[Marxism] In Bolivia, Morales’s Indigenous Base Backtracks on Support

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Dec 8 13:05:51 MST 2018

NY Times, Dec. 8, 2018
In Bolivia, Morales’s Indigenous Base Backtracks on Support
By Nicholas Casey

CARMEN DEL EMERO, Bolivia — In this remote indigenous village in 
Bolivia, the rule has been the same for generations: Leaders can be 
re-elected only once. After that, they must hand power to someone else.

So it came as a shock to Nelo Yarari, the leader of Carmen del Emero, a 
community of indigenous Tacana people in the Bolivian Amazon, when 
President Evo Morales said he would be running for a fourth term next month.

Bolivia’s Constitution barred him from doing so, and Mr. Morales lost a 
referendum two years ago that would have allowed him to run again. 
Instead of giving up, he leaned on the courts, which then threw out the 
country’s term limits.

One thing especially stung for Mr. Yarari: As Bolivia’s first indigenous 
leader, Mr. Morales had vowed to champion native values from the 
presidential palace.

In seeking for yet another term, Mr. Morales was violating a basic tenet 
of the Tacanas, power sharing. He was also pushing for oil and gas 
extraction in protected areas and proposing hydroelectric dams that 
would displace native communities.

“We don’t consider him indigenous here,” Mr. Yarari said. “He has turned 
his back on us.”

With the election set for next year, the issue of a boundless presidency 
has become a broader concern for a Latin America where threats to 
democracy are mounting.

In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro now rules as an autocrat, 
extending his own term this year in an election widely seen as rigged. 
More than 300 people in Nicaragua have been killed in protests to end 
President Daniel Ortega’s tenure.

And some see an autocratic streak in Mr. Morales’s support for 
crackdowns by Mr. Maduro and Mr. Ortega and in his own history of 
attacking the media and stacking the courts with judges who favor him.

“Evo is now asking: What can I do to stay in power?” said Marcelo 
Arequipa, a political-science professor at the Catholic University of 
Bolivia in La Paz. “This issue has become so important it sometimes 
means sidestepping the Constitution.”

Mr. Morales, the former leader of a coca-growers union, was first 
elected in 2005 with broad support from the country’s indigenous 
majority, and reoriented policies in a way not seen since Bolivia was 
conquered by the Spanish. He called for the Constitution to be 
rewritten, promised to roll back centuries of racism and eschewed 
Western suits for attire using indigenous designs.

At first, many in Carmen del Emero — a two-day journey by river from the 
town of Rurrenabaque and more than 250 miles north of the capital — saw 
Mr. Morales as the antithesis to a long chain of leaders who did not 
represent their interests.

His predecessor, Gonzálo Sánchez de Lozada — known as El Gringo because 
he was raised in the United States and spoke Spanish with an American 
accent — raised taxes on the poor and presided over the killing of 
indigenous Aymara protesters before fleeing into exile in Washington in 

Mr. Morales promised something different. He preached inclusion of 
indigenous groups, cut ties to American coca-eradication programs that 
stung farmers and used the state’s wealth to cut the poverty rate in 
half by 2012.

Yet 12 years after he took office, many indigenous groups are 
questioning whether it is their interests — or Mr. Morales’s own 
political ambitions — that are behind his unrelenting grip on the 

The Uru, a fishing people on the Bolivian plateau, watched their lake 
and livelihood vanish under Mr. Morales’s watch because of climate 
change and the government’s diversion of water to subsidize large farms.

The Tacanas have sparred for years with Mr. Morales, who dusted off a 
previous government’s plan to build a hydroelectric dam near Madidi 
National Park, an area many of the group call home.

“We’ll be the first who get displaced by this,” said Felcin Cartagena, a 
resident of San Miguel, downstream from the site of the dam.

The president has even been abandoned by some indigenous coca growers, 
his early base. In October, a coca growers’ union from the Yungas region 
endorsed former President Carlos Mesa, Mr. Morales’s main rival in the 
race, after one of the union’s leaders was arrested on charges of 
planning an ambush that killed a soldier. The group said Mr. Morales was 
trying to quash the union by falsely accusing its leader.

