We continue to wonder about Jim. Perhaps he's on how way to the moon for the fortieth anniversary. Just a thought. But first for some dialectics: Capitalism contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction, as Marx observed...
Chapter 13: The Tide Turns Against Goni.
Throughout the history of this land, later known as Bolivia, yet well before Simon Bolivar was even a twinkle in the eyes of his great-great grandparents, indeed prior to any Europeans crossing into this continent, from the very earliest times, roving intruders laid their hands on what they considered available until the greed of each invader had in turn, by an ironic twist, caused their own downfall.
For example, the Incas so valued the sun-metal, gold, for its beauty that their interest had attracted the covetousness of the Spanish conquerors who subsequently changed their attention to the silver lodes recently discovered in the Cerro Rico of Potosì. Then the surfeit of silver bullion introduced into the European economy caused the inflation that so weakened the Spanish control of their colonies, that one by one they fought for and gained their independence.
And so in a repetitive cycle, in this corner of the Andes, on this fertile high plain, the fortune that seemed to favour the conquerors proved to contain a wicked spin that would make their happy benefactors rue the day that luck appeared to have smiled on them. The Incan and Spanish Empires came to their natural ends, and, as a student of history, Goni should surely have learned how every stroke of good fortune in this part of the world seems to rebound on inept national leadership.
It’s as easy to rely on hindsight as talking through your arse, but one might have expected someone with the educational opportunities of Goni to have picked up some lessons from contemplating Bolivia’s recent history.
On countless grounds, with any number of examples, he should have been aware how each stage of the country’s development led to the loss of territory. For example the rubber boom of the 19th century resulted in the snatching of Acre by the Brazilians. In another case, the rise of guano (bird-shit) for use as fertiliser, induced the War of the Pacific and the humiliating seizure of the Pacific coastline, at one fell swoop changing Bolivia into a landlocked country. And Goni should have noted the role of the British in egging on the Chileans. If not including this in his analysis any alert Bolivian leader must certainly have detected the residual resentment, the folk memory, reinforced annually by parades of remembrance to mark the anniversary of the taking of the Pacific coastline. Every Bolivian schoolkid is aware of this loss, it’s a cornerstone of their growth. Is it any excuse that Goni missed out on this stage of development by spending his childhood and youth in Chicago?
So Goni can be accused not only of ignorance but also arrogance in not recognising the common indignation that the incursion of foreign capital and interests has had on the mindset of ordinary Bolivians. So out of touch.
The next haul after gold and silver comes with a more modern metal, tin. Once again the leading investors are foreign companies. But in another memo from history to Goni, he ought to have noted the career of Simon Patiño, a homegrown talent, who started as a humble miner in Oruro and ended up as a mine-owner with his yachts anchored off Monte Carlo, preferring to ship the ore to his foundry in Liverpool, England rather than promoting income and enterprise for his fellow countrymen. Message to Goni: beware especially of those that forsake the homeland and fall for the blandishments of foreign luxuries. Patiño, though Bolivian, became a byword for a traitor. His heart was not here. His loyalties were elsewhere.
And finally the ultimate lure of petroleum, the scarce fuel so necessary for technological advance, a resource that Bolivia discovers in relative abundance and which has already provoked one disastrous war with another neighbour, Paraguay and caused yet one more crucial loss of territory leading to the liberating revolution of 1952 in which Goni’s own party the MNR took a leading role. Goni beware – learn from history or else become its latest victim. And while on the subject of cool fuels, let’s look at its sister energy provider, natural gas, which is where Goni comes a cropper.
His advisory team would naturally recommend a plan based on economic good sense. The best market for this valuable resource is California where every citizen puts their means of transport ahead of every other consideration, perhaps even their families. Their industries need fuel and the citizens of California will pay top prices to ensure the continuity of production. “Only one problem, ”smirks Tad or Jeremy, whispering into Goni’s ear. “You remember Bolivia is landlocked. The only way to get the gas cheaply to the coast is through Chile. Do you foresee any hitches with sending the consignments through to the Pacific coast by this route, Mr. President, sir? “Of course not,” replies Goni. “The Chileans are in business and will recognize the cost efficiency behind our proposal. Everyone will.”
But, of course, not everyone did, especially the common folk up in the Alto who had the image of Chile the Great Usurper, the overbearing and cruel neighbour who had robbed Bolivia of its access to the sea. So Tad or Jeremy’s bright little suggestion while making perfect sense in terms of economic feasibility, went against the gut feelings of every Bolivian who had ever attended the annual ceremony of remembrance as an impressionable schoolkid – which, of course, Goni never had. A fateful mistake for Goni to add to the other factors of misreading the history of the country which he was supposed to be leading.
‘NO GAS FOR CHILE’ read the slogans on the banners which began appearing on the marches downtown to the city of La Paz. Through ignorance and arrogance and listening to the poor advice of his imported team Goni has succeeded in uniting the opposition to his rule. And with the quirkiness that inevitably seems to attend inept leaders, at this very moment an authentic spokesman for the downtrodden has surfaced.
Evo Morales summed up in the popular imagination whatever Goni lacked. Evo, an indigenous representative who has not abandoned his people, first came to public notice as the leader of the coca producers of Chapare, he spoke Aymara and Quechua, played trombone in a brass band and was even known to enjoy participating in a friendly game of football. With these popular attributes, he left Goni tongue-tied. It was Evo who gave voice to the prevailing resentment against shipping Bolivian gas through Chile and with that, Goni’s fate was as good as sealed.
But Goni is still insisting that he is the constitutionally elected president. So what does he want, the lamppost where Villaroel was hanged by opponents in the 1940s? It’s an available option.