WikiLeaks’ release of cables from the United States embassy in La Paz has shed light on its attempts to create divisions in the social and indigenous movements that make up the support base of Bolivia’s first indigenous-led government. The cables prove the embassy sought to use the US government aid agency, USAID, to promote US interests.
A March 6, 2006, cable titled “Dissent in Evo’s Ranks” reports on a meeting, only months after Morales’ inauguration as president in December 2005, with “a social sectors leader” from the altiplano (highlands) region in the west. The social leader was said to have links with the radical federation of neighborhood councils in El Alto (Fejuve), the coca growers union in Los Yungas, and a peasant organization in La Paz. Many of these organizations, in particular Fejuve, spearheaded the wave of revolt that overthrew two pro-US neoliberal presidents in 2003 and 2005. It was also crucial to the election of Morales. Despite viewing these sectors as “traditionally confrontational organizations,” then-ambassador David Greenlee believed that: “Regardless of [US] policy direction in Bolivia, working more closely with these social sector representatives” who were expressing dissent from Morales “seems to be most beneficial to [US government] interests.”
Another cable from February 25, 2008 reports on a meeting then-US ambassador Philip Goldberg held with “indigenous leaders (particularly leaders of the eastern lowlands).” Most of Bolivia’s two largest indigenous peoples, the Aymaras and Quechuas, live in the highlands and central regions. The east is home to the remaining 34 indigenous peoples. It is also home to the gas transnationals and large agribusiness. The east was the focal point of right-wing movements that tried to overthrow Morales. In the cable, great attention is paid to the “growing tensions” between Aymaras and Quechuas on one hand and the lowlands-based indigenous groups “who feel neglected by a self-proclaimed-Aymara, cocalero president.”
An October 17, 2007, cable titled “Indigenous Cohesion Cracking in Bolivia” reported that a leader from the National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qollasuyu (CONAMAQ), which groups together 16 rural indigenous organizations in the altiplano, told embassy officials the Morales government was simply using indigenous peoples to promote its “goal of socialism [which] does not coincide with ‘true indigenous’ goals.”
The US embassy’s heightened interest in all things “indigenous” following decades of supporting governments that repressed and excluded them is explained in a February 6, 2007 cable. In it, Goldberg said that “only a leftist government that includes indigenous interests . . . would have a chance to govern divisive Bolivia.” Since “a right-wing government would likely lead to greater conflict,” the ability to reach out to indigenous leaders inclined to support US interests was necessary. For this reason, Goldberg concluded his February 25, 2008 cable by stating that meetings with “indigenous leaders outside of the dominant Aymara and Quechua communities will provide useful information and demonstrate that the United States is interested in views of all indigenous peoples.”
An important tool used for reaching out to indigenous communities is USAID. A January 28, 2008 cable said USAID social programs aimed at the “poorest and marginalized groups” would prove hard for the government to attack. The cable ends by saying USAID programs should “also seek to counteract anti-USG [US government] rhetoric. . . .” This was facilitated via funding to independent radio journalists to report on “the benefits of USG assistance to rural communities” and various workshops held in indigenous communities.
A June 15, 2009 cable revealed US concerns about its ability to achieve its aims by working directly with the government. It noted “anti-US attitudes in key leadership positions” and “nationalistic bristling over being treated with ‘dignity’.” The cable cited Bolivian government opposition to the US agricultural attaché having veto powers over proposed programs.
Bolivian officials’ recent talk of expelling USAID for their subversive activities may pose a more immediate threat to US imperialism realizing its goals in Bolivia.
Federico Fuentes is a co-author (with Marta Harnecker) of MAS-IPSP de Bolivia: Instrumento político que surge de los movimientos sociales. Fuentes blogs at <boliviarising.blogspot.com> and writes regularly for Green Left Weekly.