by Gerry Foley / January 2006 issue of Socialist Action newspaper
Evo Morales, the candidate of the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), a party based on the peasant coca growers, won a resounding victory in the Dec.18 Bolivian presidential elections.
Morales came to prominence for his denunciations of U.S. imperialism, and in particular its so-called drug war, and has identified himself with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and with Fidel Castro. He visited Cuba within days of his election, where he received a resounding welcome.
Thus, his electoral victory has become a something of an international sensation, especially in Latin America. There has been a lot of speculation about the portents in the world press.
The situation in Bolivia is of special interest to socialists, since this country has been the most advanced point of the wave of revolts in Latin America against the imperialist and capitalist offensive known as neoliberalism. It has been the focus of attention of revolutionary movements in the other countries of the region, especially Argentina.
In a four-candidate race, Morales garnered more than 50 percent, assuring his ascension to the presidency. (If he had gotten less than 50 percent, the election would have gone to the parliament.) In El Alto, the epicenter of the massive upsurges from February to October 2003 and from January to June 2005 that toppled the two previous presidents of the country, he got over 70 percent of the vote. (Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada fled the country in October 2003 and his successor, Carlos Mesa, resigned in June 2005.)
In general, Morales got very high votes in all the Andean areas where the mass upsurges of 2003 and 2005 were strongest and which are the historic heartland of the left and workers’ movement in Bolivia—La Paz (63 per ent), Cochabamba (60.1 percent), Oruro (61 percent), Potosi (53.2 percent). It is clear that he rose to victory on the wave of revolt against the
imperialist offensive and the mass uprisings. That largely explains the so far cautious expressions of worry on the part of the U.S. government and world imperialism.
Moreover, the MAS was built as a movement to oppose U.S. attempts to eradicate coca growing in Bolivia, part of its so-called War on Drugs, which Washington has used as a pretext for the deployment of American military forces all over Latin America. Coca growing
has been a refuge of Bolivian farmers ruined by the competition of U.S. government-backed agribusiness and by miners massively laid off as a result of the privatization of the mines.
The coca leaf itself is a traditional stimulant and not much used to produce a narcotic in Bolivia, although it provides the raw material for cocaine, one of the principal products of the international drug trade. So, the U.S. attempt to destroy the coca crop has come into conflict with a vast popular movement in Bolivia. And U.S. officials are voicing fears that Morales will obstruct their “War on Drugs” in Latin America.
Populist and leftist governments in region
More broadly, the victory of the MAS was seen as a another shift to the left in Latin American politics, after a series of reformist governments have come into office in recent years on the back of a surge of rebellion against the imperialist economic onslaught. Some of the capitalist papers even referred to Morales’ victory as another step toward “socialism” in the region. But so far, however much these regimes may irritate the U.S. rulers and the local capitalists, none of them have made any serious attack on imperialist-dominated capitalism, and some of them have fallen prey to rapid disillusionment among the masses, such as the Gutierrez government in Ecuador, and now the Lula government in Brazil.
In general, so far, such governments have acted as buffers, shielding the capitalists from the anger of the masses. But the mass revolt in Bolivia has been more radicalized than anywhere else, and so local and international big business is more nervous about its prospects. They have huge stakes in the country. Bolivia has the second largest natural gas reserves in
the hemisphere and potentially very important sources of iron and manganese.
The Bolivian presidential election was extremely polarized. The right rallied around the candidacy of Tuto Quiroga, a former vice president of Hugo Banzer, who had ruled the country initially as a military dictator. He succeeded Banzer as president in August 2001, when the strongman’s health forced him to resign, and held the presidency himself for a year. Quiroga got 31 percent of the vote. The fact that the right chose such a figure as its standard bearer is
undoubtedly indicative of the polarization.
Successionist movement in Santa Cruz
Although the right was decisively defeated in the presidential election, it retained important bulwarks. At this writing, the final election results have not yet been announced, but it seems clear that the right will get control of a majority of provincial governments and probably a majority in the national parliament. As the national crisis has deepened, the right has been campaigning for more autonomy for the provinces in order to assure its regional strongholds.
The most important of the strongholds of the right is the southeastern province of Santa Cruz, which is dominated by reactionary landlords, many of whom are actually refugees from the fall of Hitler’s empire or their descendants.
This province has been the breeding ground of Bolivia’s fascist movement and it is also the location of the most important new discoveries of natural resources—oil, natural gas, and iron. It borders on Paraguay, where the United States has recently acquired a military base.
