Bolivia has recently become a central point in Latin America politics following its president actions towards historic enemies and some neighbouring states. Evo Morales’ strong rhetoric, with a mix policy of nationalism and socialism, has somehow managed to revive the radical left wing’s morale after the loss of its main leader, Pres. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
Since the death of the Bolivarian Revolution leader, Morales has stepped in accusing the US to plan his assassination and overthrow the government, and reopening territorial claims against Chile. Are these moves a project to replace Chavez at the head of the anti-imperialist movement or is simply guarding the post against the so called reaction?
Morales’ way to socialism and reactions
Juan Evo Morales is the president of Bolivia since 2005, when it was elected as the first indigenous president and leader of the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS). Morales, along Chavez, soon became a central figure of the Latin America “rebellion” against the US imperialism and bringing back socialism as an alternative to neo-liberal policies. Morales, although did not have the same weight of Chavez on the international scenario, became soon source of attention after a nationalisation programme of Bolivia’s natural resources angering especially US and Spain.
During these years in power, Morales attacked essentially on three fronts: control of national economy, land-social programmes and constitutional powers. With a strong nationalisation programme, Morales first brought under state control all gas companies, then moving towards the energy sector culminating with the nationalisation of the Spanish REE in 2012. The above measures assured state control on substantial revenues and blocked any external interference in the Bolivian economy. With a land redistribution programme, Morales consolidated its indigenous base with expropriation and distribution of allotments to poor peasants. The programme has been also accompanied by a strong support on the coca leaf producers and social initiatives, mainly financed by the revenues obtained after nationalisation.
Once consolidated the social power, Morales then moved on strengthening his political power through the reform of the institutions. In 2009 called a referendum on a new constitution which gives more power to indigenous and was approved with over 60% of the vote. Morales were then re-elected in a landslide victory. The latest move sees Bolivia’s Constitutional Court ruling that President Evo Morales can run for a third term in elections scheduled for December 2014, despite under the current Bolivian constitution, presidents are only allowed to serve two consecutive terms. The court declared that the first mandate, started prior 2009, cannot be considered as such under the provisions of the constitution and therefore Morales can run for another mandate.
Nevertheless, opposition politicians were critical of the ruling allowing him to run again. Former president Carlos Mesa called the decision “unacceptable”, whilst Samuel Doria Medina of the opposition National Unity Party said President Morales should have put the issue to a referendum instead of leaving the decision to the Constitutional Court.
Along crescent criticism from opposition forces and international organisations, even internally Morales is facing difficulties and challenges to his authority with a number of strikes and protests, including by police and army staff asking for higher pay and by indigenous groups rejecting the building of a major motorway.
But opinion polls recently published suggest Mr Morales still enjoys strong support, with 41% of people saying they would vote for him over 17% for Mr Medina if the elections were held.
The new threats: what’s the real strategy?
Along with the internal opposition Morales faces also a strong international outcry especially from US and EU on the nationalisation programme and by the UN agencies on the drug programme. Morales responded to this criticism with two new actions: strong anti US policy accusation and nationalism.
Morales relations with the US can be described as hostile or based on mutual distrust, but these are now severed by claims of political interference, accusation to plot in killing the president and fomenting unrest to overthrow the Bolivian government. Although some of these accusations are not new, in the last period Morales took a stronger position against the US with a last act: the expulsion of USAID for the country. In a May Day address, Mr Morales accused USAID of seeking to conspire against Bolivia, that there was “no lack of US institutions which continue to conspire against our people and especially the national government, which is why we’re going to take the opportunity to announce on this May Day that we’ve decided to expel USAID”. The president also linked the expulsion to a recent remark by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who referred to Latin America as “the backyard” of the US.
The US has expressed regret at Bolivia’s decision to expel America’s development agency, rejecting allegations made by President Evo Morales as “baseless and harmful to the Bolivian people”. USAID has worked in Bolivia for almost five decades, and had a budget of $52.1m (£33.4m) for the country in 2010, according to its website. It cites as its main aims the strengthening of Bolivia’s health system and the provision of “equal access to health care by eliminating social exclusion”, as well as improving “the livelihoods of economically and socially disadvantaged people by increasing income and managing natural resources”.
The above step, opened several questions on whether there are basis for such accusations or Morales is using this as a propaganda tool to strengthen his position. USAID has been hostile to his policy in favour of coca growers and Morales has always considered the agency a concurrent rather than co-operator in his social programme for the poor. Nevertheless accusing Morales of madness concerning US activity is not believable; the US never hid their wish to control other parts of the world and especially Latin America after it slipped away from their control since the first Bush administration. History of CIA interventions and covert plans to overthrow governments are well-known to do not think for a moment that Morales accusations have somehow a theoretical basis. We cannot also forget that another country closed by decree USAID activity in its territory and for the same basis: Russia. Can Putin and Morales be both mad? Certainly Morales, as Putin, fears that social programmes are also used for political gains or reinforce oppositions; in eastern Europe we have assisted to anti-Russian opposition movements financed by the west and even in Latin America activities such the failed coup against Chavez in 2002 had links to the US.
The other strong argument from Morales recently has been the rediscover of the nationalist and irredentist claims on the sea access. This access through the Litoral Department in the Antofagasta region was lost after a disastrous war against Chile in 1879-1883. The war, in which Bolivia was allied with Peru, ended for both with the loss of territories rich in nitrates given to Chile. Bolivia never renounced to recover this territory as legitimate part of the country and even maintains a small navy, whilst school teaches that the access to the sea is a fundamental right of the nation. Along the years the Bolivian government tried to negotiate, encountering hostility or inadequate proposals from Chilean government, either under Pinochet or the post dictatorship democratic coalitions. However, in the last month Morales started a new incisive claim arriving to submit the question to the International Court angering Chile.
The reasons for the above actions, nationalisation, internal policy, US hostile policy and irredentist claims, may be the same side of the medal and find answer not only in the programme of radicalization and consolidation of Morales government, but also to build a new leadership for the anti-imperialist movement after Hugo Chavez death.
Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador guided the radical wing of the socialist revival in Latin America, having strong links with Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the Frente Farabundo Martí in Salvador and Cuba. Chavez represented the strong leader in this new group, not afraid to challenge US hegemony and policies in contrast with the more moderate approach of Brazil, Uruguay or Argentina. As the US have never abandoned their desire to put down the Bolivarian Revolution, to block this leftist surge, some recent development increased their morale: success in Colombia, Chile passage to the right, the ousting of President Lugo in Paraguay and the death of Chavez. The last has been a clear loss for the radical group; the new Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro failed to win a large consensus, the vote result is challenged by the opposition and his charisma and strengths are to be demonstrated. Cuba is fast approaching a succession issue and future is full of doubts. Especially the death of Chavez reinvigorated opposition parties and neoliberals in the continent, whilst the US and the EU along with multinationals have seen the chance to reconquer terrain.
This may explain Morales “intervention” that has become vocal and stronger in conjunction with Chavez death. The attack on corporative sections and multinationals is the continuation of the policy for an alternative to capitalism, whilst strong anti US rhetoric is the signal to Washington that they will not give up easily and that the door is already closed. The attack on Chile, apart the irredentist claim, is the attack on a country that turned on the right, whose economic programme is attacked by left movements and it is designed to weaken a political adversary.
Independently on how we consider the matter, is clear that Morales is trying not only to open this landlocked country back to the sea but also to open his locked leadership to the wider scenario of Latin American and international politics in order to present himself as the new socialist leader of the post Chavez era.