Wednesday, Jul 23rd, 2014

Evo and Capitalism

“I see myself now in a position of homage to him. For me Che is my leader, ” he says. “What he did cannot be forgotten.”

By on Wednesday, December 9th, 2009 - 867 words.

evoYesterday Bolivia’s socialist President, Evo Morales, stormed to victory in the country’s election with 67 percent of the vote. The FT now calls him “one of Latin America’s the most popular leaders”. But who is this guy?

Morales has been at the helm since January 2006 when he became the first indigenous president of a Latin American country. His asencion didn’t command the same volume of magazine splashes afforded to America’s first black President, but in Latin America there was a feeling of euphoria amongst indigenous communities similar to the African-American sentiment in the States on Obama’s rise.

President Morales grew up dirt-poor, left high school before he graduated and went to pick coca leaves. In the film Cocalero, a documentary about the Presidential election that first bought him to power, he talks about how he became obsessed with trade unionism to the point his dad called him a dog because he “only came home to eat and sleep”. From this base he went on to become a central part in what many have called the “pink tide” that has streaked across Latin America, leaving Alvaro Uribe as the only center-right leader south of Panama.

Morales has not been in the news as much as that other lefty Latin American, Hugo Chavez. His style is not as abrasive and he doesn’t court publicity in the same way – although their ideas are along the same lines.

Here’s Evo interviewed in the New Statesman on Ernesto “Che” Guevara:

“I see myself now in a position of homage to him. For me Che is my leader, ” he says. “What he did cannot be forgotten.”

Now, paying a little homage to El Che is par for the course for leftist Latin American leaders. But here’s Evo in a speech to the UN in 2007. Apparently he doesn’t like capitalism too much, either:

“I think that that capitalism is the worst enemy of humanity and if we do not change the model, change the system, then our presence, our debate, our exchange, and the proposals that we make in these meetings at the United Nations will be totally in vain.”

But what Evo has actually done in Bolivia over the last three years does not completely bare out his rhetoric.

His most radical act was to nationalise the hydrocarbons industry, which irked neighbour Brazil and Spain as well, the two countries with the biggest economic interest in the sector. Morales did pay for the assets. Allbusiness.com at the time said the action was “surprising” to international investors, who expected a more “moderate policy” – whatever a “moderate nationalisation” might look like.

Bolivia had been rocked in 2000 by what the so-called “Water Wars”, centred in Cochabama. The water industry had just been privatised and was run now by US corporation, Bechtel. Average prices sored and police were even instructed to arrest people collecting rain water to bypass the new prices. The indigenous community was up in arms – literally, and Bechtel had to leave. Evo and his movements genesis can be put somewhere around this point.

The backbone of Morales’ reform programme was the creation of a new Bolivian constitution, which was ratified by a public referendum earlier this year, and can be read here in Spanish (it hasn’t been translated yet). President Morales has signalled that he will make the implementation of the new constitution his main legislative priority at the start of his second term.

In a country that is often compared to apartheid South Africa, as the stark divisions of poverty and inequality are marked along racial lines, many see this constitution as representing Bolivia’s ‘Freedom Charter’.

But what does Morales victory mean for the future? Well, depends who you talk to. Mary O’Grady over at the WSJ says, straight-faced:

“A dictatorship that fosters the production and distribution of cocaine is not apt to enjoy a positive international image,” she writes. Then continues, “In fact, it will mark the official end of what’s left of Bolivian liberty after four years of Morales rule.”

Her sentiment is not atypical of the American Right, maybe still smarting from the fact Morales kicked out their ambassador last year.

The actual reporting of his election triumph in the WSJ was also amusing and unique:

“Bolivians appeared to re-elect President Evo Morales by an overwhelming majority on Sunday, bucking a recent trend away from the left in much of Latin America and giving Bolivia’s first indigenous president further authority to dismantle the country’s existing government framework.”

According to Ana Arendar on the Comment Factory:

“Morales’s reform have seen Bolivia record a fiscal surplus for the first time in 30 years, the country has been predicted a higher growth rate this coming year than anywhere else in the Americas, and poverty levels have dropped continually since MAS came to power.

This has prompted praise from the unlikeliest of quarters as even the head of the IMF’s Western hemisphere countries unit praised the Morales government for what he referred to as its “very responsible” macroeconomic policies.”

According to the FT his plans are “unclear” but will probably include:

“[L]arge-scale industrialisation of key wealth sectors, including cement, paper, dairy, lithium, fertilisers, steel; a continuance of direct subsidy schemes for Bolivia’s poor; and support for greater regional autonomy that many critics say will prove to be almost ungovernable.”

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Matt Kennard

Matt Kennard graduated from the Journalism School at Columbia University as a Toni Stabile Investigative scholar in 2008. He has written for the Guardian, Salon and the Chicago Tribune, amongst others. In 2006 he won the Guardian Student Feature Writer of the Year Award.

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