Home / Culture and Society / Is It Police Brutality in Bolivia or Is It Something Much More Insidious?

Is It Police Brutality in Bolivia or Is It Something Much More Insidious?

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Bolivia is in the news. Petitions are zipping through cyberspace. What is going on? Last Sunday police brutally attacked indigenous people peacefully marching in protest of a road being built through their territory known as the TIPNIS (El Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Sécure). Everyone seems to agree on the fact that marchers were horribly injured and killed. But soon the situation gets very murky.

No one is claiming responsibility for ordering the police to attack the marchers. The quickest finger pointing seems to belong to the US press (both mainstream and activist). They say that President Evo is the one responsible.

But I’m not sure that this is true.

As everyone who has read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States knows, the mainstream press historically has supported US business interests under a cloak of populist sentiment, and sometimes has manipulated the activist press to follow suit.

What do I mean by that?

The cloak of populist sentiment changes with the topic and the times; jargon such as “God’s will” has been replaced with “protect indigenous people and the rain forest.” Of course we want to protect indigenous people and the rain forest. This is vital to our survival as a species. But, is that what we are really doing when we sign one of the petitions that are going around the Internet?

Let’s pause a moment, and look at one of the many historical examples of the press manipulating people to support US business interests: the Spanish American War. This war ostensibly was to help the oppressed Cuban people gain liberty from Spain: That was the rallying cry to get well-meaning people of the US emotionally charged so they would join the military and become cannon fodder.

After the war the Cuban people were not part of the decision-making process for their own new Constitution. The US-mandated constitution basically made Cuba a possession of US businesses. Soon about 80% of the island was owned and controlled by US businesses, such as United Fruit. The people of the US were angry and disillusioned at this outcome, but their voices were not heeded.

With that in mind, let’s look at what is happening in the press nowadays. Sunday a group of policemen brutally attacked peaceful marchers in Bolivia. Starting Monday and Tuesday the US and UK press ran articles denouncing Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia. But, in a far more extreme incident in 2009 militarized Peruvian police massacred hundreds of protesting indigenous people, and the US press was comparatively silent.

Why the difference in reaction?

Could the silence in the US press about the massacre in Peru be because the then-president of Peru, Alan Garcia, was friendly to US business interests, and the road building also benefited US businesses? And could the immediate outcry in the US press over the police attack on the marchers be because president Evo Morales supports the interests of the Bolivian people over the interests of US businesses?

And I have not even mentioned the police brutality that occurs on a regular basis in US cities. No news agency that I have seen has demanded that president Obama be held accountable for the brutal actions of local police.

Police brutality should never be tolerated. I urge that we continue questioning until we reveal the truth of who incited the police to attack the indigenous marchers in Bolivia last Sunday. And I urge that we use the same care in investigating human rights abuses commited, overtly or by ommission, by US business interests.

In the meanwhile, are well-meaning Americans being bamboozled into creating and signing petitions against Evo Morales — the first indigenous president in the Americas, when the real motive is for US business interests to oust President Evo so transnational corporations can control Bolivia’s natural resources and indigenous labor like they have in the past?

I don’t know. But I do know that I am not signing any petitions while these questions linger.


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About Lynette Yetter

Lynette Yetter is the author of the books "72 Money Saving Tips for the 99%" and "Lucy Plays Panpipes for Peace, a novel." Lynette is a permanent resident of Bolivia and a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Program at Reed College.
  • An observer in La Paz, Bolivia just sent me these comments:

    “Here, Tipnis was a huge scam, shame and much else. After signing the document that declares the areas ‘intangible,’ the government discovered that five logging companies have contracts for thousands of square miles in the heartland … contracts signed by whom? Dirigentes de las comunidades! (Indigenous community leaders in the TIPNIS). And there’s a five-star hotel with exclusive hunting and fishing rights, owned by Argentinians and US citizens.

    Now, the Tipnitensians shot themselves in the foot with the declaration of the area as being ‘intangible.’ They want to define the term so that it applies to everybody else, but not to them.

    I find it hugely upsetting that they have managed to do so much harm to the image of the President (Evo Morales) whilst being so dishonest, selfish and destructuve of their own natural habitat.”

  • Muchisimas gracias, Anita, por tus palabras de aliento. Te agradezco con todo corazon.
    Abrazos de hermandad,

  • Anita

    querida Lynette,
    muchas felicitationes con tu articulo ! me encanta mucho y tienes mucho
    coraje y una vista limpia sobre la situacion. creo que es importante de
    buscar la verdad, sobre todo en la prensa. Así tu eres realmente una voz
    para el pueblo boliviano ! es muy lindo, hermanita,
    te abrazo con mucho carino,

  • CORRECTION: According to David Mora in La Paz, Bolivia, it appears that no one was killed. No one has come forward with a single name of a dead person. No family has said they lost a member. There are no corpses. The “disappeared” have re-appeared from where they ran off to. And the United Nations Organization is putting together a commission to investigate the situation.

  • Thank you for reading my article and posting your comments.

    I’d like to point out that the headline was created by an editor, and not by me. The headline seems to insinuate that something insidious is going on in Bolivia; while the text of the article questions if something insidious is going on with the US press and business interests.

  • Margarita

    I think President Morales did the right thing by suspending the construction of the Brazil-funded highway and leaving its fate in the hands of voters who live in that part of Bolivia. We are all alarmed by what happened in TIPNIS, but it’s not clear how all it came about, and whether or not Pres. Morales had any knowledge of what happened, until it was too late. Evo Morales has always been an advocate par excellence of the rights of indigenous peoples, and has done a great deal to advance their causes throughout the world. I think we (meaning, the media in the industrial world) need to do a much better job of informing the public about his many accomplishments during his short tenure as president of Bolivia, instead of trying to condemn him for a single incident that may or may not be his fault. Pres. Morales has shown a great deal of restraint in the past, even when his predecessors would have resorted to violence. So, until all the facts are in, I am with Lynette on this one.

  • Paul Gaite

    I am outraged of what happened in Bolivia. Please go through the following facts: TIPNIS is a national protected area and indigenous territory, the 2009 constitution (promoted by president Morales) protects the self determination of the indigenous peoples and has to subject the use of their resources to consultation, which never took place. A group of coca-leaf farmers advanced to stop the protest, leading to a potential confrontation with the protesters. You would expect the police to stop the coca-leaf growers which have nothing to do with the construction of a road in the middle of a protected area -national park and are looking for confrontation right? Do you agree with the police arresting men, women and children? Most people won’t threat farm animals the way the police managed the protesters. Look at the big picture, politicians will take advantage of the situation, and the media may o may not have biased opinions. Please inform your self more. What you see on TV/Internet resume a national scale event in 30 seconds or a page. Don’t sign anything, but get all the facts, and have a solid opinion of the whole issue.

  • Bruce Mitchell

    Excellent! Well said. We must learn to think things through before acting knee-jerk style. May I suggest you submit this as a letter to the editor of every newspaper you can think of. THX