The right in Santa Cruz has also long played with the idea of breaking off from Bolivia altogether. The province has a different ethnic composition than the Andean ones, which are dominated by two big indigenous nationalities, with a long history of struggle. Santa Cruz is predominately white, although there are different indigenous communities that sit on the top
of the natural resources. (In this region, the Indian tribes did not develop civilizations or become very numerous.)
Elections are scheduled for July 2006 for a Constituent Assembly, which in theory could change the country’s representative structure. Some representatives of mass organizations have said that these are the elections they are interested in. But for Bolivian politics, six months is a long time, and it is impossible to predict what the situation will be when the Constituent Assembly elections are held. That depends fundamentally on the development of
social mobilization in the country. Unless there is a major political advance by the mass movement and the revolutionary left in the meantime, it is likely that the Constituent Assembly elections will be just another bourgeois parliamentary-type election.
Mass organizations take differing positions
The mass organizations that led the uprisings of 2003 and 2005, the COB (the trade-union confederation), FEDEJUVE (the federation of neighborhood committees of El Alto), and the COR (the Regional Labor Confederation of El Alto), did not support Morales and the MAS. They were formally pledged to the project of building a national assembly of delegates based on the mass movements and denounced the elections as a bourgeois trick. However, they did not campaign for a boycott either. In fact, some of the leaders tried to get spots on the MAS slate.
The Australian Green Left Weekly had a correspondent in Bolivia at the time of the election. In the Dec. 16 issue of his paper, he noted: “Faced with the upcoming elections, El Alto’s organizations have taken differing positions. Leaders of both the COR and FEDEJUVE initially flirted with the idea of standing candidates under the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS)
banner, as well as discussing the possibility of joining the center-left electoral front proposed by a number of the current mayors of Bolivia’s major cities.”
The attempt to get on the MAS slate was apparently frustrated by the sectarianism of Morales’ party, which wanted all the spots for its own people and had neither the will nor the ability to become the party of the entire mass movement.
“…discussions between MAS and FEDEJUVE reached a point where it seemed that Abel Mamani [leader of FEDEJUVE] could be the MAS candidate for La Paz governor. However, due to FEDEJUVE’s demands for more positions than were on offer on the MAS ticket, and the fight put up by MAS members to ensure that they got the positions they felt they deserved for their years of militancy in the organisation, negotiations broke down.”
The head of the COB, Jaime Solares, was also invited to run in a party slate, the slate of Felipe Quispe, a radical indigenous nationalist. In an interview published on the International Viewpoint (Fourth International) website, he explained why he rejected the offer: “What Felipe wanted was to appropriate the name of the COB. He didn’t want me to come in my own name. That was a kind of condition for my participation. Now, the COB cannot act like a
political party, it’s an instrument in the service of the workers, and we cannot commit it as such. That’s why I refused.”
However, Solares went on to say that both Morales’ and Quispe’s parties were not workers parties but peasant parties. But it was not clear if he would have rejected Quispe’s offer of the vice presidential spot on his slate if he had been accepted as a candidate in his own name only.
Moreover, his reasoning for rejecting the post appeared reformist. It is true that trade unions are a kind of a united front based on the defending the interests of all their members regardless of political differences. But in a revolutionary crisis, trade unions cannot remain neutral. They have to offer leadership to the class, and in such a situation that means political leadership also. Trade-union leaders have to become revolutionary leaders.
Apparently, Solares has no such intention. But he did say that the union could not give support to any party that might betray the workers’ interests. His practical conclusion was that the COB would observe the Morales government from the outside. While he mentioned that the COB had decided to set up a “political instrument,” he did not say what it was or
Further on in the interview, Solares said that it would be necessary to strengthen the Indigenous Popular Assembly, which was formed in the June 2005 crisis with the declared aim of setting up a type of soviet (workers-council) government in opposition to any bourgeois parliament. The sentiment for building such an alternative seems to be very widespread among the vanguard of the struggle. That must be why it is given verbal support by the leaderships of the mass organizations.
This is the perspective pushed, for example, by the website Econoticias, which seems to be representative of this vanguard. Econoticias has consistently denounced Morales and the MAS as the last hope of capitalism in Bolivia. On the eve of the election (Dec. 10), it published a new declaration for building a government based directly on the working people, the Declaration of the First Workers and People’s Summit.
However, the perspective of the People’s Assembly since it was proclaimed six months ago has remained an abstract one. And it appears that there was no campaign for this concept during the elections. In this context, it is understandable why a leader like Mamani would try to gain a place on the MAS slate.
