Chapare's campesino unions. Contrary to generally accepted dictates of good development practices, USAID has ignored and undermined the representatives of the coca growers, some of whom now sit in the Bolivian Congress [which at that time includes Morales - FF]" (p.186-7)

Not only are the coca-growers unions demonised, we also find out that "Because [USAID] refuses to work with the coca-growers unions, USAID/Bolivia has created alternative structures called Associations. These have generated considerable campesino suspicion, in part because this tactic mirrors the various attempts by Bolivian governments since the 1950s to create parallel organisations to control rural populations." (p.192)

Even with the parallel structures where "Association members receive technical support to produce the five main alternative Chapare crops,.. even politically conservative campesinos who oppose the coca unions are not optimistic about the Associations... (p.192)

USAID/Bolivia has also "resisted working with Chapare municipalities" controlled by the coca-growers union (p.193)

"USAID antipathy to the Chapare municipalities is reflected in the pressure it has applied on PRAEDAC [The EU's aid program - FF] to work through their Associations and not through the municipalities" (p.194)

The one exception to this "has been [its] road maintenance program... The programme has been highly successful to date, and the Villa Tunari municipality is pleased with the results, even though there was a widespread initial reluctance to participate, as campesinos believed that the programme would somehow be tied to forced eradication" (p.193)

It should be noted that the coca-growers unions were "ready to work with USAID. Villa Tunari mayor [and current Vice Minister of Social Defense that is, Bolivia's drug czar - FF] Felipe Caceres, explains: "t would be wonderful if AID operated through the muncipalities like it is supposed to under Bolivian law" highlight the success of the road maintenance program" (p.194)

Despite announcing plans to do that in April 2004, USAID's actual plans at time "allow[ed] for only a small fraction of USAID's overall budget to be directed through the municipalities, with the orientation of most funds remaining unchanged" that is, towards police, military and its parallel Association. (p.195)

With USAID continuing to play this nefarious role in the Chapare, the coca-growers ordered their representatives on local municipal councils to end USAID projects in the area and expel it in 2008.

This is a somewhat different picture to the one presented by Young. Clearly, USAID refused to work with the coca-growers unions, created parallel local organisations, refused in large part to work with coca-grower' controlled local municipal councils (except for road maintenance) and in general directed money towards military and police units responsible for human rights abuses leading to widespread mistrust and suspicion and ultimately its expulsion. No evidence what so ever exists that Evo or the coca-growers received USAID funding or training programs (such as the CIDOB leaders have), rather a constant pattern of hostility towards anything to do with them on the part of USAID is clearly evident.

So why the constant dishonest campaign to demonstrate links between USAID and the coca-growers union if clearly none exist?

For USAID and the right-wing media the reason is clear, to defend USAID against government attempts to expel it (or at least force it to operate according to Bolivian law) and to undermine the government by pointing out a supposed hypocrisy on the issue that does not exist.

For some solidarity activists it is to try and justify the fact that CIDOB leaders have clear links to USAID. If the coca-growers do as well, they ask, then certainly this should not be an issue? The problem for them is that the coca-growers don't have links now or previous with USAID, rather a history of direct confrontation culminating in their dignified position of expelling all USAID programs from the Chapare.

Some go further, such as Young, and raise the issue that perhaps we should accept that "the line between subversive and more benign forms of USAID funding is not always clear." I think that line in the case of the Chapare is pretty clear. Does "the very fact of having ties to USAID... automatically discredit a movement" as Young asks? As i have said previous, the point of explicitly noting the role of USAID is not about discrediting or denounce movements in Bolivia (the Bolivians themselves can decided if this discredits movements within their own country or not) but its about denouncing the role of imperialism, concretely that of USAID, in interfering in the internal politics of a sovereign nation. Rather than criticise (or attempting to discredit) the Morales government for stating this fact we should campaign to put a halt to all USAID interference in Bolivia, that it comply with the laws and framework set by the government or that it get out. We should not argue that perhaps we can differentiate between subversive and "benign" forms, as the US embassy certainly doesnt see a different. In a cable ( see leaked by Wikileaks, we see that for the US embassy believes:

"One of Post's top priorities is to continue to reach out to Bolivia's historically overlooked and under-served indigenous population....Because of the positive response Post's indigenous outreach programs garner, these programs could prove hard for Bolivian officials to attack (for example, anti-USAID rhetoric is less convincing when the Bolivian public can see that USAID supports indigenous women entrepreneurs in El Alto or provides scholarships to poor, indigenous youth.) .... President Morales may find it difficult to criticize programs that directly benefit his largest base of support: indigenous Bolivians. ... While focusing on delivering real benefits to Bolivian indigenous communities, we will therefore also seek to counteract anti-USG rhetoric with the positive truth: that the USG and the U.S. people continue to support Bolivia's poor, marginalized, and indigenous citizens."

