By Published On: February 24, 2006Categories: Politics0 Comments on Colonialism

Colonialism (def.): "The political, social, economic, and cultural domination of a territory and its people by a foreign power for an extended time."

Bolivia declared its independence from the foreign power of Spain in 1825. In a letter, the leaders for Independence wrote a powerful letter saying they had maintained a "silence close to stupidity" against the abuses of the Spanish empire. The fervour for national pride and dignity suggested an ending to colonialism.

Let’s jump forward 180 years. Evo Morales, an indigenous leader, presides in a European-style presidential palace surrounded by portraits of European-looking generals who led the struggle for Independence. But let’s look behind the pictures and listen to some of the stories emerging from the conversations with those who have entered the corridors of power.

The new Ministry of Water turns up in the building of the former Ministry of Indigenous Affairs. A little later a Danish official turns up and says actually all the furniture in this building is ours. They don’t believe it but when they look at the contracts, it’s true. The Government owns the building but almost everything inside it belongs to the Danish Government who have leased it for a fix period. And you thought Ikea just controlled the English middle-class imagination?

Delving through the contracts for a Bolivian Government trade negotiating team, it becomes clear that 80% of many of the team’s salaries are being paid for by a mulilateral development bank. And who controls these banks? The US of course which controls about 30% in most international institutions.  Meanwhile Bolivia has been involved in discussions for a Free Trade Treaty with the US. Now how would you feel about negotiating for your team when your salary is being paid by the opposing team?

Another Government official, who will have to remain nameless, turns up in their office to find it full of propaganda material paid for by business groups. It appears as if the Government department has unashamedly become a direct arm of big business with strong international ties. Meanwhile the staff in the Department are still in a state of shock. With 20 years of following one line of policies where privatising and liberalising everything is good, they can’t quite get their head around even thinking of the possibility of any alternatives.

These three little stories are just the tip of a colonial apparatus. The waste left behind in Cerro Rico mountain in Potosi as the Spanish extracted their silver. Others tell me that the influence of the IMF, the US, and various big businesses’ is almost engraved into the walls of the Ministries. This is a country where IMF would be referred to on economic policies before most of the cabinet and certainly the Congress had been consulted. Where big businessmen expected to have immediate access to Government Ministers but would arrive after discussing options with the US embassy.

It is not surprising that after the first Transition Committees reported back, that Evo Morales said we need to "nationalise Government." The challenge of course will be replacing the trash-heap of big business and foreign intervention with people, policies and institutions that first assert Bolivia’s interests.

The Government has to tread carefully in order not to face a backlash from the powerful. It can’t replace people overnight without skilled people to replace them.  Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera speaking at a seminar on trade on Friday said we need to change the "chip" in people’s minds that developed trade policies for a small minority of exporters without consideration and often at the cost of the vast majority of the country. All this will take time, and it is unfortunately possible that with such a daunting task that the Government may find itself getting lost on the way.

The truth is that Bolivia’s situation is one repeated by many countries in the South, and we have kept a "silence close to stupidity" about it.  The last five years of struggles against water privatisation, for control of gas, for repeal of liberalisation laws hasn’t just been a fight for a different type of globalisation, it has been a war for a Second Independence of Bolivia. A struggle against "political, social, economic, and cultural domination of a territory and its people by a foreign power for an extended time."


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