New Day for Bolivia
by Tom Hayden
The Nation magazine, February
Today is Day One of the new Morales government
in Bolivia. No one had predicted the tectonic shift which resulted
in a 54 percent victory for the man everyone knows as Evo, the
Aymaran Indian, leader of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS),
and longtime head of the coca growers union. "It's like the
slaves have elected the president, for the first time in 513 years,"
since the death of the last Inca king, said one community leader
in El Alto, the vast Indian community that looks down upon this
Spanish colonial city.
When he organized his doomed guerrilla
base here in the Sixties, Che Guevara voiced despair in his Bolivian
diaries of ever awakening the indigenous people around him. But
today, a new Bolivian diary is being written, by Morales and the
newly empowered people who elected him.
Bolivia's population mainly consists
of Aymaran and Quechua people; they are the poorest in the Americas.
They won the right to vote only fifty years ago, in a 1952 nationalist
revolution that left them culturally and economically subordinate.
What are the immediate prospects and
long-term implications for Morales's new Bolivia? On Day One there
was widespread exhilaration, but there were also creeping worries.
Social activists were delighted by some of his promises, for example,
his inaugural declaration that the privatization of water violates
a "basic human right." Only days before, the Bechtel
Corporation had dropped its suit against Bolivia for alleged losses
in a water-management project that ended when protesters from
Cochabamba drove Bechtel from the country. Corporate insiders
admitted that a major factor in Bechtel's retreat was "reputational,"
a desire to save its corporate image from further tarnishing.
Pablo Solon, a close friend of Morales
and the country's leading critic of corporate-driven free trade
pacts, was delighted by the news on water, almost giddy at the
new possibilities, but worried that the United States already
was moving behind the scenes to thwart Morales's vision of an
independent democratic socialism, a kind of New Deal for the indigenous.
When we spoke, Solon sat in his foundation
headquarters, amid dozens of exquisite sketches from the collection
of his father, a well-known muralist. Images of tin miners with
skeletal faces, and of Don Quixote being tortured, looked down
from the walls. Solon, whose brother was murdered during military
rule, was contemplating the new relationship between Bolivian
social movements and the new government they had been pivotal
in electing. The State Department reportedly already was moving
to force Bolivia into an Andean Free Trade Agreement (AFTA, as
in NAFTA or CAFTA) that would lock Morales's new government into
subordination to the multinationals. US Undersecretary of State
for Western Hemispheric Affairs Thomas Shannon was signaling privately
that while Washington might be open to "dialogue" on
the issues of hydrocarbons and coca planting, the issue of free
trade itself was non-negotiable.
The Cost of Free Trade
In its effort to head off Morales, the
US is allied with Bolivian businessman Marcos Iberkleid, the descendant
of Jewish immigrants from Poland, and owner of a textile consortium
known as Ametex (America Textil SA). Previous US-dominated Bolivian
governments have envisioned Ametex, which employs 4,500 workers,
as the motor of a textile-based exports strategy. For Iberkleid,
this requires winning an extension on tariff preferences for textile
exports to the US, currently due to expire at the end of this
year. The US says that it will favor the extension only if Bolivia
signs off on an overall free trade agreement.
One graphic example of how free trade
pacts work is that the US plans to assert a right to patent plants
and animals under intellectual property rights provisions. "It's
against Andean policies and traditions," Solon almost shouts.
Further, US drug companies and agricultural interests will seek
to extend their patent rights from twenty to twenty-seven years.
And Bolivia will have to surrender its judicial sovereignty over
trade disputes, declared in Article 135 of its Constitution, to
closed-door AFTA arbitration panels dominated by corporate property
Enter Iberkleid, the Bolivian point man
for the free-trade agenda. His credit rating was a "D"
on December 30, according to the Fitch Ratings Index. He desperately
seeks to keep filling the orders of his principal corporate client,
Polo Ralph Lauren. The US embassy in La Paz has opened its doors
three times to welcome Iberkleid's workers in their campaign in
support of AFTA. By contrast, when Bolivian citizens petition
the embassy for the Bolivian government's own request to extradite
former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada from Miami to prosecute
him for the deaths of dozens of demonstrators in 2004, they get
only as far as the security blockades at the embassy gate.
Iberkleid brandishes a threat that Morales
fears--the possibility that Ametex workers will protest or, worst
of all, begin a hunger strike on the streets of El Alto, demanding
their jobs be saved. In an ominous sign of Morales's potential
direction, on Day One the new president appointed the union leader
at Iberkleid's plant as the Minister of Labor.
