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Learning From Latin America


Short Version: mp3, 3.42 MBs, 4:16

Long Version: mp3, 3.80 MBs, 4:44

[Col. Recorded 8/13/04]

Many people in the United States have grown up thinking of ourselves as the smartest, most civilized, most able folks on the planet.

While we may not say it openly, we think it, and consequently, we look down on our neighbors to the immediate South. One need only look at U.S.-Latin American relations, at over a century of American relations with South and Central American nations, which may be described as imperial and dominating. In 1927, Walter Lippman, a *New York Times* columnist wrote:

...[W]e control the foreign relations of all the Caribbean countries; not one of them could enter into serious relations abroad without our consent. We control their relations with each other. We exercise the power of life and death over their governments in that no government can survive if we refuse it recognition. We help in many of these countries to decide what they call their elections, and we do not hesitate, as we have done recently in Mexico, to tell them what kind of constitution we think they ought to have. [Fr. Clara Nieto's *Masters of War: Latin America and U.S. Aggression* (N.Y.: Seven Stories Press, 2003), p. 22]

In Lippman's words, these actions described what many Americans, both then and now, shrunk from calling their nation: an empire. In the almost 80 years since Lippman's observations, that general state of affairs continues to describe U.S.-Latin and Caribbean relations.

Yet, sometimes, things come from the South that surprises us. The resistance of the Cuban Revolution, surely as nakedly nationalist as it is socialist, still has a majestic David and Goliath quality to it. In the mountains of Chiapas, the Zapatista rebellion, which, although anchored in the ancient indigenous Indian and Mestizo populations, continues to show that the people of Mexico have not agreed to be servants of the rich norteamericanos. And now the people of Bolivia, again, many of them descendants of the indigenous native peoples of the land, have shown us something remarkable in the annals of resistance to empire.

From the high plains and villages of Bolivia, from the poor, the unemployed, the dispossessed, has come the Water Wars.

When politicians and foreign business interests pushed through a law essentially claiming all rights to Bolivian water, the people, across virtually all sectors rebelled, and through something they called *Coordinadora* (or coalition) Bolivians staged public demonstrations, erected barricades along major roads, and exposed the backroom deals signed by corrupt politicians to enrich themselves, and beggar the people. These Water Wars unleashed latent people's power to run out a series of presidents, and forced the U.S. company, Bechtel, which tried to broker the deal, to leave the country, with empty hands.

Soon, English readers in the U.S. will be able to read for themselves the remarkable story of how everyday Bolivians, mainly in the city of Cochabamba, stood up to the greedy local and foreign businessmen, to fight neoliberalism and political corruption, in the face of brutal government repression. One of their keys was to expand, and in some cases, bypass, the traditional trade union workers, who, under the new economic conditions of Bolivia (and much of Latin America) constitute a minority of workers. They turned to the poorest, least organized, least paid, most oppressed people, and formed a popular base that the traditional unions, the government, and foreign business backers could not ignore. They organized the people.

The story is told by one of the main organizers, Oscar Olivera, in the soon-to-be published: *Cochabamba: Water Rebellion in Bolivia* (Cambridge, Ma.: South End Press, 2004).

What we learn from this is something very fundamental — that the people, when organized, are powerful indeed, and can transform our social, economic and political reality.

And that lesson comes, not from the North, but from the South; from Bolivia, from the poor — Resistance!

Copyright 2004 Mumia Abu-Jamal


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Text © copyright 2003 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the author.