The referendum in Bolivia, the power of the neoliberal model


On February 21 of 2016, 6.5 million Bolivians, domestially and internationally, voted whether or not to modify article 168 of the Political Constitution of the State. If approved, the president and vice-president of the Plurinational State of Bolivia would have been able to run for an additional two consecutive terms. The official results indicated 51% opposing the Constitutional revision. Defeat of the referendum forces the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) to search for new leaders for the next elections. Previously, the president and vice-president had come to power with 54%, been releected in 2009 with 64% and in 2014 with 60% of the vote. In, 2008 they won against a recall referendum with 67% of the vote. Despite this recent defeat, 49% of the Bolivian population still support Morales.

The National Coordinator of Social Movements for Change (CONALCAM) invited President Evo Morales (Morales) and Vice-president Garcia Linera (Linear) to consider re-election as a way of ensuring that their Patriotic Agenda could be fully implemented until its 2015 target. The referendum vote cost (excluding political campaigning) 153 million Bolivianos (~$20 million) – a considerable sum, given the innumerable necessities facing the country.

Ahead of the election, the opposition campaign was fueled by corruption accusations surrounding the president and his ex-partner, controversy around the Vicepresident’s university degree, and the deaths of 6 people with the fire in the Municipality of Alto. Another indicator about the popularity of the MAS were the protests and opposition to the repression of indigenous people in Chaparina opposing construction of a highway in the National Park Isiboro.

The crisis with the indigenous fund also dealt a great blow against the state apparatus. After nationalization, 5% of funds from hydrocarbons go to indigeneous and original farming communities and nations. The social movements were supposed to serve as watchdogs against the violation of rights, the loss of autonomy; instead, they became distracted by the administration and embezzlement of funds. Paradoxically, in the moment of greatest financial availability, they distanced themselves from the needs of their base. Global politics was replicated in the social movement at the local and regional level: Honesty, social conscience and people’s rights were commercialized to accumulation wealth at all levels: corrupt leadership, territorially autonomous entities, parties, importing companies and above all else transnationals (in petroleum, mining, production of agro-industrial goos and technology and food).  

The most damaging accusations of corruption were those leveled against Morales’s party. His personal popularity was affected by the scandal around his ex-partner , Gabriela Zapata, whom he’d admited to fathering a child. The Chinese engineering company CAMC, in which Zapata held an important position, had attained more than $500 million in contracts with the Bolivian government. In his ten years of government, it was the first accusation of corrupation against Evo Morales.

Another visible issue was the incongruity between the environmentalist discourse of the government and a model of economic expansion based on the intensive use of the earth, the ground, the sub-ground, and air.

The government responded to the accusations by denouncing the dirty war carried out in social networks: Misleading information was being disseminated among the population that’d not lived through the dictatorship of the 70s nor the capitalization crisis of the 90s. They also recognized that in the process of change, they had allowed a Trojan horse to be planted in government: Those in the right had been allowed into positions of power in the government in exchange for pacts and alliances to get more votes and to position the MAS party in regions of conflict such as the low lands. In the low lands, members of right parties such as MNR, ADN, business owners, landowners may raise the banners of MAS, but they did not vote for reelection. What is for sure is that the right, now represented by MAS, especially in the low lands has been able to realize its economic interests. Galindo (2016) suggests that this is an act of political betrayal: the MAS defends the interests of the right which drown in.

The other right, which failed to plant itself in the process of change, possess obsolete political representatives and focus on the media war, distorting information to divide the vote and generate foci of violence an ingovernability to promote social condemnation. The trivilalization of the process in a various trials in the social networks, also exacerbated racism and classism. The opposition speaks about the rotation of power as a way of changing the model, while in reality the tendency is to aggravate the neoliberal politics already part of the state.

Civil society has criticized the one-person leadership within politics of the MAS party, the perpetuation of power within a small leadership, the lack of sharing in power and institutions, and the lack of humility by Morales and Linera.. All of these worked against it. After 10 years of MAS in power, the leadership does not renew itself, one leader is overvalued and pigeonholed: He either represents the whole process or everything is endangered.

