Bolivian elections – a defeat for imperialism

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On 6 December 2009 the Movement towards Socialism (MAS) won a resounding victory in the Bolivian general election. Evo Morales took 64% of the presidential vote, with his closest rival, Manfred Reyes Villa, receiving just 26.4%. MAS won 88 out of 130 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and 26 out of 36 seats in the Senate. In winning more than two-thirds of the Senate seats, MAS now has the power to complete agrarian reform, nationalisation and investment in health, education and infrastructure which have until now been blocked by representatives of the ruling class.

In spite of the opposition, during MAS’s first term the country’s gas and oil were taken under full state control. Contracts with multinationals were renegotiated and state revenues from hydrocarbons rose from 5.6% of GDP in 2004 to 25.7% in late 2008. This paid for increased social spending on health and education as well as regular payments for the poorest pensioners, families and pregnant women. Careful economic planning has avoided the worst effects of the global recession; since Morales came to power in January 2006, Bolivia’s currency reserves have risen from $2 billion to $8 billion and the economy has seen average growth of 5.2% – the highest in the last 30 years.

Since the December election, the government has proceeded with its plans for agrarian reform, in one instance seizing two ranches totalling 60 square miles. Under the new Bolivian constitution, approved by referendum in January 2009, the state can expropriate and redistribute land obtained by fraud, or which serves no economic or social purpose, or where there is evidence of forced labour. The government is now fighting in the courts to take over 143 square miles of land from five ranches in the Alto Parapeti region, where forms of serfdom still exist. MAS has already pledged to distribute 77,000 square miles of unused or disputed land to landless campesinos by 2013. Three quarters of this target has already been met.

In January 2006, Bolivia joined Cuba and Venezuela in ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas. Cuba and Venezuela were instrumental in the Bolivian literacy campaign, launched in 2006. UNESCO declared Bolivia free of illiteracy in 2008, after 800,000 people had learnt to read and write through the campaign. Cuban medical brigades are working among the poorest communities in Bolivia, and Bolivians have received 444,000 sight-saving operations through Operation Miracle, the Cuban-Venezuelan initiative to provide free eye surgery throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Trade within ALBA has helped Bolivia to mitigate the effects of being expelled from the US-led Andean Trade Preference agreement after Bolivia cut diplomatic relations with the US and expelled USAID (US Agency for International Development) because it was funding the Bolivian opposition.

At the international level President Morales is an important representative of anti-imperialism. He condemned Cuba’s isolation within Latin America and has repeatedly denounced the US blockade in the Organisation of American States and other international forums. While leading the Bolivian delegation at the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change, Morales also spoke out against the US attempt to impose a climate deal that protected imperialist interests. Subsequently he has called for a worldwide referendum on climate change, and is hosting an alternative international climate summit in Bolivia this year.

Sam Vincent

FRFI 213 February / March 2010