The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 70/No. 20           May 22, 2006  
Cuba, Venezuela offer medical,
literacy, and other aid for Bolivia
(front page)
On May 8 in Copacabana, a rural town in western Bolivia, a new medical center was inaugurated where working people will now receive free eye care, including operations to eliminate blindness by cataracts. It was the fourth of six new ophthalmologic centers being set up in that area with help from Cuba, which has provided volunteer doctors and technical equipment.

Cuba’s medical assistance is part of an April 29 agreement by the Cuban and Venezuelan governments to offer Bolivia aid and favorable terms of trade. The pact, signed in Havana by presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia, Fidel Castro of Cuba, and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, is an expansion of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of our Americas (ALBA), a trade agreement signed a year ago between Venezuela and Cuba.

Under the new agreement, Cuba pledged to send more volunteer doctors and teachers to Bolivia. This includes a commitment to back a campaign to teach 720,000 Bolivians to read and write in two years, using methods previously used with success in Venezuela. Havana has already delivered 30,000 TV sets plus workbooks and videotapes for the Bolivian teachers. The literacy program will be in Spanish, Aymara, Quechua, and Guaraní.

Cuba already has some 700 volunteer doctors serving in the farthest reaches of the South American country, where it is also helping to equip 20 rural Bolivian hospitals. In addition, 5,000 Bolivian youth will be provided with scholarships to study medicine for free in Cuba.

The Bolivian Medical Association has objected to the presence of Cuban doctors, but to many working people they are heroes.

“Thank God the Cuban doctors arrived,” said Gladys Melani, 75, the Associated Press reported. “They operated on me, and thanks to them I can see, I can keep working.”

For its part, the Venezuelan government is helping set up 109 rural radio stations in Bolivia. It has also agreed to set up a $100 million fund for development programs and another $30 million fund for other social projects in that country.

AP reported that Cuba and Venezuela have also agreed to buy all of Bolivia’s soybeans, “recently left without a market after Colombia signed a free trade pact with the United States.”

Meanwhile, the heads of state of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, and Venezuela met May 4 to discuss the decision made three days earlier by the administration of Bolivian president Evo Morales to exert greater state control over that country’s natural gas fields.

The move has the biggest impact in Brazil, which imports more than half its natural gas from Bolivia.

Following the seizure of the gas resources, the Bolivian government announced that it would increase the royalties paid by foreign owners from 18 percent to 82 percent of the value of the gas. The foreign investors that stand to lose the most in this are Repsol YPF of Spain and Brazil’s state-owned Petrobras. Lesser stakes are held by the British-based BG Group and Total of France.

Petrobras announced May 3 that it was suspending investment in Bolivia and that any attempt to increase the price of gas above that stipulated in prior contracts would be challenged “through the appropriate arbitration.”

The Bolivian government is not assuming total control of the gas fields. “Foreign companies can continue to operate there,” the Wall Street Journal reported May 3, “but must accept much tougher contract terms within six months or leave the country.”

The nationalization of Bolivia’s gas and oil, one of Morales’s campaign promises before his election in December, came after years of mass struggles. Anger over the imperialist plunder and foreign control of Bolivia’s natural resources has led to demonstrations by miners, indigenous peasants, and other working people that toppled two governments in less than two years.

In October 2003 the regime of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada fell after a bloody crackdown on protests against a pending deal to export Bolivia’s gas to the United States and construct a pipeline to do so through Chile. The next president, Carlos Mesa, resigned in June 2005 in face of a similar rebellion, this time directed at moves to sell the gas to Argentina.

Morales has announced that the government also intends to take greater state control over other natural resources, including mining and forestry.  
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