Years of campaigning against the US drug war, US mining interests and the US presence in South America paid off for Evo Morales yesterday as he was elected President, winning 51% of the popular vote.
Morales has run for President before, four years ago, receiving 21% of the popular vote in the June 2001 Presidential elections.
In the December 19th edition of the Christian Science Monitor, they state “Morales and his party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), built their victory on a campaign to nationalize the country’s gas reserves, rewrite the Constitution, legalize coca-leaf growing, and end 20 years of ‘neoliberal’ economic policies supported by Washington.”
Before the election results were in, one senior MAS senator, Roman Loayza, said a Morales government would have just 90 days to nationalize the country’s vast natural gas reserves, a move certain to antagonize foreign investors.
Perhaps worried that Morales will want to defer making such a controversial move, Loayza said Sunday night that MAS congressmen “don’t have to wait for Evo” to begin making progress on his campaign promises.
In addition, Bolivia is the world’s third-largest producer of coca, the main ingredient in cocaine. As the former leader of Bolivia’s powerful coca unions, Morales has long called for the complete legalization of the crop throughout Bolivia.
Although Morales says he will continue the war against drug traffickers, US officials believe that any increase in coca production will simply fuel the flow of cocaine out of Bolivia.
As Bolivia’s largest foreign-aid donor, the US, which hands out roughly $200 million per year, exerts considerable influence here.
Read the CC Exclusive interview with Evo Morales (second part of article) here: CC #37: Bolivian peasants or narco-terrorists?
Who is Evo Morales?
From Green Left Weekly, by Alejandro Rodriguez: “In April 2000, Aguas de Tanari, a large multinational corporation, was due to take over the privatized water works in Cochabamba. Water prices were to increase and laws were passed to make it illegal to catch and use rainwater. Water would be out of the reach of the majority of residents, 65% of whom live below the poverty line. Mass demonstrations erupted, roads were blocked and running battles where fought with the police and the army until the government gave in. The sell-off was defeated.
“Evo Morales, of the Movement to Socialism (MAS), was one of the leaders of this battle. Morales had also led the peasants’ struggle against the US-sponsored forced eradication of coca and is a prominent leader of the indigenous Quechua people. Morales won a surprise second place in the June 30 presidential election in 2001.
“Long before coca was used to make cocaine, the indigenous people of the Andean region, the Aymara and Quechua, chewed coca leaves as a dietary supplement. The consumption of coca leaves and tea is part of daily life for Bolivia’s peasants, miners and workers. The US-led ‘Plan Dignidad’ (dignity plan), which seeks to reduce coca production to zero, is seen as an attack on the peasant’s livelihoods and the indigenous people’s way of life.
“This US-financed plan involves US military advisers on the ground ordering Bolivian soldiers to attack, kill and displace peasants with US-made weapons. This has led to resistance among the peasants, with several self-defense groups being formed. In 2001, for the first time since coca eradication began, more police and soldiers were killed than peasants.
“Morales has publicly declared that he not only supports the peasants’ right to self-defense, but is participating in the organization of these popular self-defense groups with the aim of forming a people’s army.
“The MAS platform included: the nationalization of strategic industries; price reductions and a price freeze on household goods; the provision of basic services for all; defense of free public health and education; increased taxes for the rich; an end to corruption; the redistribution of land to those that work it; a new political apparatus; an end to neo-liberal economic policies; and opposition to a ‘flexible’ work force.”
Early life of Evo Morales
Morales was born in Orinco, a mining town in the department of Oruro, in the Bolivian Altiplano. In the early 1980s, his family, like many indigenous highlanders, migrated to the lowlands in the east of Bolivia. In his family’s case, they settled in Chapare, where they dedicated themselves to farming, including crops of coca leaf, the raw material required to produce cocaine. During economic reforms of the 1990s, former miners began to also grow coca and to contribute to the country’s growing role in international drug production and smuggling. However, as the government of President Hugo Banzer began a US-backed drug-eradication effort in the mid-1990s, tensions began to erupt with frequent skirmishes and protests.
As the leader of the cocaleros, Morales was elected to the Bolivian Congress in 1997 as a representative of the provinces Chapare and Carrasco de Cochabamba. He received 70% of the votes in that district, the highest share of votes among the sixty-eight members of parliament who were elected directly in that election.
The 2002 elections
In January, 2002, Morales was deposed from his seat in Congress, ostensibly because of a charge of terrorism related to anti-eradication riots in Sacaba that month in which four coca farmers, three military soldiers and a police officer were killed, but reputedly due to great pressure from the American embassy to have him removed from the government.
