Evo Morales and the Continental Revolution in Latin America
By Ivan Drury
“Yet in Latin America, as this government has often noted, the differences among the left-wing governments are more important than the similarities. Broadly speaking, one camp is made up of moderate social democrats, of the sort in office in Chile, Uruguay and Brazil. The other camp is the radical populists, led by Mr. Chavez, who appears to have gained a disciple in Evo Morales, Bolivia’s new president.”
“The Battle for Latin America’s Soul,” the Economist Magazine, May 20th 2006
History in motion
The nine months since the election of Evo Morales to presidency of the poorest country in South America has passed the term of a birth witnessed painfully by both US and European imperialism and friends (and so-called friends) of Bolivia in Latin America.
In these nine months, Evo Morales has dealt a direct blow to US and European imperialism and the “Brazilian interests” section of the Brazilian ruling class with the nationalization of gas in Bolivia. He has struck out at the capitalist class of Bolivia and the legacy of corruption in the Bolivian government itself, with attacks against the bureaucracy through the re-organization of national industries and the disorganization of bureaucratic privileges, beginning with his own salary. He has circled bulldozers around the monuments to colonialism in Bolivia with the launching of a constituent assembly and begun the re-drafting of a new Bolivian constitution that will re-define Bolivia as an Indigenous nation in pursuit of its full political and economic self-determination.
In these nine months, Evo Morales has made international alliances in the interests of the Bolivian people – and of oppressed people all around the world. Within days of his election, and before doing anything else, he visited Fidel in Havana, and Chavez in Caracas to draft new trade agreements based on solidarity and human need. Within months, he signed on Chavez’s “Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas” (ALBA) and helped to craft the formation he called “The Axis of Hope” – Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia.
Evo’s election victory was a sign that the movement of oppressed people had drawn a higher card than the reactionary forces of capitalism and imperialism in Bolivia. Evo’s historical job then, as president, was – and is – to continue to build on the strength of this movement and drive ahead. His main accomplishment has been the political continuity and development of this movement’s strength, confidence, and breadth beyond the borders of Bolivia, and the entry of the Bolivian workers, peasants, and Indigenous movement as a force to be reckoned with against imperialism and capitalism. All of the concrete gains won in the first nine months of Evo’s presidential term are significant only as viewed through this lens of the development of revolutionary struggle in Bolivia… because the revolution has not won, it has only begun.
These motions, and the deep contradictions and complications that are wound up within them, are most visible in the two most important concrete developments of the Bolivian revolution: the struggle for Indigenous self determination through the constituent assembly, and the struggle against imperialism through the nationalization of gas and the redistribution of land. The Bolivian revolutionary process is being defined by these struggles and by the capitalist and imperialist reaction against them.
Constituent Assembly: Indigenous re-definition of Bolivia
“The constituent assembly is not only to have an indigenous president, but to peacefully change the structure of the State, it’s to recover the territory and natural resources, incorporate communitarian justice –currently justice is corrupt- and re-found our nation incorporating the national majorities. That way we will reverse Bolivia’s original sin: having been founded excluding ninety percent of its population.”
- Evo Morales interview with Pablo Stefanoni on July 3 2006
Bolivia, a nation of Indigenous nations that has been colonized, dominated and controlled by colonizing and imperialist powers since its founding in 1825, when it won its political “independence” from Spain. Evo Morales is the nation’s first Indigenous president in all of Bolivia’s history – a fact that gains more significance when you consider that there have been more than 190 governments in 182 years of “independence” and that Indigenous people make up nearly the entire working class, peasantry, and poor population in this poor country in South America.
Between 60% and 80% of the population of Bolivia, depending on who you ask, is Indigenous, but the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean shows that the poorest 40 percent of Bolivians hold only 10 percent of the wealth, while the richest 10 percent have 41 percent. Wealth, and development, is concentrated in the Santa Cruz region, where – not so coincidentally – non-Indigenous people are also concentrated.
Against this backdrop, Morales declared the drafting of a new constitution, what the writer Eduardo Galeano called “The Second Founding of Bolivia,” as top priority for the new government. In his first presidential statement, Morales stated that a new constitution was necessary because “Indians were not invited” to the drafting of the first one.
The racist division of wealth and power in Bolivia has not dissolved at the sight of an Indigenous president. In August, elections were held for a constituent assembly to re-draft Bolivia’s constitution. The launching of the constituent assembly was a breakthrough for the movement in Bolivia, and it was met immediately with sabotage by the ruling class opposition forces.
On September 4th, the assembly decided to make decisions by a simple majority vote rather than the two-thirds majority demanded by the minority oppositionists in the assembly. The opposition walked out of the assembly, paralyzing its operation.
The question of Indigenous self-determination in Bolivia, like in Canada, is central to the question of justice. It was on this critical question – framed in the re-drafting of the constitution – that the reactionary opposition has opened its campaign of sabotage. In the constituent assembly, the Bolivian bourgeoisie opened its fall offensive against the forward motion of the Bolivian revolution – an offensive that continued two weeks later with an attack on the other most central question of the Bolivian revolutionary process at this point, the nationalization of gas.
