The oligarchy in
In effect, what the coalition of wealthy landowners, capitalist agribusinesses and key sections of the Bolivian ruling class are attempting is a unilateral declaration of independence so that they will not have to implement the laws passed by the MAS government of Evo Morales, particularly in relation to land reform and hydrocarbons. This is a very powerful coalition, that has been described as the "100 clans", which controls large amounts of land (25 million hectares as opposed to 5 million hectares which are in the hands of 2 million poor peasants), meat packing plants, the profitable business of soy bean plantations, the country's main banks and media and the main private industries. They are defending their class interests and they are prepared to go until the end and use any means necessary.
They have used the issue of "autonomy" to mobilise mass support for what in reality is a rebellion of the slaveholders, to use Marx's expression. At the same time they have been arming thousands of young people, recruited from the sons of the wealthy and from lumpen elements, in what can only be described as the fascist gangs of the Union Juvenil Cruceña. With a strong element of racism against the "Highland Indios", people with dark, indigenous, skin have been beaten up, lists of MAS activists pasted on the main square in Santa Cruz, a city where only right-wing political activity is now allowed. Evo Morales himself has been called a "monkey" by leading figures in the
There are clear indications of involvement of the
But how did we get to this point? As a by-product of the revolutionary movement of the Bolivian workers and peasants in 2000-05, the MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) of Evo Morales got a resounding victory in the elections in December 2005, with more than 53% of the votes against 28% of his closest rival. Even in
As we said at the time, "the hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants voted for the MAS with a clear idea in mind, that Morales will deliver on the ‘October Agenda', that is, the demands that led to the October 2003 uprising. These are, mainly, the nationalisation and industrialisation of gas, land reform, reversal of neo-liberal policies and, for some, the calling of a Constituent Assembly."
What policies did the MAS government implement? If one thing has characterised the Morales government over the last two years it has been vacillation. Every step forward taken in the right direction (nationalisation of gas, raising the minimum wage, providing school children with free milk, raising the pensions) was met with fierce opposition from the capitalist class and imperialism. Faced with such opposition the government retreated half a step, called for negotiations and generally conciliated. This only encouraged the oligarchy to step up its campaign, created confusion amongst the supporters of the MAS (the masses of workers and poor peasants from the indigenous majority) and demobilised them. The oligarchy was able to seize the initiative and even win a base of support amongst the masses in the
Even when the MAS leadership attempted to use the mass movement against the right wing, it did so in an indecisive way, avoided a serious confrontation and stayed firmly within the narrow limits of bourgeois legality (at a time when the oligarchy was happy to break their own laws in order to defend their land, interest and profits). This was the case for instance one year ago in
And so it happened. Earlier this year, after many negotiations, the mediation of the Catholic Church, meetings and talks, etc., both the government and the oligarchy announced the calling of a referendum: the government in order to pass the new Political Constitution of the State (as drafted over many months of legalistic disputes by the Constituent Assembly, but only passed at a session which was boycotted by the opposition), and the Santa Cruz oligarchy in order to pass their own Autonomous Statute in a direct challenge and in contradiction with the Political Constitution of the State (CPE). Then, the
However, the oligarchy, emboldened by each concession on the part of the government, felt strong enough to defy the ruling and go ahead with its own referendum on autonomy. Since then there have been constant skirmishes between the central national democratically elected government and the decisive section of the country's ruling class represented by the Santa Cruz Departmental government and the Santa Cruz Civic Committee (led by wealthy landowner and agro-capitalist Branko Marinkovic).
A few months ago there was the incident over who controlled the
More recently there was a conflict over the decision of the government to block exports of basic foodstuffs in order to face rising prices and scarcity at home. Marinkovic is one of the country's largest cattle ranchers and soybean producers (for the export market). The oligarchy replied with a bosses' lock-out and threatened a national lock-out of the transport industry. The government eased the blocking of exports.
Then the Santa Cruz Department disconnected the computers dealing with its budget from those of the national government. The national government cut off money transfers to
But in all these battles, the only one force than can save the Bolivian revolution and also the MAS government, has been absent: the masses of workers and peasants. The miners' union and several peasant organisations made an appeal to the government to use all means necessary to stop the May 4th referendum in
The oligarchy is launching a serious and well-organised challenge to the government of Evo Morales and the government is basically burying its head under the sand. It is not even clear that the aim of the ruling class is to split the country. Why should they do that? So far they have managed to get a stronghold in
However, not all is lost in
The miners of Huanuni, in a statement on April 4th clearly identified the danger: "The wealthy oligarchy, a minority composed of land owners and multinational businessmen... with the massive resources derived from their economic power and the open support of countries aligned with the US have started a serious offensive to recover all the political power they lost during the bloody struggles of 2003 and 2005"
But they add: "The national government of the MAS, is also responsible for this situation for having allowed this small minority of the rich to reorganise and raise its head again. This oligarchic minority is so powerful because they have the economic power they derive from the exploitation of our natural resources, like the hydrocarbons, mining, the land, etc. If the government does not take over these resources for the state, these vampires will continue to be powerful and will ensure the continuation of unemployment, poverty and the misery we have lived in for the last decades."
And they end up with a clear appeal for action: "Only the application of the Agendas of 2003 and 2005 will guarantee the disarming and the defeat of the oligarchy. The Huanuni miners demand that the government takes the boldest measures to disband the fraud of this autonomy referendum, and to apply once and for all real structural changes in the country. The miners, loyal to our tradition of revolutionary struggle, demand that the government gives us the necessary means and resources to smash the "civic" and business cliques which throughout the country, and particularly in the Eastern Crescent, fool the people and want to fill the country with hatred, blood and division".
One lesson must be learnt above all: the last two years of the MAS government prove in a conclusive manner that no middle way is possible, no "Andean capitalism" can be built. Even the timid measures of the Morales government have led directly to this rebellion of the slaveholders. The only way forward is the expropriation of the land, banks and industry under the democratic control of the working people of
Republished from In Defence of Marxism