These "benign" programs are only there to cover for the subversive ones, to undermine govenrment opposition to USAID and to continue "to counteract anti-USG rhetoric". This is what we should be denouncing, not the Morales government or the coca-growers. Criticising the later only strengthens the hand of imperialism and weakens the Bolivian governments attempts to challenge the role of USAID.

There is also a second issue, which goes beyond that of USAID and goes to the heart of much of this recent campaign against the coca-growers, not only for supposed links to USAID but also for their support for a "highway for "narcotrafficking" that will enable them to "invade and colonise" the TIPNIS (I want to make it clear that Young has never said this, so i am not referring to him, rather others, in case i get accused of being dishonest etc).

This constant black propaganda that the highway is for drug production has been run in the right wing press, and ties in nicely with the current campaign by the US government to denounce Bolivia as a "narco-state". But it also serves another purpose.

The more insidious purpose within Bolivia is to divide the social movements and shift public opinion among the middle classes against the coca-growers. This was clear for example in the chants raised by some La Paz residents (and others) in the protests to support the indigenous march: "TIPNIS Yes! Coca No!". During the struggles of 2000-2005 (and before) the coca-growers, together with other sectors were at the forefront of the battle against imperialist and for indigenous liberation. The symbol of the coca leaf itself came to signify this as the coca leaf not only made reference to indigenous culture but also resistance to foreign intervention to destroy this culture. Today, slogan's such as "TIPNIS Yes! Coca No!" are solely aimed at breaking this unity down, destroying this symbol of anti-imperialist and indigenous resistance, and convincing people that the coca-growers, not imperialism, are responsible for all that is wrong.

The truth is the opposite: the Chapare remains one of the most important, if not the most important, homes of the core of the anti-imperialist consciousness of the Bolivian people which in turn make up the backbone of the current government that has stood up to US imperialism. We would do well to take a leaf out of their book rather that falsely accusing them of being linked to USAID (as Young does) or attacking them as drug-traffickers (as the right-wing and some elements of the indigenous march did).



From Kevin:

Your response is impressive in its distortion of my argument, and that's quite remarkable given the high bar of distortion that you've set in previous responses. There is very little in that long response that contradicts anything I said before. I have never denied the insidious motives of USAID or USAID's contempt for the coca growers. And I have never called USAID "benign"; the distinction I made was between more "overtly subversive" programs like "democracy training" and less overtly subversive ones, such as infrastructure programs. And again, the implication that you're the only one "denouncing the role of imperialism, concretely that of USAID," or that I somehow differ in this regard, is absurd. Perhaps the pinnacle of absurdity was your charge that I am secretly trying "to justify/excuse or downplay the nefarious role of USAID in Bolivia while undermining solidarity." You can't honestly believe this. My previous emails offer sufficient evidence to the contrary. Please read them.

The question I raised about the coca growers was not about USAID's devious motives or its disdain for them. Everything I've said on this list takes these things as givens, and it's unfair and diversionary to imply that I was questioning them. And I was not "accusing" the cocaleros, I was merely pointing out that most rural Chapare residents at one point or another had some sort of links to USAID.

The real question was more about coca growers' attitudes toward USAID. While I agree there is very strong anti-imperialist consciousness there, and it's clear that the MAS had overwhelming support in the Chapare, the fact remains that most coca growers were at one point open to the idea of associating with USAID. Interestingly, one of the passages you cite from the Farthing/Kohl article supports my point: The cocaleros were "ready to work with USAID." So even if cocalero unions or the federation didn't directly receive funding from USAID, they were open to the idea, and the relationship never developed further due mainly to USAID's aversion to working with them, as you correctly point out. The reason for the coca growers' openness, I suggested, was that USAID's massive budget "dwarfed" local government resources (see the Farthing/Kohl article).

And to reiterate, most rural Chapare residents as individuals at one point had concrete ties to USAID programs, even if their unions or the federation did not. Again, this is not an "accusation" or a judgment about anyone's anti-imperialist credentials. Nor is it an attempt to justify the ongoing CIDOB relationship to USAID, as you've implied is my intention. And nor is it an effort to "equate" USAID programs in the Chapare "to training programs as is the case with CIDOB"; I was explicit about the need to consider the nature of USAID ties. It's just a fact about recent Bolivian history that I deemed worthy of mention.


