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Report Back from Bolivia Summit

Kim Sky posting an email report from Bolivia covering the recent Ibero-American summit in Santa Cruz Bolivia, where some 23 Presidents came for one conference, and peasants, students, workers and everyone else attended an Alternative Summit.

Some great story telling !!!
From: xxx
Sent: Thursday, November 20, 2003 1:03 PM
Subject: Chavez steals the show

I'll let you know when i post some photos, but for now a summary of the
weekend's events from the Presidential summit in Bolivia. Fidel stayed home
for "work reasons," but 10 minutes into Hugo Chavez's first oratory, I knew
the whole trip was worth it.

But first, an update on the international phenomenon of Evo Morales. He now
has an invitation from Kofi Annan, US congressmen, and organizations at the
Miami protests to visit the US, and he is waiting to hear today from the US
embassy on his Visa request. All indications are that they will deny him a
visa. An invitation to speak at the UN normally guarantees a Visa (remember
they even let Fidel in) and Evo has spoken in over 90 different countries
(yes, that's NINETY). But the embassy persists in its unsubstantiated
campaign to classify him as a fringe congressman with narco-terrorist links.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Carter will follow Annan, Lula, Chavez, and Kirchner,
leading a delegation to meet with Evo here in December. It is now clear
(since the US has finally taken notice) that outside of the leftist
Presidents, Evo has become the most visible leader and spokesperson for the
left in Latin America and thus problem #1 for the US on the continent. If
elections were held today, he would probably be the favorite for Bolivia's
Presidency. Indeed, last February the State Department held meetings about
how to deal with and prevent the "Evo phenomenon." What sets Evo apart from
all earlier leaders is that he is not a middle-class mestizo intellectual,
but rather a "self-taught" indigenous union leader who grew up, as the
NYTimes might say, "herding llamas like his followers," but you get the
point.

Back to the summits, I spent the first 15 hours at the airport photographing
the Presidents as they landed. Although I had never been this close to any
President before, the routine was getting old after 13 of them: President
deplanes, goes through ceremony, makes short speech, jumps into motorcade.
They outdid each other in their stiffness and ability to say nothing in so
many long words. And that includes Lula. I was having trouble not imagining
that I was looking through a different type of viewfinder with a couple of
them. Even the greeting committee was getting bored: the Mayor got 2
Presidents confused. But then came the Venezuelan air force jet.

I can't really explain in words or pictures what it was about Chavez (and
the movie didn't quite capture it either). I guess the answer is that this
type of charisma cannot be explained and that we so rarely witness it that
we're not familiar with it. I've heard that Clinton could really hold a
room, but this guy held an entire tarmac spellbound. I guess those of you
who heard Dr. King or Fidel speak know what I'm talking about.

As he went down the greeting line, Chavez stopped and talked to each person,
holding them by the shoulders, seemingly finding out their children's names
and making sure everyone's stomach was doing ok. When all the introductions
had finished, Chavez looked up at the sky and smelled the air. Then he
launched into a meandering speech weaving between political analysis,
soccer, and the sweet breeze. As Chavez spoke, everyone came closer, and
when he finished, the tarmac erupted in applause (nobody had clapped yet for
any President)-the airport workers who had appeared completely indifferent
to the Presidents (either by choice or because they are supposed to) stood
and clapped, cameramen put down their cameras (which I have never seen) and
applauded. Then someone in the press threw a whiffle-ball at Chavez. Now,
there's bodyguards surrounding him, soldiers lining the tarmac, and
sharpshooters manning the roof. But there was Chavez reacting fast, catching
the ball, hurling it back, and then charging over towards us, before his
guards knew what to do. Apparently his red-bereted people are used to this
breaching of security protocol. So he came over and held an impromptu Q&A a
few feet away. By the time his motorcade sped away, he had made Chavistas
out of all of us. Well-dressed women in the lobby said "Did you hear that?"
Taxi drivers, listening on their radios said to me, "but what a speech, what
a speech." I mean this guy could make me religious if he wanted to. First of
all, he was a real human being, not a robot, and he actually had something
to say-what a thing to have a President who is an intellectual, a poet, a
philosopher, as well as a politician.

