Bolivian violence postpones Morales’ historic Alaska visit

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A historical meeting that was to take place between Bolivia President Evo Morales and hundreds of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal leaders in late September has been postponed due to violent political upheaval in the South American country set off by right-wing anti-government forces that oppose the indigenous leader’s reform program to distribute the country’s natural resources wealth more equitably among the low-income and poor population.

The Alaska meeting, which was scheduled for Sept. 20, was canceled Sept. 11 by Bolivia’s minister of Foreign Affairs and Cultures, David Choquehuanca Cespedes, who said that “due to the circumstances related to the current political situation in Bolivia, it will be impossible for President Evo Morales Ayma to visit Alaska on the forthcoming 20th of September.”

The letter was addressed to Mike Williams, president of the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council; Kirk Francis, president of the National Tribal Environmental Council; and Joe Garcia, president of the National Congress of American Indians. The meeting was to be co-hosted by the three organizations.

The NCAI issued a statement to the hundreds of tribal leaders who had been planning to travel to Alaska for the special meeting saying that the meeting will be rescheduled “due to important governmental activities recently taking place in Bolivia. President Morales feels that it is in the best interest for Bolivia to remain in the country right now. Both he and the Embassy of Bolivia send their apologies but look forward to working on international indigenous issues in the close future.”

In response to an e-mailed request for comment on the unfolding events, Williams, whose organization was arranging the practical details of the Alaska meeting, said he heard of the events in Bolivia when he returned from “subsistence hunting in the wilderness.”

The news was disappointing.

“The planning was done and we had great hopes in discussing our issues that have been on our agendas for a long time. To make our lives better in the Americas and move forward to benefit all from our resources. We have been struggling up here with the loss of our lands and control of our natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable, which are plenty, but we still live in Third World conditions.”

The tribes were hoping to discuss “issues of importance to our future existence as indigenous peoples of our lands – intellectual properties, our stories, our histories, our economies, climate change issues, many issues,” he said.

The intertribal council plans to move forward with the meeting as soon as possible after conditions in Bolivia stabilize.

“I know that President Morales is very busy keeping everyone together despite the unfortunate aggression that is taking place. I urge the leadership of indigenous organizations of this country to be patient while we are working on the meeting down the trail.”

Now is the time to end aggression and start a dialogue, Williams said, “because people are getting hurt instead of being helped. These actions are human rights violations at its best. We know the history of what happened in our country. I look forward for all of our indigenous brothers and sisters to unite for the best interest of our future existence. We all have challenges to deal with.”

The violence in Bolivia has been escalating since a contentious national referendum Aug. 10 in which 67 percent – a supermajority – of the total electorate affirmed their overwhelming support for Morales. The election, however, left four opposition governors in power in the resources-rich “half-moon region” in the eastern part of the country. The opposition provinces are seeking greater autonomy from Morales’ government and insist on the cancellation of an upcoming referendum on a new constitution that would help him centralize power, run for a second consecutive term and transfer fallow terrain to landless peasants.

Morales expelled U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg Sept. 11 for allegedly inciting violent opposition protests. His announcement came hours after anti-government protesters sacked and burned government offices in Santa Cruz, seized several natural gas installations in the half-moon region and blew up a pipeline that cut natural gas exports to Brazil by 10 percent, according to The Associated Press.

A series of tit-for-tat ambassador expulsions and recalls followed between the United States, Venezuela and Honduras, the latter two expelling their U.S. ambassadors in solidarity with Bolivia.

According to the AP, Goldberg met a week earlier with Ruben Costas, one of Morales’ most virulent opponents. Costas is governor of Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s richest province and the seat of a pro-autonomy revolt against Morales and his reform program, the report said.

Goldberg denied Sept. 15 that his meetings with opposition governors and Washington’s distribution of aid to their regions amounted to an attempt to undermine Morales.

“I would like to say that all the accusations made against me, against the embassy and against my nation are completely false and unjustified,” he told reporters in La Paz.

By Sept. 15, the AP reported that at least 30 people had been killed in the political violence, prompting Morales to declare martial law in the rebellious northern state of Pando – where Morales said thugs used machine guns against his supporters – and seek the arrest of its governor.

Morales said the bloody violence amounted to a “civic coup,” inciting “crimes against humanity by groups massacring the poorest of my country.”