Mr. Morales has done much to ensure he remains in office, including 
calling a constitutional assembly during his first term that allowed him 
to run two more times and pushing the referendum in 2016 that would have 
allowed him to run for a fourth term.

After that narrowly failed, the Constitutional Court, which is largely 
loyal to Mr. Morales, ruled last year that the president could run again 
on the grounds that term limits amounted to a human rights violation.

Adriana Salvatierra, a lawmaker from Mr. Morales’s party, Movement for 
Socialism, said the president had neither violated the Constitution nor 
lost support among native groups. His presidency empowers them by 
showing “the indigenous peasant as a revolutionary power,” she said.

Ultimately, she said, Mr. Morales needs to stay in power to counter 
ascendant conservative leaders in neighboring Brazil and Chile who she 
said were seeking to erase gains made by the poor.

“Evo Morales is the only one that can guarantee economic growth, 
stability, sources of work,” she said.

Indeed, Mr. Morales has delivered on many of those fronts, keeping 
Bolivia’s economy afloat even as Brazil and other nations in the region 
suffered through a recession when commodity prices slumped. But that is 
not enough, even for many of Mr. Morales’s erstwhile supporters.

“We have a president violating the Constitution — whether he’s done good 
or bad, it’s the Constitution,” Mr. Yarari, the leader of Carmen del 
Emero, said.

The Tacanas greeted Mr. Morales’s first election as their own victory 
and as evidence that, at last, the national government would begin to 
have a presence in the distant village, he said. Before long the 
government began collecting taxes from Carmen del Emero, charging the 
Tacanas for the caiman crocodiles they hunt and the timber they harvest.

But government services did not follow. The village school was built 40 
years ago, the health center is 30 years old, and neither has been 
maintained, Mr. Yarari said. When floodwaters decimated the village in 
2014, covering it in mud for months, it was the Red Cross that came to 
help, the leader said.

Further upstream along the Beni River is San Miguel, which is fighting 
Mr. Morales over the proposed hydroelectric dams. If built, the dams 
would flood regions around Madidi National Park in Bolivia’s northwest, 
considered one of the world’s biodiversity hot spots.

The Tacanas had spent years fighting previous governments over the 
project, but they were taken aback when Mr. Morales began pushing for 
it. In June, the indigenous group sent a small armada of canoes upstream 
to block the river, in an effort to keep engineers from the site.

The dam project would aim to supply electricity to Brazil, but not to 
Amazonian villages in the area, like San Luis Grande. That angered 
Triniti Tayo Cori, a leader of the Tsimané people.

“Through our own effort we’ve gotten light to our town: We bought a 
generator, we bought cables, we bought light bulbs,” Mr. Tayo Cori said, 
describing a recent effort to install public lighting after years of 
asking the government to do so.

Yerko Ilijic, a Bolivian lawyer and political scientist, said Mr. 
Morales was making his calculations based on votes: Small groups like 
the Tacanas and Tsimané aren’t a priority.

“When you’re a politician, who do you negotiate with?” Mr. Ilijic asked. 
“You negotiate with whoever has the biggest numbers.”

Mr. Ilijic said Mr. Morales appeared to be striking up alliances with 
some of the very landed interests he once fought. In September, he 
signed a law to use bioethanol as an additive in Bolivian gasoline, 
which was seen as a boon for the sugar industry. The farms that produce 
bioethanol have long angered indigenous groups for advancing deforestation.

For some, next month’s election will present a difficult choice between 
two unsatisfactory candidates: Mr. Morales and Mr. Mesa, who was vice 
president under Mr. Sánchez de Lozada, the exiled president who oversaw 
the Aymara killings that lifted Mr. Morales to power.

Rodrigo Quinallata, an activist in the city of El Alto, near La Paz, 
campaigned against allowing Mr. Morales more terms. An Aymara, he says 
he will continue that struggle.

“We have to admit that in the end someone who is wearing a poncho can be 
as corrupt as someone who is wearing a tie,” he said.

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