Brazilian government threatens anti-globalization march : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

This is from a very credible Bolivian source. Please pass it along to others who may be interested. Robert Waldrop, Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House in Oklahoma, new edition Better Times webzine



Volume 37 - April 19, 2001

Dear Readers:

Unfortunately, once again, I am writing to you from Bolivia in the midst of social and political crisis. However, once again, there is something simple that you can do to help. Ten days ago more than 1,000 workers, farmers, and other Bolivians set off from the country’s major cities for a two week march to the nation’s capital, La Paz. They did so to confront the government with a series of economic and political demands. Today, as this dramatic "March for Life" nears the capital, it is faced with the threat of armed and violent repression by the government, which has declared that it "will not permit" the marchers to arrive. Every day army units move in to arrest as many marchers as possible, often beating them while in custody.

Here’s how you can help. If you can, send a fax to the office of the Bolivian President, with this simple message (or your own):

------------------------------------------------------------- Sr. Presidente Hugo Banzer Suárez

The world is watching your government’s violent repression of the "March for Life". If the government uses force to stop the marchers from arriving in La Paz, this will have grave consequences for the Bolivian government’s image all over the world. We demand that you respect the right of the people to peacefully protest.

Your fax should be sent to (from the U.S.): 011-591-2-391-216 ---------------------------------------------------------------

Thank you for your help.

Jim Shultz The Democracy Center


In the next few days the heads of virtually every nation in the Americas will be meeting in Quebec, with the objective of advancing treaties to further implement the "unfettered free market" vision of a globalized economy. In my home state of California these past six months people have gotten a serious dose of how wrong blind faith in the free market can go, as deregulation of wholesale energy prices have skyrocketed bills, forced major utility companies into bankruptcy, sucked up state revenue, and shut out the lights with rolling blackouts.

Bolivians also know the price of this economic vision all too well. Under pressure from the World Bank and others, the Bolivian government has spent the past 15 years "privatizing" its major public enterprises into the eager hands of multinational corporations -- the electric company, the phone company, the oil industry, the national airline, and more. Last year when the Bolivian government handed over Cochabamba’s water system to a subsidiary of the Bechtel corporation, the people rebelled and won back their water company, which today is serving more people with more water at rates a half or a third of what Bechtel sought to collect.

"The March for Life"

On Monday, April 9, a broad coalition of Bolivian workers, farmers, students, and others left Cochabamba to begin a 240 mile long "March for Life" to the nation’s capital of La Paz, to confront the Bolivian government with a list of ten demands that the government has refused to discuss in any other way. Among these demands are: legal protections to prevent government confiscation of people’s lands; an end to attempts by the government to privatize water, education, and the health care system; a return to public hands of the companies sold off by the government; aid to victims of the floods that have swept through much of the country in the past few months; investigation of government corruption; and the right to traditional cultivation (not for cocaine production) of the coca leaf.

The last demand has recently been the most combative here. Under enormous pressure from the U.S., the Bolivian government has eradicated by force more than 90% of the coca leaf crop in the Chapare jungle, long a coca leaf source for the international cocaine market. Coca growing families charge that the government has done virtually nothing to create real alternatives and wants to protect that part of their crop that is for traditional use (chewing, medicines, etc.). While the U.S. Embassy touts ideas such as growing bananas for export, the roads in and out of the region are so poor that products rot before they can ever be brought to market. Conflicts between the army and coca farmers are getting more violent. Yesterday two soldiers were shot and wounded in the Chapare and human rights abuses against farmers by the military are common place.

As marchers left from cities and towns throughout the country, planning to converge in the capital next Monday (April 23), government officials belittled the protest, "Let them walk, let them get exercise," declared the Minister of Government, Guillermo Fortún. Behind the rhetoric, however, army units were rolling in to try to stop marchers in their tracks. Day after day soldiers have moved in to arrest as many marchers as possible, forcing them onto buses, often beating them, and shipping them back to Cochabamba.

One day last week, just before dawn, marchers discovered four undercover policeman in an unmarked car, equipped with surveillance equipment, loaded guns, and a copy of Adolph Hitler’s "Mein Kampf". First the police said they were students, then reporters, then human rights workers. Angry protesters started to punch the police, an altercation broken up by labor leader Oscar Olivera, who also led last year’s protests against Bechtel. Government agents then swooped in and arrested Olivera, charging him with attempted murder (for the protestors’ punching of the police) and sedition (for statements he had made earlier saying that the President Hugo Banzer should resign). When released hours later, Olivera returned to the march.

