FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Horizon of Evo Morales’ Long Decade in Power: Implications of Bolivia’s Referendum Results

by

shutterstock_346298897 (1)

Bolivian President Evo Morales lost the referendum last Sunday that could have given him the ability to run for re-election in 2019. The margin was small, but the implications are huge: Bolivia’s longest standing and most popular president finally has an end date for his time in power, on January 22, 2020.

The lead up to the election was brutal, with an array of corruption scandals and conflicts, the most tragic of which was a protest last Wednesday against the opposition-controlled mayor’s office that resulted in a fire leading to six deaths. This disaster, the key details of which are still unclear, cast a shadow over the referendum. But the corruption scandals, which had besieged pro-Morales indigenous and campesino organizations as well as the presidency, had already made their imprint on national public opinion. Just last March, the Movement Toward Socialism, (MAS, Morales’ political party) lost key regional elections in several departments, in part due to the fallout from the corruption charges.

Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, who rose to prominence as a union leader among coca farmers and as a dissident congressman, has won three general elections, including a 2014 victory with over 60% of the vote, and is now in his tenth year in power. Over this decade, he has presided over a host of historic policies and measures, including rewriting the constitution in a constituent assembly, extending government control over the country’s lucrative natural gas reserves, and expanding access to education, healthcare, and the political process to previously marginalized sectors of society. Economic growth has remained solid through much of his time in power, thanks to his government’s economic policies and the boom in oil and gas prices. As a result, under Morales, poverty rates have dropped dramatically for citizens in South America’s poorest country.

But this period hasn’t been without its pitfalls, and critics on the left and the right have pointed out a variety of problems surrounding the MAS government. Critics claimed the 2009 constitution, presided over by the MAS government, failed bring forward necessary land reform. Morales touts the rights of nature and Mother Earth, but leads an extractive-based economy that has wreaked havoc in the countryside, extended extractive industries into national parks, and displaced some of the same rural communities his policies aim to support. Denouncements of corruption scandals, co-optation and repression of various social and indigenous movements, authoritarian tendencies against political opponents and critical media have followed his presidency for years. At the same time, the opposition has been fragmented, lacking unity while Morales and the MAS consistently win major elections and reforms supported at the ballot box.

The referendum which took place on Sunday brought many of these issues to the forefront, at times making the vote less about the nature of democracy in Bolivia, and more about Morales himself. The president said he would win the referendum in a landslide, but in the end, the Yes vote supporting his hopes for re-election in 2019 lost by roughly 2%.

The implications of the referendum results are varied. First is the issue of succession. Morales said today that it is too early to speak of who might fill his shoes on the MAS ticket. Regardless of who takes on that role, the MAS is very likely to have a prominent presence in Bolivia’s political sphere for decades to come. The opposition is still very divided and without key leaders. The No vote in the referendum had the impact of uniting a wide array of MAS opponents that don’t just go under the umbrella of the Bolivian right; disenchanted leftists, people simply tired of Morales or believing that a change in the presidency is good for democracy, anarchists, indigenous dissidents, and others allied with the neoliberals and conservatives to vote No. The referendum victory they brought about doesn’t necessary signal a shift to the right in Bolivia. Indeed, it simply further opens up the playing field to the country’s variety of political currents.

The vote does however point to a significant new chapter in Bolivia’s recent political trajectory. Morales was first elected in 2005 on the back of a series of popular uprisings that challenged neoliberalism and toppled establishment politicians. The social movements of the era that took a stand against corporate globalization and the Bolivian oligarchy transformed the country’s political landscape, opening up spaces for change that Morales filled; the indigenous president, no stranger to protests and road blockades himself, used his relationship with the country’s dynamic social movements to push forward institutional and societal changes that otherwise would have been impossible.

But the Bolivian left and its vibrant social and indigenous movements were always bigger than the MAS, and Sunday’s referendum results underline this. The future of the country beyond January of 2020 will not have a Morales presidency in it, but it will still be in the hands of the Bolivian people who, over the last decade and a half, kicked out multinational corporations, ousted neoliberal tyrants, faced down US imperialism, and expanded the country’s – and the world’s – imagination about what is politically possible, not just via the ballot box, but through protests, barricades, and social movements.

Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America, covering social movements and politics in the region for over a decade. He is the author of the books Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. Dangl is currently a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at McGill University, and edits UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Twitter: https://twitter.com/bendangl Email: BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
Pete Dolack
Killing Ourselves With Technology
David Krieger
The 10 Worst Acts of the Nuclear Age
Lamont Lilly
Movement for Black Lives Yields New Targets of the State
Martha Rosenberg
A Hated Industry Fights Back
Robert Fantina
Hillary, Gloria and Jill: a Brief Look at Alternatives
Chris Doyle
No Fireworks: Bicentennial Summer and the Decline of American Ideals
Michael Doliner
Beyond Dangerous: the Politics of Climate
Colin Todhunter
Modi, Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill: Doing Business or Corporate Imperialism?
Steve Church
Brexit: a Rush for the Exits!
Matthew Koehler
Mega Corporation Gobbles Up Slightly Less-Mega Corporation; Chops Jobs to Increase Profits; Blames Enviros. Film at 11.
David Green
Rape Culture, The Hunting Ground, and Amy Goodman: a Critical Perspective
Ed Kemmick
Truckin’: Pro Driver Dispenses Wisdom, Rules of the Road
Alessandro Bianchi
“China Will React if Provoked Again: You Risk the War”: Interview with Andre Vltchek
Christy Rodgers
Biophilia as Extreme Sport
Missy Comley Beattie
At Liberty
Ron Jacobs
Is Everything Permitted?
Cesar Chelala
The Sad Truth About Messi
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail