The Balkanization of South America

LA PAZ/SANTA CRUZ (Own report) - Latin American critics are accusing organizations linked to German foreign policy of being implicated in the escalating South American autonomy conflicts. This is referring to controversy that, around the turn of the year, led to bloody uprisings in Bolivia. At present the conflict is being primarily sparked by the draft for a statute of autonomy presented by governors of four Bolivian departments at the beginning of the first week of June. Government circles in La Paz qualify the document as being "separatist" and "seditious." It proposes far-ranging independence for the provinces rich in natural resources. Judging from the escalation of violence, observers are drawing parallels to developments that led to wars of secession in the former Yugoslavia, in which Germany was heavily implicated. It is now being said in Bolivia that German measures of decentralization have also laid the groundwork in the country for the current demands for autonomy. Moreover a German political party foundation's affiliate organizations are directly involved. The trail of evidence also leads to the circles of German exiles, who fled to South America in the aftermath of the World War II. They benefit from the special assistance bestowed under the German government's "Deutschtum" policy [Germandom policy].

Monday July 2 the governors of the 4 Bolivian departments of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Pando and Beni, tabled a draft for the future status of autonomy. This document proposes, among other things, the right of autonomous taxation and expenditures for the lowland states of Bolivia with a majority of descendents of white immigrants. The right-wing opposition heads of the departments are attempting to play off their natural resource rich regions against both the central government in La Paz and the poorer highlands in Western Bolivia. The Bolivian lowlands have the second largest deposits of natural gas in South America (after Venezuela), the bulk of it being in Santa Cruz and Tarija. With its plans for autonomy, organizations, such as the Citizens Committee of Santa Cruz (Comité Civico Pro Santa Cruz) - an alliance dominated by businessmen and latifundia owners - seeks to torpedo the Morales government's measures of nationalization in the sector of natural resources, which is also fought so vehemently by Berlin, Brussels and Washington.


This is why the plans for autonomy are encountering vehement resistance, particularly from the indigenous population. Simultaneous with the elections of the Constituent Assembly, in the summer of last year, a referendum was held on the autonomy status of individual departments. Whereas in the four richer provinces there was a majority who voted for more regional power of decision, the voters in the more impoverished highlands departments voted against. The results were that the autonomy plans were defeated (56% against). Still the more prosperous regional governments are clinging to their project. Juan Carlos Urenda, an advisor to the regional government of Santa Cruz, threatens to have the autonomy plans imposed by referendum. The government in La Paz classifies the entire project as "seditious" "separatist" and "anti-democratic," because it is directed "against the constitution."[1]


Critics of the autonomy plans are accusing German development organizations and foundations affiliated with German political parties of having nurtured the conflict. Separatist groups, such as the Citizens Committee of Santa Cruz, are linking their activities to programs sustained by German development policy in Bolivia since 2002. These were imposed within the framework of a debt relief initiative and are consolidated within the "Programa de Apoyo a la Gestión Púplica Descentralizada y Lucha contra la Pobreza" (Program in Support of Decentralized Public Administration and the Struggle against Poverty - PADEP).[2] Since 2002, within the framework of the PADEP, the German Association for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and the "Kreditanstalt for Wiederaufbau" (Credit Institution for Reconstruction, KfW) - under commission of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development - have been supporting measures for the decentralization of Bolivia, a starting point for the more far-reaching current demands for autonomy.

Partner Network

In addition, the Bolivian demands for autonomy are being pushed by an international network that maintains contacts to Germany. It is the Confederación Internacional por la Libertad y la Autonomia Regional (International Confederation for Freedom and Regional Autonomy CONFILAR) founded last autumn in Guayaquil Ecuador. In a programmatic declaration, CONFILAR propagates "the system of restricted government, free markets and private institutions independent from the state (...) inspired by genuine classical liberalism."[3] The organization demands wide-ranging rights of autonomy for individual regions in South American countries. The economically strategic regions, the Bolivian department Santa Cruz, as well as Guayaquil (Ecuador) und Zulia (Venezuela) are part of the autonomy network. They are all in opposition to their central governments. Also active in the CONFILAR are organizations of RELIAL network (Red Liberal de América Latina) the Latin American partner of the German Friedrich Naumann Foundation (closely affiliated to the German FDP Party).[4]


In light of the autonomy conflicts in Bolivia, that have already led to serious uprisings a few months ago and that are reinforced by organizations such as CONFILAR, observers are beginning to speak of the threat of a "Balkanization of South America.[5] Abetted by German organizations and by protagonists maintaining contacts to Germany, the tensions are a threat to the state alliance of ALBA (Alternativa Bolivariana para las Ameréricas - Bolivian Alternative for the Americas) which is still in the formative stages. ALBA seeks to achieve an wide-ranging independent policy from that of the European and North American centers. Bolivia and Venezuela are ALBA member states and Ecuador is sympathetic to the alliance. In this autonomy conflict an escalation of violence cannot be ruled out. According to the government, paramilitary groups are already organized in Pando, one of the East Bolivian secession departments. The extreme rightwing Young People's Union of Santa Cruz (Unión Juvenil Cruceñista, UJC) is functioning as the military wing of the Citizens' Committee of Santa Cruz. Its leader, Jorge Begner Hollweg, is a member of Bolivian "Germandom".[6]


Obviously the term "balkanization" was not chosen only in view of the break-up of Yugoslavia, but is referring concretely to driving forces behind autonomy efforts in Bolivia. In the aftermath of the defeat of the fascist states in WW II, a large segment of the Nazi elites and their collaborators fled into exile in South America. Particularly the region of Santa Cruz developed into the haven for numerous German Nazis as well as Italian and Croatian fascists. Croat exile families from Santa Cruz played a non-negligible role during the Yugoslav wars of secession. They stole weapons from the Bolivian Army arsenals and smuggled them to Croatia with the aid of the Bolivian consulate in Hamburg. They are also very active in the current autonomy efforts. According to reports, they are enjoying the support of exiled ethnic German families, who can still count on Berlin's special "Deutschtum im Ausland" ("Germandom Abroad") assistance. As is heard in Bolivia "the German government, with the support of NGO's and the GTZ, is practically sustaining one fourth of the state apparatus."[7] A network of interests that is reinforcing German partiality in Bolivian domestic conflicts.

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[1] Bolivia: estatuto autonómico de Santa Cruz es "sedicioso" (Gobierno); AFP 03.07.2007
[2] Modernisierung des Staates; See also Property Obliges
[3] Por la libertad y la autonomía regional en Hispanoamérica;
[4] Zum CONFILAR-Vorsitzenden wurde Carlos Dabdoub Arrien gewählt, der Präsident des Bürgerkomitee Pro Santa Cruz. Neben Dabdoub Arrien zählten unter anderem auch José Luis Tapia vom "Instituto de Libre Empresa" (ILE) aus Peru sowie Walter Justiniano von der "Fundación Libertad y Democracia" (FULIDE) aus dem bolivianischen Departement Santa Cruz zu den Teilnehmern des Forums. Beide Organisationen sind Mitglieder im Red Liberal de América Latina (RELIAL), das von der Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung (FNSt) gefördert wird.
[5] Bolivia: Hoy, la derecha va por el poder;
[6] Gobierno anuncia juicio contra integrantes de la Unión Cruceñista;
[7] La verdad sobre la "media luna";