Bolivian President Evo Morales on Democracy Now

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DEMOCRACY NOW–  AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Bolivia in the town of Tiquipaya, just outside Cochabamba. On Thursday, the World Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth concluded with a major rally at the Félix Capriles Stadium in Cochabamba featuring Bolivian President Evo Morales and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

Over the past three days of the summit, known here simply as “La Cumbre,” seventeen working groups met to discuss various climate-related issues, from climate debt to the dangers of carbon trading. Last night, summit organizers released an Agreement of the Peoples based on the working group meetings.

Key proposals include the establishment of an international tribunal to prosecute polluters, passage of a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, protection for climate migrants, and the full recognition of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The peoples’ summit also condemned a proposed forest program known as REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation.

At Thursday’s rally, Bolivian President Evo Morales called on world leaders to adopt these proposals from the peoples’ summit.

    PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] If we apply and implement all of the conclusions of this World Conference on the Rights of Mother Earth, Cochabamba will be a hope to the world. What the governments of developed countries suggest is allowing the earth to warm two degrees or more. Clearly, the proposals coming from some working groups are not solutions, but ways to cook all of humanity.

AMY GOODMAN: Bolivian President Evo Morales, speaking before over 15,000 people in Cochabamba’s largest soccer stadium.

In the hours before the rally, supporters of Morales filled the sidewalks of the city. Morales is the first indigenous president of Bolivia, and much of his support comes from the majority indigenous population.

Signs of Bolivia’s vibrant indigenous culture were on full display outside and inside the stadium. Many indigenous women wore bowler hats and flared skirts. The sound of pan flutes and the Andean string instrument, the charango, could be heard throughout the stadium as several musical acts gave impromptu performances on the field. Bolivian women and children sold empanadas and fresh juices.

At the rally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez warned that capitalism could lead to the destruction of the planet.

    PRESIDENT HUGO CHÁVEZ: [translated] We will not submit to the hegemony of the imperial Yankees. You can even write it down. If the hegemony of capitalism continues on this planet, human life will one day come to an end. For those of you who believe that’s an exaggeration, one must remember this: the planet lived for millions of years without the human species.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, the War and Peace Report. We’re broadcasting from Cochabamba. Again, you were listening to the closing ceremony and the closing speeches at Cochabamba’s largest soccer stadium. It took place on Earth Day. You just heard the President Evo Morales. You also heard, as well, President Chávez. In just a moment, we are going to be joined by President Morales. He has just arrived by van. He’s coming up the stairs. So we’ll go to a break, some of the remarkable indigenous music that has been playing throughout the area, and then we’ll be joined by the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales.


AMY GOODMAN: As the World Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth concludes, we are joined now by Bolivian President Evo Morales. Following the failed Copenhagen climate talks in December, Morales issued a call to hold the peoples’ summit to give the poor and the Global South an opportunity to strategize on fighting climate change. President Morales joins us now for the hour. We’re here at the Universidad del Valle—Uni. del Valle, it’s called here—in Tiquipaya.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, President Morales.

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: You have joined us in New York several times on Democracy Now! We are very honored to be here in your country, in Bolivia.

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] And thank you very much for the invitation to converse, as we’ve always done.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we are speaking on the day after the World Peoples’ Conference has concluded, the day after Earth Day. What do you feel you have accomplished?

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] First of all, we have been surprised by the participation of all the peoples of the world. We didn’t imagine so many people, more than 30,000 participants in sixteen—or seventeen working groups, and a declaration that provides so much direction for life and for nature, the participation of scientists and people responsible for different sectors and regions of the world.

There are two particularly important things. In Copenhagen, there was interest in having a document approved that would cause harm to Mother Earth. And the debate was only about the effects of the climate crisis, not the causes. And the peoples here have debated the causes, which is capitalism—I could elaborate on that—genetically modified crops, which cause harm to Mother Earth and human life.

And in addition, I am so pleased to see that there’s been such deep interest in engaging in a dialogue with the United Nations, so that these conclusions of the peoples of the world can be heard and respected. Not just by the peoples who participated, they should also be heard and respected by humankind as a whole, all of those who live on the planet.

AMY GOODMAN: The proposals that have come out of this conference, this summit, can you name them and explain them, beginning with the climate justice tribunal?

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] For example, the developed countries should respect the Kyoto Protocol, and that means put it into practice, the 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions; and that the global temperature increase should be a maximum one-degree Centigrade; that a climate justice tribunal should be established, based in Cochabamba—and I say thank you very much to the social movements who approved this proposal that it be based here; that there should continue to be a debate or there still is a debate on having a world referendum on climate change; that the economic resources spent on defense and wars should be for life and for nature.

