Point Of View: Evo’s government: an evaluation of 2006

P. Gregorio Iriarte OMI

This is a summary of main points of an evaluation made by Gregorio Iriarte. Gregorio is a priest who came to live in Bolivia in the mines of the Siglo XX area, where the Oblate priests ran the Pio XII radio, in the early 1960's; he was one of the founding members of the Bolivian Human Rights Assembly (APDH) and continues to provide insightful analysis on themes of current importance from a perspective of ethics, social justice and democracy.

To show how easy it is to get it wrong, the majority of analysts thought a year ago that the government’s main problems would be in the field of economics. People talked of the limited experience of the new president and his team, of capital flight, of international trade isolation, of devaluations, of the expropriation of properties, of the likelihood of a socialist sort of economic system being imposed; in short that it would lead to disaster.

At the same time, they said that all would be well on the political front, owing to the scale of the electoral landslide, that the degree of public support would mean there would be no need to fight with obstructionism of the traditional political parties… Well it turned out the other way round: all has gone very well with the economy, better than what the most optimistic would have predicted. On the political front, however things have gone from bad to worse. The latest opinion polls give Evo’s government 52% support, compared with 77% a year earlier. The drop has much more to do with politics than the economy.

Objectives met

Even though one year is not much, some achievements are obvious. The government took advantage of a favourable economic situation, maintaining monetary stability and the fiscal balance, increasing government revenues by more than 40%. This was mainly the consequence of the so-called ‘nationalisation’ of hydrocarbons, in practice a successful renegotiation with powerful petroleum companies.

Currently, national GDP stands at nearly 10 billion dollars, with exports of over 4 billion dollars yielding a surplus on the trade balance. Not only has the fiscal deficit vanished, but it is now in surplus by around 5% of GDP. Taxes are now being paid, administrative corruption has diminished, customs controls have improved, although there is still much to be done.

In the social sphere, the rights of the most disadvantaged have been enhanced, and levels of self-esteem among the least privileged have risen. The Bono Juancito Pinto (Juancito Pinto bond) has benefited more than a million poor school children. Some 44,000 women and 11,000 men have undergone literacy courses. A free health security benefit has been created for those under 21 or over 60. There has been a law passed to achieve a more equal distribution of land. These are some of the significant successes of the present government.

Of course it is true that the international economic situation, especially with respect to high world prices for hydrocarbons and minerals, has helped. And to this should be added another factor that has benefited the economy: remittances from Bolivians living abroad. But this does not detract from the government’s efficiency in the area of economic and social policy.

Tensions, mistakes and mishaps

It is often said that the good macroeconomic situation belies a bad microeconomic one. This is true. Unemployment levels remain very high (around 11%), under-employment has risen, and with it the size of the informal economy. The result is clear. The number of Bolivians who go to Europe or the United States in search of work is ever increasing. We are increasingly losing trained workers.

Large-scale mobilisations reveal the fact that the main political actors are social or regional movements, with an almost total absence of political parties. The media complain of threats to free speech, of limits being placed on civil and political rights, of discrimination and exclusion. There are many who detect authoritarian and centralizing tendencies in the government, attempts to frustrate the opposition. This has been most in evidence in the confrontation in the Constituent Assembly over the MAS’s refusal to accept two-thirds voting and preference for a simple majority (with which it can win outright).

The demand for ‘autonomies’ in the so-called Media Luna (Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni and Pando) is becoming the axis around which opposition to the government expresses itself, an amalgam of regionalist designs, political purposes, separatist tendencies and even racism. The polarisation between ‘east’ and ‘west’ is in the ascendant and it seems that the government has not given much priority to this dangerous threat. President Evo keeps up an aggressive and provocative discourse, accusing people indiscriminately of being oligarchs, separatists, large landowners…

We face the serious danger of fragmentation. This has enabled the right-wing parties, such as Podemos, to take advantage of the situation to mobilise prefects and civic committees in these departments. A project for decentralisation along the lines of autonomies has turned into the country’s chief political challenge. The right has orchestrated itself not around well-known political personalities but around localist leaders who manipulate the easy and attractive option of regionalism.

It is deeply worrying that the government has lost control of an important part of the country. Rather than the government bringing the regions, the prefects and the civic committees into the framework of a coherent and viable national plan, a process directed by the itself, it has entered into a sort of struggle for power. Instead of directing, orienting and governing, it has become involved in discrediting and verbally attacking others; rather than driving the autonomies forward, it seems to have been overtaken by them.

It is quite clear that attitudes in the eastern departments, especially in the civic committee of Santa Cruz, have been arrogant, obstructionist, lacking in national vision and refusing to acknowledge the positive attributes of the government. But it is the government that has the primary obligation to preserve, by whatever means, the unity of the country. It is incumbent on the government to change its stance, since not infrequently it seems to be inciting confrontation. It needs to define what sort of country we want to create and the sort of development required to achieve it.

Some analysts think that Evo’s biggest error was to support the ‘no’ position in the referendum. The project that needs to take place – and which the government should pursue with energy – is to overcome the centralisation that has absorbed the country from its origins. One of the main keys to this is regional autonomy. But this has become the catalyst for discord. The government has to pursue this, since the four departments that voted ‘yes’ have the will and the right to make it happen.

Republished from Bolivia Information Forum Bulletin No. 5, February 2007. To subscribe to the bulletin email enquiries[at]boliviainfoforum.org.uk


Anonymous said...

Great review... Padre. Right on the dot. We voted for Evo hoping he would be a good President. We still have to see that. No matter if , he is Indian or white.

Dave Brown said...

This is a rightwing commentary appearing on a leftwin blog.

Why should the people have to concede any 'autonomy' to the East dominated by the old landed elites and mineowners? It is a recipe for the East to starve the West of the benefits of economic growth. To say that the elite in the East has the 'right' and the 'will' is to endorse the interests of this class. Morales has already made huge concessionst to the ruling class granting them massive shares in the El Mutun mine. He continues to appease them, and also the foreign corporations, by conceding a 2/3rds majority vote in the Constituent.

The recent defence of the mine in Huanuni and the uprising in Cochabamba shows what is in motion. The so-called economic growth is not benefitting the poor masses. Sooner or later Morales honeymoon will run out and the masses will once more take to the streets, with the miners in the vanguard, and this time, will there be a Morales using the deception of 'indigenism' to divert the masses from taking power?

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