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May 06, 2010

Knowing About Potosi

Recently I mentioned that I'd never in my life met any Americans who know the dreadful story of the Potosi mine in Bolivia. But I just watched Our Brand is Crisis, a documentary about U.S. political consultants who worked for one of the candidates in the 2002 Bolivian presidential election. And one of them, Jeremy Rosner, was to his credit aware of the history.

Here's the segment where he mentions it. He's being interviewed by the movie's director Rachel Boynton long after the election was over:

BOYNTON: In the campaign, what did you see as the main differences between Bolivia and the U.S.?

ROSNER: Well, I mean, you're trying to grapple in Bolivia and a lot of the rest of Latin America with 500 years of an indigenous majority who have been oppressed, denied political rights, denied economic rights, who are disproportionately poor, who still don't have full political representation. And so you're trying to deal with those sort of grievances, and the fact they're still underrepresented in the political system. You're trying to deal with the grievances of the have-nots of globalizations—and not just recent globalization, but globalization when it started four hundred and five hundred years ago when all the silver was taken out of Potosi and the locals got bupkus out of it. The problems of regional divisions, you've got two of their nine departments right now sitting on top of huge treasure trove of natural gas, and the rest of the country that feels like it's not going to benefit enough. So I mean, huge divisions, and ultimately it took their democracy pretty much to the breaking point.

So that sounds good. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to give Rosner too much credit, given that he's part of a Clintonista consulting firm—including James Carville—and they were predictably working for the white, rich, University of Chicago-educated candidate. (He won but then later had to flee the country and take refuge in the Washington, D.C. suburbs.) In fact, Rosner makes me want to write a sketch where the devil's press agent calmly and eloquently expresses sympathy for all the people in Hell having their intestines pulled out.

DEVIL'S PRESS AGENT: Clearly there's a history here that you have to be sensitive to. People have real grievances with their intestines being pulled out by demons and devoured in front of their faces. People are being drowned in their own blood. And obviously there's molten brass being poured into rectums. That's something we grapple with every day. It's a real issue. There are genuine divisions here that can't just be wished away.

UPDATE: I see my intuition that Jeremy Rosner is the devil's press agent was right on the money.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at May 6, 2010 10:51 PM

Crocodile tears indeed.

Bill Clinton at least plays a convincing role when he feels the pain of the poor people he screwed over with his neoliberal policies.

This has become the requisite skill for a Democratic politician: the ability to play concerned while you screw that person over.

Posted by: Walt Wit Man at May 7, 2010 02:09 AM

Yeah I gotta agree with the more cynical interpretation. Just like when Obama recognized the overthrow of Mossadegh. He'd still overthrow a democratically elected government in a heartbeat.

Posted by: Andrew at May 7, 2010 10:11 AM

You guys are such heartless cynics. Don't you realize that Satan is really, fundamentally on our side? He campaigned for change, to recognize the basic human rights of the damned, and he called for an end to the endless wasteful Cold War with Heaven, even though Yahweh is the greatest threat to Hell's interests in the region, as long as Heaven dismantles its arsenal of WMDs. It's not Satan's fault that he's surrounded by hard-liners who conspire to undermine his efforts, who carry out false-flag operations that he doesn't approve, and profit from the ongoing conflict? But I believe that Satan is basically a good devil, and needs our help to bring about the change he really, sincerely wants as much as we do. Just remember what happened to JFK; I'll bet Satan does.

I know you're all going to sneer at this. You won't admit that any Lord of Darkness has been anything but a brain-snacking, soul-smoking monster. Look, I admit this is a personal concern of mine. Ever since Vatican II, I've been accumulating a vast personal library on demonology, enabling me to seek out the Truth about all this. The rest of you would just rather close your eyes and sashay along complacently, refusing to acknowledge what's really going on. But we're never going to have peace until we face reality.

Posted by: Duncan at May 7, 2010 11:48 AM


You really should seek out Dennis Miller. I think the two of you would really hit it off.

Posted by: N E at May 7, 2010 01:34 PM

Our friends at Wikipedia inform us that Mr. Rosner is also one of the authors of a notorious "liberal hawk" document from 2003

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d., j.s.p.s. at May 7, 2010 03:28 PM

I noticed something interesting in Rosner's wording. It's one of those elisions that seems subtle at first, until you think about how huge it is. The 'bupkus' that those natives got wasn't equal to 'zilch', as in no economic benefit, no compensation; they certainly got that, but they also got the destruction of their way of life, the dismantling of their social systems, and the degradation of their environment. That's a lot worse than just not getting paid for something you weren't using anyway.
Also, I've noticed (having read Galeano, I've known about the atrocity of Potosi for some time, even though I live in the USA) that descriptions of the Potosi mines and descriptions of Hell often bear remarkable similarities.

Posted by: Justin Parker at May 7, 2010 05:03 PM

Good catch Mr. Charley ph.d. Those guys are Progressive Internationalists like Clean Coal is clean. Pollack, Diamond, Bob Kerrey--hawks all, just multilateral hawks instead of unilateral hawks.

The fact that somebody knows some history isn't enough to make them okay. Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge knew a lot of history by politician standards. As did Hitler.

Posted by: N E at May 7, 2010 05:37 PM