From Federico:

Once again, i will leave it to others to judge my impressive skills at distortion and dishonesty.

However, i actually feel that your response has very much helped clarify the discussion and shows that there appears to be much we can agree on both regarding the links between USAID and the coca-growers union and the general approach solidarity activists should take towards imperialism.

After you claimed that Evo and the coca-growers unions had received USAID funding, a questioned this assumption (mainly because it has become a widely held assumption, and part of a broader campaign to discredit the cocaleros). You responded, not by correcting your error and stating that the unions did not received funds, but rather pointing to evidence that individual campesinos had received this fund. You now state: "So even if cocalero unions or the federation didn't directly receive funding from USAID....". This i take to represent a statement by yourself that indeed the cocalero unions did not receive funding from USAID. On this point it appears we now have agreement (i hope).

Regarding to the willingness of the cocalero unions to work with USAID, it appears we may also have agreement, although i hope im not distorting your argument here. You write that the article (as i myself pointed out) showed there was a willingness to work with USAID in the Chapare (although widespread mistrust existed among the community, as the study notes). This point should however be clarified to avoid distortions or misrepresentations. There was not a willingness on the part of the cocalero unions to directly work with USAID, rather a willingness on the part the municipal councils its control to work with USAID as long as USAID abided by Bolivian law and that aid came with no strings attached. The first two bit in bold is important becuase it draws a clear distinction between USAID funding towards local government projects and directly to social movements (the cocaleros have always argued for the need for their organisation to be self-financed and not dependent on outside funding). The third bit in bold is also important, because it makes clear their position that the problem is not receiving US money, rather that USAID operates outside the law and only provides aid with strings attached.

Solidarity activists should 100% support the US giving aid to Bolivia, but demand that this aid abide by Bolivian laws and have no strings attached (as the cocaleros also demand). I feel again this is something we can (should) agree on and despite it not being exactly what you said (you simply stated cocalero unions wanted to work with USAID while missing some important elements of there position) i dont feel im distorting your position by saying we agree.

As to the willingness to work with USAID being because its budget dwarfs that of the local government, again i feel we can agree on this. Of course the reason why this is the case is because the US is an imperialist country that has looted Bolivia of all its resources creating this situation (a point we both agree on). In this scenario, i repeat, as solidarity activist we should demand US repay this debt in the form of aid that operated within Bolivian law and comes with no strings attached.

As to whether your statement (adn the one in the study) that most Chapare campesinos have had ties with USAID programs, i don't agree, and unfortunately no source or study is given to back up this claim just observations. Regardless though whether the statement is correct or not, again i see common agreement on what this means for solidarity activists. That is we both agree that having received USAID funding in and off itself is not a reason to outrightly discredit any movement or their legitimate demands they may have.

Hence why in all my articles where i have noted the clear links between CIDOB and USAID, i have repeated statements such as "The people of TIPNIS have legitimate concerns about the highway’s impact" or "Legitimate anger at the failure of the Bolivian government to carry out its obligation in consulting local communities within TIPNIS over the tract of the proposed highway that would cut through their territory, led locals to organise a march onto the capital, La Paz." etc. Again, despite supposedly distorting your argument, i think we agree here, in fact the constant accusation that i have discredited CIDOB seems much more like a distorting of my argument by yourself that anything else.

I also agree with your statement that the USAID programs in the Chapare cannot be equated to that provided to CIDOB, the commonality is that both are subversive, just in different ways. The difference between the two are evident for all so i dont think there is a need to expand on this point except say that we agree.

As to the issue of subversive and benign forms of USAID funding i must admit i was confused as to your position as you had written "And the line between subversive and more benign forms of USAID funding is not always clear..." This has been clarified though as you now say "And I have never called USAID "benign"; the distinction I made was between more "overtly subversive" programs like "democracy training" and less overtly subversive ones, such as infrastructure programs." So again it seems we agree, all USAID activity in Bolivia is subversive, just some are more subversive that others.

Another point of agreement that seems to be emerging is on the question of USAID links to CIDOB. I initially took exception to you portray of the scenario in Bolivia. You wrote:

"The government has repeatedly accused the protesters of being tools of US imperialism, NGOs, and the Bolivian right, and blame the media for its smear campaign. These accusations have a partial basis in truth: the right, probably the US, and maybe Brazil, are trying to manipulate the situation for their own gain. Much of the Bolivian media has been dishonest in its reporting. And the TIPNIS movement is not monolithic—some indigenous protesters have conferred with these right-wing forces, and some may indeed have ulterior motives. But the government is disingenuous in using these facts to try to discredit the entire movement."