According to information we have, we find that the developed countries spend $1.7 trillion, supposedly for defense and international security, but that actually means in military intervention in other countries. Imagine, with $1.7 trillion for life and for nature, that would be so important. And that is the right of Mother Earth, the right to regenerate Mother Earth’s caring capacity. It’s very important.

And I can tell you, I know and I have lived in my family, in my community, in my aillu, traditional community, where we said this year, we’ll grow chili peppers the next year, and we evaluate this among five different or eight communities. And over that time, it is regenerated in another place. Some time goes by, and we replant it in different place. And so, if we rotate the crops, then there’s not a detrimental impact on the environment. These seem like small things, but they translate into large things internationally in terms of the world environment.

In Bolivia, after this event, we are going to begin with reforestation. And the plan that we have in Bolivia, as of the first anniversary of the Declaration of International Mother Earth Day, because last year that was approved—before, it was Earth Day, and now it’s International Mother Earth Day. So one year after that, which is now, we’re going to begin planting. And next year, as of April 22nd, we will plant ten million trees. What does that mean? That a Bolivian, whether it’s a child or an older person, has to plant a plant or a tree. And we’re ten million, and there will be ten million, without any international contribution. This would be just an effort by Bolivians to begin to reforest our country.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what is happening to the glaciers here in Bolivia?

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] It’s a very bitter experience. Chacaltaya, near the city of La Paz, when I was a child, I always heard that people would ski there. And now that I am president and living in La Paz, there is no skiing there. And there’s just a spot of snow left. Also, in the department of Potosí, we have another mountain, and the miners would say [inaudible], that they would say that it was dressed in white. It was all snow-covered. And what I’ve been told is that fifty years from now, there will no longer be snow on Illimani, the major mountain overlooking La Paz. This is what the experts say. These have to do with water problems, and that is the great concern, not only of the peasant and indigenous communities who love their Mother Earth and who take care of it, but also of the whole population.

AMY GOODMAN: President Morales, who would be brought before a climate justice tribunal?

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] First, the developed countries that are not respecting the Kyoto Protocol. It’s a basic document, the Kyoto Protocol. The developed countries should responsibly implement the provisions. We would begin with the countries that have not ratified or adopted the Kyoto Protocol, such as the government of the United States. And to that effect, you also have the International Court of Justice. So this is a new organization that would grow out of this event, this world movement for the rights of Mother Earth. This world movement for the rights of Mother Earth should already bring an action, as I say, against the countries that have not ratified the Kyoto Protocol. And second, those that have ratified it, but are not implementing the Kyoto Protocol.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to President Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia. Yesterday at the Earth Day rally, the foreign minister of Ecuador said that the US had cut two-and-a-half million dollars to Ecuador because they didn’t sign onto the Copenhagen Accord. He said he would give two-and-a-half million dollars to the United States if they signed onto the Kyoto Protocol. Bolivia, the US cut two-and-a-half million dollars, or $3 million, because you didn’t sign onto the Copenhagen Accord. Can you explain what happened?

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] The thing is that there’s permanent sabotage and blackmail from the US government. I cannot believe that a black president can have so much vengeance with an Indian president, because our grandparents and our populations, black and indigenous, have been excluded, marginalized, humiliated. That’s where Obama is coming from, from that experience and that suffering. And me, too. And so, it’s one who’s been discriminated against discriminating against another who’s been discriminated against, one oppressed who is oppressing another oppressed. So much blackmail, and the so much blackmail we had experienced before, and now I’m being subject to $3 million blackmail.

But it’s with great pride and humility that we’re now better off without the United States. We’re better off economically. And in terms of macroeconomic policy, we’re better off without the International Monetary Fund.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the $3 million supposed to be for, before it was cut?

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] Of course, for social programs, as well as environmental programs, but that’s just $3 million. In terms of fighting drug trafficking, they have the responsibility to make an investment, and that it’s not just a question of cooperation, it’s a matter of an obligation on their part. Nonetheless, they have pulled out, and we are facing drug trafficking alone—some crumb to make it seem like something, certainly. And so, for example, I had information that they were going to invest in the Millennium Development Account, like $600 million, and they withdrew all of it. And so, we worked this out with other countries. We’re talking about investment. One is not going to raise that claim about this. We are a country of dignity.

