Bolivia is currently one of the main hot points in Latin America. The crisis that started with a coup against the country’s President Evo Morales shows signs of escalation as the post-coup government is openly using force against supporters of the ousted president. In this situation, it’s interesting to take a look at the personality of Evo Morales himself and polcies employed by his government.
Juan Evo Morales Ayma, born on October 26th 1959, in Isallavi, Bolivia served as the Bolivian president from from 2006 until 2019. He is a member of the Aymara indigenous group and was Bolivia’s first Indian president.
His political career started in the 1980s, when he became an active member of the regional coca-growers union, and in 1985 he was elected the group’s general secretary. In 1988, he was elected executive secretary of a federation of various coca-growers unions. This fact is often described by the US and maintream media to claim that Morales somehow supported narco business. However, attempts to compare coca and cocaine are similar to attempts to describe poppy loafs as the source of heroin.
In the mid-1990s, when the Bolivian government was suppressing coca production with assistance from the United States, Morales helped found a national political party, the leftist Movement Toward Socialism (Movimiento al Socialismo; MAS), which is also his current party.
Morales won a seat in the House of Deputies (the lower house of the Bolivian legislature) in 1997 and was the MAS candidate for president in 2002, but lost to Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada by a small margin.
During his campaign, he called for wide economic and social reforms. One of the topics was the expulsion from Bolivia of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, which was further reinforced by the US Ambassador saying that if Morales were elected, US aid to the country would end.
As the MAS presidential candidate again in 2005, Morales was elected easily, winning 54% of the vote and becoming the country’s first Indian president and the first Bolivian president since 1982 to win a majority of the national vote.
In the 2009 election Morales won 64%, and in 2014 he won 61% of the vote. He has also remained head of the coca growers’ union for 38 years.
He ushered through a new constitution that created a new Congress with seats reserved for Bolivia’s smaller indigenous groups and recognized the Andean earth deity Pachamama instead of the Roman Catholic Church. The charter also “refounded” Bolivia as a “plurinational” state, allowing self-rule for the nation’s indigenous peoples.
Morales also won the 2019 election with 47.08%, but was ousted as a result of the US-backed coup under pretext of the claim that the Organization of American States (OAS) deemed it impossible to verify the vote.
The OAS said that the elections took place in a “peaceful and orderly manner,” the OAS expressed “its deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results revealed after the closing of the polls.”
The statement failed to provide any actual evidence or data. Nonetheless, it was widely backed by the US diplomatic and clandestine actions.
The main claim of the OAS is the significant increase in votes for Morales that came in near the end of the count. However, this is a result of the geography of Bolivia. Morales has more support in poor and rural areas where votes often come in later.
“Statistical analysis of election returns and tally sheets from Bolivia’s October 20 elections shows no evidence that irregularities or fraud affected the official result that gave President Evo Morales a first-round victory,” the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) said in a statement de-facto denouncing the OAS claim.
Another important point is that the OAS was created by a U.S. official and anti-socialist leaders from South America in 1948 aiming to disrupt the left-wing influence in the region. Often, the OAS is described as an agent of regime change and provider of the US interests.
Immediately after becoming president, Morales began the process of renationalizing the oil and gas industries. The increased tax revenue allowed Bolivia to vastly increase its public investment and helped boost the country’s foreign reserves.
Since 2006, the country’s economy has grown at a steady 4.9% per year. Real per capita GDP grew by more than 50% over 13 years, twice the rate of growth for the Latin American and Caribbean region, and today Bolivia still boasts the highest growth of per capita GDP in South America.
Bolivia’s efforts to promote economic growth have been focused on the domestic market, in line with its development strategy. There have been substantial increases in household consumption (4.7 % average yearly growth between 2006 and 2018), gross fixed capital formation (9.2 %) and government expenditure (5.3 %). Exports have also grown, but at a slower pace (averaging 1.9 % annually). In fact, Bolivia has in recent years held investment at very high levels as compared to the past, with investment averaging 21.8% of GDP.
In Bolivia, thanks to Morales’ other policies the benefits of growth were felt by the poorest. Poverty fell from 60% in 2006 to 35% in 2017. Extreme poverty more than halved – from 38% to 15%.
This was achieved by both massive public investment and redistribution of wealth. Bolivia’s unemployment nearly halved (7.7% to 4.4%) by 2008, and this didn’t change much even after the global financial crisis of 2008.
Moreover, the minimum monthly wage increased threefold. This was also done while keeping inflation at a very low growth rate per year.
The fixed exchange rate combined with relatively low domestic inflation and a consistent rise in minimum wages has improved the purchasing power of the vast majority of Bolivian citizens. Wages are negotiated every year between the government and the unions.
By 2018, the real (inflation-adjusted) minimum wage had more than doubled since 2006, a 140% increase after adjusting for inflation.
Domestic and foreign policies
The foreign and domestic policy of the Morales government has been for a long time causing a dissatisfaction of the United States.
In 2008, Morales expelled US Ambassador Philip Goldberg, accusing him of conspiring against his government, and suspended the operations of the US Drug Enforcement Administration in Bolivia. In 2013, he also ousted the US Agency for International Development (USAID), accusing it of supporting his opposition.
The US has long accused Morales of doing little to counter cocaine production and trafficking because Morales has remained the head of the coca growers’ union and opposed the US attempts to meddle into Bolivia’s domestic policy. However, these claims have been barely backed by any evidence.
On the international stage, Morale’s Bolivia acted as an independed state often resisting the US-led imperalist agenda in Latin America and around the world. Bolivia also was an active member of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). The ALBA is based on the idea of the social, political and economic integration of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. The name “Bolivarian” refers to the ideology of Simón Bolívar, the 19th-century South American independence leader born in Caracas. The ALBA is associated with socialist and social democratic governments wishing to consolidate regional economic integration and oppose the imperialist agenda. No surprise that the post-coup government immidiately announced that it’s leaving the ALBA.
Morales and his government are widely supported by general population, especially people living in rural areas, as well as small and medium business operating in the country.
At the same time, his opponents, are led by Carlos Mesa (served as the president in 2003-2005 successfully leading the country to an economic collapse) and Jeanine Anez, the opposition senator who has claimed Bolivia’s interim presidency. Anez started her career as a media presenter and director at Totalvision. On the international level, they are actively backed by the United States and international corporations. Inside the country, they rely on large business and people and youth from large cities that do not link their future with Bolivia as the state.
The actions of the post-coup government and an increase of violence by security forces that support it are steadily leading the country to a further conflcit, and in the worst-case snceario to a foreign-instigated ‘civil war’. This could also contribute to the destabilization of the entire region.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- Bolivia Crisis: 8 Killed, Dozens Injured As Police Open Fire On Evo Morales Supporters
- Bolivia Withdrew From Bolivarian Alliance Day After Organization Condemned Coup
- Bolivian Parliament Elects New Head, Refuses to Acknowledge Self-Proclaimed President Jeanine Anez