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Kearns: 'Partners, not bosses' bears fruit in Bolivia

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One of President Evo Morales' campaign slogans, ''Bolivia wants partners, not bosses,'' is becoming a reality.

The Bolivian government will now officially earn more money from the sale of gas and oil to build more schools, hospitals and other important infrastructure. At the same time, the country is preparing to take a seat at the United Nations' Human Rights Council and move further into the international policy sphere.

Both of these accomplishments are, in large part, the work of the first indigenous president of this hemisphere.

Despite some difficult challenges, Morales is moving forward with some of his national and international objectives: the formalized nationalization of oil and gas profits and international recognition for Bolivia's progress with human rights, especially indigenous rights.

On May 2, after signing the acts of ''protocolization,'' or nationalization, of the country's oil profits, Morales declared that there would be reciprocal security between the 12 petrochemical companies and the government.

In his address to the transnational executives attending the ceremony at the presidential palace in La Paz, Morales stated, ''I want to say to you, with much respect to the businesses, reciprocal security and as the state, as Bolivians, as a nation and as authorities of the executive power, in all cases we have the obligation to respect those accords, to respect the legal security [of the Petro businesses], but also we invite you to respect the laws of Bolivia ... When there is respect from both parties, both gain. The results will be beneficial for the nation and for the businesses; I believe that expresses our corresponding contracts.''

Morales reiterated the slogan ''partners, not bosses,'' stating that it was ''beginning to bear fruit'' and that it augurs well for a promising future for oil activity in the country where both the state and private investors would earn money.

''These are constitutionally sound contracts ratified by the National Congress; they are transparent contracts, contracts with information for whoever would like to know about them,'' Morales said, referring to previous contracts between the Bolivian state and private enterprises where the information was hidden from the public. The new contracts stipulate that the companies will continue operations with the same personnel although now they will deliver all of the products to the Bolivian state and for that service the government will pay them to cover their costs.

While the Morales administration was moving towards securing the rights of the country to benefit from its natural resources, both the United Nations and indigenous leaders from across Latin America looked to Bolivia for issues regarding human rights.

The day after the nationalization ceremony, Jean Ziegler, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, informed Morales that, due to the country's positive human rights record and the progress made towards strengthening those rights, Bolivia is being considered for a permanent seat on the HRC.

Ziegler explained that since Bolivia did not commit any flagrant or grave human rights abuses in 2006 and 2007, and that in a time when many countries were guilty of these violations, it spoke well for the nation's record.

''I am sure that Bolivia will be elected as a member,'' she asserted, and noted that the United Nations was going to open a human rights office in La Paz in the coming weeks.

''This office is set up to collaborate with the Bolivian government in the defense and protection of social, economic and cultural human rights. The 192 states that make up the United Nations could learn a lot from the revolutionary democratic process taking place in Bolivia,'' Ziegler said.

Ziegler also said that she was impressed with the democratic process in the country and, with its profound social reforms such as the nationalization, the formation of the surplus and the decisions surrounding natural riches were ''examples for the whole world to follow.''

While not specifically mentioned as a participant at either event, Morales had just been on the international stage in another capacity. He made some progress in advocating for the universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (that was defeated this year at the United Nations). Indigenous leaders from 34 member countries of the Organization for American States had petitioned Morales to advocate on behalf of the declaration at the OAS, which met in La Paz in the end of April.

''The pessimism seen coming from negotiations on the declaration were swept away in La Paz by their advancing the [OAS] approval of cultural identity themes that included indigenous spirituality, health and education,'' said OAS Ambassador Juan Leon of Guatemala in the closing ceremony of the organizations meeting.

''This new dynamic opens the door for hope that the OAS Working Group will achieve its mandate to further develop, in the shortest time possible, the much sought-after American Declaration,'' Leon added.

By recruiting the OAS to their cause, the declaration's supporters have brought a major player to the table the next time the issue is addressed by the United Nations; and by doing so, Morales has taken another step towards international support of his national agenda as well.

Rick Kearns is a freelance writer of Boricua heritage who focuses on indigenous issues in Latin America.