Working conditions at Iberkleid's factory,
while not technically those of a typical maquiladora, are still
based on the competitive advantage of offering the cheapest possible
labor, says La Paz economist Tom Kruze.
"We have failed in the public debate
to break the false belief that we have to export or die, "
says Kruze, who specializes in labor economics. Fabric and clothing
exports to the US represent only $35 million in total. "That's
all, with this one man, Marcos Iberkleid, controlling 75 percent
of them," says Pablo Solon. Hardly the basis for an economic
miracle, Solon and Kruze also question Bolivia's future as a textile
exporter when quotas are lifted on Chinese manufacturers in 2008.
Any immediate benefits in extending US preferences for Iberkleid
will be at the sacrifice of Bolivian sovereignty under a free
Evo Morales knows all this. "You
are right, but there is huge pressure," he has told his friend
Solon hopes that Evo will denounce the
US pressure as blackmail. But to illustrate the new president's
vacillation, Solon swerves his hands back and forth. "They
are trying in the next thirty days to convert Evo into a Lula,"
complained Pablo, referring to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio
Lula da Silva's acceptance of international financial rules after
years of campaigning against the "neo-liberal" agenda.
As recently as November 2005, Morales returned from an Argentina
summit to declare his opposition to free trade agreements, for
either the Andes or Latin America. But in his inaugural remarks
in La Paz, the new president declared only that he would "analyze"
the agreement, an equivocation that adds to Solon's worries.
Ending 'El Modelo'
Such are the practical problems confronting
any radical movement that achieves political power. Evo Morales
has yet to define where Bolivia will stand in the spectrum of
new Latin American nationalisms, which range from Cuba and Venezuela,
which so far oppose any free trade deals with the Americans, to
the more reformist Brazil, Argentina and Chile, which see themselves
as driving bargains for their domestic industries in a free-trade
context. In part these differences reflect different economic
realities--Cuba is under US embargo, while Venezuela is a source
of oil--rather than ideology alone. But Morales has preached a
"communitarian socialism based on the community, a socialism,
let's say, based on reciprocity and solidarity. And beyond that,
respecting Mother Earth, the Pachamama. It is not possible within
the [neo-liberal] model to convert Mother Earth to merchandise."
When I interviewed Morales in 2004, he
said the "struggle is not only in Bolivia, because el modelo
[the neo-liberal model] fails especially for the poor," adding
that multinational domination "is not going to happen"
because "it's a clash between two cultures, the indigenous
versus the US, sharing versus individualism."
Morales's vice president is Alvaro Garcia
Linera, a former guerrilla leader, political prisoner, academic
researcher and public commentator. He describes the Morales-MAS
coalition as one on the "center-left." Socialism, he
says, is not possible in a Bolivia where a proletariat is "numerically
in a minority and politically non-existent," and where the
economy has imploded into family and community structures, "which
have been the framework within which the social movements have
arisen." Linera favors an "Andean capitalism,"
which will build a "strong state" to transfer the surplus
of the nationalized hydrocarbon industry to "encourage the
setting up of forms of self-organization, of self-management and
of commercial development that is really Andean and Amazonian."
In other words, modern economic development would be embedded
in, or allied with, the traditional communal structures of the
indigenous people, instead of replacing those structures with
vertical forms of control.
In an interview with Monthly Review before
the election, Morales described socialism as "something much
deeper" than the class-based model, founded on the indigenous
values. It is likely that Bolivia will contribute to this indigenous
framework to the ongoing debate over a Latin American alternative
to neo-liberalism. That suggests that he will avoid surrendering
to the free-trade model Washington demands. Instead, he is proposing
a "constituent assembly" that will transfer even greater
power to communities excluded by the colonial Bolivian state.
He has said "a new integration is possible," borrowing
from the global justice movement's refrain that "another
world is possible." >
There is another factor in the equation,
a North American one, often ignored by the analysts. "We
need support in the United States, not only about our image but
especially about these trade agreements," Pablo Solon said.
There is so far only a fledgling network of Bolivian solidarity
activists, compared with the US movements during the Central American
wars of the 1979s and '80s. And despite remarkable but unheralded
work by fair trade activists like Citizens Trade Watch in the
US, demonstrations and lobbying have so far only dented, but not
prevented, Congressional acquiesence in the US Administration's
drive to assure corporate property rights over labor and environmental
standards. When I interviewed him two years ago, Morales said
he sided with "the many movements in the United States struggling
against neo-liberalism, and we must struggle together."
