[Marxism] Bolivian Town Drifts From President Evo Morales, Despite Promises Kept to Left

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Feb 28 09:01:46 MST 2016


(NY Times forced to admit that the left is here to stay in Latin America.)

NY Times, Feb. 28 2016
Bolivian Town Drifts From President Evo Morales, Despite Promises Kept 
to Left
By NICHOLAS CASEY

COBIJA, Bolivia — When Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous 
president, took office a decade ago, he vowed to put this impoverished 
town in the Amazon Basin on the kind of pedestal often reserved for a 
capital city.

He filled its coffers with profits from the country’s natural gas 
industry. He even seized large estates and handed them to new arrivals 
like Tania Chao, 19, whose family received a house when it came to 
Cobija with nowhere to live.

Yet when Mr. Morales asked Ms. Chao to vote for him last week, in a 
referendum to let him run for a fourth term, she did not feel that she 
could return the favor. The president had improved the town, she said, 
but he had been in office for longer than most people had lived in Cobija.

“It’s time to find someone else to continue what he did,” she said after 
the referendum, which Bolivians rejected.

Latin American leftists like Mr. Morales have suddenly felt their 
longevity ebb as a tide rises against them.

But is the wave of discontent a rejection of the left? Or is it 
something more personal, aimed at the outsize leaders themselves, not 
necessarily at the ideas they have promoted?

In Venezuela, former President Hugo Chávez’s movement lost by a 
landslide in recent elections. In Argentina, the left-wing allies of 
former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner could not hold onto her 
office.

Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, a populist educated in the United 
States, abandoned an effort to seek another term. Corruption accusations 
and economic woes have left President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil battling 
impeachment proceedings. But while longstanding leftist leaders and 
their movements may be faltering, their policies have taken a lasting 
hold in Latin America.

Much as President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher 
took the United States and Britain down a more conservative path, 
leaders like Mr. Morales made a commitment to diminishing inequality 
that is expected to remain even as governments come and go.

“No leader in Latin America today can afford not to focus on inequality 
and go back to the neoliberal formulas of the 1990s,” said Michael 
Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy institute in 
Washington. “Whatever criticism you might have of the leaders of the 
left, they put their finger on the legitimate grievance of Latin 
Americans: that they had been excluded from the political system.”

For some of the opponents now taking power, the question is not about 
razing the leftist models, but about making repairs and adjustments to them.

No case is more extreme than Venezuela, where years of government 
controls over the economy and reliance on a booming oil industry 
diminished agricultural production to the point that the country was 
importing its meat, milk and rice.

Then came the perfect storm when oil prices sank last year, creating 
triple-digit inflation and food shortages. In parliamentary elections, 
leftists were wiped out after 16 years of control.

The opposition rose by criticizing government subsidies, but its plan 
focuses on cutting them for the wealthy and stabilizing them for the 
poor. President Nicolás Maduro, Mr. Chávez’s successor, agreed to raise 
the price of gasoline, reducing a subsidy seen as benefiting the 
car-owning wealthy. No one has suggested making changes that could harm 
the poor.

Argentina’s new president, Mauricio Macri, has enacted sweeping changes 
that have shifted the country to the center-right, including shrinking 
the state payroll and reducing electricity subsidies.

But Mr. Macri has maintained price control strategies intended to shield 
people from inflation. He also extended a child benefit program that was 
the cornerstone of Mrs. Kirchner’s social policy.

“Macri, as well as the rest of Latin America, now understands that it’s 
necessary to maintain and improve the social agenda,” said Alejandro 
Grisanti, a former Latin America economist at Barclays Capital.

Here in Bolivia, many point out that while Mr. Morales was blocked from 
running in the next election, no successor could undo his work in Cobija.

This small Amazonian rubber port became a laboratory for Mr. Morales’s 
project to bring the government to the country’s poor periphery. The 
portion of Cobija’s annual municipal budget from national gas taxes 
increased to $40 million today from $1.2 million in 2006, the year Mr. 
Morales took office, and helped underwrite a public university and a 
large solar plant in a place where there had been cows, jungle and dirt 
roads.

“I don’t know why other governments never sent any resources here 
before,” says Luis Adolfo Flores, the governor of Pando, the state that 
includes Cobija, and a member of Mr. Morales’s Movement Toward Socialism 
party.

Twenty years ago, Alipio Rodríguez Suárez, 74, lived in an isolated 
patch of jungle next to a river. Now he has hundreds of new neighbors 
and an asphalt road with a median in front of his house.

He also receives pension under a program established by Mr. Morales. He 
says the modest $36 a month covers his bills. “I can be retired now,” he 
said. “My parents worked in the rubber industry until they died.”

The population here has doubled to 47,000 in 10 years, an increase that 
includes many indigenous Aymara and Quechua people who relocated. 
Storefronts have opened with facades that reflect indigenous traditions. 
Government workers are now learning Cabibeño, an Amazonian language.

The elevation of indigenous culture — one of Mr. Morales’s trademarks — 
has had a lasting effect, residents say.

“The mentality of the people has changed,” said Juan Carlos Arequipa, a 
taxi driver in Cobija. “None of us thought we would have a satellite,” 
he said, referring to Bolivia’s Túpac Katari 1 satellite, built and 
launched by the Chinese in 2013 and named after an indigenous leader. 
“We have the ability to do great things.”

Yet Mr. Shifter, of the policy institute, said that development had 
backfired on Mr. Morales, raising expectations in an electorate that 
became more critical of him, especially as his presidency dragged on.

“He became a victim of his own success,” Mr. Shifter said. “People now 
have pride and demands.”

Corruption allegations surround the president. On Friday, the 
authorities arrested Gabriela Zapata Montaño, with whom Mr. Morales had 
a child out of wedlock. Ms. Zapata, who was the director of a Chinese 
company that received millions in government contracts, was under 
investigation in connection with peddling favors, the authorities said.

Similar complaints surfaced in Cobija, where the Evo Morales School sits 
empty, a $650,000 project that was never completed because a developer 
vanished after receiving government money. Only half of the first story 
was built, and vines are growing on the exposed rebar.

On Thursday, protesters here blocked a road, demanding that the city 
provide water, gas and electricity to a neighborhood they had created 
after seizing land. Mr. Morales once supported such takeovers but had 
not supported these people, and they wanted to know why.

“We are in the middle of a city, and we have no lights,” said María 
Estera, a 61-year-old teacher.

Finally an organizer said the government had relented and would begin 
installing electricity.

“We will have lights by 6 p.m. tomorrow,” he said to cheers.

The protest broke up.

“We have learned from Evo how to do this, and we can use it against 
them,” one of the demonstrators said. “When he was a peasant, this was 
the strategy that he used.”

Maria Eugenia Diaz contributed reporting from Caracas, Venezuela, 
Jonathan Gilbert from Buenos Aires, and Wilsson Asturizaga from Cobija.



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