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Re: Forum: Bolivia After the Election of Evo Morales (1/18)

BOLIVIA AFTER THE ELECTION OF EVO MORALES: WHAT WAY FORWARD?

By ERIC BLANC

On Dec. 18, 2005, Evo Morales, the indigenous peasant leader of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), won the Bolivian presidential elections by an unexpectedly large margin, receiving 54% of the votes. The runner up, right-winger "Tuto" Quiroga, received less than 29% of the votes.

This stunning victory for Morales -- in the 2002 elections he received only 20.9% of the votes -- is an _expression of the massive revolutionary movement that has rocked the Bolivian nation during the last three years in its struggle for the nationalization of the oil and gas resources.

Hopes are high in Bolivia and around the world that Morales -- the country’s first president of indigenous descent, who has self-proclaimed himself "America’s worst nightmare" -- will break Bolivia, South America’ poorest country, out of its dire situation of near-starvation and subordination.

"With this government, discrimination will come to an end, the xenophobia we have been living through will come to an end; we are going to work to bring an end to the neoliberal model," declared Morales upon receiving news of his electoral victory. "These are new times. This millennium will be for the peoples, not for the empire," proclaimed Morales, on Jan. 2, from Caracas.

The international media has presented the elections as a defeat for the U.S. government, highlighting Morales’ friendship with Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro and the fact he is the leader of the Bolivian coca (cocaine’s base plant) growers, an important traditional plant in Bolivian culture -- which the U.S. government would like to eradicate.

Morales' victory has created tremendous expectations in the new government. For many workers, peasants, and students, the new government is seen as "our government." Their vote for Morales was a vote against the corrupt bourgeois parties and the subordination of Bolivia to foreign interests. It was a vote for the nationalization of the oil and gas, a vote for fundamental change.

Caught Between Two Fires

But the new Morales government will be caught between two fires from the moment it takes office on Jan. 22, 2006.

On the one hand, it faces immense pressure from U.S. imperialism to protect the considerable foreign economic interests in Bolivia -- particularly the "inalienable right" of the multinational oil corporations to dominate and pillage the country.

The U.S. government is using the threat of a possible military intervention in Bolivia to ensure that Morales doesn’t break with the status-quo. As the newspaper El Diario reported on Dec. 17, 2005: "At the beginning of 2006, when the new government of president-elect Evo Morales takes power, special U.S. troops will march to the border between Paraguay and Bolivia to begin a series of counter-insurgency exercises."

But a military intervention is only "Plan B" for the U.S. government. From its perspective, the ideal situation would be for Morales to act as a "Bolivian Lula" who uses his left-wing prestige -- as Brazilian President Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva has done -- to contain and demobilize the mass movement and implement all the reactionary austerity measures that the traditional bourgeois parties could not push through.

On the other hand, Morales will face a powerful and radicalized popular movement which has overthrown two presidents in less than three years -- a movement, moreover, which Morales does not control and which has not at all given the new government a blank check.

The burning question is thus: Will Morales respond to the demands of the U.S. government or those of the Bolivian people?

Nationalization or Renegotiation of the Contracts?

The principal demand of the mass insurrections of October 2003 (which toppled President Gonzalo "Goni" Sanchez de Lozada, who wanted to export Bolivia’s gas to the U.S. via Chile) and May-June 2005 (which toppled President Carlos Mesa, but was demobilized when a deal was made to convene early elections in December) was "Nationalization, without Compensation, of the Oil and Gas!"

This is a demand for Bolivia’s sovereignty over its abundant natural resources. Bolivia has more than 53 trillion cubic feet in natural gas reserves -- resources that were sold off through privatizations in the 1990s.

The demand for nationalization is so incredibly popular that all the presidential candidates, from the left to the right, in this electoral campaign were obliged to say they were in favor of "nationalization" -- though each of them gave a different content to this word.

Morales has made it clear that his "nationalization" plans will not infringe on the assets of the corporations.

In early December 2005, the Center for the Study of Labor and Agricultural Development (CEDLA), a respected independent political think-tank in La Paz, published its analysis of the different candidates' proposals concerning the hydrocarbons (the oil and gas). The Bolivian newspaper El Diario comments on this study:

"The positions taken by the main political parties participating in the elections in relation to the hydrocarbons [including the MAS- Ed. Note] is criticized by CEDLA, an institution which, moreover, blames them with ‘trying to conceal their interests to preserve the multinational corporations’ monopolistic control over the country’s oil and gas resources with a few scant alterations.’ ... CEDLA believes that the only way for the State to appropriate the surplus income generated from exploiting oil and gas resources is to radically alter the policy in this sector by having the State assume a ‘monopolistic control’ over all the activities involved in the production of oil and gas." (Dec. 11, 2005)

The day after his election, Evo Morales announced: "We will respect property rights; our government will be dedicated to respecting the law" (El Diario, Dec. 20). One week later, Morales declared: "I don’t want to harm anybody. I don’t want to expropriate or confiscate anything." (Econotocias.com, Dec. 28)

Evo Morales was elected primarily on his promises to nationalize the oil and gas resources. Now the new government has reduced this pledge to a call to renegotiate the economic contracts with the energy corporations.