In sum, a far stronger alliance between
Latin American and North American social movements, based on a
common anti-corporate, pro-indigenous, pro-democracy agenda, might
become a crucial factor in expanding the possibilities of what
leaders like Evo Morales feel able to achieve. Twenty years after
Bolivia was plunged into chaos by US-imposed privatizations, there
is an incipient rethinking of free trade in US establishment circles.
For example, Newsweek reported in January that a "new consensus"
is developing that "trade is not enough to end poverty"
and that "what's needed is more government intervention in
economies, not less. Call it a new New Deal, and get ready to
hear much more about it in 2006."
But there is little sign of this welcome
development in the US approach to the new Bolivia. It is likely
that multinational oil companies will accept greater sharing of
their wealth, and the transfer of controls over industrialization,
to Bolivians. But that is because their profit margins are in
the range of 30 percent, according to a corporate attorney I talked
to who had fifteen years' experience in Bolivia. But a World Bank
official I interviewed repeated the official dogma that development
depends on unfettered private foreign investment. Her key suggestion
for Evo Morales was that Bolivia's street vendors--about 70 percent
of Bolivians are employed in the "informal sector,"
selling Fresca and toothpaste on the streets--should be licensed
and registers so they can be taxed. It is a trickle-up policy
sure to be resisted.
Whatever Evo Morales decides on the immediate
question of textiles, it would be premature to categorize the
Bolivian revolution as over, or to dismiss it as merely "neoliberalism
with an Indian face." But this is the thrust of some on the
Left, as in the recent Democracy Now! interview with James Petras,
a longtime expert on the region, who says that Morales is only
a social democratic reformer Washington can live with. Petras
may be right that the new Bolivia will seek to avoid the kind
of confrontation with the United States exemplified by oil-rich
Venezuela, but such criticism underestimates the moral and political
importance of the Bolivian revolution for the indigenous poor.
What Petras may be underplaying is the large, radical left indigenous
movement in Bolivia--such as the movment led by Felipe Quispe--that
is evaluating his every policy move. The "Indian question"
has rarely been an emphasis of the left, but it still remains
the central question in Bolivia, in the Andes, in Chiapas, and
much of Latin America.
Few whites or mestizos understand this
as well as Linares, whose life has been devoted to what he calls
the "decolonization of the state" so that indigenous
people will govern, ending a fault line that has existed between
society and the state in Bolivia for 180 years. "Fifteen
years ago, we thought that it could come about through an armed
uprising of the communities. Today, we think it is an objective
that we can attain through a great electoral triumph." He
calls for a new dialogue between "indigenism" and a
Marxism which only perceived the Indians as reactionary or the
dependent clients of humanitarian non-governmental organizations.
Nothing illustrates the profound importance
of this shift more than the inaugural ceremonies over the past
weekend. Since Linares was sworn in as vice president first, it
became his duty to place the presidential sash over the shoulders
of Morales. In a moment that millions watched on television, Morales
visibly shed a tear, buckled slightly, then embraced his friend
and became Bolivia's first indigenous president. Not only had
the indigenous majority voted for him, but also at least one-third
of the white or mestizo privileged classes, an outcome that ended
centuries of brutal discrimination and marginalization.
Even more important was the ceremony
on Saturday, when indigenous spiritual leaders inaugurated Evo
Morales in their own way, at the pre-Inca ruins known as Tiwanaku,
on the remote altiplano near Lake Titikaka. There, as 30,000 or
more waited and witnessed, Aymara leaders changed Evo's clothes
into native ones, removed his shoes so that he would stand on
Pachamama (Mother Earth), and gave him a walking stick decorated
in gold and silver, representing the transfer of authority for
the first time in five centuries.
There the world watched the rising of
another kind of power, one more cultural than political, that
of a postmodern Indian icon. Garbed in a red ceremonial robe and
holding the staff of power, Evo Morales stood in a portal cut
from a single block of stone ten feet high, eleven feet wide,
estimated to weigh ten tons. Like the ancient portals at Newgrange
in Ireland or Maya sites in Central America, the stone portal
was designed to receive the rays of the sun at the equinoxes,
a reminder of pre-Inca science and cosmology.
The image flooded the world, over the
heads of the technicians of power and stenographers in the media,
a visceral reminder that another globalization is possible, and
that the "Indian question" is not over, not for the
United States, not for Western culture, not for the progressive
left, but only beginning again.