Bolivian Elections: A Defeat for Imperialism

masBOLIVIA, 6 DECEMBER 2009. Evo Morales, incumbent presidential candidate for Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement towards Socialism, MAS), has been returned as President of Bolivia with a landslide 62% of the vote. MAS also won 25 out of 36 seats in the Bolivian Senate, gaining the two-thirds majority necessary for approving constitutional changes, key legislation, and judicial appointments.

This victory will enable MAS to continue the programme of revolutionary change started when Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, came to power in December 2005.

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Bolivia: the masses will decide

Evo Morales’ landslide victory in the Bolivian presidential elections represents a significant set-back both for the ruling class and for imperialist interests in the country, and indeed across Latin America. Although some on the left have drawn pessimistic conclusions on the future from Morales’ ambivalent record in relation to the mass struggles of the past few years, it is the actions of the Bolivian masses that will be the deciding factor, together with the international support they receive, particularly from socialist Cuba and revolutionary Venezuela. ROBERT CLOUGH reports.

The scale of Morales’ victory was extraordinary. Opinion polls in the months leading up to the election on 18 December placed him in the lead, but with only about 35% of the vote, perhaps 5% ahead of his right-wing opponent, former World Bank economist Jorge Quiroga who had been a senior member of the government which privatised the Cochabamba water supplies in 1999. In the end Morales received 53.7% of the valid votes against Quiroga’s 28.6%. Even this figure masked the true extent of Morales’ support. Although there was an exceptional 85% turnout, the registered electorate numbered fewer than 3.7 million: up to 1.5 million indigenous people and therefore Morales’ supporters, were prevented from registering. In the poorer west of the country, La Paz, Morales won 66%, 62.6% in Oruro, and 64.8% in Cochabamba. In the richer east, Quiroga received the greater support: 45.3% versus 31.6% in Tarija, and 41.8% versus 33.2% in Santa Cruz. Despite a redistribution of seats favouring the east, Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS) swept the board in congressional elections, winning an absolute majority in the lower house (72 out of 130 seats), and 12 out of 27 seats in the upper house.

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Bolivia challenges imperialism

In a move that stunned the imperialist world on May Day, President Evo Morales announced Decree 28701 nationalising Bolivia’s oil and gas industry. Whilst tens of thousands of demonstrators poured through the streets of La Paz with placards declaring ‘Nationalisation of hydrocarbons now’ and ‘Out with the looting transnational corporations’, Morales was in San Alberto gas field in Tarija province in the south east of the country, reading out Decree 28701.

In a simultaneous operation, troops entered 56 gas installations throughout the country and took over the offices of the principal foreign companies. Their purpose was to prevent key documents being removed by the multinationals in advance of any government audit of their accounts. Bolivia’s gas reserves, some 50 trillion cubic feet, are the second largest in South America and are worth an estimated $70 billion. Control of these resources is essential if they are to be used for the benefit of the Bolivian people: nationalisation is expected to increase the state’s income by $720 million per annum.

Since coming into office in January, Morales and his MAS government had not explained how they were going to implement key election promises. Indeed there were signals that they were prepared to consider a limited extension of public ownership and a more onerous tax and royalty regime for the oil and gas industry. However, as FRFI has pointed out, there are other forces at play.

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Bolivia: ‘I am a Marxist’: Morales challenges imperialism / FRFI 209 Jun / Jul 2009

FRFI 209 June / July 2009

Bolivia: ‘I am a Marxist’: Morales challenges imperialism

When Bolivian President Evo Morales told the 7th Summit of the ALBA countries on 16 April that ‘I want to declare myself Marxist, Leninist, communist, socialist’ and dared the Organisation of American States (OAS) to expel him for this statement, he was not just expressing solidarity with Cuba, expelled by the OAS for ‘Marxism-Leninism’ in 1962, but showing how far he and the Bolivian revolution have travelled since his election in December 2005. The reactionary separatists in Santa Cruz and the wealthy east of the country have been unable to overcome the isolation that followed their failed civic coup of September 2008 (see FRFI 206). In developments during April and May:

• An attempt by the bourgeois opposition in Congress to frustrate the implementation of Bolivia’s new democratic constitution failed after Morales went on hunger strike to mobilise popular support;
• A plot to assassinate the president was broken up after police killed three mercenaries and arrested two others in a Santa Cruz hotel;
• Papers released in the US have exposed the extent to which the imperialists supported attempts to break up the country through the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

