Amidst hundreds of thousands of people waving La Whipala -- Bolivia's indigenous flag, I'm running to get a good vantage point. As I duck and weave through the mass protest marking the closing of the international summit "La Cumbre Internacional Antiimperialista,"* President Evo Morales is about to address the crowd.
"It would appear that some European countries who in the past were colonizers, today have become a colony of the United States," declared a passionate Evo to the million cheering people lining the avenue below. "The U.S. pressured these countries to ground my plane, they wanted to scare me, they kidnapped me and put my life at risk because my country doesn't follow the rules of the Empire any longer," continued the President of Bolivia. " Edward Snowden is not a fly that can get onto my plane without anyone noticing, he's not a bag I could just carry on board."
If the U.S. Government's intention was to deter Evo Morales or any Latin American President from helping Snowden, their tactic backfired. On the 4thJuly, two days after the grounding of Bolivia's presidential jet, Heads of State from across Latin American flew to my hometown, Cochabamba to express their extreme anger at what was a slap in the face and humiliation for an entire region. "Those who mess with Evo are messing with all of us," said the South American leader, President of Ecuador Rafael Correa.
No one had accepted Snowden's plea for asylum before the incident with Morales' jet. Afterwards, he had four countries offering him asylum: Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua.
Support shown by Latin American leaders for whistleblowers is growing by the day and there's a reason. In the diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks in 2010, there was evidence the IMF and World Bank were working together with the CIA to destabilize Ecuador's economy. As a result of this information President Correa refused to pay Ecuador's foreign debt and took the IMF and the World Bank to court. Later that year the Ecuadorians closed the U.S. military base in Manta with Correa stating "If the U.S. wants to have a military base in Ecuador, we also want to have a military base in Miami."
When Ecuador granted political asylum to the Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange more than a year ago and the British government threatened to storm the embassy to arrest him, all Latin America leapt to Ecuador's defense, telling the British government, if the Ecuadorian embassy's sovereignty was violated, the same would happen to every British embassy across Latin America.
In Bolivia, the cablegate leaks showed that the U.S. Government, despite being aware of the negative impact their 'neo-liberal' policies were having on the Bolivian people, payed no attention because their policies "were good for foreign investment." Other cables showed that in 2008, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) began fueling conflict between the different indigenous groups to create instability within the country and was paying journalists to write the news they wanted written. USAID was also caught financing groups in the lowlands of Bolivia to encourage them to declare independence; this action in 2008 resulted in the deaths of 20 indigenous people from Santa Cruz. USAID was finally expelled from Bolivia in 2013.
The U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks proved that USAID has been involved in campaigns to destabilize the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Nicaragua and Paraguay, to name a few.
Last month while in London, I visited Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy and was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a gentle person rather than the egomaniac presented by mainstream media. It didn't feel right to ask him how he's been doing, considering he's confined to a very small space and hasn't seen the sun for over a year. However, he was cheerful while we discussed global politics and human nature for over two hours. I left him with a small token of appreciation, a bottle of Bolivia's best singani and some of our coca tea.
The U.S. Government probably doesn't like to see control of Latin America slipping through their fingers. Only 30 years ago my father was exiled to Australia because he was involved in student organizations against the then Bolivian government. My grandfather, a Serbian Jew who escaped to Bolivia with his father in the '30s, became the leader of the strongest indigenous union and spent 10 years in a political prison shortly after his friend Che Guevara had been killed in Bolivia. I was born the year after he was released from prison; he spent another six years in home detention.
Today, South America is not the same continent it was during the Cold War, this is not the Bolivia that killed Che Guevara on orders from a U.S. backed government. This is not the Latin America that everyone was escaping from, but one that people are returning to.
What Manning, Snowden and Assange did for us is more than the thousands of NGO's, the United Nations and all those 'good-hearted' organizations have failed to do in a hundred years. These men have given us information and brought some balance to the power wielded by the U.S. today.
* Attending "La Cumbre Antiimperialista" were union leaders, indigenous organisations and social parties from 18 countries across Latin America and even Europe. At the centre of the discussion was the expulsion of all U.S. military bases from Latin America, the creation of a new currency, the "Sucre" (intended to replace the U.S. dollar), counter action to the U.S. spying program in order to preserve our democracies and the support for the whistleblowers; Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning ('el soldadito' as he's known in Bolivia -- the little soldier) and for Julian Assange, currently waiting for safe passage to Ecuador.