Iraq Deaths Estimator

Live Blog

«

HAROLD PINTER'S NOBEL PRIZE ACCEPTANCE SPEECH
"Art, Truth, and Politics"
November 7, 2005
| Main |
ANOTHER CONJUGAL DICTATORSHIP?
Twenty Years Later, Near-Martial Law Returns to the Philippines
James S. Henry
»

Sunday, December 18, 2005

EVO'S HISTORIC VICTORY
Bolivia's Democratic Revolution
James S. Henry
LaPaz, Bolivia

The mood at Tuto Quiroga's well-appointed campaign headquarters at the Hotel Radisson in downtown LaPaz was funereal, while across town at MAS Party headquarters in the former Brazilian Embassy, and later on in the impoverished township of El Alto,  people were chanting and singing in the streets late into the night. Not long after the polls in Bolivia closed late this Sunday afternoon1022moralesn,  it was already clear that the country's impoverished majority had finally elected one of their own as the country´s next President -- and by a much larger margin than any foreign policy expert, journalist, or Latin America political pundit had expected.

This is easily one of the most surprising and important elections in the history of Latin American democracy. For fans of the "neoliberal," free-market approach to development, as well as coca eradication, it is also a time for soul-searching.

Evo Morales, the 46-year old working-class meztizo, cocalero organizer, and leader of the neo-left "Movement Toward Socialism" party, has soundly defeated the seven other Presidential candidates in the race, capturing close to 50 percent of the nationwide vote.

While the final vote tally still has to be certifed by Bolivia's Electoral Court,  this clearly puts Evo within reach of becoming the first Bolivian President ever to have won a first-round victory outright -- without having the choice default to Bolivia`s fractious, "rent-seeking" Congress.

Quiroga18

From an historical perspective, Evo's performance is an all-time record for a Bolivian Presidential candidate, far surpassing the 31 percent received by the second-place candidate, the free-market oriented-former President, Tuto Quiroga. It also surpasses the previous all-time high registered by Hernan Solis in 1982, as well as the 34 percent captured by neoliberal businessman "Goni" Sanchez de Lozada in 1993.

For that matter, relative to other recent elections in the Western Hemisphere, Evo has also outperformed the victory margins achieved by the US´President Bush, Brazil´s Lula, and Argentina's Kirchner. Whatever one thinks of Evo's economic platform -- and it certainly contains more than a little wishful thinking-- there is no doubt that, at least for the moment, he has far more credibility with the Bolivian people than his opponents.

A DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION?

Even more important than the historical records,  Bolivians have clearly voted en masse in favor of at least three fundamental changes in Bolivia`s social and political landscape -- all of them supported by MAS.

 

  • Reasserting public control over Bolivia`s natural resources, especially its huge natural gas reserves -- already, in official terms, the second largest in Latin America, and quite possibly much more.

    Evo's vague, rhetorical shorthand for this is "nationalization," but there is a whole range of policy options that MAS is considering to increase the public`s share of the income generated by its natural resources, and add more value, and generate more jobs by using these resources at home. Whether or not any of these will make practical economic sense is far from clear. But it is hard to argue that this program will  necessarily be any more disappointing for ordinary people than the last two decades of neoliberal policies.

 

  • Rejecting (US-backed) coca eradication programs. This supply-side approach to cocaine trade has been pursued by Bolivia since at least the mid-1980s, especially under the Banzer-Quiroga administration from 1997 to 2002.

    Unfortunately, as most observers outside the "drug enforcement complex" now agree -- including good solid conservatives like Milton Friedman and Steve Forbes --  the impact on ultimate cocaine supplies have been limited at best.

    At the same time,  the social, political, and economic impacts on countries like Bolivia, Columbia, and Peru have been disastrous.

    Oddly enough, with respect to drug enforcement, Evo is the true "neoliberal."  He believes that a poor country like Bolivia has a right to grow crops like coca if it makes economic sense, that punishing them for doing so is like punishing Dupont because some of its chemicals end up in illicit drugs, and that Bolivian farms should not be made to pay for the fact that  Americans and Brazilians can't control their bad habits.

    From this angle, his election is just one in a growing series of "corrective interviews" that Andean countries are giving to Washington on the huge costs of the failed supply-side drug control strategy. To summarize the matter quickly -- wouldn't the American people really have preferred to be buying several million cubit feet per day of LNG from Bolivia this winter, rather than pursue coca eradication policies in Bolivia that have had little impact on drug supplies while fostering a hostile political movement?

