By W. T. Whitney JR.
Bolivian President Evo Morales and Vice President Álvaro García Linera are presently campaigning for their fourth term in office. In elections set for October 20, Morales, candidate of the Movement to Socialism Party (MAS), is polling 15 points ahead of ex-President Carlos Mesa of the Citizen Community Party. Seven other presidential candidates are competing. The odds favor a first-round victory for Morales. The voting will also determine the make-up of Bolivia’s Congress.
Elected in 2005, Morales became Bolivia’s first indigenous president. Indigenous people make up some 50 percent of Bolivia’s population, according to varying estimates.
Bolivia’s socialist government has scored successes: improved lives for the previously marginalized, a stable and growing economy, and President Morales’s leadership role in defending the planetary environment. With U.S. assistance, right-wing opposition forces have battled the socialist government since its inception in 2006.
Between 2005 and 2018, according to analyst Javier Tocachier, extreme poverty dropped from 39 percent to15.2 percent, the minimum monthly salary rose from $54 to $305, mortality rates during the first five years of life fell 61 percent, the infant mortality rate fell 56 percent, and life expectancy at birth increased by nine years, The Gini index, which measures income inequalities, demonstrates the greatest equalization trend in Latin America. One hundred percent of older citizens receive pensions (the regional average is 59 percent). The government provides direct payments to all pregnant women, to all families with infants, and to families with school-age children – for the sake of school supplies and transportation.
Land reform has enabled small farmers to own 80 percent of tillable land, of which 45 percent is held by women. The government is implementing a universal health care system; 3,000 health centers have been constructed.
According to one report, internal savings have increased fivefold since 2005. The ratio of foreign debt to GDP decreased from 51.6 percent in 2005 to 23.1 percent currently. Private sector earnings have increased by almost 500 percent since 2005. Economic stability is predicated on newly-discovered hydrocarbon reserves worth $70 billion, zinc and lithium exports (Bolivia claims 50 percent of the world’s lithium reserves), ethanol production, a rejuvenated agricultural sector, and the development of wind, solar, and geothermal energy-producing capabilities.
Bolivia’s economic growth tops in South America, with annual growth averaging 4.9 percent between 2006 and 2018. It’s a time frame during which per-capita GDP jumped from $1,000 to $3,580 and currency reserves, from $1.2 billion to $8 billion. Investment in public projects amounts to 11 percent of the GDP, tops in South America. Almost all debt and savings are held in national currency. The inflation rate is presently one percent.
No other political leader in the world has been as outspoken in responding to climate change as President Morales. Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, he remarked that: “Our house, Mother Earth, is our only home … Each year is hotter than the previous one … The consequences of climate change will condemn … millions of people to poverty, hunger, no potable water, losing their homes, forced displacement, more refugee crises, and new armed conflicts.”
Morales further explained that, “The world is being controlled by a global oligarchy, only a handful of billionaires define the political and economic destiny of humanity … The underlying problem lies in the model of production and consumerism, in the ownership of natural resources and in the unequal distribution of wealth. Let’s say it very clearly: the root of the problem is in the capitalist system.”
Morales is arguing, in essence, and with many others, that for the capitalist mode of production to exist, production must always expand and sales must increase. The process depends on unendingly available energy sources, currently hydrocarbon fuels. Credit goes to Bolivian voters for having installed a chief of state who, alone among his counterparts, articulates a strong anti-capitalist message on the world stage.
By no means has the Morales government gained a free ride. Accusations of authoritarianism, nepotism, and corruption have been constant. The right-wing opposition, based primarily in Bolivia’s four eastern departments, has spearheaded agitation for Morales’s removal. Big farming operations and a network of oil and natural gas production facilities constitute the region’s economic base. Political heavyweights there have toyed with separatist maneuvering and in 2008 their agents tried to assassinate Morales, with U.S. complicity.
The Morales government that year expelled the U.S. ambassador and the Drug Enforcement Agency and in 2013, the USAID. (Cocaine production plummeted after the DEA’s departure.) There’s been no U.S. ambassador at the U.S. Embassy and so this year opposition presidential candidates have had to do their plotting with the chargé d’affaires.
The current phase of anti-Morales opposition began with a 2016 referendum vote that narrowly backed the Bolivian Constitution’s two-term limit for presidents. Subsequently Bolivia’s Constitutional Court and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal – each dominated by justices associated with the MAS – joined in disallowing that vote. Their decisions, relying on the doctrine that national constitutions must give way to international legal norms, opened the door for a fourth term for Morales. Since then protesters and demonstrations have hammered away at the president. But most of the Bolivians are supporting the President Morales. That is his strength.(IPA Service)