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Evo Morales, president-elect of Bolivia, inaugurated.

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Issue: 33 Section: International News Geography: Latin America Bolivia Topics: elections, Indigenous

January 30, 2006

Evo Morales, president-elect of Bolivia, inaugurated.

by Anna Carastathis

On January 22, Evo Morales, leader of MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo, or, "Movement Toward Socialism"), and Bolivia's president-elect was inaugurated, and his cabinet sworn in. Morales won 53.7% of the vote in the December 18 2005 election, in which an unprecedented 84% of the electorate participated. Morales' unambiguous victory represents the largest show of popular support for a presidential candidate in the last 30 years, and came despite the strong opposition of Bolivia's mainstream press and despite allegations of electoral fraud in areas where MAS' platform has currency. One such area is the city of El Alto, where the vast majority of residents are indigenous people, and which has been an epicenter of popular resistance to 15 years of neoliberal privatization (1985-2000). Morales is riding the country's latest wave of broad-based struggle against what they call imperialist exploitation. Bolivia's Indigenous previously made headlines with the Cochacamba "Water War" in 2000, in which a popular uprising ousted the Bechtel corporation and decisively halted the IMF-sponsored plan to privatize water in Bolivia. The plan included a ban on collecting rainwater without a permit and drastic price increases.

Morales, a militant cocalero (coca-leaf farmer) of the Aymara nation, campaigned on a platform emphasizing nationalization of Bolivia's natural resources. In particular, gas reserves and reform – or, as Morales calls it, "decolonization" – of the constitution. These strategies are aspects of a broader program of indigenous self-determination: "[t]he moment has come for the original nations to take power in our own hands," Morales declares on his website. In Bolivia the Aymara and Quechua nations constitute the majority of the population, but only now, for the first time since the Spanish colonial invasion in 1532, are they being politically represented by an indigenous President. Despite the Bolivia's abundance of valuable natural resources like copper, tin, and silver, 64% of Bolivians live under the poverty line. Morales has promised to transform this state of affairs, but some observers have reservations about his intent to make good on these promises.

Morales has been criticized for having no clear plan to completely nationalize Bolivia's natural resources. Writer Jorge Martin quoted Morales as saying that "We will nationalize the natural resources, gas and hydrocarbons…We are not going to nationalize the assets of the multinationals. Any state has the right to use its natural resources. We must establish new contracts with the oil companies based on equilibrium. We are going to guarantee the returns on their investment and their profits, but not looting and stealing." According to some critics, this distinction – and the economic policy it implies – is a tenuous one.

Under intense pressure from private interests, the U.S. government and the IMF, many say Morales will be hard-pressed to follow through even with moderate nationalization plans. Arguing that Bolivia will not ready to transition into socialism for at least another half-century, vice-president Álvaro García Linera has characterized MAS' economic policy as promoting what he calls "Andean capitalism," the backbone of which is a combination of "community-based," "family-based," and "'modern industrial'" modes of production.

It remains to be seen whether, now that it has won the mandate, MAS will forget its left-indigenous origins and its popular foundations in social movements. Morales' administration faces a difficult choice: it can submit to pressure from the U.S., private interests, and the IMF, and lose popular support and the mandate; or it can nationalize hydrocarbons and risk losing IMF loans and promised debt relief, or being deposed through U.S. military intervention.

Reading:

» Monthly Review: Left-Indigenous Struggles in Bolivia: Searching for Revolutionary Democracy

» UpsideDownWorld.org: Bolivia's Trial by Fire

» Green Left Weekly: Bolivia: Bush's new nightmare?

» International Viewpoint The MAS is of the Centre-Left

» In Defense of Marxism: Bolivia after the election victory of the MAS - Morales cannot serve two masters

» Official site: Evo Morales

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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