|Bolivia is not a problem for the U.S.
|I am appealing today to the American press in the hope of seeing that its sense of justice and democracy can help publish
I must try to offer some commentary on the letter from the former President of Bolivia published on 11-13-03 by the
Washington Post. My fear that the Bush administration could believe Mr. Sanchez de Lozada and transform Bolivia in a
few hours into another Afghanistan is my main concern.
Sanchez told the Miami Herald that Bolivia will become “another Afghanistan -- exporting people, terror, violence and
drugs.” He is known for his jokes, but this is a very dangerous, facile joke.
Bolivia could never become another Afghanistan. Two facts make that notion almost impossible: Bolivians would never
accept a military invasion, even by benevolent liberators or country-builders. They would fight such visitors from the
very first day to the very last minute. Nobody should be mistaken on this point. Nobody wants another front in Latin
America right now. Or ever, for that matter.
Bolivians do not export drugs. Foreigners come and buy raw coca leaves and make a business from there. Some of these
foreigners work for Coca Cola, as the world well knows. Bolivians have never exported violence. They know and abhor
violence. They would laugh heartily at the simple idea of Bolivia seen as a new Libya. Only ignorance and bad faith could
lead to such a gross mistake.
Also, Bolivia’s is a small problem for America. Bolivia’s problems are so small, any American administration with two
cents of good will and one cent of honest, simple common sense can fix it in two or three weeks.
It is a problem of some four million people who are 60% of the country’s population. They are the poorest people in
Latin America but, as the world has seen a few weeks ago, they know exactly who their friends and their foes are. They
have nothing to lose. They have no food, no decent shelter, no hope and very little patience by now.
They should be seen as very deserving of the world’s help and sympathy. Even if they fought with their bare knuckles in
a confrontation that cost them 80 lives last October, they did not kill even one soldier when repressed by the thousands
of military sent against them by Mr. Sanchez.
And, as I say, they are but a few more than 4 million people. A fourth of the people in Mexico City. Not even half of
Great New York City. A million less than Great Washington DC.
If the Bush administration believes it can rebuild a country like Iraq and change Afghanistan forever in a few months, I
feel certain that it could do the same (minus a few mistakes) in four or five weeks in Bolivia. After all, America needs to
change El Alto only, to make life possible for one million people living in an improvised city that looks like the Old
American West. It is only a problem of $$$, and who but Americans know better about $$$?
To begin with, it should ask Bolivian landowners (a bunch of people who control the land and do nothing with it until
somebody wants to buy it) to work on this land or let the campesinos work and own it. The land should belong to
whoever works on it.
Mr. Sanchez was such a good president that he let a few hundred of his friends (7% of all landowners, not all Bolivians)
own 87% of the land, so most of it is now empty and abandoned. By doing this, he betrayed his political party and, in a
very deep sense, every Bolivian born since 1950.
How much of the Bolivian land that remains empty and abandoned belongs to Mr. Sanchez himself is a dark mystery.
What most people know is that Mr. Sanchez, who was not born to riches, is worth a hundred million dollars today.
American journalists have in Mr. Sanchez a wonderful opportunity to explore how this kind of “friend of America” is
made. He is “our man in Bolivia” for sure. So much so, that I bet he ruled Bolivia with an American passport in his
pocket. That, of course, would mean he is a traitor in accordance to Bolivians laws, but who cares? Everybody in this
universe knows he was an American Consul while things were run by the Embassy. Some people say he has a sign of
“Made in CIA” stamped in his left buttock. Just look at how the press is dealing with him here: the Post, the Miami
Herald and only State knows how many other media are at his service.
Any journalist who tries to learn and tell the world what it takes to make a hundred million dollars in a country where
most people live on less than two dollars a day deserves a Pulitzer. The American press should learn how Mr. Sanchez
created another half-million new poor Bolivians in less than six months. They should learn about his social and
commercial policies as a businessman and what a respected and beloved man he is for employees of his own businesses.
Above all, they should see how he cared for his less fortunate countrymen in his haciendas, his mines and his diverse
assets. They should also learn how many of his relatives have become millionaires because he could not put all of these
assets in his own name.
We should also be given a chance to learn about the President’s right hand man, Mr. Sanchez Berzain, a.k.a. ‘The Fox’, a
character straight out of “The Godfather” to help Mr. Sanchez deal with his dirty linen. Both men swear they are not
relatives, but they deserve to be.
Every time Mr. Berzain went to the Chapare region (the coca land) a few farmers were dispatched to heaven. So much
so, that many politicians mocked Berzain whenever people did not die after one of his visits. Berzain is so good at his
violent business that everybody in Bolivia knows he is still running shadowy matters for his ex President from exile in
(where else?) Miami. Berzain’s skills may help explain the more than 500 fatal victims of Mr. Sanchez de Lozada last
year in La Paz.
But all these matters are less important than the rebuilding of El Alto, a task sent from heaven for Mr. Bush’ team. It
they can rebuild El Alto (a city that looks somewhat like the poorest parts of Calcutta) and provide its inhabitants with a
job and a dollar of a hope, Bolivia will be fixed for the next 20 years. Bolivia will not have desperate poor citizens
anymore, and there will be peace and fraternal harmony. If Americans cannot fix this small problem, there is something
very, very wrong with America.
Let me add that people would not be happy if America sends Mr. Sanchez back to Bolivia in spite of his sins. He is seen
as a thief, a murderer, a lying old man (73 in a country where people get old at 50) and, sad but true, a “Gringo”. If the
State Department cannot send a decent ambassador even now (the same man is still there) there is this one little matter
State can change with Mr. Sanchez’s help: if he goes back, please make him leave his Gringo accent behind. God knows it
does not help him at all.