But how can the Bolivian people benefit from their natural resources if the real control of oil and gas remains in private foreign hands?

Didn’t President Carlos Mesa also say he was "nationalizing" the oil and gas resources by raising the percentage of taxes on foreign investments? And didn’t the workers and people of Bolivia respond with the mass uprisings of May-June 2005 that declared Mesa a "traitor" and kicked him out of office?

For their part, the Bolivian employers have applauded Morales’ declarations. After meeting with Morales on Dec. 27, the leader of the Chamber of Commerce of the Santa Cruz region expressed his relief that the new president "spoke of creating jobs, respecting the law, and attracting investments." Rosendo Babery, president of the Eastern Exporters of Bolivia, added, "I consider positive and conciliatory the position of the president-elect of Bolivia; moreover, he asked for help governing… Now let’s see if these words will be translated into deeds." (Econoticias, Dec. 28)

Response from Workers' Movement

The workers’ movement, not surprisingly, has responded differently to Morales’ statements on the hydrocarbons.

The National Summit of Workers and Peoples, a representative gathering of labor and social movement activists, gave the new president 90 days to nationalize the hydrocarbons without indemnities. The Summit met on Dec. 8-10, 2005 in the city of El Alto at the initiative of the country's main labor organizations: the Bolivian Workers Federation (COB), the Miners' Federation (FSTMB) and the Regional Workers Federation of El Alto (COR-El Alto).

The Summit's Final Declaration stated that if the government failed to take action on nationalizations in the allotted time, mass mobilizations would begin again in April 2006.

Jaime Solares, the current general secretary of the Bolivian Workers Federation (COB), declared in the immediate aftermath of the elections: "Nationalization, without compensation, is a political act that does not require consultation with Brazil or the United States of America. … We don’t want them [Evo Morales and the MAS - Ed. Note] to tell us they need two or three years to implement this demand. During this time, the multinationals are going to continue making millions of dollars while the majority of our people continue to starve. We are not going to allow this." (El Diario, Dec. 20)

"Autonomies" or Unity of the Nation?

With the ascent of the mass movement for the nationalization of the hydrocarbons, the semi-fascist oligarchy of Santa Cruz -- a resource-rich region in eastern Bolivia that sits on most of the newly discovered natural gas reserves -- has raised, with full U.S. support and funds, the demand for its political, social, and economic "autonomy" from the rest of Bolivia.

The Bolivian Miners’ Federation exposed the reactionary character of this "autonomy" demand in a document titled, "The Struggle for the Nationalization of the Hydrocarbons." The authors explain that the goal of the oligarchies of Santa Cruz and Tarija is to "create autonomous governments that in addition to dismembering the country permit the corporations to keep the control over the natural resources on a departmental level. … Nationalization, in this way, could not be effective because the departmental government would forbid it. … There is a very real danger that our country could be dismembered." (FSTMB, June 30, 2005)

But what is the position of Morales? In his meeting with the business and political leaders of Santa Cruz on Dec. 27, he was unequivocal: "We are going to guarantee your autonomy," he said. "It is necessary to recognize that Santa Cruz has been the vanguard spreading consciousness about this theme. … " (Bolpress, Dec. 28)

This autonomy/secession demand stems from U.S. imperialism’s strategy to divide and dismantle nations throughout the world (e.g., Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq) in its drive to ensure super-profits. Thus, the National Summit of Workers and Peoples, in its Final Declaration, called for "the intransigent defense of the unity of the nation and the struggle against the divisive maneuvers of the oligarchy of Santa Cruz and Tarija, under the pretext of autonomy."

The Constituent Assembly of June 2006

During the insurrections of October 2003 and May-June 2005, the second most important popular demand (after nationalizations) was the call for the immediate convening of a Constituent Assembly that would write a new constitution and create a new State in the interest of the majority.

