[Marxism] Morales party set to gain in Bolivia municipal votes

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sat Dec 4 06:31:03 MST 2004

Financial Times
Firebrand leader poised for Bolivia triumph 
By Richard Lapper, Latin America Editor Published: December 2 2004 22:06
| Last updated: December 2 2004 22:06 
The hardline leftwing party led by Latin America's most prominent
indigenous leader is set to emerge as the biggest victor in Bolivia's
municipal elections on Sunday chiefly because support for its
discredited traditional rivals will see their support sink to new lows. 
Independent candidates backed by a variety of local committees look
likely to retain control of La Paz and other large cities. Evo Morales's
Movement to Socialism (MAS) party's expected advantage reflects broader
political fragmentation in Latin America, especially its turbulent
Andean region. However, analysts do not expect him to score more than 25
per cent of the vote well short of the results expected by independent
candidates in most Bolivian cities. The MAS "will be the biggest party
but only because everyone else has gone into meltdown", says Winston
Moore, a La Paz-based political analyst. 
Mr Morales is hoping to build significantly on his 22 per cent of the
vote in the 2002 presidential elections, in order to launch another bid
for the presidency in 2007. His firebrand leadership of the coca
growers' union, support for Cuba and leftwing ideology have made him a
bête noire for US policymakers: two years ago, the former US ambassador
to La Paz controversially advised Bolivians not to vote for him.
Traditional parties such as the centre-right Revolutionary National
Movement (MNR) and centre-left Independent Left Movement 
(MIR) have been discredited by their backing for unpopular economic
policies and by a reputation for corruption. One MNR leader former
President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, the architect of Bolivian economic
reform in the 1990s was forced out of office in October 2003 after mass
protests triggered by his plans to develop gas exports. A mediocre
performance on Sunday by Mr Morales, however, could provide some succour
to President Carlos Mesa, an independent historian and journalist with
no political affiliation. Mr Mesa won overwhelming popular backing to
increase state control of the strategically important gas industry in a
referendum in July. But since then he has been hampered by incessant
political infighting in Congress and beset by a wave of strikes. 
The MAS, the biggest party in Congress, has provided Mr Mesa with some
support but its backing has been unenthusiastic, partly because of Mr
Morales's political ambitions. Some analysts predict that if MAS fails
to achieve a breakthrough on Sunday, the party may seek to formalise its
tacit alliance with Mr Mesa by moving further towards the political
centre. But if that does not occur, the outlook for Mr Mesa could be
bleak. "He has lost all the capital he had in July," says Alvaro Garcia
Linares, a sociologist in La Paz. "Mesa is suffocating." 
Yet it is unclear whether any of this will comfort the international
energy companies that have invested billions of dollars in natural gas
reserves. Under legislation currently before Congress, BG of the UK,
Total of France and Repsol of Spain, among others, would be obliged to
accept much stricter terms than those negotiated under law dating from
the mid-1990s. 
Mr Mesa has already ruled out plans to export gas to Chile, the
industry's favourite option on cost grounds. Many Bolivians regard Chile
as a historic enemy as the result of its victory in the 1879 war of the
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