Later on you add in your original article:

"As noted above, the Morales administration has at times cited imperialist intervention as a way to discredit legitimate opposition to its policies, as in the case of the TIPNIS conflict. This dynamic highlights a common and often-neglected negative consequence of US imperialism in countries like Bolivia, Cuba, and Venezuela: US intervention, in addition to a variety of other harmful impacts, tends to discredit legitimate dissent within these countries—much of which comes from the left of the governments in power, as in the case of the TIPNIS conflict (though again, right-wing forces have also latched onto the issue for political gain)."

My objection was that USAID (which is not mentioned once in your article) was not "probably... trying to manipulate the situation" or that its activities lay elsewhere and only attempted to "latched onto the issue for political gain". In fact it was clearly involved directly in the dispute and was manipulating the situation. In response, on November 24 (after i have shown that direct links between USAID-CIDOB existed as per the CIDOB website), you continued to suggest "that those links probably existed (when I said “the right” I understood that to include the US government)." Again, why the constant use of "probably" if the evidence exists?

Regardless, Young now says accepts that there is not "probably" an "ongoing CIDOB relationship to USAID" but in fact that clearly one exists. Again, i see this as an advance in our discussion and one we can both agree on. (i repeat as mentioned above, and on several occasions, i have never argued this outrightly discredits them or their demands)

Given it is now clear that we both not only oppose all USAID activity (given its subversive nature) and that there is agreement that USAID does have direct connection to CIDOB, is it not much better for solidarity activists to both explicitly state this fact. Shouldnt our position be to point out USAID/US government interference everywhere, oppose USAID subversive activity, and demand US aid instead operate within Bolivian law and come with no strings attached? Doesn this mean we should denounce USAID interference in name and with facts, while at the same time noting this does not inherently discredit the demands of the movement? In fact isnt this somewhat in line with your nuanced positioned of being able to defend the government against imperialism while at the same time looking at what social movements have to say?

Unfortunately though, most of the articles written about the TIPNIS dispute did not do this. They not only fudged the issue of USAID (see examples below) but instead attempted to discredit the Morales government for even raising this fact (again see list of examples below). I believe the main reason for this is that most also know that pointing out this fact would hardly win extra support for the march they supported and so preferred to conceal this. But concealing this neither helps the march, much less builds anti-imperialist solidarity. Hence my article that Young took so much exception to and accused me of being dishonest for.

Given it now seems we agree on all these issues Kevin, isnt it better to acknowledge that in the case of the TIPNIS dispute, real solidarity required denouncing USAID links to CIDOB (which requires naming USAID and what it has been doing), while neither discrediting the Morales government (and others) who raised this fact and simulatenously pointing out that this fact does not invalidate the demands of the march? If so, why was this not done (USAID was not mentioned in your article and you only said the US "probably" was interfering? And why did some (i dont include you in this) go on a campaign to discredit Evo's anti-USAID stance by saying he received such funds when he didnt? Doesnt this only undermine the Morales government's and solidarity movement's anti-USAID stance? Is this not the reason why the corporate media also attacked Morales for these declarations? Was not their objective (USAID and the right-wing) to be able to neutralise anti-USAID sentiments with Bolivia? Does it not also sow confusion, so that the next time Evo points out the role of USAID in Bolivia others will say "but he lied/distorted this issue last time so why should we believe him"? How does this help build anti-imperialist solidarity?

I repeat, i feel we have come some way in addressing the first concern Young had with my article, which had to do with the role of USAID in Bolivia. On this we agree

1) CIDOB does clearly (not "probably" have links with USAID

2) We should oppose all USAID activity as subversive, including its links to CIDOB

3) In this case, this did not discredit CIDOB demands

So why did most articles (such as Young's) not directly take up the first 2 points, that is specifically point out that USAID did have links with CIDOB and oppose this activity? Which was all that my article that started all this said


Examples of attempts to conceal/distort the real role of USAID and to discredit Morales for stating the facts surrounding USAID


From the Latin American Bureau

"The government has also accused CIDOB of receiving funding from the United States. All of this is despite any clear proof that the USA is behind the march. ... These claims are not only extremely disrespectful to CIDOB and CONAMAQ, but are also hypocritical as the government´s staunchest allies, the coca growers, have received funding from USAID (between 1983 and 2008 USAID invested around US$250 million in projects in the area where coca growers are concentrated)." full article…

The "accusation" of receiving funds from the US (via USAID) was a fact, not an accusation. Clear proof exists of this on USAID and CIDOB websites (to not include the rest of the evidence presented by the government). Here we also see the attempt to smear the coca-growers as having received USAID funding (an issue already address above). Rather that oppose USAID the article tells us wahts the problem, the coca-growers also get USAID funding. No mention is made of their decision to expel USAID. Instead we get a link to a right wing newspaper that has simply reguritated a USAID press release.


