Galeano Listens To Bolivians Speaking
Source ListMeister
Date 03/11/07/19:41

Galeano Listens To Bolivians Speaking - Enough! !Basta ya!

the country that doesn't exist remains ill with racism. But the country
that wants to exist, where the indigenous majority is not ashamed of
what it is, doesn't spit at the mirror.

This Bolivia, tired of living to fuel foreign progress, is the true
country. Its history, ignored, abounds in defeat and betrayal but also
in those miracles that scorned people are capable of when they stop
scorning themselves and fighting each other.

By Eduardo Galeano

The Progressive December 2003 Issue
Date: Fri, 07 Nov 2003

A gigantic gas explosion: This was the popular uprising that shook all
of Bolivia and culminated in the resignation of President Sanchez de
Lozada, who fled, leaving behind him a trail of corpses.

The gas was to have been shipped to California--for a minuscule price in
exchange for a few miserable gifts-- across Chilean land that used to be
part of Bolivia. This last detail was just salt in the wound for a
country that for more than a century has been demanding, in vain,
restoration of the sea access it lost in 1883 in the war that Chile won.

But the route of the gas was not the primary cause of the fury that
erupted throughout the country. There was another, which the government
responded to with bullets, as is its custom, leaving the streets strewn
with dead. The people rose up because they refused to allow to happen
with gas what had previously happened with silver, saltpeter, tin, and
everything else.


In 1870, an English diplomat in Bolivia was the victim of a disagreeable
incident. Dictator Mariano Melgarejo offered him a glass of chicha, the
national drink made from fermented corn. The Englishman thanked him but
said he preferred chocolate. So Melgarejo, with his customary delicacy,
made him drink an enormous vat of chocolate and then paraded him on a
mule, seated backwards, through the streets of La Paz. When Queen
Victoria, in London, heard of the incident, she had a map brought to her
and pronounced ''Bolivia doesn't exist,'' crossing out the country with
a chalk "X."

I'd heard this tale many times. It may or may not have happened exactly
this way. But this phrase, attributed to British imperial arrogance,
could also be read as an involuntary synthesis of the tormented history
of the Bolivian people. The tragedy repeats itself like a revolving
wheel: For five centuries, the fabulous riches of Bolivia have been a
curse to the people, who are the poorest of South America's poor.
Indeed, for its own people, ''Bolivia doesn't exist."


For over two centuries, back in colonial times, the silver of Potosí was
the primary nourishment of the capitalist development of Europe. ''It's
worth a Potosí'' meant something was priceless.

Midway through the sixteenth century, the most populous, most expensive,
and most spendthrift city in the world sprouted and grew on the foot of
the mountain that oozed silver. This mountain, called Cerro Rico,
swallowed Indians. ''The streets are thronged with people,'' wrote a
rich miner from Potosí: Entire communities were emptied of men, marched
as prisoners from every direction to the opening into the mines.
Outside, it was freezing. Inside, it was hell. Only three of every ten
men led in left alive. But these short-lived inhabitants of the mines
generated the fortunes of Flemish, German, and Genovese bankers,
creditors of the Spanish crown. It was these Indians who made possible
the accumulation of capital that transformed Europe into what it is today.

What remained in Bolivia of all this? A hollow mountain, an incalculable
number of Indians worked to death, and a few palaces inhabited by phantoms.


In the nineteenth century, when Bolivia was defeated in the so-called
War of the Pacific, it not only lost its access to the ocean and found
itself locked into the heart of South America. It also lost its saltpeter.

Official history, which is military history, has it that Chile won the
war. But real history confirms that the winner was British businessman
John Thomas North. Without firing a shot or wasting a penny, North won
the lands that had belonged to Bolivia and Peru and made himself the
king of saltpeter, which at the time was the fertilizer necessary for
the tired fields of Europe.

