Letter from Bolivia

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The Bolivian government is launching a counter-offensive against the very successful and popular campaign of the indigenous peoples from Isiboro Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park (Tipnis). This is a massive rainforest in which a number of indigenous nations either live or depend on.

With money from the Brazilian government a road is being built connecting Brazil to the Pacific Ocean. The route of the road goes through this important environment. It is estimated that a million trees will be destroyed.

The indigenous people affected launched a massive campaign to save their forest. They had a superbly well organised march ending here in Bolivia's capital, La Paz. The march was attacked by the police and leaders were arrested and imprisoned. The response was incredible - the local population forced the police and government to release them and the march continued into La Paz.

When the march entered the city practically the whole population came out to meet them. The streets were full and people had to climb onto their roofs and balconies to greet them. The people of La Paz waved the indigenous flag - a white flag decorated with the patuju, a symbolic flower. This contrasts with the multicoloured flag of the Aymara, now adopted by the government and displayed on the sleeves of all the police and army. This demonstrates the distance between the people and the government over this issue.

Bolivian president Evo Morales is caught between the massive domination of Brazilian capital, which is paying for this road, and the demands of the population. It now appears that a counter-offensive has been launched. The anger that mobilised the march and the support it generated in La Paz and the towns and settlements it passed through is a response to the government's denial of the new constitution won by the indigenous popular movements.

These were important rights that protected the lives of the indigenous peoples and allowed them to participate in Bolivian society with dignity and freedom. These rights of proper consultation are seen to have been ignored. The indigenous organisations are not against the road or other developments but demand that the constitution be upheld. Morales's ruling party, Movement for Socialism (MAS), has some popular support among the poor. Certain groups, such as the cocoa growers, have been given concessions that have made them dependent on and supportive of MAS and Morales. They also have an interest in the building of the road because it provides a direct route to the Brazilian market. The cocoa growers are now being used to crush any opposition to the government and this project. They are marching on the same route that the indigenous nations took and will arrive in La Paz. They are expected to be welcomed by a national mobilisation of MAS supporters.

In addition, a conference to be held in Cochabamba to discuss the new economic plan will include all those who have been supportive of the government, but will exclude the unions and those popular movements that have opposed the Morales government. It is an attempt to cast the opposition to the road and any other development as anti-Morales, anti-development and not popular. It's worth noting that Morales is holding this conference in Cochabamba and not La Paz - a fact that shows the lack of confidence in government circles.

The election of MAS and Morales was seen around the world as the beginnings of hope for the poor and oppressed in Bolivia and elsewhere. But the pressures of world capital, especially from the growing domination of Brazil over Latin America, are undermining the independence that the popular movements gave to Morales. The popular movements - especially of the indigenous peoples - have not gone away. They are also probably the least corrupt organisations in Bolivia.

As we are all entering into a period of worldwide struggle against the horrors of capitalism, we can be sure the indigenous peoples and workers of Bolivia will be alongside us.

Roger Cox is a British socialist who is a regular visitor to Latin America.