Remembrance Day (11/11, a.k.a. elsewhere as Veterans Day or Armistice Day) of 2019 passed in my native Canada with millions of Canadians proudly and rightly wearing their poppies on their lapels. Unfortunately, the entire nation got trolled by the tiresome complaint of veteran sports commentator Don Cherry, an ignorant blowhard who built a career out of making outrageous comments that always shocked the mainstream sensibilities of Canada’s multicultural society. This time he complained about immigrants living the good life in Canada but being too lazy to learn about the sacrifices of veterans or wear the poppy with all other “real” Canadians. He was fired from his lucrative job a few days later, mostly for using the condescendingly loaded words “you people.”
While it’s all well and good to dispense with such a fool, it was remarkable to see so many Canadians proudly remembering the WWII fight against fascism while they habitually act like good Germans in the 1930s, staying unconcerned about the fascist coup d’etat occurring in Bolivia the same week—the overthrow of a government that made history in the 21st century by having an indigenous president improve the lives of the indigenous majority. Canada talks a good talk about its reconciliation with and respect for indigenous people, but Canada backed this coup all the way, going along with the false narrative spouted in Washington that it was all about “restoring democracy.” Canadian mining companies have perpetual interests in South America, and Canada’s sainted and tragically hip prime minister, Justin Trudeau, knows which way the wind blows for his Liberal Party power base. Indonesia, Chile, Ukraine… Canada and its mining giants never met an American-backed coup d’etat they didn’t like.
|Unless one were Jewish, or poor and unemployed, or of active leftist persuasion or otherwise openly anti-Nazi, Germany from 1933 until well into the war was not a nightmarish place. All the “good Germans” had to do was obey the law, pay their taxes, give their sons to the army, avoid any sign of political heterodoxy, and look the other way when unions were busted and troublesome people disappeared. Since many “middle Americans” already obey the law, pay their taxes, give their sons to the army, are themselves distrustful of political heterodoxy, and applaud when unions are broken and troublesome people are disposed of, they probably could live without too much personal torment in a fascist state… We might do well to stop thinking of fascism as being a simple either-or condition… To insist that fascism does not obtain until every abomination of the Nazi state is replicated and every vestige of constitutional government is obliterated is to overlook, at our peril, the disturbingly antidemocratic, authoritarian manifestations inherent in many states that call themselves democracies.
– Michael Parenti, Fascism in a Pinstriped Suit, 2000/01/08
It’s not as if Canadians couldn’t learn what really happened in Bolivia if they wanted to. They would just have to pull their heads out of the mediaspace of the CBC and the corporate media groups such as Postmedia, Thomson and Bell Media (the latter boasting 29 specialty TV channels, 4 pay TV services, 2 “conventional networks” and 109 radio stations), and make the effort to look at the excellent coverage in alternative media that came out soon after the Remembrance Day coup in Bolivia:
Counterpunch.org: Oppose the Military Coup in Bolivia. Spare Us Your “Critiques”
Center for Economic and Policy Research: The Organization of American States Has Deceived the Public, Terribly, on the Bolivian Election
Center for Economic and Policy Research: Bolivian Economy Has Been the Fastest-Growing in South America While Following Heterodox Policies (October 2019)
or even this editorial in the mainstream Guardian: What the coup against Evo Morales means to indigenous people like me
Readers should really go to these articles and read them in their entirety, but here is a summary of the pertinent information therein about the golpa de estado in Bolivia:
- Foreign governments came out in support of the coup citing unproven allegations of election fraud. There is now a completely fabricated narrative about Morales’ illegitimacy and a “restoration of democracy.”
- Evo Morales offered to hold new elections to satisfy the Organization of American States (OAS), even though he didn’t have to because there was no evidence of election fraud. He won by over a ten percent margin, and he was to still be head of state until the end of the present term in January 2020.
- Radical and violent forces co-opted the moderate opposition in recent months. When they got the support of the military, they had no need obey the constitution or to play fair with Morales. He had no armed force to back him up.
