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Revolting Autonomists?

(This is a guest post by MoreMediaNonsense)

When is a separatist movement not a legitimate movement for independence ? How do we decide which separatists we should oppose? Events in Bolivia recently have taken an alarming turn for supporters of Evo Morales such as the Socialist Unifier, Andy Newman, and brings these questions starkly into focus.

As the BBC reports here

“Two Bolivian provinces have voted overwhelmingly in favour of regional autonomy, exit polls suggest.

More than 80% of voters in the lowland agricultural provinces of Beni and Pando opted for autonomy measures, the polls for the ATB TV channel indicate.”

One of the main reasons the population of the low land eastern regions want more autonomy is that they are opposed to the government and policies of President Morales. Bolivia is split in two, geographically and ethnically, with the majority of Amerindians living on the high Altoplano Andean plateau and the other 45% Mestizo and European descended peoples being a majority in the Eastern low lying plains, where the gas fields are.

Morales has nationalised the resources industry and has re-negotiated (or just torn up) arrangements with oil and gas companies. How these policies will ultimately affect the ability of the country to exploit its resources remains to be seen. Other of Morales attempts at nationalisation have been farcical – pilots and staff of the airline LAB went on strike demanding to be nationalised 2 years ago. The new airline has still to take off.

Evo is also of course a big friend of HP favourite, Hugo Chavez. It can’t be said how much this friendship contributed to the region’s decision to vote for autonomy.

On the other hand Morales is the first Bolivian government with an indigenous leader dedicated to putting the rights and development of the Amerindian population to the fore. As such it has the support of a lot of Leftists.

Most people in the West instinctively support separatist movements, it sometimes seems to me, because of their status as the “fighting underdog”. However, some argue that certain groups seeking regional autonomy are reactionary, and should therefore be opposed. This is Andy Newman’s position on Tibet:

There is no national liberation movement in Tibet. There is no social class in Tibet that is capable of building a progressive national state, and there is no meaningful sense that Tibet can have national self-determination.

The premise that there is a universal right to self determination is inhereted from US president Woodrow Wilson, and has never been unconditionally accepted by the socialist movement, who have always argued that it is a question of political context, and the requirement is that there is a popular national democratic movement.

How should we choose which regional independence movements deserve support, and which should be opposed? Do regions have a right to secede, if the majority of the population wishes it? Or does the “greater good” of all the citizens of a sovereign state trump the rights of separatist minorities ?
How do we decide ?