In June 2005, a deal was made for President Carlos Mesa to step down, for elections to be held in December 2005, and for a Constituent Assembly to be convened in June 2006. The Miners’ Federation called it "an agreement between the multinationals, Mesa, the Parliament, and Evo Morales -- against Evo's own base. The objective was the preservation of the dominant political and economic system, with its corrupt parliamentarians." (FSTMB document, June 30)

Evo Morales has made the convening of the Constituent Assembly in June 2006 one of his main campaign promises. But what kind of Constituent Assembly can this be if the real power will remain in the hands of the very same corrupt institutions that are kept in place with the December 2005 election?

According to Limber Surco, a leader of the influential Regional Workers Federation of El Alto (COR-El Alto), this June 2006 Constituent Assembly "will be organized the way the bourgeoisie wants, with the goal of implementing its objectives." This is exactly true.

In an article titled, "Autonomies will be axis of the Constituent Assembly," La Razón newspaper explained that "six of the eight political parties participating in the election [the MAS being one of these six parties — Ed. Note] agree that the Constituent Assembly should be the framework through which the country shifts from a centralised State to a State based on autonomous regions." (Dec. 5, 2005)

La Razón reported that "the European Union authorized one million Euros to finance the Constituent Assembly and the Autonomy Referendum within the framework of an emergency program to permit the survival of Bolivian democracy." (Ibid.)

In response, the National Summit of Workers and Peoples held in early December in El Alto adopted the following motion: "We have been informed of the interference by the European Union into the electoral process scheduled next June for the so-called ‘Constituent Assembly.’ The sole purpose of this ‘Assembly’ is to promote the regional ‘autonomies’ and thereby dismantle the Bolivian nation.. … We condemn this drive to finance the destruction of our nation."

In opposition to the fraudulent June 2006 Constituent Assembly, important sectors of the Bolivian mass movement have put forward the call for a Sovereign Constituent Assembly, with full powers to enact laws in the interest of the workers' and peasants' majority -- beginning with the nationalization of oil and gas.

As Surco of the COR-El Alto explained, "The Sovereign Constituent Assembly should be organized by the people themselves. Once such an Assembly is convened, all other branches of the State must submit to it. This would require the dissolution of the Congress and all other intermediate bodies, and the creation of new institutions to serve the people. ... This is the change the people were demanding in the streets."

Morales and the Workers’ Movement

For the workers, the unemployed, the youth, and the peasants -- all of whom catapulted Evo Morales into office -- the presidential results are perceived as a great victory. But now the workers’ and popular movements are faced with new and formidable challenges.

The workers and their organizations will face immense pressures to give up their class independence. The pressure will be most intense upon the COB, the Miners' Federation, and the COR -- all organizations that have been in the forefront of the mass mobilizations over the past three years.

Evo Morales' vice presidential running mate, Alvaro García Linera, argues that "Andean capitalism" is the solution for Bolivia. He and Morales are shining stars of the "alter-globalization" movement and the World Social Forums in their capacity as spokespersons for the "indigenista" cause.

The Bolivian Miners Federation has explained that such "indigenista" rhetoric does not serve the interests of the Quechua and Aymara majority of the Bolivian population. They write:

"Substituting this reality [the class struggle] with the valorization of ethnic, or ‘indigenista,’ concepts to the point of converting them into principles is part of the imperialist strategy to preserve and consolidate capitalism. Its effect, in practice, is to minimize the role of the trade unions and the organizations that base their action on the class confrontation between workers and capitalists. … Thus the objective is the humanization of exploitation, not the conquest of political power and the overthrow of the oppressive system."

Evo Morales and García Linera already have begun an ideological offensive against the concept of class struggle and, thus, the necessity for the existence of independent workers' organizations.

In a post-election interview with the BBC, García Linera was asked, "Are you scared that you won’t be able to fulfil the expectations of the most radical left in Bolivia?" He answered with a controversial provocation against the Bolivian workers’ organizations, stating:

"There is a dying pseudo-Marxist left from the 1950s and 1970s which is already a ghost. They have never participated, or been decisive sectors, in the recent mobilizations. There is a new indigenous left -- which is something new -- that doesn’t share the principles, political recipe-books, or conservative pseudo-radicalism of the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. … Thus, I would speak of confrontation between the last vestiges of an old pseudo-Marxist left and an emerging and vigorous indigenous left." (El Diario, Dec. 22)

What Way Forward?

In addition to this ideological offensive meant to divide the movement and discredit the workers’ organizations, Evo Morales is seeking to co-opt the workers’ and popular organizations into the new government by offering them cabinet posts.