- Morales took Mexico’s offer of asylum and fled the country in an effort to avoid an outbreak of violence, to save his own life, and perhaps to come back if conditions become more favorable.
- Violent repression increased anyway, with attacks on Morales’ supporters and family members. Even his dog was killed, perhaps deliberately. The interim government announced an amnesty for any crimes the security forces might commit in further acts of repression. The government also rushed to evict 700 Cuban doctors and Venezuelan diplomats.
- Opposition senator Jeanine Añez declared herself interim president without a legislative quorum present. Morales’ party has a majority in the legislature, but they were blocked from entering the building. They never would have supported this move, but Añez claimed power anyway and carried a bible while declaring a will to repress “satanic” indigenous religions, and remove indigenous symbols from the flag and indigenous people from capital city, La Paz.
- Many figures in the coup have historical connections going back to 20th century South American dictatorships and farther back to Nazi Germany and the Croatian Ustasi.
- Some writers in the mainstream media have written that they see no hands of the CIA on this one, showing ignorance or faking ignorance of the fact that the CIA hides its hand by acting through USAID, NED and various other front organizations and NGOs that naïve people take to be progressive and neutral.
- UN representatives arrived in La Paz to plead with the interim government to restrain the violence that has occurred against supporters of Morales. This may seem to be a good thing, but it is likely to have no effect, and by failing to call for the restoration of the president who was forced to resign with a gun to his head, the UN has actually legitimized the violent overthrow.
This transformation of public consciousness and the unperceived hijacking of once-noble causes bring to mind a few lines from Bob Dylan’s Idiot Wind (apologies for the William Burroughs-style cut-up of the song’s lines):
Planting stories in the press Whoever it is I wish they’d cut it out but when they will I can only guess You hurt the ones that I love best and cover up the truth with lies Now everything’s a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped What’s good is bad, what’s bad is good, you’ll find out when you reach the top You’re on the bottom
The environmental movement is at the forefront of this inversion of good and bad, top and bottom. With the masses now conditioned to prioritize the fight against global warming, many environmental groups have shamefully piled onto the condemnation of Evo Morales for failing to be perfect; that is, failing to have no political opponents, or failing to solve all of his country’s environmental problems. In the summer of 2019, The Guardian and Extinction Rebellion condemned Morales’ “authoritarian” government for causing fires, or not stopping fires, in the Bolivian Amazon, as if his record of social progress (in health, literacy, employment, economic growth, nationalization of resources, incomes, and housing) should just be ignored while we place him on the same level as Bolsonaro in Brazil and his fascist, anti-indigenous, neoliberal policies. Many progressive groups like to play this game. They think they are neutral, above politics, and just want to solve the single emergency they care about—excess CO2 or nuclear weapons, or whatever. They think the crisis means all else can be put aside. They have to be objective and even-handed and condemn “both sides,” as if they would never have to take the side of the oppressed and work on broad solutions along the way to reducing CO2 emissions or eliminating nuclear weapons.
The final irony, one that I haven’t seen mentioned in all the recent coverage of Bolivia, is seeing Bolivia emerge as the source of a global economic transformation for the second time in five hundred years. The Andes region holds the majority of the world’s lithium, an element used in batteries that will be key in the shift away from fossil fuels. As a side benefit, it is also useful in treating one of the symptoms of our age: manic episodes of bipolar disorder. There has been much speculation that the coup was driven by the green new deal’s need to control this new strategic resource and to keep Evo Morales from making deals with China or using the wealth to benefit Bolivians. For one hundred fifty years, starting in 1545, it was the enormous silver strike in Cerro Rico in Bolivia that fueled the galleon trade and made a global economy for the first time, which soon created the first global financial crisis. If you want to understand why indigenous people in Bolivia are a little bit sensitive about being exploited for resource extraction, read the following excerpt from 1493: Uncovering the New World that Columbus Created.
Charles C. Mann, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, 2011), 141-148.
