What the U.S. Rulers Have to Worry About in Bolivia

by Gerry Foley / March 2006 issue of Socialist Action newspaper

The victory of Evo Morales in the Dec. 13 presidential election in Bolivia initially rang alarm
bells in U.S. governmental circles and in the international capitalist press. For one thing, it
continued a long series of electoral defeats of open acolytes of U.S. imperialism in Latin America. The capitalist press therefore called it a “new step to the left” in the region, or even a new step “toward socialism.”

The capitalists and their mouthpieces had reason to worry. Bolivia is a small and poor country, but it is where the revolt against the international capitalist offensive has assumed an active mass and a radical character. Thus it has become the beacon of the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist revolt in the southern cone of Latin America in particular.

And Bolivia contains very important natural resources, such as the second largest reserves of oil and natural gas in Latin America and newly discovered huge deposits of iron and manganese.

Since Morales has taken office, formed his government, and made the first demonstration in practice of the policies he intends to follow, the alarm in imperialist and pro-imperialist circles seems, at least for the time being, to be quieting. Thus, Washington Post staff writer Pamela Constable wrote in the Feb. 21 issue of the paper, ”…for now, at least, the Bush administration is hoping that Evo Morales, who once threatened to become ‘America’s worst
nightmare,’ is a man with whom it can do business.”

The article continued: “Morales, 46, has already toned down the harsh anti-American rhetoric that peppered his campaign speeches. Most significantly, he has backed off from a blanket condemnation of U.S. anti-drug programs as an excuse for military intervention and has said he will allow such operations to continue if they abide by Bolivian law.”

On a more fundamental question, Constable wrote: “A second potential problem for U.S.-Bolivian ties is that Morales’s backers expect follow-through on pledges of radical economic changes, such as tightening controls over natural gas reserves, which could discourage foreign investment and push Bolivia away from U.S.-backed regional trade pacts.

“But though Morales might seem ideologically compatible with Chavez in Venezuela, U.S. analysts and officials said Morales appears to be more pragmatic and open to compromise. They said he may also have more to gain by forging ties with another neighbor in the region, President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, a staunch U.S. ally.”

Historically the U.S. has never accepted reform regimes in Latin America and connived in the overthrow of all of them. In the case of Bolivia, the U.S. made deals for a number of years with the regime put in power by the 1952 revolution. This succeeded in undermining the gains of the revolution and paving the way for the installation of a military dictatorship, in 1964.

The government of the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement that took office in 1952 did not lead the revolution, but it was able to rise to power because the revolution had failed to produce its own political leadership. For some years, the government remained under the pressure of a revolutionary workers movement that it was unable to control.

Morales also is under pressure from a mass movement that he has not led. In 2003 and 2005, mass movements arose against the pro-imperialist policies of the incumbent administrations that reached the brink of insurrection. Neither Morales nor his party, the MAS
(Movimiento al Socialismo), played a key role in these mobilizations. They were led primarily by the Bolivian Workers Confederation (COB), the Regional Workers Confederation of El Alto (the working-class satellite city of La Paz), and the Federation of Neighborhood Councils of El Alto.

None of these organizations has endorsed Morales. They have also called for forming a People’s Assembly directly representing the mobilized masses, and have proclaimed that no bourgeois parliament is going to solve the problems facing Bolivian working people.
Subsequent to the election, they declared that they were “besieging” the new president, demanding that he meet their demands.

Morales’ first major gesture after his election was to go to the stronghold of the right, Santa Cruz, and announce that he intended to respect private property and to endorse the demand of the local capitalists and ranchers for “autonomy”—that is, separation from a central government that they do not trust.

At the same time, he announced that he was opening the way for private companies to take over the vast iron and magnesium deposits at Mutun, in the right-wing-dominated southeast of the country. That aroused an outcry in the mass movement. Perhaps as a result, the responsible minister in the Morales government has announced recently that he is reconsidering this decision. But it remains to be seen what the resolution of this matter will be.

On one key question, raising the minimum wage, Morales has reneged on his promise. In the week before the election, according to the Bolivian website Econoticias.Bolivia, the MAS candidate promised to triple the minimum wage from 480 Bolivars ($US60) to 1500 Bolivars ($US185). Following the election, however, the government offered only a 3 percent increase to the teachers and denied making any promise to raise the minimum wage.

The teachers and the labor movement are responding with fury to the government’s decision. Econoticias reported Feb. 8: “In every district, leaders are calling emergency meetings and assemblies. A renewal of social mobilizations is imminent. The Central Obrera Boliviana also declared a state of alert and mobilization in response to Morales’ wage offer and his intention to call a Constituent Assembly without a majority participation of indigenous and workers.”

The question of the Constituent Assembly, which is supposed to be elected in July and to begin sitting in August, is also a focus of conflict for the new government. The calling of such an assembly was one of the concessions offered by the previous regime to defuse the mass insurrectionary movement.

An Argentine Trotskyist organization, the Partido de Trabajadores al Socialismo (PTS), has noted that Morales’ plan for the assembly is to have it adopt a social pact among all sections of the Bolivian population, including the capitalists.

The PTS reported in the Feb. 21 issue of its international magazine Estrategia, based on an account in its Bolivian cothinkers’ paper, Palabra Obrera, that Morales had called for “an assembly to ‘unite Bolivians, respecting their diversity,’ and to ‘achieve a social pact’ in the framework of the present political constitution, and seeking agreements with the civic committees, the entrepreneurs, the Church, and other ‘factors of power.’”

On the other hand, the right-wing parties are demanding that the Constituent Assembly confine itself to purely political questions and make no decisions that affect property rights or the prerogatives of employers. They also demand that the size of the assembly be limited to assure the predominance of notables.

Obviously, there is going to be a prolonged struggle over the conditions for the election of the assembly and the scope of its authority. These questions are far from determined now and they will probably be decided in the coming months by the social mobilization, as well as by the role of the political leaderships calling for a government based on the masses.

A more immediate test question for the Morales government is the strike of the Bolivian national airline (LAB) pilots. This company was partially privatized in 1996 and looted by its new capitalist ”partners,” to the point that it is now almost out of money.

The pilots and the labor movement in general are demanding that the government “intervene” it—that is, take over the management. They are calling for a permanent takeover, but Morales so far has agreed only to a temporary “intervention.”

Overall, it is obvious that in the next six months dramatic social and political conflicts are going to be played out in Bolivia. It was and will be necessary to defend the Morales government against the local right wing and the imperialists. Yet it is clear that it is not going to be this government but the mass movement and its leaderships that will determine how much the imperialists and Bolivian capitalists will actually have to worry about.

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