Jan 16, 2006
Evo Morales, candidate of the MAS (Movement Toward Socialism) won the Bolivian presidential election with 54% of the votes. He will take office on January 22nd.
Morales’ victory came from a wave of protests among the poorest layers of the working class.
Since 2000, the poorest part of the population has erupted on the Bolivian political scene. Cochabamba, the second largest city, was the scene of the mobilization of workers’ neighborhoods against the extortion racket of the U.S. company Bechtel over water distribution. In 2004, this “water war” reached El Alto, a workers’ neighborhood of La Paz, the capital. There a French water company deprived 200,000 people of water. Again, a massive mobilization forced the water corporations to leave.
Mobilized workers also demanded that natural gas, the country’s chief resource, be used to satisfy the population’s needs, rather than selling it cheaply to giant international oil companies. In October 2003, the poor people in the El Alto neighborhood led a struggle over this issue that spread throughout the country. Government forces killed dozens of people, but the social mobilization didn’t end. On the contrary, the issue forced President Sanchez de Losada to resign. It also forced out the two politicians who succeeded him as president.
What the Bolivian ruling classes, and behind them the giant international corporations, want is for the new government of Morales to quiet down the population. But the poor classes who voted for Morales hope that he will meet their long-time demands.
Morales comes from the peasants who grow coca. In 1997, he created the MAS, a political grouping without a precise ideology, appearing as the spokesman of the popular revolts. The MAS did not support the corrupt traditional political class, which owes its position to the giant foreign companies that take most of the country’s wealth and leave crumbs for the politicians. Despite Bolivia’s immense oil resources and natural gas, it remains the second poorest country in the Americas.
In 2003, faced with an ongoing popular uprising, Morales helped to cool down the situation. The MAS, along with the other parties, agreed to raise taxes from 20% to 50% on companies exploiting Bolivian natural gas.
But even though a little more money came to Bolivia, the workers still need jobs and the peasants demand land. Many want the giant corporations to be nationalized, so that these demands can be met.
Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. Secretary of State, expressed U.S. concerns: “The question for us is will the Bolivian government be democratic?” In fact, by “democracy” she refers to the treatment of U.S. corporations in Bolivia. Morales responded by saying he didn’t need a lesson in democracy, pointing to what the U.S. is doing in Iraq. But he also reassured the foreign oil companies that his government “wouldn’t expropriate or confiscate [their] property.”
On the one hand, Morales in his speeches to the population talks of the “nationalization” of the country’s wealth, and on the other, he reassures foreign diplomats by asking that the foreign companies pay a little more for what they take out of the country.
No politician could easily escape the dictatorship of the 26 foreign oil companies that appropriate the riches of Bolivia. However, Morales does not even appear as if he wants to try to defend the poor classes in the face of their local and foreign exploiters.
Still, Bolivian workers have a long tradition of struggle. In 1952, the rulers of Bolivia showed their fear of a working class whose enthusiasm for change was stopped by the betrayals of reformist leaders. Perhaps today’s Bolivian proletarians of the cities allied with those of the countryside will avoid the traps not only of their enemies but also of their false friends.