The Price of Fire concerns itself with the near constant struggle of resistance of average Bolivians to colonialism. But this idea is not a simple one: colonialism, as well as resistance, continually take on different forms. This work seems to read as a travelogue more than a coherent understanding of history, but that makes it all the more interesting. It seeks to provide a “on the ground” approach to problems, rather than be merely another abstract work of social ideas. The common folk of Bolivia live in a state of constant poverty, foreign occupation and, hence, resistance.
The power of memory is central, a memory that goes back to the first time the Spanish found silver in the country, immediately turning places like Cerro Rico into slave labor camps (15). By the end of the 1700s, the country, as well as many other peoples in the Andes ridge under discussion, were up in arms and revolting against th Spanish (18). This memory has not faded, though the forms of colonialism have changed substantially. It was armed resistance that drove the Spanish out, and it was armed resistence, much later, that gave ordinary Bolivians the right to vote (22).
It was armed resistance, that, in the 1940s, created a government dedicated to land reform and the rights of labor, and the poor, even under governments sympathetic to their cause, continued to resist so as to permit the state no rest in reforming the laws that applied toa long-oppressed and exploited labor force (22-23). Today, and throughout the second half of the 20th century, it has not been nation states that occupy and oppress Bolivians, it is the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and its wealthy state and non-state backers.
It was the newly founded IMF in the 1950s that demanded so much reform out of the Bolivian state that the military took over in 1953. The intervention of the international bankers (of various backgrounds) that caused yet another destabilization of the economy and country (22). The IMF has a long track record of creating inflation, unemployment, debt and more poverty for the working class. The basic issues here are that the wars over colonialism concern the distribution and control over resources.
These revolts, continuing to the present moment, are aimed at the liberal doctrines of corporate control and the free trade necessary to facilitate it. One of the most outrageous of these takeovers ended up in the “Water War” of 2000, where the most precious natural resource-access to clean water–was sold to a California corporation, who then sold access to the water at rates the poor could not afford. But this is merely one example. The IMF reforms to the Bolivian economy have taken a familiar course to all familiar with the history of Latin America.
The drum beat is the same: the elimination of import substitution, lowering of tariffs, the elimination of state involvement, increase of taxes (in some cases, such as Bolivia), tax breaks for direct foreign investment (DFI) and the suppression of wages (25). All of this is meant to make the target country “more competitive” in the international market. What makes the modern era so different is that poor countries, desperately in need of loans to keep afloat, cannot have access to credit unless such reforms are put into practice. In 1985, a series of IMF implemented “structural reforms” hit the poor hard.
Wags substantially declined, the national debt went up (as well as personal debt) and unemployment skyrocketed. Making matters worse, the IMF had demanded that the income tax be increased on the most vulnerable of workers, increased to 12. 5% of all income (77). By 2003, wages had fallen by 15% among the poorest percentile of Bolivian citizens. The highlands, after decades of structural reform, still had a poverty rate of 90% (79). It is clear that western finance capital wants several things out of Latin America: cheap labor, access to resources and basic control over government policy to facilitate the same (25).
This was the purpose of Spanish colonialism, American direct investment and today, the demands of the IMF and foreign capital. But this is certainly not Bolivia’s problem alone, but exists throughout the developing world, and today, is now hitting the former “second world,’ or the USSR and its former allies. This course has brought home one important point: the economies, and hence the political elites, of the nations in Central and Latin America have been distorted through what has become known as “dependency theory. ’ The idea that the economic destiny of Latin America lies in the hands of