The results of the referendum privileged the opposition for its possibility of internal coordination, and integration between rightwing parties. However, the reality is that after winning the NO, the right now has to face the dilemma of constructing more viable and convincing programs than those of the MAS; and uniting under one candidate. The results are part of a tendency towards the right within progressive governments and the victories of the right in Venezuela and Argentina. The big problem is that the YES still maintains in power a right embedded in the government of Morales, and the NO prevents the re-election of Morales and becomes a gateway to the regressive history of privatization. Argentina is a great example, 20 thousand layoffs and a disastrous macro policy protecting the private sector is filling the streets in protest.

Evo reaffirmed that he will continue the fight against neoliberalism. Nonetheless, he cannot fight with the same weapons: the country has already entered an intensive era of exploitation, industrialization, investment and economic development. If Bolivia is as bad as it is portrayed, how is it that it is the Latin-American country with the greatest economic growth and deacceleration of poverty?

The Morales government’s ten years have yielded te most stable period in Bolivia’s history. This period generated an average annual economic growth of 5.15%. Economic stability reinforced the overall perception of national progress. In the past 10 years, shopping in supermarkets increased 600%; consumption in restaurants, 853%. It is the new Bolivia. The Andean country has 10.5 million inhabitants, of which 2.6 million joined the middle class since the arrival of Evo Morales to power in 2006. The reduction of extreme poverty from 38.2% and the rise of the minimum wage from 440 Bs in 2005 to 1,656 Bs by 2015 are also noteworthy, Both of these increased the purchasing power of the population. During this time, the GDP per capita rose from $1,200 to $3,000. During the past 10 years, domestic production went from 8,000 to 33,000 million dolars, the average annual growth was 5%. For 10 years domestic production increased from 8,000 to 33,000 million dollars. There was almost always a fiscal and trade surplus, and foreign exchange reserves reached a figure close to 50% of GDP, one of the highest rates in the world.

The opposition questioned the economic development of the country based on the deepening dependence on the extraction of natural resources, accompanied by the high price of oil, where national industrial growth does not compete with foreigners, what they call "Dutch disease" an economic syndrome that affects societies that receive large incomes that they do not know how to spend and end up squandering in grandiose works, the import of foreign products and real estate bubbles. Minister of Economy Luis Arce reassures that the South American crisis will not affect the level of growth that Bolivia has been experiencing. The government contracted a loan of 7,000 million dollars from China, to replace the revenue lost by the lower price of domestic gas exports.

At this time the industrial sector has been unable to substitute imports, even in the food sector, in which Bolivia used to be self-sufficient, and has become even less competitive in world markets. The agroindustrial model has developed exponentially under a productivist logic viewing agriculture as a large business.

Something similar happened with mining and hydrocarbons, the country is engaged in exports to northern countries, China, Japan and neighboring countries; generating a scheme of intensive exploitation even over the rights granted to indigenous peoples. Which reveals that our country continues to be governed by the multinationals in contrast to the disocourse of protecting mother earth. At the same time, there is the contradictory discourse of environmental NGOs that favor transnationas - in which also enter international cooperation.

The Bolivian example shows that the coexistence of the capitalist and socialist system are not possible, since there comes a time when the former, for obvious reasons, devours the latter. The biggest crisis that the MAS with its policies, fuels the reactionary right. Bolivia has the financial resources to develop, and along with its development, corruption grows. Reconstructing a political project that overcomes this weakness is the urgent taskt of our multinational state. Reconstructing a political project that overcomes this weakness is an urgency for our Plurinational state. It is not possible to push changes in a capitalist system without developing social policies and ensuring economic stability through short, medium and  long  term production mechanisms, different from what has been developed in the international capitalist system. In the case of the Morales - Linera Government began with a strong discourse of social movements, and being in power resorted to what exists and operated from the micro level to international negotiations. Despite our desire for change, we are a country with multiple disadvantages.

The ultimate objective of the plan to 2025 is the beginning the final economic liberation. Now, there is the possibility of a return to the models of development that plunged the country into misery.”

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Written by Aymara Llanque and Carola Aranibar – La Paz – 2/24/2016 Translated by Dae-Han Song (chief editor, World Current Report)