< /head > Colorado Coalition for Human Rights: Revolutionary Change in Bolivia?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Revolutionary Change in Bolivia?

An interesting article in the New York Times magazine about Evo Morales, a presidential candidate in Bolivia's upcoming election. As the article reads, "Morales is the first full-blooded Aymara, Bolivia's dominant ethnic group, to make a serious run for the presidency, which is in itself testimony to the extraordinary marginalization that Bolivian citizens of pure Indian descent, who make up more than half of the population, have endured since 1825, when an independent Bolivia was established."

Here is a portion of the article, which is about the growing backlash in the country (and throughout Latin America) to neoliberalism:

For most Bolivians, globalization, or what they commonly refer to as neoliberalism, has failed so utterly to deliver the promised prosperity that some Bolivian commentators I met insisted that what is astonishing is not the radicalization of the population but rather the fact that this radicalization took as long as it did. Bolivia often seems now like a country on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Every day, peasants or housewives or the unemployed erect hundreds of makeshift roadblocks to protest shortages of fuel (a particularly galling affront in a country with vast hydrocarbon resources) or to demand increased subsidies for education or to air any of the dozens of issues that have aroused popular anger. The language of these protests is insistently, defiantly leftist, with ritual denunciations of multinational corporations, of the United States and of the old Bolivian elite, who are white, mostly descendants of Spanish and German settlers. Two presidents were chased out of office in the last two years by popular protests made up largely of MAS supporters: first Gonazalo Sánchez de Losada, then Carlos Mesa. (Since Mesa's government fell in June, the country has been run by a caretaker government overseen by a former chief justice of the supreme court.)
What distinguishes the situation in Bolivia from that of some of its neighbors is the way that ethnic politics and leftist politics have fused. It is this hybrid movement that Morales has led with such popular success. The hopes of many indigenous Bolivians are now incarnated in Morales's candidacy, and even many members of the old elite, including former President Sánchez de Losada, seem to believe that if he wins, Morales must be given the opportunity to rule....For Jeffrey Sachs, Joseph Stiglitz's colleague at Columbia and a former economic adviser to the Bolivian government, the problem was less the international lending institutions' recommendations than the lack of follow-up on the part of Washington. Gonzalo Sánchez de Losada, the first of the two presidents ousted in Bolivia's recent wave of protests, has said that when he went to see President Bush at the White House in 2002, the president talked of little except Afghanistan. As Sachs put it later in an op-ed piece in The Financial Times, the Bush administration "proved to be incapable of even the simplest responses to a profound crisis engulfing the region." In an e-mail message to me, he said he had "never seen such incompetence" as the Bush administration's approach to Latin America, which he characterized as comprising "neglect, insensitivity, disregard, tone-deafness." Sachs cited one damning example in Bolivia: as his government teetered on the verge of collapse in 2003, Sánchez de Losada asked the U.S. government for $50 million in emergency aid. Washington made $10 million available. As Sachs put it bitterly, the decision in effect invited MAS and the social activist movements - peasants, coca growers, laborers and the unemployed - "to finish off the job of bringing down the government."

A link to the article can be found here.

--Tom Hayes


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