The Economist Misreports on Bolivia

Several bloggers have lambasted an article about Bolivian politics in The Economist for being a hit piece on Morales that whitewashes any of the failings of the opposition in Santa Cruz and the orient of Bolivia.

Reading the article, one sentence immediately struck me as both technically true, but utterly uninformative in understanding Bolivian politics, a condition which well characterizes the entire article:

Leopoldo Fernández, an opposition politician who is governor of the Pando province in the north, has been in prison for ten months without standing trial.

As I said, this is technically true. But the sentence leads one to sympathize with Fernández, and believe the Morales government is up to shenanigans, an impression that I find quite strange. First of all, many people wait years for trials in Bolivia. It’s justice system is overwhelmed with cases and disastrously underfunded. It’s an incredible problem for this poor country, but you wouldn’t know that reading the article.

Second, they don’t mention what Fernández was arrested for, arguably the most important fact that directly undermines any sympathy for the governor or belief that the Morales government is going on a political witch hunt. Fernández was arrested for supposedly orchestrating a massacre of pro-Morales peasants by a right-wing paramilitary group.

This little fact brings much needed context to the article. The background, which is lacking throughout the piece, is namely that the opposition to the democratically-legitimate Morales is deadly serious in bringing down his political agenda. Deadly here means well-armed assassination squads.

Again, the article misrepresents the incident last April where government security forces killed three paramilitaries supposedly planning to assassinate Morales. The disagreement over what happened that night aside (compare this with this), it seems pretty clear that the paramilitaries had links to Santa Cruz opposition leaders. A fact the article fails to mention at all.

Like with Fernández, the treatment of the paramilitaries killed by Bolivian security forces ends up eliciting sympathy for the opposition movements in the orient of Bolivia. I don’t heartily endorse Morales, but I can’t really bring myself to support political movements that believe violence is an acceptable tool to attain their goals, and to understand current Bolivian politics, it’s necessary to realize that the opposition movements in Pando, Beni, and Santa Cruz are willing do just that: use violence and sidestep Bolivia’s democratic processes to protect their political power. The Economist article goes out of its way to avoid acknowledging this.

And it really is strange. A pro-capitlism viewpoint is expected from The Economist but most news organizations don’t tend to elicit sympathy for persons accused of orchestrating paramilitary killings of poor people. It seems, however, The Economist doesn’t mind doing just that as long as you oppose the right people, e.g., leftists like Morales.

The Economist Misreports on Bolivia

Bolivia Accuses US of Supporting Uprising

Bolivian Presidential Minister, Juan Ramón Quintana, today accused US Southern Command of supporting subversive activity last year in Pando, leading up to the uprising in Santa Cruz. Previously, the Morales government has accused only US ambassador, Philip Goldberg, and USAID of indirect support for the coup attempt. This accusation comes fast on the heels of Morales suggesting that the US played a role in the Honduras coup.

The Pando uprising which occurred last September along with the Santa Cruz coup attempt, resulted in the massacre of Morales supporters by paramilitaries directed by Leopoldo Fernández, governor of the Pando department. Fernández was arrested by Bolivian security forces and remains in jail.

Regardless of SOUTHCOM’s actions last year, I’m sure that this isn’t going to help extradite Lozada or get Obama to reinstate the ATPDEA trade preferences.

Pando is the northernmost department that borders Brazil and Peru. The three departments of Pando, Beni, and Santa Cruz make up what’s called the “Orient” of Bolivia and is the heart of anti-Morales sentiment:

Bolivia Accuses US of Supporting Uprising