Morales and his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) won last yearâ€™s election on a platform of reclaiming a controlling interest in gas and oil resources, raising fees on foreign mining companies, and turning idle land over to the landless. Gas and oil was successfully nationalized, and income from mining has increased six-fold. As a result, the economy is growing at a respectable 4 percent, and the government has built up a 6 percent budget surplus, which it is using to improve education and subsidize food for the poor.
But an effort to distribute 48 million acres of land has sparked demonstrations in
While the Parliament approved the land distribution-10 percent of
The tension boiled over in
The eastern provinces are the wealthiest part of Bolivia-Santa Cruz alone produces almost half the nationâ€™s wealth-but there is widespread poverty as well, with working class slums sandwiched between malls and skyscrapers. While Indians make up a majority of
Morales supporters point out that when highland tin was the Bolivian economic engine, the eastern elites supported a centralized government. It was only after natural gas deposits were discovered in the east, and Bolivia elected its first Indian president-Morales is an Aymara-that the eastern departments suddenly decided they wanted autonomy.
An ugly strain of racism has crept into the current standoff. When Morales sacked army commander Marcelo Antezana for unilaterally allowing the
MAS is currently attempting to amend the constitution to end a two-thirds rule, which allows the elite minority to block political and judicial reforms. Even though Morales supporters have a majority in the Assembly-255 to 137-the elites have successfully paralyzed the process.
While a nationwide referendum on autonomy was defeated in the last election, the eastern provinces are forging ahead anyway. Some in the region suspect that secession is the real goal, quietly supported by landlords in neighboring
Any land distribution in
And as for the Bush Administration, two years ago it began a campaign against Morales, accusing him of being a catâ€™s paw for
If an east-west civil war breaks out, the Bush Administration is likely to be right in the middle of it.
(For further information on
Can things get worse in
Behind the sudden surge of military activity is a classified report by
Ankara is currently upset because it accuses the Kurds of trying to absorb the oil-rich city of Kirkuk as part of a Kurdish autonomous zone by forcing Arabs and Turkic-speaking Turkmen out the city. According to the Intelligence Service, some 600,000 Kurds have moved into the city, and 200,000 Turkmen have been forced out.
Der Spiegel reports that “Ankara is thinking aloud about a possible military intervention in northern Iraq,” a conclusion echoed by leading Turkish figures.
On Jan. 9, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said, “There are efforts to alter the demographic structure of Kirkuk. We cannot remain a bystander to such developments. Turkey … will not remain indifferent to developments in Kirkuk.”
Even the Turkish opposition Republican Peopleâ€™s Party is on board. Party leader Deniz Baykal says, “We are ready to back the government [on intervention]. We’re planning to invite parliament to debate this.”
The possibility that a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would invade an American-occupied Iraq seems a stretch unless you take into account Turkeyâ€™s profound paranoia about its eastern borders, where Kurds constitute a major part of the population. There are approximately 25 million Kurds scattered between Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran, and Turkey fought a long and bloody war with the PKK in the mid-1980s that killed 30,000 people and razed 3.000 villages. On a number of occasions Turkish troops crossed the Iraqi border pursuing Kurdish guerillas.
But since the end of the 1992 Gulf War, Kurds in northern Iraq have established a well- organized autonomous region with some of the largest oil reserves in Iraq. If they can successfully win autonomy referenda in Mosul and Kirkuk, the Kurds will be awash in petrodollars and, Turkey fears, set an example to Kurds in neighboring countries to push for an independent nation.
Ankara is worried that the PKK will rev up another round of war in eastern Turkey, although the Turks spurned a ceasefire offer last year from the PKK. The Turks are angry that the U.S. is not going after the PKK, but since the U.S. and Israel are using the PKK to try to destabilize Kurdish parts of Iran, Washington is not about to abandon them.
It may be the Turks are just saber rattling to try to get the referendum called off (as the Iraq Study Group suggested), but they may also hope to prod the U.S. into taking more aggressive action against the PKK. Whatever Turkey has in mind, no one should be surprised if Ankara sends troops into Iraq to attack their long-time nemesis. Such an invasion will likely unite the Kurds, who have reason to fear and hate Turkey, and ignite a free-for-all in northern Iraq.
Oh, and according to the Inter Press Service, Shiia tribes in southern Iraq are joining the resistance against the British, the main reason why London is talking about “cutting and running” from Basra.
Can things get worse? Alas, yes.
[Conn Hallinan is a foreign policy analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus (online at www.fpif.org) and a lecturer in journalism at the University of California, Santa Cruz.]