[Marxism] Tom Hayden's take on the Bolivia referendum

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Thu Jul 22 02:22:00 MDT 2004

article | Posted July 21, 2004 www.thenation.com

Bolivians Reject Free Markets
by Tom Hayden 

Bolivia's fragile government gained temporary breathing room in Sunday's
referendum over the nation's natural gas and oil reserves, but the "yes"
vote also strengthened the position of Evo Morales and his Movement
Toward Socialism (MAS) which can revise the measure that will be sent to
the legislature on August 7. 

In the run-up to the July 18 vote, radical Indian and labor leaders
threatened boycotts and the burning of ballot boxes against a referendum
that left out the option of state nationalization. Nevertheless, the
referendum also meant a continued rejection of the free-market policies
championed by the former president, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, the
University of Chicago economist who was driven into exile last October
after police killings of nearly one hundred Indians who protested his

ADVERTISEMENT The referendum, the first in Bolivia's history, included
five questions. Voters supported the repeal of the existing
privatization law, the "recuperation" of "ownership of all hydrocarbons
at the wellhead," refounding of Bolivia's state oil company to "take
part in all stages of the hydrocarbon production chain," and exporting
gas that promotes domestic industrialization, with fees and taxes up to
50 percent of the value of production, with revenues primarily going to
education, healthcare, roads and jobs. 

Progressive critics assert that some seventy existing contracts with
multinational oil and gas companies remain intact, but these interests
were not able to mount an effective campaign against the reforms that
were being proposed. On the right, the sentiment of many in the Bolivian
business class was reflected in an essay by an American Enterprise
Institute pundit in the July 9 Wall Street Journal declaring that the
referendum meant economic suicide. The AEI analysis correctly pointed
out, however, that a "yes" vote would mean "that President Carlos Mesa
will have bought himself enough legitimacy to remain in office until the
end of his term in 2007," which most observers believe was the real
purpose of the referendum, conceived as it was after mass rioting
paralyzed the country last October. 

Early returns indicated an 80 percent majority in favor of repealing the
existing hydrocarbons law pushed in the 1990s by the hated Sánchez de
Lozada (or "Goni"), whose political consultants were the star liberal
Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg and former presidential campaign
manager James Carville. The Washington-based Greenberg firm represents
British Petroleum, one of the multinationals with billions invested in
Bolivia. BP supported the referendum, along with the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, as did US Embassy officials,
because the possible alternative--an Indian-led revolution--was even

In the weeks before the vote, the de facto liberation of numerous Indian
communities on the Bolivian altiplano above La Paz struck terror in the
country's elite. On the eve of the referendum, the Brussels-based
International Crisis Group (ICG) warned of Bolivia's "most dangerous
moment" in a report on the crisis titled "Too Deep To Heal?" The report
advised a public relations offensive to demonstrate how natural gas "can
jump-start economic development." 

The referendum went relatively smoothly, however, apparently because of
a popular consensus that radical change might be achieved with less loss
of life through reforming the system. Evo Morales, who narrowly missed
being elected president in 2002, campaigned for the referendum while
indicating that he would seek a more progressive redistribution of gas
and oil revenues in the Congressional debate ahead, along the lines of
the US New Deal and earlier Latin American nationalizations. 

Morales's support for the referendum, however, effectively marginalized
more radical nationalists, whose ranks had already been in disarray. The
MAS, which Morales heads, is expected to win numerous municipal seats in
the December elections. His stance also may have been influenced by a US
retreat, at least rhetorically, from its war to eradicate coca leaf.
(Morales is the leader of the coca growers union, which has been
opposing the eradication efforts.) 

While authorship of Sunday's referendum was not clear, La Paz-based
social-science researcher Tom Kruse reported that lobbyists for
international hydrocarbon firms were consulted in the drafting. Reached
in England, Greenberg said he knew of no current involvement by his firm
in the referendum. He retains "a great deal of respect" for the exiled
Goni, he added, and described his work for BP as "mainly environmental"
and not connected with Bolivia. 

The Greenberg firm, along with Carville, has done extensive polling of
Latin American opinion and consulting for Eduardo Duhalde, whose popular
support as Argentina's president fell to 8 percent after repression of
antiglobalization protests in the 1990s, as well as Francisco Labatista,
the candidate of Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party, which sent
armed forces to quell the 1995 Zapatista uprising before being defeated
at the polls. 

It appears that the Greenberg-Carville axis attempted to export the
Clinton Administration's free-trade policies to Latin America, with
disastrous political results. Prompted by popular resistance from
Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador and Brazil, however, the Clinton-era
policies are being re-examined, from the New Deal tone of this week's
Bolivian referendum to the language of Senator John Kerry's platform
recommendation for "review" of trade policies. 


More information about the Marxism mailing list