Evo Seduces the Military

Pablo Stefanoni

From his first few days in the Palacio Quemado [presidential palace], Evo Morales has dedicated himself with perseverance to a task that for many – dazes by his indigenist discourse – has passed by unnoticed; knitting together a military-campesino alliance as a base of support for his government, thinking at the same time in a “cultural and democratic revolution”.

A perusal of his last speeches makes this quite evident. “All of us, together, the social movements and the Armed Forces, need to take up the new task of dignifying Bolivia, of defending the homeland, because there would be no reason to be a nation if we did not have an Armed Forces, which are the heart and soul with which to defend the unity, integrity and sovereignty of our homeland” he said on August 7, Day of the Armed Forces, in Sucre. “I want tell the Military High Command and the Armed Forces that I have a lot of confidence in you to guarantee this change in democracy. In the last few years there has been an enormous confrontation and I feel that this has finished for ever”, he said a week later, when 25 young indigenous and Afrobolivians – 20 men and 5 women – received the benefits of the program “Equality of opportunity with focus on gender” and entered the Military College of the Army Gualberto Villarroel, something which until now had been de facto impeded.

It is not difficult to perceive, within this continuously reiterated invitation to the military, the will of the MAS government to bring about, in the present conditions, the old popular-military alliance that constituted the social base of all the nationalist regimes in Latin America. And Bolivia has not been an exception in this: this history commenced with the “military socialism” of the generation of the Chaco War (1932-1935) – represented by David Toro and German Busch -, was followed by the military nationalism of Gualberto Villarroel – hung from a street post in Plaza Murillo by a type of Bolivian Democratic Union – and had a fleeting moment in the begin of the 70s with the worker-military alliance of Juan Jose Torres, which was expressed through the Popular Assembly that was cut short on by the fascist coup of Hugo Banzer Suarez.

In the case of Evo Morales, it was with the nationalisation of hydrocarbons that the romance with the military passed over into action. In the vice-presidency, a military command worked discreetly for various days, with maps and computers, adjusting the details of the entry onto the petroleum fields. The decree of May 1 and the setting of the scene for the carrying out of the measure followed the pattern of previous nationalisations: military occupation of the petroleum installations. This act marked an institutional and personnel coming together between the new president and the Armed Forces. There the elite group F-10 appeared on the scene – previously controlled by the US and now clearly on the side of the new nationalist government – that afterwards accompanied Evo Morales, [Venezuela President] Hugo Chavez and [Cuban…] Carlos Lage during their visit to the Chapare. The benefits of this coming together are mutual; the government was able to carry out this forceful act in front of the national and international community; and the military cleaned up its image of repression against the Bolivian people following the massacres of the last years, especially in October 2003, which resulted in more the 60 deaths.

The second moment in this incipient relation was the vibrant indigenous-military march on August 6 to inaugurate the Constituent Assembly. The high command put in motion its machinery so as to cooperate with the transportation of the campesinos from the most remote regions of the country, as well as giving them a rapid course in “the goose step” in order to be able to participate in accordance with this historic event.

“We are confronted with a current version… of the scenario repeated ad nauseam during the government of General Barrientos (1964-1969) and in the successive military regimes until the end of the 70s” said the analyst Ivan Arias [former minister in the governments of Hugo Banzer Suarez (1999-2001) and then Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga (2001-2)]

“They can not be compared. Whilst the old military-campesino pact was lead by populist military figures, the current popular-military alliance appears with an inversed face; it is the indigenous peoples which are hegemonising it; on the other hand, the famous military-campesino pact of General Rene Barrientos in 1964 was a moment of reflux for the national revolution of ‘52 and put the campesinos against the miners unions. Today we are in a very different context, of an autonomous indigenous and popular emergence, based on a new project for the nation”, said the journalist Walter Chavez.

Nevertheless, various doubts and questions remain. Is a nationalist current beginning effective consolidated inside the Armed Forces? Will this current impose itself on the traditional conservative and pro-US tendencies? What will those in the military from Santa Cruz do in front of a possible aggravation of the crisis with Santa Cruz? Until now, the answers are pure speculation. Meanwhile, in the middle of a fight each time more forceful in the Constituent Assembly, the country moves towards what could finish up as a polarisation ala Venezuela.

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