Carlos Aliaga Uria, dressed in a black poncho with the yellow Star of David on the front, holds a poster that translates: “Ahmadinejad Denier of History and the Holocaust Get Out of Bolivia.”
Aliaga began his hunger strike in La Paz to protest the November 24th visit of the Iranian president. Aliaga said:
Recently Angela Merkel, the German president, admitted to the horrors committed by her country during the Nazi period, which claimed the lives of 6,000,000 Jews. Ahmadinejad denies this historical fact. Ahmadinejad can visit Venezuela, Brazil or even the moon, that doesn’t interest me; however, he should be prohibited from visiting Bolivia. He shouldn’t be allowed to come here, not just because this is my country, but because Bolivia was the only country on this continent that authorized visas throughout WWII to more than 7,000 Jews who escaped from the Nazi terror.
Aliaga proclaimed an “ambulatory” hunger strike because he is worried about being harassed or arrested for his protest. During the last six months, there have been many arbitrary arrests without due process. It is important that the Evo Morales government abides by the law. Instead, it is intentionally subverting the institutions in the judiciary branch. The Supreme Court, which should have 12 voting members, is now down to six and is without a quorum. This is just the latest attempt to paralyze the Bolivian judicial system.
Because Evo Morales is such a popular leader, many in the human rights community feel that to criticize the Morales government is to be aligned with the old, corrupt opposition. During the last visit by Ahmadinejad, Evo Morales had all female ministers wear headscarves. Ironically, the minister of justice, who is female, dutifully followed orders. No feminist leaders spoke out against this act.
Many in South America and the world are worried about the region’s new alliance with Iran. Iran has promised Bolivia materials for a new state-run television station. It has already given milk-processing plants and a new hospital to one of Bolivia’s poorest cities, El Alto. There are more projects in the works, such as a cement plant, help with the petrochemical industry, and the mining of lithium and uranium. There is a lot of money being distributed by Iran on every level.
Apart from the obvious economic aid pouring into Bolivia from Iran, there are very strong ideological ties. Since the Evo Morales government came to power, it has methodically broken relations with countries that it considers part of the imperialist empire. Bolivia ordered the expulsion of U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg on September 11, 2008. Soon after, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was expelled and USAID was thrown out of the coca-growing Chapare region. Economic trade agreements were canceled, as was a meeting that was scheduled last week to renegotiate American-Bolivian ties.
In January of this year, Bolivia severed ties with Israel in retaliation for its operations in Gaza. Prior to this, Bolivia had a cordial and beneficial relationship with Israel. Bolivia’s relationship goes back to its vote for the establishment of Israel on November 29, 1947. For many years there was an Israeli embassy in Bolivia and many Bolivians were given scholarships and grants to study in Israel. Needless to say, things are now at an all-time low.
Bolivia is not the only nation in South America willing to greet Ahmadinejad with open arms. He has just come from a very cordial meeting with President Lula da Silva of Brazil. He continued on to Caracas to meet his brother in arms, Hugo Chavez. The new relationship that Iran has forged with Brazil legitimizes the Ahmadinejad regime more than many of its relationships with “third world” countries. As one of the world’s largest economies, Brazil is just the partner that Iran is looking for on the world stage. Its ongoing relationships with Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Ecuador are predictable, as this group has made an anti-imperialist alliance. The participation of Brazil in this group of Iran supporters, however, is something new.
Argentina is one of the only countries in the region that continues to resist the overtures of Iran in South America. Iran’s recently appointed minister of defense, the terrorist Ahmad Vahidi, is wanted by Interpol and the Argentinian government for the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) bombing in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994. His appointment as minister of defense last year was viewed by Argentina as a direct affront to their ongoing investigation of the AMIA bombing.
In a pilgrimage that commemorates the history of the Jews in Bolivia, Carlos Aliaga also goes to the rural region of Coroico and to the Jewish cemetery in La Paz. As he remembers the Holocaust and the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany, he hopes that history will not repeat itself and that the Bolivian people are not as quick to embrace Ahmadinejad and his totalitarian ideology as the Germans were with Hitler.
If we remain indifferent to the deniers of history like Ahmadinejad, we run the risk that other events are denied: that Genghis Khan and his armies invaded the Middle East in the 13 century; the abuses of the indigenous peoples of America by the Spanish conquerors; the Incas’ attempt to decimate the Urus and the Chipayas; the dead and disappeared of the military dictatorships of the ’70s and ’80s in Latin America; the deaths of more than one million Cambodians during the terror of Pol Pot; the killings in Darfour, etc.