Offers to participate in the new administration already have been made to the peasant federations, the COB, the Miners' Federation, the COR-El Alto, and the Federation of Neighborhood Councils (FEJUVE) of El Alto. So far only the Miners' Federation has categorically rejected the offer.

A heated debate is now in full swing within these organizations, with many leaders and rank-and-file members stating vehemently that it's not possible to defend the specific interests of the workers and peasants if their organizations participate in the new government, thereby assuming responsibility for its policies -- including its stated refusal to nationalize the oil and gas resources.

Clearly, a crucial task today is to guarantee the independence of the workers’ movement by insisting that the workers' and popular organizations should refuse to be co-opted into joining the new government. Central to this task, as well, is the need for the workers' organizations to launch, as soon as possible, the much-talked about "Political Instrument of the Workers."

The proposal to form an independent workers' party was raised by the COB and has been championed by various sectors, particularly the mineworkers. The need for such a workers' party also was highlighted in the Final Declaration adopted by the National Workers and Popular Summit in El Alto.

A new situation is opening up for the Bolivian workers’ and popular movements. Expectations -- and illusions -- are high in Morales and the new government. Large sectors of the Bolivian population hope the new government will implement profound and positive changes in their living situation.

Meanwhile, Evo Morales is redoubling his pledges to the employers and foreign investors, telling them they have nothing to fear from a MAS government. Prior to the election, Morales went so far as to tell the leaders of the Bolivian Private Business Association (CETB) that "the MAS is the only party capable of guaranteeing social peace in Bolivia." (El Diario, Oct. 6, 2005)

If the revolutionary mobilizations of the Bolivian masses are not to be taken back into safe channels for imperialism, it is imperative that the working class organizations that spearheaded the mass uprisings of October 2003 and May-June 2005 not relent in the struggle to win the central demands around which the workers and people have mobilized these past three years. This, of course, is bound up with the need to maintain the independence of the mass workers’ and popular organizations in relation to the government of Evo Morales.

To this end, sectors of the Bolivian labor movement, including La Chispa -- the sympathizing group of the Fourth International in Bolivia -- are calling on the main workers’ organizations -- the COB, the Miners' Federation (FSTMB) and the COR -- to launch an Open Letter to Evo Morales that would essentially state the following:

"Compañero Evo: On Dec. 18, the people gave you their votes and a clear mandate: Immediate nationalization, without compensation, of the oil and gas resources! Unity of the nation, against all the reactionary secessionist attempts organized under the pretext of autonomies!

"We -- workers, unemployed, peasants, youth and shanty-town dwellers -- cannot wait any longer. You have the power to implement these demands. As Compañero Jaime Solares of the COB stated, nationalization without compensation is a political act that does not require consultation with, or authorization from, anyone else. He went on to note there is no reason to delay carrying out the demands of the people.

“Compañero Solares is right: We are hungry, we are unemployed, and we want the nationalization of oil and gas now. If you were to take such action, you can be assured of the overwhelming support of the Bolivian people!"

Last December, just prior to the national election, the National Workers and Popular Summit, issued a call to organize Local and Regional Popular Assemblies and a National Originary Popular Assembly in April 2006. (1) It is necessary for the main workers' organization to reaffirm their pledge to organize these Assemblies. There, working people, organized in their own name, can take stock of the new political situation and discuss how best -- in these new conditions -- to wage the struggle to win their demands.

It cannot be ruled out in advance that the workers' and popular movements could succeed in pushing Evo Morales and the MAS to move further on the road to a break with imperialism than what's proposed in their program. But for that to happen, it will require the sustained independent mobilization and self-organization of the workers, peasants, and students.

It will require that the workers' and popular movement seize hold of the Local and Regional Popular Assemblies and the National Originary Popular Assembly, slated for April 10, to continue and deepen the struggle for the nationalization of the oil and gas, as well as the unity and sovereignty of Bolivia.

Roger Pardo Maurer, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, spoke of the danger of the "revolution going on in Bolivia, a revolution that potentially could have consequences as far-reaching as the Cuban revolution of 1959. ... The things going on in Bolivia could have repercussions in Latin America and elsewhere that you could be dealing with for the rest of your lives."

This is not an over-statement. The stakes are high in Bolivia.

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[Rico Blanc is a university student and activist who has spent the past four months in Bolivia. He is currently touring the United States to speak about the new political developments and challenges in Bolivia. To contact him to speak at your campus or to members of your organization, please write to .]

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End Note:

(1) "Originary" here refers to the original indigenous peoples of Bolivia; the inclusion of this term in the title is meant to show that the projected National Popular Assembly is rooted in the Quechua and Aymara majority of the Bolivian population.
 


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