[Marxism] J. Petras (Counterpunch): The Bankers Can Rest Easy -- Evo Morales: All Growl, No Claws?

Mike Friedman mikedf at amnh.org
Wed Jan 4 12:40:51 MST 2006


http://www.counterpunch.org/petras01042006.html

January 4, 2006
The Bankers Can Rest Easy
Evo Morales: All Growl, No Claws?
By JAMES PETRAS
A A realistic assessment of the electoral victory of Evo Morales 
requires knowledge of his recent role in Bolivia's popular struggles, 
his program and ideology as well as the first measures adopted by his 
regime.

[...]

Once again in Bolivia we have a popular leader elected to power. Once 
again we have an army of uncritical left cheerleaders, ignorant of 
significant facts and policy changes over the last 5 years.

Evo Morales' margin of victory, 54 per cent against 29 per cent for 
his closest opponent exceeded that of any prior president in half a 
century. His party, the MAS (Movement to Socialism) gained a majority 
in the lower house, and a near majority in the Senate, and won 3 out 
of 9 governorships, despite the fact that the Electoral Council 
eliminated nearly one million registered voters (mostly 
peasant-Indian voters for Morales) on technicalities Morales won all 
the major cities (except Santa Cruz, bulwark of the extreme right) 
and exceeded 65 per cent in many rural and urban impoverished 
regions. Morales and the MAS won despite the opposition of all the 
major electronic and print media, the business and mine owners 
associations and the heavy-handed intervention and threats of the US 
embassy. In this case US business opposition to Evo added to his 
popular support and resulted in a record turnout.

[...]

The general response from left, center and right wing regimes to 
Morales' victory was positive. Congratulatory greetings were sent by 
Fidel, Chavez, Zapatero (Spain), Chirac (France) and Wolfowitz (of 
the World Bank). The US took an ambiguous position. Rice's guarded 
praise of electoral politics was accompanied by the predictable 
warning to rule by "democratic methods" (i.e. to follow US 
directives). Meantime shortly after the election, the US Special 
Forces based in Paraguay began military exercises on the frontier 
with Bolivia. The major oil companies (Repsol, Petrobras etc) 
expressed their willingness to work with the new president (if he 
would abide by the rules of their game). In the meantime, they 
announced that new investments were being held up.

The leaders of the major labor confederations, the Bolivian Workers 
Confederation (COB), the Mineworkers Confederation, the barrio 
confederations of El Alto (a proletarian city of 800,000 near La Paz) 
took a cautious "wait and see" attitude, demanding that his first 
measures include the nationalization of the petroleum and gas 
companies and the convocation of a constitutional convention. Despite 
the reticence of these leaders, even in supporting Evo's election, 
the great mass of their followers voted overwhelmingly for Morales.

In summary, except for the US, there was a broad spectrum of support 
for Evo's victory from Big Business to the unemployed, from the World 
Bank to the barefoot Indians of the Andes, each with their own 
reading and expectations of what policies an Evo Morales presidency 
and a MAS dominated congress would pursue.

There are at least two views on what to expect from an Evo Morales 
Presidency, which cross ideological boundaries.

The exuberant left and sectors of the far right (especially in the US 
and Bolivia) evoke a scenario in which a radical leftist Indian 
President, responding to the great majority of poor Bolivians will 
transform Bolivia from a white oligarchic-imperialist dominated 
country based on a neo-liberal economy, to an Indian-peasant-workers' 
state pursuing an independent foreign policy, the nationalization of 
the petroleum industry, a profound agrarian reform and the defense of 
the coca farmers. This is the view of 95 per cent of the Left and the 
view of the extreme-right including the Bush Administration.

An alternative scenario, the one I hold, sees Morales as a moderate 
social liberal politician who has over the past five years moved to 
the center. He will not nationalize petrol or gas MNCs, but will 
probably renegotiate a moderate increase on their taxes, and 
"nationalize" the subsoil minerals, leaving the companies free to 
extract, transport and market the minerals. He will promote three 
variants of capitalism: Protection of small and medium size 
businesses, invitations to foreign investors and financing of state 
petroleum and mining firms as junior partners of the MNCs. To 
compensate and stabilize his regime he will appoint a number of 
popular leaders to government posts dealing with labor and social 
welfare with limited budgets who will be subject to the economic and 
financial ministries run by liberal economists. Morales will promote 
and fund Indian cultural celebrations. He will promote Indian 
language use in Andean schools and at public functions. "Land reform" 
will not involve any expropriations of plantations but will involve 
colonization projects in unsettled or uncultivated lands. Coca 
farming will be legalized but reduced to less than half an acre per 
family. Drug trafficking will be outlawed. Morales will propose to 
work with the US DEA against trafficking and money laundering

A wealth of data and facts pertinent to evaluating the two scenarios 
is abundantly available to anyone interested in making an informed 
judgment in which direction Evo Morales will take:

Even before taking office Morales gave the green light to the 
privatization of MUTUN, one of the biggest iron mining fields in the 
world (Econoticias 25/12/2005). In late 2005, private bidding, under 
very questionable circumstances, was underway among several competing 
MNCs. The outgoing President, Rodriguez, consulted two leading 
congressmen of the MAS and agreed to suspend the bidding, in 
deference to the incoming Morales government. Morales and his 
neo-liberal vice president, Alvaro Garcia Linera, over-ruled and 
reprimanded the Congressional leaders and their parliamentarian 
advisers and told President Rodriguez to proceed with the private 
bidding of MUTUN. The mine has 40 billion tons in iron reserves and 
10 billion tons of magnesium reserves (70 per cent of the world 
total). In the lead up to his unilateral decision to continue, 
Morales bent to pressure from right-wing pro-imperialist business 
interests of Santa Cruz and ignored ecologists, trade unionists and 
nationalists who opposed corrupt bidding. He also ignored ecological, 
workers' nationalist interests.

While the ill-informed leftists boosters of Evo picture him as the 
revolutionary leader of the Bolivian masses, they ignore the fact 
that he played no role in the insurrections of October, 2003, and 
May-June, 2005. During the general strikes and street battles of 
October, Evo was in Europe at an inter-parliamentary meeting in 
Geneva discussing the virtues of parliamentary politics. Meanwhile, 
scores of Bolivians were being massacred by the electoral regime of 
Sanchez de Losada for opposing his policies on foreign ownership of 
petro-gas interests. Morales returned in time to celebrate the 
overthrow of Sanchez de Losada and to convince a half-million 
protesters to accept neo-liberal Vice President Carlos Mesa as the 
new president. Less than two years later, another wave of strikes and 
barricades led to the overthrow of Mesa for continuing Sanchez de 
Losada's oil policy. Once again Morales stepped in to direct the 
uprising into institutional channels, proposing a Supreme Court Judge 
to serve as interim president while new presidential elections were 
convoked. Morales succeeded in taking the peoples' struggle out of 
the street and dismantling the nascent popular councils and 
channeling them into established bourgeois institutions. In both 
crises, Evo favored a neo-liberal replacement in opposition to the 
peoples' demands for a new popularly controlled national assembly.

During the Presidency of Mesa, Evo supported the latter's referendum 
(2004) which left the foreign MNCs in control of the oil and gas 
subject to a small increase in royalty payments. Though parts of the 
referendum passed, it was later repudiated by the mass 
insurrectionary movement.

In the run-up to the presidential elections, Morales-Garcia Linera's 
(Vice-President) slate spoke a "triple discourse": to the urban and 
trade union crowds they spoke of "Andean Socialism", to the Indians 
in the highlands they spoke of "Andean Capitalism", to the business 
leaders they said socialism was not on the agenda for at least 50 to 
100 years. In private meetings with the US Ambassador, Bolivian 
oligarchs and bankers and the MNCs, Morales/Garcia Linera eschewed 
all intentions to nationalize ? on the contrary they welcomed foreign 
investment as long as it was "transparent". By that they meant that 
the MNC's paid their taxes, and didn't bribe regulators. The message 
to the masses lacked specifics; the speeches to the business elites 
were backed by concrete agreements.