In Search of Dialogue

Human rights officials, the Catholic Church and the nation’s Public Advocate have all called on the government to talk with protest leaders, rather than using government troops to stop the march. Edwin Claros, vice-president of the Cochabamba Assembly on Human Rights warns that the government has a long pattern of "protest, violence and death, and only then dialogue." In a meeting last week with human rights and church officials, Government Minister Fortún reportedly refused any such dialogue and announced that in an hour the army would break up the march."

By the time soldiers arrived, with a helicopter and enough caged trucks to arrest 900 marchers, all they found were a few human rights workers, reporters and mothers with infants. The marchers, having received advance word, scattered off into the country side. Accounts of the government’s failed efforts to stop the march are the lead story here every day, with reporters now referring to the steady progression toward the capital as, "the invisible march."

"In reality, what the government is doing is acting like it is fighting a war against guerillas, " said Olivera in a interview by cell phone from the march. "The people have a right to peacefully march to the capital to make demands of their government." With marchers now just 90 miles away from the capital, the government seems to be getting more tense, amidst much public speculation that it will use all the force required to block marchers’ entrance into La Paz this weekend, perhaps even a declaration of a state of emergency, essentially a suspension of constitutional rights. The government has already prohibited all public protest in La Paz and on Tuesday arrested and beat a 28 year old human rights monitor at the march site, even though he had a formal Assembly on Human Rights credential and was marching under a white flag.

If the army does use violence to block the march’s entrance to La Paz, march leaders have threatened to mobilize protests, include highway blockades nationwide. "We don’t want to blockade the roads, that hurts everyone and that is only a last resort," explained Olivera. "Everything depends on the willingness of the government to talk and look for solutions to the ten points we have raised."

When Bolivian President Hugo Banzer, the country’s dictator from 1971-78, left last Tuesday for the Americas Summit in Quebec he made it clear that he was not willing to consider major changes in the policy of privatization, "That I can not do." If march leaders do resort to highway blockades, he also left clear orders in place, "they will be repressed," which here means forceful military action and suspension of civil rights. As Banzer made his declaration before leaving for Canada, the U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia, Manuel Rocha, sat silently in a line of government ministers gathered to bid farewell. As one local paper reported, "strangely…as if he were one of them."

+++++++++++++++++ April 20, 2001 9pm - Bolivia Time

Dear Readers:

We don’t know how or when, but we can imagine why -- President Banzer’s fax number has apparently been taken out of service and people have had trouble getting through. I am sending along an alternative, that for the Minister of Government. I double checked it twice this morning to verify that it is still in operation. The message and fax number are as follows:

Sr. Presidente Hugo Banzer Suárez

The world is watching your government’s violent repression of the "March for Life". If the government uses force to stop the marchers from arriving in La Paz, this will have grave consequences for the Bolivian government’s image all over the world. We demand that you respect the right of the people to peacefully protest.

Your fax should be sent to (from the U.S.): 011-591-2-442-589

If you have forwarded my original message on to others, please do the same with this one as well. All are waiting possible military intervention in the march at any moment. The Peace Corps has evacuated its volunteers from La Paz and Cochabamba. Your messages to President Banzer are important.Thank you.

Jim Shultz Executive Director The Democracy Center

Bolivia: Casilla 5283 Cochabamba, Bolivia US: P.O. Box 22157, San Francisco, CA 94122 E-Mail: Web: Tel: (415)564-4767 Fax: (978)383-1269


THE DEMOCRACY CENTER ON-LINE is an electronic publication of The Democracy Center, distributed on an occasional basis to more than 1800 nonprofit organizations, policy makers, journalists and others, throughout the US and worldwide. Please consider forwarding it along to those who might be interested. People can request to be added to the distribution list by sending an e-mail note to mailto:

Newspapers and periodicals interested in reprinting or excerpting material in the newsletter should contact The Democracy Center at "". Suggestions and comments are welcome. Past issues are available on The Democracy Center Web site.


SAN FRANCISCO: P.O. Box 22157 San Francisco, CA 94122 BOLIVIA: Casilla 5283, Cochabamba, Bolivia TEL: (415)564-4767 FAX: (978)383-1269 WEB: E-MAIL:

-- robert waldrop (, April 20, 2001

Moderation questions? read the FAQ