FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Bolivia’s Contested Process of Change

A fist fight broke out in a local campesino union office in La Paz one afternoon last April while I was waiting to interview the union’s leaders. The fight was over how funds for government-supported projects were spent. Last week, at a campaign rally for an El Alto mayoral candidate losing in the polls, speeches were largely about the struggle over the political capital and legacy of a series of anti-neoliberal rebellions in the early 2000s. And this past Sunday, the party of President Evo Morales, the victor in general elections last October, lost key races in regional elections across the country. Such events point to the contested nature of Bolivian politics within and without the so-called “process of change” under Morales.

Popular uprisings helped paved the way to the 2005 election of Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president and a leader who promised to bring about long-overdue socialist and anti-imperialist changes to the impoverished, but resource-rich, country. Thecampesino and indigenous movement protagonists of the 2000s are now largely aligned with the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), Evo Morales’ political party. In the lead-up to Sunday’s regional elections, this support was visible in neighborhood council offices in El Alto, where campaign literature for MAS candidates was distributed, and in a major campesino confederation in La Paz, where a massive campaign banner blanketed office headquarters.

But when talking with movement leaders inside these buildings, it was clear that their support was critical and uneven. While most backed Morales, they were also critical of right-wing politicians brought under the MAS umbrella, corruption scandals, a heavy dependence on extractive industries, and the high levels of violence against women in the country. While in the public eye these movements supported the MAS, their support was also based on a less visible process of debate, power-struggles and critique within the movements themselves.

0-1-0-PatanaElAlto

Still, this close alliance with the government recently contributed to a corruption scandal which has allegedly implicated various indigenous and campesino movement leaders who have been accused of pocketing government funds destined for community projects. While the investigation into this corruption case is far from complete, the allegations stuck well enough on many leaders that it significantly lowered popularity for key MAS candidates in regional elections.

The corruption allegations weakened the candidacy of Felipa Huanca, MAS gubernatorial candidate for La Paz, someone who rose up through the ranks of the Bartolina Sisa campesina movement. The MAS mayoral candidate for El Alto, Édgar Patana, was also implicated in corruption charges; one notorious leaked video showed Patana receiving a packet of money from former El Alto mayor, Fanor Nava. (On the campaign trail, Patana never explained what was in the envelope.)

The corruption theme weighed heavily on campaigns in La Paz and El Alto, and seriously contributed to these candidates’ loss on Sunday. Even Morales came out after the election to say that, in the department of La Paz and the city of El Alto, voters “cast a punishment vote against corruption.”

Another reason for the MAS’s loss in La Paz and El Alto, however, was Morales’ own stance against MAS opponents in the election. Facing potential defeats, the president threatened that he would not work with opposition politicians in El Alto or in the department of La Paz if voters elected them. “If you want more [government-funded] projects, there is Édgar Patana; if you want more projects, there is Felipa Huanca. Think about this, it depends on you,” Morales told voters. The threat had the reverse effect; many voters responded by shifting their support to MAS opponents.

Outside of MAS losses in La Paz and El Alto, at the time of this writing, opposition parties are reported to have won regional elections in most mayoral races in key cities, with the MAS winning only four of the nine governorships. On a national level, these results are a far cry from the 60% support Morales received in last year’s general election, which also granted the MAS 2/3 of the seats in congress.

In terms of the regional election, the MAS may have misread the political situation, and chose candidates poorly. Morales admitted this much during the actual campaigns. This demonstrates a certain miscommunication between MAS leadership and its base in various parts of the country. However, the opposition victories on Sunday don’t indicate a renewed, united offensive against the MAS. Major individual challengers to the MAS may rise out of this election (such as the Sol.bo party’s Felix Patzi, who won the La Paz governor race), but nationally, opposition from the right and left is still fragmented. Local political dynamics are quite distinct from the national scene; opposition to the MAS locally doesn’t necessarily translate into opposition to the MAS nationally, as an Andean Information Network report on Bolivia’s 2010 regional elections pointed out.