But what they do is take vengeance, intimidate. And that is why my doubt is, one who has been subjugated, one’s family has been subjugated to discrimination, is now president; how is it possible that he can discriminate against another movement that has been discriminated against? It is the peoples who will hear.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see a change between President Bush and President Obama?

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] If something is changed, it’s just the color of the president that’s changed.

AMY GOODMAN: President Morales, you have often talked about the difference between coca and cocaine. You say coca is not cocaine. For a US audience, that is hard to understand. Please explain.

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] Cocaine is like the white hair of our interpreter, and the coca leaf is green like the leaves that you see on the tree outside. The coca leaf, in its natural state, is food, it’s medicine. It is used quite a lot in rituals, as you will have seen in the ceremonies that have taken place at this World Conference on the Rights of Mother Earth.

To turn coca into cocaine, many chemical agents are required, chemical precursors, and therefore a mix of sulfuric acid and other chemicals will turn it into a drug. But we have no culture of cocaine, but we do have a profound culture of coca leaf. I’m very sorry that the US State Department considers that people who consume coca leaf are drug addicts. That’s absurd. It’s totally false. And that those of us who produce coca leaf are drug traffickers and that they say that coca is cocaine, well, that is a lie. And so, we’re engaged in a permanent battle to continue to inform the whole world about this. But people like you, for example, know now that coca is not cocaine.

But in addition to that, when Bolivian tin was in its boom, it was used by US industry. And at that time, the United States was encouraging coca production, so that the miners, the workers, would consume coca leaf to help them extract tin to be sent to the United States. The best producers of coca leaf at that time were given awards. This is documented.

And I continue to be convinced that cocaine and drug trafficking is an invention of the United States. And with that invention, they’ve been able to create this war against drug trafficking. Capitalism lives from war. Capitalism needs wars in order to sell its weaponry. So this is not an isolated drug issue. It goes to the very interests of capitalism. And on the pretext of fighting drugs, they establish military bases. It’s political control and domination that they want. It’s the new colonialism.

AMY GOODMAN: President Morales, let me ask you, though—I have been speaking, not with your opponents, but your supporters, who are concerned that there is a growing narcotrafficking problem here. And I’m wondering if you feel that is the case. And you, more than anyone, understand that anything like this could be a trigger for massive intervention. So what will you do about this?

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] It is a problem, and we acknowledge it. I don’t know if it’s growing, but the drug cartels and the cocaine cartels have become so powerful, the Plurinational State of Bolivia does not have certain instruments and technology for struggling against the drug cartels. It is a weakness on our part.

And the most important thing is that the peasant movement is voluntarily reducing coca crops. Before, it was forced eradication, which violated human rights. The disadvantage is that we don’t have radars, satellites, and a drug trafficker is not the one who steps on—who processes the coca leaf. They go around all around the world, and their money is in the banks. We need to end bank secrecy, for example. Why not? So, imagine, there’s not any real effective contribution to the anti-drug trafficking effort.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there a role the US can play in combating drug trafficking here that you think would be constructive?

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] We just need equipment and technology.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Bolivian President Evo Morales, who rose to the presidency—was a cocalero, the head of the coca growers’ union. And now I want to go back ten years. I want to go back to the Water Wars, where you really rose in popularity and ultimately to the presidency. Right outside this window here at the University del Valle, we can see the mountain Tunari. That was the name used for this mysterious company, Aguas del Tunari, that was actually the US company Bechtel, who came to privatize the water supply. You joined with the farmers, with the factory workers, led by Oscar Olivera, and you led a mass movement against the privatization and pushed out Bechtel. Talk about those moments.

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] I was born in Oruro, Orinoco, in another department in the Altiplano, and—before doing my obligatory military service in 1978. In 1979, I went to the Chapare region, which is here in the department of Cochabamba. And in 1979 and 1980, when I was going back and forth, I would come by Tunari, and it was always covered with snow. Most of the year it was snow-covered. Now, when there’s snowfall, it may be covered with snow just for half a day at most. I have experienced that.

Now, apart from that, the first companions who rose up against the drilling of wells was right over here in a place called La Vinto, Vinto Chico. I remember perfectly well that the communities had mobilized and put up roadblocks. And they said, “Evo, you have contacts with the press. Bring the press.” And they said, “The privatization of water is harming us.” I had some friends in the press. We brought them there. They talked with them, and they denounced it. I was very struck by the situation. And now I’m talking about the 1990s. I learned a great deal.

And then this contract came with the company called Aguas del Tunari. For the people in the city, the rate that they were going to be charged for water was going to increase threefold, fourfold, sevenfold. That provoked a response from the population. And the privatization of the springs, the melting, for irrigating, for the peasant movement, all of this was a problem. And Oscar Olivera and others came together. We all came together in order to wage debates. There was a colleague named Fernandez, who was among the irrigators. There was Oscar Olivera from the workers’ sector.

And what had most struck was that in the legislature—and at the time, I was a legislator, in 1999, 2000—I was told in the Congress that we need to approve a $50 million loan for the—and from the Andean Development Corporation, but that was going to be for Aguas del Tunari. So I figured that if there’s a company that is going to be awarded a project or a contract for privatizing water, they need to invest the money. Why is it that the government needs to lend money to the company Aguas del Tunari? Am I making my—you get my point? In the indigenous and peasant world, in the world of the poor, the businessperson is one who has a lot of money. Transnational corporations are great millionaires. And a transnational, Aguas del Tunari, was given a contract for privatizing the water. Well, then the legislature has to approve a law to give a loan to that company? What kind of privatization is that? Now I can make some more comments, with all the more reason, about other transnationals. That really struck me. There’s no investment by the company at all here. Then we found out who were the partners of this transnational: a politician by the name of Medina, another politician. And they put the papers together to create a company. But there wasn’t any money, and so the Bolivian government was supposed to lend it money.

This and many things brought us together—the peasant movement, the irrigators, the people in the city. I would say that the factory workers of Oscar Olivera participated in this struggle very little. It was essentially the peasants, the irrigators and the coca growers. We joined the struggle. We didn’t have water problems in Chapare. There’s flooding in Chapare. The issue was that it had to do with a policy of privatization. And drinking water included the trade unions. So we said, “This policy is going to come to Chapare, and before that happens, let’s fight it in Cochabamba.”

I remember that one day I felt defeated in our mobilizations here. About a thousand of us went out, said, “Let’s go out and march.” And we went out to march, and they began to shoot teargas at us. And the press said they’re shooting teargas at the coca growers, who are defending water. And then the population rose up, and there was a state of siege. It was the last state of siege that we defeated. And since then, there’s been no state of siege.

AMY GOODMAN: So how does it feel, from—going from that victory, pushing Bechtel out of the country, being a stone-throwing protester, to becoming the president of your nation, representing the police and the military that you were opposing at that time?

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] Well, as president, we continue getting the companies out of the country. Before, as a social movement leader, now as president. We also have removed the company Aguas del Illimani from La Paza, as president. As president, we have removed Transredes, an oil company. So that’s not changing. These are policies that have been defined by social movements in Bolivia, and we’ll continue to pursue them.

But I do want you to know, we said no more will we have companies being the owners of our natural resources. We do need partners. For example, some agreements that we’ve signed with some companies, the company invests, but under the control of the owner is the Plurinational State of Bolivia. We are owners of 60 percent of the shares, and the investor holds 40 percent. It is legally guaranteed and constitutionally guaranteed that they will recover their investment, but they also—we also guarantee the right to share in the profits.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break for sixty seconds, but then we’re coming back to our exclusive hour with the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, as we broadcast live from Cochabamba, Bolivia. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: You’ve just been watching and listening to the celebratory music, the major celebrations that took place at the close of the summit yesterday in the main soccer stadium here in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

This is Democracy Now!,, the War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. And we have been broadcasting all week from the World Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth. We’re here now in the Bolivian town of Tiquipaya, just outside of Cochabamba, with President Evo Morales.

You are talking about industry and the role of corporations. I’d like to address how you deal with indigenous rights, environmental rights, and reconcile that with corporations. Let’s go to San Cristóbal, the mine, the protests of the last week. Please tell us what is happening there. The miners have shut down the area. They’re calling on Sumitomo, the Japanese company, to give them reparations, stop polluting the water. I think 6,000 liters of water a second are used. What is the government doing? What are you doing, President Morales?

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] First, that is a concession that is legally guaranteed and armored by the previous governments. It’s the legacy of the neoliberal governments. But in addition, the people in the area know that the company has negotiated with them. They’ve created a foundation to give money to community members and the experience that is that such kinds of agreements, blackmail or prebends, are not a solution. Those are not eternal. And that those who are culpable are the leaders of the communities who agreed to enter into agreements with the company. There’s also a political component. When the right lost in the municipal elections, the next day, they began to wage conflicts. So there’s an internal issue there.

If we want to resolve the issue of San Cristóbal, we need to change a law, a law on mining. And certainly, that is going to be subject to an in-depth review, the concession contract itself. But yesterday, the day before yesterday, the conflict has ended. They lifted that, and we explained the truths. But sometimes these kinds of conflicts are used politically at the local level.