Since the election (Dec. 28), Econoticias has reported that Morales got the applause of representatives of the Santa Cruz oligarchy in a speech given in the headquarters of the Comite pro Santa Cruz when he promised to respect private property and praised the Santa Cruz bosses for promoting the concept of provincial autonomy. It also noted that one of his
first decisions was to open up the way for private business to exploit the giant iron and magnesium deposits in the southeastern province.
Some groups that identify themselves as Trotskyist called for critical support for Morales on the basis that he was seen by the masses as anti-imperialist. Certainly, his victory was hailed by the Cuban revolutionary leadership. And it is true that the governments that have come into office on the wave of revolt against the imperialist offensive do offer the Cuban Revolution a bit more breathing room in its conflict with U.S. imperialism.
However, it runs counter to raising the political consciousness of working people to call for support for any pro-capitalist parliamentary party—even a left-talking peasant-based one, like that of Evo Morales. This is true especially since it is clear that the organizations that have led the struggle against the imperialist-dominated governments in Bolivia are committed in principle to creating a government directly based on the organizations of the masses and that there is huge support for this idea. Popular illusions in Morales and a party like MAS in the Bolivian situation can only be a step backward, and have to be combated.
Thus, two major Trotskyist organizations in Argentina, the Socialist Workers Party (PTS) and the Argentine Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), opposed calling for a vote for Morales. Socialist Action agrees with their position.
It is true that the victory of Morales offers some support to Cuba in its confrontation with U.S.
imperialism. It is understandable that the Cuban revolutionary leadership welcomes this and conversely that the U.S. is going to be antagonistic to the Morales government no matter how many or how strong assurances it gives that it will not attack capitalism or refuse completely to cooperate with the U.S. war on drugs.
The Morales government risks being subjected to more and more pressures from the U.S. and its local imperialists, and it is the duty of all socialist, workers, and democratic organizations to support it in resisting such pressures. But in a relatively short time, unless there are new socialist revolutions in Latin America and a new rise of the socialist movement
worldwide, the Cuban Revolution will remain essentially isolated and threatened.
Thus, it is essential for revolutionists to combat illusions in Morales and similar parliamentary
solutions and to support the fight to make a government directly representing the working people a reality.
Statement of the Bolivian Workers and Peoples Summit
On the eve of the national and provincial elections … the workers and social movements meeting in the city of El Alto, considered the headquarters of the revolution in the 21st century, in the first Workers and People’s Summit, declare the following:
1) The workers and social movements of Bolivia today more than ever are convinced that the national and provincial elections, which are being held to sabotage the tenacious struggle of the exploited, will not solve the problems that are stifling the Bolivians nor defend the sovereignty and dignity of the nation. Poverty, hunger, and unemployment will continue to grow worse.
2) Conscious that the recent struggles have been characterized by their assault on neoliberalism and their failure to take power, the workers and the social movements of Bolivia has the elementary duty to construct and consolidate the Indigenous National People’s Assembly as an organ of power. The constituent assembly projected by the present government has no objective except to rescue the interests of the transnationals.
At this point, the workers and exploited of our country are certain that none of the candidates with a chance to win power through the elections will dare to recover our natural resources. For this reason, we have no other road but to suspend the breathing space granted after the May-June days to take up the struggle for the following objectives:
• Nationalization of the hydrocarbons without compensation and recovery of our natural resources.
• Reinforcement of the Political Instrument of the Workers approved in the national expanded plenum of the COB.
• Repeal of Decree 21060, which opened the way for neoliberalism.
• A minimum living wage with a sliding scale and job security.
• Resist the annulment of the trade-union law by the successive governments.
• Recovery of the public service institutions for the people.
• Intransigent defense of the unity of the nation, a struggle against the separatist maneuvers of the oligarchy in Santa Cruz and Tarija provinces under the pretext of local autonomy.
• Immediate extradition of the mass murderer Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada [a former president now living in the U.S.] and his imprisonment along with that of his cohorts in Chonchocoro [the maximum security prison].
4) The exploited and the social movements realize that in order to achieve our immediate objectives we will have to install a workers and peasants government. We can rely only on the direct action of the masses and our own instruments of struggle. For this reason, we have the elementary duty to reinforce the COB, the CODs [Departmental Confederations], the CORs [Regional Confederations], and the local unions and people’s organizations identified with the struggle of the Bolivian people.
5) The Bolivian workers declare that they are in a state of alert for any attempt at intervention by imperialism or any clanking of sabers [threat of a military coup].
6) The workers and social movements appeal to the exploited throughout the country to build Regional People’s Assemblies in March 2006. The representatives of these organizations must form and reinforce the National Indigenous People’s Assembly, which will meet on April 10 in the city of El Alto.
In this struggle, the exploited have nothing to lose but their chains of exploitation and humiliation.