From Dario Kenner's Bolivia Diary

"President Morales caused a scandal on 21 August 2011 when on live TV he showed a log of phone calls that three of the key leaders from the march (Indigenous parliamentarian Pedro Nuni, CONAMAQ leader Rafael Quispe and the wife of Adolfo Chavez, head of CIDOB) had received from the United States Embassy in La Paz. Four weeks later and the government have still not revealed any concrete evidence showing any link between the United States and the march. Despite this the government has debated whether to expel the US official development agency USAID, with the head of the border agency and several parliamentarians calling for this to happen. However, the move to show the log of phone calls was heavily criticised for invasion of privacy and for violating the Constitution – an individual´s phone can only be monitored if there is a court case against them. The CONAMAQ leader Rafael Quispe has threatened to file a case directly against President Morales for violating his privacy and for alleging his guilt before proving he has actually committed a crime." full article…

It should be noted that that the phone calls to the US embassy were not denied by the march leaders. The idea that "Four weeks later and the government have still not revealed any concrete evidence showing any link between the United States and the march" is clearly untrue, the government demonstrated numerous links, but more importantly so did the CIDOB website. So why attack the Morales government for monitoring calls to the US embassy (which seems reasonable given the role the US embassy has played in trying to overthrow his government" and deny the links. Why not support the deciding to expel USAID rather than present it as some distraction of no relation to the TIPNIS dispute.


From Emily Achtenberg's blog on NACLA

The accusations [of links to US government] have been treated with a healthy dose of skepticism by most Bolivians and do not appear to have undermined public support for the march. A few telephone calls hardly prove a conspiracy, and many familiar with WikiLeaks cables accept that Embassy personnel routinely maintain contact with diverse social sectors. Serious concerns have been raised about the government’s potential violation of privacy laws in obtaining telephone records without a court order....while it’s certainly plausible that CIDOB or some of its member groups have benefitted from USAID funding (as have many other organizations and programs in Bolivia, including the official Coordinating Unit for the Constituent Assembly), this doesn’t invalidate the legitimacy of CIDOB’s protest activities. .... full article…

its was not a case of being "plausible" if was a fact readily available to be reported and sourced. Why not state this while maintaining the position that "this doesn’t invalidate the legitimacy of CIDOB’s protest activities".


From Socialist Worker (US)

"The Morales government accuses the marchers of illegal trafficking in land and lumber, of being manipulated by NGOs, and, most recently, of being in league with the U.S. government. These accusations are pulled from a familiar--and pathetically limited--bag of tricks that the Morales government routinely uses to attempt to discredit its opponents. If these tactics at one point had some traction, they now ring more and more hollow.....

The government's latest threat to expel USAID should be seen in this light. While the U.S. and other forces unfriendly to the Morales government are no doubt attempting to use this conflict to their advantage, the threatened expulsion of USAID is part of the government's effort to paint the marchers and their supporters as allies of imperialism." full article

Apparently denouncing USAID is just a trick, as is their call to expel USAID. Thankfully, according to this article anti-USAID and anti-US government discourse "now ring more and more hollow"

From Kevin:

I think I agree with most of the general principles that you've laid out here, even if we disagree on aspects of the situation in Bolivia. You may be reading too much into my use of the word "probably" regarding links between the marchers and USAID---to be honest, my blog wasn't exactly intended as a polished piece or definitive argument, and I was trying to make clear that those links didn't automatically discredit the march (which we seem to agree on). But yes, the links exist.

As for the issue of the cocaleros' unions and USAID funding, I would venture that some of the lack of clarity in progressive discussions comes not necessarily from a desire to discredit Evo but from the reality that many municipalities and individuals in the Chapare did accept USAID funding (my understanding continues to be that many individual cocaleros did, too)---even though, as you point out, the unions themselves did not directly receive USAID funds. The distinction you make here may be significant, but I honestly need to think it over a bit more.