I realized that I have never been inspired by a leader. Sure, I've heard
good speakers, been moved by important intellectuals, but no one in my
generation moves people, nobody on the left (or right) commands attention.
Our parents had King, JFK did it for some, Bobby Kennedy and Malcom X for
others, but we've got nobody. Jesse Jackson is a great speaker, but he
hasn't inspired a movement; Nader believes in the right things, but the
guy's a dork. Listening to Chavez was a real eye-opener into what we lack.

The conference was dry as expected, but it had its moments, like when Evo
entered the building and all of the press ran away from Kofi Annan and
encircled Evo 5 deep. An older indigenous leader spoke before the
Presidents and in a moment reminiscent of the Zapatista's reading their
demands to the Mexican Congress, Medina laid it all out to the 21
Presidents, delivering pages of demands, saying in effect: "We come in
peace, but our patience is running thin as our sons and daughters die. We
are peaceful people but at times we are left with no choice. Act now or we
will." This was followed by increasingly boring speeches by a couple
Presidents, who all invoked the new buzz words: "combating social
exclusion." One of them actually said: "Now the moment has come to begin to
include those who have been excluded-to incorporate those who have been shut
out by racism and discrimination into our societies." Annan gave an
uninspiring speech which nobody bothered to translate for the audience
anyway. But he did single out only one President for praise (Lula fighting
hunger) and said that a couple governments were doing good land reform
(these could only be Lula and Hugo as far as I know). And he added that
democracy is more than open elections. Maybe one day he will be able to say
that democratic governing is more than just giving lip-service to social
inclusion.

At the social forum, Bolivia's President of one month made a gutsy
appearance, but failed as he was heckled off the stage midway, after telling
the organized peasants that they represent only part of the Bolivian public,
not all of it. Chavez however, crossed town and was greeted as a hero by
25,000 farmers, miners, and students in a stadium blanketed by Cuban,
Bolivian, and cocalero flags. When he finally arrived at 10pm, Chavez
promised to make it brief, then proceeded to speak for 2 hours. Joined on
stage by Evo and Cuba's VP, Hugo made his true sympathies clear. He said he
respects each nation's sovereignty, would support Bolivia's Pres. Mesa, but
that he came to share his experiences in democratic revolution with
Bolivia's social movements. It takes quite a revolutionary diplomat to exist
in both summits. Lula, for instance lacked the political courage to make an
appearance. Chavez walks a very dangerous tightrope though, and one imagines
that the rope would already have been yanked by the US, were he not in a
country with so much oil (well, I guess they already tried and failed).
-anon
Yes! Chavez is the real thing!!! 23.Nov.2003 19:39

Anackonda Bolivariana

Noah, my friend;

I know excatly what you are talking about. I had that wonderful experience of meeting President Chavez in person. What a GREAT MAN! He is the leader of all.

Please contact me.  cbdeoregon@yahoo.com

Hasta la Victoria Siempre!

Anackonda

evo for president? 09.Feb.2004 10:07

Masti Car Coca seaweed95@hotmail.com

I am glad to read your comments about the summit in Santa Cruz. But, I can tell you that Evo would not be elected president if there were new elections held today. He has quite a few enemies, and continues to fuel the fear that people have of extranjeros in Bolivia. He plays on the fear, and he definitely has narco ties. Evo is truly a warrior for the people and the cocaleros, but he will never get away from the drug stigma that surrounds him without providing more definite strategies for the development of Bolivia other than the course he is following now. However, he seems to be mellowing out compared to the actions of the Mallku. Mesa just seems to be following the status quo and deflecting the attention with the Chile/Mar argument that all Bolivians love to embroil themselves in. He may have a shot in a few years.