U.S. backs Bolivian separatists

“My immediate thought was ‘Oh my God! Somebody from the U.S. Embassy just asked me to basically spy for the U.S. Embassy.’”

John van Schaick, a Fulbright scholar recently arrived in Bolivia, was reacting to diplomat Vincent Cooper’s request passed on during a mandatory orientation session at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz on Nov. 5, 2007. “I was told to provide the names, addresses and activities of any Venezuelan or Cuban doctors or field workers I come across during my time here,” van Schaick told ABCNews.com.

Cooper delivered a similar request to three new Peace Corps volunteers and their supervisor during a briefing on July 29, 2007. “He said it had to do with the fight against terrorism,” one of them said. A State Department spokesperson admitted that guidelines prohibited casual visitors from being enlisted into political schemes.

Van Schaick carries out his research in Santa Cruz, a separatist stronghold. Cuban doctors are providing free medical care there.

The incidents are symptomatic of stepped-up U.S. efforts to immobilize the government of socialist president Evo Morales through dismembering the country. U.S. money feeds the separatist longings of wealthy right-wing politicians in charge of four eastern departments (or states) containing most of Bolivia’s land and hydrocarbon resources.

Last August, Morales, an indigenous president elected by an indigenous majority, advised diplomats of his predicament. “I cannot understand how some ambassadors dedicate themselves to politics, and not diplomacy, in our country,” he said. “That is not called cooperation. That is called conspiracy.” Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera accused the U.S. Embassy of funding “ideological and political resistance.”

Drawing from declassified documents, , writing in the February Progressive, cites a 2002 USAID message to Washington defining U.S. objectives. “Over the long run,” Washington would “help build moderate, pro-democracy political parties that can serve as a counterweight to the radical MAS.” The reference is to President Morales’ political party, the Movement toward Socialism, or MAS.

After Morales’ electoral win over two years ago by a 54 percent majority, the USAID aspired “to provide support to fledgling regional governments.” In 2006 four secessionist states were awarded “116 grants for $4,451,249 to help departmental governments operate more strategically,” according to a declassified document.

A grateful spokesperson for a right-wing opposition party told Dangl, “USAID helps with the process of decentralization,” and helps too “with improving democracy in Bolivia through seminars and courses to discuss issues of autonomy.” MAS activist Raul Prade claimed that “USAID is in Santa Cruz and other departments to help fund and strengthen the infrastructure of the right-wing governors.”

A left-wing journalist explained that USAID largesse is not confined to powerbrokers. Julio Mamani recalled “a lot of rebellious ideology and organizational power in El Alto in 2003.” Having built a presence there, the USAID stressed “funding and programs on developing youth leadership,” pushing recruits “away from the city’s unions and into hierarchical government positions.”

Dangl learned that in 2006 the Millennium Foundation spent part of the $155,738 it received from the National Endowment for Democracy for a conference in Cochabamba. Panelists there warned of diminished foreign investments as long as underground gas remained under partial state control. Their watchwords were “privatization and corporate control.”

For Pablo Villegas, a writer for , recent reports from the Council on Foreign Relations highlight some of the strategic thinking of U.S. foreign policy gurus intent upon keeping an imperialist thumb on Bolivia.

They would take advantage of cultural and ethnic variations within targeted countries in order to divide regions and population groups. The U.S. purpose, he suggests, is to fragment nations into mini-states, thereby thwarting popular movements for national liberation, control of natural resources, and social justice.

Villegas points out that “the empire cannot do it alone, not without regional allies. It looks to the national oligarchs, offering them participation in the sacking and oppression of land and populations. This is the essence of oligarchic integration in Latin America.”

atwhit@road runner.com