AMY GOODMAN: The State Department has issued a warning that people shouldn’t travel in that area, the US State Department.

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] You always hear campaigns of that sort from the US State Department. It’s just one part of the highway that’s been blocked. But, as I say, that was lifted two days ago. And then I was informed that some tourists were kept from going through, but the community members, in a responsible way, had the tourists come through. You can see that this is a satanization by the United States State Department. And we say, in a humanitarian sense, they have a right to be there, even though they’ve politicized it.

But they don’t realize that those responsible for those agreements are not only the previous governments, but also the leaders of—the previous leaders of those communities. So there was this agreement between the state and the leaders of the community. I know about it. I was there talking with them. They accepted that there be a foundation that would invest, I’m not sure how many millions in the community.

That also doesn‘t mean that we’re trying to deflect responsibility. It is our responsibility to seek solutions. And I was saying a moment ago that we need to—that there are contracts that are armored, and we need to figure out how to change them.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the bigger issue. Bolivian economy is based on 20 percent, 30 percent on extractive industries like silver, zinc. You are really getting into lithium now. Bolivia has the world’s majority reserves in lithium, an incredible alternative energy source for batteries, for electric cars. How do you reconcile the extractive industries with the environment, Pachamama, the indigenous word for Mother Earth, with indigenous rights?

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] We need in-depth studies on this. If we want to defend Mother Earth and the rights of Mother Earth, any project for industrializing natural resources has to respect the regeneration of bio-capabilities. Like with some minerals, for example, non-renewable minerals, it will be difficult. So the internal debate is what to do about this, because Bolivia, before, lived from tin, as a colonial state. Now we live off of gas and oil. Our economic resources come fundamentally from oil and gas, and mining is in second place. To what extent can the industrialization of these resources allow for respect for Mother Earth?

As of this conference, and going forward, everything has to change. But when they tell us that lithium could be an alternative energy source, I was asking, what about the brine, and in what time can it be regenerated? Some tell me fifty years, some tell me 100 years. I would be happy if it were fifty years, because we have there these salt flats of 10,000 square kilometers. And if you take a broader look, it’s 16,000 square kilometers. It’s immense. So we’re going forward. And if that happens, then we’ll be satisfied, in terms of having a replacement for the energy sources that cause so much harm to Mother Earth.

AMY GOODMAN: These are the issues that have been raised by mesa 18, the group that was not included in the summit, the issues of—even someone on the stage in your opening ceremony, Faith Gemmill from North Alaska, said, “Keep the coal in the hole, keep the oil in the ground.” What is your response to that, to stop the extractions?

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] You want me to tell you the truth about working group 18? That’s a business of the NGOs and the foundations. The indigenous brothers and sisters had never before had an indigenous working group within the seventeen. But since it’s a question of justifying investments by the NGOs, then they set up working group 18.

Now, the internal debate. Those foundations, NGOs, said, “Amazon, no oil.” So they’re telling me that I should shut down oil wells and gas wells. So what is Bolivia going to live off of? So let’s be realistic. But since these foundations and NGOs justify using some of the indigenous brothers and sisters—I don’t blame my indigenous brothers and sisters. They use the leaders to justify their good salaries and their own way of life.

I heard yesterday—last night I was with the people from Via Campesina up until 2:00 a.m. You know Via Campesina. I’m one of the founders. And they tell me, “Don’t build roads.” And another one says, “Don’t build dams.” The day before yesterday, when I was just back here, I announced that we’re going to build a road from Oruro to a place near here. That is the most widely applauded project by the grassroots people, because the people who need to be able to have access. If we look just out here, in Alto, every day they’re asking for small-scale dams. So NGOs and some leaders say, no, when they’re not interpreting the needs of their grassroots. That is the truth. And for this reason, it was like a confrontation Via Campesina—

AMY GOODMAN: We just have thirty seconds. Your hope for this summit?

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] I wanted to explain—I don’t want to feel that there’s not freedom of expression, in terms of addressing your concern. But I do want you to know, that is the truth, and that last night, with Via Campesina, we had those confrontations. So they ended up—they stopped talking about the dams, about the roads. Now I’m an enemy of thermoelectric plants, for example, but not hydroelectric plants.

AMY GOODMAN: Five Seconds.

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] Well, then, thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you very much. We’ve been speaking with Bolivian President Evo Morales. And that concludes our exclusive week here in Cochabamba, Bolivia at the Worlds Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth.

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