Evo and his Vice-President Linera have promised to retain the tight 
fiscal and macro economic policies of their predecessors and to 
maintain all the illegally privatized companies. Evo's economic 
spokesperson, Carlos Villegas, stated that President Morales will 
"derogate in a symbolic fashion the decree which privatized 
enterprises" ? but added it will "not have any retroactive effects". 
Symbolic gestures of a purely rhetorical nature, devoid of 
nationalist substance, seem to be the path chosen by Morales and 
Linera.

The incoming President/Vice-President have categorically stated the 
new government will not expropriate any large private monopolies or 
large landholdings, nor foreign investments. On January 13, 2006 Evo 
travels to Brazil to discuss with big Brazilian corporations new 
investments in gas, petrochemicals, oil and other raw materials. 
According to the Brazilian financial daily Valor (Dec. 26, 2005), 
Lula will offer state loans and insist that Evo creates a "climate of 
stability for investments". The giant Brazilian corporation PETROBRAS 
pays less than 15 per cent in taxes on the daily extraction of 25 
million cubic meters of natural gas, at prices far below 
international levels. Lula hopes to use "aid" to deepen and extend 
Brazil's MNC low cost exploitation of valuable energy sources. 
Meanwhile gas sold in La Paz is three times more expensive than in 
Sao Paolo.

Evo promises to "tax the rich" knowing full well that any new taxes 
on low income groups would provoke a major uprising as took place in 
2004. However the tax proposed on property valued at $300,000 or 
$400,000 will exclude the vast majority of the upper middle class and 
all but one percent of the very rich. As a source of revenue it will 
make a negligible impact, but the "symbolic" propaganda value will be 
immense.

Regarding peasant demands, Evo's agrarian commission has not come up 
with any specific targets for agrarian reform, (neither the number of 
acres to be distributed nor any lists of landless family 
beneficiaries).

While his local and international supporters emphasize his "popular" 
and Indian origins (the "face of Indo-America"), there is no 
discussion of his support for big business, his agreements, with the 
pro-imperialist Civic Committee for Santa Cruz, PETROBRAS and the 
other petro-gas MNCs. What is crucial is not Evo's militancy during 
the 1980s and 1990s but his alliances, deals and program on his way 
to the Presidency.

All the data on Evo Morales' politics, especially since 2002, point 
to a decided right turn, from mass struggle to electoral politics, a 
shift toward operating inside Congress and with institutional elites. 
Evo has turned from supporting popular uprisings to backing one or 
another neo-liberal President. His style is populist, his dress 
informal. He speaks the language of the people. He is photogenic, 
personable and charismatic. He mixes well with street venders and 
visits the homes of the poor. But what political purpose do all these 
populist gestures and symbols serve? His anti-neo-liberal rhetoric 
will not have any meaning if he invites more foreign investors to 
plunder iron, gas, oil, magnesium and other prime materials. Systemic 
transformations do not follow from upholding illegal privatizations, 
the maintenance of the financial and business elites of La Paz and 
Cochabamba and the agro-business oligarchy of Santa Cruz.

At best, Evo will promote some marginal increases in property and 
royalty taxes, and perhaps increase some social spending on welfare 
services (but always limited by a tight fiscal budget). Political 
power will be shared between the new upwardly mobile petit bourgeois 
of the MAS office holders and the old economic oligarchs. No doubt 
diplomatic relations will greatly improve with Cuba and Venezuela. 
Relations with the World Bank and the IMF will remain unchanged -- 
unless the Cuban-American mafia in Washington push their extremist 
agenda. While any aggression is possible with the fascist-thinking 
policy makers in command in Washington, it is also possible, given 
Morales' de facto liberal policies, that the State Department may opt 
for pressuring Evo to move further to the right and to make further 
concessions to big business and coca cultivation reduction. 
Unfortunately, the Left will continue to respond to symbols, mythical 
histories, political rhetoric and gestures and not to programmatic 
substance, historical experiences and concrete socio-economic 
policies.



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