Morales nonetheless declared his candidacy for the following presidential and congressional elections, to be held on June 27. In March, the eviction of Morales from Congress was declared unconstitutional, but he did not reclaim his congressional seat until the new congress was sworn in on August 4. MAS had a meager share of only 4% in the polls, but it used its scant resources to mount an imaginative campaign, which attracted a great deal of attention. The party dispensed with the traditional campaign tactics of mass give-aways of t-shirts, baseball caps, calendars, and other political “confetti”. One controversial TV spot portrayed an indigenous Bolivian maid exhorting the masses to vote their conscience and not as their bosses ordered. MAS returned a small grant from the state (less than US $200,000), which is provided to every political party.
Capitalizing on resentment of U.S. presence in general and U.S. ambassador to Bolivia Manuel Rocha in particular, MAS circulated a poster that appeared in Bolivian cities, with an enormous photo of Morales in the middle. Above, in enormous letters: “Bolivians: You Decide. Who’s in Charge? Rocha or the Voice of the People?” The poster had a huge impact and hundreds of thousands more had to be printed than had been planned on.
None of the candidates of Bolivia’s mainstream parties wanted to debate Morales, dismissing MAS as a “minor party”. In June, Morales told the media that he wasn’t interested in a public discussion with them either: “The one who I want to debate is Ambassador Rocha ? I prefer to argue with the owner of the circus, not the clowns.”
Several days before the election, in a speech he gave in the presence of the outgoing Bolivian president, Jorge Quiroga, Rocha said, “I want to remind the Bolivian electorate that if you elect those who want Bolivia to become a major cocaine exporter again, this will endanger the future of U.S. assistance to Bolivia.” Undaunted, Bolivians, particularly in the heavily indigenous departments of the Altiplano, nonetheless voted for MAS in droves, giving it a share of 20.94%, only a couple points behind that of the winning party. Afterwards, Morales credited the American ambassador for the success of MAS: “Every statement [Rocha] made against us helped us to grow and awaken the conscience of the people.”
Owing to his refusal to compromise (which some saw as intransigence), Morales and MAS were excluded from the coalition, which ultimately determined who would become president (it was Gonzalo S?nchez de Lozada); MAS, led by Morales, therefore entered Congress as a strong opposition party.
Evo Morales and MAS do not have a clear program; it is clear what he is against (he is a rousing speaker) but less obvious what his alternative proposal is. In any case, Morales sees little in the current form of government by parliamentary democracy as seen in Bolivia; viewing it as too easily corrupted from within and manipulated from without by foreign interests. For him, Bolivia’s impoverished campesinos need above all autonomy, equal opportunity, and access to the land.
When the Bolivian Labor Union (COB) called a indefinite general strike on September 29, 2003, in response to the killing of seven protestors by the armed forces during the Bolivian Gas War, Morales and MAS allegedly declined to participate, preferring to concentrate on gaining power in the 2004 regional elections. However, Morales was involved in organizing the continuing protests in the capital city in June 2005, which forced the resignation of Carlos Mesa.
The 2005 elections
As a result of growing discontent and popular unrest, and the resignation under pressure of President Carlos Mesa Gisbert, the Bolivian Congress and Constitutional President Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze decided to move up the 2007 elections to December 2005. Both popular uprisings had Morales’ leadership as a key factor, especially after an almost year-long period of unofficial participation as an ally in President Mesa’s government. At a gathering of farmers celebrating the 10th anniversary of the founding of MAS in March 2005, Morales declared that “MAS is ready to rule Bolivia” having “consolidated its position as the [prime]political force in the country”. He said “the problem is not winning the elections anymore but knowing how to rule the country.”
As of the end of December 18, of an outright victory now of 51 percent assures Morales will be President for the next term.
Morales has articulated the driving force behind MAS: “The worst enemy of humanity is capitalism. That is what provokes uprisings like our own, a rebellion against a system, against a neoliberal model, which is the representation of a savage capitalism. If the entire world doesn’t acknowledge this reality, that the national states are not providing even minimally for health, education and nourishment, then each day the most fundamental human rights are being violated.”
He has also stated “… the ideological principles of the organization ? anti-imperialist and contrary to neoliberalism, are clear and firm but its members have yet to turn them into a programmatic reality.”
Morales has argued for the establishment of a constituent assembly to transform the country. He also proposes the creation of a new hydrocarbon law to guarantee 50 percent of revenue to Bolivia, although MAS has also shown interest in complete nationalization of the gas and oil industries.
Also, Morales has referred to the U.S.-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas as “an agreement to legalize the colonization of the Americas.”
Morales has expressed his admiration of Guatemalan indigenous activist Rigoberta Mench?, and Fidel Castro, the latter for his opposition to the USA. Morales also believes that the cocaine problem should be solved on the consumption side, not by regulating the coca plantations, which are already legal in some specific locations in Bolivia.