[Marxism] The Revolution on Hold – Departmental Autonomy and the Crisis of the Left in Bolivia

Fred Fuentes fred.fuentes at gmail.com
Wed Jul 2 23:50:14 MDT 2008

The Revolution on Hold – Departmental Autonomy and the Crisis of the
Left in Bolivia
Andrew Lyubarsky, July, 01 2008

When Evo Morales was elected the first indigenous president of Bolivia
in 2005, he swept to power with a huge and unprecedented popular
mandate, crushing his nearest opponent by a 25-point margin. The
country's traditional political classes were discredited and divided
after the failures of twenty years of neoliberalism to produce much
except misery for the majority of Bolivians. The Movimiento
Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR), a formerly revolutionary party
responsible for the nationalization of Bolvia's mines and a 1950s era
land reform that destroyed the hacienda system in the Andean sections
of Bolivia but later became the main technocratic engineers of
neoliberal reform, had been bathed in blood and polled less than ten
percent. Just two years earlier, the party had produced almost 90
deaths in repression of demonstrations under the presidency of Gonzalo
Sánchez de Lozada, who subsequently had to flee to exile in the United
States. The main right-wing opposition party, Poder Democratico y
Social (PODEMOS) consisted of the remnants of the political movement
of general Hugo Banzer, a 1970s era dictator whose brief democratic
return to power was marked by repression of coca growers and social
movements fighting against water privatization. In addition to
pursuing unpopular policies, they had to cope with the legacy of
military rule that had usurped the popular will of Bolivian democracy.

The ideological hegemony of neoliberalism had been broken, although
its actual structures and regulating structures remained operational.
No longer was there a broad consensus in Bolivian society that the
"tough medicine" of privatization, trade liberalization,
flexibilization of the labor market, and gutting of the social welfare
state was the necessary price to pay in the changing global economy.
Morales' Movimiento a Socialismo (MAS) strode boldly into this vacuum,
promising a new kind of politics that would recuperate the resources
that were systematically sold to foreign investors in the last twenty
years and place the focus on the indigenous and economically
disadvantaged majority of the country. The movement, with strong roots
in the popular movements that had flourished in the resistance to the
preceding right-wing governments, would seek to revalorize Bolivian
culture in the context of a political project opposed to what Morales
called a "savage capitalism" imposed by the United States.

As part of his new popular politics, Evo cut his own salary by 57% and
demanded a similar austerity from MAS politicians. . In January 2006,
he undertook an expansive world tour, meeting with leaders of major
European, Asian, and African powers and working to drum up alternative
investment sources to lessen the country's historical dependency on
the United States. He began to flex his political muscle, declaring on
May Day that all foreign national gas companies would have to
renegotiate their contracts, granting vastly increased proceeds and
control to the Bolivian state. In August of that year, he convoked the
Constituent Assembly, charged with the lofty task of rewriting the
Constitution. While the opposition fought his every step, the MAS
government had achieved clear popular support for their policies. What
seemed impossible only a couple years before seemed to be coming into
reality - Bolivia was on the brink of a radical social change that
would began to address the historic inequalities of the country's
social structure.

Two years later, Evo Morales cannot travel to five of the country's
nine departments for fear for his personal security. The
constitutional project that was the centerpiece of his administration
has fallen into question, with the right-wing line that it does not
represent a genuine social contract achieving wide credence among
middle-class sectors that had previously been receptive to the Morales
message. "Evo murderer" and "Evo dictator" graffiti dot the streets of
middle-class neighborhoods throughout the country, even outside the
main center of opposition to his government in Santa Cruz.

Although the faithful allegiance of popular sectors allow for the
stability of the government itself and make an electoral defeat
extremely unlikely, the mandate that MAS had to transform Bolivian
society has effectively evaporated. Popular discourse is no longer
about social change and alternative economic models - it is about an
elite-driven departmental autonomy movement that has successfully cast
the government as authoritarian, arbitrary and centralist in order to
stop its proposals for social change that would challenge their
political power and economic status.

There is no doubt that hope remains that the Morales government will
be able to prevail in the current crisis, regain the popular support
it once had, and continue with the historical mission it was elected
to fulfill. However, despite the declarations of officials and MAS
loyalists, the process is unmistakably stalled and losing momentum to
a right-wing regionalist populist resurgence. The manner in which this
happened offers a lot of lessons for leftist social movements globally
- moving from protesta to propuesta, from an oppositional stance
towards a proactive governing body, can be tremendously
problematic.....read the rest at

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