  • Much greater effective representation for Bolivia´s impoverished, excluded, indigenous and meztizo majority. In this case the cliche happens to be true -- for centuries, the Bolivian people have stood by and watched the country´s incredible raw materials -- silver, tin, iron ore, guano, rubber, and now natural gas -- being expropriated by private interests or elite-controlled state companies, while the vast majority have remained dirt poor.

    Futhermore, since the 1990s, Bolivia has been a virtual laboratory for neoliberal economics, as well as coca eradication. The country ended up with its most valuable assets in private hands, while more than half the population remained poor and inequality increased dramatically. Evo´s election sends a message, loud and clear, that Bolivians have had enough. Indeed, from this standpoint, their voting behavior is not particularly radical -- in capitalist terms, they are  simply a group of shareholders who have finally decided to show incompetent managers the door.

This  is a message that will reverbrate throughout the region -- in next year's elections in Peru, Colombia, and even Mexico, for example. This is a message that the US, in particular -- so obsessed with implanting "democracy" in the Middle East, and recently so careless about paying attention to Latin America's troubled democracies closer to home -- ignores at its peril.    

EVO'S ALLIES?

There is an old Russian proverb that says, "Keep an eye on your friends -- your enemies will take care of themselves."

Of course it is to be expected that hard-line America haters like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro, as well as leading Latin leftlists like Lula and Kirchner,  will take pleasure in Evo's victory, just as many simple-minded American neoconservatives will regard it as an unmitigated setback. 

But Evo's erstwhile left-wing allies should be careful not to celebrate too soon.

In Fidel's case, the key question is, how soon is he prepared to give Cubans the same democratic rights that Bolivians have just exercized?   

In Hugo's case, the question is, is he prepared to make up all for the economic aid, debt relief, and lost exports that Bolivia will lose if it alienates the US and the international community by adopting policies like coca legalization and gas nationalization?  Isn't it just possible that he may well prefer for Bolivia's gas to stay in the ground, where it can't compete with Venezuela's proposed pipeline to Brazil and its proposed LNG exports to the US? 

In the case of Lula's Brazil and Kirchner's Argentina, the question is, are they really willing to renegotiate the lucrative gas export contracts they now have with Bolivia, helping Evo by sharply increasing the prices that they pay, while increasing their Bolivian investments?  Assuming that Bolivia is going to export at least part of its gas, shouldn't it consider competitors to Brazil and Argentina, rather than continue to be a captive supplier to these monopsonists?

Overall, therefore, it is easy for Latin America's kneejerk Left to celebrate Evo's rise as yet another defeat for Yankee imperialism -- and, indeed, there is just enough truth in that story to keep the brew bubbling. 

But every day that  Evo wakes up, he needs to remind himself that it was not the Yankees who are responsible for the fact that his country is one-half the size that it was 150 years ago;  that it is not Yankees who consumed most of his country's silver and other resources; that it is not Yankees that are consuming up to 30 million cubic feet per day of Bolivian gas at prices less than a fifth of US market levels (but Brazil and Argentina -- and Chile, by way of Argentina);  that it not Yankees who are content to keep Bolivia landlocked. On the other hand, it IS Yankees who have provided Bolivia with more foreign aid per capita than almost any other Third World country since 1948 -- much of which was admittedly wasted, but much of which undoubtedly did some good. 

In short, now that Evo is President, and not just an angry outside critic of the system, he will have to take responsibility for governing, and admit that Venezuelan, Brazilian, Argentine, and Chilean imperialism -- or, indeed, Chinese imperialism --  are no better than gringo imperialism.

As I`ll argue in Part II, none of these changes will be easy for Evo to implement within the bounds of Bolivia's existing political system, with its increasing regional polarities.   

Indeed, he faces an extraordinary list of challenges -- the least of which will be to become an effective head of government.  He will need a great deal of help. The US could usefully start by lifting its ban on holding discussions with him, and by granting him a visa. 

Despite all the obstacles, it is not too early to pronounce the strong, unified outpouring in favor of this program a ¨democratic revolution.¨

And what is perhaps most striking about this particular one is that Bolivia's people have made it on their own -- without the costly outside intervention that has been required to construct Lego-democracy in other well-known energy-rich developing countries.

(c)SubmergingMarkets, 2005

December 18, 2005 at 05:58 PM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83455f15269e200e550a9117c8834

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference

EVO'S HISTORIC VICTORY
Bolivia's Democratic Revolution
James S. Henry
LaPaz, Bolivia
:

Comments

Post a comment