At stake in Congress was a Transitional Electoral Law to implement the country’s new constitution and enable elections to take place in December 2009. The opposition tried to block the law using its majority in the Senate, despite a 61.5% majority in favour of the constitution in the January 2009 referendum. On 9 April, as a 60-day deadline to pass the legislation approached, Morales went on hunger strike to mobilise the masses. As people gathered outside Congress, the opposition started to back down, and their attempts to disenfranchise Bolivians living abroad – mostly Morales supporters – were defeated. With the government making concessions on the number of congress seats reserved for indigenous people (reducing them from 14 to 7, but not to the three demanded by the reactionaries) and agreeing to establish an electronic electoral register this year, the law was passed on 14 April.

The conspiracy to assassinate Morales was exposed after police tracked down a gang which had bombed the Santa Cruz home of Cardinal Julio Terrazas on 15 April whilst he was away. The ringleader was Eduardo Rozsa Flores, a Bolivian with a Croatian background like many Santa Cruz separatist leaders. In an interview taped in September 2008 for a Hungarian TV station and broadcast after his death in the shoot-out, Rozsa Flores said he had been invited by the opposition in Bolivia to set up an armed force in the Santa Cruz ‘nation’, saying that ‘We are ready... to proclaim independence... Santa Cruz is ready to separate from Bolivia.’ Rozsa Flores had been the leader of a mercenary brigade in the reactionary war of Croatian independence from Yugoslavia. The police investigation has already resulted in arrests of Santa Cruz business leaders, and members of the neo-fascist Union of Santa Cruz Youth. A similar mercenary gang was responsible for the murder of 20 Morales supporters in Pando on 11 September 2008 on the instructions of the department’s secessionist prefect, Leopoldo Fernandez.

That US imperialism has been involved in recent secessionist plots was confirmed following the release in early May of papers relating to USAID’s Bolivian operations. In 2004, before Morales’ electoral victory, it set up an Office for Transition Initiatives in Bolivia to fund separatist projects and has spent more than $97m in ‘decentralisation’ and ‘regional autonomy’ projects since 2002. Other funding has gone to opposition political parties, and to create a network of 3,000 ‘observers’ as an allegedly ‘independent’ body to monitor Bolivian elections. No wonder Morales has declared that: ‘The US has no right or authority to speak of democracy, because they are the ones that foster coups, military coups, just as they are now arming a civic coup in Bolivia.’ On 1 May, in front of a huge and enthusiastic demonstration in La Paz, Morales announced the nationalisation of AirBP, a subsidiary of British Petroleum which supplies aviation fuel to Bolivia’s airports, further undermining the grip of the multinationals. The Bolivian people have pushed imperialism onto the back foot in their country.

Robert Clough

Bolivian masses on the march

FRFI 176 December 2003 / January 2004

On 17 October the Bolivian masses finally forced their president to resign after a huge uprising in which nearly 80 protesters were murdered by the Bolivian armed forces. Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada presided over the bloodiest 14 months in contemporary Bolivian history. This recent month-long rebellion was the third massive revolt of the Bolivian population this year, the manifestation of the Bolivian people’s opposition to imperialist inspired policies. Fiona Donovan, Juanjo Rivas and Louis Brehony report.

Sánchez de Lozada was chosen by congress to be president in August 2002 following the election in June in which his coalition did not gain a sufficient majority of votes over Evo Morales and the Movement towards Socialism (MAS) (22% to 20.9% respectively) to take office, despite forming a last minute alliance with the opportunist Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR). Sánchez de Lozada is a millionaire businessman who spent much of his life in the US and studied at the University of Chicago. He speaks Spanish with an American accent earning him the popular nickname ‘El Gringo’. He directed the neoliberal policies established in Bolivia in 1985 (devised by the Harvard Professor Jeffrey Sachs), which marked Bolivia’s increasing subjection to the dictates of the World Bank, IMF and the US. This opened the way for the US to impose the eradication of Bolivia’s traditional coca crop, in the ‘War on Drugs’, a blatant excuse for direct military intervention in the Andean countries since the fall of the dictators at the end of the 1980s.

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