In the twentieth century, Bolivia was the primary supplier of tin to the
international market. The tin cans that made Andy Warhol famous came
from the mines, which produced both metal and widows. In the depths of
the mineshafts, silica dust gradually asphyxiated the workers, who
ruined their lungs so the world could have cheap tin.

During the Second World War, Bolivia contributed to the Allied cause by
selling its precious mineral at a tenth of its usual price. Workers' pay
was slashed to almost nothing, a strike ensued, and the machine guns
opened fire. Simon Patiño, owner of the business and master of the
country, didn't have to pay compensation because killing by machine gun
is not a workplace accident.

At the time, Don Simon paid $50 a year in taxes on his profits, but he
paid much more to the president of the nation and his cabinet. He had
been a dirt poor man touched by the magic wand of Fortune. His
grandchildren entered the European nobility and married counts, marquis,
and the relatives of kings.

When the revolution of 1952 dethroned Patiño and nationalized tin,
little was left of the mineral--the meager leftovers from half a century
of boundless exploitation in the service of the world market.


More than 100 years ago, historian Gabriel Rene Moreno discovered that
the Bolivian people were ''cellularly incompetent." He had compared the
weight of an indigenous brain and that of a mestizo and found that they
weighed between five, six, and ten ounces less than the brains of
members of the white race.

Time passed, and the country that doesn't exist remains ill with racism.
But the country that wants to exist, where the indigenous majority is
not ashamed of what it is, doesn't spit at the mirror.

This Bolivia, tired of living to fuel foreign progress, is the true
country. Its history, ignored, abounds in defeat and betrayal but also
in those miracles that scorned people are capable of when they stop
scorning themselves and fighting each other.

These fast-moving times are marked by astounding, impressive achievements.


The year 2000 featured the so-called ''water war'' in Cochabamba. The
peasants marched from the valleys and blockaded the city, which also
rose up. They were met with bullets and tear gas as the government
declared martial law. But the collective rebellion continued,
unstoppable, until in the final clash the water was wrested from the
grip of the Bechtel Corporation and restored to the people and their
fields. (Bechtel, based in California, is now receiving relief from
President Bush, who has awarded it multi-million-dollar contracts in Iraq.)

A few months ago, another popular explosion throughout Bolivia
vanquished nothing less than the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The
IMF made them pay dearly for the defeat--more than thirty assassinations
by the so- called forces of order--but the people succeeded in their
task. The government had no option but to annul the payroll tax that the
IMF had demanded.

Today, there's the gas war. Bolivia contains enormous reserves of
natural gas. Sanchez de Lozada called this false privatization
''capitalization,', but the country that wants to exist showed it has a
good memory. Would it allow a rerun of the old story of the country's
riches evaporating in foreign hands? ''Gas is our right,'' proclaimed
posters at the demonstration. The people demanded and continue to demand
that the gas be used for Bolivia and that the country not submit again
to the dictatorship of its underground resources. The right to
self-determination, so often invoked, so rarely respected, begins with this.

Popular disobedience derailed a juicy deal for Pacific LNG, comprised of
Repsol, British Gas, and Panamerican Gas, known to be a partner of
Enron, renowned for its virtuous ways. Everything indicated that the
corporation stood to make ten dollars for every one invested.

As for the fugitive Sanchez de Lozada, he lost the presidency but he
won't be losing much sleep. Though he has the crime of killing more than
eighty demonstrators on his conscience, it wasn't his first bloodbath.
This champion of modernization is not bothered by anything that can't
turn a profit. In the end, he speaks and thinks in English--not the
English of Shakespeare but that of Bush.

------------------------------------------------------ Eduardo Galeano,
a Uruguayan journalist, is the author of "The Open Veins of Latin
America," "Memory of Fire," and "Soccer in Sun and Shadow." Published
with the permission of IPS Columnist Service, which holds the copyright.

[View the list]

InternetBoard v1.0
Copyright (c) 1998, Joongpil Cho