Almost as important as the mountain of Potosí [Cerro Rico] was a second Andean peak, Huancavelica, eight hundred miles northwest, which gleamed with mercury deposits. In the 1550s Europeans in Mexico discovered a way to use mercury, rather than heat, to purify silver ore. (Rediscovered, actually—the technique had been known in China for centuries.)…
After watching a demonstration of the technique, Viceroy Francisco de Toledo seized the Huancavelica mines for the crown, thus arranging what he called “the most important marriage in the world, between the mountain of Huancavelica and the mountain of Potosí.” As long as the mercury lasted, the viceroy realized, the mines would no longer be dependent on Indian technology, which in turn meant that Spaniards could treat natives wholly as a source of labor. Andean peoples had a tradition of communal work that had been co-opted by the Inka to build a great highway system. Taking a page from the Inka playbook, Viceroy Toledo forced natives to deliver, as a tribute, weekly quotas of men to mine the silver …
… conditions were appalling, especially at Huancavelica. The entrance to the mercury mine was a great archway with pilasters and the royal coat of arms cut into the living rock of the mountain. Inside, the tunnels rapidly narrowed and spread out like jellyfish tentacles. Candles strapped to their foreheads, Indians hauled ore through cramped tunnels with next to no ventilation. Heat from the earth vaporized the mercury—a slow-acting poison—so workers stumbled through the day in a lethal steam. Even in cooler parts of the mine they were hacking away at the ore with picks, creating a fug of mercury, sulfur, arsenic, and silica. The consequences were predictable. Workers served in two-month shifts, often several times a year …
Sometimes it is said that the mines killed three to eight million people. This is an exaggeration. Still, conditions were appalling, especially at Huancavelica… So determined were natives to avoid the mercury pits that parents maimed their children to prevent them from having to serve. Huancavelica ore was refined in a ceramic oven; the mercury boiled off and condensed on the inside surfaces. If the oven were opened before it was cool—something mine owners, eager to start the next refining cycle, often insisted upon—the result was a faceful of mercury vapor. Numerous official inspectors urged the crown to shut down Huancavelica. But reasons of state always won out; the need for silver was too great. As the mineshafts went deeper into the mountain the inspectors urged that the state dig ventilation shafts. The first was not created for eight decades. Officials who dug up graves in 1604 reported that when miners’ corpses decomposed they left behind puddles of mercury …
Failure to meet the quota would be punished by whips, clubs, and stones. Horrified antislavery activists denounced the “hellish pits” of Potosí. “If twenty healthy Indians enter on Monday, half come out on Saturday as cripples,” one outraged priest wrote to the Spanish royal secretary. How, he asked, could Christian leaders allow this? …
… the Americas produced a river of silver—more than 150,000 tons between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, according to the silver trade’s most prominent historians, Dennis O. Flynn and Arturo Giráldez of the University of the Pacific. For those centuries Spanish silver washed around the planet—it was 80 percent or more of the world’s output—overwhelming governments and financial institutions everywhere it landed. “Right at the beginning there was this shot of silver into Europe,” Flynn told me over the course of a long conversation. “We can’t be sure about the numbers, but the amount of silver in Europe may have doubled.” The Spanish silver peso became a universal currency, linking European nations much as the euro does today …
After sixty years of frenzied production, Flynn and Giráldez wrote, the world had accumulated so much silver that its value began to fall. A million pesos in 1640 was worth about a third of what a million pesos had been worth in 1540. The impact was multifarious and planet-wide. As the price slid, so did the profits from silver mining—the mining that was the financial backbone of the Spanish empire. Spain did not adjust its tax rates for currency fluctuations (in modern terms, they weren’t indexed to inflation). The king collected the same amount of taxes in silver as he had before, but its value plunged, throwing the government into crisis. Spain’s economy turned to ash, followed by the economies of a dozen other states equally dependent on Spanish silver, one after another like a chain of firecrackers.
Charles C. Mann, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, 2011), 141-148.