- Created: Tuesday, 16 October 2018 11:15
- Written by Sam Vincent
Since coming to power in 2006, Evo Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) government has brought about profound economic, political and social changes in Bolivia, one of Latin America’s poorest and most exploited countries. SAM VINCENT reports.
The nationalisation of gas and other hydrocarbons, and the subsequent renegotiation of contracts with foreign multinationals, has allowed the government to invest in social programmes and development on an unprecedented scale.
Welfare spending grew massively, for example via vouchers for schooling, and many Bolivians received a pension for the first time. In 2009 a new constitution was approved by more than 60% of the electorate, on a 90.24% turnout. One of its provisions was to restrict private land ownership to a maximum of 5,000 hectares. 41 million hectares of land have been redistributed to 900,000 members of indigenous peasant communities. Another clause in the constitution gives indigenous people the right to form autonomous regional governments.
Since 2005 Morales has won two successive Presidential elections with over 60% of the vote. Bolivia’s economy has seen an average of 4.6% annual growth since then, the highest in Latin America and more than twice the rate for the region, and the poverty rate dropped from 59.9% to 36.4%. Morales recently announced plans to introduce a universal state-funded healthcare system by the end of 2019.
Referendum on term limits
In February 2016 the government narrowly lost a referendum asking if presidential term limits should be removed. A yes vote would have allowed President Morales to run for a fourth term in the October 2019 elections. 51.3% of voters voted against, 48.7% for, on a turnout of 84% of registered voters.
After the referendum, MAS appealed to the high court, which, in December 2017 approved the removal of term limits for elected officials, including the presidency. This will allow Morales to seek re-election despite the referendum result. Having won three consecutive elections with at least 50% of the vote, Morales’ MAS government is reluctant to risk the instability and division that could arise with a change of leadership.
US state funds, channeled through US NGOs, were deliberately used to influence the referendum result. In October 2015, four months before the referendum, a meeting organised by the InterAmerican Institute for Democracy, funded by US Agency for International Development (USAID) funds, launched ‘The Strategic Plan for Bolivia’. The document set out tasks that opposition groups in Bolivia should carry out to prevent a yes vote in the referendum. These included projecting an image of crisis in Bolivia internationally, causing discontent and amplifying any social problems through campaigns in traditional and social media. The launch meeting was attended by Carlos Alberto Montaner, a counter-revolutionary Cuban exile, as well as US Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Bolivian opposition leaders.
This is nothing new. Investigative journalists Jeremy Bigwood and Eva Golinger have obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act which show that USAID has spent over US$97m since 2002 funding opposition groups in Bolivia.
For example, USAID quickly took advantage of splits over the proposed highway through the Isiboro Secure Indigenous Territory, or TIPNIS during 2011-2012. The main group leading the opposition protests, the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian East, was open about receiving USAID funding. Its president, Adolfo Chavez, credited the ‘information and training acquired via different programs financed by external collaborators, in this case USAID’.
Protests lasted more than a month, culminating in August 2011 with a march from TIPNIS to La Paz. Bolivia’s counter-espionage agency intercepted phone conversations in which Eliseo Abelo, a US embassy official, was coordinating the march.
The TIPNIS plan was eventually put on hold pending a mass consultation. On 7 December 2012 the five-month consultation came to an end, with 55 of the territory’s 69 indigenous communities approving the highway.
Imperialism’s current offensive in Latin America
The redistributive policies of the Morales government, together with its strengthened ties with other anti-imperialist governments in the region, make it a barrier for US imperialism’s agenda.
Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, Second Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, pinpointed this in a recent speech to the 24th Meeting of the Sao Paulo conference in Havana, an annual conference attended by representatives of the Latin American left:
‘What Jose Marti called Our America today possesses levels of political awareness superior to those in the sixties, and even those of the years in which the 4th Meeting of the Sao Paulo Forum was held in Havana.
‘This explains why imperialism and all its instruments of domination have strengthened counter-revolutionary actions worldwide, this time through the more skilful use of ideas, culture and all the resources devoted to lying and distorting reality based on the demand of the ruling classes.’
The objective has been to weaken and reverse the ‘pink tide’ that swept the region from 1998 onwards and in this there have been successes in Ecuador and Nicaragua. In Venezuela the economic crisis has been exacerbated by US sanctions and overt support for violent right-wing counter-revolutionaries. The US is also subverting and splitting regional trading blocs UNASUR and CARICOM by persuading their allies to leave them. For Cubans, this is more of the same as they enter the 58th year of the US blockade.
In August, the US and Chile carried out joint military operations in Antofagasasta, a region which belonged to Bolivia until a war with Chile in 1904. Bolivia has an open case against Chile at an International Court challenging ownership of the land, which had previously given Bolivia its only access to the sea. US imperialism’s agenda – to split and weaken Latin American states – could not be clearer.
Imperialist hands off Bolivia!
Long live Latin American unity!
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 266 October/November 2018