In the end, the regional election results speak of the complex political terrain in a country where, in key cities and departments, MAS hegemony is challenged from a variety of political positions. Following the election, new checks and balances to MAS party power may continue to open up spaces of dissent, debate and contestation that will deepen Bolivia’s wider process of change, a process that the MAS doesn’t, nor did it ever, completely control.

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:

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

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
January 29, 2020
Jefferson Morley
Weakest Link: Impeachment and National Security
Peter Lackowski
Venezuela, January 2020: Hardship and Resistance
Kenneth Surin
BoJo Johnson’s Brexit Fantasies
Ron Jacobs
The Swamp That Trump Built
Scott Corey
A Different Impeachment
Peter Cohen
How to Survive this Election
Manuel García, Jr.
Mutually Assured Madness: Immunity to the 25th Amendment
John Kendall Hawkins
Soviet Hippies: The Grass is Greener on the Other Side
Chandra Muzaffar
The International Court of Justice and the Rohingyas
John Grant
Iran is Not Responsible for US Deaths in Iraq
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
The World Demands Us Out of the Middle East
Shawn Fremstad
Marital-Status Discrimination Reduces Fertility in China
Lawrence Wittner
Could the Climate Crisis be “The Good News of Damnation”?
Tom Engelhardt
The Fate of the Earth (See Page Five)
Myles Hoenig
Why the Green Party isn’t the Problem
January 28, 2020
Patrick Cockburn
China’s Coronavirus Outbreak Reminds Me of the Irish Polio Epidemic I Survived
P. Sainath
Making Rebellion Attractive: Why the Establishment Still Hates John Reed
Geoff Dutton
Where Was Rudy Giuliani When Democrats Needed Him?
Sam Pizzigati
The Evolution of “Davos Man” into . . . Trump Fan!
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Truth a Major Casualty of Impeachment Hearings
Michael Welton
Autobiographical Roots of Habermas’ Thought
Greta Anderson
Remove the Livestock, Not the Wolves
Nick Pemberton
Sorry Chomsky and Friends, The Green Party isn’t the Problem
Jack Rasmus
Trump’s Feeble Phase 1 China-US Trade Deal
Mike Garrity – Jason Christensen
Natural Gas Pipeline Corridor Threatens Imperiled Species and Inventoried Roadless Areas
Daniel Falcone
Make America Radical Again: A Conversation with Harvey J. Kaye
Binoy Kampmark
Split Hearings: the Assange Extradition Case Drags On
Eric Toussaint
Greece: a Chronology From January 25, 2015 to 2019
Nino Pagliccia
An Open Letter to Justin Trudeau on Venezuela
Robert Hunziker
Reflections of a Scientific Humanist
Jeffrey St. Clair
Who Cares If It Leaks? An Afternoon at Hollyhock House
January 27, 2020
Peter Harrison
Adani and the Purpose of Education
Dean Baker
Can Manufacturing Workers Take Many More of Trump’s Trade “Victories”?
Robert Fisk
Trump in Davos: US isolationism is Reaching Its Final Narcissistic Chapter
Ariel Dorfman
The Challenge for Chile and the World
Victor Grossman
The Misuses of Antisemitism in the UK and the USA
Thomas Knapp
Bernie Sanders, Joe Rogan, Human Rights Campaign, and Truth in Advertising
Fred Gardner
NewsGuard Can Save You From Putin!
Lawrence Wittner
A Historian Reflects on the Return of Fascism
Rose Miriam Elizalde
Cuba: a Matter of Principle
Bob Topper
The Better Moral Creed
George Wuerthner
Giving Cover to the Abuses of Big Ag
Christopher Packham
This is Really Happening
Negin Owliaei
Americans Need to Hear More From Iranians, Here’s Where to Start
Ted Rall
Corporate Crap That Doesn’t Kill Bernie
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail