Is the United States Funding Violent Opposition Groups in Bolivia?
Earlier this week I received an article in my e-mail from a U.S. organization whose research work I generally respect a good deal, the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). CEPR is a prolific producer of research and commentary on a wide range of economic issues, and from time to time it writes about events in Bolivia.
The article in my in-box was titled, The Fun House Mirror: Distortions and Omissions in the News on Bolivia, and was published by the solid NACLA Reporter. But what caught my eye in the CEPR article was this declaration:
"Just a day before the [September 2008 Pando] massacre, at the height of opposition violence, the Bolivian government expelled U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg, following revelations that the U.S. Embassy in La Paz had asked Peace Corps volunteers and a Fulbright scholar to spy inside Bolivia, together with growing evidence, amid official secrecy, of U.S. funding for violent opposition groups [emphasis added]. "
The debate over what the U.S. government is and is not funding in Bolivia and with what actual intent has been hotly debated, especially since President Morales declared in 2007 that USAID was directly funding efforts to undermine his government. The U.S. Embassy and organizations such as USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) insist that they are merely supporting efforts to strengthen government administration. Critics, in both Bolivia and the U.S. have charged these U.S. enterprises with directly trying to topple Morales.
Nevertheless, the charge by CEPR seemed to go a good deal farther, "… growing evidence, amid official secrecy, of U.S. funding for violent opposition groups."
I wrote to the article's author, Dan Beeton. I told him that I have heard plenty of evidence that recipients of USAID and NED funding are involved in activities such as writing anti-Evo opinion articles in newspapers and the like, but had yet to see convincing evidence that the U.S. was directly funding "violent opposition groups." The footnote in the article on that point, instead of offering such documentation, led only back to another CEPR news release. In response, Dan wrote back that there was plenty of evidence to back the charge, and I invited him to present it here on the Blog.
I think this is a very important debate, and one which needs to be argued out based on the facts and with evidence not just charges. I don't agree with all the points in his analysis, but I do hope that Dan Beeton's correspondence below will help provoke a solid and intelligent debate among our readers on this issue. In addition, I am inviting both the U.S. Embassy in La Paz and the NED to draft any response they would be willing to offer on this topic and have offered to publish it here, unedited, as I am doing with Dan Beeton's analysis below.
I look forward to your comments.
Is the United States Funding Violent Opposition Groups in Bolivia?
Written by Dan Beeton, Center for Economic and Policy Research
There's a fair amount of evidence that the U.S. has already funded violent actors among the Bolivian opposition, even from the relatively little that we know about recent grants through USAID and so on:We know that since President Morales’ election, the U.S. government has sent millions of dollars in aid to departmental prefects and municipal governments in Bolivia. See e.g.:
USAID DATA Sheet: Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance
"OTI has approved 101 grants for $4,066,131 to help departmental governments operate more strategically." We know that Leopoldo Fernandez, as a prefect, received some of this money. As you know, he is not someone who has merely written "anti-Evo op.eds," he was found by the UNASUR commission that investigated the September violence in Porvenir to have led a "chain of command” of perpetrators who acted "in an organized fashion” to commit a "massacre."
From the "USAID/OTI Bolivia Field Report July - September 2006": "OTI activities are aimed at building the capacity of prefect-led departmental governments to help them better respond to the constituencies they govern.…During the third quarter, OTI has continued to build on its activities designed to enhance the capacity of departmental governments. OTI isimplementing projects in coordination with all nine departmental governments, most recently collaborating with the prefectures of Beni,Pando, and Oruro. The projects provide technical support and training for prefecture staff in the areas of strategic planning, budgeting andproject management. They also build institutional capacity related to financial and administrative systems, transparency mechanisms,communications and outreach. In addition, OTI approved new projects designed to help prefectures more efficiently and strategicallyapproach their responsibilities in regional economic development, departmental infrastructure and social services.”
“During the third quarter, OTI approved a total of 24 projects for $913,000. Thirteen of the new projects, totaling $465,800, are being implemented in support of the decentralization process through strengthened departmental governments. One newly-approved set of activities in the departments of Pando, Tarija, Potosí and Santa Cruz will facilitate the transparent, efficient flow of information between the various offices and divisions within prefectures. Its goal is to improve communication between departmental governments and stakeholders
at the local government and community levels.”
Ruben Costas has most recently been in the news again after witnesses told prosecutor Marcelo Sosa that Costas had offered “a house and land” to Eduardo Rozsa Flores and the other plotters in the terrorist cell broken up by Bolivian authorities on April 16, 2009. Whether this accusation turns out to be true or not, I would argue that Costas has clearly supported violence against both the Bolivian government and indigenous people in Bolivia in other ways.
Costas made numerous statements supporting the violence as it unfolded in September 2008. On September 9, 2008, the Andean Information Network reported that “In response to the day’s violence, Santa Cruz Prefect Ruben Costas claimed that these outbursts reflected the 86% of people in his prefect who voted for departmental autonomy.” Costas did not mince his words, according to AIN: “This is not a coup d’état, nor a civic-prefectural coup,” but rather a response “to the violence and repression of a fascist Government.”[. . .]“What happened today in Santa Cruz is the consequence of State terrorism that the government exercises, of the blindness that impedes them from recognizing the peoples’ right, the free determination and sovereignty of the departmental autonomy.”
Costas has also stirred up racial hatred by calling Morales “a monkey,” which is not trivial considering the ongoing racial violence against indigenous Bolivians by the UJC, Camba Nation, and various other groups.
Was Phillip Goldberg really surprised to be expelled after being caught having a clandestine meeting with this man?
I noted some of the prefects' encouragement of the September violence and sabotage in my article, citing AFP: “the conservative governors are . . . encouraging the protesters in their actions” and “Militants linked to the opposition group set up road blocks to add pressure to the governors' demands for more control over gas revenues.”
We know - if Inter Press Service's report of September 4, 2008 (referenced in my article) is correct, that the August/September 2008 violence was a planned campaign engineered by the CONALDE, which, as you know, includes “five provincial governors, business associations, conservative civic groups, and legislators of the rightwing Podemos party led by former president Jorge Quiroga.” Funding of anyone in CONALDE is the same as the funding of violent groups, when they're the ones coordinating campaigns of violence.
We also know that the NED has given money to the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce (CAINCO) (this is one grant that Jeremy Bigwood was able to get hold of). The Chamber has been tied to violent groups such as “the Movement for the Liberation of the Camba Nation" in press reports, and the Santa Cruz Civic Committee. (This 2005 article in Mercopress also quoted the head of the Chamber as promoting secessionism: “What we should do is simply and smoothly separate ourselves from Bolivia.") It's significant, I think, that the press was reporting these connections back in 2005 before Morales was elected. While the NED grant that Jeremy retrieved was from 2004, one would certainly hope that connections to the "Camba Nation" and such groups would make the NED and any other US-based group or government agency reconsider giving more funds to CAINCOS.
So, in short, of course I'm not suggesting that the U.S. is funding the UJC, the Santa Cruz Civic Committee, or any similar such groups directly. And I'm not saying there's evidence that the U.S. gave money to people like Fernandez to be used for violent ends. But they've nevertheless given money to prefects like Fernandez, Costas and other actors who have conspired to commit violence and have encouraged violence when it occurred, and who in all likelihood passed money on to the guys with baseball bats and guns.
This was one reason I wanted to write this article - to make clear to readers that there sometimes isn't much difference between the "respectable" opposition figures like Marinkovic and some of the prefects, and the UJC and their ilk. But despite that Reuters, AFP, and Inter Press have described the ways in which these groups are connected and they've worked together in a coordinated fashion, this still is not reported as a central part of the narrative in most U.S. press reports
It is possible that USAID et al have cut off funding to violent actors in Bolivia, that the funding of these groups was only before they became increasingly nasty last autumn. But we don't know this due to ongoing U.S. government secrecy, despite Obama's pledges of increased transparency. Whether or not all the grant recipients "need" this money from the U.S., I don't know, but the fact is that departmental and municipal governments have been receiving it. For details, I would consult with Jeremy Bigwood - he probably has more documentation on all this than anyone, and he can update you on the latest FOIA's that USAID declines to respond to.
