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Following the political and social transformations undertaken over the last five years by the Evo Morales government with the huge, active support of Bolivia’s popular sectors that have mobilised around their demands since 2000, the political map has radically changed.
This has generated a new correlation of political forces battling over control of national and regional decision-making bodies and the state apparatus.
The new term of the president and his party, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), began in January. It kicked off with the great advantage of Morales’ electoral triumph with almost 64% of the vote in the presidential poll, and MAS winning majority control over the legislative assembly.
The conservative and neoliberal parties and organisations suffered a definitive defeat.
Yet, there are new elements emerging in a panorama that is beginning to show signs of big problems.
These include pressure applied on the government through new forms of social and political action, the lack of a national strategy and government errors — together with the growth of demands from diverse regions and sectors.
Some of the problems have been provoked by sectors close to the government.
Opposition has formed into two large blocs:
• The right-wing governors of Santa Cruz, Tarija and Beni, the mayors of six of the nine capitals and conservative senators and deputies. These represent oligarchic sectors and have a program of radical confrontation against the government, which they deem totalitarian, while promoting representative democracy and economic freedom.
• Some social and indigenous movements, communitarian organisations, trade unions, neighbourhood federations, ex-allies such as the Movement of Those Without Fear (MSM), MAS dissidents and groups that demanded attention to their particular demands and who believe the government no longer represents them.
Since 2000, the popular forces have mobilised against neoliberal policies and the traditional parties, producing in 2003 the largest popular uprising (known as the “Gas War”). Morales emerged as a leader with a program of nationalisation of Bolivia’s gas reserves, allowing a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution and fighting corruption.
The nationalisation of gas and oil reserves in 2006was converted into a renegotiation of terms of contracts with the multinational corporations.
Rent from gas exports has allowed the government to implement social benefits and carry out actions to support vulnerable sectors of Bolivian society, while industrialisation projects have been left behind.
Meanwhile, the constituent assembly produced a new constitution that included departmental, regional, indigenous and municipal autonomy. This generated an exaggerated expectation throughout the country for changes beyond the government’s capacity to provide.
The recognition of 36 fictitious “indigenous nations”, promoted by NGOs and European foundations that advised the assembly, have not only amplified these expectations but also created the danger of national disintegration.
This tendency, rather than promoting a rapprochement and common strengthening among the peoples, tends to strengthen divisive forces that fragment the nation under the slogan of administrating “free territories”.
Morales has actively taken part in the anti-imperialist bloc Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA — established by Cuba and Venezuela) and the Union of South American Nations (Unasur — involving all South American nations) with firm anti-imperialist speeches.
Regional Latin American alliances and defence of the coca leaf, an important agricultural produce, in the face of interventionist policies of the United States, have radicalised government positions. This led to a diplomatic crisis and the expulsion of US ambassador Philip Goldberg in 2008, which has still not been resolved.
Nevertheless, finance capital, bankers and agro industrialists, along with oil and mining transnationals, remain in Bolivia and are reaping important profits exploiting natural resources, exporting them as primary materials, monopolising land and controlling the earnings and economic resources of the country.
Various questions have arisen regarding the government’s policies and strategy, the characterisation of the process and its economic, social and political priorities. This has opened up controversies, despite Morales’ silence on these issues.
Tendencies within and outside the government have generated an ideological debate on the nature of the process. It involves those who say the process remains in a framework of a liberal economic and political project through to those who say that we are dealing with a process that is “communitarian”.
Some propose a form of “21st century socialism”, while others put forward state capitalism as a necessary phase to consolidate national unity. As part of the nation building perspective, there has been the creation of a new entity entrusted with carrying out big regional projects under the direct control of the president.
“Nationalism”, “populism”, “Latin-Americanism”, and “indigenism” are among the labels used to define the Morales government, which combines Morales’ strong leadership with the support of social sectors such as the cocaleros, colonisers, peasants, women and neighbourhood councils.
Despite this popular support, the most important decisions are made within his cabinet and team of close collaborators.
Another debate has opened up between pro-industrialists who believe it is essential to increase production through the industrialisation of natural resources, especially oil, mining and forestry, and integrating all the regions via roadways; and the conservationists, who say ecological reserves should be maintained under the administration of indigenous communities.
This has led to a confrontation with NGOs and international groups that question government policies in relation to environmentally damaging industrialisation, such as occurred in at the World Summit of the Peoples in Defence of Mother Earth in Cochabamba in April.
The government faces important challenges in a situation where its popular support has fallen and its weaknesses become apparent with the concessions its makes to foreign capital, delays in national projects and the absence of an integral vision.
The government enjoys support among indigenous and peasant sectors, but policies of agricultural development, self-sufficiency and food sovereignty are missing. Meanwhile, the government has halted its agrarian reform program that redistributes the land of large landowners.
Industrialisation projects for important gas, lithium, iron and other mineral reserves continue to be delayed. This means multinationals continue operating within the framework of the traditional model of exporting primary materials.
There are important changes and reforms in the social, cultural and judicial structures, but those relating to the economy are absent. This is slowly becoming Morales’ Achilles heel.