Friday, June 10, 2005

(Out of Area) The Bolivian Troubles, “Race War”, and the ICC

Wednesday’s Neue Züricher Zeitung (NZZ) had these interesting observations [link in German]concerning the Bolivian protest movement that brought down the government of President Carlos Mesa and the movement's principal leaders and presumptive political beneficiaries Evo Morales and Felipe Quispe:
The most important demand [of the protest movement] is the nationalization of the raw materials sector, since poor Bolivians – so the tenor of this discourse of “class struggle” – have looked on long enough as foreigners carted away their natural resources. The opposition is not prepared to accept the law on the exploitation of natural gas and oil reserves that was recently passed following all the rules of Bolivian democracy and that burdens enterprises with higher taxes.

All of this has little to do with democracy. Those who believe that veritable popular masses are behind the protest movement are fooling themselves: it does not require much or many to bring this Andean country to a standstill with blockades and evidently not all the demonstrators are participating of their own free will. Morales, who is said to have good relations with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and much sympathy for the latter’s “Bolivarian” revolution, received just over 20% of the vote in the last elections. Since then, his obstructionist politics seem to have made him more enemies than friends in the country....

Without any democratic legitimacy, Morales, Quispe and the other protest leaders are letting Bolivia drift rudderless toward an uncertain future.

The political mix animating the Bolivian protests may be even more explosive than the NZZ suggests. For while the “Socialist” Evo Morales mobilizes the traditional discourse of the Marxist-Leninist “left” and hob-nobs with the likes of Chavez and Castro, the leader of the “Pachacuti indigenous movement”, Felipe Quispe, invests the discourse of “class struggle” with “racial” ressentiments. This from an interview Quispe gave to the Peruvian Radio Programas [via today's edition of the Spanish daily El Mundo]: “There’s a race war [lucha racial – literally “racial struggle”] between whites and indigenous.... Now is the time, now is the time for us to take political power and for these invaders to return our land to us.”

According to the El Mundo article, Quispe defends the “use of force” to bring about the nationalization of the oil and natural gas industries and welcomes the perspective of a civil war “to define who rules the country”.

It is interesting that Mesa, the elected President, declined to use force to end the blockades and restore public order, as a sovereign government would ordinarily be expected to do. I wonder if this does not have something to do with the fact that Bolivia is a member of the International Criminal Court (about which, I have written extensively here, as well as in numerous earlier posts on Trans-Int). One of the effects of ICC membership is to undermine a member state’s internal monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. It is now up to a “supra-national” instance – the court – to decide whether the state’s use of violence is legitimate or not. So-called “human rights activists” (in fact, this has nothing to do with “human rights” in the strict sense this term has in international law) will no doubt welcome such a development. Those concerned about democratic self-government might not. For if a democratic state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of violence is broken, does this not open the way for violent minorities (i.e. in the statistical, not the "ethnic" sense) to impose their will by force?