Some of the comments have suggested I’m making accusations or insinuations that I’m not. My points in my note to Jim, as posted above, are simply this:
1). The U.S. government has given funds to, and worked with, people such as Leopoldo Fernandez and Ruben Costas in the past. (Highlights of grants that I cited above explaining some of the details of USAID’s work with the prefects are from USAID/OTI Bolivia Field Reports from 2006. Click here for information on activities in Pando and other prefects. Click here for information on activities in Santa Cruz, Pando, and other prefects.)
2). Some of these people have since actively encouraged violence by others (such as Costas, Marinkovic), and there is evidence that Fernandez, at least, coordinated campaigns of violence in September 2008. In Fernandez’s case, an international commission stated, after investigation, that he was the leader of such a coordinated campaign of violence, one that resulted in a “massacre.”
3). We do not know whether the U.S. has broken off its financial and other partnerships (i.e. such as training and networking activities) with these people, because USAID is not complying with FOIA requests, despite that it is not supposed to be a clandestine organization.
4). The burden of proof is on the U.S. to demonstrate that it has stopped any support for these people, in light of their actions during the September 2008 violence, and/or any other violent activities.
In addition, the U.S. clearly did nothing to make the Bolivian government – or the international community – think at the time that it was going to break off these relationships, or that it opposed these people’s activities, when it failed to condemn the violence in September, and when the U.S. Ambassador was caught by a TV journalist going to a private meeting with Ruben Costas. (I would argue that it was unwise, as Dan Moriarty says, for Goldberg to meet with Costas at all in this manner, in the midst of a wave of violence that Costas at the time was loudly defending and encouraging in public statements, and only weeks after he had publicly called Morales “a monkey.”)
This actually understates the U.S.’ connection to violent groups in Bolivia, since as I also noted above, the NED made grants to CAINCO in 2004 despite knowing of CAINCO’s connections to extremists such as the “Camba Nation”. (See my comment in response to the NED in the above entry.)
In response to Dan’s comments on the nature of USAID activities in collaboration with prefectures in Bolivia, USAID’s own reports suggest these were considerable projects – e.g., “OTI is now implementing projects in coordination with all nine departmental governments, most recently collaborating with the prefectures of Beni, Pando, and Oruro. OTI has approved 77 grants for $2.9 million to help departmental governments operate more strategically, improve service delivery and outreach to both urban and rural indigenous communities, and help prefects become successful promoters of regional economic development.”
We do not know the full extent of these or other projects. Also, money is fungible. It’s possible that some of the recipients of USAID assistance in these and other projects did not simply use these funds for technical training and support and the like. That’s why it is important for USAID and other U.S. government agencies (and the NED) to be careful not to partner with anyone who’s shown a proclivity towards violence or hatred.
Perhaps the U.S. has ended all funding and partnerships with these people. That would be great. The way to demonstrate this is with transparency. Anyone who is interested in knowing whether U.S. support for violent extremists in Bolivia continues should do as we did and call on USAID – and other government agencies, as Dan points out - to comply with FOIA requests and reveal whom they are funding in Bolivia and why. (Whether or not USAID is “currently the epicenter of US involvement in Bolivia aimed at countering or destabilizing the Morales government,” as Dan put it, I suppose we cannot be sure, but USAID’s spending in Bolivia is, relative to Bolivia’s economy, equivalent to what the U.S. spends on the Iraq war.) We might not be having this debate over whether there is sufficient evidence to support my assertion that there is “growing evidence, amid official secrecy, of U.S. funding for violent opposition groups” if USAID and other U.S. government agencies would comply with the many FOIA requests that have been filed over the past several years. Keep in mind that Jeremy Bigwood has sued for access to documents he requested through FOIA’s years ago, but which USAID refuses to release.