Kerry Needs A Lesson On Latin American Democracy
AN OPEN LETTER TO SENATOR JOHN
REGARDING DEMOCRACY IN LATIN AMERICA
From Jim Shultz
US Citizen - Cochabamba, Bolivia
Dear Senator Kerry,
I like you. I have liked you for a long time. I liked you in the 1970s when you helped lead veterans against the war in Vietnam. I liked you in 1984 when I was a graduate student in Boston and voted for you in your first race for US Senate. I liked you when you investigated US policies in Central America when few others would. I liked you last week when a small group of us gathered around a TV here in Bolivia to watch you give your acceptance speech. I even made my kids watch it. They liked you too.
However, Senator Kerry, with all respect, I think that you need to seriously reconsider your views about what the US needs to do to support democracy here in Latin America.
Here is what you wrote recently in the Miami Herald:
"In Bolivia, [President] Bush encouraged the election of a pro-market, pro-U.S. president and did nothing to help the country when riots shook the capital and the president was forced to flee."
And here is what you said recently before the National Association of Latino Elected Officials:
"We can't sit by and watch as mob violence drives a president from office, like what happened in Bolivia or Argentina."
No one committed to democracy wants to see leaders ousted from office through violence - agreed. But I live here, I was witness to the events last October of which you speak, so let me tell you what actually happened.
A President, Gonzalo Sànchez de Lozada, who was elected the year before with 22% of the total vote, provoked broad public protests when he tried to move forward with a controversial deal to export Bolivia's natural gas through Chile to the US. He responded to those protests with brutal repression. More than 60 people were killed, the second time in nine months that he had responded to protests with the bullet. Even his own Vice President broke with him over the violence.
Those killings of citizens by soldiers led to a broad public call for the President's resignation. People took to the streets (unarmed) in cities and towns across the country. Dozens of the most respected religious and civil rights leaders in the nation went on hunger strike to join in that demand.
For a week the US government followed your advice and propped up the President against the obvious fact that he had totally lost the support of his own people. If the US had not done that, Sànchez de Lozada would surely have left a week earlier and thirty people would be alive today with their families instead of dead and in the ground.
What you call "mob violence" was not what the people did. It is what the army did to the people at the President's command. Recall for a moment Kent State.
What you label, "the president was forced to flee" was a resignation backed by clear public opinion. Recall for a moment Richard Nixon leaving office for the sins of Watergate. What people in the US did in 1974 with letters to Congress and full-page ads in the New York Times, Bolivians did in 2003 with protests and hunger strikes. Is one really less an act of democracy than the other?
By what right should the US intervene to force Bolivia to keep a President it no longer wants? By what method would you have the US do so? Threats? Economic sanctions? Troops?
I hear that one of my favorite musicians, Jackson Browne, is performing on your behalf. Next time you meet, ask him what he meant two decades ago when he wrote:
But who are the ones that we call our friends,
these governments killing their own,
or the people who finally can't take anymore,
and they pick up a gun, or a brick, or a stone?
Senator Kerry, once when we were all much younger you saw very clearly the immorality of using US power to prop-up leaders that do not have the support of their own people. You spoke against it with eloquence. Please do not forget that lesson today in Latin America. There are many in the US and the world who hope that you might become this generation's JFK. However, if you are elected and you convert your recent statements into US foreign policy you might just as easily become your generation's LBJ.
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