by Pablo Solón
According to the pre-election polls, it seemed to be a close race. Not even the MAS strategists had expected such a clear victory for Luis Arce Catacora and David Choquehuanca Cespedes in the presidential and parliamentary elections in Bolivia. In the end it was over 25% percent ahead of the Comunidad Ciudadana of the socially liberal Carlos Mesa. Pablo Solón, former UN ambassador to Evo Morales and head of the Solón Foundation named after his father, analyzes the reasons.
First of all, the disastrous ten months of Jeanine Añez’s government, during which numerous cases of corruption and nepotism became known. Amid people’s suffering from the COVID pandemic and quarantine, the old guard politicians had wasted no time filling their pockets. And just as before under the MAS government, those who had started investigations against the interior minister and those around the president were dismissed. Instead of restoring the rule of law and clarifying the circumstances of the Senkata and Sacaba massacres after Morales’ resignation, the judiciary was used against the political opposition.
The forest fires of 2019 were repeated in 2020. And instead of canceling the laws responsible for them, the agricultural export industry was further benefited: With the shortening of the approval procedures for genetically modified seeds and the complete approval of agricultural exports, which contributes to further deforestation. If the Morales government had the agro-export industry as an ally, then the Añez government was its direct executive. With all this it became clear that there could be governments even worse than the MAS.
Second, the pandemic had rapidly exacerbated the long-lasting economic downturn. Especially for people in the informal sector who live from hand to mouth. Many hope that the upswing will come back with the former MAS Minister of Finance. The 2020 election was not shaped by concepts, but by fears and socio-cultural identities.
In fact, the MAS and Comunidad Ciudadana programs showed more similarities than differences. The violent attacks by the government and by the right-wing Catholic candidate Luis Fernando Camacho from Santa Cruz made the MAS a victim and stoked fears among many people of indigenous origin. The right fueled fear of Evo Morales’ return.
The MAS before the return of a racist neoliberal right and before the economic crisis. Carlos Mesa lacked understanding of the grassroots people with indigenous roots and failed to approach them.
His alliance still believed in the scenario of 2019, where he could count on the votes of those who did not share his program, but who opposed a renewed and illegal candidacy by Morales. Carlos Mesa hoped that the voters would decide for him and against the MAS at the last minute. But the MAS won not because of Evo, but despite Morales. He had tried to marginalize David Choquehuanca in favor of former foreign minister Diego Pary, although Choquehuanca was the preferred candidate of the – above all indigenous – organizations of the highlands. But these at least partially prevailed over Morales, because they actually wanted Choquehuanca as a presidential candidate.
The election victory is not a blank check, however. As Luis Arce himself acknowledged, there are a number of mistakes from the previous MAS reign that need to be corrected. It is unclear what errors he is referring to and whether this government is capable of resuming and renewing the process of change that began in 2005. The election result in no way confirms the thesis that the events of the previous year were the result of a right-wing conspiracy and that the international left has triumphed again. Various representatives of the indigenous farmers’ organizations have expressed fundamental criticism of the actions of the traditional left and their strategies to maintain power.
And so the key lies less in the future government than in the ability of the grassroots organizations to represent themselves again and to bring forward their own proposals in alliance with urban movements.
The new government will be different from Evo Morales. Because the context as well as the internal power relations in the MAS have changed. Luis says he will not be a Morales puppet, but he has shown little self-reliance towards him in the past. It is also to be expected that the new government will soon come under pressure to succeed.
The steadily decreasing foreign exchange reserves since 2005, the pressure on monetary stability from devaluations in neighboring countries and the recession make it difficult to fulfill the election promise of economic stability, economic growth and the demands of the population. The recipe that Arce has been using since 2015 to pump money into the economy by increasing external debt is unsustainable. It’s time to put the cards on the table and discuss the limits of the extraivist economic model pursued by Evo Morales’ government.
For this, Bolivia needs a process of reconciliation and dialogue. As in the past, this can be done through concessions to the mining industry, the agro-export industry or private banks. The alternative would be the mechanisms enshrined in the 2009 Constitution. The new government can opt for the tightening of the previous economic model regardless of losses, or for the constitutional principle of the social function of property and the rights of mother earth by promoting agroecology. Luis Arce stands for the previous economic model with his proposal for massive biofuel production, David Choquehuanca expresses his doubts.
Another central point is the separation of powers. Evo Morales aimed to control all instances of the state and to use them against its political opponents: the judiciary, parliament, the electoral court, the ombudsman or the audit office. Even control of the press was a hallmark of the Morales government. If this strategy is continued, protests are likely to return soon.
This will be demonstrated by the question of how corruption is dealt with under the Morales administration. With Luis Arce (against whom there are indictments, note of the translator.) And David Choquehuanca the population will be less lenient than with Evo. Because corruption in times of boom is different from in times of crisis.
A new bureaucracy and bourgeoisie arose under the previous MAS governments: contractors to the state, trade, smuggling, mining cooperatives, or the coca production associated with drug trafficking. These new elites had a major influence on the decisions of the Morales government.
This can only be countered by strengthening the autonomy of existing and new social movements.
Will Bolivian society manage to put ethics above political utilitarianism? This requires an open and honest debate in the organizations. If not, there is no future.
Abbreviation and translation: Peter Strack