The Nationalization of Gas
On May 1, Morales announced the nationalization of all gas reserves in Bolivia, saying that within six months all gas and gas production in Bolivia would be taken over by the Bolivian state oil company, YPFB. Predictably, the British, French, and Spanish oil companies and governments came out against this move in an outrage, with the British alone standing to lose “investments” in stealing the Bolivian people’s wealth to the tune of more than $800 million. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) joined the chorus against Morales in their August report calling Bolivia’s “energy policies” […] “erroneous” and saying that they will frighten away “investment”.
But the most damaging of blows came from Brazil, a neighbour and so-called “friend” of Bolivia. In September, the sabotage maneuvers of the Bolivian opposition combined with the efforts of Lula’s government in Brazil to preserve “Brazil’s interests” and froze the nationalization process in Bolivia.
When Lula heard, in mid-September, of the plan of the Bolivian minister of energy to bring a motion before parliament to immediately limit all production and distribution of Bolivia’s gas to YPFB, the Brazilian government panicked. In defense of Brazilian state oil company Petrobras’s holdings of 48 trillion cubic feet of Bolivia’s natural gas, Brazilian energy minister Silas Rondeau said, “If relations don’t improve, it will not be the fault of Brazil, which has its limits and is going to defend them.” And president Lula added, “[if Bolivia] takes unilateral measures, we will think about taking harsher measures”.
Sensing a weak point, the Bolivian ruling class, including its agents in Morales’s own party, acted and reiterated its August demand for the resignation of the Bolivian minister of energy and for the stopping of the bill. On September 12th, the bill was frozen, and the minster of energy resigned. But Evo’s vice-president statement was aimed directly at Brazil, he said, “The nationalization proceeds, it doesn't stop. What we are seeing are the times for application in consensus and accord with the companies.” And in response to the threat by Brazil to take Bolivia to international court for violation of Petrobras’s “right” to harvest Bolivia’s gas he added, “Rather than give way on the principles, we prefer to go to arbitration”.
Bolivian Revolution: A Promise and a Threat
“There are social democrats and others who are marching more in the direction of equality, whether you call them socialists or communists. But at least Latin America no longer has racist or fascist presidents like it did in the past. Capitalism has only hurt Latin America.”
- Evo Morales in an interview with Der Spiegel, Aug 28, 06
The news of these stumbles and setbacks in the Bolivian revolutionary process has been trumpeted by imperialist media, like the New York Times’ article “Bolivian Leaders Find Their Promises Are Hard to Keep” and “left-opponents” of Morales alike. Both are equally eager to dismiss Morales as a failure, and both miss completely the significance of the pressures of the fall offensive against Morales and the Bolivian revolution.
First, the stumbles that the revolutionary process has suffered so early in its development in Bolivia is, in part, because of the weakness of Morales and his party, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS). The weakness is the result of a combination of the brutality of the struggle in Bolivia and the lack of a clearheaded and focused revolutionary leadership like Fidel in Cuba, or even like Chavez in Venezuela. Morales was given the lead of the revolutionary process in Bolivia because of necessity, not because he was completely equipped for the job. These first nine months have held a sharp and punishing learning curve for him. Part of this problem of leadership has been the lack of a revolutionary team in Bolivia. Morales’s party is divided on how to carry out this struggle, and even how far it must go.
Second, the conflict with Brazil and Petrobras has revealed the superficial unity that still exists within the overall development of the continental revolution in Latin America.
Bolivia itself is a critical point in defining which direction this revolution is going to take. The Economist quote at the beginning of this article is correct – there are two main political trends that have characterized the national liberation movement in Latin America: one led by Fidel and Chavez, which points the way to political and economic independence, socialism and justice, and the other is the misleadership of people like Lula in Brazil and Bachelet in Chile who maneuver to suppress the movement for revolutionary change that lives in the hearts of all oppressed people and lives in Cuba and is fighting for life in Venezuela.
To learn from History
Under the constant pressure of imperialist thievery and destruction, these pro-capitalist and therefore ultimately pro-imperialist leaders and governments have been forced to publicly support the revolutionaries in Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia. The price of appearing to not support these movements is to risk losing control of the movements of workers and oppressed people in their own countries – and thereby losing their worth to imperialism. But Brazil’s moves against the Bolivian nationalization of gas speaks differently than his words of solidarity at official events. With these maneuvers, Lula has given a clear message to Morales, Chavez, and Fidel. He is saying, do what you want with your ‘revolutions’ but we will “defend the interests of Brazil.” Not surprisingly, the interests of the capitalists in Brazil are consistent with the interests of the capitalists in the US, France, UK, and Spain. And they have nothing in common with the interests of working people in Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, or anywhere.
Finally, the reactionary fall offensive against the revolutionary movement in Bolivia shows that, although Morales and the movement in Bolivia have a big job ahead of them, they are still moving, still fighting, and still are on the path to revolutionary change.
In order to survive this period – this first big challenge to the revolutionary process – Morales must get closer to his real allies in Venezuela and Cuba. The struggle in Bolivia is important because Bolivia is the staging ground for a heavy weight round of the international class struggle, and this is both a blessing and a curse. Its curse is the intense pressure that is being brought against the fighters there by imperialists and their local representatives. It’s blessing is that Bolivia is not alone – working, poor, and oppressed people in every country of the world must take up the defense of the Bolivian revolutionary process as our own struggle. Bolivia represents a threat to imperialism, and a promise to all oppressed people in the world.
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